Grace For The Journey
Someone once asked William Booth of the Salvation Army the secret of his life. He replied, “God has had all there was of me. There have been men with greater brains than I, even with greater opportunities, but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and caught a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with me and them. On that day I made up my mind that God should have all of William Booth there was. If there is anything of power in the Salvation Army it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.” In a journal, Jim Elliot, murdered in South America by the Auca Indians wrote these words, “God I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life, that I may burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God for it is Thine, I seek not a long life but a full one like you Lord Jesus.” William Carey, the Baptist missionary ,at the end of the eighteenth century, was one day at his work as a cobbler in Northampton. Someone who came in that day to visit said, “I see that you are a cobbler.” “No,” said Carey, “My business is the kingdom of God, but I’m doing this to pay the expenses.”
He was really saying that . . .
The thing his heart was set on
Was the work of God,
The good of souls in India.
This is what moved him,
This is what motivated him,
This is what mastered him.
The same is true of Ezra. It was the year 458, and Artaxerxes 1st was King of Persia. Almost sixty years had passed since the completion of the temple in Jerusalem, and the Jewish remnant was having a very difficult time. It was then that God raised up Ezra to lead a second group of Jews from Babylon to Judah to support the work and help rebuild the city. Ezra was a Jew who was brought up in the kingdom of Persia. As such, he was born and raised a displaced person and ministered in the second half of the fifth century. He was a trusted official who occupied an important position in the court of the Emperor of Persia as a confidant. He had never seen Jerusalem and lived in an alien and pagan world. Yet, he is a man who is remembered as a significant individual in the purposes of God. People thought of him as a second Moses because of the great revival of God’s work that happened under him.
Every person is important to God and God’s work, but as Dr. Lee Roberson has often said, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.”
- When God wanted to deliver Israel from Egypt, He raised up Moses.
- When Israel was divided and defeated He called Samuel to teach the Word and David to serve as King.
- In this very same period of Old Testament history, we meet with others like Daniel, Queen Esther, and the man who came after, Ezra, Nehemiah.
Just individuals, yet people who left a mark on their generation. Richard Nixon was right when he said, that leaders are people who “make a difference,”and Ezra was that kind of man. Do you want to make a mark for God in your generation? Do you want to be useful to God? Or do you want to waste your life by living aimlessly? What made Ezra so useful to God? Notice, from the context that Ezra was . . .
1) A Distinguished Man.
Ezra is one of the neglected characters of the Bible. I do not believe he has received proper recognition from Bible expositors and certainly not from the church. When was the last time you heard a message on this man Ezra? Yet, Jewish tradition has a great deal to say about Ezra. It claims that he established the system of synagogue worship while in Babylon. That he played an important part in the formation of the Old Testament canon. That he wrote the books of Chronicles, Nehemiah, and Esther. The accuracy of these facts is not fully established, but the very fact that they are attributed to Ezra, shows us something of the greatness of the man, and why in Jewish tradition, he is regarded as a second Moses. I believe Ezra was distinguished because of . . .
a) His Family.
There were some priests in the Jewish remnant who could not prove their ancestry (2:61-63) but Ezra was not one of them. What he does in the opening verses of chapter 7 is trace his family tree back to Aaron, the high priest and brother of Moses to prove that he was a true priest and had the right to introduce necessary reforms. It was Moses who originally led the people of God to the land which the Jews were now returning with Ezra as their guide. He acted as a second Moses in the nation. It seems that Zerubabbel had passed from the scene. Between Chapters 6 and 7 there is a period of fifty-seven years to which belongs the story of Esther. Evidently Zerubabbel had died, and spiritual decline had set in among God’s people again, but God had His man and now Ezra with some fifteen hundred people begin the long road home.
Some of you have never had a godly heritage, but you have determined you are going to give God your all. We praise the Lord for those of us who can say with the Psalmist, “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, yes, I have a goodly heritage” (Psalm 16:6.) Can you look down the corridor of time, and in the providence of God, thank God for a godly father and a praying mom? What an unspeakable privilege it is to be brought up in a home like Timothy where, “from a child you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15).
The older I get the more thankful I am for the home that I had. I had a godly mom and father who made a big impression on my life. Being blessed with godly ancestors is no guarantee of success for their descendants, but it is a good beginning. God promises to bless the descendants of the godly. The Bible says, “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion, and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children and peace upon Israel” (Psalm 128; Deuteronomy 4:40). Ezra knew the names of his ancestors and what these men had done and he made the most of his heritage. What about you? Are you squandering the rich spiritual legacy that has been entrusted to you? Or are you using it to honor the Lord and promote His cause? What a tragedy it is when the descendants of godly families turn away from the Lord and lead lives of rebellion and disobedience (Judges 2:10).
b) His Focus.
