By Scott Taylor
Things were pretty good in Jerusalem. The Jewish nation was enjoying unity and peace as God’s special and chosen people. And then, this Babylonian king named Nebuchadnezzar ruined everything. He besieged the city of Jerusalem and deported many of the Jews to a life of captivity in a foreign land. Along the way, Jewish heroes and heroines like Daniel and Esther brought some hope, but the people still longed to return home.
Finally, after the Babylonians fell to the Persians, they were allowed to go back. But when they got to Jerusalem, things just weren’t the same anymore. The temple, the home of God on earth, was gone. Also, for lack of a better word, Jerusalem just felt less Jewish. The people no longer seemed to know who they were. Something needed to be done to reclaim what it meant to be the people of God.
Two books in the Bible provide details concerning this process of restoration and reclamation: Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra was a high priest – which meant he was a Levite (a descendant of Aaron) – an expert on all that it meant to be Jewish. Nehemiah was a politician with a knack for community organizing. Together, they set out to rebuild Jerusalem as the home of the Jewish people. They even had a three-phase masterplan:
1. Build a new church! Solomon’s temple had been destroyed – but the people still remembered how grand it was (one of the wonders of the ancient world). So, a new temple was the first order of business – construction lasted 46 years!
2. Stop marrying folks who aren’t Jewish! Yes, that stereotype has a history. While the Jews were in exile and dispersed, they began to mix with other kinds of people and inter-cultural marriages occurred. Ezra determined this to be a chief threat to Jewish culture and identity and responded by digging up some ancient Torah laws and applying them to the situation at hand. As a result, many marriages were annulled and lists were created that specified who one could and could not marry.
3. Build that wall! Now that the Jewish people had re-established the hub of their faith and purified their culture through a rigid interpretation of religious law, it was time to build a wall to hold all that culture in (and keep the world out!). Nehemiah lead the way.
So, fast forward about 500 years and this God-possessed guy from Nazareth rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and looks up at the temple and said, “I will destroy your man-made temple!” By all Gospel accounts, the bishops and priests of the day killed him for the offence of that statement.
But that’s not all Jesus said. Standing in the shadow of the temple he’d just promised to destroy, he went on to say, “I will build another one in just three days: but not a temple made with hands.”
Thanks be to God for giving us a Christ who not only destroys our temples of prejudice and injustice, but who rebuilds them as his own living body. When we build our church on legalism, Christ destroys that church and rebuilds a new one on the law of love. When we build a church on specialism, Christ destroys that church and rebuilds one that says all people, from the man trading millions of dollars each day on Wall Street to the woman who spent last night in a cardboard box on Main Street, are of equal spiritual worth. When we build a church on elitism, Christ destroys that church with the humility of a manger and a cross. When we build a church on racism, nationalism, homophobia, sexism, and any other manifestation of fear and suspicion, Christ destroys that church and rebuilds another one, in just three days, built on the kind of hope that can only be found in an empty tomb.