Even though we have read only one verse this evening I’d like to consider 2 scriptures separated by 3 chapters. Near the conclusion of the “sure covenant” Israel was making with Jehovah, the people promised, “We will not forsake the house of our God.” I’d like you to recall our message from a couple weeks ago about making covenants with the Lord. Remember that I said, “It is very important that you KEEP the promises made to God.” The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who maketh a covenant in vain – there will be judgment.
I didn’t mention it in that message, but I have told you before, about an incident early in my Christian life. Several people from our church, including Judy and our pastor, attended a “Sword of the Lord” meeting in a large church in Denver. John R. Rice preached a powerful message on soul-winning, and at the conclusion he urged us to stand up and promise to God to witness to “x” number of people each week for the rest of our lives. Kids were popping up all over that large auditorium, and some in our group were ready to stand as well. But our wise pastor put out his arms and told us to remain in our seats, whispering that it was a mistake to make a promise to God which would undoubtedly be impossible to keep. I still thank God for that wise counsel.
Israel said, “We will not forsake the house of our God” – “We will NEVER forsake the house of God.” But only a few months later in Nehemiah 13:11, the Tirshatha denounced Israel for her neglect. “Then contended I with the rulers, and said, WHY is the house of God FORSAKEN?” Good intentions are good; plans to serve God are great plans; promises and resolutions may be well-meant. But like us all, those Jews were living in weak and corruptible flesh. The world, the flesh and the Devil, are constantly working against us – keeping us from completing well-intentioned promises.
We can produce fruit for the glory of the Lord, only as long as we remain firmly attached – through the Holy Spirit – to the vine – the Lord Jesus Christ. We are like beautiful tree in my next-door neighbor’s yard, which was attacked by that storm last week. There are two large limbs laying on the ground, and the promise of shade and beauty can no longer to be kept. That tree is ugly and deformed because those branches are no longer attached to the trunk – the vine.
“Why is the house of God forsaken?” Let’s consider HOW first, and then WHY the house of God is forsaken. Then we’ll try to conclude with some of the details of its abandonment today – IN WHAT WAY is it forsaken
HOW is the house of our God forsaken?
In my sixty years as a Christian I have heard and read a few sermons bearing the title “Why is the House of God Forsaken?” Sometimes in preparation for a message I will look for those notes and articles that I have read, hoping for a few ideas to share with you. But in this case I have not done that. No one is going to get credit for the weakness of this message but me. One reason why in this case I didn’t look for the ideas of others is because I can’t remember anyone ever being honest about the context of their text – this text.
Listen to me. When Israel made that promise to God it had nothing to do with attendance in church services. Remember that their “house of God” was the temple, the interior of which very few people could enter. And even in the courtyards of the temple, it was not an auditorium with comfortable pews, where God’s people could hear the preaching of the Word. Their “house of God” was primarily a place for sacrifice – of blood – and of the smell of roasting flesh. In their “house of God” priests were busy with candles, incense, shewbread, carrying wood and water, tending to sacrificial animals and constant cleaning up.
The context of Israel’s promise not to forsake the “house of their God” was … “That we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites…” “For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.”
For them “not forsaking the house of God” was all about properly MAINTAINING that house. It was fiscal; it was financial; it was practical. And when they “forsook the house of their God,” it was still in that context. In 13:10, Nehemiah said, “And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.”
The point is – there is more than one way to forsake God’s house. The initial reference in the scriptures is to neglecting the storehouse of our God. The initial reference is about forcing the priests and Levites out of their service in the house of God through neglect and stealing God’s tithes and offerings. This keeps the rebuke of Malachi 3 in its proper perspective – forsaking God’s house. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
The initial reference in the scriptures to forsaking the House of God is to neglecting the storehouse of the Lord. The last reference to this subject is in Heb. 10:25, and it is more like all those sermons I have heard and read. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Paul is definitely talking about personal gathering – “the assembly of God assembling.” He is talking about the “ecclesia synagoguing” together – that is the word in Greek. But don’t neglect the preceding verse – “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” Even in a Christian context we can forsake the house of our God by not being the kind of church member God intends us to be – despite being present in the services.Physical, personal attendance in church is not all that is contained in “not forsaking the house of God.”
But WHY is the house of God forsaken?
There is a simple three point answer to the question – the world, the flesh and the Devil. I don’t know if there is a name for it, but there have been many battles fought, where the attacking army has advanced on three fronts. The main party attacks up the middle, while two other battalions approach the sides of the defenders. It is one army with one coordinated attack, but the actual battle strikes from three sides at the same time. Theologically and practically, the world, the flesh and the Devil are three individual foes. But the reality is that they often work together under the auspices of God’s primary adversary – Satan.
