God Working Among His People: Ezra 3:1-13 – Starting Again

 Grace For The Journey

 A kidnapper abducted an eight year old girl one morning.  He drove around the town and surrounding countryside before phoning the family to ask for a ransom.  Without trying to collect any ransom money, the abductor inexplicably released the unharmed girl to her home.  When the offender was finally caught, his family and neighbors were amazed for they had always considered the man to be a model citizen.  Further investigation into his case revealed that the criminal’s fall into delinquency had not been sudden.  There had been a history of a slow build-up of adverse circumstances which led to the crime.  Someone has said that “collapse in the Christian life is seldom a blow out, it is usually a slow leak.”  Is that what it has been with you?  Have you just slowly drifted away from your Christian moorings?  That is how it was with the Jews in Babylon.  For 490 years the land had not rest (Leviticus 25:1-4; 26:32-35).  Think of it, 490 years and no sabbatical years, that is, 70 sabbatical years ignored.  So what did God do?  He sent them into captivity for seventy years.  But now, in the providence of God, they have traveled a distance of some 1,000 miles, been on the road for 4 months, and are now back in the land of promise again.

It is interesting that Ezra wrote nothing about the long trip, or what the Jews experienced during those four difficult months.  It reminds us of Moses description of Abraham and Sarah’s journey into Canaan in Genesis 12:5, “And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan and into the land of Canaan they came.”  Alexander Maclaren says, “It’s a strange narrative of a journey, which omits the journey altogether and notes but its beginning and its end.  Are these not the main points in every life, its direction and its attainment?”  Surely the two most important aspects of your life are the beginning of your life and the ending of your life.  It is important for us to begin well.  That is why I would urge people to come to Christ when you are young.  I was 7 years of age when God worked in my heart and I trusted the Savior.  Do not come to the end of your life and blow the smoke of a wasted life in the face of Jesus Christ.  Come to Christ at the beginning of your life.  But it is also important to end well.  Vance Havner, the great American preacher used to talk about “getting home before dark.”  Do you not want to end well?  It is possible to end with a saved soul and a ruined testimony.  Do you know what our constant prayer should be?  We should pray, “Lord help me, to end well, help me, never to bring shame and dishonor on the lovely name of my Savior.”  

Here the children of Israel are at the end of the journey, they are back in the land.  They have sat by the Tigris and Euphrates and wept when they considered the privileges they had scorned.  They had taken the opportunity to return under Zerubbabel, and contributed to the cost of rebuilding.  Now they were in Jerusalem the spiritual capital of their true homeland.  Can you imagine the depth of feeling they experienced?  Can you try and enter into the very thoughts that must have coursed through their minds? As they stood in a ruined city, before a desecrated temple, in the very place where God had chosen to reveal His glory, there was a new beginning, a glorious opportunity to start over again.  Is that what you need to do?  As a believer, have you lived carelessly, failed miserably, and disobeyed continually?  Thank God, you can start again.  As we look at chapter 3 today, notice,

1) WORSHIP WAS RESTORED.

Verses 2-3 tell us that the altar of God was first.  The altar was the place of worship.  Genesis 13:1 and 4 tells us the place of the altar of God to Abram, “And Abram went up from Egypt” … “to the place of the altar, which he had made at first.  And there Abram called on the name of the LORD.”  I Kings 18:30 tells us what the first thing that Elijah did as he challenged the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, “And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down.”  The people had to get back to a right relationship with God through worship and prayer.  Revival always results in worship.  When there is a “stirring,” of the people of God, the result is they will return to the place of worship.  One of the sad things today is that so many people have their names are on church rolls, but seldom if ever darken the door of those churches.  I think of members of our own church family, who are rarely present to worship the Lord with us.  

Here were a people who were determined

To set their worship and lives on

A right footing from the beginning.

Notice, there was . . .

a) A Propriety About This Worship.

Verse 3 tells us, “They offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord.”  These were the most common offerings for sin.  This was an offering that depicted Christ as One who was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).  It speaks of the consecration and devotion of the Lord Jesus.  Christ offered Himself without spot to God.  He died in the sinner’s place and our fellowship with God is based on the sacrifice of the cross.  The altar and the burnt offering answer to the deep cry of man, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the high God?” (Micah 6:6).  The basis for our worship is Calvary.  There is no other altar.  Christ has been sacrificed once for all (Leviticus 1:4).  Our worship is to be built on the basis of the cross.  Today, ours is a table of remembrance rather than an altar.

