One the most favorite things that people do right after the holidays is to return things. People return things for a lot of reasons: perhaps the item doesn’t fit, it is broken, or maybe they want to get something completely different. Either way, the return part is important to us.
The ide of returning takes on a deeper meaning when it has to do with people. When a loved one returns from an absence we are excited. The look on a child’s face when a parent returns to the room tells us all we need to know about the importance of returning.
Today’s Wednesday devotional is about returning. Actually it’s more about the ability or right to return. We’ll be looking in Ezra 6:13-16. At first blush this might seem to be a curious passage for Lent. As we will see, though, it fits right into our theme of reflection and dependence on God.
Let’s read the passage together:
Ezra 6:13-16 - 13Then, because of the decree King Darius had sent, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates carried it out with diligence. 14 So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.15 The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy.
The story of the exile is a sad one. The Babylonians took the Israelites, through complete fault of their own, into captivity. As you can imagine, this was devastating to the people and their identity. They lost everything, not the least was their religion. The temple and all that was precious to them was lost. It is not an overstatement to say that all that they were and believed in were now completely gone in this new land.
As I mentioned above, the guilt and blame fell squarely at the feet of the Israelites. The temple was destroyed because of their unfaithfulness to God. Their whole religious identity vanished in an instant. The Israelites were overconfident and ignored the warnings of the prophets to keep their relationship with God in its proper place – the center of their lives. They ignored God and there were consequences. While in exile they were bound to appreciate what they had lost.
The good news for the Israelites is that the story was not yet done being written. According to the prophets, all was not lost. Though they were going through a time of trial and tribulation, it would not last forever. God, who is always faithful, would restore the Israelites to their land and their religion.
This restoration comes true 70 years after their initial exile. God uses the Persian kings as a tool to finally release the Israelites. They were finally allowed to return to Judah. With the return they were allowed to rebuild the temple.
The Israelites seem like such failures. Throughout Scripture they can’t seem to understand God or what He wants. Further, once they do know they refuse to do what they are told. This line of thinking is one that is popular among Christian believers. We act as if we are so much better than the Israelites. A common refrain is “how come they couldn’t have just figured it out and done what they were supposed to do.”
The reality is that the Lenten season reminds us that we are not so different. During this season we are reminded that we were and in some ways are far away from God. Through our own sin, much like the Jews, we are led into spiritual exile. We are far away from what, how, and why God created us. We find ourselves in a world where nothing looks like anything we are used to. We are, in effect, far away from God. It is our own unfaithfulness, like that of the Jews, that leads to the destruction of our own temples – our own spiritual bodies.
It is only in the return to God that we are able to renew our own spiritual lives and bring ourselves back to our rightful place with God. We don’t have a Darius in our lives that tells us to return. The irony is that we have a choice every day whether we will return to God or not. We end up being our own jailors, not recognizing that we can return whenever we want – it’s up to us. Perhaps, though, we do have a sort of a Darius. Perhaps we do have someone that at least prepares the way for us to return. Yes – that is Jesus Christ. Jesus leads us back and rebuilds each of our spiritual temples. He, in accordance with prophecy and His own words, is raised as the temple as he promised in the Gospels.
Lent is a time to return. It is a time to return to God from our self-imposed exile. We have the choice. Christ made it possible.