Ezra: The Return from Captivity
Open your Bibles if you would to the book of Ezra. As you’re turning there, I'm thankful that our songs are pretty clear, right? If you didn't get the point of that last song, every promise of the Word, that's what we're all about. I love it. Hopefully you got a Bible outline journal. We make these so that, parents, you can engage with the imagery on the front and teach some of the stories to the children throughout the week. And then on the inside, if you look there, there's a place for notes. There's also the themes are there, a big chapter overview so you can kind of get a big picture idea. And then with Ezra, there's only 10 chapters. So I gave the chapter events, of every chapter. Normally, that's just a few. But hopefully this will help you follow along today.
Ezra is an amazing book, and the title of the sermon is, “The Return from Captivity.” I think it will be instructive for us. Let me open us up in prayer.
Father, thank you for your Word. And thank you, Lord God, that it is truth that changes hearts and lives. Lord, I pray that you'd help us to focus on the Word this morning. I pray that you would use your Word, Father, to root it deep into our lives and to affect our being.
I pray, Lord God, that you would help me to speak truth and communicate clearly, this beautiful book that you've had written down for us. Thank you, Lord God, for every single person here. We pray this part of the service also brings you worship. Amen.
For many years, people have wondered, “Why has God allowed such policy and law as Roe v Wade to stand in our country? And it has paved the way for 60 million murders. People have asked the question, “Where is God?” When you when you look at society, and you turn on the news – which is just to sensationalize, and get you going emotionally, they're very good at that. But when you turn on the news, you think, “Where is God? Does he see everything that is going on? Does he care?”
Now, if you're a believer, you would only pose that question rhetorically, you know, God cares, you know, God sees. But it kind of seems like there's a disconnect between our theology and what we see going on in society today. June 24, of 2022 will go down in history as one of the greatest victories of our time, for the sanctity of life. And I pray that it continues. As you know, that can change. Roe v. Wade was overturned as federal law, paving the way for states to ban what they could not ban before. But of course, the fight is not over. As Dustin eloquently said earlier, laws do not change hearts, only God does.
And so as we see these big political victories, so to speak, hopefully you're encouraged by that. We need to make sure that our hope is still in God and God alone. That our life is driven and energized and encouraged by the Word of God. We have seen laws come and go. Some for the things that are taught in Scripture and some against. And some against Scripture, even saying that they're for Scripture, right? Those who will call evil good and good evil. But we want to aim for the heart. And as you know, if there's anything that the Old Testament shows us time and time again, it’s that God is concerned about the heart of his people.
The Israelites in the book of Ezra, were wondering where, where is God? They had been in captivity for about 70 years. Deported from their hometown in Judah and Jerusalem, the southern portions around what we would see as the city of Jerusalem, today. And the northern portions. And they were taken 600 miles. Remember if you draw a straight line through the desert, from Jerusalem to ancient Babylon, if you go around it's much, much further. But everything they knew was shattered. God was supposed to be the Provider and the Protector. And yet as you know, because of their sin, God took them to another place. And God does not simply just punish, friends. He disciplines, he woos, he makes clear, he helps to shine a light on “the path” that we're to follow not just any path.
So the book of Ezra begins about 2,557 years ago. And it is the story of God's return of his people from Babylon, which became part of the Persian Empire, back to Jerusalem, back to the Promised Land. I told you to open to Ezra. But I want you to flip over to Jeremiah 29:1. You see, because when the people are asking the question, “Where is God?” They should have remembered what the prophet Jeremiah said, because he told them what would happen to them. Beginning in Jeremiah 29:1, I'll read a portion of these verses. This is out of the ESV, if you need a Bible, there's one under a chair nearby. Verse one, “These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem, to Babylon.”
So that kind of sets the stage of who, Jeremiah in chapter 29, who he's talking to. Notice he's also talking to the prophets which would make Jeremiah the main Prophet, though there were others. Look in Jeremiah 29:4, “Thus says the LORD of hosts…” And you know, L-O-R-D in your Old Testament, that's the memorial name of God, Yahweh, translated to LORD. “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem, to Babylon.” And then he goes on to tell them to build houses and to live well and seek the prosperity of Babylon, and where they live, because the prosperity of Babylon will be your prosperity. Okay?
