Monthly Archives: October 2015

Ezra 4

Title: In this life you will have trouble.

Text: Ezra 4

CIT: Ezra moves through time, covering a period of about 100 years showing the persecution of the Jews who’ve come out of the Exile.

CIS: To identify the long struggle of the Jewish people in the post-exilic period and understand that God accomplished his work through His strength demonstrated in a weak people. That way, he recieves all the glory!

Introduction: Our goal this morning is to understand the passage of Ezra chapter 4 in 2 settings:

  1. Historical
  2. Literary

Let me begin with the literary setting:

Ezra and Nehemiah are about the rebuilding of the Temple and the Rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem – respectively. Ezra, the book we’re in now, is two divided into two parts – two accounts, if you will, of the rebuilding of the Temple: 1-6 and 7-10. We’re currently in chapters 1-6 – more specifically, chapter 4. Chapter four deals with the persecution of Jews in their return from Exile over a period of 80-100 years. Chapters 5 and 6 return to the time period of Chapters 1-3. It is almost like chapter 4 is out of place. But not really, not when you understand what Ezra is trying to do. Let me repeat that for those of you who were sleeping already!

So, as we look at chapter 4 today, we can’t look at it in a chronological setting. You’ll get lost if you do.

Next, let us now move from the literary setting to the historical setting with a clear delineation of the events marked out in history for us in the following passage:

  1. There are 4 Persian kings mentioned in verses 5, 6 and 7 (See Diagram). You see them there: Cyrus, Darius, Ahasuerus (Xerxes) and Artaxerxes. All 4 kings reigned over the Persian Empire in different years (see the chart). Let me give you the grand picture of this historically.
    1. Assyrians conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel – the 10 tribes are dispersed and disappear through remarriage. These are the people we’ll look at who are persecuting the Jews in this passage.
    2. The Babylonians conquer the Assyrians and then the Southern Kingdom of Judah and send them into exile for the next 50 years. 586 – 538 BC
    3. The Persians conquer the Babylonians in 539 and release the Jews from captivity and allow them to return to their land and rebuild their Temple. If they want to. Many do.
      1. Cyrus, is the King who releases them and we read about him in Chapter 1.
      2. The list of the Exiles who chose to return is in Chapter 2.
  2. In Chapter 3 we observed the rebuilding of the altar and the restoration of certain religious celebrations by the Jews.
  3. In Chapter 4 we will read about the persecution of the Jews by the people in the land.
  4. The last verse (4.24) brings us back to King Darius rd v 24 – And, chapters 5-6 deal with this issue of the Temple and it’s being rebuilt.
  5. So, let verses (4.4-5) give you the thesis statement of the chapter. And, mark as bookends to this passage. rd v 4-5
  6. This leads us to a very important question: why in the world did Ezra leave the time period of chapters 1-3 and 5-6 and give us v. 6-23 of chapter 4.

Here is the answer and the sum of my message today: in this life you will have trouble – but take heart, Jesus says, I have overcome the world!

I think that is why Ezra leaves the time period of chapter 3 and expounds on the historical struggles the Exiles endured. The weak exiles couldn’t power their way to defeating the people of the land – the Samaritans. BTW: this is the same battle going on in Israel today: the people of the land don’t want them there and are doing everything they can to kill them off.

So, with this information in hand, let’s look at these verses a little closer.

I’ve outlined chapter 4 like this:

  1. The Request of the People in the Land (1-2)
  2. The Rejection of the People in the Land (3)
  3. The Response by the people in the Land. (4-5)
  4. An Historical Look at their continued Response (6-23)
    1. The Letter Writing Begins
    2. The King’s Answer
    3. The Work Stops!

I.     Their Request: Let us Build with You! (1-2)

exp.: rd v 1-2; Reasons:

  1. We worship your God as you do. Sounds nice, right? Let me pause here and give you an simple application to this verse. Not everyone who calls Jesus by name is a Christian. There are many religions and faiths (as we call them) of whom Jesus says – you call me Lord, Lord, but I don’t know you.
  2. We have been Sacrificing to him since 722 BC – for 200 years!

