Grace For The Journey
I heard the story of a husband who was driving home from church. His wife was sitting on the other side of the front seat next. Seemingly a large gulf separated them. With lonely eyes she looked at him and said, “Dear do you recall when we first met how close we used to sit to each other? You use to put your arm around me. What happened to those days?” With one hand firmly attached to the steering wheel, and the other resting on the empty space between them, he said, “Well, I haven’t moved.” The distance was not because he had moved. A separation had resulted because she had moved away. She had left her first love. Is this where you are spiritually? This was the charge the Risen Lord brought against the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:4, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee because thou hast left thy first love.” The word “left,” pictures something gradual. This departure did not happen overnight. Somewhere along the way they lost their passion. Have you ever heard of the second-generation syndrome? The second generation has a natural tendency to accept the status quo and to lose the vision of the first generation.
Church history is filled with examples of it, and sadly, so are many churches.
The parent’s fervor for the Lord Jesus
Becomes the children’s formalism
And the grandchildren’s apathy
I wonder is this exactly what happened to the people of God in the days of Ezra? When the first captives returned under Zerubbabel only 50,000 responded? (2:64). Even that was small in comparison with the large number of Jews living in Babylon. But now here under Ezra the number comes to approximately 1,500 men, plus women and children. Why was there so few? Over the decades the old generation had died, and a new generation had arisen that had never seen Jerusalem or the temple and probably had little interest in the welfare of their fellow Jews, sacrificially laboring there. Eighty years had passed from Zerubbabel’s time, sixty years had passed from the completion of the temple (6::15) and these Jews had lost their vision.
The vision they once had of
Being called to do God’s work,
To be a witness to the
Surrounding Gentile nations,
Had now faded
Almost to nothingness.
They had lost the glow,
And the zeal they
Once had was spent,
As they became increasingly
Absorbed into the culture
And lifestyle of Babylon.
Can that happen to us in our Christian lives? Of course it can. There is a lukewarmness, a complacency, and an apathy about amazing biblical truths that we have heard from our childhood or from our Bible teachers. Whether we like it or not, leaving our first love for our Savior is very much a part of 21st century Christianity. I wonder is this where you are? Would Paul have to say of you what he said of Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas hath forsaken me having loved this present world.” Thankfully, there are those in every age who remain true to the Lord and here are 1,500 of them taking the long road back to Jerusalem. There are three pictures of God’s people in this passage that I want you to see. I want you to see this tiny remnant . . .
1) By The River.
This group left Babylon on the first day of the fifth month (7:9), and after about a week of travel (8:31), they stopped at the River Ahava which was probably a tributary of the river Euphrates. Here they stopped for three days (8:15). Now it is very evident that the story of this chapter is closely linked with this river. Notice how many times Ezra mentions it: We read in 8:15, “And I gathered them together to the river that runs to Ahava;,” in 8:21, “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava,” and finally, in 8:31, “Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. This became a . . .
a) A Time Of Reflection.
The people use this time as an opportunity for prayer, for fasting, and for waiting upon God (8:21). I can imagine Ezra reflecting on how far God had brought them. Would his mind not be occupied with God’s providential care for His people? I can imagine that his heart was filled with “wonder, love and praise,”
as he contemplated the “good hand of His God upon him” (7:9.) Was this not the secret of his ministry?
Ezra had known something of . . .
1. God’s Gracious Hand.
For it was God who had brought him to the place where his heart was set on God, the things of God, and the things of eternity.
2. God’s Guiding Hand.
God had opened the door for Ezra to go in to see King Artaxerxes and ask permission to return to Jerusalem to reinforce the work, and to reform the workers (7:6).
3. God’s Giving Hand.
While the King had granted permission (7:13), made provision (7:14-23), and gave privileges (7:24) Ezra could trace everything ultimately to the hand of God upon him.
For Ezra, this was a time of reflection as he reviewed the past, considered the present, and prepared for the future.
Do you ever take time to reflect, to ponder all the way your Savior has led you? James Philip in his booklet “A Time to Build,” says that, “Waiting time is never wasted time.” How right he is. Sometimes in the Christian life, waiting is more important than running, or doing, or serving, or working, or anything else that we might do. Ours is a frenetic age, and the pace of life is such that many of us, even in conservative circles no longer know how to “wait,” or “be still,” or “meditate,” in the presence of the Lord. Instead, we are overactive and would rather be running around, busy with a thousand and one other things in our Christian lives, than simply waiting in quietness and reflection upon the Lord.
b) A Time Of Inspection.
We are told in chapter 8 and verse 15 that Ezra viewed the people. Geographically, Ezra was at an important departure point for the caravans traveling west, spiritually this stop was not a waste of precious time but provided opportunity for Ezra to take stock of the situation. Here he is making a final, assessment of the situation before setting out a journey of 900 miles. He says, “I looked among the people and priests.” His purpose being to see how this company of people would be useful in reinforcing the work of God in Jerusalem. Do you ever consider of what service, value, or usefulness you can be to Christ’s church? Do you ever assess the work that you undertake for the Lord? Here is a check list to think about . . .