That is instructive for us. Right? Bloom where you're planted is basically what he's telling them. Now look down in verse 10 [Jeremiah 29:10], “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” And then our favorite verse to take out of context, verse 11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. [v.12] Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. [v.13] You will seek me and find me, [what?] when you seek me with all your heart [it's replete throughout the Old Testament; verse 14]. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
Jeremiah is laying the responsibility of the lives of the Israelites squarely on God. And as you know, from Deuteronomy, there are blessings and the curses, and you obey me and God will bless you and you disobey me, God will curse you. God here is basically taking an entire people group and said, “You as a people group, both individually and corporately, have disobeyed. And I'm going to send you to Babylon.” What does that tell you about prayers that aren't in God's will? Do you think they weren't praying to come back from Babylon before seventy years for up? “Lord God, please. We see the error of our ways. We know we did something wrong for hundreds of years. But please…” You know, I'm sure they were praying.
But God's Word was firm. And he says, I know the plans that I have for you. So if you have a T-shirt with that on it, you're calling yourself a very old Israelite. That verse was for them. There are general principles there, that God does know his plans for you. But these aren't them. Okay. He does want your heart to come after him. And he does want you to follow him. Yes, that is his plan for you. But he's not sending us into exile, so that claiming that verse would be wrenching it out of context. But hear this, it was God who sent them into exile. And it was God who brought them back.
Ezra is the beautiful story of God keeping his promise and bringing back his people. If you look in your outline there of where it says the chapter overviews, the first return is under Zerubbabel. He's kind of the governor leader. There's Joshua, who's also a spiritual leader. But they basically categorize this under Zerubbabel because his name is listed first a few times. So the first wave of people that comes back is under Zerubbabel. And then many years later, chapter 7 through 10, is the second much smaller, much more concise, return under Ezra. And then when we get to Nehemiah, Ezra and Nehemiah were one book, when we get to Nehemiah, the whole rebuild the walls, right. That is the third and final succinct return of God's people.
So Babylon was in power, but as you know, the Persian Empire was starting to dominate. I tried to look up how big this empire was. And it was vast in this time. They're guessing around two and a half million square miles. By the height of the Persian Empire, they're thinking over 5 million square miles, I don't know who measured, but it's massive. It dominated the whole world. And Babylon was their next victim, the Babylonian Empire. So Persia takes over, the people of God are in Babylon, they now get a new king and a new empire. And they're wondering what is going to happen.
Turn to Ezra 1:1-3. As you’re turning there, by the way, you will notice this is almost identical to the end of Second Chronicles; the first few verses here in Ezra. Ezra 1:1 says this, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing. ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD [he was writing Yahweh], the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel –
he is the God who is in Jerusalem.”
That's a pretty good pagan summary of the God of Israel. Cyrus, notice, did not just tell them to go home, he gave them a mission. What was the mission? Look in verse three, he was sending them on a very specific mission to rebuild the house of the Lord. That was their job. Now, who directed Cyrus to do this? Verse one says, “Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.” So it was Yahweh who called him to act in this way. Now, did Cyrus know God was doing this in his heart? That's a deeper question, right? Did Cyrus know God was moving in his heart. What would you say to that? Look at verse two. Cyrus said, “Yahweh, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem.” Friends, God can and does work through pagan rulers. Let us not ever forget that. The people who elect someone, they put into power whom God wants. And God can move in the heart of someone, accurately, to have them accomplish His will, even from a pagan perspective, to bless the people of God.
Do you ever wonder, if God could do that? If God, “God, do you see what's happening? Do you see what we're doing?” Whether you're thinking about whoever's controlling your homeowners association, and raising, you know, the fees, or whoever is in control of the prices at the grocery store; or whatever the weekly whipping boy is, be it gas, or whatever. God is in control. Completely! And we need to remember that and that should bring us great comfort. That should bring us great joy. That you can have joy no matter what's going on. Not that you're happy about all the things that are going on, but that you are glad that God is on his throne, and that he has called you to be a light in this world. And you can fulfill that.
Cyrus should have known what God was doing in his life because 200 years earlier, the prophet Isaiah prophesied specifically, that Cyrus would do this. Look in Isaiah chapter 44, if you would, verse 28. Isaiah 44:28, this was written around 760 to 700 BC. That is not in dispute. Isaiah 44:28 says this, “who says of Cyrus [specifically naming this king], ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose,’ saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” Now what did Cyrus tell them to go and do? To rebuild the temple. That was prophesied about 200 years earlier. You say, David, I need a little more than that. We'll look at Isaiah 45:1. Much of the first part of Isaiah 45 is all about God, directing Cyrus specifically to do his will. “Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed.”
