In Barcelona, Spain, graceful spires rise high above the city—marking the spot where construction of the La Sagrada Familia Basilica is well underway. From Spanish to English, the translation of La Sagrada Familia Basilica is:
The Holy Basilica Family
Work is slowly nearing completion on this magnificent cathedral, which is already heralded as the most-popular tourist attraction in the city. Unique, however, is the fact that the construction is being completed posthumously. Antoni Gaudi, the Spanish architect who spearheaded the project, died back in 1926 in the midst of this massive endeavor.
God, First And Foremost
When asked why the La Sagrada Familia Basilica was taking so long for completion, Gaudi would answer:
My client is in no hurry.
Most people did not realize that God was the client to whom Gaudi was referring.
Known as God’s architect, Gaudi had a Divine gift for translating the natural rhythm and flow of God the Creator into original masterpieces of architectural art.
In his younger years, Gaudi was a man about town—dressing in the current fashions and attending all the social events. As he grew older, however, he began to focus more on his immortal soul and less on his mortal body.
After visiting a prayer service at a local Roman Catholic Church, Gaudi was returning to the La Sagrada Familia Basilica work-site when he was tragically struck by a tram and knocked down onto the street.
Gauging Gaudi by his humble attire, unshaven beard, and disoriented state of mind; passersby mistook him for a drunken beggar. Little did they know that this helpless man in the gutter was none other than Antoni Gaudi, the man himself.
Someone finally saw to it that this unknown man in the street was taken to a nearby hospital. As Gaudi was unable to speak for himself and carried no form of identification, no one knew who he was until a priest from the La Sagrada Familia Basilica happened by and recognized Gaudi. By then, however, Gaudi’s condition had deteriorated to the point that it was too late for medical intervention.
Sadly; Gaudi died, in 1926, just shy of his seventy-fourth birthday. At the time of Gaudi’s death, La Sagrada Familia Basilica was only partially completed. When his ashes were taken there for entombment, the entire city of Barcelona turned out to bid him farewell.
A World Of Interruptions
The construction of the La Sagrada Familia Basilica has been plagued with numerous starts and stops as the world got in the way. Negatively impacting the project were protests against the Roman Catholic Church, bombings during the Spanish Civil War, city zoning ordinances, and countless funding problems.
One of the most difficult obstacles faced by successors to Gaudi’s project was his preference to refrain from compiling and following blueprints, which were the mainstay for most architects. Instead, Gaudi chose to work from small sketches and/or sculpted three-dimensional models. Often, he worked freeform—simply creating the design as he went.
The La Sagrada Familia Basilica, which is slated to be the tallest cathedral in the world, is scheduled for completion sometime in 2026—a century after Antoni Gaudi’s death.
A World Of Temptation
In our Scripture reading, we are going to travel to Jerusalem and take a look at how the world got in the way during the construction of another edifice dedicated to the glory of God, the Second Temple. Firstly, however, we need to go back in time to understand text and context.
The Jewish people had succumbed to temptation and betrayed God by worshiping a false god, Baal. The worship of Baal is a form of idolatry that requires worshipers to engage not only in adultery, but also human sacrifice of children.
God’s prophets repeatedly warned the Jewish people of the error of their ways, yet they refused to repent. The world got in their way, and they were relishing in their sinful lifestyles.
God, in turn, responded by allowing the Babylonians, under the kingship of Nebuchadnezzar II, to not only burn down Jerusalem and the First Temple, which King Solomon had built, but also take a large number of the people into captivity—where they remained for seventy years.
At Long Last, Home
Haggai was a minor prophet during the post-exilic period. About twenty years prior to his writings, the Jewish people had been released from exile and allowed to return home. Arriving in Jerusalem with God still central in their minds, one of the first orders of business was the construction of the Second Temple.
The work on the Second Temple began, and the foundation was put in place. Shortly thereafter, however, the project fell lower on the people’s “to do” list.
Haggai 1:1-5 (King James Version)
1 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying,
2 Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.
3 Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying,
4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?
5 Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.
Once again, the world got in the way. The people became distracted and began investing their time, energy, and finances not in God’s house, but their own houses. If HG TV had been around back then, the people would have been loyal fans.
Haggai 1:6-11 (King James Version)
6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
7 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.
8 Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.
9 Ye looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.
10 Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit.
11 And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.
God Sends A Wake-Up Call
For twenty years, the people were stuck in a dry spell and making little to no progress in the construction of the Second Temple. Deciding that enough was enough, God decided to turn the tables on the people. He sent a major dry spell, a drought. God not only dried-up their water; but also their resources, incomes, and blessings.
Haggai 1:12-15 (King James Version)
12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the Lord.
13 Then spake Haggai the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord.
14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God,
15 In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
Confronted with hardships, the people did not take very long before they were, once again, crying out for God’s mercy. As penance, they resumed work on the Second Temple.
In an attempt to get feedback as to how the Second Temple compared to the First Temple, Haggai sought out the opinions of the older men, most over seventy years in age, who had seen and experienced the glory and majesty of the First Temple.
