How are you? For most of us, being quarantined is not feeling so great. Either we violate the idea of quarantine and the social distancing protocol, or we hunker down and wonder how long. I confess I’m very introverted and it doesn’t feel as severe to me, but I’m ready to go have coffee with friends! It’s starting to feel like prison and I want to escape!
I had a vision a few nights ago. Not the kind where you have eaten too much pizza or been smoking something. This is a new thing for me; God speaks to me through His word primarily but I had a vision like a PowerPoint where words fade in, brighten, and fade out The words were “Ezra” and “Nehemiah.” I woke up and began to ask God what that was all about. New to me! And God answered: Restore! God wants to restore something.
Ezra and Nehemiah were both Israelites taken captive to Babylon after much national disobedience to God. King Cyrus released captives who wanted to go home after 70 years of captivity. He sent them out blessed with valuable gifts from neighbors and also returned all the silver and gold from the Temple and also the Temple furnishings. Ezra was a priest who went home to guide the people in restoring worship and the temple. Nehemiah went later to direct and help rebuild the city wall around Jerusalem.
So I began to read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in Scripture. I was stunned at how they speak to us today, quarantined and fearful about a new disease called COVID-19, a disease about which so little seems known and there is no real cure or vaccine.
Ponder these verses:
3 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. 4 Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. Ezra 3:3-4 (NIV)
Build an altar
Despite their fear.
Yes, they were fearful of the people who had taken over their country while they were gone, but they acted. They built an altar. A place for sacrifices. This doesn’t seem to apply to us, but we also have a place for sacrifices.
1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NLT2)
We sacrifice in our thinking and choices. Sacrifice our fear, our own agenda. Because God has done so much for us, we sacrifice. And our sacrifice is worth the cost. Jesus gave up heaven and face to face with His Father to come to this planet and deal with people here. His own people rejected Him. Yet He still died for them. Died to pay the death for sin price that was needed. Animals had died to pay the price to restore relationship with God again. Now Jesus made such a sacrifice once that would restore relationship with God for anyone who would believe Him.
The foundation of the temple
The foundation of the new temple had not yet been laid. Worship before had always been about their beautiful building they were so proud of, the rituals and sacrifices. They needed a new focus, a change in perspective. God wanted them to realize worship rituals had only existed to point them to Him, to portray what a relationship with Him would be like and how it would impact their daily lives.
Perhaps they had forgotten all about how in the 40-year wilderness journey, God met their needs. A wilderness is not a place where one typically finds food and water, much less in quantities for so many people. Yet, God provided. Not only food and water, but their clothing did not wear out and their feet did not swell. (Deuteronomy 8:4) Bummer if you love to shop!
What is the connection between the wilderness and the rebuilding and restoring in Ezra and Nehemiah?
In our Sunday morning live stream, our pastor said, “Our real destination is relationship.” Wow! That hid me like a ton of bricks. “Sin” means “to miss the mark, goal or purpose.” I was focused narrowly on the purpose. What am I supposed to do with my life as a retired person? What am I supposed to do during quarantine?
But Sunday I realized I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, as it were. Since Adam and Eve failed in the garden, God has been about restoring the relationship we can have with Him. It must have broken His heart when Adam and Eve failed and the relationship was severed by sin.
They had missed the purpose. They had missed the real destination.
As I pondered the connection between relationship and purpose, I realized Jesus gave us the answer. “19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. John 5:19-20 (NLT2)
Our purpose activities flow from relationship. As we spend time with the Father, we see what He is doing and hear what He is saying. He will show us. Because He loves us and being in relationship with us.
A quarantine ponder
This week, what does Ezra say to you?
Despite your fear, can you build an altar? What would that look like for you? How might God be wanting to change your perspective?
How might God be trying to ask you if you are on a trip to your real destination?
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get on track for the real destination. Despite my fear.
Carol Boggess, author and speaker at A Healing Journey
Carol Boggess © 2020
Rivers – A Journey of Restoration From Broken to Breakthrough and God Sees Broken Hearts
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