Title: Expressing your Gratitude through Worship in Acknowledgment of the Mercy of God.
Text: Ezra 8.1-36
CIT: The Exiled Jews return to their homeland by the faithfulness of God and hard work. Their return culminates in a time of worship and celebration.
CIS: We learn invaluable tactics and lessons on leadership and performance as we watch Ezra lead his people in the return from the exile.
Introduction: Numbers 3 & 4; recording?
When I was a youth pastor in Cotulla, I had one of my teens approach me to interview me about Baptism. In the moment, I was able to explain what baptism is all about and offer my own definition. It’s so good, I’ve often wondered if I thought it up myself in that moment, or, if I borrowed it and claimed it as my own! I didn’t even realize it until he gave me his paper and asked me to proof it. In his paper he quoted me as defining baptism as: An external expression of an internal experience. I’ve continued to use it through the years and have even seen it expressed in these exact words at various times and in various ways. That’s why I think it was never original – but I claim it nonetheless!
An external expression of an internal experience… If you think about it, that definition could be used with other words, too. Like worship.
What about Giving Thanks? Sure, you can feel it inside, but isn’t it truly noticed when expressed externally?
We’re going to look at a people who come together in worship to externally express their gratitude for God’s faithfulness to them in Ezra Ch. 8.
I’ve taken the liberty to break down chapter 8 into three main sections with multiple subsections under each heading.
- The People who Return with Ezra
- The Preparations for The Long Journey
- The Project is seen through to Completion
Transition: Let’s begin with this 1st section…
I. The People who Return with Ezra (1-14)
exp.: rd v 1;
- only listed names are ‘heads’ of the family;
- 2nd is genealogy;
- the particular caravan – evidently there were more during other reigns. This one is the one led by Ezra in the reign of Artaxerxes;
The purpose is to identify the three parts to this list:
- Descendants of the Priests in v 2
- Descendant of Royalty in v 2b-3a
- The Laity in 3b-14
Let’s look closer now:
- The Priests in v 2; two lines going back to the High Priest
- Phinehas (not Eli’s son) Grandson to Aaron, son of Eleazar
- Ithamar, brother of Eleazar, sons of Aaron
- Royalty in v 2b-3a;
- David, through Solomon to Shecaniah; 1 Chron 3.1(10)-22
- The Laity in 3b-14
exp.: rd v 15; uh-oh, Houston, we have a problem: no Levites. I wonder, why is that a problem. Do we really need Levites to go back to Jerusalem to work in the Temple? We do if we’re going to be obedient to God’s commands. Numbers 3.1-13; Numbers 4.1-4; Ezra is sharp! He knows this. The Levites serve in the Temple area. They serve the High Priests who have duties of their own. The Levites must guard the precious items of the Temple.
Ill.: Do you remember the story of David, going out to retrieve the ark, which had been returned by the Philistines? They have it on this cart, and they’re celebrating what God has done. Truly amazing, a miracle that only God could have accomplished. The ark is resting on this cart that’s moving along when it hits a bump. The ark begins to fall over and Uzzah reaches out his hand to steady the ark. The moment he touches it, God kills him. David learned a valuable lesson that Day – a lesson that Ezra seems to be very much aware of: Don’t mistreat the things of God. Don’t handle the holy things of God as if they were common!
So, Ezra remedies the problem – rd v 16-20; v 20 – these were all mentioned by name. This list is a shorter, abbreviated, emphasized list. Another list is kept of all the names. These names are provided for a reason, but why? Here’s what I think: Ezra wants us to see the parallel between the Exodus and the return from Exile.
|The Exodus:||The Exile|
|The 12 Tribes||The 12 “Heads of Family”|
|The Levitical Uprising: Don’t want to do their job
|The Levites are Missing: Don’t want to do their job|
Before we leave this section, there is something interesting to note: Ezra 7.9; 1st day, 1st month, 7th year the journey began; they camped out on the canal for three days in 8.15; they fasted to seek God; then in v 31, it says they departed on day 12; so, between days 4 and 11 these roughly 40 men and their families, along with 220 temple servants were summoned to return to the land, made the decision to go, packed up their belongings, and with their families set out for Jerusalem. Day 4 to day 11 would be one week!
Transition: But before they set out… they must make final preparations – that’s point #2
II. The Preparations for the Long Journey (21-30)
exp.: vs 21-30 show two aspects of this preparation; the 1st aspect of this preparation is spiritual; rd 21;
- Spiritual Preparation: look at the elements involved in spiritual preparation –
- Public Proclamation: when people fast together, a public proclamation should be made. I think this is great for accountability and encouragement.
- Proper Perspective: Humble ourselves before God; nothing helps your attitude more than to catch a glimpse of who God is in his Greatness and who you are in your smallness. Fasting is a great way to do this. Fasting is the denial of the physical appetite while placing a focus on your spiritual needs. It isn’t so you can make God do something for you, but rather it is a time to focus in on God’s agenda. That is really what prayer is: a surrendering of oneself to the will of God. I used to think that prayer was to get God to do something for me – give me what I wanted. Now I see that prayer – especially through fasting – changes me, not God.