Transition: A simple request with intentions that seem to be reasonable. But are they? Well, No. Here’s part 2…

II.    Their Rejection: No (3)

exp.: their reasons: rd v 3;

  1. “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    1. Our God: isn’t your God. We’re not sure what you’re doing – what religion you’re practicing, but it ain’t the same as ours. We see this in the NT. I’ll refer you to John 4. (You worship here on this mountain what you do not know). I think this is the same for us today. There are many preachers/religions that tag the name of Jesus to it, but – they don’t believe the Bible. They don’t practice his commands. Don’t confuse them with us.
  2. as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” We would have to go back to chapter 1 to see this, but King Cyrus has been moved of God to accomplish this. He’s not given the people of the land this task, but rather these men and these people – the Jews!

ill.: I had a similar experience with the ‘ministerial association’ here in Smith County. We were invited to build houses for habitat for humanity along side Muslims and Jews. That’s a nice gesture. I don’t really see any problem with building a home for the poor. Here is where I had a problem: I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone how they could be saved. Now listen, I’m not for slamming my gospel down the throat of people who aren’t interested.

But this is the gospel and it’s offensive. You and I are sinners. Period. God is perfect in holiness. We’re stained. The Bible teaches us that our sin condemns us. We cannot stand in the presence of His holiness if there is any sin present – because no sin can be in the presence of God. So what do we do? God says that our sin has to be dealt with. The penalty for our sin is death. Period. Now here’s the catch. God has provided a way for our sin to be dealt with and that is through allowing someone else to die and pay that penalty for us. Jesus is the one who did that. He died on a cross and paid the penalty of death by shedding his blood for our sin. All of our sin, through faith in him, was atoned for in the death. Moreover, through faith, all of his perfection, his sinlessness is place on us at the same moment – allowing us to be in God’s presence. By faith, we’re pronounced clean. The question is: do you trust God to do what he says he will do? If the answer is yes, you can be saved. It takes faith.

Now, what you do with that, is no longer live life your way – which leads to death, but rather, turn your life over to him and make him Lord of your life.

Transition: People don’t want to hear that. They didn’t like the message of these men either. So what do they do?

III.   Their Response: whaaa (4-6)

exp.: rd 4-6;

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

Let’s outline their response:

  1. Discouragement
  2. Fear
  3. Bribery
  4. Frustration
  5. False Accusations

Listen, when you stand up for what God has outline, it’s offensive. People don’t want to hear that they are sinners. They don’t want to hear that the punishment of sin is death. They want to take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and create a syncretistic form of religion. They create some form of amalgamation of religions and cultures and forms of thought that makes everyone happy!

But God says: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. You don’t need anything more and you can’t have anything less.

Transition: Here’s the point: if someone doesn’t believe God’s Word to be just what it says, then their following their own made up form of religion. And like these Jews, we have to say no to their joining us in our work.

IV.   A Historical Look at the Continued Response

     1.  The Letter Writing Begins (6-16)

exp.: rd v 6; And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. The Diagram…

  1. Letter #1: The Accusation Letter (We don’t have this letter);
    1. To: Ahasuerus
    2. From the adversaries in v 1; they in v 2; the people of the land in v 4
  2. Letter #2: The Aramaic Letter (We don’t have this letter either); rd v 7
    1. To: Artaxerxes
    2. From: Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates
  3. Letter #3: The Against Jerusalem Letter – rd v 8
    1. To: Artaxerxes
    2. From: Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe; rd v9-10; here is the letter; rd 11-16

11 (This is a copy of the letter that they sent.) “To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now 12 be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. 14 Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, 15 in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. 16 We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.”

