God At Work Among His People: Ezra 6:1-22 – The Joyful Response From God’s Completed Work

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

immediately counterworks.

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.”  

How thankful

We ought to be

To have God’s Word

In our hands,

In our hearts,

And

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

And

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 . . .

a) Joyfully.

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.”

b) Sacrificially.

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?

c) Biblically.

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.

d) Unitedly.

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 . . .

e) Purposefully.

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 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.”

God Working Through His People: Ezra 5:1-17 – The Result Of Being Challenged And Encouraged By God

Grace For The Journey

  Two men who lived in New York City decided that they had it with city living.  They bought a ranch in Texas in order to live off the land like their ancestors.  The first thing they decided they needed was a mule.  They went to a neighboring rancher and asked him if he had a mule to sell for ploughing.  The rancher answered, “No I am afraid not.”  They were disappointed but one of them saw some honey dew melons stacked against the barn and asked, “What are those?”  The rancher seeing that they were city slickers, decided to have some fun. “Oh,” he answered “those are mule eggs.  You take one of those eggs home and you wait for it to hatch and you’ll have a mule.”  The two men from New York were overjoyed at this so they bought one of the melons and headed down the bumpy country road toward their own ranch.  Suddenly they hit a large bump on the road, and the melon bounced out of the back of the pickup truck, hit the road, and burst open.  Seeing what happened in his mirror the driver turned the truck around to see if he could retrieve his mule egg. Meanwhile a big old Texas jackrabbit came hopping by and saw the melon burst in the road.  He hopped over to it and standing in the middle of that mess he began to eat.  Then along came the men from New York.  One of them shouted, “Our mule egg has hatched let’s get our mule.”  But seeing those two men run towards it, the jackrabbit took off hopping in every direction with the two men in hot pursuit. They gave everything they could to catch it but finally they could go no further.  Gasping for breath one of them said to the other, “Well I guess we lost our mule.”  The other nodded and said, “Yeah, but you know, I am not sure I wanted to plough that fast anyway.”  

Let me ask you as you begin this new session, “How committed are you?”  It was Jonathan Edwards who said, “I go to preach with two propositions.  First, every person ought to give his life to Christ.  Second, whether or not anyone else gives Him his life I will give Him mine.”  That is commitment.  It was the Lord Jesus who said in John 17:4, “Father I have glorified You on the earth, I have finished the work which You gave me to do.”  That is commitment.  Today, however commitment is a bad word, especially in the local church.   I heard of a pastor who met one of his delinquent members and said, “I haven’t seen you in church much lately.”  “No,” he said, “you know how it’s been.  The children have been sick, and then it’s rained, rained, and rained.”  The pastor said, “Well it’s always dry at church.” “Yes,” the member said “ that’s another reason why I haven’t been coming.”  The mood of God’s people at this time was one of apathy and indifference.  Can you imagine the scene at this building site in Jerusalem?  Fifteen years have passed since any work has been done.  The weeds and thorns have grown over the foundation of the temple, and the general impression is one of desolation and neglect. But then Darius I ascended the Persian throne and suddenly with the opening of chapter 5 the scene changes dramatically with the emergence of two very powerful preachers.  In essence their message was, “Let’s get going again.”  The first thing we see from this passage, is . . .

1) The Instruction From God’s Word.

Verse 1 of says, “Then the prophets …. Prophesied.”  Harry Ironside draws a picture of the biblical prophet when he says “the true prophet is the one whose words come from heaven to men on earth, searching the heart, reaching the conscience, and exposing the evil that may have come in.”  Though preaching, which requires study, is different from prophecy a direct message from God, Ironside’s words are a good “job description,” of the preacher’s task in these days.

The means that God used to get the

Work going again was the Word.  

Never underestimate the power of

The faithful preaching of God’s Word.

Charles Spurgeon said, “I cannot help feeling that the man who preaches the Word of God is standing, not on a mere platform, but on a throne.”  God’s people needed “stirring again,” and God raised up two men to faithfully minister the Word of God.  In these verses we notice . . .

a) It Was Powerful.

Verse 1b says they prophesied “in the name of the God of Israel.”  

They were sent from God,

Equipped by God,

Walked with God,

And

Preached for God.

These two men Haggai and Zechariah were different.  

Haggai had his feet on the ground,

Zechariah had his head in the clouds.

