Sunday School Lesson about Forgiveness



Introduction

A. The God Who Rebuilds

Most of us have watched a small child play with building blocks. He or she takes great de-light in stacking a certain number, and then with one gleeful swipe scatters the blocks everywhere. Then the child gathers the blocks together and does it again—each time squealing with delight until boredom sets in. Then it becomes time to move on to some other form of entertainment. Rebuilding scattered building blocks is one thing; rebuilding a place of worship is quite an-other matter. Solomon’s temple had been constructed with great care and much effort. I Kings 6:38 records that this magnificent structure took seven years to build. Yet once the Babylonian army had entered Jerusalem (following a siege of about 18 months), it required far less time to demolish what had been so carefully erected and so prayerfully dedicated (1 Kings 8:22-61). Tearing down always takes much less time than building.



But God had other plans for the temple; destruction would not be the final word. The same prophets who spoke so passionately of God’s coming judgment on His people and His temple were just as passionate about the promise that a remnant would return and rebuild.

On one occasion, Jesus used the language of destroying and rebuilding to describe what would eventually happen to Him: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John2:19). The text later notes, “But he spoke of the temple of his body” (v. 21). The same language can be applied to what God can do with our bro-ken, sin-ravaged lives. What we have ruined He can rebuild, restore, and renew. Paul writes of our bodies as a temple in which God’s Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). We are not our own; we are under new management.



Whether the damage has been done to sacred structures or to sin-marred souls, God is in the business of rebuilding and restoring.

B. The Chronicles Factor



At first glance the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles may seem to be unnecessary additions to the Old Testament. After all, don’t they cover the same period of history covered by much of 1 and2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings? And why the extensive genealogies that take up the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles? (Those aren’t exactly the most thrilling portions of the Bible to read!)Most students of the Bible believe that the books of Chronicles were written after the Babylonian captivity and after God’s people had re-turned home to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. (Their return is the topic of today’s lesson.) It is worth noting that the final two verses of 2 Chronicles and the first three verses of the book of Ezra are virtually the same. Be-cause of this, some have proposed that Ezra may have been the author of the books of Chronicles as well as the book that bears his name. Certainly Ezra was well qualified for such a task (see Ezra 7:6, 10).

Why would Ezra (assuming him to be the author) compose such a record as that found in the books of Chronicles? Consider the following hypothetical situation: A congregation experiences an especially trying set of circumstances, such as a fire that destroys its sanctuary, a split of some kind, or a crisis within the leadership. The result would likely be a keen sense of loss of purpose and direction within the congregation. Questions would surface, such as, “Where do we go from here?” and “What is God’s will for us now?” How would a church in such a situation get the people back on track and restore a sense of direction and purpose?



One answer might be to call attention to the history of the congregation and review God’s faithfulness over the years in preserving the people through other difficult times. By considering such examples from the congregation’s history, the people may be encouraged to continue to “fight the good fight.” They would do what was necessary to see themselves through the current series of events.

A similar scenario confronted God’s people following the crisis of the Babylonian captivity and the return to their homeland. They too must have wondered, “Where do we go from here? Does God still have a purpose for us?” For God’s covenant people, them were other burning issues as well:-Is God’s covenant still intact? Are the promises made to Abraham and David still binding?”The material found in 1 and 2 Chronicles seems especially intended (through the guidance of the Holy Spirit) to address these and other crucial issues in the minds of those who were part of the rebuilding effort in Judah. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1-9 would not have been dull or boring to the original readers; they would have given the postexilic generation a sense of identity with their past. They would have been encouraged by realizing that the link with the individuals and tribes mentioned in these chapters had not been severed by the captivity and exile.



There is a special emphasis in 1 and 2 Chronicles on the reigns of David and Solomon and all their achievements. This let the postexilic com-munity know that this was still a part of their history and their identity. God was not finished with them yet!

C. Lesson Background

The conclusion of 2 Chronicles, from which our text for today is taken, is a key part of the previously mentioned encouragement to the postexilic community. As we learned from last week’s text, God’s people had repeatedly spurned the appeals of His prophets to turn from their sins. Eventually, His judgment fell. God used the Babylonians to destroy the temple—believed by some

in Jerusalem and Judah to be indestructible. That belief was based on a theory that God would never allow His people to be overtaken by pagans(compare Jeremiah 7:4).



I. Decree Ordained(2 Chronicles 36:22, 23)

Did the destruction of the temple mean that God had turned His back completely on His chosen people? The end of 2 Chronicles provides the answer, and it is a resounding nu! That the temple will be rebuilt indicates that God still has a purpose for His people.

A. God’s Working (v. 22)

22. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Loan stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and to put it also in writing, saying.



Cyrus king of Persia is the human instrument whom God uses to keep His promise to bring His people home. Second Chronicles 36:20 records that Nebuchadnezzar exiled the remnant of God’s people to Babylon “where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia.” Persia came to power in 539Bc through the series of events described in Daniel 5.

