Coming directly to the point I must tell you that a very deep conviction has been forming in my spirit since this past fall. During these two weeks of vacation that conviction has formed into what I believe is a strong prophetic message for such a time as this. In a word that message is“restoration”; a great season of restoration is breaking open before us right now. In the face of this I do not hesitate to declare that there are people in this service for whom this message is specifically designed and appointed by the Lord.
You have been languishing in a very negative place. Old dreams, visions, hopes, possibilities, desires and passions seem to be so far removed from where you presently are, they appear to be dead and buried and gone forever. Every day is a battle with disillusionment, despair, hopelessness, fear, doubt, guilt and a core emptiness that leaves you feeling that you are hardly even surviving much less thriving. It’s as if life has become this non-feeling, robotic experience of meaningless responses. If this describes you then God brought you to this house to hear His word to you. If this is not you then God brought you to this house to pray for the rest of us. And I mean that.
One of the most incredible experiences of restoration in the long history of humanity is that of the return of the Hebrew exiles from Babylon. The bulk of that restoration journey is reported in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. And the first thing we learn from reading those books is that restoration is not some romantic journey into paradise. It is in fact a messy business – full of unexpected twists and turns, full of challenges both from within and without. Restoration is hard work – but it is hard work with a glorious payoff – a payoff of ever increasing life and the fullness of fruitfulness.
But perhaps we need to begin with this: The first implication of restoration is separation. You cannot be restored to something you are already a part of. Restoration means that you have been separated from something or that something has been separated from you. It means there has been loss and distance; you are no longer where you once were in relation to a thing.
That was the state of these Hebrew people, and in fact had been for more than 70 years. They had been separated from the promised inheritance that had defined them as a people from the time of Abraham forward. Everything they loved, everything they hoped in, everything that defined them as a people they were now distanced from – and that distance was significant, about 700 miles. And the change was massive – from the fertility and fruitfulness of their homeland to a basic landscape of desert.
But the real difference ran much deeper than mere geography: language, culture, religion, values – they were now swallowed up by an identity totally foreign to their own. So again, the first implication of restoration is separation – and for these people that separation was all encompassing. Nothing was left untouched; they were a disconnected people.
The second thing I would suggest regarding restoration is that it begins when we begin to understand and acknowledge the reason for the separation. For insight into that, you need to read the book of Jeremiah. Not only did he prophesy these things but he lived through the things he prophesied. Based on those prophesies there are two vital issues to understand about this Babylonian captivity of separation. The first is that it was the culmination of a long history of rebellion, disobedience and resistance to the word of God. In that sense this 70 year exile was about God judging an inherent attitude of rebellion, disobedience and resistance in the hearts of His people.
What I have found in my own experience and the experiences of many I have pastored over forty years is that we all have blind spots and most of them have to do with heart attitudes and soul strongholds; things we absolutely do not see. But God sees them, and His way of dealing with them is by making them visible to us. That exposure usually takes place in the context of discipline. When we are exiled from those things that keep us protected from seeing our own heart we are actually moving in a positive direction although it feels horribly negative.
The second, and I think more important issue, is that we understand this action of judgement on the part of God was not essentially about punishment or retribution; it was about discipline and correction. That difference is huge. Retribution is about revenge, while discipline or correction is about change and future purpose.
Even before they went into this period of discipline, Jeremiah spoke prophetically of their restoration. The entire 31st. chapter of his record presents one of the most truly beautiful pictures of restoration to be found in literature. This can only mean that before God ever sent them off into that place of discipline His determined intention was never to leave them there and forget them – but rather it was always to restore them again.
This tells us that God has a single purpose in discipline and correction – that purpose is always restoration, return, reengaging what you were separated from and possessing the future.
To show you that restoration was always in the heart of God consider this scripture from the prophecies of Isaiah.
Isa.44: 28 “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’ ”
This tells us that someone named Cyrus would facilitate the beginning of this work of restoration. We know who Cyrus was. He was the King of the Persian Empire – the very empire which held the Hebrew people in exile. But Isaiah certainly did not know who Cyrus was – in fact Cyrus would not even be born until about 300 years after Isaiah named him and spoke of how God was going to use him.
So again, long before God ever took His people into the corrective discipline of exile He had fully prepared the way for their restoration. And I can tell you this morning that this God has never changed His mind regarding His core disposition concerning restoration. You may well be in a place of heavy discipline right now and you might feel like your heart has been exiled from every hope, dream, desire and passion you ever had. But I can tell you by the authority of the covenant word of God, His heart for you is totally set on restoration, and the way and means of that restoration is already established; the people and events have already been appointed and each in their designated time will manifest.