Haggai is pretty plain spoken.  He sees everything in black and white.  Zechariah is more of a dreamer.  You will read about his visions for the future.  But . . .

God used these preachers

Who were distinctly different

To challenge His people

To resume the work again.

The church always needs preachers with fearless courage who can inspire believers with far reaching vision for the cause of God. In the local church there will often be a variety of spiritual leaders with a diversity of gifts that ought to be used for the building up of the believers. Stephen Olford used to say, that “God does not deal in duplicates he only makes originals.”  Aren’t you glad about the different gifts that God has given to this church?  Yet, all will be unfruitful without the favor of God.

b) It Was The Right Time.

If anyone during those fifteen odd years had raised the question, “Do you not think we ought to do something about starting work on God’s house again?” the people would have said, “No, the time is not right.”  They would have come up with all sorts of excuses as to why the time was not right.  A spirit of apathy and indolence had crept over them from which they could not seem to rouse themselves, and so the work of God remained at a standstill.  This was not something unique to the Jews of that time.  For most of my ministry I have heard different believers say, “It is not a good time to be or do something for God.  When the right time comes, then all will be different.”  Somehow, the right time never seems to come.  Perhaps you no longer attend public worship as regularly as once you did.  Maybe you are not seen as often at the prayer meeting or the Bible Class.  Could it be that you are no longer consistent in your personal prayer time and the reading of the Word?  You do have time to make excuses . . .

  • The time is not just right.
  • The economy is bad.
  • The family are demanding.
  • I am just so tired.

Vance Havner said, “An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.”  When you talk about evangelism and winning people to Christ, there are some who say, “It is not the right time to do that.  It is hard to win folk to the Lord.  We are living in the last days.  Wait till there is more unity in the assembly.”  Is this not the way we talk?  No, hurry about the Lord’s work, no urgency about prayer, plenty of time to do everything but the Lord’s business.  If Christians ran their business the way they run God’s work they would be out of business.  The cults put us to shame with their enthusiasm and zeal and we stand among the ruins of the temple and say, “the time is not come.”  The Lord Jesus says in John4:35, “Say not there are yet four months and then comes harvest?  Behold I say unto you, ‘lift up your eyes and look on the fields they are white already to harvest.’”  This instruction from God’s Word. 

c) It Was Needful.

The attitude of mind that paralyzed the workers and hindered the work was challenged by the servant of God.  Haggai chided them in Haggai1:14 for saying the time is not right to build the Lord’s house.  But he noticed they had plenty of time for building and refurbishing their own houses with decorative paneling and other extras.  Not that it was wrong in any sense for the people to furnish their homes tastefully, and to provide themselves with certain comforts.  The point Haggai was making was that these things had taken over their lives and had become more important to them than the things of God.  You see, their sense of priorities had become distorted, and as a result the Lord had withheld His blessing (Haggai 1:5-6).

Someone has defined worldliness as “That state in which our thinking is governed by the mind and outlook of the world.”  That is what happened in Paul’s day.  He wrote to the church at Philippians 2:20-21, “I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.  For all seek their own interests not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” AsPaul looked around him in Rome the general attitude of believers was a self-seeking spirit that delegates the Lord Jesus to second place.  Living for time instead of eternity, living for self instead of for God, living for the temporal, instead of the eternal.  You can see how easily this happens to us.  Our homes and families, our jobs and careers, our interests and pleasures, can all displace and jeopardize the work of God in our lives to the extent that the Lord Himself becomes marginalized.  Is this, what has happened to you?  Has your life become so cluttered with other things that the Lord is now secondary?  Do you not take time for reflection on the things of God?  Does the Lord have to compete with all these other things to get a foothold in your life?  Are you beginning to see how relevant this instruction from God’s Word was?

d) It Was Helpful.

Fifteen years have passed between chapter 4 and 5.  It is not until the Word of God is proclaimed by Haggai and Zechariah, that the work of the temple begins again.  

The Word of God began the work (1:1)

And now the Word of God would

Encourage the workers

To finish the work (6:14).

God’ servants not only challenged the people, but they encouraged the people. These two prophets who were sent by the Lord encouraged the Jews by reminding them of . . .

1. The presence of God: Haggai 2:4, “For I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

2. The provision of God: Haggai 2:8, “The silver is mine and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

3. The purpose of God: Zechariah 4:9, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, his hands shall also finish it.”

