Posted on Leave a comment

Obedience and Love: Peter in Acts 10

Is it cheating to use our church’s preschool curriculum as inspiration for my blog posts? I figure that I’m already spending a couple hours a week studying a passage of Scripture to teach it to small children, so I might as well share my discoveries on here for adults. That brings us to the story of Peter in Acts 10. (Because Lifeway doesn’t want to go in order, apparently.) Between angels and visions, God sends Peter to a family of Gentiles in a story full of obedience and love.

The Passage

About noon the following day as [Cornelius’ servants] were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Acts 10:9-16 NIV

While Peter was still speaking [about Jesus,] the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Acts 10:44-48 NIV

Peter in Acts 10

I have two things to say about Peter in this first passage. First, I imagine I would be dumb-founded by a sheet of animals falling from heaven, too. I would immediately worry about hallucinations and the state of my mental health. Which leads me to my second observation. Peter’s consistent; he needed to hear things three times to actually absorb the information. But then, if I worried about my mental stability as the vision occurred, it would probably take me at least three times to hear God, too. All in all, I really love that we get this glimpse of Peter’s confusion and humanity right after he miraculously healed a paralytic and a dead woman in Acts 9.

Obedience and Love

In addition to Peter’s overwhelming trance, God gave him commands that completely shattered Peter’s expectations. Peter believed that Jesus came for the Jews. As a Christian, he still followed all the Jewish rules he grew up with. He avoided gathering with non-Jews per the Jewish Law (see Acts 10:23-29.) Yet, when God called Peter to alter his beliefs, Peter obeyed. He acknowledged God’s signs that Jesus came to save all people, regardless of their background. Because Peter obeyed, God’s great love spread to the whole world.

God broke down prejudices when He sent Peter to visit Cornelius. He showed that He loves all the people on earth. His followers no longer distinguished themselves by the rules they followed. Instead, they united over a common faith in a good, powerful God. Like Peter in Acts 10, let’s pray and confidently go forward in obedience and love so everyone can know that Jesus came to save them.

Advertisements
Posted on 3 Comments

A Way Out: Hope in Acts 16

We’re working through Acts and the ministry of Paul for our preschoolers at church. I have to admit, the lessons taught by the preschool teachers often inspire me more than the sermons preached for the main service. In preparation for this week’s lesson, I reviewed Acts 16 and stumbled upon the account of Paul and Silas in jail. The jailer’s story always struck me, so let’s look at how the jailer finds a way out and gains hope in Acts 16.

The Passage

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailor woke up, and when he saw the prison doors were open, he drew his sword to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole household.

Acts 16:25-34 NIV

Hope in Acts 16

To be honest, I feel absolutely inadequate to speak on the issue of suicide. How do I distill such a complex, highly personal, and deeply emotional concern into a 500 word blog post? I’ve tried before, and I really don’t think it can be done. Yet, the weight of it prompts me to speak anyway, so here goes.

We find the jailer sleeping through the night shift when an earthquake shook open the jail. The jailer believed all the prisoners had fled. At the least, he imagined he would lose his job, and at worst, he imagined his execution. Faced with all hopeless options, the jailer decided to take his own life. At least, that was his plan until Paul yelled from the inner cell.

The jailer asked Paul to explain the Gospel, Paul obliged, and the jailer’s family converted to Christianity. It seems that Paul’s message of Jesus’ resurrection gave the jailer a way out from his fear and pain. Thankfully so! Unfortunately, belief in Jesus doesn’t take suicidal thoughts away from everyone. Suicide and suicidal ideation finds roots in everything from genetics to inflammation. Treatment can require more than a declaration of belief.

A Way Out

I prayed for a year for God to remove me from an unhealthy workplace. Every door that seemed to open later slammed in my face. I watched four employees who had only worked at the office for a few months move on to better positions while I still waited for a job in my dream writing field. My belief that God would provide a way out cycled with my fear that I would be stuck in the stressful position forever. After a year, the feeling of being trapped won out. The thoughts racing through my head scared me to death.

I accepted Jesus into my heart at 5 years old, so faith wasn’t holding back my mental health. I found a way out by seeking additional counseling and psychiatric help. Thankfully, I was able to remove myself from the unhealthy work environment and recover from home. I’ll be honest, God still hasn’t dropped a writing job out of the sky for me. He led me in directions with childcare and children’s literature that I never imagined for myself and that I now love.

