Forever LoveSeptember 23, 2018, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Ezra 3:1-13) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Ezra
Preached at a Ash Wednesday service
Title: God’s Forever Love
Passage: Ezra 3
Date: 23rd Sept 2018
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For today’s sermon, I wish to focus on Verse 11: 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” What is “forever love?” In the lyrics of a song by Leehom Wang, he sang, “forever love, forever love. 我只想用我這一輩子去愛你.”(I will love you with my entire life.) Don’t we all wish for forever love from our family and friends? I think we have this yearning because we know that relationships can be broken, especially when circumstances and people change. Forever love is not a guarantee in life. Indeed, if a person can truly love another person throughout his or her entire life, that should be enough to declare it “forever love.” But what does it mean to say that God’s love is forever? Naturally, it cannot just be within a person’s lifespan. It needs to be about generations. I would need to tell you about a love story between God and his people that spanned decades and centuries.
“(The Lord) is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” Outside of the Psalms【1】 , this verse about God’s forever love occurred at 3 key moments in the history of Israel. The first time occurred after the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem, the City of David.【2】 David led the entire nation of Israel to praise God for his forever love. What is God’s forever love to David? David said this in 1 Chronicles 16: 15 He remembers his covenant forever,
the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
16 the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac.
17 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant.
God kept his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He kept his promises to David. It is a love of his people that spanned generations from Abraham to David. That was David’s understanding of God’s forever love.
The second time the verse on God’s forever love was mentioned, it occurred when the Temple had just been completed by David’s son, Solomon.【3】 Solomon was mindful of the future generations of kings after him.【4】 What was God’s forever love for Solomon and the future Davidic kings after him? They prayed that as long as the Temple was around and they were in the Temple to pray to God for forgiveness, then they would be forgiven, and the Davidic Kingdom would endure. God indeed kept his promise for many generations of Davidic kings for more than 400 years. Unfortunately, because of the sins of Israel, that first Temple was eventually destroyed. The kingdom fell and the people were exiled. At this point in time, it must have seemed like God’s love was no longer as forever as it seemed.
At this crucial moment, the third time the same verse appeared was in Jeremiah 33. This quote is very important, so allow me to read the verses in full: 7 I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. 8 I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. 10 “There will be heard once more 11 the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying,
“Give thanks to the Lord Almighty,
for the Lord is good;
his love endures forever.”
For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the Lord.
By the third time the verse on God’s forever love appeared, the kingdom had fallen and the Temple destroyed. What is God’s forever love then? It became a prophecy – that Jerusalem would be restored, and the people would worship just like they had before. Then they waited for generations. The generation of kings who were exiled. The generation of Zerubbabel’s father Shealtiel and Joshua’s father Jozadak (Ezra 3:8) who died in Babylon. And finally the next generation of Zerubbabel and Joshua and their next generations of their sons and families returned.
This is the significance of the verse repeated for the fourth time in Ezra 3. In our passage today, the altar and the Levitical sacrifice system had been restored. The foundation of the second Temple had been laid. Isn’t this exactly the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy? What is God’s forever love? God’s forever love is manifested in his faithfulness to his promises through the generations. It is a love that has withstood the test of time for decades and centuries. In Ezra 3, we remember the names of Moses and David. Just like what God did through Moses, the people of God were now back in the Promised Land. Just like what God did through David, they could now worship freely. Just like the times of David and Solomon and Jeremiah, this moment in Ezra is yet another moment of God’s forever love. God’s forever love is understood in his faithfulness from generation to generation.
In the same way, God’s forever love can also be experienced in Jubilee Church. In the Memory Box exhibition at the Family Day service last month, the old photographs and other memorabilia helped us recall God’s journey with us for over 135 years. Each historical item and each person who had served our community is a reminder of God’s forever love. It was my grandaunt who brought my father and his siblings to church. My parents brought me and my sister to church when we were young. And now I bring my children to church. I’m sure many of us have similar stories. Whenever I think about 135 years, I am reminded that Jubilee Church is not dependent on the rise and fall of any single person. It is God’s forever love that has sustained the Church all these while and also in the days ahead.
How should we respond to God’s forever love? The first obvious response is joyous worship. In Ezra 3, 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” God’s forever love means that his love endures from generation to generation, and each generation should give thanks for the divine love that endures on and on.
But speaking of generations, may I remind everybody that there is a next verse: 12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. Among those who had returned 【5】, there were the older generation leaders Zerubbabel and Joshua who had seen the former temple. And then, there was the younger generation of leaders, the sons of the older generation, they were the Levites who were in charge of the building operations. The generation that was weeping in verse 12 was the older generation. Why were they crying? There are various reasons proposed, but the one I find most convincing is that “maybe they wept because they alone could recall the awfulness of the temple’s destruction (and wondered whether it might happen again?)”【6】 There is a danger in taking God’s forever love for granted and I think that these older leaders of the community were reminded of this danger.