The people came to feel like things were depressing indeed, but the people were encouraged to know that then with God all things are possible.  Could it be that you are weary in the work of God?  Is the feeling of discouragement ruling your life?  There are Monday mornings when I am ready to call it a day.  There are Sunday nights when Sunday School teachers are ready to quit.  There are pastors grow weary of the constant moaning of the people.  There are deacons who are tired of their duties.  Then the Word of the Lord comes to us and reminds us of . . .

1. The presence of God: “I am with you.”

2. The provision of God: “I labored more abundantly than them all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Corinthians

    15:10)

3. The purpose of God: that though the powers of darkness assail, Christ will build His church.

There is something else to notice about this instruction . . .

e) It Was Fruitful.

It is truly amazing how the Word of God can transform people – we see that in verse 2. This discouraged and fearful people were changed into warriors who wielded trowels in the battle to build for the glory of God.  

They responded Promptly.

In less than a month after Haggai had poured out his heart and delivered his message (Haggai 1:1,14) the people had resumed the work.  When God’s Word stirs you, do you obey promptly obey it, or are you merely a sermon taster, just a “hearer of the Word” (James 1:22).

They responded Properly.

Zerubbabel, the civic leader, and Jeshua the spiritual leader, take the initiative.  The preachers were not afraid to dirty their hands.  Verse 2 says, “So Zerubabbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them.”   (verse 2).  Some pastors and elders think they are above getting their hands dirty.  These the leaders took the initiative and lead in the work of God.  Do you see here the effect of God’s Word?  The work resumed.  The preaching of Martin Luther brought about The Reformation, the preaching of John Wesley produced a spiritual awakening in Great Britain, the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah stirred the people of God to resume the work of God.

2) The Investigation of God’s Work.

Verse 3 tells us, “At the same time . . .”  We see the same old enemy is still at work.  As a Persian official, Tatnai was concerned about what the Jews were doing in Jerusalem.  No doubt he was well within his rights, for it was his responsibility to protect the interests of King Darius and the welfare of the empire and see to it that peace and security were maintained.  Yet, I believe it was Satan working behind scenes . . .

When God works,

Satan immediately

Counterworks.

He worked through . . .

a) Discouragement From Without.

Verses 3 and 4 tell us this attempt to discourage focused on two questions: (1) “Who has commanded you to build this temple and finish this wall?” and (2) What are the names of the men working on the building?  “Then, accordingly, we told them the names of the men who were constructing this building.”  It is interesting to note that there was no opposition to the Jews all through those years when they were building their own houses, and pursuing their own interests, but immediately when they start rebuilding the house of God, the Devil shows his hand.

Do you know something?  If you as a believer settle down in this old world, and love the temporal rather than the eternal, the things of time, rather than the things of God, the Devil will leave you alone.  But the moment you are “stirred,” by the Word of God to do the work of God, you will feel the heat of opposition.  You see, Satan never gives up in his efforts to frustrate the ongoing work of God in the world. Many Christians do not seem to recognize that.  Have you fallen into the trap of thinking that you are finished with the Devil because you gained a victory over him at some time?  Satan never gives up.  He will always come back to attack.  We are in a constant battle with the forces of evil at work in this world.  Someone has said, “That battle goes from one circumstance to another, from age to age and from generation to generation.”  It will never cease until the final battle, when the Lord Jesus comes in power and great glory and destroys the Devil and all his works.  That is why Peter urges us in 1 Peter 5:5, “Be sober, be vigilant because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour.”

There was also . . .

b) Encouragement From Above.

Conjunction in the Bible are very important.  Verse 5 declares, “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them to cease …”  Here is a wonderful truth . . .

When you are sent

By the Word of God,

And

When you are under the

Care of the eye of God,

You can be sure that work

Of God is going to get down.

This shows us that it was . . .

1. God That Prompted Them.

Not only to commence the work – 1:5

But to continue the work – 5:2

And to complete the work –  6:22.

Here were people working in the realization that the eye of eternity was upon them. The Bible says in Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.”   I have no doubt that those who compete in sports at the level of the Olympic Games are inspired by the presence of the applauding multitudes.  

The thought God’s all seeing eye

Is upon you should inspire

You to greater heights,

Incite you to greater efforts,

And

Encourage you to greater service.

This shows us further . . .

2. God That Protected Them.

Scholars tell us that the reference to “the eye of God,” may be a play on words because the Persian civil inspectors were known at that time as “the king’s eye.”’  This comparison speaks volumes to the children of Israel, but to us as well . . .