  • We look back at what already has been accomplished by the shedding of the precious blood of our Savior.  
  • We look into our hearts to ensure there is no sin harboring.
  • We look up to heaven to where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.
  • We look forward to His return, because we take the emblems, the bread and wine, and remember the Saviour until He comes.

The only altar we build is a biblical understanding of the cross, which is the foundational theology of our worship.

b) An Authority About This Worship.

While our worship is grounded

On the Work of the Cross,

Our worship is to be guided

By the Word of God.

Did you notice the place these returning captives gave to the Word of God ?  Verse 3 tells while the offered the burnt offerings they did so, “… as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God” (See also: Exodus 27:1-8).  They were returning to God’s way of doing things. 

Everything now was to be directed according to the Word of God.  This is how it was before.  In observing the feast of Tabernacles the children of Israel were to do it, “As it is written” (Numbers 29:12-38).  When they laid the foundation of the second temple the accompanying ceremonial was, “after the ordinance of David King of Israel” (Ezra 3:10; 1 Chronicles 15:16-21; 16:4-6).  In other words, whatever they may have practiced in Babylon, whatever their traditional rites and customs, all these had been left behind in the scene of their captivity, and now as they have been delivered and brought back into the land, nothing could satisfy them short of the Word of God.

Our worship must be based on the Word of God, adhering to the principles that He has given to us in His precious Word.  

David discovered that God

Is not only interested

In our motives,

The Lord is interested

In our methods, as well

How we worship Him

(2 Samuel 6:1)

We live in a day and age when so many innovations are being brought into the worship of God, and we need to be careful lest we introduce something for which we have no “Thus saith the Lord.”  Why do we come to worship?  Is it not to worship the Lord? To give unto Him, “glory and honor and power?” (Revelation 4:11). 

There is an attitude in today’s church

That worship is something for us.

It is wonderful to sense the presence of God in our times of worship and it warms our hearts.  But we ought not to come to the Lord with a What can I get out of this time of worship,” attitude.  Worship is primarily about giving to God, not getting from God, and when we do that then we will sense the nearness of His presence.

c) A Regularity About This Worship.

Verses 3 and 4 tells that the people offered, “burnt offerings morning and evening” and “daily burnt offerings.”  Verse 5 says, “Afterwards they offered the regular burnt offering, and those for New Moons, and for all the appointed feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and those of everyone who willingly offered a freewill offering to the LORD.”   In the Old Testament there were five offerings that they people brought and seven feasts that they observed.  Each had a special significance.  For example, the Feast of Tabernacles brought joy to the heart of the people; the burnt offering brought joy to the heart of God.  For these people who were fresh out of Babylon they saw it as a great privilege to engage in corporate worship at the beginning and end of the day.  Verse 6 tells us that the people did this, “although the foundation of the temple of the LORD had not been laid.”  They could not wait until the temple was done – the desire and love for God and desire to meet with and obey God was so great they could delay no longer.  It is sad today that many churches struggle to meet twice on the Lord’s Day.  It is tragic that many professing Christians have replaced the Lord’s Day with the Lord’s half day.  Is it not a sad reflection on the level of our desire and commitment that we give so little of our time to the Lord?  Can you imagine the persecuted church, where meeting together involves risking your liberty and life, spurning such opportunities?

d) A Unity About This Worship.

Did you notice the emphasis on unity as you read these verses in chapter 3?  In the verse 1 we see, “the people gathered;” in verse 9 tells us, they worked  together, verse 10 says they “stood” together, and in verse 11 tells us they worshipped together.”  That is how it was – The many were as one. They gathered together, they stood together, and they worshipped together. Does that not remind you of the early church?  The Bible says in Acts 2:1, “And when the day of Pentecost was come they were all with one accord in one place.”

