Grace For The Journey
Dr. Philip Brooks a famous American preacher was asked by an inquirer who had come into his study and seen him pacing like a caged lion, “What is the matter Dr. Brooks?” Dr. Brooks replied, “The trouble? I’m in a hurry and God isn’t. That’s the trouble.” How difficult at times it is to be patient. Is it not hard to await the arrival of an important letter or appointment? Often our patience wears thin. I wonder if that is how these Jews in Jerusalem felt? Remember the book of Ezra is a remarkable account of a remnant of the Jewish people who left the land of captivity in Babylon and returned back to the land of promise and to the city of Jerusalem. Their stated purpose given by God was to rebuild the temple of the Lord, so that the worship of the Lord might be reestablished among God’s people.
There are two main divisions in the book of Ezra. The first six chapters hang together and then chapters seven through ten.
Chapters one to six give us an account of national restoration.
The key personality being Zerubbabel.
Chapters seven through ten give us
The story of spiritual restoration.
The key personality being Ezra.
One of the things that strikes you in this story is that Satan never gives up. When God works, Satan
After 15 years the work resumed with great energy, under the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah but again Satan raised his head (5:3). The enemy wanted the work to cease but God’s eye was on His people so “that they could not cause them to cease till the matter came to Darius (5;5).” The result was a letter was written by Tatnai to Darius giving him a complete report of what was happening at Jerusalem, and asking him for information concerning the decree of Cyrus (5,13, 17). The Jews must have felt somewhat apprehensive as they waited for the Kings reply. I am sure they wondered if Darius would bother to search the old dusty records and back up the claim of the Jews that Cyrus had commanded them to build their temple in Jerusalem? Did they fear that the King would cause this project to stop? Derek Kidner sees in the favorable response of the king “a striking instance of the truth,” expressed in Cowper’s hymn . . .
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head
Are you afraid of something that might happen in the future? It may be an operation, redundancy, unemployment, or family problems. The list is as vast as our imaginations. But God may surprise us and turn the terrifying prospect into a blessing in disguise. Whatever happens, whether the future is better or worse than we imagined it will be planned by our wise and loving heavenly Father. The God who cared for His anxious awaiting the reply of King Darius watches over us and plans the path ahead. Now there are three words that sum up this chapter very succinctly . . .
1) Confirmation – That Had To Do With Their Witness.
When Darius received the letter from Tatnai he took it very serious. A search of the archives for the decree of Cyrus was made. After a fruitless search in the record house at Babylon, the elusive decree was discovered at the Kings summer palace at Ecbatana. This was the ancient capital of Media, modern Hamadan on the road from Baghdad to Teheran in northern Iran. Ecbatana, which sits 6,000 feet about sea level, was a cold place in winter but delightful during the rest of the year and was regarded as an ideal summer home by several of the Persian kings. It was here that the decree of Cyrus stating that the Jews rebuild the temple, was found. We see . . .
a) God’s People Were Vindicated.
We are reminded in verses 3 and 4 that the investigation by the enemy focused on two questions: (1) Who gave them the authority to do this? And (2) What are the names of the men working on the building. In response God’s people, like Peter in Acts 11:4 many years later. “rehearsed the matter from the beginning.” They stated the facts clearly and honestly and left the outcome to God (5:13-15 6:3-5.) Their integrity, honesty, and uprightness were upheld. Here were non-Israelites searching, investigating to prove that the Jews were right or wrong, and they were found to be it all to be true. The world is tired of people who are playing at Christianity. People who claim to be followers of the Lamb but engage in shady business deals. People who say they belong to the Lord, but do not mind telling a lie if business can be brought their way. Are you such a person? Are you deceptive if it puts money in your pocket? Are you callous with others as long as you reach your goals? How does the world see us this? When the searchlight of the ungodly falls on you, what do you find? Are you a person of integrity, of honesty, and of purity? The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 3:2, “You are our epistle written in our hearts known and read of all men.” Someone has well said . . .
You are writing a Gospel, a chapter each day
By deeds that you do, by words that you say
Men read what you write, whether faithless or true
Say what is the Gospel according to you?
b) God’s Purpose Was Verified.
What was God’s purpose for His people in Babylon? Verses 1 and 2 of Ezra chapter 1 tell us: That they leave Babylon return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. This was what the decree of Cyrus was all about (Ezra 6:3. What hope would there have been for the Jews if there had been no written document in this case to appeal to? This great project may have been stopped. But the official document, found in one of the royal chambers was beyond doubt and question. This shows us the importance of written records. Do you see what was happening here?
God’s purpose was
Verified by this document
Which was the
Fulfillment of God’s Word.
The opening statement of in the Book of Ezra (1:1) tells us that the decree of Cyrus was the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, “Now in the first year of Cyrus King of Persia that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled.” The nation of Israel had broken the covenant of God, but the Lord had remained faithful to His Word. God’s Word is where we find His purposes. God has divided mankind into three parts. In 11 Corinthians 10:32, the Bible refers to them to as “the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God.” God has a purpose for each of these distinct peoples, and we find God’s purpose in God’s Word. The Bible is an amazing book! How precious it is to hold in our hands and read it! Are you thankful for the Scriptures of truth? 2 Peter 1:16 says, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables.”