  • The Persians had an earthly eye on them, but the people of God had an eternal eye on them.
  • The Persians had a human eye on them, but the people of God had a heavenly eye on them.
  • The Persians had a wicked eye on them, but the people of God had a watchful eye on them.
  • The Persians had a deadly eye on them, but hallelujah the people of God had a divine eye on them.

God was their shield and defense.  That is why the work of God could not stop.  This is such great truth!  Have you become disheartened in the cause of Christ?  Be encouraged by the realization that the eye of God is on you!  Let this truth challenge you and create in you a spirit of surrender to the Lord God Almighty knowing that no sinful habit, shady deal, bitter spirit, carnal attitude, unforgiving disposition will interfere with what God sees it.  The Bible says in Psalm 33:18, “Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him.”  This is a picture of God’s watchful providence over us.   

God is watching over you . . .

God is working for you . . .

God has His eyes on you.

He loves you so much He cannot take His eyes off you.

3) The Information On God’s Will.

This is what the rest of the chapter.  Verses 13 and 17 tells us that Tatnai writes to Darius, giving him a complete report of the work at Jerusalem, and asking him for information concerning the decree of Cyrus.  In Ezra 1:1 we are told what  the decree of Cyrus was – That the Jews leave Babylon go to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.  Tatnai did not realize it, but he was asking the king to supply him with information about God’s will for His people.  Now the information that was sought centered around . . .

a) God’s Work.

Verse 8 is the beginning of the letter that he sent to king Darius, “Let it be known to the king that we went into the province of Judea, to the temple of the great God, which is being build with heavy stones, and timber is being laid in the walls; and this work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands.”  There are two words in this verse that are worth highlighting.  They are: “This work.”  They may have sent this letter in malice, but . . .

It testified not only to

The greatness of God,

But to the greatness of the

Work that was being done.

“This work,” was God’s work.

And it was being done . . .

1. Conscientiously.

This is the gist of verse 8.  God’s work must be done in God’s way by God’s people for God’s glory.  Are you interested in “this work?”   Are you involved in “this work?”  What way are you doing “this work?”  Pastors, church leader, are you doing “this work,” conscientiously, or we are just a pastor or leader in name only, but not in nature?   It is all part of “this work,” and “this work,” is God’s work.

It was also being done . . .

2. Urgently.

The sense of the words in verse 8 speak of this.  Inspired by the preaching of the prophets and encouraged by the example of the leaders, the Jews worked zealously and urgently.  I wonder at times have we lost the note of urgency in the Lord’s work?  Someone has rightly said, “Soon will the season of rescue be o’er, soon will we stand on eternity shore.”

This work was also being done . . .

3. Effectively.

Verse 8 ends with, “… and prospers in their hands.”  Without God they could not get the work done, but with God they were more than able to do it!  That is what we as we step out into the next verses.

b) God’s Workmen.

We notice in verses 9-10 that when the people were asked, “… Who commanded you to build this temple and to finish these walls?”  That the people answered in a way that allowed them to tie their work with their witness is something that we should not miss.  Verse 11 says, “The are servants of the God of heaven and earth and we are rebuilding the temple …”  There are two phrases in verse 11 that are worth underscoring – (“servants of the God of heaven and earth” and “we are rebuilding the temple.”)  

They knew who they were,

They knew what they believed

They knew what they were doing,

And

They took opportunity to share

The Good News about

God’s redemption plan.

How important it is to realize that we are the servants of the God of heaven and earth and that we are a part building a spiritual temple out of the ruins of fallen humanity.  Their response drives home several truths . . .

1. Humility – “… servants,” listening to our Master’s voice, learning at our Mater’s feet, leaning on our Master’s arms, “ servants.”

2. Dignity – “… of the God of heaven and earth.” Is any service more honorable than God’s?

3. Responsibility – “… and build the house …,” not a material temple, but a spiritual temple which requires all to know about and accept.

We build realizing that the eye of God is ever upon us and responding to opportunities to share the Good News of God with others.

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.”

