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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