Haggai 2:1-3 (King James Version)
1 In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the Lord by the prophet Haggai, saying,
2 Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying,
3 Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
Taking in their surroundings, the men sadly shook their heads. Their first impressions were that the Second Temple did not do justice to the First Temple.
They remembered how the First Temple had been the center of the nation. They remembered how the First Temple had shone in the sun as soon as they came over the crest of the Mount of Olives or left the foreboding hills of the Jericho Road. They remembered the awesomeness of going to the First Temple and entering, with reverence and respect, to worship and offer sacrifices to God.
At the heart of each of the temples was a room called the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies in the First Temple housed the Ark of the Covenant, inside which were the stone tablets where God had etched, with His finger, the Ten Commandments.
God was said to dwell on the Mercy Seat, which was on top of the Ark of the Covenant. On either side of the Mercy Seat was a cherub. Facing one another, the cherubim (plural for cherub) had their wings spread forward to envelope God. The cherubim serve as God’s honor guard.
The Ark of the Covenant, however, disappeared shortly before the Babylonian exile and has not been seen since, so the Holy of Holies in the Second Temple was a smaller empty room.
Haggai 2:4-9 (King James Version)
4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts:
5 According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
6 For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.
8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts.
9 The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts.
God gives assurance that He will fill the Second Temple with glory. Then, God foretells that the Second Temple will far surpass the First Temple in greatness and be a place of peace.
God’s words would be fulfilled four-hundred and eighty-three years later when Jesus, God in the flesh, entered the Second Temple to preach and teach there. By then, however, the Second Temple would have, under the kingship of Herod the Great, been expanded and upgraded to be more like the First Temple.
God would, however, eventually allow the Romans to destroy the Second Temple. Devout Jewish people now pray, three times daily, for God to make clear the way for the building of the Third Temple.
One lesson we take away with us is that it is the content, not the container that matters most to God. His focus is on the people who gather in the buildings, not the buildings in which the people gather.
If the First Temple and Second Temple had been uppermost in God’s mind, do you honestly think He would have allowed both to be reduced to rubble? No, absolutely not. God purposed the buildings as visual reminders to the people that they were to come and worship Him. The same is true for churches.
Think back for a moment on the patriarchs and matriarchs of Christianity—the hopes and dreams they must have had when they prayerfully, guided by the hand of God, laid the foundations of the churches and wondered about the saints who would follow:
- Would they be faithful followers of Jesus Christ and effective witnesses for Him?
- Would they stand strong in the faith?
- Would they have brotherly and sisterly love one for the other?
- Would they still be able to fill the churches with worshipers?
- Would they still be growing fruitful young men and women to send into the world as workers for the kingdom of God?
- Would they remember that the silver is God’s and the gold is God’s—ensuring that tithes and offerings are not invested in ways that are displeasing to Him?
If delegations of past church-members were to walk through the doors of their former churches, what would their reactions be?
After a recent visit to the church in which he was raised, a gentlemen reported to his family and friends that he felt nothing but tension from the moment he walked through the door. The indwelling of peace he had so fondly remembered was no longer present. Why? As one of Donna’s and my late friends was often fond of saying:
An error crept in!
The error in question is spiritual erosion; and it happens slowly, silently, and subtly. Perhaps no one has described spiritual erosion more eloquently than one of my favorite commentators, the late Paul Harvey, in a 1965 radio broadcast titled If I Were The Devil.
If I Were The Devil
If I were the devil, if I were the Prince of Darkness; I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness. I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree, the United States—so, I would set about however necessary to take over.
I’d subvert the churches first, and I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please.” To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince the children that man created God instead of the other way around. I’d confide that what’s bad is good and what’s good is square—and the old, I would teach to pray after me, “Our Father, which art in Washington …”
Then, I’d get organized. I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves until each, in its turn, was consumed—and with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.
If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellect but neglect to discipline emotions. I’d tell teachers to let those students run wild—and, before you knew it, you’d have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door. Within a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing and judges promoting pornography. Soon, I would evict God from the courthouse and the schoolhouse and, then, from the Houses of Congress.
In His own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I’d lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money. I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.
If I were the devil, I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. What’ll you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?
I’d convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun and that what you see on television is the way to be—and, thus, I could undress you in public and lure you into bed with diseases for which there are no cures.
In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.
I pray, brethren, that we always represent well our Lord, Jesus Christ, and our Christian heritage. When the world gets in the way; may God grant us wisdom, strength, and courage to resist temptations in whatever forms they may come—standing not only with the righteous, but also against the unrighteous. In the powerful name of Jesus, the One who makes all things possible, we pray and say, “Amen.”
Yours in Christ,
Featured Image: Antoni Gaudi; La Familia Church; Architectural Digest; Barcelona, Spain; Color Photo
To accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, all you need do is open your heart to Him, earnestly repent of your sins, and pray the sinner’s prayer.