Perhaps you relate to the jailer, and faith in a loving God would provide your way out. Maybe you’ve believed in God for a long time, but you don’t see a way out of your current situation. Or possibly neither scenario reflects your journey, and you just feel stuck. Please seek counsel that encourages you to keep trying (the National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255, and they offer texting). There is a way out, and it’s probably a path you never expected.

Posted on Leave a comment

“You Are the God Who Sees Me,” Genesis 16

I think we all struggle with feeling alone at some point or other. If nothing else, this quarantine we’ve been living under has certainly highlighted loneliness. Even introverts like me who thrive on days at home, pet snuggles, and warm blankets battle that emotional hurdle of loneliness. I imagine we all know the feeling of being alone in a room full of people. That’s why I love Hagar’s declaration of God. In Genesis 16:13, she names Him “You are the God who sees me.”

The Passage

So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think is best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man: his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Genesis 16:3-13 NIV

Hagar

I have to confess, this passage makes me greatly dislike Sarah (or Sarai at this point.) I know, God uses her to be the mother of His people. Sure, she endured a ridiculous amount pretending to be Abraham’s “sister.” Miraculously, she did give birth at nearly 100 years old. Most importantly, I know that I sin just as much as she did. I just want to slap her for how she treats Hagar.

Hagar did not have a choice in bearing Abraham’s son. Then, the very mistress who concocted the plan starts mistreating her. (Jealous much, Sarai?) The situation worsened to the point that Hagar ran away. Despite the horribly messy situation, God showed up.

“You are the God who sees me”

God knew Hagar’s Egyptian heritage. He knew her slave status, and He knew that she ran away. Yet, God sent an angel to find her in the desert. He comforted Hagar and prophesied a hopeful future. God didn’t leave Hagar despairing and vulnerable in the desert. Yes, He did tell her to return to Abraham’s camp, but that command protected her from the dangers of wandering the desert alone.

I doubt many of us encountered an angel as we hid in the desert from our rude mistresses. Yet, Hagar’s name for God holds true for us, too. “You are the God who sees me.” God sees us in our pain and fear and anger. He sees our joy and hope and excitement. God doesn’t run from any of it because He is just that amazingly powerful. If God doesn’t run from it, we can face it head on because “You are the God who sees me.”

Posted on 2 Comments

Confidence to Speak: Peter in Acts

I’ve noticed a theme appearing lately in conversations with my friends. For some, this time of quarantine has grown my friends’ confidence to speak and move forward God’s kingdom. For others, this quarantine makes their need for confidence more apparent. It reminded me of Peter. We saw how Peter’s rash and impetuous nature changed after Jesus’ resurrection. After looking at Acts, I noticed that Peter’s redemption gave him confidence to speak.

The Passage

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city… They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

Acts 1:12, 14-17 NIV

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest of each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them…

Amazed and perplexed, [the Jews] asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…”

Acts 2:1-4, 12-16 NIV

Confidence to Speak

If you flip back one page to the end of John, you will read an intense conversation between Peter and Jesus after the resurrection. (Granted, different people authored John and Acts, but I find the canonical juxtaposition interesting.) Peter responds in frustration to the point of anger when Jesus asks if Peter loves him. Basically, Jesus calls out and restores Peter all at the same time. This conversation seems to deeply impact Peter’s trajectory in life.

Back in the first chapter of Acts, we find the disciples anxiously waiting for God’s next directions. They pray and fellowship until Peter stands up in a moment of clarity. He points out how Judas’ actions fulfilled prophecy. Then, he directs the believers to appoint a new apostle. A few days later, the miracle at Pentecost came. It stirred up a big old ruckus with rumors flying. Who stands up to address the crowds? Peter does, and he makes sure everyone can hear him, too.

I hope you find comfort in Peter’s transformation. Peter continued to grow as the early church spread. Yet, Peter’s actions in the beginning of Acts shows us how believing in God’s power gave Peter the confidence to speak. Peter outright denied Jesus before the crucifixion. In spite of that, God gifts Peter with the wisdom and the confidence to lead His church. I can’t think of a greater mercy and love than that.