And so the day came when, as it were out of the blue, Cyrus made a choice – which by the way made no political sense and no economic sense – but manipulated by the sovereign word of prophecy he made a choice, and with that single choice the door (that these exiles thought would never open) was swung wide open and the way was cleared for full restoration.
This restoration would happen in stages, and some Hebrews would never return because they had become entrenched in their place of exile. But others had been filtering back to Jerusalem for several years but it was very random and scattered. This first major wave of migration numbered almost a full fifty thousand. They were led by Zerubbabel, a grandson of King Jehoiachin one of the last kings of Judah, along with Joshua the High Priest. And actually this return did not take place until 128 years after Babylon had swallowed them up.
The first thing they did upon being restored to what they had been separated from for all these years was to go to the ruins of the former temple and there on that site build an altar and sacrifice unto God in worship. Restoration can never be separated from altars, sacrifice and worship – or perhaps I should say, worship defined by altars and sacrifice. That is a whole lesson in itself and I think a vital one given the present culture of the church in which the true meaning of the altar and sacrifice is cut out of our definition of worship.
The next thing that happened was the laying of the foundation for the temple. And then everything stopped. For the next 15 years there was absolutely no construction on the temple.Fear had shut everything down. During that hundred plus year absence other non-Hebrew people groups had settled into the land. They intimidated these returned exiles into conforming to their desire and they certainly had no desire for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.
To revive that abandoned work God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to speak into the leadership – Zerubbabel and Joshua. The scriptures I read earlier compose part of the prophetic message spoken to Zerubbabel. From that I want to extract one question, and with this I will close out this message.
Zec.4:10 – “For who has despised the day of small things?” The work on this house had stopped not just because of fear but also (and I think more so) because of discouragement.That discouragement centred in the fact that by comparison to Solomon’s Temple this second house looked like an outhouse. When they dedicated the foundation 15 years earlier there was a group of old men – men who remembered the former temple – and instead of rejoicing at the restoration happening they cried bitter tears of regret because they could not get past an unhealthy comparison with past glory.
There is a vital lesson here regarding restoration: you will have to deal with the pressure of fear from the outside and the more critical pressure of discouragement from within.
This is exactly where some are right now. You have passed through the deep disciplines of God. You sense that God is now opening a door and calling you through it – a door to restoration. The season has changed. The wind is blowing in a new direction. God is calling you back to a foundation from which you have been separated for a period of time. And the enemy from without is filling your head with thoughts of all the “reasons” why it can never be. It’s been too long, you are too old, you are too out of touch and there is not enough time to build those dreams and hopes that still live somewhere in your heart. You are being told that the greater glory is behind you and no matter what you do now it’s too little too late. You are being told there is no way to start over.
I have great and glorious news for you. God is not asking any of us to start over. When these Hebrews went back to the temple site 15 years later they did not have to start over, they simply had to continue on from whatever had been established 15 years earlier. In other words the foundation was still standing, still in place and waiting to be built upon.
I don’t mind telling you that I am 62 years old, and over these years God has done incredible things in my life. Last October He took me into a place of exile – a place of deep and profound discipline. There were soul issues and heart attitudes that had to be circumcised out of my life. But – and this is the whole point – this season of corrective discipline did not tear down and undo all those things God had done in me prior to last October. They remain, they are established, and they are unshaken even though it felt like they were all lost forever.
I believe my season of restoration is just beginning. And what I know is that all those previous works of God do not have to be redone in my life. Restoration is simply eliminating the distance and backing me up to those established works of God in my life and building from that point forward into His appointed future.
The final word I leave with you addresses this unhealthy comparison we are always making with past glory. By physical standards this second house was hardly a shadow of what Solomon’s temple was. But it is not the physical comparison that matters (and living in the culture we live in we had better learn this lesson or we are going to be swept away by the physical appearances of things. There’s more to Kingdom growth and community than bouncing from conference to conference.) The only thing that matters is what God says. And what God said then is what He continues to say now: “I will fill this house with glory”, says the Lord of hosts. “The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former.”
At this stage it may only be a small thing, a slight flicker, a tiny spark, and pinpoint of light or a whispered stirring in your spirit – it may be nothing more than a cloud the size of a man’s hand on the horizon of your experience. Do not despise that small thing, for it is the preliminary indication of restoration – restoration that promises a greater glory than anything we have presently experienced.