36. The place of gathering.

It was the climax of their civilization. The glory and splendour of the most impressive building of their time crowned the reign of Solomon. His wisdom, which he so dramatically received from God, was well known far beyond the borders of his kingdom. He built the temple that was the life ambition of his father David to the God of his heart.

1 Chronicles 29:1:

Furthermore King David said to all the assembly: “My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced; and the work is great, because the temple is not for man but for the Lord God.

This temple would have the best of the best. The building material is listed to describe the opulence and grandiose planning. David addresses the people and challenges them to give abundantly.

Now for the house of my God I have prepared with all my might: gold for things to be made of gold, silver for things of silver, bronze for things of bronze, iron for things of iron, wood for things of wood, onyx stones, stones to be set, glistening stones of various colors, all kinds of precious stones, and marble slabs in abundance. Moreover, because I have set my affection on the house of my God, I have given to the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared for the holy house, my own special treasure of gold and silver: three thousand talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, to overlay the walls of the houses; the gold for things of gold and the silver for things of silver, and for all kinds of work to be done by the hands of craftsmen. Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?”

The gold of Ophir was famous for quality and purity. Just imagine walls covered in silver, so much gold, marble, precious stones and mosaic – a building that has never been and would not be copied in centuries to come, maybe never.

The temple of Solomon as described in the Bible was not an imitation of any pagan temple of Egypt and Phoenicia that existed at the time and could be reconstructed by archeologists. This architectural wonder was unique and would stand for 410 years.

So was the actual structure – matchless and magnificent. The most important, however was the presence of the Most High God. That is the foundation, the pillars, the essence of the significance of the physical building.

 2 Chronicles 7:1

 [Solomon Dedicates the Temple ] When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

 So overwhelming was the presence of God that the priests could not enter.

It is in the light of this glory and majesty that we can begin to grasp the tremendous task of the returning exiles. After the crippling siege of more than a year Nebuchadnezzar thoroughly humiliated his enemy and destroyed Jerusalem with a vengeance. Of course the magnificence of the Hebrew temple was famous in the ancient world and he would reap particular pleasure from the devastation of it. The deep reverence and joyful worship of Solomon’s age were so long neglected and forgotten. The people mocked and murdered the prophets’’ warnings. God’s punishment was executed by Babylon with dreadful consequence.

So effective was the destruction that archeologists remain uncertain about location and appearance to this day. That uncertainty does not apply to the spiritual “archeology” of the temple.

God lives in the praises of his people. Psalm 22:3:

But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.

There is no doubt. The core principle of the temple is established: God fills the place of gathering with His presence. This is the treasure and highest purpose of church.

The splendour of the temple of Solomon was the reason for the deep discouragement of the returning exiles. Even with the miraculous support of the Persian ruler, it wasn’t possible to restore the temple to its former glory. Persia was by far mightier and bigger than Babylon. Babylon became a province in the expansive empire of the Medes and Persians. The valuables of Solomon’s temple was still in safe-keeping in Babylon and by command of Artaxerxes, the Persian emperor, it was to be brought taken back to Jerusalem plus whatever more was needed from the royal treasury. [Ezra 7:18-21] I marvel at meticulous ancient administration.

Ezra prepares for the treacherous journey back to Jerusalem laden with treasures and building material. The road was full of dangers, especially robbers, who would murder for the goods. Ezra calls a day of fasting and prayer to earnestly seek God’s protection. In his own words:

For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.”  So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer. [Ezra 8:22,23]

By his prayer Ezra protected his testimony. He could not get his fear of robbers overpower his testimony. He spoke to the king about his God who cared for his children, so he had to live his own motion of trust in God.

This trust brings him and his caravan safely to Jerusalem without the protection of the mightiest empire on earth at the time, the precious cargo intact. Just take it in for a moment: 22 tons of silver, three and a half ton gold, more than 100 pieces of silverware and polished bronze almost as costly as gold. [8:31]

Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road.

The restoration of the temple that started before Ezra’s return slowly came to complete standstill. The people went back to building their own houses. Ezra arrives filled with joyful encouragement to be a new inspiration to the builders.

