In the Bible, there’s a whole lot of building going on.
Noah built an ark for animals and humans to escape the Flood. People in Babylon built a tower toward heaven. Well, they tried. Moses supervised construction of a portable tabernacle in the desert, using skilled, Spirit-filled craftsmen named Bezalel and Aholiab. Some of you may never give a speech or write a book for Jesus, but you are gifted for other kingdom work with your hands — like those two builders.
King David dreamed of building a house for God on Mount Zion. The Lord said, “No, David. I’ll build you a house instead, a spiritual house for the Messiah to inhabit forever.” Then Solomon built the temple of his dad’s dreams in Jerusalem, a wonder of the ancient world until King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it in 586 bc.
Seventy years later, Nehemiah and the Jews returning from captivity in Babylon set to work rebuilding the fallen walls of Jerusalem, just as they had the ruined temple earlier. The words “Jerusalem lies waste . . . Let us rise up and build” sets the stage for Nehemiah’s book (2:17, 18). His determined leadership was vital in restoring a waste place to a livable city. Because “the people had a mind to work” (4:6), its walls were finished in record time, under hostile circumstances.
Repairers and restorers
The word waste (i.e., desolate, defiled) that described old Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time also appears in other Hebrew texts. Isaiah 24 says, “Behold, the Lord makes the earth empty and makes it waste . . . The world languishes and fades away . . . The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws . . . Broken the everlasting covenant” (vv. 1, 4, 5).
Isaiah 58:12 is more optimistic: “Those from among you shall build the old waste places . . . And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell in.” In Ezekiel 36:33, 35, 36, the Lord God says, “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. . . . So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden’ . . . I, the Lord, have spoken it, and I will do it.”
These latter verses can be linked to the return of the Jews and rebirth of national Israel in the twentieth century. Let’s expand this prophetic application to include God’s people of all nations working to rebuild — not just Jerusalem and the Holy Land, but all the waste places of our planet. God’s new covenant people — the meek — will inherit the earth, according to Christ (Matthew 5:5), but hopefully not in its current semi-wasted condition. In Acts 3:21, Apostle Peter speaks of the “times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Compare this with the Isaiah 58 and Ezekiel 36 verses mentioned earlier.
Restoring the earth is not just the job to be done when Christ comes to lead in this millennial work and assure its success. It’s also work for this present age. There’s a lot of earthly restoration to be done here and now. Here are a few of 2020’s waste places where, as Paul says in Romans 8:19-23, the whole creation groans together until now, awaiting redemption of all things — like our earth and our COVID-threatened bodies:
- Poverty and hunger plague many, while others live in luxury and build bigger houses and bigger barns with little concern for the less blessed.
- Adultery, pornography, sex slavery, and the choice to conceive children without a marriage partner are common. But faithful, lifelong marriages are increasingly rare.
- Earth’s beauty and natural resources have not only been used as God allows (Genesis 1, 2) but have also been abused and overused, with little thought for future generations. Forests that purify our polluted air are fast disappearing. Rivers and oceans collect millions of tons of plastic waste each year. And polar bears, elephants, and other iconic wildlife are nearing extinction from their loss of habitat or by being slaughtered for their ivory.
- Millions of people in Africa and Latin America press northward in hopes of finding freedom and jobs, their hope mixed with fear of the danger en route, of the danger upon arrival, and of their families’ bleak future if they stay where they are.
- Multitudes of African descent in this country were once slaves, and playing fields and workplaces of their descendants are still not level.
Labor and prayer
Hear the word of the Lord through His prophet: “Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien [i.e., stranger, refugee] or the poor” (Zechariah 7:9, 10).
Let us labor and pray that the blessings of Abraham may come to all peoples, tribes, tongues, races, and nations — that the glory of the Lord will be seen in all the earth. This is the full-time business of all God’s people.
It is 100 percent correct and right to affirm that our best efforts now can never fully rebuild waste places and restore the earth — until Christ returns. On the other hand, to speak and live as if we need not support and join the work of earthly rebuilding until Jesus comes is 100 percent wrong. This earth is our present Jerusalem, the only home for us and our grandchildren for the time being. Too much of it lies in waste: Let us rise up and rebuild! Not because we worship nature or the environment, but because we worship the Creator and want His glory to be seen in all the earth.
We’ve saved the best building for last — the house that Jesus built: “On this rock I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). Paul explained that this holy temple is built upon the apostles and prophets, that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19, 20), and that we are all co-laborers with God in this work. So let each one take heed how they build: on the rock (1 Corinthians 3:9-11). Only the best materials — like the precious gold of God’s grace, the precious silver of His truth — will stand the tests of time and fire as we build the church of God (vv. 9-15).
On one hand, we should prepare ourselves to build. We do this by adding knowledge and by stirring up our spiritual gifts through formal training, such as that available through Artios Christian College. The Greek root word artios (i.e., “equipping” or “prepared”) occurs in 2 Timothy 3:17 and Ephesians 4:12, which ends by summarizing the goal of artios: “for the building up of the body of Christ” (NASB).
On the other hand, don’t wait until you are fully equipped and prepared to start building. Ask God to give you a mind to work now, then set your hands to it. Find out what needs to be done for the church and Christ’s kingdom. Rise up and rebuild! Your skills will improve as you labor.
If your local church suffers loss or lies near waste, rise up in harmony and rebuild! Join hands with others in your congregation or community to address common concerns: clean air, pure water, hunger, homelessness, racial and economic justice, right-to-life issues, and more. If those you work with don’t look like you, talk like you, vote like you, or worship like you, that means more opportunity for growth — including yours!
Savior and the saved
There’s a lot of building and rebuilding to do in God’s church and in His world. None of us can do everything, but each of us can do something. What we can do, we ought to do. And what we ought to do, I believe we will do — if the Spirit of Christ is in us all.
We’re not building for salvation; our Savior has done the saving work at the cross. He did the heavy lifting for us, and it is finished!
So what shall we do while we wait for Christ’s return?
Ask God to give us a mind to work in salvation, like the Jews who were saved from their captivity and rebuilt Jerusalem in record time. Let the redeemed of the Lord rise up and rebuild! Let’s work together till Jesus comes. Then we’ll be gathered home to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.