It was a happy day. By the mouths of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, the Lord had promised Israel would return home and reconstruct his Temple, and that day was at hand. (Ezra 1:1)
It was a happy day. The Lord had moved the heart of Cyrus, King of Persia, and he had used all his power and possessions to facilitate the return of Israel and rebuilding of God’s house. (Ezra 1:1-11)
It was a happy day. Forty-thousand Israelites had returned to the Promised Land and had willingly sacrificed their time, talents, and treasure on behalf of the Lord and his kingdom. (Ezra 1:5-2:70)
It was a happy day. The priests and leaders of Israel had gathered for formal ceremonial worship, and they had been careful to worship God according to the regulations he set forth through Moses and David. (Ezra 3:3-11)
It was a happy day. Many rejoiced as the foundation for the new Temple was laid. The congregation was huge; the pageantry was grand; and the music was loud. Accompanied by choir, trumpets, and cymbals, the people sang and shouted, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever towards Israel.” Non-attenders could hear the raucous and reverent worship from miles away. (Ezra 2:41, 65; 3:10-13)
And on that happy day, many cried. Ezra wrote, “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud with joy.” (Ezra 3:12)
Why did they cry? No direct answer is given in Scripture, but there are many reasons suggested:
- Perhaps they wept because their second Temple was not as stately and large as the first Temple.
- Perhaps they wept because their second Temple may not find itself completed during their remaining days on earth.
- Perhaps they wept because their second Temple was not filled with all their children and grandchildren who remained dispersed throughout the Middle East.
- Perhaps they wept because their second Temple was a testimony to their repugnant sin. Many years had passed without the worship of God being faithfully practiced according to his will. Therefore, God devastated his people, his land, and his Temple. Consequently, many pagans looked at the Chosen People, the Promised Land, and the Sacred House, and responded with disbelief and mockery. Additionally, many Israelites had come and gone without being adequately discipled, and there was no going back to reclaim the lost generation.
However, perhaps they also wept because they were overwhelmed by the mercy and grace of the Lord. Despite their idolatry and iniquity, the Lord had kept his Word. He had not forsaken his people. Following discipline came reconciliation. God proved to be the friend of sinners, and he was readily encouraging his repentant people to gather again about his holy throne. Therefore, for some younger and more spry individuals, their faithful worship was expressed in leaping, dancing, and shouting. And at the same time, for some older and wiser folk, their inner joy was also expressed by means of bowed heads and contemplative tears.
Therefore, in our private worship today, and our corporate worship this coming Lord’s Day, let us make room for a variety of emotions and expressions. Let us cry over our sin, and the consequences of our sin. Let us cry over the condemnation of our sins which was poured out upon our Substitute. Let us cry over lost years of worship and scandalous testimonies. Let us cry over our grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, children, grandchildren, and neighbors who are lost. And let us cry over the muted worship and blasphemed name of God. And then, let us keep crying. Let us cry over the tender mercies of our God which have been shown to us and our children. Perhaps then, after our tears have run dry, we will also find ourselves singing and shouting with unbridled joy to the God of our salvation.