“Why is the House of God forsaken?” Because the Devil hates and fears Ephesians 3:21 – “Unto (the Lord) be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” Remember that Satan’s number one goal – his highest wish – is expressed in Isaiah 14 – “I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” Satan will do whatever he can to steal God’s throne and authority. And until he is successful, he will do whatever he can to take from God His proper glory.
So the Devil will try to keep you from serving and glorifying the Lord as you should. He will stir up your flesh to sin against your Saviour. “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” What did he do to poor Job? He made him too sick and broken to attend the House of God. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Satan wants you to sin against God, and he works to keep you from serving your Saviour in His church. He will take the world – or he will manipulate world events – to rob Jehovah of His due glory. He will do whatever he can to shut down or minimize the ministry of Christ’s churches through the people who should be members of those churches.
Unlike a lot of pastors today, I am unwilling to say that our state governors have conspired to deliberately shut down God’s churches during this “pandemic.” But I will say that SATAN has conspired to use this virus, and our governors, and the media to close the doors and minimize the ministries of many churches. I have no doubt that the Devil has stirred up fear in the hearts of many timid professing saints, keeping them from “assembling themselves together to hear the exhortation of God’s word.” I can “see the day approaching” when our Saviour will return from glory, and the Devil, who is a lot smarter than I am, can probably see it as well. I have no doubt but that he is ramping up his efforts to take from God what is rightfully His. And that means – attacks upon the institution which God has ordained to glorify His name.
“Why is the House of God Forsaken?” Because the Devil wants it to be forsaken. He wants church doors to be closed and locked. And he is using the world as best he can to accomplish his goal.
But perhaps more practically and effectively – he is employing the weaknesses of human flesh.
There are so many flaws and chinks in our personal armor that Satan has plenty of places to attack. For example, life, generally speaking, is filled with problems. If you are not experiencing life’s difficulties right now, you will be soon, because “man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” If it’s not health problems it is financial problems, or after health problems come those financial problems. If we don’t have family problems, then there are problems with the neighbors or co-workers. If it’s not physical problems, then it’ll be mental problems or emotional problems. If it’s not physical problems then Satan’s emissaries will disturb your spiritual life for a while. “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” – Job 14:1.
When it comes to these problems, we have the choice to let them defeat us and keep us from serving the Lord by forsaking God’s house, or we can put a bridle on them, turn them around, riding them into battle against the Devil. I have seen blind men in God’s house, because they knew their responsibility before God. I have seen people who were nearly, or completely deaf, worshiping in the House of their God. They couldn’t hear the sermon, but they could tell the Devil that they loved the Lord with all their hearts, all their souls and with all their minds, without their hearing. I have seen people horribly disfigured by fire or other tragedies, who preferred not to be seen in public, and yet they happily went to church with their spiritual family. There is no better place for that handicapped person than in the house of his God.
Physical pain can keep people from doing a great many things, but it shouldn’t keep people from the fellowship and worship of God’s house. The Psalms are filled with parallels to pain – problems which keep some people from God’s service. But Asaph and David determined that despite their pain, they would present themselves before the Lord. Undoubtedly there are some pains which are completely debilitating, crippling and immobilizing. But your arthritis, your shingles, your gout, and your bad knees are not chains and fetters tying you to your Lazyboy recliner. Your pains are going to hurt at home as well as in the House of God, so bring your pain before the Lord.
“Why is the House of God Forsaken?” Paul gives us one answer to that question in Ephesians 4:17 – “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind.” The word “vanity” is fairly common in our KJV Bible, but this particular Greek word is not. Strong defines it as “what is devoid of truth and appropriateness,” “perverseness, depravity,” and “frailty, want of vigour.”
I imagine that Paul would go ballistic looking at the extent of today’s mindless vanity. I say that because of the extent of human knowledge in the light of the depravity of modern education. We are inundated with information through technology – most of which is controlled by God-denying men. And the end result are minds “devoid of truth and appropriateness, perverse, depraved, frail” and “lacking in vigour” – independent thought. At the peak of this mindlessness is the nearly universal acceptance of evolution – a philosophy which has decimated Christianity’s mainline denominations. Flowing down from there are the foolishness of hedonism, humanism, socialism and a dozen other “isms.” How many children have eventually forsaken the House of God because they have been told they are sinners in need of a Saviour? How many people neglect the house of God because that was where they heard that God is sovereign over nature, society, human governments and even souls? Their minds have been filled with humanistic nonsense which drives them from consideration of the Bible and the facts.
