Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon in 536 B.C. and subsequently released the Jews from their captivity, permitting a portion of them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. This first wave of Israelites faced formidable opposition, and eventually the work subsided due to the political machinations of a contingent who arose to stop them, appealing to the administration of King Artaxerxes, perhaps fearing a rebellion. However, when Darius rose to the throne, the Jews, spurred on by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, returned to their work, appealing to the original decree of Cyrus, which Darius eventually upheld. They then faced opposition once more as they turned their attention, under the leadership of Nehemiah, to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s defensive walls. However, they persevered and ultimately prevailed. Having finally restored the structural integrity of their capital, they also dedicated themselves to restoring the integrity of the Law, confessing their past sin as a people and acknowledging all that God had done for them, especially in showing great long-suffering throughout the centuries. Then, in a symbolic but significant move, the Jewish nobles, led by Nehemiah, sealed the covenant themselves, marking their willingness to abide by the covenant in full once again (Neh. 10:1-27). The people joined with them, distancing themselves from the rest of the population in their commitment to follow the Law of God (Neh. 10:28-29). However, this was no ritualistic or half-hearted change. Instead, they committed themselves specifically to those aspects of the law they had neglected AFTER their return from captivity (Neh. 10:30-39). In fact, this happened more than one hundred years after Cyrus issued his decree officially ending their captivity. This illustrates two things for our consideration: (1) It can take time to consider every aspect of God’s Word and make all the necessary corrections. (2) The most difficult part is keeping a heart of renewal that holds itself accountable to God’s Word no matter how much time has passed.
One of the most difficult things for Christians to do is to step back from time to time and reexamine everything in their lives from solely a biblical point of view (2 Cor. 13:5). Rather than taking on the self-righteous assumption that every lesson has been learned, every practice is correct, and every attitude is proper, we should approach God’s Word with the utmost humility, constantly looking for flaws in our reasoning, assumptions guiding our worldview, and hypocrisy in our lives—not because we have no faith in God’s Word, but because we have so MUCH faith in God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). The church has been restored. That is not the question. The question is: Are we what we ought to be? If we only approach religious discussions to prove others wrong, we lose many opportunities to learn what we need to change ourselves. Many people have sought to address this by trying to convince us to change with the times, but this is compromise—not renewal. When the Holy Spirit provided the gospel, He provided the greatest catalyst for change this world has ever seen (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Renewal and reinvigoration as the Lord’s body will not occur by ignoring it or abandoning it. To the contrary, the only thing that can spark the kind of renewal this world and the church need is to get back to it (Rom. 12:1-2).