Return to Me

“In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, ‘The Lord has been very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Return to Me,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.’” But they did not hear nor heed Me,’ says the Lord. ‘Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? Yet surely My words and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?’ “So they returned and said: ‘Just as the Lord of hosts determined to do to us, according to our ways and according to our deeds, so He has dealt with us.’ ”

Zechariah 1:1-6 NKJV

The promise our God made with Abraham was that He would be with his descendants. God wanted a relationship with them where He abides in them, and them in Him. The people believed this was fulfilled by them constructing the temple in Jerusalem, however they had departed from God’s law. They wandered far away from God. Though they were physically in Jerusalem, God deemed that they were far from Him and thus He left them also. When that happened, Gentiles invaded their land and took all the people to Babylon, giving them a hard time for 70 years.

In regard to this, although it was God who had turned Israel over to the hands of the Gentiles, even in His eyes He could see that they were dealing with the Israel all too harshly. They dealt with them treacherously. If you continue reading the chapter, God says, “I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease; For I was a little angry, and they helped—but with evil intent.” They tormented Israel to the point that God said they were taking it too far. They did not even have human rights in those days, and the way they were treated was so horrendous that it is beyond words. And this lasted for 70 years. So the Israelites wondered, ‘Where is God? Where is God? If He was with us in the past, how can this be happening to us right now?’ They were in anguish.

Their faith used to be temple-centered. Previously they thought they were doing well as long as they went to the temple and gave offerings regardless of the word. But since they could not go to the temple anymore, where did their attention turn to? The word. You can always carry the word with you wherever you go. Hence, through the word, they began to know God. Then they realized that they had deviated from the word and determined to return to the word.

When the 70 years were up, God sent them back to Jerusalem. They thought that it was because they had returned to the word and repented that God had forgiven them and were restoring them.

During the time of King Cyrus of Persia, when he conquered Babylon and ruled the world, he returned the people back to Jerusalem. But it did not end there. He told them, “Your God is the true and powerful God. Build a temple for your God,” and sent them back.

So the people returned and started building the temple believing that God was with them. At that time, their leader was Zerubbabel and the priest was Jeshua. With these two men as the leaders, they began building the temple. However, there were interferences just as there are demons that hinder our spiritual lives. The indigenous inhabitants of the land amongst whom were Samaritans also did not let the people alone. Because the people of Jerusalem had moved away from there, the Samaritans had moved south and the other Gentiles there did not let the people build the temple. They filed a petition to the king to put a halt to the construction. And since King Cyrus was no more and a different king was in power, he ceased the construction work.

The work was put on hold while they were building the altar, and the stones were just piled up. How heartbreaking is that? The people knew that they had to build the temple and had such a strong desire to build it but because of the king’s decree, they could not do anything. And time elapsed just like that. 1 year, 2 years and 3 years. After some time, they became used to it. The construction was not even half finished, with piles of stone and timber which were being sanded. It was a dismal sight. A half-completed building site would look no different from a building that was blown up. At first, they were heartbroken by the situation, but later on, they became numb to it. It was not of interest to them. Though they were physically there in Jerusalem, God’s work was stilled. Their excuse was that they had no choice since it was the king’s decree. Plus there were many interferences.

As they started to get settled in the area, working and gaining wealth, their interest turned to building their own houses. People’s greatest interest is in building their houses. Chinese people who come over to Korea for work, what are they working for? It is obvious. To build their own house and build their son’s house. There is nothing else to it. It is for their own house, for their son’s house, and if they are well off, to build a house for their siblings. Everyone wants to build his house. What do people do with the money they earn? They buy a house. If they earn more, they buy another house and then rent it out. In the same way, the people of Israel were building their houses beautifully. When God saw that, what did He say through the prophet Haggai? ‘Is that the rightful thing to do?’ He asked them, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your panelled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” God rebuked them saying, “Is it rightful that you live in a nicely built house while God’s house is left in ruins? How can you sleep at night knowing this?” He says this in Haggai 2, which is a short book written by the prophet Haggai. About 2 months after God’s word came to Haggai, God’s word came to this prophet Zechariah. Thus, these two prophets spoke this message consecutively.

What did Zechariah tell them? “God says, ‘Return to Me and I will return to you’.” When the Israelites heard this, they were dumbfounded. Because all that time, they thought they had returned. They thought that the reason they came back to Jerusalem from Babylon was because they turned away from their disobedience and started to obey God’s word, and they were keeping the Sabbath properly unlike before. They believed they had returned to God. And since they were back in Jerusalem and needed only to build the temple, they thought their relationship with God was restored fully. So it was shocking to hear that they had not yet returned to God. How come they had not returned to God? Just as God rebuked them about living comfortably in a nice house while His temple was left in ruins, it was because they had not built the temple.

In other words, despite living in Jerusalem, if they do not build the temple, they have not returned to God. Although one believes in Jesus, if he does not do the work of building the temple, he has not returned to God. However, a lot of people think they have returned to God after they believe in Jesus, yet continue doing their own work despite having faith in Jesus. They mistakenly think that faith life is about using Jesus for profit in their own work and matters so that they become more successful than others and thus say, “Thank You God.” Hence, they think they have already returned to God but God’s temple is still left in ruins and untouched.

After hearing the words of the prophets Zechariah and Haggai, Zerubabbel and Jeshua’s hearts were moved so that they encouraged the people to begin the work of building the temple. Had the king given the decree to do it? The king never told them to resume the construction. But they came to their senses after hearing the words of the Lord of hosts. ‘Why did we ever cease the construction at the king’s decree? After all that we went through, we finally were brought back and now should obey God’s word – the Lord of hosts – regardless of the king. But we stopped at the king’s word. We need to start again.’

