Jehovah Builds His Temple
Scripture: Zechariah 4
Text: Zechariah 4:9-10
Sermon by Rev. Cornelius Bronsveld
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Listowel, Ontario, Canada, 1984
© Burlington United Reformed Church; Vol. 1, No.10
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ:
What is the purpose of all our work, efforts, and continuous struggle in this short earthly life? Is it to build our own kingdoms? If so, then the final results will be disastrous. In Israel, we have a very good example, as we can read in the Old Testament prophets. Israel was delivered out of Egypt and given the promised land of Canaan. For what purpose? The purpose of it was to serve the Lord, and to live a life of thankfulness to their covenant God. However, this was not carried out, but they had become one with the worldly nations around them. The Lord came in judgment, and they were taken away from their beautiful promised land and led into Babylon. They returned into slavery again.
As we see time and again, the purpose was to purify them. A remnant would return to the promised land, and the first task given to them was to rebuild the temple. We can read this in the book of Ezra, where God used King Darius for that purpose. Darius was instrumental in the rebuilding of the temple by sending a remnant back to Jerusalem. We read in Ezra 6:3, “The king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, ‘Let the house be built, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid.’” Again, God used a heathen king, just as Nebuchadnezzar, and later on Caesar Augustus, to fulfill His purposes.
It is a great comfort, people of God, when we can see that. All things are completely in God’s hand. The temple of God had to be rebuilt at that time, and the Lord’s purposes would be fulfilled. The same is true for this time. The church must be built. The whole world turns and is kept but for one reason — that Christ’s church might come to completion. All the events are directly or indirectly used for that purpose. Now amongst those who were sent out of Babylon was the prophet Haggai, and probably also the prophet Zechariah. They had returned with others to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
This chapter tells us of the building of that temple and their struggle with the opposition and disappointments. At the same time — and that is really the main thought for today — we are called to see what the Lord says of it all. There is a kind of rebuke. The question is “Who is the true builder of that temple?” Apparently it took quite a while to finish that temple, and it could not in any way compete with the temple of Solomon that had been destroyed. If we turn just for a moment to Ezra 3:12, then you’ll see that many who had seen the first house wept.
When they saw the insignificant foundations of this temple, many had, so to speak, thrown their tools down and quit building. What we see of the church with our natural eyes is indeed foolishness. It doesn’t look like much to man and it doesn’t appeal to him. The work of God is only to be seen through the Spirit, with spiritual eyes. It is not to be measured with horses and horsemen, with earthly power and splendor, but with heavenly measurements. “Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” With that knowledge before us, and the Spirit in us, we possess all the heavenly power to build Christ’s church, for He Himself is the builder.
Our text begins with: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it.” Who is Zerubbabel? Zerubbabel came out of the house of Judah. You will also find his name in the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:12. “And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechanias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel.” It is very important to see this line, for he is a picture of Jesus Christ, the only perfect temple-builder, who builds His temple, the church. Zerubbabel could not do it, and would have failed completely, if the Lord had not encouraged, driven, and sustained him. Yet it was but a symbol, a temple of wood and stone, and not the living temple of Christ.
Zerubbabel was the head of the tribe of Judah at the time of the return from the Babylonian captivity. Therefore, he placed himself at the head of those who God had convicted to go back and build the temple. He began immediately after arriving in Jerusalem, but it wasn’t long before the work stopped. The foundations were laid, but they did not finish it. The Samaritans began to hinder them, and so they began to build their own houses — we could say they built their own little kingdoms instead.
It was sixteen years before the work was taken up again, but not of themselves. No, the Spirit of God got hold of Zerubbabel. The Book of Ezra gives a beautiful account of all the events. What we are called to see today however, is Jehovah’s way of doing things, not man’s way, which will fail completely. In His infinite mercy, Jehovah does nevertheless use man to build His temple, even when we see man’s incapability, and that of Zerubbabel.
Even though Satan tried to stop Him, Christ did not cease building. Nor did He build for Himself, thinking about His own convenience, as Zerubbabel did, who ceased building after the foundation was laid. No, He continued to build that temple in obedience to His Father. So we may see something wonderful in our text — the fact that God is faithful, for the temple shall be finished. Even though — and let me repeat it again — there is weakness and failure on Israel’s, on Zerubbabel’s side, Jehovah’s purposes shall come to pass. Hear the word of the Lord: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house: his hands shall finish it.” People of God, this is indeed a picture of Jesus Christ who shall finish the work of building of His temple, regardless of all the attacks of the evil one and of the failures of man. The true temple-builder shall not fail — no, never! The foundation is there, and that foundation is Jesus Christ.
The temple of God can only be built on the true foundation, laid by Zerubbabel, laid by Christ, and by no one else; nor can it be laid anywhere else. Therefore the apostle Paul writes: “I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon; but let every man take heed how he buildeth there upon.”