And even with professing Christians this “vanity of mind” has been taking its toll. Paul, with the insight of the Holy Spirit, looked toward this day and warned Timothy in his second epistle. “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Itching ears have driven many shallow Christians out of God’s House and into the arms of cultists.
I know professing believers who are more like the unsaved Athenians than true Bible students. “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” When I was in Bible school nearly every evangelical denomination believed in the imminent return of Christ. Not so now because of the “vanity of their mind.” More and more pieces of insanity arise as time goes on. From where has come the resurgence of the idea of a flat earth? Among Baptists, there used to be more agreement about the nature of the church and the work of missions, but vanity has driven men to push the envelope and tossing aside long believed doctrines. How many people have left their churches because they listened to some loquacious radio, then television and now some internet preacher with ideas which contradicted their hundred year-old church and fifty year old pastor?
In other ways, the flesh has been decimating the family of God and emptying His churches. Take for example simple laziness – or perhaps I should say SPIRITUAL laziness. George works 5 days a week and he has to get out of bed at 6:00 in the morning or perhaps at 5:00. It is not enough for him to sleep to 8:00 on Saturday and then eat a leisurely breakfast, actually beginning the day at noon. He convinces himself that if Sunday isn’t spent the same way, then he wouldn’t be fit for work on Monday. Of course entertaining or playing video games until midnight or 1:00 AM on Saturday night doesn’t help him to get to God’s House on Sunday.
And then there is fleshly lust of sports. Cameron mentioned this in his message a few weeks ago. I don’t believe the National Football League deliberately set out to hurt God’s churches by playing the first game of the day on Sunday morning. But I do believe that the Devil delights in using the NFL to fight his battles for him. Tens of thousands of men and women, who have no direct interest in the teams playing at 10:00 stay home from church to watch them anyway. The NFL helps people to “forsake the House of God.” And then why are so many local sports events scheduled for Sundays – Hoopfest, Iron Man, Bloomsday? Why are children’s baseball, soccer and hockey tournaments played on the Lord’s Day? And why, after taking their kids to those tournaments for years, are parents surprised to find their now adult children “forsaking the house of God?”
And here is something else. What does Paul say is the root of all evil? What is the root cause of all the ugliness, hatred and confusion of this week’s election? Why have so many of Portland’s and Seattle’s city blocks been burned and looted? “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” – 1 Timothy 6:10. The love of money helps to keep “the House of God Forsaken.”
It was certainly the case in Nehemiah’s day. The Sabbath had become just another day of the week – a day for commerce; a day for merchandise. If the Jews were not trying to make a few shekels themselves, they were giving their shekels to the heathen.
I wish that I could put myself into each of your minds this evening. Perhaps you are thinking of certain specific things you have seen in people which have taken them out of the Lord’s House. Perhaps with a bit more time, I might have been able to think of a few more points for this message. But I’ll close with just one more.
Fleshly embarrassment certainly has taken its ecclesiastical toll over the years. We can take this point in several directions. First, the world often ridicules and embarrasses those who profess to believe God and His Word. Church goers are called “fools” for believing that Elohim created the world in 6 days, even though there is a preponderance of evidence to that fact. They are laughed at for choosing to worship the Lord rather than worshiping nature or sports or other worldly things. Peer pressure and embarrassment have pulled people from the House of the Lord.
But there is another kind of embarrassment, which is just as deadly. Junior was raised in Sunday School, and his parents gave him a background of Biblical morality. But when he reached his teen years, he began feeling his oats, and he tried stretching his wings. Simply put, he was tempted to sin and he willingly gave in to that temptation. He was been tainted, so to speak. He forgot that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” He may actually believe that he is cursed beyond the common curse of sin. He may think that the majority of people in his former church are Pharisees, are looking down their righteous noses at him with his tattoos and sin-caused stains. And his shame keeps him from returning to the place God ordained for the offering of sin’s sacrifice.
The Lord has promised the perpetuity of His house – His church. But He has not promised the perpetual prosperity of that house. There is a sense in which that is something which falls upon our shoulders – the members of that family.
Nehemiah could perceive that the House of God was being neglected, so he rebuked Israel. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place.” What might God do if the members of His churches were all as faithful to the Lord’s glory as we ought to be? “Unto (the Lord) be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
One of the lessons from that statement involves faithfulness to the House of God. Faithfulness in attendance; faithfulness in physical support; faithfulness in spiritual support – prayer, involvement and encouragement. Our opportunities to serve God in this way are now on a very short leash. The God of the House is coming soon. And following that coming will be the Bema Judgment when you and I will have to give an account for our lack of faithfulness to the things God has ordained.