Verse 5 tells us about Ezra’s heritage – He was a descendent of Aaron, the chief priest. Ezra is the first person in the Bible to be called a scribe or teacher. Verse 6 tells us that Ezra was particularly skillful in his work as a scribe. The primary function of a scribe was to make copies of the Scripture. The office involved classifying, very carefully counting each letter of Old Testament writing to preserve accuracy, and teaching the precepts of the law. Ezra’s responsibility was to transcribe the sacred Scriptures and then to explain and expound them. He loved his work and this is reflected in his deep reverence for the Scriptures. According to verse 6, he saw the law of Moses as something “which the Lord God of Israel had given.” The very words he transcribed he regarded as “the words of the commandments of the Lord” (verse 11). He made the law of the Lord his delight. Ezra was mighty in the Scriptures, reading to know the letter, marking to know the meaning, and inwardly digesting to experience the power of God.
A man whose focus was on the “sword of the Spirit,” might naturally be expected to further the “Spirit’s work.” Where is your focus? Is it on the Scriptures or on the sport? Is it on the truth or on the television? Is it on the faith or is it on finance?
c) His Faith.
His careful study of the Word of God had increased his faith (Romans 10:17). It helped him understand God’s plans for the Jewish remnant and he wanted to be part of those plans. Certainly, as he studied the Old Testament Scriptures, he prayed for God to help His people, and the Lord answered that prayer by calling him to go to Jerusalem. Ezra was a man of faith. Indeed, he traces everything “to the hand of the Lord His God upon him” (verse 6). Notice . . .
1. His Faith Was Revealed.
Verse 6 talks about “his request.” Ezra asked the king Artaxerxes to allow him to return to Jerusalem with a second group of exiles. He did this because he realized that his life was not his own (1 Corinthians 6:19). Do you realize that? Have your priorities been sorted out? Has the chief aim of your life been determined?
2. His Faith Was Rewarded.
Verse 6 says, “The king granted him all his request.” That meant . . .
- Permission was Granted – verse 13.
- Provision was Made – verses 14-23.
- Privileges were Given – verse 24.
All God’s servants consecrated to the work of God’s house were to be exempt from paying taxes. This letter, like the earlier proclamations is truly remarkable. Ezra had no doubt that it was all of God. It was, but do you know the means God used to accomplish His ends? Godly lives. Think of those who held high office and had a powerful influence on the Persian King . . .
- Daniel, who was the second ruler in the kingdom under Cyrus and Darius.
- Zerubbabel, who was appointed governor of Jerusalem by Cyrus.
- Nehemiah, who was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes.
- Ezra himself, who held office in the Persian Court.
It was the godliness of their lives, the strength of their convictions, and the distinctiveness of their stand that made them instruments that God could use, to shape the thinking of these pagan kings, and to affect the course of Israel’s history. One day some men came to see Charles Haddon Spurgeon. They were trying to blackmail him. They walked into his office and threatened him, saying that if he did not meet their demands, they would publish things that would ruin his reputation. He responded, “Write all you know about me across the heavens.” That is the power of a clear conscience. Ezra was trustworthy. He was not corrupt, nor was negligent. He had integrity. Is that you? Are you held in respect or contempt by those with whom you work?
3. His Faith Was Reflected.
Verse 7 tells us that Ezra went back to Jerusalem and fifteen hundred people went with him. Here we see the power of influence., the power of an example. Make up your mind to follow the Lord, and there will be some people who will follow your example.
2) A Determined Man.
Verse 10 is one of the great verses of this book, indeed of the whole Bible. Verse 7 begins by saying, “For Ezra had prepared His heart.” If he had come to that point in his life we would never have heard of him. But from that moment on he knew where he was going. Ezra was not going to live aimlessly. He was going in a certain direction. He had decided the issue. He longed to please God, to seek God’s will and do His will.
We will make nothing of our lives
Unless we come to the point where
Our primary goal is a yearning after God.
Is this your goal? What is the direction of your heart? Have you set your heart on God and the things of eternity? As believers we know the grace of God; we know how Christ died for us on the cross. We know these things, we believe them, we rejoice in them. But knowing that, do we know what our lives are going to be about? Do we know our direction? Like Ezra, Daniel purpose in his heart as well (Daniel 1:8). This is the place to begin. How much in your inner being do you deal with the Lord. What does God see, when He looks in your heart? Does He see a one who because he has prepared his heart it has led to his priorities being in order? Ezra had prepared his heart for the day that he would return to his land. He knew it was coming because he had faith in God, so he inwardly determined to make three things the chief objective of his life. He was determined . . .
a) To Ponder God’s Word.
Verse 10 goes on to say, “ . . . to seek the law of the Lord.” He would have agreed with the Psalmist who wrote “Oh, how I love Your law, it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). Remember Ezra did not have a New Testament, and he had only part of the Old Testament, but he immersed himself in it. For Ezra this was not an academic, intellectual exercise. No, he believed that this Word that God had given to His people was an incomparable treasure and there was nothing in Persia to equal it.
Ezra set himself the task
Of mastering Scripture,
Only to discover that
Scripture mastered him.
