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Central Christian Church

Back to Basics #2: Come Together

Today is week 2 of a sermon series called “Back to the Basics.”  These 6 weeks are an attempt to describe the basic structure of the bible and the story of salvation that it tells.  Each week we’ll look at the many ways the bible reveals that God is with us from the beginning to the end.  And in the spirit of going “back to school,” we are building each Sunday on a “Preposition for the Day.”  Last week, we saw how God is with us in the first part of the OT by coming alongside us on all our journeys.  That was our preposition for the day – alongside.  We saw, in particular, how the people of God – the children of Abraham – were on a literal, geographical journey toward a promised land; how God walked alongside them on that journey; and how, along the way, God gave them the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  The 10 Commandments taught them – and they teach us – how to honor God and how to honor one another.  These two things would be serve as the basic essentials for how to build a society that was pleasing to God.       

The 10 Commandments were then placed in a chest.  It was called an ark; a holy vessel.  And that ark was carried on poles by priests.  The ark went in front of the people and led them on the rest of their journey to the promised land.  The ark represented the presence of God.  Since God wrote the 10 Commandments, God dwelled in those very words.  And as long as the people followed the ark and kept it in sight, they knew they were safe, because they were close to the power and promises of God.  The ark was therefore portable and mobile.  But once the people crossed into the land and settled down, the ark became more stationary.

The people of God probably numbered over a million at this point but represented different tribes.  They had a common ancestor, but over time had developed into (what we’d call) different ethnicities, with different customs and variations of the same language.  Each tribe settled in their own region in the new land, and at first they all struggled with what it meant to be neighbors; one people.  Gradually, over time however, they grew more united until, about 1000 years before the time of Jesus, everything clicked.  There was peace and prosperity in the land.  There was harmony among the people.  And they had their first great king, King David.  David was an unassuming shepherd boy until God appointed him – as a young man – to be the one who would rise to spiritual greatness.  David slew an enemy giant named Goliath with a simple slingshot.  He is credited with writing many of the Psalms in the bible.  He was not perfect.  When he made mistakes and did what was not honorable to God, he suffered consequences.  But he was also bothered by something in particular. 

 

All this time the ark, as the people were settling, the ark– called the Ark of the Covenant – sat in a tent that was watched over by priests.  This bothered David, because he himself lived in a palace, but the God’s dwelling was far too humble and inferior.  This is how scripture describes what happens next (Read 2 Samuel 7).

David wanted to build a temple for God – a house worthy of God’s greatness.  But God said “no.”  Not yet.  “Your son will build that temple when he reigns,” God said.  Sure enough, during Solomon’s reign a temple was built in Jerusalem.  It was a glorious building and in the innermost sanctuary the Ark of the Covenant was placed.  The temple was the literal house of God and was built on another mountain – Mt. Zion.  The Law was given to the people on Mt. Sinai and the temple was given to them on Mt. Zion. 

The temple was a place of worship.  The people would gather there and God was with them in their togetherness.  That’s our preposition for the day: “together.”  In Greek it is also known as “with” and we know it by the prefix “Sym/Syn.”  We think of words like Sym-pathy (to suffer together); Sym-phony (to make sound together); and Syn-chronicity (joining time together).  The temple was where people gathered together to worship in the presence of God.  One of the ways they worshiped was by offering animals sacrifices.  The temple was the only place where this could be done and the priests sacrificed the animals on behalf of the people.  So the temple was a building the people could see, touch and feel.  As long as the temple stood and they could worship and offer sacrifices there, they knew that Gods’ power and promises were with them. 

After Solomon died, the harmony among the people broke down.  Infighting led to a split between north and south and for the next 200 years there were two kings, one in the north and one in the south.  The Northern Kingdom, which had its own holy sites where people worshiped, was conquered after 200 years.  But the Southern Kingdom, where the temple was located, continued independently for another 100+ years.  But around 600 years before the time of Jesus, the Babylonians (an empire off to the east) invaded the Southern Kingdom.  They did two things: 1) they took many of the people into captivity.  This was not uncommon in the ancient world.  If you had a skill or talent – if you were an artist, or musician, or engineer – you might be taken to perform that skill for the Babylonians in Babylon.  So it was not just hard labor that the Babylonians were looking for.  But it was still another form of bondage against their will.  And… (2)… they destroyed the temple – the holy house of God.  They burned it to the ground.

And this led to a crisis: How could the people remain faithful to God, away from their homeland and away from the temple?  Especially if the temple didn’t exist?  How could they worship?  How could they stay connected to God?  The answer was… the Law.  They still had the Law, those 600 commandments handed down through Moses.  And they could follow the Law as best they could.  Not all of them required a temple and a homeland.  So that’s what they did.  Eventually they were set free and went back home.  They rebuilt the temple over the next 25 years (Note: that is the temple that Jesus visited in his lifetime, and part of that temple – the western wall – still exists in Jerusalem today). 

But something changed.  Synagogues began to be established.  Because the people lived without the temple for so long, they set up other ways of worshiping.  There was still one temple in Jerusalem, but every town now had its own synagogue.  The word “synagogue” means “gather together.”  We might think of them as local congregations, where people would gather on the sabbath – the day of rest – to read the Law and where rabbis (teachers) would help interpret what the Word of God meant and how to apply it to daily living.

Something else changed as the people came back home.  Two kinds of religious leaders emerged.  First were the Sadducees.  These were priests who worked in the temple and made sure the customs and traditions were honored.  Second were the Pharisees.  They worked in and around synagogues.  They were scholars who became teachers of the Law and were looked to as those who knew best how to follow the Law.  Both the Sadducees and the Pharisees were people Jesus encountered in his day.  Each group would play a role in bringing Jesus to his crucifixion, which of course directly led to his resurrection.  And that… is where the story of salvation finds its greatest meaning, to which we will turn our attention next week.

But our theme today is “Togetherness” – God is with us in our coming together for worship.  Every time we gather around the Word of God, God is there.  And where we gather is important too.  Places matter.  The land itself was a holy place for the people and the temple became the holiest place in the holy land.   So as we conclude today and you think about moving into the coming week, I invite you to reflect on the holy places in your life?  Where are they?  How did you encounter God there?  And when you have you experienced the presence of God in the togetherness of others?  Pause to give thanks for these experiences.  For they continue to reveal that God is with us in the same way God was with our spiritual ancestors all those years ago.    

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