Now, if you're wondering if Cyrus worshipped God, he did not. Verses five to seven, explain that to us. In verse five it says in a little bit, it says [Isaiah 45:5], “I equip you, though you do not know me.” So yes, God can do a mighty work in people who do not know him, and they can act specifically according to his will, because of the great power of God. Look in verse 13, of chapter 45 [Isaiah 45:13]. “‘I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,’ says the LORD of hosts.”
Remember that little phrase, “not for price or reward,” as we go through this. You'll see that over and over again, this was going to be costly to the Persian Empire, to Cyrus specifically. Friends, Cyrus was a vehicle that God ordained to bring back his people. Yes, God can and does use pagan rulers for the benefit of his people. Cyrus was acting in accordance with God's word, fulfilling what God had called him to do. How do you know if you're being led by God, friends? How do you know if what you're doing in life is what God wants you to do? Well, Cyrus understood that. He was acting in accordance with the Word of God.
And if you are acting in accordance with the Word of God, then you are in the will of God. You say, yeah, but I'm not sure if I'm supposed to brush my teeth now or later. Well, does God want you to take care of your body? Then brush your teeth now, before the food starts rotting. Right? It even goes down into the principles by which we live and the common things we do. Should I come to church today? Yes, he doesn't want us to forsake the gathering of the saints. Yes, he wants you in church. He wanted you, you specifically, here today. That's chapter one. This is not a three hour sermon, I promise, we're going to speed up a little bit. But you can see that even in chapter one, God's hand is all over this.
Chapter two, if you turn there with me. In Ezra 2:1, it gives us a record of who returned. It says, “Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. They came with Zerubbabel…” and others. Notice, he's first in the list. So you have all these people, but this is the guy who's leading the way. Now, this is important, because this list solidifies their genealogy as being the holy ones, the called-out ones, the people of Israel, called to be set apart from the rest of the nations. This allows them to see who would actually be able to become priests and work in the temple that they were going to build.
Over 42,000 people made this journey. That is a city of people that have come across the desert. What is God asking us to do? That seems difficult. You see, sometimes we just want him to kind of shorten the gap, that the journey might be real short and tight. And just tell me what I need to learn. I don't actually want to live this out and learn it along the way. You would think that having travelled across this long desert, not just that it's hot, but that it's not like they were in their air conditioned cars. But imagine if we all picked up and we said, “Hey, in two months, we're going to travel all the way to Iowa, by foot, not using any roads.” That would be difficult. And you would probably find another church, right? Most of you would not sign up for that. God wants us all to go, he told Abraham to go, we're all just gonna go. Right? Yeah no, I think God wants me here, Dave, not there.
That's what they were asked to do, is to basically make this long journey. I mean, long car rides are difficult with little children, right? Let alone this type of thing. I recently had a great mentor of mine, who's hiking the Appalachian Trail. And it just so happened, I didn't know he was hiking the trail and a friend of mine, Matt Feldi, sent me a picture of a river near Harpers Ferry and I love going to Harpers Ferry. And so I was familiar with the picture and he said, “Hey, you know, Ray is hiking the trail and he's in Harpers Ferry today.” And I was like, that's like 20 minutes from here. The trail is like 2,000 some miles long. So, you know, when an opportunity like that comes up, I kind of looked at the boys and I just said, “Hey, plans for today are canceled. We're gonna go snatch Ray off the trail and give him a hot shower, a hot meal, and a nice bed. He's gonna think our home is a palace after being on the trail for 1,000 miles.” Such a great blessing. He said, “Right before I texted him, he had just figured out that all the hostels and hotels in Harpers Ferry were completely full. And the night before all his gear had gotten soaked from rain, and then inside his waterproof backpack got soaked because they call it like a platypus pack. It leaked all over everything. So everything he had was soaked. And another, you know, week of squishy walking would not be good for his feet.” So he was kind of getting a little discouraged. And then I sent him this super excited, “Hey, Ray, what are you doing? Do you have time for me today?” That's what I was asking him. I didn't want to bother his trip. He said, “It was just the Lord's will. That's the only way he could explain it.” That in that moment, God moved me through texting, that can happen, to bring about a blessing for Ray. I think as long as he would have had a dryer in a hut he would have been perfectly fine. But God does that. And God plans those things into our lives, so that we trust him more. But you have to get on the path. You can't just sit at home.