Sometimes when we think about forever love, we might be tempted to think that nothing will ever go wrong. And even if things go wrong, we can just repent and things will go back on track. And slowly we begin to take God’s forever love for granted. This is the danger we have to be mindful of. In Jeremiah 7: 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!” declares the Lord. Jeremiah was warning against trusting blindly in the first Temple, Solomon’s Temple. Later, Jesus used the same accusation of “a den of robbers” to describe the second Temple, Herod’s Temple during his time. (Mark 11:17) And in the end, the second Temple fell, just like the first Temple. How should we respond to God’s forever love? On one hand, we should respond with joy. But on the other hand, maybe we should also be weeping in deep appreciation, lest we ever take God’s forever love for granted.
In Jubilee Church, we also have two generations of leaders among us. One generation who have seen the old church building before the 70s, and another generation like me, those below 50 years old who only know of the new building. To the older generation amongst us, those who are church leaders or heads of your household, I want to speak about Faith. You have seen the rise and fall of church buildings, and you have the wisdom of knowing that material things do not last forever. You have the perspective of generations: generations who have departed before you, and generations who have come after you. Not only that, you have faith in God’s forever love because you experienced that in your life, across many generations. I believe you should use such wisdom and faith to guide and encourage the younger generation. I am immensely worried about one thing: that all our worship to God, no matter how correct, or how devout, or how spectacular it is, it is meaningless if the lives of our worshippers are in a mess. So I want to give a charge to the older generation of leaders: please watch over the daily lives of the people, and especially the younger generation. Please share this burden with me. I’m sure you have observed the daily struggles that the younger generation face, in their work and family, even in their heavy duties in church. When we are young, all we can think about are the problems of this current moment. Your role as elders, whether in church or at home, is to remain steadfast in faith, and to be watchful over them. Be mindful of the lives of our younger generation. If the struggles of life have turned their lives into a mess, then pray for them, watch over them, or even guide them in the right path. Most of all, encourage them to trust in God’s forever love. God’s love is bigger than whatever that seems insurmountable at this current moment. God’s forever love spans across generations. Encourage them in faith. Only then can the worship of the entire church be pleasing to God.
As to the younger generation of leaders amongst us, I want to talk about hope. Today, we have more than 50 young families in our children ministry and more than 100 families in the Chinese kindergarten. Our faith community is the new Temple where God dwells. Are we building on the firm foundation of the Gospel?【7】 Can we be a blessing to those who are near and far, especially to the generations who will come after us? This is the hope we should always think about. If God’s forever love is with us, then nothing can stop us. As Jesus said, “"The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2) To the younger generation of leaders, do we trust in the power of God’s forever love? Then let’s hope and work towards the fulfilment of the vision God has given to us. Let us build the Body of Christ, especially all the young families, upon the firm foundation.
Lastly, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love.(NLT) May God’s forever love be with us always.
【1】It is a common verse in worship, occurring in Psalm 100, 106, 107, 118, 136. In fact, the entire Psalm 136 is 26 verses ending with this same verse “His love endures forever” 26 times. In the Psalms, God’s goodness and forever love is related to his act of creation and the salvation of his people throughout history. So you might assume that this is just another familiar worship song that the people used to praise God. Just like our Amazing Grace or Be Thou my Vision. However, I believe this verse have a much greater significance than just a common and familiar worship song.
【2】In 1 Chronicles 16: 39 David left Zadok the priest and his fellow priests before the tabernacle of the Lord at the high place in Gibeon 40 to present burnt offerings to the Lord on the altar of burnt offering regularly, morning and evening, in accordance with everything written in the Law of the Lord, which he had given Israel. 41 With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the Lord, “for his love endures forever.”
【3】In 2 Chronicles 5: 13 The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good; his love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7: 3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.”
【4】2 Chronicles 6: 36 “When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; 37 and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly’; 38 and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their ancestors, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; 39 then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you. 40 “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 42 Lord God, do not reject your anointed one. Remember the great love promised to David your servant.”
【5】8 In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work. They appointed Levites twenty years old and older to supervise the building of the house of the Lord.
【6】John Goldingay, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther for Everyone, pg. 25
【7】Paul said in Ephesians 2: 18 For through (Jesus) we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. The foundation of our Temple is the Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone, and the apostles and prophets complete the foundation because they witness to who he is. (Ephesians 2:19)
Ezra 3 (Listen)
3:1 When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, 5 and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the LORD, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the LORD. 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. 7 So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
8 Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the LORD. 9 And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers.
10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.