“Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.” Ezra 3:3
Excitement and optimism was the order of the day. The Israelites had returned and as was the case for Abraham and Moses before them, to a land inhabited by others. There was a mix of Jews and non-Jews living in the land, those who had hidden during the war between Babylon and Persia and others who had returned more recently after the peace had been won. As you can well imagine, not everyone living in and around Jerusalem at the time was glad to see this mass of humanity arrive at their doorsteps. How would you react if there was a knock at your door and you were told that the land you were living on was owned by someone else and they were there to reclaim it? It’s one thing to be a good neighbor but, come on!
Yet the proclamation of King Cyrus was to be obeyed and it was by his authority that the repatriation would begin. These first arrivals, to the land of their fathers, decided that the priority was not the rebuilding of the temple walls, but the altar of sacrifice. After all wasn’t this the reason for their returning in the first place? The Jews had prospered under Persian rule and although they may have lost some of their identity as a people, the result of intermarriage and assimilation, they had built a new life for themselves in a land that was not their own. So why go back…what’s the point?
It was the will of God that they return, just as it had been God’s will that they be carried off into captivity in the first place. Too often we view the events of our lives as nothing more than a chance happening or the result of our will and not God’s. The return to Jerusalem was all about the temple, but more specifically, about worshipping God on the altar of sacrifice as their fathers had done before them. Many thought that if they could only go back to how it was before, when David and Solomon ruled the land, when they were free to live in relative safety from their enemies and free to worship the one true God. It was more than just nostalgia; the Jews sought to enjoy, once again, the fullness of God’s blessings which had been set aside for His people alone. In other words, they wished to once again be a “holy” or a “sanctified” people, set apart for God’s glory. But could it be accomplished and how, what sacrifices would have to be made and would they be willing to make them?
Earlier in the week, Cindy and I attended a wake for the grandfather of a friend. Like many such events these days, especially weddings and funerals, there were displays of pictures and videos from the past, a testament to happier times, or in the case of a wedding a reminder of the journey the happy couple took that led them to make the commitment before God to be joined together as one for the rest of their lives. In both cases, the pictures are more than nostalgia, but a visual record of a journey that led to a specific destination. Even after natural disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires, the first thing the survivors return to their houses to retrieve are the pictures and items that are a reminder of happier times. It’s almost like if those pictures were to be lost, all the memories would suddenly vanish, with no hope of being recalled. Yet, isn’t it interesting though, that there is never pictures or memorabilia that portray the pain and anxiety of difficult times, the times of conflict, anger and despair. There is no visual record of fights and quarrels, only of smiles and warm embraces. Is it selective memory, or is it the way it was designed to be from the beginning?
To put it simply, sin always leads to pain, suffering and chaos, while obedience to God’s plan for our lives brings real joy, order and satisfaction. Throughout the Old Testament God tells His people to remember both the good times and the bad, not as a form of punishment or rebuke but to motivate them to return to obedience, a reminder of how good it was when they were in fellowship and harmony with Him. God told them to remember their past, so their future would be filled with blessings not curses. But what if the past is only a record of sin, disobedience and the suffering it brought? What if there is no “good times” to remember? On the other hand, what if the past is only of good times, not the result of a dedication to God’s will and obedience but because the time reckoning has not yet come. The later was the case for the younger generation that returned with their fathers to the land of their forefathers, those who would be called upon to rebuild the temple. They had grown-up under the security and prosperity made possible by the Persian king and past struggles were only stories told to them by their elders.
Most couples whose marriages are in crisis fall into one these categories and if they attempt to adjust or formulate the rebuilding of their relationships based on memories or simply past experience, success is likely to elude them. What the returning Israelites were yet to understand was that things would never be the same for them again, there would be a temple but it would be a mere shadow of the magnificent temple Solomon had built. The past was not the gateway to the future, and it was the prophet Jeremiah who had given them a glimpse of the future. This future would be built on a “new covenant” promise, when the children of men would be judged by the condition of their own heart and actions, and not their fathers and forefathers (Jeremiah 31:23-40).
So it is with Christian marriages that are in crisis, the answer isn’t to be found in the past, but in the future, one that is fully dependent and obedient to the law of Christ, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34).” This is the very core of “new covenant” and the foundation upon which the church would be built and the new foundation upon which to rebuild a marriage. Like the returning exiles in the writings of Ezra, before any real progress can be made in rebuilding, we must be willing to offer up our marriage relationship on the altar of God. We must be willing to make sacrifices both in the “morning and in the evening” in the name of the risen Christ who is both our Savior today and but also our future hope. These sacrifices aren’t burnt offerings or the blood of bulls, but instead the sacrifices of the heart which leads to right motives and actions for the Glory of Christ.
Your relationship with your spouse is based on your willingness to make sacrifices for each other in the name of Christ. The beauty of this design, drawn by God and revealed to us in His word is that it always works, if both husband and wife are committed to following through with their actions as well as words. It is the key to rebuilding a marriage relationship and is guaranteed to bring joy, peace and order to what was once a relationship filled with anxiety, fear and strife.
Tool #273 How are we to make sacrifices to God? How are we to be a willing sacrifice for our husband or wife? We are to say and do what Christ said and did, “Here I am…I have come to do your will, O God.” Hebrews 10:7