Letters: Writers: Kings: Dates: Result:
Cyrus 539-522 Persecution
Darius 522-486 BC Persecution
#1 The people of v1 – adversaries, they, the people of the land Ahasuerus or Xerxes 486-465 BC Work Delay
#2

#3

Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel

Rehum the commander & Shimshai the scribe

Artaxerxes 465-424 BC Work Delay
#4 Artexerxes Artaxerxes 465-424 BC Work Delay

This is what the Enemies of God do. When they don’t get their way, they rebel and try to thwart his servants efforts:

  1. Lies or Half Truths:
  2. rebellious and wicked city
  3. they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll
  4. the royal revenue will be impaired.
  5. the king’s dishonor,
  6. a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces,
  7. seditious that is, they incite rebellion among the people
  8. you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River King, you’re going to lose this place if you don’t stop these people.

Transition: Can I say, this is how people act in church when they don’t get their way? It can be painful, can’t it? Some of you have lived through this in churches from your past. The best way to stop this is to ensure that you as a church bring in believers like yourselves. Likeminded; mission-minded; evangelistic; discipleship oriented, family focused, Scripture believing.

   2. The King’s Answer (Artaxerxes) (17-22)

exp.: rd v 17-22;

17 The king sent an answer: “To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now 18 the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. 19 And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. 20 And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. 21 Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. 22 And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?”

There is some Truth to your Statements; This is letter #4 on the Diagram

Transition: So what happens…

   3.  The Work Stops! (23-24)

exp.: 23 Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. 24 Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

In these two verses, Ezra goes back to Darius to demonstrate that this problem was persistent for the Jews for decades after their return to the Holy Land. See Diagram

What we will see in the next chapter is that a letter was written to Darius, too. And the result was the persecution of the Jews.

Transition: But there is more being demonstrated here. They, in their weakness, were able to rise above those who worked against them and accomplish what God had planned. You’ve covered this with me in a period of 30-40 minutes. They endured this for decades. And yet, they remained strong in their faith – that this is what God was calling them to do.

It’s funny how God doesn’t do things that glorify us. Maybe I should say ironic, not funny. God uses the weak things of the world, to show himself strong. He uses the simple to profound the wise.

So, what does this mean for us?

Observations & Implications:

  1. Time is not a factor when it comes to God doing what He has purposed.
  2. Size are not factors when it comes to God doing what he has purposed.
  3. Strength are not factors when it comes to God doing what he has purposed.
    1. I love to see the response of people when they hear we have our own missionaries overseas.
    2. I love their response when I say a church 120 educates hundreds of children and teenagers and adults in these facilities every week.
    3. I love to tell how we’ve been a part of planting three congregations. (more if you consider our missionaries overseas)
    4. I love it when someone looks at me and says, I don’t get it. What is so special about you that allows you to pastor so many ministries, activities, such discipleship. I say: yeah! There is nothing special. God uses the simple things! – the weak things!
  4. Do not be dismayed when others stand against you! I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Don’t be dismayed, but stand firm in your God and what He has called you to do!
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WORLD | Voddie Baucham’s big move to Africa | Warren Cole Smith | May 19, 2015

Q&A | The pastor, father, and speaker talks about his work at home and explains his move to Zambia with his wife and seven of their children

Source: WORLD | Voddie Baucham’s big move to Africa | Warren Cole Smith | May 19, 2015

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Ezra 3

Title: The Priority of Worship

Text: Ezra 3

CIT: God had fulfilled his promises in times past, and was once again showing himself faithful to His word.

CIS: Our Worship should reflect our strong belief.

Introduction: rd Jeremiah 7.1-16 – The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. 12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.

16 “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. 19 Is it I whom they provoke? declares the Lord. Is it not themselves, to their own shame? 20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.”

Transition: God was firm. Time and again they were warned and time and again they would not listen. You know the rest of the story – God would indeed do what he said. The people would go into exile and after many decades, God would bring a remnant back to Jerusalem.