Well after the people came back, chapter three shows them building the altar and the foundation of the temple. Look in Ezra 3:10, “And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals [there we go cymbals again], to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively [for all of those of you who like responsive readings in church, and they sang responsively], praising and giving thanks to the LORD, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.’ And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.”
I just love this. The people are back in their town. Their Temple is being built. The altar was the first thing they reconstructed so they could start sacrificing according to the Law of Moses. Now the temple is being rebuilt, starting to be rebuilt, they've laid the foundation of it. They knew it was critical to build the temple so that they can have a right worship with God, God had given them very specific instructions at this time, so that they could fulfill the sacrificial system. And you know, from Leviticus chapter 16, and others talking about the atonement, that the continual sacrifices would make to put aside the wrath of God. And it wasn't permanent, and there needed to be some type of repetition, you know, that pointed them all to the Messiah, to a permanent once for all sacrifice that was needed. And so they're establishing the sacrificial system again.
And they were sent with hoards of gold and silver and all kinds of stuff to buy everything they needed. At the expense of the Persian king, mind you, and all the people gave them lots of money. So they're like dropping gold all along the desert, I can picture it. But here's where the people start to act like pagan people again. They had a great start. The journey was great. They even told the priests to keep charge of the money and we're going to take an account of the money when we get there. So every coin they dropped, they had to find and pick up. Everyone knew though if the walls went up, these “wicked and rebellious people,” we see that quote in chapters four and five, would not pay tribute to the foreign kings. Chapters four and five have multiple plots to stop the work. I can't really get into it much right now, but there's a parenthetical account. That is, it's an account that's inserted into chapter four. And it most likely happens later because it mentions that it was happening under King Artaxerxes. And we know that wasn't now, that was later under Ezra.
But the idea of Ezra giving this account is that they were continually under attack. God blessed them, brought them back, but it wasn't easy street. All the people that were repatriated into their land, didn't want them to establish their own holy race anymore. They didn't want them to establish the temple. And so they wrote letters back to the king saying, “These people, look up the history, they're wicked, they're going to rebel.” And so the work started and stopped a few times. Between chapters 4 and 5, 15 years go by. The people basically stopped working on the temple. So what do you think they did? They started working on their own houses. They stopped building, the basis and the foundation, the structural relationship that they had with God, they stopped building the temple. And they started working on their own houses.
So you need to know during this time, it's about a 20 year period or so in here, where they're coming back and more people are coming. The prophet Haggai, and also Zachariah, started rebuking the people. And I'll just read one verse for you don't have to turn there. But Haggai 1:4 says, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” Yikes. Yikes. So their houses were looking really fine. And they had completely stopped working on the temple. How long does it take us to forget the last blessing that God gave us? How many times do we need to be reminded that God is good, all the time? That God is wonderful, all the time. That his plan is best, all the time.
You say, “Yeah Lord, but we didn't sign up for people shooting arrows at us, and threatening us, and…” God didn't ask you if you wanted to sign up for that. Right, even now in the church age, in the New Testament times, we know that persecution is promised. So if you signed up for Jesus, you signed up for that. And John, in the last few chapters in the farewell discourse, right, 14 to 16. And then in Jesus's prayer in17. He says, “If they hated me, they're going to hate you. Just because we put up cute little baby pictures and say, “Praise the Lord, you know, for this victory,” doesn't mean that people are going to just rejoice with you. They're going to spill their venom all over you. And then you and I need to rejoice because God counted us worthy to suffer, for the Name. Because it's all about his name. And the people had forgotten that in Ezra’s time.
So through the rebuking of Haggai and Zachariah, though, they came back around and they started working on the temple again and about 516 BC they finished the temple. It's an amazing work of God, in the life of his people. But that's only half the story. Because see, they seem to be falling back into this pattern again, of right following God for a short time, going away, getting rebuked, Lord, forgive us. Following God for a time, right, falling away getting rebuked. God forgive us. God wasn't having it this time. He wasn't having it this time. So 57 years go by. You can insert the Book of Esther in your outline between chapters six, and seven.
