And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Have you ever had a friend who regularly takes advantage of your kindness? They impose on you all the time because they know you'll put up with it. They stick you with the check at dinner. "Oh, I forgot my wallet!" Or they drop by your house unannounced...for a week at a time!
Some Christians try to treat God this way. They think, "God is going to forgive me no matter what I do. So why not do what I want?" This passage is a good reminder of why that never quite works out the way you think it will.
You need a little back story first. God's people had abandoned God and His ways. They had turned their back on Him to worship other gods. After hundreds of years, God's patience turned to judgment. In justice He repaid His people for their evil, sending them into exile for 70 years. Yet God is "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love... and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin" (Exodus 34:6-7). So after 70 years He miraculously restored His people to their land and they began rebuilding His temple. When they had laid the foundation of the temple they worshiped and celebrated, but some of the older men mourned. Why?
They knew how far they had fallen. They had seen the awesome splendor of Solomon's temple. For them the new temple foundation was symbolic of all that they had lost. They had seen God's people at the height of their prosperity and now were reminded of the full consequences of their sin. God had forgiven them and restored them, but they weren't the same. Their temple wasn't the same. Their lives weren't the same.
This is a good reminder for us. If we think we can live in sin and simply expect God forgive us, we should consider this passage. God never promises to protect us from the results of our sin, only to forgive those who repent in Jesus. Sin isn't just a matter of going to Heaven or Hell. It will destroy your life in the here and now as well. It is actually in your best interest to obey God's commands no matter what.
This is why the Bible so regularly talks about God's commands bringing life, joy, and peace while sin brings death, pain and trouble (For example: Proverbs 10:16, 10:27, 11:19, 12:28, 19:23, Psalm 34:11-14, 119:92-94).
I hope your love for Jesus and your appreciation for the forgiveness He has bought you with His blood is enough to motivate you to live for Him. But if for any reason you are wavering in that today and considering plunging headlong into that sin that appears so tempting, then I urge you to reconsider. Choose sin over God at you own peril. Even if forgiveness does come, the destruction our sin leaves behind is often here to stay.
For further reading...
Romans 6- Paul makes a great argument for why believers should not continue in sin.