Is your service effective?
What are you achieving?
What goals do you need to set yourself?
Are you frittering away time on unnecessary tasks?
Are you burning up energy on needless work?
Are you fully committed to the Lord’s work?
Are you motivating others to labor for the Master?
c) A Time of Detection.
In checking the exiles Ezra discovered there was not a single Levite among them (8:15). The Levites were the descendants of Levi (Genesis 29:34) who had been set apart by the Lord, “to stand before the Lord, to minister unto Him and to bless in His name” (Deuteronomy 10:8). They were to serve in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple (Numbers 3:5). Levitical service had played an important part in the wilderness journey. Bearing the Tabernacle of Witness and the Ark of Testimony through the desert had been the responsibility of the three great families of the house of Levi (Numbers 3:17). Later, King David had organized the Levites into courses for the service of God (1 Chronicles 23-26). Here were the spiritual leaders, the very ones who should have been in the forefront supporting the man of God and they are absent. There was a failure in leadership. This was not something peculiar to Ezra’s day. In the Bible we find that God sometimes bypassed the official leaders because of their failure, and raised up others to do the work.
- Eli and his sons Hophni and Phinehas were official priests, but because of their failure to lead the people aright, the Lord bypassed them in favor of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:11).
- Amos was a sheep farmer but God raised him up because Amaziah the official priest was a spiritual disaster (Amos 7:10-17).
- In the New Testament it was not the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees whom God chose to be the foundation of the church, but just a group of ordinary fishermen.
Has it not been the same throughout the history of the church? When the church needed reforming in the sixteenth century, who did God raise up, but an obscure monk named Martin Luther? Peter Williams reminds us that, “Before the Evangelical Awakening of the eighteenth century the worldliness of the bishops and clergy was destroying the spiritual life of the church but God had his men in John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield.” Are we not witnessing the same failure in the church’s established leaders today? When prominent religious leaders deny the authority of the Word of God and encourage acceptance of lifestyles and attitudes contrary to what God accepts, how are we to respond? Is this not a failure in leadership? In Ezekiel’s day the whole of society was corrupt. The prophets, the priests, the princes, and the people (Ezekiel 22:23-31). God was seeking for a man who would guide the nation and deliver the land, but He found none. He says, “I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.” In Christ’s day when He saw “the multitudes” …. “as sheep having no shepherd,” and He said, “The harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:36-38).
Is this not a rebuke to our slothful condition? What an honor it is to serve the living and true God, and yet when there is work to be done, where are men and women of God? Where are you? Why when we want men to stand in the gap we find none? Do you want to know why? Because like many of these Jews in Babylon we say, “Do not disturb my comfort zone.”
2) Before The Lord.
In verse 21 tells us that Ezra, “… proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.” e eyes of the Lord was this self-judged fasting company. No Ark was borne on the shoulders of anointed priests to lead them now; no pillar of cloud by day or fire by night was there to guide; yet they knew that the God who had led them through the wilderness, would not fail and they sent up their request to Him. It is important that we notice how they came before the Lord . . .
1. Humbly: for they fasted. They came with the attitude of Abraham, “I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord which am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27).
2. Believingly: they had already told the King, “the hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him” (verse 22c). Verse 22 concludes with, “So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.”
3. Earnestly: they committed to “seek,” God. James 5:16 reminds us that it is “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man that avails much.”
What a picture of these people before the Lord. Do you know what it is to get before the Lord, to close the door, to concentrate the mind, to confess the sin, to clear the head, and to claim the presence ? They got before the Lord in order . . .
a) To Be Guided.
Verse 21 says the people were called to humble themselves, “to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.” They wanted to be guided . . .
1. About Their Future – “… a right way for us …”
They wanted to know God’s way for that is the best way.
- Before them lay a journey of 900 miles.
- Beneath them lay difficult terrain.
- Around them there was the possibility of encountering formidable dangers from enemies of the land.
They come before the Lord and left their future in God’s hands. Is your future uncertain? Are you unsure about the path that the Lord would have you travel? Have you committed it all to Him, the Lord who says in Psalms 32:8, “I will guide with My eye.”
2. About their Family – “… And for our little ones …”
Did you know that God has given you a “right way,” for your family? It is found in the greatest manual on family upbringing that you will ever find. Do you know what it is called? The Bible. Do you know what it says? In the framework of the home, God has constituted parents to fulfill the role of scribes to teach your children the Word, as priests to pray for them, and as kings to enforce God’s rule in their lives. Are you really concerned about your “little ones?” How much time do you spend in prayer for them? You say, “I haven’t got the time.” Susannah Wesley had seventeen children and she found time for them.
