The Foundations of Worship
Text: Ezra 3:1-13 | Listen to Message
Fear That Conquers Fear
One of Bible’s most important lessons on worship is also one of its most overlooked. Ezra 3:2-3 says of the Jews returning from exile, “They built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses, . . . for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands.”
After nearly 70 years in Babylonian captivity, the people were finally allowed to return home. But home wasn’t anything like what it once was. Their capital city had been razed and their temple destroyed. In their absence, foreigners had moved in and occupied their land. It’s a bit like returning to your neighborhood only to find it’s been flattened by an F5 tornado and is now inhabited by rival gangs.
You’d think their first order of business would be to rebuild their homes or city wall – to get some kind of protection. Or maybe to fashion some spears and swords to fight to get their turf back. But no. Their priority was to gather in worship.
Specifically, they started by rebuilding the altar. They couldn’t depend on God’s presence without first being reconciled to him. And that meant repentance and sacrifice. That meant hoping in him for forgiveness and atonement. So they rebuilt the altar even before they rebuilt the foundations of the temple.
Some translations say they rebuilt the altar in spite of their fear. That would be impressive, if true. Looking past your fears to do something good and right is a mark of true courage. But this text makes a different point. It literally says they rebuilt the altar because they were afraid. In other words, they were terrified so they worshiped God. To put it another way, they knew fearing God was the only thing that could drive out their fear of man.
See, whatever you focus on, whatever you obsess about, will become bigger and bigger to you. When you experience painful trials, and your instinct is to be afraid, anxious, or angry, your best recourse is to worship. Fill your heart and mind with truth about the love and power of God. Meditate on what he’s done for you – and what he promises to do. This isn’t “the power of positive thinking.” He really is all-powerful, and he wants to wash away your doubts and fears in the ocean of his omnipotent grace.