We ought to be
To have God’s Word
In our hands,
In our hearts,
In our homes.
2) Continuation – That Had To Do With Their Work.
From chapter 6, verses 6-12 we have the reply of King Darius to Tatnai. This is an amazing document from a pagan king, for he comes down solidly on the side of God and His people. God’s people must have been “over the moon,” when they heard all this! How wonderful are the ways of God! Paul was so right when he proclaims in Romans 11:33, “O the depth of the riches both of the knowledge and wisdom of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out.” Who would have thought that such a desperate situation facing God’s people could change so radically? The underlying truth of this chapter is . . .
That it was all God’s doing.
We cannot always explain
The ways of God with His people,
But the comforting truth is
We do not need to explain God,
We need only to trust God.
The people believed that when the situation demanded God could move a pagan king like Cyrus to begin His work, and another pagan king like Darius to finish that work (6:15-16). I think we can say that Darius was impressed by the legislation of Cyrus. It spelled out provisions which seem to gather around four “lets.”
1. Let the house be built – 6:3.
2. Let the foundations be strongly laid – 6:3.
3. Let the vessels be restored – 6:5.
4. Let expenses be given – 6:4.
Darius upheld this decree of Cyrus, but he went even further and gave Tatnai four directives . . .
a) Progress Was To Be Unhindered.
Verse seven tells us that the decree of King Darius instructed the people in the land to, “Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of Gd on its site.” Literally the edict was saying, “Keep your distance.” Neither the local Persian officials nor the people of the land were to interfere or hinder the work, but rather they were to do everything they could to support the work.
What started out as an investigation ended up as royal decree that protected the Jews. God used a pagan king to protect His people.
While the Bible teaches that the state and church are to be distinct (Matthew 22:17-21), God sometimes grants His church favor with earthly monarchs and human authorities to further His own sovereign purposes. Do not forget that the perseveration of the Jewish race was an essential link in the chain which led to the birth in Bethlehem of our Lord Jesus. Our salvation hinged on the safety of God’s people in the days of King Darius. What a God we have! Aren’t that you glad that our God is sovereign? That our God is in control? That our God is the Master of every situation? That our God is working all things together for your good? How comforting to be able to rest in that abiding truth that the Bible proclaims in Romans 8:28,“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
b) Provision Was To Be Unlimited.
In verse 8, Darius in effect says not only are you to stop hindering the work, you are to help it along. You are to keep the taxes that you gather over there on that side of the river, instead of sending them over here to Persia, you are to give the money “immediately to these men, so that” the rebuilding of the Temple is not hindered.” What a decree this was. People who once hindered the work are now helping the work. We must remember that . . .
This God the God
Of overruling providence
Is our God.
To the believers at Philippi Paul’s imprisonment seemed to be disastrous yet he writes in Philippians 1:12, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.”
Paul recognized the over-ruling
Providence of God in his daily life.
Do you? Do you see the God who is ordering all your affairs? The God who has promised to meet your needs? The Bible says in Philippians 4: 19, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Our needs are as many as our moments. When we can count the sands of the Sahara we may guess the number of our needs. From the cradle to the grave we are simply a bundle of needs. Needs known and unknown crowd in upon us in a thousand different ways. Who is sufficient for them? God. When you cannot see your way clear, remember God will show you the way; when no one takes note of your needs, remember God not only sees your needs but will supply all your needs; when there is no other source to supply your need, remember that God has promises to supply your every need!
c) Prayer Was To Be Unconstrained.
Verse 10 says, “pray for the life of the king and his sons.” Here we see . . .
The desire of the sovereign
The duty of the servants.
Did Darius acknowledge Jehovah as the supreme God and yet worship other deities? Or was this an act of political expediency? He had recently defeated Egypt, and therefore it was necessary to have loyal subjects so close to Egypt, a difficult country to control. Whatever his motive, Christians are commanded by God in 1 Timothy 2:2 to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” The request for quiet and peaceful lives is not a selfish desire, but rather a request so that circumstances might be conducive for the spread of the Gospel. Here is a pagan king with little if any understanding of the true and living God asking for prayer for him and his family. When someone has reached out a hand and asks me to, “Please, pray for me.” I treat such requests seriously and use it as an opportunity to witness to God’s presence, care, and ability to work in whatever situation and to sow the seeds of the Gospel. Do you believe that God answers prayer? Is prayer a reality to you? It is not talking into the air, but holding fellowship with a personal, loving, heavenly Father.
d) Punishment Was To Be Unparalleled.