King Cyrus possesses a discernment and fair-mindedness that many rulers in the ancient world lack. He understands that it will enhance his reputation and get his reign started on a positive note if he provides some measure of relief from the cruel tactics of the Babylonians.

Thus Cyrus demonstrates an attitude of diplomacy and tolerance in his dealings with conquered peoples. He gives these peoples a wide latitude in allowing them to practice their religions. Thus it should be noted that what the Scriptures describe Cyrus as doing for the Jews, he does also for other peoples: permitting them to return to their respective homelands. There they may reestablish themselves and be free to practice their religious beliefs.

Secular historians may view Cyrus’s actions as simply the exercise of capable and discerning leadership. The Scripture, however, is clear in emphasizing that the Lord uses this policy of Cyrus to accomplish His own purpose. This is all part of His plan as announced by the word of the Loon spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah. That Word, mentioned in the previous verse (v. 21, not in today’s text), describes the captivity as lasting70 years (also Jeremiah 29:10). Cyrus is not acting alone; the Lord, the heavenly king, has moved the heart of the earthly king to implement a program of restoration for the Lord’s people.



It is noteworthy that another prophet gave Spirit-inspired insight into the Lord’s master plan some 100 years before Jeremiah uttered his prophecy. Isaiah prophesied not only before Persia became a dominant force, but also he prophesied even before Babylon gained such a stature! Yet Isaiah gave a message from the Lord that specifically named Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1).Thus, some 160 years before Cyrus conquered Babylon and issued his decree, Isaiah’s prophetic perspective named that ruler as the man whom God would use to fulfill His own plan.

B. Cyrus’s Words (v. 23)

23. Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.

As noted previously, Cyrus allows other captive peoples to return to their homelands—not just the Jews. Thus the acknowledgment of the Lord as the God of heaven, etc., should not be considered as a sign of any kind of conversion to the God of Israel on Cyrus’s part. That ruler uses equally grand language of other deities. For ex-ample, on the famous Cyrus Cylinder, unearthed by archaeologists, are inscribed these words:”Marduk, king of the gods [the leading deity of the Babylonian gods] . . . designated use to rule over all the lands.” [See (111t.5150: /12, page 112.)

Nevertheless, it is clear that Cyrus is indeed God’s instrument to carry out His purpose. This is also true of Caesar Augustus, a later ruler whom God will use to issue a decree that results in Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. Them Jesus will be born in fulfillment of prophecy (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6).

Following the claim to be authorized by the Lord, Cyrus’s decree continues by granting per-mission to any of the Lord’s people to go up to Jerusalem. There they can participate in the re-building effort. The Hebrew word translated as go up occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament in the context of another significant movement of God’s people: the exodus from bondage in Egypt(see Exodus 3:8, 17; 33:1).



To go up thus has a special meaning for God’s people and gives them a sense of kinship with the exodus event that established them as a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:5, 6). In a sense they can consider themselves reborn as a nation. for they are coming out of bondage in Babylon much as they had come out of Egypt under Moses. The promise of God’s presence (the Lord his God be with him) was also a key source of encouragement during the exodus and subsequent events(Exodus 3:11, 12; 33:14-17; Numbers 14:9).

II. Decree Obeyed(Ezra 1:5-7)

The remainder of our printed text describes the compliance of God’s people with the decree of Cyrus.

A. God’s Action (v. 5)

5. Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.

This verse lists those who prepare to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem (just as the decree had stated). The chief of the fathers are probably the leaders of the various tribal clans, or extended families, within the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. These two tribes provide the primary makeup of the southern kingdom of Judah, which the Babylonians had conquered and taken captive.



Included in those who return are the priests and Levites. Their spiritual leadership will be necessary in guiding and mentoring those who choose to return. Sadly, some of these priests

Levites eventually commit sin by marrying women from outside the covenant people. This muses great distress to Ezra and others among those who return (Ezra 9:1-4).

In this verse it is also important to note the guidance of the Lord’s hand in this series of events. Those who choose to return include everyone whose spirit God had raised. The same God who has “stirred up the spirit” of a pagan king (Ezra 1:1) now moves among His people to stir them to action. This also means that the..me God who had brought the king of Babylon against His people (2 Chronicles 36:17) is now working for His people. He is fulfilling His promise to bring them home.

B. Neighbors’ Assistance (v. 6)

6. And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with told, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered.

Here one sees another parallel to the events surrounding the exodus of some 900 years be-fore. Exodus 11:2 records these instructions given by the Lord to Moses: “Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbor, and every woman of her neighbor, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold.” And now, as a kind of “second exodus” unfolds for God’s people, all their neighbors assist them with numerous contributions and offerings. The beasts that are provided most likely include animals that can be used for the various sacrifices required by the law of Moses.