Indeed the key term in the book of Acts is “one accord.”  We are not just a collection of individuals, we are members together in the Body of Christ.  Paul says in Romans 12:5, “So we, being many, are one Body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”  Do you know how the Body of Christ was created?  The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we bond or free, and have made all made to drink into one Spirit.”  The unifying baptism of the Spirit took place on the Day of Pentecost, and every Christian partakes of that baptism at the point of conversion, and so the people of God are made one Body in the Lord, we are one in Christ Jesus.

We are not running around to create a false unity like the ecumenical movement, the unity already exists.  All who are thus united are asked to work toward its maintenance (Ephesians 4:3).  That is something we are not very good at it is it  I heard about two sisters who were always fighting and quarreling.  After one such bout of squabbling their mother broke them up and said, “You are sisters, you ought to love one another.”  There was an unusual silence for a few moments, and then one of the sisters responded, “I know she’s my sister but do I really have to love her; can’t I just like her?”  Do you feel exactly the same way?  How have you come to worship?  Do we come unitedly, harmoniously?  Could it be that you come with an unforgiving spirit, a bitter attitude, and a long standing grievance in your heart?  When we will learn that it is in the place of unity that the Lord commands the blessing even life for evermore (Psalm 133:3)

2) WORK WAS RESUMED.

Here is an important truth . . .

Worship always

Leads us to work.

There is not a dichotomy between worship and work.  

  • Some people put all of the focus on worship and they never get around to working.
  • Others put all the focus on working and they never get around to worshipping.

It is the Mary and Martha syndrome all over again.  Luke 10:39 tells us that Lord Jesus came to the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany and before long the two sisters were preparing a tasty meal.  Things were well under way when Mary seeing no need for further service, “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His Word.”  Martha her mind is on the kitchen.  She is distracted, pulled in different directions.  I can imagine that she running around the kitchen doing several things at the same time.  Then she came to Christ in a huff, “Lord dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve thee alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” (Luke 10:40) I just wonder did the Lord smile. He certainly said, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).  Do you see what Christ was saying?  

He was saying that worship

Has to come before work.

Your work will never be effective,

Unless your worship is effective.

When you worship the Lord, then you

Will want to work for the Lord.

Notice . . .

a) The Commencement Of The Work.

What work were they going to do?  They were going to lay the foundation of the temple.  Verse 6 says, “But the foundation of the temple was not yet laid,” then look at verse 10, “And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord.”  Between verse 6 and verse 10 there is some work going on – The laying of the foundation of that temple.  I do not know much about building, but I do know that foundations are very important.  

  • The foundation of a structure determines the size of the structure.
  • It determines the shape of the structure.
  • It determines the strength of the structure.

Even I understand that if you want to go up, and up, and up, you need first to go down, and down, and down.  Foundations are very important.  That is why the Psalmist says in 11:3. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  There is only one answer that can be done – lay the foundations again.  Is this not what spiritual revival is all about?  Getting back to the foundations of the Christian life and making sure they are solid, the Word of God, Christ, prayer, obedience, and holiness.

We need to ensure that we have a solid foundation for each local church.  We need to ensure that it is founded on the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:11); founded on the shed blood of the Savior; founded on the Written Word (Ephesians 2:20).  Do you recall the Savior’s promise in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  The house of God in that day was material; the house of God today is spiritual.  It is comforting to know that the future of the church does not depend on important people, fancy gimmicks, or slick programs.  What Christ has begun, He will continue and consummate.  He chooses to use people, that is why we read here not only about the commencement of the work, but about . . .

b) The Commitment Of The Workmen.

Verses 8 and 9 tell us that the workmen had their work to do; so did the priests and the Levites, as well as all the people.  When the building of the Temple got under way there was a division of labor, and a commitment to see the job done.  How thankful we are for those who have gifts and talents to bring into the service of the Lord, but then the Holy Spirit has not left one single believer without some gift to enable or her to serve God. He has “divided to everyone severally according to His will” (1 Corinthians 12:11).  The real question is seldom one of gift or even of opportunity, but rather one of faithfulness and commitment.  Do you recall the question that was put to Naaman in 2 Kings 5:13, “If the prophet had bid you do some great thing would you not have done it?”  It seems that many empty-handed Christians are waiting for the Lord to give them “some great thing,” to do.  However, the Bible teaches that it is by being faithful in that which is least that we are entrusted with some larger service (Matthew 25:21).  Does the fervor of these Old Testament saints put us to shame?  Are you still enthusiastic about the Lord’s work?  Or are you saying, “I have given enough, I have done my bit.”  I am reminded of David Livingstone, the pioneer missionary to Africa, who walked over 29,000 miles.  His wife died early in their ministry and he faced stiff opposition from his Scottish brethren.  However, the words in his diary ought to challenge us, “Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me.  Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.  Sever me from any tie, but the tie that binds me to your service and heart.” Finally, we see . . .