Then follows who that foundation is — the foundation of the only true temple of God. “For other foundations can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Returning from Babylon, Israel was called to build the temple on the foundation laid by Zerubbabel. He also would finish it, for the plummet was in his hand. The New Testament church, laid upon the foundation of Christ’s blood, shall be finished; not by the work of man but by Christ Himself, as He has the plummet in His hand. Beloved, it is good to be reminded of this, since we as a church are so often discouraged because we are so small in comparison with the powers of this world. It is not our work, even though the Lord uses us. We are His church and His temple. Every stone that shall be laid on that foundation is carefully selected by Him, chiseled and chipped to fit the temple on that foundation.
It is also true that His church is built where Christ Himself wants it to be built. It was not in Babylon, but in Jerusalem. Notice that He had it all in His hand. He moved the heart of kings Cyrus and Darius to have these plans worked out according to His will. We must confess that we forget this so often when there are difficulties in our lives — when the evil one seem to have the power to stop the work of the church. But he doesn’t, people of God. He does not have that power unless the Lord allows it to seem that way for a moment. All the powers of hell cannot interfere with the work of God. Christ is purifying the church, using these things to receive even greater glory. He destroys every enemy, even the enemies which have crept into the church. “It is not all Israel that calls itself Israel.”
So, to return again to our scripture passage — the work resumes, and Israel is encouraged by Zerubbabel and begins to build on the foundation. No, it doesn’t look encouraging. There is opposition from all sides, and there is mocking and outbursts of laughter by the enemy. For what they are building there amounts to nothing in the eyes of the world, even in the eyes of the Samaritans.
The prophet Zechariah told Zerubbabel that the Lord would be with them and the temple of the Lord would be finished. The fulfillment and completion of that temple would be the substantiation that the prophet had spoken the Word of God. Now as I said before, there was reason for the small remnant of Israel that had returned to be discouraged. They were despised by the nations around them, even by the Samaritans, who also claimed to be children of Abraham. Some had come with their own ideas of building the temple, as we can read in the fourth chapter of Ezra. “Then they came to Zerubbabel and to the chief of the fathers, and said to them, ‘Let us build with you; for we seek your God, as ye do, and we do sacrifice unto Him since the days of Esarhaddon, king of Assur.’” In other words, they said, “Why don’t we join together, since we are all concerned with the same thing. Why don’t you do it this way? Why all this separation?”
We could say, to use another example: “We are all Christians, aren’t we? Why all these different churches? Let’s make one great church, one bigger temple for everyone. A temple for the poor, fighting against social injustice; a temple for the peace-makers, who are demonstrating against all kinds of war; a temple for freedom of religion, allowing people to believe in any god they want; and a temple where you can live with whatever morals you choose, not only the ones in Scripture, for that is too offensive to others. Let us build with you, and broaden that foundation. Yours is absolutely too small. It is too narrow-minded. Furthermore, your church is so insignificant.”
Then listen to the answer of Zerubbabel, when the temple they were building looked too small for so many. “But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel said unto them; ‘Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God.’” When the true Church of Jesus Christ begins to say that, when it remains true to her principles in accordance to God’s Holy Word, then you will indeed encounter the opposition and persecution as the remnant of Israel did. “Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building.” The temple of the Lord will be built, but not according to man’s ideas or his interpretation of scripture. It will not be built with earthly power and wisdom but with the power from above. The Spirit of God is the builder of the church.
Indeed, that true church will look insignificant in the eyes of the world. It has always been that way. Look at Noah, at Abraham, and at the time of Christ’s birth. How many were really waiting for Him? The true church of our Lord will always remain a laughing stock to the world and to those who perhaps call themselves “children of Abraham” and “of the covenant,” as the Samaritans did, but refused to separate themselves from the rest of the world.
We hear it more and more today. “Why not join the great ecumenical movement to change this world? Why not a little bit more liberal? What is really wrong with building the church with women in office? What is wrong with this modern world of today where dance, movies, and rock music have become an intricate part of life? In this time of tolerance and moral freedom, what is wrong with breaking up a marriage? You are so out of date, to build the temple on such a small foundation, as at the time of the Apostle Paul or Zerubbabel two or three thousand years ago. How reasonable does it sound in the ears of modern man? Let us be realistic — times do change. Why hold on to the old-fashioned way of the Bible, written thousands of years ago by Moses, by kings David and Solomon, by prophets such as Isaiah and Zechariah, and by the apostles? We live in the twentieth century in which the wisdom of man has increased to an incredible height.”
Be aware, people of God, it is the old trick of the devil who said to Eve, “Do it my way.” “Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve fell for it, and the result was horrible — death. The foundation which God has laid is not acceptable to the world, not even to the Samaritans who call themselves “children of the covenant,” but are really children of the flesh. It is too small and too limited, and it doesn’t appeal to sinful flesh.