SKIPPING CHRISTMAS

Crossroads Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, recently took a different approach to Christmas: they encouraged skipping it (the bad parts. that is). What triggered the new thinking was that the church staff was hearing people say such things as “I wish we didn’t spend so much on gifts” or “I feel like I have to buy gifts for some people even though I don’t want to.” So they took a page from John Grisham’s recent book, Skipping Christmas. (The book was made into the 2004movie Christmas with the Kranks.)

Crossroads’s response to the laments was not to tell people that they shouldn’t give gifts or put up Christmas trees. Instead, the church leader-ship decided that what it really needed to do was to help people change their focus. The fivefold emphasis was skip excess, find simplicity; skip obligations, find joy; skip rush, find rest; skip loneliness, find belonging; skip Christmas, find Christ. The foundational idea was to bring back the joy that should be in a season that celebrates giving ).

When the leaders of Judah and Benjamin began the task of rebuilding the temple, all whose hearts were moved by God’s gift of freedom caught the spirit of the occasion and freely gave to the cause. They had found the true focus of giving: gratitude for what God had done. We detect no sense of “Aw, do I have to?”

Christmas is right around the corner. How many of us have that same mind-set?

C. Cyrus’s Assistance (v. 7)

7. Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods.

Furthermore, Cyrus brings out the articles that rightfully belong to the temple of the Lord. This shows his personal support for the return home.(See question #4, page 112.) Second Chronicles36:18, part of last week’s printed text, describes how Nebuchadnezzar carried these items to Babylon. That king’s successor had used some of those vessels in a most unholy way (Daniel 5:1-4).Now these actions are reversed, as the temple articles are removed from Babylon and taken to their original, rightful home in Jerusalem. This will give the returning captives some sense of continuity with the past when they are in a position to place the items in the new temple. The removal of articles from a conquered people’s place of worship is a significant religious statement in the ancient world. It is interpreted as a sign of the superiority of the conqueror’s gods. In this case the Lord God of Israel, who had allowed the Babylonians to remove the articles from His temple, now allows the Persians to send them back!

REBOOTING

One of the most famous lines in English literature was uttered in Macbeth, which is one of Shakespeare’s darker works. Evil piles upon evil throughout the play. At one point Lady Macbeth pushes her husband to kill King Duncan of Scot-land so that Macbeth might be king. With Dun-can dead Lady Macbeth goes back to the scene of the assassination and smears blood on guards(who had been drugged). This implicates them in the crime.



But then her conscience begins to work. She starts sleepwalking, rubbing her hands as if trying to wash away the blood that remains. In this state she admits her part in the murder and utters the famous words, “Out, (foul) spot! out, I say!” Guilt over the murder is driving her insane as her fevered mind tells her that there is no atoning for the evil she has done. In computer terminology her mind is desperately trying to “reboot,” to no avail.

Many atrocities had been committed against the people of Judah by the Babylonians. Now, many decades later, Cyrus performs an act of atonement for what his predecessor had done.

Does he feel a sense of shared guilt? We don’t know. For whatever reason seems best to him personally, Cyrus is trying to “reboot” the situation as he gives back the sacred vessels that had been looted.

Perhaps we may be tempted to say “Not my fault” or “Not my problem” when confronted with the need to clean up someone else’s mess. When that happens, stop to consider if God needs to “reboot” your thinking! .

Conclusion



A. “It’s in There!”

A few years ago, a certain brand of spaghetti sauce advertised its product by making the claim, “Homemade taste—it’s in there!” The same can be said of the idea of grace in the Old Testament. Most Christians associate that concept with the New Testament. And while the doctrine of grace is most clearly expressed through the coming of Jesus, grace is not absent from the Old Testament. It is most definitely “in there.” A powerful example comes from today’s lesson.

As noted earlier, the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles were most likely written to encourage the re-turning exiles that God still had a purpose for them and that the captivity did not spell “the end.” Both the conclusion of 2 Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra highlight the fact that God took the initiative in fulfilling His promise. He did that by moving the heart of Cyrus and then moving His people to take the necessary steps to return to Judah and rebuild. If ever there were doubts in the minds of those who returned from captivity concerning God’s intentions, they needed only to look back and remember God’s grace in using the right man at the right time to achieve His holy purpose.

Christians have a similar perspective, based on what Jesus Christ has done for us through His death and resurrection. Sometimes circum-stances we encounter may cause us to doubt the validity of our faith. In those situations we can remind ourselves, as Paul did the Roman Christians, that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

That love—and that grace—were also revealed during the Old Testament era. It was revealed from the time of Adam and Eve receiving the promise of what the woman’s seed would accomplish (Genesis 3:15). Is grace found within the pages of the Old Testament? Make no mistake—it’s in there!



B. Prayer

Father, where would we be without Your grace? We would be hopelessly lost. May whenever forget the difference that Your grace through Jesus Christ has made in our lives. It is a difference for eternity. Remind us of our responsibility to share that grace with others. In Jesus’ name, amen.

C. Thought to Remember

God is still in the business of rebuilding