This is where we pick up our story in Ezra. Rd 3.1. Here we see them coming together to Worship, to Work and to Weep. That is actually the three parts to chapter three: Worship, Work, Weep. I’ve outlined the passage this way:

  1. Building a Spiritual Foundation
  2. Building a Physical Foundation
  3. An Unexpected Response.

We begin with part 1…

I.     Building a Spiritual Foundation (1-6).

exp.: in this section we find three aspects of worship as demonstrated through their Unity:

  1. Unity among the Body: rd v 1; Phil 1.27-2.2
  2. Unity among the Leadership: rd v 2; Exodus 27.1-2;

Ill.: instrushuns? Annie; well, the Law gave them instructions for constructing the altar.

–     Leading God’s people onto God’s agenda – v 2.

  1. A descendant of the High Priest and
  2. A descendant of the line of David.
    1. These leaders leading the people onto God’s Agenda – as written in the Torah of Moses
    2. They set the altar in it’s place

App.: the people are demonstrating unity in their action – the leadership is demonstrating their unity in their work and

  1. Unity in their Purpose:
    1. Their Motive was simply that they needed God to intercede on their behalf – they were afraid of the people in the region who were against them. I think the NIV conveys a different thought – 3 Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices…not that its wrong, but I think the ESV, NASB is clearer in conveying their motive: They were afraid of the people around them and they needed God to protect and intercede for them. And so, They offered sacrifices – instituting the sacrifices offered in the morning and in the evening; rd v 4;
      1. Diligent to keep the Law: Keeping the rule of the law before the people; this demonstrates for the people the importance of God’s Word; stated in v 2 – reiterated again here in v 4;
      2. Diligent in their Worship: rd v 5-6a;
        1. Seventh Month: Probably the holiest of months.
          1. The Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23.23-25) – a blast of trumpets, a holy convocation
          2. The Day of Atonement (Lev. 16.29; 23.26-32)
          3. The Festival of Booths (Lev 23.33-43) rd v 6b;
        2. What they didn’t observe…the foundation was not yet laid… indicates that they did not observe #2 – The Day of Atonement. It is interesting to acknowledge The Feast of Booths, but not the Day of Atonement. Well, in going back to Leviticus 16, you’ll find that the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was observed to cleanse the Most Holy Place or classically know as the Holy of Holies. The Most holy place hasn’t been built yet. Their simple observance was a remembrance of what God had done for their ancestors and for what God had done in bringing them back from Babylon.

Ill.: I’m grateful to Dr. James Hamilton for his reminder to me that such activities were important because it built their worldview. Repetition, year in and year out would solidify that worldview. They would learn that God is faithful to keep his promises. They would learn that sin would be punished. They would be reminded that their only hope was in God – all else would fail.

Exp.: every year they would build booths or tents to dwell in. They would enter into their ancestors’ flight from Egypt, their trust in God, their dependence on God. The men and their sons would build the tents together and tell the story once again. Here they celebrated not only the past, but their own exodus from Babylon and recognize once again that God was faithful to do what he had said. And beyond that – He would do what he has promised in the future.

James Hamilton, NT professor at Southern says there are certain Parts to their celebration:

  • Dogma: a principle or set of principles as laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.
  • Narrative: the story you believe about the world.
  • Symbols: memorials that celebrate the truths of your dogma in the sweep of the narrative in which they make sense;
  • Liturgy: the use of these three in worship

Ill.: Christmas – as practiced by Christians:

  • Dogma: Christ is God come in the flesh.
  • Narrative: God sent his son to live a perfect and sinless life to die for the sins of mankind.
  • Symbols: the giving of gifts, nativity,
  • Liturgy: A Christmas Eve Service celebrating the advent of Christ and anticipating the 2nd advent of Christ.

App.: Mark Dever outlines this Worship as something that happens every Sunday when we gather: read the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, preach the Bible and see the Bible as practiced in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As we practice the Bible week in and week out we’re developing a Biblical Worldview.

That’s what these people are doing: for as much of Scripture as they have, they’re practicing their worldview and passing in on to the next generation.