Let me ask you a question. With the 57 years and the 20 years of their return, they've got 77 years since the start of God blessing the people to come back. What are they missing? What are they missing? What hasn't been the central focus of this story so far? They've got the temple, right. They started working on it takes a long time, it’s a big thing. They've got the altar. They've got some of the priests. They have people to help work in the temple, recruited. Some of them couldn't prove their genealogies. But what are they missing? Well, we're gonna find out. It has everything to do with Ezra. Look in Ezra 7:1. This is the beginning of the second return. And they're missing what most churches and what most Christians are missing today as well.
Ezra 7:1, “Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah….” And then they go on and on and on, just so you make sure you know which as row we're talking about. Skip all the way down to verse six [Ezra 7:6], “this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.”
Now, I want to just paint the picture a little bit. 77 years later, the king of Persia, not Cyrus now another one. There's actually been a few since then, this is probably the fourth king at this point, or maybe even the fifth. They're still giving gold to the people of Israel out of a treasury from Persia. When the Persian Empire conquered a land, they allowed people to stay and remain so long as they gave money back to Persia. But here you have the Persian treasury, continually giving money to the Israelites. This is unprecedented. We want you to rebuild with our money, not just a one-time gift, it's recurring. It's like automatic.
Look in Ezra 7:20, “And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which it falls to you to provide, you may provide it out of the king's treasury.” They didn't even have to spend their own money to do what God wanted them to do. They were using other people's money. Look in verse 23, “Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons.” So, typical with the Persian Empire, the Medes before, they wanted to marshal all the gods to be praying for them and their gods, right. But they didn't dip out of the treasury to make that happen. Unless we're talking about the true God.
Look in verse 27, of chapter seven [Ezra 7:27-28], “Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers [this is Ezra talking], who puts such a thing as this into the heart of the king…” Ezra knows God is working in the heart of the king still, 77 some years later, “to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king in his counselors, and before all the king's mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.” So Ezra here, he's gathering more support. He's gathering more gold. Another verse talks about him telling the king that he was embarrassed to ask for soldiers escort because he had just told the king, that God's blessing is on those who follow him. But he knows it's all about the heart. God was working in the heart of the king, and God extended to Ezra, his steadfast love.
But why did he do that? Why was the hand of the Lord God on Ezra? If you're familiar with chapter seven, you already know what verses we skipped, as we went through seven. Look in verse nine [Ezra 7:9]. It had taken them four full months, chapter seven, verse nine, it had taken them four full months to travel to Jerusalem. And when he arrived, what's the most important thing that everyone needs to know about Ezra, that's verse 10. This is what everyone needs to know about Ezra [Ezra 7:10], “For Ezra has set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”
What's missing today, for you and I at times, and for people out there, is that we do not study the law of the Lord, we do not practice it, and we do not teach it. What does a good preacher do? He simply opens up the Word and he shares the beautiful truths of Scripture. There's nothing more glorious that any preacher could ever say, than what's already written down. The people needed good, solid teaching. They had the building. They had the flow of how they did things, the sacrifices, right? So we've got the building, part of it. We've got the flow of how we do things. But are we actually studying the Word? Are we going after it, knowing that our lives depend on it? Or has it just become something that we do? Ezra set his heart to study, practice, and teach.
That should be your MO in life. That should be the way you do things. You say, “But I'm not called to preach.” You are called to proclaim though, to share the Word of God. And you're going to share it more accurately, the more accurately you know it. He who has an ear, let him hear. This is what we need. We need to know Jesus through his Word. We need to understand a right relationship to God through his Word. We need preachers and serious churches, churches who are serious about every single word of God.
Second, we need people who want to be discipled, who want to make disciples. And as you know, we make disciples with the Word, not with coffee and group hugs. Right? We can group hug if you want. We can drink coffee and we can talk about all the little things we like and our coffee and doughnuts, and glad they're cut in half. And we all know you take two anyway, but we cut them in half. Right? There are things that we like and things that we have and we like this kind of creamer and not that, and you know all that stuff. But do we go after the Word? Knowing it points us to God, it reveals God to us accurately. What happens when people try to play Christians? Right, this side of the cross Christ-followers, what happens when we try and play that? Oh you got churches who are going bonkers today, upset and angry over what's happening this weekend. They don't know the Word. They don't understand it. They'll lob things at you like, “Oh yeah, well then you must, you know, go out and adopt everyone. You must take care of the child from beginning to end.” Like, when has a real church ever not done that?