He was a high Persian official who had tremendous responsibility, yet, in the midst of a busy schedule, he took time to familiarize himself with the Word of God, which was precious to him.
It was his knowledge of the Word
That made him a useful instrument
In the hands of God.
The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a worker that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Are you diligent in this matter? It i not about being Bible scholars; it is simply allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly. What time do you give to the reading and study of God’s Word? Is the Bible precious to you? Do you read it in such a way so as to allow it to sift your heart, illuminate your mind, and warm your soul? Are you present at meetings where the Word of God is faithfully expounded? The very first thing that the early Christians were known for was that they, “continued steadfastly in the apostle‘s doctrine” (Acts 2:42). He was also determined . . .
b) To Practice God’s Word.
Verse 10 concludes with, “… and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” In other words, Ezra obeyed the Lord and applied the Bible’s teachings and principles to daily life. Ezra’s whole life became an outworking of the principles that he found in the Word of God. Is this not the way we should study our Bibles? Is this not the way we should approach Scripture? Is this not the way we should come to church and listen to the ministry of the Word? We should not be just sermon tasters who critique the performances of preachers. Far too often we compare preachers with preachers and set one style off against the other. The important thing is not we think of the sermon but what we do about it. What are you doing about what you are hearing? The Bible tells us in James 1:25, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only.” It is the doing that brings the blessing. If our knowledge of the truth does not result in obedience then . . .
We end up with a big head
Instead of a burning heart.
(1 Corinthians 8:1; Luke 24:32)
Martin Luther speaking of a pastor by the name of Nicholas Hussman said, “What we preach he lives.” Could that be said of you?
c) To Proclaim God’s Word.
Ezra is searching the Word, he is obeying the Word, and he is teaching the Word in conjunction with the directions of God (Leviticus 10:8-11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Malachi 2:7). Ezra studied God’s Word in order to become competent in teaching it to others. He lived God’s Word in order to present a consistent life. He proclaimed God’s Word in order to bring about revival in Israel (9:10). We need a return to preaching in these days! It was Samuel Chadwick who once declared, “I would rather preach than do anything else in the world. I have never missed a chance to preach, I would rather preach than eat my dinner, or have a holiday or anything else the world can offer.” Preachers, do you love preaching the Word? Do you believe in the preaching of the Word?
3) A Devoted Man.
Notice Ezra’s hymn of praise at the end of the chapter. It is a hymn that shows us his devotion to God, a devotion that was expressed in two ways.
a) He Lived With God’s Honor Before Him.
Now there is no doubt that Ezra had played a vital part in the shaping of the thinking of this pagan king but he does not say, “Blessed be the Lord who by my means. No, he passes himself by and gives glory to the . . .
1. God of History. Verse 27 says, “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers.” Sam Carson says that probably takes in a thousand years of history for Ezra traces his ancestry back to Aaron the first high priest. My …. aren’t you glad that history is His story ?
2. God of Destiny. Verse 27 continues by saying, “… who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart . . .” The Bible says in Proverbs 21;1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will.” It was God who put all these things in the king’s heart. Do you live with God’s glory before you? Have you really got to the place where you can cry, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory” (Psalm 115:1).
b) He Labored With God’s Hand upon Him.
Verse 28 says, “And I was strengthened …” I have a feeling that if Ezra had been interviewed by a television talk show at that time, they would have said to him, “Ezra, would you explain to us the secret of your success. Was it your talent? Was it the marvelous gifts you had? Was it your obvious scholarship? Was it your discipline? Was it your willingness to pay the price in study?” Ezra would have said, “No, none of these things are the secret of my success. The secret of my success is, ‘the good hand of the Lord was upon me.’” This is what we need today more than everything else. The phrase “hand of God” is found six times in Chapters 7 and 8 (7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31). The hand of God speaks . . .
1. Of His Power.
God is omnipotent. The Bible says in Isaiah 40:12, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?” With what ease did our God create the universe, the same God who says to you this in Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.”
2. Of His Protection.
Ezra did not ask for a band of soldiers to go with him to Jerusalem, “to help … against the enemy in the way” (8:22) Why? Because he had spoken to Artaxerxes about the hand of His God. Do you feel that somehow you are going to slip out of His hand? Well, the Lord says in John 10:28, “And I gave them unto them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
3. Of His Provision.
How else did Ezra receive did receive such gifts from the king apart from the hand of God? The Bible tells us in 7:14-23).
4. Of His Purpose.
What is God’s purpose? That His hand might be at work in us and through us. God uses all kinds of people to accomplish His will, but if God’s hand is not at work in us and through us, nothing will be accomplished. Do you need to pray like Jabez, “Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Your hand might be with me …” (1 Chronicles 4:10).
God Always Has His Man. In the early days of his ministry, D. L. Moody was challenged with these words, “Its yet to be seen what God can do in, and with, and by a man who’s wholly surrendered to him.” Moody said “I’ll be that man.” That is what Ezra said. Will you say that?
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.”