  • Dogma: The faithfulness of God; protection, provision, etc. cited here in the responsive worship down in v 11: “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
  • Narrative: God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, he delivered them from the Babylonians.
  • Symbols: building booths, the palm branches, the boughs from leafy trees;
  • Liturgy: using them all in worship…

So, v 3 says they renew these practices, v 4 says they kept them as outlined by the Torah of Moses, v 5 gives a summary statement of these practices being resumed after a long absence. V 6 says makes two important statements: rd v 6

  • They resume the practice of daily sacrifices in the Temple; These would begin again at this time after a long absence and I believe they would continue until the destruction of the Temple in 70AD (BCE); Hebrews 10.11 – daily sacrifices is mentioned, however
  • The observance of Yom Kippur isn’t mentioned. I think that’s what is meant by but the foundation of the Temple of the Lord was not yet laid.

Summary: Here is the summation of the 1st part in building a spiritual foundation: Worship like it all depends on God. They had recognized and acknowledged this in v 3; They observed what they could and began preparations for constructing a foundation so that they could observe more in the future.

Transition: This leads us to the part 2 of this movement..

II.   Building a Physical Foundation (7-11).

exp.: vs 7 serves as a transition verse; rd v 7; this reads like the story of building the 1st Temple. And rightfully so – meaning – this is the intention of Ezra. There are these freewill offerings (also in Leviticus) used to raise money and goods to be used in the rebuilding of the Temple. Rd v 8-9; Here is a genealogy of the priests, Levites, workers. Rd v 10; Here these leaders are doing their best to follow Scripture. They follow the instructions of David to the letter. In v 11, you see the liturgy practiced before the people through responsive praise; rd v 11; What an incredible time of worship!

Transition: in part 1, building a spiritual foundation: Worship like it all depends on God. Here is the summation of the part 2 in building a physical foundation: Work like it all depends on you. But, the human side kicks in and it’s wonderful that the writer doesn’t hide this from us. Look at part 3…

III.   An Unexpected Response (12-13)

exp.: rd v 12-13; What? You’d think that there would have been a sense of relief from the older folks! Man, compared to the ashes and dust it all sat in for so many years, you’d think there would be a tremendous sense of accomplishment and success. It would be easy to miss this incredible moment. Don’t! Why would these priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, weep loudly? I think they see what brought them to this place – their forefathers’ rebellion against God.

ill.: Jeremiah 44 – The Word of the Lord comes to the people of Judah in Egypt by the mouth of Jeremiah the prophet. He says – stop offering sacrifices and giving gifts to these foreign gods and idols that you’ve made with your own hands. You see the desolation of Jerusalem and Judah. You see the dead in the streets. If you don’t stop, the same will come to you here in Egypt.

The men, who knew their wives were doing this responded: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you. 17 But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. 18 But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.” 19 And the women said, “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?”

And Jeremiah tells them: well, God is going to do to you what he did in Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. But, there will be a small remnant that will return. And the reason for this small remnant: Listen: 28 And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs.

Transition: I think they’re sad because they knew what they had and and they knew what was lost. Here is the message which these elders get: sin destroys. If you’re thinking – oh, yes, but there is forgiveness from God. That’s true. He is kind and compassionate and long on mercy, desiring that none should perish, but that all might come to repentance. But what is equally true is that the consequences of sin still ravage a life.

These people look at what was and realize that their sin – their rebellion is why they’re looking at something so much smaller than before. 600,000 men came up out of Egypt. Less than 50,000 men came up out of Babylon. Their numbers are small – so small that they fear the people around them.

Observations & Implications:

  1. Our worship should be shaping our worldview. I hope you see the Word of God being read, prayed, sang and expressed in our Worship. What about your private devotions? Family devotions?
  2. Our worldview should be motivating us to share our faith with those around us.
    1. Do we honestly believe sin damages?
    2. Do we believe Christ is coming again? How is that belief reflected in our worldview?
  3. We should be majoring in the majors!
    1. Worship is more important than facilities.
    2. People are more important than programs.

This especially hits home for me as I look to the future and where I’m leading you.

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Ezra 1-2

Title: Promise Keeper

Text: Ezra 1-2

CIT: God keeps his promise to bring the exiles back to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple and restore the Wall.