I'll also tell you what you get, you get chapter nine of Ezra, look there. The people had not given themselves to study, practice, and teach. Ezra 9:1, “After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said [that is, they came to Ezra, and they said], ‘The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations…” Not just from the people, God loves people. But from the people and “their abominations.” It would be like you going out and, you know, encouraging your children to, you know, marry a Satanist. [Ezra 9:1 continues] “from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.”
Did we not remember? Did we not remember, people of exile? What happened when we engaged with the Moabites? Did we not remember what happened when we engaged with the Egyptians? Have we forgotten who we've been fighting? For about 400 plus years now? Have we forgotten what King David did to allow God to work through him to give us peace on every side? And to amass this beautiful temple that used to be here, that we could have still been here worshiping with the most magnificent temple ever built? And yet all we have is a foundation. Have we forgotten?
It wasn't just the people, it was their leaders, the priests and the Levites. The people didn't demand, “teach me the Word.” They didn't demand that. And guess what? The leaders fell into sin too, purposefully. I almost don't like that, “falling into sin.” It's like, “it's not my fault, I just, I didn't see it.” Right? We purposefully follow our desires. James chapter one, right? We go after sin because of our desires. And when our desires are fully conceived, that brings forth death through sin.
What did they need? They needed a man like Ezra to call them back to the Word. Look in chapter nine, verse three, this is Ezra’s reaction. [Ezra 9:3] “As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.” Once Ezra got a full picture of what was really going on, it broke him. He was crushed over the sin of the people. They were about to go back into dishonoring God, generationally. Right? This is 70 some years going on here, now. Generations of parents who needed to teach the kids the Word and they didn't, or they did, and they ignored it. Which defames it even more.
Real leaders follow God, no matter what. Real believers follow God, no matter what. And when the culture brings the fury to your front door, you follow God, no matter what.
So, the leader was showing repentance and what would the people do? Look in chapter 10, verse two. They repented. [Ezra 10:2] “And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law.”
You see when they married, they were the ones who turned to foreign gods. The foreign people, who worshipped foreign gods, did not convert. Not here, we see that in all throughout Scripture, right? We see that. But here, the influence was on the Israelites, and it was going to kill their line. And it was going to kill their worship of God. And they did something that is, it's not a pattern for us to follow specifically, but the principle is for us to follow. They put their wives and children away. I mean, it doesn't get any more gut wrenching than that. Because they wanted to worship God, purely. Now, there's no New Testament passage that says, you know, to follow this pattern. But I wonder, what would we have done? What would we have done?
You see, whatever your sin is that you're not leaving, that's where you're at right now, that's your chapter nine and ten. What sin are you holding onto? What ways are you living that you know God is not pleased with, but the decisions are so difficult that you're not willing to make the right decisions, because it's going to cost you? What are we holding onto that is so much better than God and his plan? Do you know why Ezra was successful here in bringing the people back as he taught? It says six times in chapters seven and eight, this little phrase, “that the good hand of God was on me.” The good hand of God was on Ezra. Why was the good hand of God on Ezra? Do you want the good hand of God on you? It is this: because Ezra had set his heart, to study, to practice, and to teach.
Friends, if we are going to not only survive, but thrive. This needs to be our way of life. So that in any in every circumstance, you are equipped to do the will of God; no matter what it costs you. This is what the world needs today. And you and I have an opportunity to be part of it. Let's pray.
Father God, we call out to you now and we ask you, Lord, to forgive us of our sin. To give us the courage to put aside sin that we are coddling, and sin that we know we shouldn't be living in, but yet we do anyway. Lord God, give us that courage and that strength that only you provide. Give us that grace and mercy to live for you.
If there's anyone here who doesn't know Jesus Christ, I beg you to turn from your sin and ask God to forgive you. That by his grace, he may freely offer forgiveness for any and everything you've ever done, or will do.
Let's just take a moment right now. And pray and ask the Lord God to give us the courage to set our hearts: to study, practice, and to teach the Word.
Lord God, you are wonderful. Lord God, you have given us an opportunity today to know you more. And to learn from your Word, Father. May we go forth rejoicing, Lord, in all that you have done and given to us. In your precious, holy, Name. Amen.
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