Posted on 2 Comments

2 Peter 3: Encouragement During Stress

We looked at Peter’s response to Passover and Easter the past two weeks. I wanted to continue the Peter theme, so I opened the letters he wrote for inspiration. I was surprised to find several passages that I didn’t remember. Peter recognized the struggles we face in this broken world and gives some wise advice. Let’s turn to 2 Peter 3 for some encouragement during stress.

The Passage: 2 Peter 3

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:3-9 NIV

Encouragement during Stress from 2 Peter 3

First off, I want to recognize that between the original authors and modern-day translators, Biblical text sure can get muddy. (Peter even addresses this in 2 Peter 3:15-16 because people misinterpreted Paul’s letters!) So let’s break down exactly what Peter means when he repeats “water” and “words.”

Water

Peter’s rather confusing “of water and by water” refers all the way back to Genesis when God created the earth. In Genesis 1:6-10, we see God separate the sky from the earth, which the Bible explains using the term “water.” On the next day, He grouped all the literal water on the earth into “seas” so that dry ground appeared. Peter then references the flood account from Genesis 6:9-22. God punished the water-formed earth by sending a flood to kill everything. Only the faithful Noah and a select group of animals survived the flood in an ark God taught Noah to build.

Words

Peter’s first reference to “word” points to Genesis 1 where God spoke the world into being. (I haven’t met an English major who doesn’t love the power of words in this account, regardless of their belief in its scientific accuracy.) Peter goes on to connect God’s word with His mercy and judgement. Because justice characterizes God, He ultimately must judge evil as He did in the flood account. However, in His mercy, His word holds back the judgement we deserve until the time He decides.

Peter reminds us of God’s power by showing us how God created, judged, and maintained Earth. Yet, Peter doesn’t leave us with this image of an almighty, wrathful God. Instead, Peter points us to God’ loving patience. He reminds us that God holds back His judgement for our benefit.

In Light of A Virus

2 Peter 3 shows us that God holds ultimate control over the happenings of Earth. We very well may not understand God’s permissions or His timing. Instead, we remember God’s goodness and faithfulness. The early church did not know why Jesus still waited in Heaven. They expected His arrival yesterday. That same tension hits us today as we continue to face a complete upheaval of life as we expected it. Thankfully, the same powerful God of the early church draws us to Himself today.

Posted on 3 Comments

Peter’s Response to Jesus’ Resurrection

Last week, we looked at Peter’s perspective of the Passover when Jesus was crucified. Thankfully, the story didn’t end with Jesus in a grave. Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to repent after His resurrection. It completely changed Peter’s life. Let’s look at Peter’s response to Jesus’ resurrection.

The Passage

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told [of Jesus’ resurrection] to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Luke 24:10-12 NIV

The third time [Jesus] said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do no want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

John 21:17-19 NIV

Confusion and Bewilderment

Peter’s denial of Jesus left him crushed, confused, and bewildered. He did not understand how the events of Easter would take place. So when the women return with news of an empty tomb, Peter ran to see it for himself. As it does for us, Jesus’ crucifixion showed Peter the weight of his sins and failures. Peter’s love for Jesus left him wishing he could change his choices at Passover. The remorse would forever alter the trajectory of Peter’s life.

Peter’s Response to Jesus’ Resurrection

As the Gospel of John shows us, Jesus lovingly gave Peter an opportunity to redeem his Passover denial. Next time, when the threat of death goaded Peter into denying Jesus, Peter remembered the lesson he learned. He no longer denied Jesus. Instead, Peter went to jail and ultimately endured martyrdom. Peter led the early church bravely, if imperfectly. Fear occasionally overtakes him regarding the church’s theology, but Peter refuses to deny his Jesus anymore.

Thankfully, Peter’s example gives us hope that Jesus restores us even when we fail. Like Peter, our story does not have to end when we mess up. Jesus extends His pierced hands to redeem us and use our struggles for good. As time pulls us away from this year’s Easter celebration, may we remember that Jesus’ offer of forgiveness does not.

Posted on 9 Comments

Passover Prophecy: Peter’s Denial

As we approach a rather unusual Easter Sunday, I keep thinking of my favorite early church leader, Peter. He possesses that feisty, fighting faith. He also screws up just as badly as all the rest of us normal humans. In honor of Passover today, let’s look at Jesus’ Passover prophecy of Peter’s Denial.