CIS: Because God is faithful to keep his promises, we can place our trust in Him.

The Historical Record:

A people are formed from Abraham. We’re actually studying this during WEBS. This past week we were in Genesis 45 where Joseph sent for his father. The boys return and tell their dad that Joseph is alive. Next Wednesday we’ll journey in ch. 46 back to Egypt where the patriarchs will settle with their families for the next 400 years or so. The 75 family members will explode through the years and become over a million strong, where God will send a deliverer named Moses. This people will be his people: The Hebrew People. He will be their God. They will come up out of Egypt and God will eventually settle them in the Promised Land about 1500 BC.

He warns them repeatedly to follow him closely. They are told to obey his commands. To be his people, they’re to be like him – and so he graciously tells them what they need to do. He tells them that he is vomiting the people out of the land because of their evil, wicked ways. And, instead, will give them the land. However, if they act like the people being evicted, if they follow after other gods, God will do to them what he has done to the previous people who occupied that land – He will vomit them out of the land, too.

They will ask for a king and God will give them one. At about 1000 years before the promised Messiah comes, they’ll be given a king after God’s own heart: David. They won’t make it too far down the timeline in history. As a matter of fact, David’s son will begin straying from God’s commands and the kingdom will become divided in two following his reign: A northern and a southern kingdom.

  • The Northern Kingdom – Israel. The NK exists in 10 tribes. Israel will never follow God. At least none of the kings do. They’ll be warned, but in just a couple hundred years, they’ll be conquered by the Assyrians and sent into exile in 722 BC. Assyrians will move in around them and marry and procreate them out of existence. These new people will become the Samaritans we encounter in the New Testament. We’ll meet them in our study of Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • The Southern Kingdom – Judah. Judah consists of three tribes: Judah, Benjamin & Levi. The southern Kingdom follows God in terms of certain eras. Good kings would rise and lead the people to follow God. A sense of repentance and dependence upon God will dominate an era. However, after that king dies, another who follows him will worship the idols and gods of the land.

Eventually, God does what he has promised them he will do. As he did with the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC, he will do to the Southern Kingdom, Judah in 586 BC. The Babylonians who conquered the Assyrians now rule the World and they will destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. Many of the poor will be left behind, but the rich, the rulers, the well-to-do will be exiled far away to Babylon. But God leaves them with a promise:

God promise is that a remnant will return to the Promised Land. Look at how the Kingdom of Judah is exiled in 2 Chron 36.17

Jerusalem Captured and Burned

17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. 18 And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. 19 And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

So, after 70 years in exile, they will come back and establish themselves in the land. God will establish them and rebuild the Temple and the City. 586 BC – 70 years is 516 BC.

Here is the whole point of Ezra-Nehemiah: God keeps his Promises. He said he would send them in to exile if they didn’t obey and follow him. He said he would bring back a remnant. You know, Here is a great place to offer our 1st application – one that will be repeated. An application that is good for us to remember. What seems like a long time to us is all a part of His Story. Jesus has promised us that he will return for us: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

App.: I believe the day is dawning upon us. Let us be diligent to trust him at his word.

We will be reminded of God’s actions in the times before even the exile and return – of how he kept His Word to his Children even then. There was an exodus from Egypt. Here, there will be an exodus from Babylon. In the exodus, the children of Israel took spoils – they were given spoils as the exited Egypt. It will be the same for these people – the children of Israel – as they come out from their ‘slavery’ and return to that samre Promised Land.

Do you ever feel like we’re just on this Big Ball in the solar system, spinning around and around, and it seems that it is all for naught? Does it seem that it is taking forever for God to keep his promises to us? Remember the whole point here: God keeps his Promises. He is the original Promise Keeper.

Now, Ezra is divided into two parts:

  1. Chapters 1-6 are the first part and the timeline covers about 80 years. This part concludes with the rebuilding of the Temple.
  2. Chapter 7-10 are the 2nd part and the timeline there covers about a year.