Israel encountered that, and even after their return from Babylon there was the tendency to fall back into the old paths of sin — to give up and build for their own first. The enemy hindered them and urged them to give up the building of God’s temple. Even Israel began to question if it was worth all that trouble. We understand this well, for it goes against our flesh. We must die to ourselves every day. Don’t despair, people of God, even when you become a minority in the midst of your Father’s world. Listen to what was said to the remnant of Israel: “For who hath despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel, with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord which run to and fro through the whole earth.”
Christ says, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here, or lo there. For behold the kingdom of God is within you.” The temple of the Lord is built, not according to man’s blueprint and man’s wisdom, but according to God’s sovereign will. His incomprehensible design for man is of the Spirit; to be discerned spiritually. “Who hath despised the day of small things?” That is a serious warning. In the history of God’s people it was never the great and mighty that God used to shame unbelievers, wise in their own eyes. It was the weak and insignificant ones He used. Again, just to clarify some more, the church of Jesus Christ has always been very small, even in the Old Testament. Noah was in the midst of a godless generation. Abraham was insignificant in the midst of all the Canaanites. Israel itself was, as God said to her: “I did not choose you because ye were more in number than any other people, for you were the fewest.”
Here also only a small number returned from Babylon. Christ Himself did not have a great number following Him for the Word of life, but for the bread, as we read in John 6. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled.” He chose only twelve disciples, simple and insignificant, some who were just fishermen. There were only 120 people gathered when the disciples waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the eyes of the world this is a small foundation. There is no doubt that there are many people who want to be associated with a church and addressed as Christians, but on their terms. They are not building on that small foundation laid by Zerubbabel, by Christ. They cannot see the necessity of being completely in agreement with everything that is written in God’s Word. They think the church can become much larger. We must conquer the world for Christ only.
Well, the Bible has news for them, since this world belongs to Christ already. He says: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” Jehovah God is the sovereign King. This account shows us that also. Kings were used to build His church, not in their own ways but in God’s way. They were mere instruments in His hand to accomplish His plans, even to send His people back to Jerusalem to build His temple.
These people needed to know how to build that temple, as it was to be built according to God’s plans. Now notice what Zerubbabel had in his hand — the plummet with the seven eyes. This was the perfect instrument to build the walls of the temple completely straight and perpendicular on its foundation. It could not be out one-thousandth of a millimeter, for the temple of God must be perfect. The seven eyes are the eyes of the Lord, which miss nothing. Everything that is laid on that foundation must fit perfectly. Everything laid on that foundation was tested by the plummet, that which is according to the Word of God. It must be absolutely correct.
In other words, the church, the temple of the Lord today, is not built according to man’s standards or measurements, but by Jesus Christ. He has the plummet in His hand, and the eyes of the Holy Spirit go throughout the world, and only that which is selected by Zerubbabel, by Christ Himself, shall be used to build the church of Jesus Christ. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” The Spirit of God, the seven eyes, measure and test each member, and prepare him to fit that temple of Jesus Christ. He searches the heart of man.
We would not be so accurate. We would use anything that looks right in our own eyes to build the temple. The temples we build may look impressive, even similar to the temple of Solomon, but they will be destroyed because of idolatry. God Himself will build the temple, using hearts cleansed by the blood of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, whose perfect temple was destroyed to make from us temples of God. Sinners become saints.
The Lord builds His temple by calling sinners to repentance with the proclamation of God’s Holy Word. “Please,” many say, “don’t speak of judgment, speak of love. Say that all shall be saved. Broaden that foundation. That’s not how you build a church.” But God says in His Word, “For who hath despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those eyes.” The eyes of the Holy Spirit go through the midst of His church. Rejoice, people of God, for the Lord continues to build His Church, even though it is small in the eyes of the world. We don’t have to worry, for He did build us a temple. He laid the foundation, and He shall also finish it. By the grace of God, we are the stones, changed to living stones of His temple.
Perhaps we do not always understand why it takes so long before that temple is finished, before He returns on the clouds of heaven. Leave it to Zerubbabel, to Christ, for it is only by the Spirit that the church is built. That sure steadfast foundation is there on which Christ does build, using God’s Word, and He shall finish what He began. Hebrews 12:2 says “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The headstone of the temple, the finished work of Christ was laid. It is finished already; “chosen before the foundation of the world.” Therefore we can rejoice with this prophet as he writes: “Grace, grace unto it” — for that’s all it is beloved. Christ built His temple and therefore let us listen to Him. He has the plummet with which He builds His Church, and seals her with His precious blood.
The Holy Spirit, which is the seven Spirits of God, shall bring His people to the living temple, the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb. May we all fit that foundation which was laid, even when that means much chiseling in our lives. Amen.