When they started to build the temple again, the governor from across the river came and asked them who gave them permission to build. So they would have felt nervous. But when they told him that such and such gave them permission and such and such is in charge, he did not interfere with them. God touched the elders of Judah so that the people would not be hindered. Also, this governor wrote a letter for them to the king of Persia, who was King Darius at that time. He wrote in the letter saying, “These people started this construction and they claim King Cyrus commanded them to. Can King Darius find out if this is true and give instructions on what to do with them?” So King Darius commanded to search the records if there was anything in relation to it. They discovered that a king of the past – a great king – who had established Persia as a unified nation had given orders for them to build the temple. Not only did he order them to build it, he ordered that all the articles of the temple that were taken by Babylon from Jerusalem to be returned and if they needed anything else, he supplied them as the king. When King Darius found out about this, he gave the same decree. “Don’t interfere in their construction. Whoever hinders them will be hung.” He even gave orders for gold, precious stones and any other materials they needed to be supplied to them.

When people think they cannot do God’s work because they have not got this or that and cease the work, they can do nothing. But when the people relied on God’s command and set their hearts to do the work, the king instead provided them with everything they needed. In this way, when we set our hearts to do it, that is when He gives us power and strength. If we say we cannot do something because we have kids or because of something else, we cannot do anything. Yet, because you are determined to do it despite having a baby, you are getting the work done.

From the end of last December through the beginning of January, we had 6 sermons in 2 weeks. How hard was it to summarize and translate them all? It is hard to translate one sermon per week let alone 3 in a week. But a mother of a baby got them done. It is incredible. When we determine ourselves to do it, He gives us strength and power so that we can do it. When we say we cannot do it, we might have every reason why we cannot. Yet, when we set our hearts to build God’s temple and start, God gives us power, wisdom and everything else.

This story I was just talking about is found in Ezra chapters 5 through 6. Have a read of it later.

Let’s read Ephesians 2:20. Ephesians 2:20-22.

“having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

Jesus said, “I am the temple.” The temple that these people built later got destroyed again partially. So they had to rebuild it. Another king rebuilds it. And that temple which took 46 years to rebuild was the temple that was in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. Looking at that temple, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple. I will raise it again in three days.” This was a great offence to the Jews. It took such an effort to build. But Jesus was revealing the truth that He Himself is the true temple.

What is a temple? It is where God’s name is kept and sacrifices are burned to Him. However, God gave His name to Jesus His Son. He is the temple. So does that mean we are not a temple?

We became temples in Jesus. We would not be a temple if we were separated from Jesus. The temple is Jesus. But what have we become? We became members of Jesus’ body and are in Jesus. Hence, we became temples just as Jesus is the temple. Or we can say that we are the annexe building attached to the temple. For example, when they built the Blue House, it was not only the Blue House but many annexe buildings attached to the Blue House were also built. Also in the Chinese ancient palace, they used to have 999 rooms. In the same way, the temple of God in His kingdom needs many more rooms.

It is not enough to just have those rooms made, but they need to become a temple where God can abide in. As it says in verse 22, we are being built to become a dwelling place of God in the Holy Spirit. We are becoming a temple.

In our house, there is a room, and one year the rain leaked into that room and mould started to grow. It is the room I often slept in and prayed. But water was leaking into that room. If I fixed the problem quickly it could have been solved but as I was very busy, I left it for one whole summer. After that, it became a mouldy mess. All the books and wedding photos that were in the room were soaked and rotten. Later on, I had a look and could not even enter the room. The moment I went in, I started coughing. Initially, I was going to clean up the room to use it but I could not because I kept coughing. Since we could not go in the room nor use it, the condition became worse. Moreover, we could not clean the room yet still leave the windows open because of the mould. The room was still being heated so I figured out a way to stop the heating to that room which saved us a lot of money in bills. But because of that, the room became very cold and now it is an uninhabitable storage place. The room is filled with all sorts of things now.

How many times a year would anyone go in there? It is a place you do not want to stay in for long but get out. Similarly, if God does not enter a place anymore, that is how the place would change.

Though people say they believe in Jesus, if God cannot use them as a dwelling place, God is not with them. Hence God says, “Return to Me.” We are not a dwelling place of God unless we become builders of His temple. Through the work we are doing currently, many people believe in Jesus, receive the Holy Spirit and become God’s servants. Our work is actually about building up the temple. This is not in a figurative sense; it is a reality. What kind of people are we? We are workers who build God’s temple. We are continually building the temple. However, there are some people who are not interested in this work. They think it is enough that they believe in Jesus. They only use God to build their own houses. To such people, God is saying, “Return to Me and I will return to you. Build a proper temple and I will go in dwell in your place.”

If we are presently building the temple, it is something to be grateful for. We should be thankful that God is using us for that work, regarding us as His temple and working inside of us.

“Return to Me.” Let us not be those who are far away from God but always return to Him day after day, in order that God can truly abide in us as His true temple. I bless you in Jesus’ name. Let us pray.

Father God, though we lack in so many ways, we thank You for calling us to be builders of the temple. We ask You our God to help us to be the holy temples where You can come in freely and comfortably work. Also, help us to actively participate in the work of building the temple so that we can return to You, God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon by Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center
Sermon on January 17, 2013
Translated by Sungrak Mission Center English Team