3) WITNESS WAS RECORDED.

Verse 13 tells us when the foundation was laid, “ the people shouted with a loud shout and the noise was heard afar off.”  

a) There Was Celebration – They Sang.

Following the example of David, when he brought up the Ark to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:4) and Solomon when he dedicated the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-3), the priests and Levites sang praise to the Lord, and the people responded with a great shout that was heard afar off.  Their singing was reminiscent of Psalm 136:1, “Oh, give thanks to the LORD for He is good!  For His mercy endures forever.” (See verse 11).  The Psalms was the hymnbook of the Jewish people.  In that Book you will find an appropriate Psalm for every experience of your life.  In fact, David wrote the Psalms out of the experiences that he had with God along the way.  Go through the Psalms and learn to sing the praises of God through the experiences of your life.  The Bible says in Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  You may not sing well, but it will be well when you sing, because you will be “making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  We listen to the voice, but God listens to the heart, and He wants every heart singing praise to Him. 

b) There Was Lamentation – They Sighed.

Verse 12 tells us that they were weeping.  Why?  Because they had seen the original temple before it was destroyed (586 BC) over fifty years before and the new edifice was nothing in comparison (See Haggai 2:3). These godly old men longed for “the good old days,” but it was the sins of their generation that had caused the fall of the fall of the kingdom to begin with.  

These are people who are

Looking in the wrong direction.

The tendency of the young

Is to look to the future,

The tendency of the old

Is to look to the past.

We can learn from the past, but we are not live in the past.  If you are not careful you will get yourself caught up talking about the “good ole days.”   Like the little girl listening to her Granny reading the great stories of the Bible and saying, “Wasn’t God exciting then, Granny?”  Are you tempted to think that God is no longer exciting, that all His great deeds are in the past?  Are you like these old timers here? Somebody says, “Isn’t this a beautiful foundation we are laying for the temple?”  One old timer speaks up and says, “Sure, but you ought to have been around when we built Solomon’s Temple. This ain’t nothing compared to that.” 

I heard about a man who wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper.  He said, “Your paper is not as good as it used to be.”  The editor wrote under it, “Our paper never was as good as it used to be.”  I have got news for you – God is just as real in 2021 as He was in 1921 and 1951.  

Old saints can either be a help or hindrance to the young.  

Young believers can either be a burden or blessing to the old.  

We need one another as we go forward in the work of the Lord.

Dr. Jerry Vines says, “If you have all old, they’ll bind you up, if you have all young, they’ll burn you up.  What you need is young and old and they’ll build you up.”  Its takes all of us to do God’s work together.  

We certainly cannot ignore the past,

But the past must be a rudder to

Guide us not an anchor to hold us back.

Someone has said, “God’s people are a family, not a family album, they are a garden, not a graveyard covered with monuments to past successes.”  We ought to be singing constantly . . .

I’m pressing on the upward way

New heights I’m gaining every day

Still praying as I onward bound

Lord, plant my feet on higher ground

c) There Was Proclamation – They Shouted.

Vese 13 says, “For the people shouted with a loud voice and the noise was heard afar off.”  This is a bit like Paul and Silas in the prison praying, praising, and preaching where the Bible says in Acts 16:25, “And the prisoners heard them.”  Revival is something God does in His people, evangelism is something God does through His people, and inevitably when revival comes, evangelism occurs, and souls are saved.

Starting Again.  Is that what you need to do?  The first offering that is mentioned as the people begin to rebuild is the burnt offering.  It not only speaks of the total consecration of Christ, it speak of the total commitment of Christians.  There’s an old hymn that begins like this, “Is your all on the Altar of Sacrifice Laid?”  Well is it?  Are you totally sold out to Him?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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