Verse 11 tells us Darius decree’s that anyone who messes with the work of the Lord that he be hung on timber from his own house. His edict was fulfilled in other ways. Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple during the Maccabean period, and Herod the great altered it with a view to glorifying himself. Both of these men were smitten by an awful disease and died in great agony. The Romans utterly destroyed it in A. D. 70, but in so doing, sealed their own doom, and that mighty empire today is but a memory. Who says that God is not in control? Who says that God is not working our His sovereign purpose? God is still on the throne! The Bible says in Daniel 4:17, “The most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He will.”
3) Celebration: That Has To Do With Their Worship.
Verse 15 tells us the temple was completed in 515 BC. The construction was started about 535 BC (3:10), so it was over 20 years in building. Chapters 3 through 6 give us a timeline of this . . .
Chapter 3: The Building Commenced.
Chapter 4: The Building Ceased.
Chapter 5: The Building Continued.
Chapter 6: The Building Completed.
It was completed in the month Adar (March), the last month of the Jewish year. The temple was completed. In following the example of King Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:1, they dedicated it to the Lord. It was a time of celebration. A time when they worshipped the Lord . . .
Verse 22 shows us why, “For the Lord had made them joyful.” What a contrast this was to the despondency of the previous years. The word “joy,” had not occurred since verse 13 in chapter 3 many years earlier.
We can be so preoccupied with our problems
That we forget to thank God for His gifts to us,
His care of us . . . His presence with us . . .
His purpose through us.
The word for “joy,” has the meaning of “enjoying yourself.” That is not the usual idea people have of Christians and the worship of God is it? Yet, do you remember the early church? Of them we read in Acts 2:46-47, “They …. did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart praising God.” Where has the joy gone in our corporate worship? In the early days the believers were so filled with joy that even when they were taken and thrown into prison, Acts 116:25 says they, “Sang praises unto God.” Today, in a lot of churches, you can hardly get a “praise the Lord” or “hallelujah.”
When we compare the sacrifices at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings 8:63 with the sacrifices at the dedication of Zerubbabel’s Temple, those of the returned exiles seem few indeed. Solomon offered 22,000 cattle compared with the 100 bullocks offered here. Some would argue that Solomon was a very wealthy man. Although these Jews were not poor (1:5-8 2:66-67) their giving could not match Solomon’s. But don’t get caught up in the figures. The Bible tells us that God wants us to give out of love and as He has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:2). In other words, each of us should be setting aside a sum of money in keeping with our income. I personally favor the tithe and offerings as a way to handle this. The important thing is, have you established the principle of stewardship in your heart and in your home? You might ask, “preacher what should motivate us?” Verse 17 mentions “the sin offering.” The people offered the sin offering not only because of the need to atone for their sin but to acknowledge their gratitude and joy in the reality of that forgiveness. For us, it is not the sin offering of dead animals but the offering of our loving Savior who gave Himself as an atonement for our sin at Calvary that motivates us. When we look to Calvary, how can we hold back from giving to God?
Verse 17 tells us the people we instructed to do this, “As it is written in the book of Moses” (Exodus 28:29; Leviticus 8-9.
Their main concern was to
Know what God had said,
What God had directed.
Notice also they kept the Passover (Verse 19. Each year the Jewish men were required to make three trips to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16). During the years in exile, how the hearts of the Jews must have yearned for the day when once again they were free to go to their Holy City and worship God. Passover of course was a memorial feast. In it they were acknowledging the fact they were a redeemed people. Christians today do this in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. The Bible teaches that his ordinance is a time to remember and reflect upon what Jesus has done for us through the cross and the empty tomb. 1 Corinthians 11:24-26, “’… this is My body which is broken, for you; this do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner he also took the cup after super, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.” They were obedient to their Lord’s command.
Verse 17 shows us that representatives of all the tribes were present, and the full nation was still viewed as consisting not of two, or ten, but of twelve tribes. There is a false ecumenism that is condemned in Scripture (Ephesians 5:11); there is a true unity which is commended in Scripture. The body of Christ, the church was brought into being by the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (1 Corinthians 12:13). Today, believers experience that baptism at conversion and are incorporated into the Body of Christ, which is the church. We are not simply a collection of individuals, we are members one of another because we are members together in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4). Do you recognize this oneness? Do you seek to nurture it in the bond of peace? What a day of celebration this was. Notice finally, they worshipped God . . .
Verse 21 tells us the people, “… separated themselves from the filth of the nations.” The focus here is upon the attempt to have purity of heart. Verse 21 also tells us the people did it, “to seek the Lord God of Israel.” The focus here is upon their intensity of spirit. It is a like a precious young girl who is in love and getting ready to be married. She is so in love with her husband to be, she separates herself from all others, because she has only eyes for the one to whom she has pledged her life. When you come to worship the question is, “How have you come?”
- You should come to contemplate His faithfulness.
- You should come with preparation of heart.
- You should come with intensity of spirit.
How easy it is to settle into the routine of worship and to chat before and after about anything other than Him! How do you come? The Bible specifically tells us how we are to come in Psalm 27:3-5, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
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.”