Let me take this a step further and outline the book:

  • 1-2: God keeps his promise in a Persian Decree. He moves the heart of a king to set the Jews free and send them home to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. We’ll look at this more in a second.
  • 3: The Worship of God –
  • 4: The Work of Men –
  • 5-6: The Work of God –
  • 7: The Word of God –
  • The Mercy of God –
  • 9-10: The Repentance of Men –

So, what we find here are two accounts of the return to the Promised Land – let’s begin chapters 1&2…

I’ve chosen to put the 1st 2 chapters together because of 1. Time and 2. Chapter 2 can be quite tedious. I’m not meaning to demean chapter two – God gave it to us for a reason. It’s just that chapter 2 goes well with the end of one. These 1st 2 chapters I’ve divided into three parts:

  1. The Proclamation by Cyrus (1.1-4)
  2. The Provisions by Cyrus
  3. The Pilgrimage Home (2.1)

Transition: So, with this all in mind – let’s begin with the 1st section:

I.    The Proclamation by Cyrus (1.1-5)

exp.: rd 1.1; He’s probably referring to Jeremiah 28.8-13; “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. 10 Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste. 13 I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations.

Isaiah 44.24-45.13; Amazing! Cyrus is being used by God – a pagan king. I’m sure he thought he was doing his own thing – but we know this God who is really in charge: Prov. 21.1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Look at what this pagan king decrees:

Rd v 2; I mentioned earlier that Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. Babylonia conquered Assyria and the Southern Kingdom (586 BC) – all a part of God’s bigger plan. Then, God raised up Cyrus, the Persian king who utterly defeated Babylonia in 539 BC. In 538 he issues this decree and by 537, the first wave of people are back in the Promised Land. rd v 3-4; The decree is issued. The people can go and they’re to be assisted or aided by the Babylonians. Wow. Who would have thought that to be possible?

app.: Here is a 2nd application today: We may not always understand what is going on. We may cringe at what our government does and how they lead us. But, we must remember that all of their decisions, poor or good, will not stop God from accomplishing his purposes. Ever! We must do our best to live good, upstanding, moral lives and trust that God is moving us (and our political leaders) to where he wants us to be in His Story.

Transition: Ezra wants us to see that nothing that has happened is outside of God’s will. God has promised and he’s about to deliver on that promise, even using a pagan king for His purposes. #2…

II.  The Provisions by Cyrus

exp.: Not only does God move a pagan King to release God’s people, but God then give His people everything they need to return home. This provision is seen in three parts:

A.     The Spirit’s Stirring: (rd 1.5); three tribes: Judah, Benjamin, and Levites; what is this call of the spirit? Rise up, Return, Rebuild – only those whose spirits are ‘stirred’ by God. Interesting. You don’t have to go and we’ll see throughout history that many stayed. But, many did return. This would be a long hard journey. How will it be accomplished? Well, God already thought of that! rd v 6; I call this part…

B.     The Spoils of Victory: (rd 1.6) The people of Babylon respond to their leaving just like the Egyptians responded to the Exodus in Exodus 12.33ff; 33 The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. 35 The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. 36 And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

Not only did the people give them provisions for their journey, but Cyrus gives them back the very items looted by Nebuchadnezzar which he had carried away from Jerusalem.

C.    Cyrus Returns the Temple Vessels (rd 1.7-11); And boy is he thorough! He gets a treasurer to serve as accountant and makes an account of the treasures. This treasurer itemizes each piece and returns them to the leader Sheshbazzar, whom Cyrus appoints to be the governor of this far-away land known as Israel. I think Sheshbazzar is Cyrus’ man. Zerubabbel is God’s man – and we’ll see him rise in leadership as governor over all these things.

Transition: With these items in hand, and each heart stirred by God to return, the journey begins. It will take some time. Nothing is mentioned here of the Journey. When we pick up in chapter three, it will be the next year and the Israelites will be back in Judah.