The Passage

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Luke 22:31-34 NIV

Passover Prophecy

Jesus warned of multiple betrayals at the Passover meal. He foretold that Judas would hand Him over to the chief priests. He explained to the confused disciples that the Kingdom of God was coming. Most surprisingly, He also prophesied Peter’s denial.

We think of Peter as the gutsy, often rash, unofficial leader of the disciples. He was that kid in school who had an answer for every question. Peter boldly brandishes his position, but he doesn’t realize that Passover will completely flip his life upside down.

Peter’s Denial

The Passover celebration harkened back to the Israelites escape from Egypt. The Israelites painted their doors with the blood of lambs, and their sons were spared from God’s judgement. (See Exodus 12.) To commemorate God’s mighty act, the Jews sacrificed a Passover lamb (see Luke 22:7-8). God doesn’t slack when it comes to fulfilling prophecies, so the chief priests capture and procure the death of His Son Jesus on that very day.

Of course, Peter doesn’t see this big plan. He only knows that he is devoted to his friend Jesus. I think Peter truly believes he will defend Jesus to the death. After all, the Bible reports only Peter following Jesus to his trial. However, as Jesus said in His Passover Prophecy, fear overcomes Peter when the bystanders recognized him. Peter denies Jesus three times, then he flees in shame. (See Luke 22:54-62).

This week, let’s sit with Peter in recognition of our sinful behavior. Peter failed to live up to his own expectations of himself. It crushed him, just as it would crush any one of us. Unlike Peter, though, we know that Jesus rose from the dead three days later. We know that Jesus’ resurrection gives us victory over sin and death, so we don’t have to live in shame like Peter. Next week, when we have celebrated the gift of Easter, we’ll see how Peter’s life changed because of this miraculous Passover.

Posted on Leave a comment

Power-Hungry Sons: Gideon and David

To paraphrase the well-known quote, we have all heard that history is destined to repeat itself. The Bible certainly holds a multitude of examples of this as we repeatedly forget God’s power and goodness. As I read the story of Gideon’s son Abimelech, it struck me as similar to the later story of David’s son Absalom. Let’s compare the stories of the power-hungry sons of Gideon and David.

Power-Hungry Sons

Gideon’s son Abimelech killed his seventy brothers and took control of Israel (Judges 9). In contrast to his father, Abimelech did not hold the same view that God ruled Israel. Instead, he led the people of Shechem to take over leadership. His reign caused controversy. Within three years, the people in Abimelech’s territory divided into civil war. Abimelech finally died so that the chaos could stop. Abimelech exemplifies how a power-hungry son can divide a nation.

Decades later, we find conflict from a power-hungry son repeated in David’s family. For two years, David’s son Absalom plotted to kill his brother Amnon for raping Absalom’s sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Honestly, the whole thing gets pretty messy from there. Absalom flees to Geshur, where he lives for three years. David mourns Absalom’s loss when he finishes grieving Amnon’s death. So, the army commander Joab convinces the king to bring Absalom back. David agrees but refuses to see Absalom for two years (2 Samuel 14). Once Absalom sees his father again, he begins manipulating all of Israel into rebelling against David (2 Samuel 15). This turns into a massive battle dividing all of Israel (2 Samuel 16-20). A large number of people died from both sides because of the power-hungry son’s actions.

Anxious Fathers

Both Gideon and David seemed to have struggled with anxiety in their lifetimes. Yet, God uses them to fulfill his purposes and bring peace to Israel. So, what went wrong with their sons? First and foremost, the Bible never lays blame for the power-hungry sons’ actions on the fathers. We only know that Gideon created an ephod that became a stumbling block, and David had an affair leading to the death of an innocent man. However, the Bible does not connect these sins to the sins of their children. At least in David’s case, Absalom’s rebellion seems to test David again and stretch his faith in the Lord. I imagine that if Gideon lived to see Abimelek’s actions, he would feel tested just like David.

Posted on Leave a comment

Similarities Between Gideon and Moses: The Midianites

As we wrap up our series on Gideon, I wanted to note two other figures Gideon reminded me of. We first looked at the parallels between Gideon and Moses in their tests of God. However, their stories connect in many more ways. Let’s look at the similarities between Gideon and Moses, particularly around the Midianites.

