This post is written by Andrew Hall and is published as a companion to Unit 17, Session 1 of The Gospel Project for Adults Vol. 6 (Winter 2022-23): From Captivity to Restoration.
In March 2020, the Western world came to a screeching halt. A novel coronavirus had begun to spread widely, and its effects were yet to be determined. In an act of great caution, governments around the world locked down society. Businesses were closed. Schools were shut. Churches closed their doors.
Regardless of the politics around Covid-19, Christians faced an enormous challenge in many countries. Worship was deemed “non-essential.” The busyness of life suddenly slowed, and people had time to reorganize their priorities. For some, their focus was on the political oversteps of the government. For others, they reflected on how Christianity had lost its cultural influence in the west. From a theological standpoint, it should have caused Christians to reflect upon our worship. Had our busyness, our programs, our approach to Christian ministry maybe become more about our needs and wants than the glory of the Lord?
God’s Discipline and Restoration
Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord warns His people that when their hearts are not aligned with His, their worship becomes detestable (see Isaiah 1:11-15; Jer. 6:20; Amos 5:21-23). The threat of exile is foretold for those who love idols rather than the one true God (see Deut. 28:64). This threat became reality: God brought Judah to her knees through the military action of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The city of Jerusalem was besieged, its walls torn down, and her temple burned in 586 BC (See 2 Chron. 36:15ff).
After 70 years of being captives in Babylon, God moved the heart of the new ruler, Cyrus, king of the Persians. He stirred in his heart to send the people and their sacred objects from the temple back to Jerusalem so that the house of the Lord could be rebuilt (Ezra 1:1-4). And then He stirred the hearts of the leaders and the people to return back to the land of promise in order to restore the proper worship of the Lord (Ezra 1:5).
Reorganizing Our Priorities
As a new year approaches, these are days for Christians to reconsider our priorities. Have we made the right worship of God our priority? While no Christian had to endure 70 years of Covidian exile, many Christians were kept out of the public worship of God for more than 70 days. In some countries, multiple lockdowns were enforced and churches experienced the loss of people—some who would not return to worship.
But for those who have returned, God is calling us to keep our worship of Him pure and right. Just as the Lord brought Judah out of exile and restored them like He had after the first exodus, so the Lord has called us back to worship Him. We must make the message of Jesus Christ central: He brought us out of our exile, the captivity we had because of sin and death, and freed us by the blood of His own Son so that we might praise and glorify Him forever.
Reflection and Repentance
Maybe we need to take this time, at the beginning of this new year, to stop and reflect: did our worship become detestable to God? Did we make worship all about us? Did we make church life all about what we want? Do we currently still?
These are days that call for deep reflection and repentance. Maybe it’s not you individually. But maybe it is a call to us collectively, to take a good hard look at what evangelicalism has become. Why is evangelicalism associated more with politics than the good news of the resurrected Christ in some circles? Have we allowed the sins of Israel and Judah—relying on political parties and successes—to become our identity? Have we made worship more about our rights and freedoms than the pleasure of adoring God Almighty?
The good news is that when we reflect deeply on these things, we find that the glory of the Lord is there—in those places of confession and repentance. It’s in those places where we consider that God is worthy to be praised and adored not for what He gives us but for who He is, in and of Himself. And when we do turn to Him and abandon the worship of idols, there is hope—hope that the Lord goes with His people, moving their hearts to love Him with everything they have.
Andrew Hall is the lead pastor of Community Bible Church, located in Ilderton, Ontario, Canada. He is a graduate from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Melanie, have four children.