3. About their Finances – “… For all our substance.” Is it not time that you got before the Lord and sorted out your finances? You may think you earn your money by your hard work, by the good job you have. In reality God gave you that job. God gave you the skills and ability to learn that job. God gave you the health to perform that job. The truth is all that you are and all that you have, which includes your money, comes from God. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 8:18, “But you shall remember the Lord your God for it is He that gives you power to get wealth.” The question therefore we need to answer this is, “How much do we owe to the Lord who loved us eternally, redeemed us sacrificially, and indwells us permanently?” Oh, how we need our great and loving God to guide us in all these areas.
b) To Be Guarded.
Travel in those ancient times was extremely dangerous, and in addition to 1,500 men, Ezra had the women and children to think about, not to mention the vast amount of wealth they were carrying. Here was a caravan that was a prime target for the enemy. Verse 22 tells us, “For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road …” Here is what Ezra had been doing. Ezra had been witnessing to this pagan king. He was saying that God was going to take care of them. He had proclaimed this great truth, now he needed to practice it. To Ezra God was more than a religious concept, rather He was a God who could be trusted in the most difficult of circumstances. What a marvelous example Ezra is for us . . .
For having been saved by faith,
We are now called to walk by faith.
Having initially trusted the Lord to save us,
Let us now trust the Lord continually
To go with us and to guard us.
The Christian life is a pilgrimage. Pressing on to Heaven we are all the while passing through hostile territory. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us our “Adversary the devil as a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour.” The world in which we live has many distractions which would seek to lure us away from the route of our pilgrimage. Satan has his bandits. He is a master tactician of spiritual warfare. He would seek to cut off the supply line and ambush us as we set our faces toward glory. That is why we need the unseen hand of God to guide us and to guard us.
Lo, the hosts of evil round us
Scorn Thy Christ assail His ways
Fears and doubts too long have bound us
Free our hearts to work and praise
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
For the living of these days
3) Building The Work.
Or we could say, shouldering the work. Spiritually speaking . . .
When you get by the river in contemplation,
When you get before the Lord in supplication,
You will build the work in anticipation.
As we look at these Jews we notice . . .
a) What Was Entrusted To Them.
Beginning in verse 26 we read that Ezra chose twelve leading priests and gave them “…the silver, the gold, and the articles, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes, and all Israel who were present, had offered” and instructed them to, “Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leaders of the priests and the Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel in Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.” The silver and gold had to be weighed out and the consecrated vessels were committed to consecrated servants who handled this matter in a most business like way. These twelve men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were responsible for the Lord’s treasury, and would one day give an account to Him. This reminds us that we need to be very careful in the handling of finances and the material things God gives us? This is the principle that Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers when he spoke about the offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem in 2 Corinthians 8:21, “Providing for honest things not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men.” Paul is saying we are taking pains to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord, but in the eyes of men.
Do you see your money as a gift from God? 1 Chronicles 29:14 tells us when David took up an offering for the temple he prayed, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of You and of Your own we have given You.” What David literally said was, “What we put into one of Your hands we simply took from the other.”
This good news to those
Who live “hand to mouth!”
The Bible teaches us that we
Live, “From His hand to our mouth.”
What about the treasure of the Gospel? For Paul says 2 Corinthians 4:7, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” God has entrusted to you, your wealth, the Gospel, and your gifts (Ephesians 4:7). There is a day of examination coming very soon for notice . . .
b) What Was Examined For Them.
Verse 33 tells us what happened when they got to Jerusalem. There was a weighing and counting of the items and the priests wrote down the number and weight of everything. The Bible sys in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done whether it be good or bad.” We will not be there for our sin, for that was settled once for all in the death of the cross, but our service will be reviewed at Bema judgment seat. Do not you think it is going to be some sort of a children’s party where prizes will be given out without discrimination. It will be a judgment in every sense of the term. And the quality of every Christian’s service will be tested. Think of that. In one sweeping view our entire life of service will be reviewed and revealed. We will discover then that what we thought was gold is but wood, what we thought was silver stones is but hay, and what we thought was precious stones is but stubble. How dreadful it will be to pick up ashes of our worthless service and press them into the nail scarred hands of the Savior. At the Judgment Seat, there will be a review (2 Corinthians 5:10),there will be a regret (1 Corinthians 3:5) and there will be a reward (1 Peter 5:4). I wonder when you stand in His presence on that day, will you hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21)
Shall I empty-handed be
When before the crystal sea
I shall stand before the everlasting throne
Will I hang my head in shame as I answer to my name
Not a thing that my Redeemer there can own
The Lord has entrusted to you treasure, talent, and time. At the bema He will call you to account. We also notice . . .
c) What Was Expressed Of Them.
Verse 36b says, “So they gave support to the people and the house of God.” The word “gave support” carries the idea of not only providing for the work but furthering the work. What a memorial and epitaph.
Will it be said of you, when your day is over not only provided for the work of building the Lord’s church but you also we involved in furthering the work of God? Here is God’s word of commendation for faithful service.
Oh, may we keep in view
The day above all days
That at the Judgment Seat of Christ
We may receive His praise.
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.”