Ezra 7:28:

So I was encouraged, as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me

Miracles mark our journey to restore the pace of gathering. Individual prayer, powerful testimonies, respect of and for the rulers and purposeful administration form the foundation of the temple.

These elements are the pillars in the place where we come together.

The church is a community of people who worship God in sprit and truth, who desire and experience the Holy Spirit in everyday life coming together at appointed times to celebrate the presence of God in their midst. Paul gives his version of a Christian lifestyle that has all the elements of a good service.

Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

This is service in the temple; a Holy Spirit driven gathering. It may manifest in various denominations that have various measures of intensity and intentionality in striving to be the church of Acts. Denominations that wallow in stagnation become judgmental and predictive, fearing change. The only solution for complacency is to hear the word of God to Solomon.

1 Kings 6:12,13:

 “Concerning this temple which you are building, if you walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David.  And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.”

The presence of the Most High is the highest purpose of the temple. Love convicts of grace – mercy triumphs over judgment. [James 2:13]

No doctrine can replace the doctrine of grace.

The church of Psalm 23 where the table of feasting is prepared in the valley of the shadow of death where enemies look on in frustration and disability and goodness and mercy pursue me to live in the house of the Lord forever – this is the place of gathering.

The Holy Spirit takes us into the glory and splendour of Solomon’s temple. The exiles had to be satisfied with so much less. Haggai 2:3:

Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?

The word of God promises the outstanding glory of the latter temple that served as encouragement to finish the work that was clearly inferior.

Haggai 2:9:

The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

Who is this temple of the future? It is us! The church of Christ has all the glory and splendour that Solomon could only have dreamed of and so much more. Through the cross and resurrection we are the ultimate temple.

Hebrews 12:22-24:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

Just revel in the description of the new Jerusalem in Revelation – the church. Revelation 21:2,3:

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

We are the bride who is being prepared for the coming of Jesus. What an expectation?

Take courage to restore the temple. It is God’s dwelling place. Let us celebrate His presence.

Read with me in Revelation 21 how beautiful we are. Read the words until you know that words will fail…

having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal

35. The altar of the all.

The principle of that ancient act of setting an altar on the bases of a ruined temple building is forever written in my heart.

Worship at the altar was the unanimous act of protection in the face of fear and uncertainty.

It could not have been easy to leave their assorted lots and half-done tasks of restoration to answer the call of the priests to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Ezra 3:1:

And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem

The Feast of the Tabernacles [Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16] is celebrated around September of our calendar year, the fifteenth day of the seventh month on the calendar of Moses in the desert. It was the most joyous feast of the year. It was a time of thanksgiving and joyful reminders of the time the former slaves of Egypt spent in the desert, God’s provision in the desert and the miraculous outcome He so graciously bestowed upon them. They had to build booths of branches and leaves to remind them of the desert journey and include their family, servants, foreign guests as well as the widows and orphans around them in a happy, hospitable festivity recalling the goodness of God.

First things first. Relationship with the most high God, Who brought them back to the promised land, began with a feast, unhindered by pagan surroundings, which they had to endure through the years in exile. They must have delighted in the new freedom where worship to Yahweh was the number one priority and could be enjoyed within the nation without the constraints of secrecy or unsympathetic onlookers.

Worship was the first step, the foundation for everything that followed. After the altar had been set up, the people rallied to…

…give money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre to bring cedar logs from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the permission which they had from Cyrus king of Persia. [Ezra 3:7]

The feast at the altar laid the foundation for the majestic task of rebuilding the house of God.

It is super important to establish the priority of worship as the groundwork for the work of God. The feast was celebrated as it is written. The offerings were burnt as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. This was the guideline, the certainty they could rely on: the commandments of the faithful God who brought them back to worship at the appointed place. As it is written gave the direction and protection for the restoration that established them into their own.

