Grasping a Piece of the Past
Filling the walls of my home are pieces of the past. A pair of windows from an old family home frames the images of my children over our stairway. Above our kitchen table dangles an old oxen yoke. The simple piece of farming equipment is now a lamp that illuminates meals made from Walmart groceries. An old chair that rocked my babies to sleep also held their great-grandparents in days gone by. I love these objects that surround me. They remind me of the connection I have to the generations who worked and toiled before me.
Perhaps you can point out similar pieces in your own home. A precious piece of furniture, a picture on the wall, or even the blanket draped across your chair. We see these beloved objects and are forced to remember.
We touch the soft crocheted yarn, and we remember what it was like to be wrapped up in the afghan with our mother. Our eyes take in the paint strokes of the hanging landscape, and we feel like the little kid again at a sleepover at our grandparent’s house. These precious pieces are a comfort to our aging and distracted hearts. In our anxious moments the sight of a familiar object reminds us of what’s been true throughout our whole lives. Often we just need the touch or the sight of something meaningful to align our perspectives.
The Israelites found themselves needing the same during the sixth century BC, and the Lord provided exactly that for his children. Due to the unrighteous kings and their own sinful rebellion, many Israelites had been living as exiles in the neighboring nations (remember Daniel, Shadrach, Mesch, and Abednego?). Morale was low. The promise of the mighty nation foretold to their father Abraham felt far away. The glory of the rule of King David and King Solomon was but a distant memory.
Yet God never forgot his people. The book of Ezra begins by chronicling how the Lord stirred the heart of King Cyrus to allow the Israelite people to not only return to their homelands, but to rebuild the temple of the Lord. Ezra makes it very clear: this change of heart was ordered “that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled” (Ezra 1:1).
God was keeping the promises he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and the whole Israelite nation. He had kept his words of faithfulness even in the midst of the years of his people’s unfaithfulness. What’s more, God granted his doubting, forgetful people a physical reminder to bolster their faith.
Ezra says, “Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods” (Ezra 1:7). Through generations of power shifts and vacillating kingdoms, the Lord preserved the temple vessels for his children. He didn’t do so because these objects held some special power, but because Yahweh wanted his children to remember his faithfulness. These tangible objects were real proof of the unfailing, unshaking nature of God. His promises were true. Now they could see it, and they could touch it.
These vessels also reminded Israel that God’s purpose and mission hadn’t changed. As the priests set up the new temple, they were forced to hold the very same basins as their fathers generations before them. The returning exiles weren’t building a new temple to a new god, but the same God of their fathers, whose promises and mission had never changed (Ulrich, Now and Not Yet). God’s purpose and promise would prevail, just as surely as the vessels they held in their hands were real.
The Lord shows such a deep kindness to condescend so much to his children by giving us these kinds of markers. His graciousness overflows in the way he bolsters our weak faith in who he is. And friend, he still does this today for you and I. What vessels have we been given? What proof do we have to look on that the Lord is faithful to his promises?
I suppose it’s the Sunday School answer, but it’s the right one.
Friends, we have Jesus.
New Testament saints don’t need temple vessels to remind us of who God is because the very Son of God came to this earth to be our own tangible anchor of hope. Jesus lived as a human—he was one we could hear, one we could see, look upon, and touch with our hands (1 John 1:1). When we look at Christ himself, we see how every promise made before and every promise made after is sure and true (2 Cor. 1:20). The Promised One came after all. He really died in our place, and he really rose again.
When we are weary and wonder if God truly will use our heartache for our good, we can gaze at Jesus and remember that God does what he says. When we come home exhausted from a full day of service and ministry, we can look at Jesus and believe that the Lord truly will give us strength for each day. When we sin yet again, and find ourselves weeping with regret, we can look at Jesus and know that God’s grace and mercy really is sufficient for even that.
God has given us Jesus. But we can’t touch him, can we? We can’t see him with our eyes like the vessels the Israelites saw. We can’t touch him like the apostles did. Yet God’s given you and me something else. See, when we gather with the saints in our local churches we receive a tiny little cup and a piece of bread. We touch, smell, and taste these objects. We use our senses and are bolstered in our faith by remembering Jesus—the culmination of all the promises of God—the evidence of who our Father is.
Just as the vessels of the Old Testament spoke of the same God and his same mission, so does the Lord’s table for us. It speaks of the same Christ that the apostles Paul, John, and Peter worshiped. It links us to the same Savior that Athanasius, Augustine, and Lottie Moon served.
No matter what hardships or struggles surround you today, stop and look at what the Lord has given you to remember. Keep looking at Jesus. Bring him to mind when the anxious thought comes, when the sorrow starts to suffocate, or when the fear comes knocking. And when the opportunity comes on Sunday, touch the vessel that holds the juice and feel the taste of the bread in your mouth. Remember all that was promised, and all that is sure to be-all because of Jesus.