The Midianites

It intrigues me that Moses’ family by marriage later becomes Israel’s overwhelming enemy. Way back when Egypt held Israel captive, Moses lived among the Midianites and married the priest’s daughter (Exodus 2:15-22). Moses’ wife saved him from death by circumcising their son on their journey back to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-25). Later, Jethro advised Moses to delegate his mediating tasks to other Israelites so Moses had energy to fulfill his purpose (Exodus 18). It seems that the Israelites and the Midianites enjoyed a peaceful relationship due to Moses’ marriage. So, what changed in the time of the Judges?

Based on the NIV translation of the texts, it seems to me that Jethro knew and possibly worshipped God as the Israelites did. Otherwise, I don’t believe his daughter would have known to save Moses by the Abrahamic covenant. Regardless of Jethro’s original beliefs, he definitely believed in Exodus 18 when he heard of God’s miracles. However, by the time of the Judges, everyone had turned to worshipping idols (Judges 6). Neither the Midianites nor the Israelites respected the LORD who created them. Thus, both groups act out God’s punishment on the other for neglecting His authority.

Similarities between Gideon and Moses

Both Gideon and Moses struggled with confidence to fulfill God’s call on their life. Moses told God that he couldn’t talk well enough, so maybe he should send someone else to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:10-13). Gideon told God that he came from the least of the smallest tribe so he had no qualifications to lead a revolt (Judges 6:15). Despite Moses’ and Gideon’s insecurities, God used them both to free the Israelites from their bondage. God gave both men the ability to spiritually lead the Israelites. Moses gave the Israelites God’s commandments, and Gideon steered the Israelites back from idol worship.

The similarities between Gideon and Moses show us that God can use us despite our insecurities and anxieties. In fact, rather than slow us down, our weaknesses encourage others that God can use them, too.

Posted on 4 Comments

Depression and Disappointment in Ezra

I still have a few more observations to make about Gideon’s story. However, I read Mrs. Brenda’s excellent post on expectation versus reality this afternoon. It reminded me so much of my Bible reading in Ezra yesterday that I wanted to take a quick break from Gideon to discuss depression and disappointment.

The Passage

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD:

“He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 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. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:10-13 NIV

Some Context

The last four kings of Judah rejected God and refused to listen to any of His prophets. Thus, God allowed King Nebuchadnezzar to take over the Israelites and destroy Jerusalem. The last of the Israelites entered exile in Babylon for 70 years (2 Chronicles 36:21). Then, in God’s grace, He caused King Cyrus to send the Israelites back to Judah to rebuild the temple.

Now, the oldest Israelites mentioned in Ezra 3 remembered the temple designed by David and built by Solomon. That original temple signified the glory days of Israel. The temple glittered with mementos of God-given victories and wealth. Clearly, the temple was a sight to behold even after the Israelites had desecrated it. The Israelites who remembered the original temple felt bittersweet as they laid the new foundation. Sure, King Cyrus allowed them to rebuild God’ temple, but the new temple didn’t display the same power and wealth. The Israelites no longer controlled the building of their own temple to God. They depended entirely on a foreign king’s goodwill.

The Difference in Depression and Disappointment

This article on Psychology Today explains that while disappointments fade with time, depression does not. Perhaps the mournful Israelites merely grieved the loss of the original temple as they built the new one. However, I imagine some of the Israelites did struggle with depression triggered by exile. God did not restore Israel’s political status as they probably hoped. Instead, God started where the Israelites struggled most. He gave them back the temple, the central point of Israel’s existence.

The book of Ezra does not condemn the Israelites who mourned as they laid the temple’s foundations. In fact, Ezra seems to support the idea of feeling all of the emotions involved in the situation. God knew Israel’s hopes for political restoration, yet He also knew that they needed religious restoration first. I imagine God felt compassion for the Israelites who remembered the glory days. He just knew that they needed Him more.

Just as God understood the Israelites, He understands our conflicted emotions during this COVID-19 time. He feels compassion for the disappointed hearts. God does not fear or shy away from the darker sides of ourselves that we are facing. Instead, He knows we need to return to Him. He’s going to start by rebuilding us where we each need it most.