Jesus spoke the first words of His ministry to set our altar on its base.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matthew 4:17]

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” [Matthew 9:13]

Our immigration into the kingdom of heaven, the invisible kingdom that Jesus confirmed with His ministry, is the first step in altar worship. We take that step with a simple decision to put our all, our entire existence, on the altar of repentance. This decision births a brand new life in us, a Spirit-guided life.

John 3:3:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The explanation of this statement in the language of The Message – verses 5 and 6:

Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.

This is the all-encompassing altar experience: a brand new life born of the wind that hovered over the waters at creation. It is Spirit-life breathed into us to new birth just as God breathed into Adam and gave him life.

We come to the altar as an exile out of Babylon, which is the symbol of sin in the Old Testament, with hope of a new life in the promised land. When we set the altar on its base and make the decision, we enter into the invisible Kingdom of God here on earth, sitting with Christ in heavenly places and walking with heaven in our step, to resist evil and stand against the enemy in victory, just as the letter to the Ephesians explains. [Pebbles 26,27 and 28.] A new person takes shape within us as we grow spiritually according to Kingdom principles.

What happens as we enter? We are invited to a party – a feast to celebrate our entry into provision and protection. God is a good God – He is the God of the Feast. No less than seven feasts marked the Jewish calendar to be enjoyed with abundance and cheerfulness. Seven times in one year they ceased their routine to participate joyfully in God’s supply over their lives.

Deuteronomy 16:13-15:

Observe the Feast-of-Booths for seven days when you gather the harvest from your threshing-floor and your wine-vat. Rejoice at your festival: you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maid, the Levite, the foreigner, and the orphans and widows who live in your neighborhood. Celebrate the Feast to God, your God, for seven days at the place God designates. God, your God, has been blessing you in your harvest and in all your work, so make a day of it—really celebrate!

This is a commandment – be glad, be joyful. Thank Him for the blessing and celebrate – don’t stop – at least seven days.

Pebble pal, restore celebration to your life. It does not matter where you are and what life has brought you to wear you down. Make a celebration and thank God for His goodness. Make more of the Christian feasts like Easter, Pentecost and Christmas, but also – mark your own annual feasts to the Lord.

Remember: Adam’s first day was the Sabbath – a day of rest and rejoicing in God and His creation. God’s creation is good. You are His creation. You are good. Go on celebrate!

Think on blessings and miracles in your past and mark a date to celebrate the most significant of them. Journal extensively on special insights in the Word.

You might be so wrought with doubt and fear that you do not feel like merrymaking at all. Set the altar in its place. God’s response is guaranteed. He will draw near to you [James 4:8]. He is a rewarder of those who seek Him [Hebrews 11:6]. He will forgive your sins [Isaiah 1:18]. He promises multiplication:

2 Corinthians 9:10:

Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness,

 Hebrews 6:13,14:

For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,…saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”

This is written since the days of Abraham. We can set the altar in its place because it is written.

For You have magnified Your word above all Your name. [Psalm 138:2]

We are the seed of Abraham in Christ, therefore the promise is to us.

Galatians 3:16:

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.

The word of the altar is true today to everyone committed to worship in spirit and truth. It will always be the entrance to the tabernacle of worship to enter into the Presence of the Most High. In the next chapter of John Jesus talks about true worship. He explained to Nicodemus entry into the kingdom of God on earth and then established the foundation of worship. True worship is not dependent on a building, a church community, a ritual or liturgy. It is a personal commitment to seeking the Garden-relationship with our Father, restoring communication after Babylon. In the words of Jesus:

John 4:23:

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

The nature of the offering on the altar is important. In Ezra 3 we read: of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering to the Lord.

It is the decision of a lifetime. It must be a freewill offering. This is the offering that will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

It is a continual burnt offering. This is the daily morning and evening sacrifice, called “the continual burnt offering” described in Exodus 29:42:  This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet you to speak with you. And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory.

This is a reason for a feast. This is the desire of our hearts – to hear His voice. There where we bring our daily freewill offering, God will speak to us. We will be sanctified by His glory.

Let us celebrate the altar, freely offer our all on it and be rewarded with the most glorious conversation of all ages!