By J.R. Miller
There was much delay in the building of the temple. There was bitter opposition from the inhabitants of Samaria. "The people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them." They wrote to Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to protest against the building, maligning the Jews and alleging that Jerusalem had been a rebellious and wicked city. The work of rebuilding was thus interrupted for a time. Under Darius, however, the decree of Cyrus was again found and the work on the temple was resumed and finished.
The prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people. They probably would not have finished the work at all--if it had not been for the cheer given by these prophets. We are all apt at some time in life to get disheartened. Things go wrong with us. The burdens are heavy, the way is hard, opposition is fierce. Many people faint and give up in times of trouble, because no one has a word of cheer for them. But if someone comes with glad heartening, they take fresh courage to go on to finish their work or fight their battle through to the end.
Haggai and Zechariah did not themselves work on the walls, and yet without their part, the building would not have gone on to completion. You may by your good cheer, be the means of accomplishing noble and wonderful results, which would never have been accomplished but for the stimulating influence of your words. This is an important part of the preacher's work every Sunday. The people come to the services weary after their hard work. Sometimes the week has not been a prosperous one. Business had not been successful. Money has been lost. Labor has not yielded good returns. It has been hard to make ends meet. Or there has been sickness, and the loved one is not out of danger. Or someone in the family has not been doing well.
Or the discouragement may be personal. Temptation may have been too strong--and the battle may have been lost. Duty has been too hard or too large. There is not a Sunday when the pastor does not face disheartened people sitting in the pews, needing his good cheer. If he speaks brave, hopeful words--he will help many a weary one to a victorious week. This is part of his work, quite as really as preaching the gospel of salvation and life. All of us, wherever we go, are continually meeting those whose hands hang down, and whose knees are trembling--and it is our privilege and duty to lift up the one, and strengthen the other. Helping by encouragement is one of the very best of all ways of helping.
Thus cheered, the people wrought with energy and enthusiasm upon the building. They had both divine and human help. They had the commandment of God to impel them, and they had also the decrees of Cyrus and Artaxerxes to protect them and aid them. Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes did their part. Then there was Zerubbabel and Joshua, besides Haggai and Zechariah, with hundreds more whose names are not recorded. The obscurest helper helped in some way, and record was made of what he did. The man who felled trees in the forests of Lebanon, the man who worked in the quarry, the man who mixed the mortar--all did their part. Without the humblest helpers--the most skilled workman and the greatest could not do their conspicuous portion. So it is in all the Lord's work in this world--there is something for every one. Each one has something to contribute toward the Lord's work, and the lowliest thing done on God's temple--is full of highest honor.
There is a tradition that a certain artist sought permission to do the ornamenting and adorning of the great doors of the English Parliament House. If this work could not be given to him, he asked that he might be allowed to decorate one panel. If he could not have this privilege, he begged that at least he might be permitted to hold the brushes for the artist who should do the work on the great doors. Even that humble office, he felt, would be an honor worthy to be sought. Just so, the lowliest task in the building of God's great spiritual temple--is honor enough for the noblest of mortals. To put one line or touch of beauty in a life--is to work with God. To give a little comfort, cheer, or encouragement to a sad or weary spirit, thus helping a life heavenward, is better than to build a huge pyramid that never blesses anybody. The smallest ministry to a human life or even to one of God's lowliest creatures. redeems a life from commonness and makes it divine.
At last every part of the work was done, and the time came for the dedication. It was a glad occasion when that completed building stood there on the sacred mount. It had risen out of ruins. It had cost great sacrifice and toil. It had been built up amid many discouragements and hindrances. Tears had fallen on many a stone as it was lifted to its place. Things we do through cost, self-denial, hardship, and hindrance--are far dearer to us and more sacred--than things we do with ease, without feeling the burden or the cost. Churches built by poor, struggling congregations, whose people have to sacrifice, pinch, and deny themselves to gather the money--yield far more joy to their builders when finished--than beautiful and costly churches reared by the rich. The former represent human love, life, blood, and tears. They are built out of people's hearts. The latter may be grander in men's eyes--but in heaven's sight the former shine in the radiant splendor of love.
Our joy in doing God's work and in making gifts to God--is measured by the real cost of the things we do and give. The more heart's blood there is in them--the more precious they will be to us and also to God, and the greater will be their value to others. The truest joys of earth are transformed sorrows. The richest treasures of our lives are those which have cost us the most.
The dedication day was a day of great gladness. The offering consisted of a hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs. The people were poor--but they spared nothing that day. They gave God the best they had. The animals in the great sacrifice were of no special worth in the services, except as they represented love and devotion to God. They stood for the people's own lives.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1. The ancient sacrifices were killed--but it is a living sacrifice which we are to present. That means that we are to dedicate our bodies to be God's temples--places for God to dwell in. We are to live for God in the very best sense, giving Him all our powers, keeping our lives unspotted and holy for Him, and devoting them to His service in all sweet ways. Too many of us give to God only the broken remnants of tired days--the fragments that are left over--after we have served our own selfishness with the best. We need to learn to give Christ the best of everything we have.
"Every one in his place and to every one his work", is the law of God's Church. The priests had their duties and the Levites had theirs, and when all were set where they belonged, the worship could go on. In every Christian Church the same adjustment is necessary. It is the duty of one to preach, of others to be elders and deacons; of others to be teachers, others secretaries and librarians. Thus to every member, there is some allotment of duty and service. There is not a little child who cannot be of use in some way in Christ's work. A Church is complete only when every one is doing something, filling some place.
The services of the temple were resumed at once after the building was dedicated. The Passover feast was held again at the proper time. The Passover was to the Jews, very much like what the Lord's Supper is to Christians. It was in remembrance of the days when they were in bondage and when God brought them out. Now a second time they had been brought out of bondage, and it was especially and doubly proper that they should now keep the Passover feast. It was a memorial of their own release from captivity.
There is a story of a stranger who appeared one day on the streets of an Eastern city. Passing where many birds in cages were exposed for sale, he stopped and looked with tender pity at the little captives. At length asking the price of one of the birds, he paid it and, opening the cage, let it go free. Thus he went on until all the birds had been liberated. Flying up a little way, they caught a glimpse of the mountains far off, which were their native home, and flew quickly toward them. When the stranger was asked why he had done this, he answered, "I too have been a captive--and now I know the sweet joy of liberty." We who have known the bitterness of sin's captivity and are now free, made free by Christ's deliverance, should gladly seek to open the prisons of other captives and let them go free!