III.  The Pilgrimage Home (2.1)

  • The Leadership (2.1-2) Also in Nehemiah 7.7; Look at the list and make a few comments:

1Zerubbabel (governor; descendant of David; his grandfather, Jehoichin was the last king; He is a type of Christ, as was David through his lineage as a kinsman redeemer), 2Jeshua (grandson of the last official high priest), 3Nehemiah, 4Seraiah, Ezra 7.1 5Reelaiah, 6Missing, 7Mordecai, 8Bilshan, 9Mispar, 10Bigvai, 11Rehum, and 12Baanah.

1Zerubbabel, 2Jeshua, 3Nehemiah, 4Azariah, 5Raamiah, 6Nahamani, 7Mordecai, 8Bilshan, 9Mispereth, 10Bigvai, 11Nehum, 12Baanah.

  • Some final numbers (2.64-66)
  • The Invalidated Servants (2.59-63)
  • The Son’s of Solomon’s Servants (2.55-58)
  • The Temple Servants (2.43-54)
  • The Levites (2.40-42)
  • The Number of Men (2.3-35)
  • The Priests (2.36-39)
  • Gifts and contributions (2.67-69)
  • Conclusion (2.70)

exp.: I don’t think this list is exhaustive. Most times only the family name or representative is listed – with the corresponding numbers. There is one on this list that I think is interesting: vii. The Invalidated – they couldn’t prove their heritage. Later, we’ll find that some were added in – either they were later able to offer proof or they were added by the casting of the Urim and Thummim. In the exile, their fathers or grandfathers weren’t careful to take care of what needed to be done. They didn’t pass on the lineage. They didn’t take care of business. Unexpectedly, a decree was issued and a return ensued; however, these men weren’t ready. Their unpreparedness left them out in the cold.

Ill.: I think this is a great picture of what it will be like on the final day. Today is the day of preparation. Today is the day in which you should be getting your affairs in order. Then, one day in the near future, A proclamation will be issued from the Throne of Heaven.

Then, We’ll all be ushered before the Lord and he will say: I know you; you’re mine. Enter into your rest. Or, Depart from me; I never knew you. There are many who are wasting this time right now. They could be taking care of this right now. They could be nailing this down so that they would know for sure when Christ returns what their destiny is. But they’re not. They are wasting valuable time.

App.: if you are not saved, let me beg of you today to get this straight. Now, before it is too late. If you’re not a believer, you’re very much like these people who couldn’t prove they were of the priestly line. But let me tell you: there is a high priest who can vouch for you. His name is Jesus – and he will vindicate you and confirm your reservation in heaven – if you will commit your life to him.

Transition: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but stirred the heart of Cyrus. He caused the Egyptians to fear His children and so the Egyptians gave up their wealth to the departing Hebrews. It was a plunder of their gold, silver, money and goods, which was later used to build the Tent of Meeting. The Babylonians did the same thing, offering the spoils of war to a departing Jewish caravan that would help finance their journey and the rebuilding of the Temple. In chapter 2 we read about the numbers of people who returned, much like the census taken in Numbers. The repetition reminds us of God’s faithfulness. He is faithful to keep his promises – from Abraham to the Patriarchs to their descendants to us – God keeps his promises. Not just for this moment, but for all eternity.

Observations & Implications:

  1. Every believer should be moved to a place of encouragement when they recognize that God is a Promise Keeper. God is still in charge – it doesn’t matter what the leaders of the world seem to be doing.
    1. Don’t let Putin scare you.
    2. Don’t put your hope in a presidential candidate – they’re all still just people.
    3. God will accomplish what he has promised.
  2. Learning the History of the Bible is a tremendous blessing as it opens our eyes to the faithfulness of God. If you’ve never read through the Bible at quick pace, you should consider it. It takes about 60 hours to read at a regular pace. There are 929 chapters. Break that up into any format that works for you. 45 minutes a day can get you through in 3 months, 13 weeks, 90 days. One hour a day will get it done in 2 months, 8 weeks, 60 days. Get on a reading schedule and learn about God’s faithfulness. It will bless you.
  3. You don’t just get into heaven without the right credentials.

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