- Petition: to seek from him a safe journey. Seeking – I think it is good to acknowledge that you are in need and, that need can only be provided for by him. …for ourselves, our children, our goods. Rd 22; this verse cracks me up, because we’re so like that as humans. We want to witness to the world with our words about how awesome and powerful God is. And then, when it comes time to trust him, we don’t, we want to run to the king. Rd v 23; and he listened to our entreaty. HCSB: He granted our request.
Ill.: I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage: Pray like it all depends on God, but work like it all depends on you. And this leads us to the 2nd part of preparation – working like it all depends on you…
- Physical Preparation; rd v 24
- He sets apart the Leadership; This is wise on the part of Ezra. Consider there will be roughly 3,000 people on this journey. It would be like packing up Bullard and moving to Greenville, S.C. – without the aid of movers! No United Moving vans! Ezra needs help. He needs strong leadership: so he picks 12 leaders. Sound familiar. Much like the Exodus.
- He divvies up the work; he assigns portions to each group: rd v 25a, 26a, I weighed out to them; I weighed out into their hand. Next, he makes probably his most important move:
- He gives them a proper perspective of what they’re in charge of: rd v 28; you are holy, the vessels are holy; these belong to the Lord. This is a great application. When you serve in ministry – that ministry is the Lord’s. Those are his items. That is his money you’re counting. You are holy as are the devoted things.
ill.: I think some folks have characterized the God of the O.T. as mean – killing people even. Well, we gain a great understanding of this as we read: touch not the devoted things! When money is given to God, it is His. We must care for those items – things if you will, that are devoted to Him.
4. He gives them clearly defined tasks; rd v 29; Guard, keep – until you’re in the chambers of the house of the Lord!
5. He lets them do their job: rd v 30;
ill.: Lisa and running the game at rec. time. Do you want to do this or do you want me to do this?
app.: this was always hard for me when I was young. In one of my very first ministry trips, a young lady volunteered to find us a place to stay. She was from the town we were going to stay in. She was friends with a couple of youth pastors there and was sure she would find us a place to stay. If I recall correctly, I spent the last couple of days trying to find us a place to stay. Sometimes, you’ve got to let your leadership fail. It’s a great teaching time. More times than not, they’re going to come through – especially if you let them do their job.
Transition: we move to the final section of our passage this morning in v 31-36…
III. The Project is Seen Through to Completion (31-36)
exp.: a list of who they are 1-20; then this is a list of what they do in v 21-30; Now we come to the completion of their journey. Rd v 31-32; There is nothing recorded for the 900 miles they traveled. How do 3,000 people caravan that far together? 100 days at 900 miles is about 9 miles a day on average. There is a lot of time that passes and a lot of happenings. I mentioned earlier that it would be like packing up the folks of Bullard, TX and relocating them to Greenville, South Carolina! Do you think nothing happened during that journey? Nothing is recorded – only rd 31b. Does this mean that No one ambushed or no one attacked them? Or, does it mean ruffians and bandits did attack them and God protected them? I don’t know – only that God delivered them safely to their destination. If you go back to chapter 7, you’ll read that they arrived on the 1st day of the 5th month. It’s kind of like they left January 12th and got there on May 1st. Nearly 4 full months. It takes three days for the Temple to be ready to receive what’s been brought. Rd v 33; Here is really a 6th assignment when working with people.
6. He holds them accountable. They weighed out their portions. Rd v 34;
7. They celebrate a job well done. They praise God for his goodness, for his faithfulness in all of this. They worship and celebrate God for all he has done. Rd 35-36;
It is good to give thanks to God for all that he has accomplished. Yes, we work like it all depends on us, be we know that through our prayers, God has been working. I like what Paul says in Phil 1: 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance… And when that deliverance comes, it is appropriate to give thanks – to celebrate God’s faithfulness.
Transition: So what are our take-a-ways…
Observations & Implications:
- God blesses the work that seeks to honor him through faith. For Ezra, we see him seeking God’s protection and blessing in their journey. He put his trust in power of God and not in the strength of men.
- God is honored and glorified through godly leadership. It’s important to put the right people in the right places of service.
- God is honored and glorified through the service of faithful workers. Did you notice that there is more than 5 times as many servants/workers than there are leaders? The workers are as important as the leaders.
- God is honored when we place our trust in him to protect and provide for our families and our service.
- God is honored when we display integrity in our service to him. How the church has suffered scorn and ridicule whenever his people rob the church. How many times we have faced embarrassment as staff members and accountants and those put in charge of the finances have skimmed the coffers to line their own purses and bank accounts? God is not honored in those instances. But, God is honored when we display integrity in our service to him.
Invitation to respond…