God Working Among His People: Ezra 4:1-24 – Operation Counter-Attack

  It is an often a repeated truism that where God is at work then Satan will be at work as well.  Whenever God initiates a spiritual work there is bound to be resistance.  This is exactly what happened in our passage today.  The euphoria of the foundation stone laying ceremony had hardly died down before their enemies launched an attack.  When God begins to move in power, the devil begins to move in resistance.  That is why I have titled our study today in chapter four “Operation Counter-Attack.”  Those who you who are familiar with church history will realize that this is exactly what happened after the 16th century Protestant Reformation.  The Roman Catholic Church responded to the action of the reformers with what was known as “The Counter Reformation.”  Four critical events took place that were instruments Rome used against the Reformation . . . 

1)   The Jesuits were founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534.  The Jesuits were permitted “to do evil that good may come,” holding that “the end justifies the means.”  In the Church of the Jesuits in Rome there is a plaster cast depicting Loyola with his foot triumphantly placed on the neck of Protestantism.  

2)   The Roman Catholic Church began to tighten up on things and initiated a number of moves to get try and regain ground that had been lost.  In 1545 Pope Paul the Third called for the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which was the most authoritative of all Roman Councils.  It was at this Council that the position of the Roman Catholic Church was reaffirmed.  Papal authority, the place of tradition, and all the other teachings of Rome were underscored.  It was this council that declared that both the Bible and tradition contained the Word of God, that the two are of equal authority, and that it is the duty of every Christian to accord them equal respect.

3)   The Inquisition, which according to Baker was “for investigation and punishment of those who hold erroneous doctrines.”  The total number of victims of the Inquisition has been calculated to have been between 50 and 68 million.

In one way or another the Roman Catholic Church won back some of the territory that had been lost during the Reformation.  This was not an ecclesiological batter but a spiritual battle.  While God is a builder, Satan is a destroyer.  God’s purpose is to build up and edify, Satan’s purpose is to tear down and destroy.  Every time God begins to build, you can be sure that the Devil will begin to battle. Opportunity and opposition usually go together, and the greater the opportunity, the greater the opposition.   The Apostle Paul spoke about this in 1 Corinthians 16:9, “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me and there are many adversaries.”  Opportunity and opposition always go together, and that is exactly what we find in our study of chapter four today.

As we begin our study, we notice . . .

1) The Antipathy To God’s People.

Verse 4 states, “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel.”  The “the adversaries,” that suggests, “antipathy, hostility, opposition.”  

This verse tells who they were . . .

a) Their Identification.

We get a clue about this in verse 2 where the writer talks about “Esar-haddon king of Assur.”  In the British Museum is a large cylinder and inscribed on it are the annals of  Esar-haddon, an Assyrian king who deported a large population of Israelites from Palestine.  These were the ten tribes who went into exile into Assyria in 722 BC.  Then the King of Assyria sent some of his own people to colonize the depopulated areas.  These Assyrians intermarried with the Jews who were left in Israel creating a mixed population, who became known as Samaritans.  The result was a mixture of true and false religion.  The Bible says in 2 Kings 17:33, “They feared the Lord and served their own gods.”  It was a kind of syncretism that could have diluted the identity of God’s people.  The Bible says in Exodus 20:3-4, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  There is but one true and living God and true Biblical Christianity is exclusive.  It excludes every false religion.  This note of clarity not needed today.  With the influx of different nationalities there comes different religions, different cultures, and different standards.  We need to be clear and firm as to the true Gospel.  We are living in an atmosphere where people are saying, “All religions are good and what we need to do is to have a cafeteria approach, and pick a little from this one, and a little bit from that one and just mix them all together.”  The word for it is syncretism, mixing all religions together.  My word for it is rubbish. There is only one true God, one true Savior, and one true Authority – the Bible.

This verse tells what they wanted . . .

b) Their proposition.

Verse 2 tells us the opposition says, “Let us build with you for we seek your God as ye do.”  This was an offer of help, of cooperation in this great work of building the house of God. It so subtle and dangerous.  If these outsiders had begun to mingle with the Jewish remnant, it would not have been long before the two groups to started socializing and intermarrying, and that was contrary to the law of Moses

(Exodus 34:10-17; Deuteronomy 7:1-11 12:1-3).  Israel was a nation set apart from the other nations (Numbers 23:9) because God had given them a special task to perform in the world (Genesis 12:1-3) and if they were corrupted, the success of their God given ministry would have been jeopardized.  They would have led the Jews back into idolatry again.  The proposition was a temptation to overlook their differences.  They may differ on their commitment to Who God was and what the Bible taught, but they could still compromise for the sake of the common good.”  

This proposal was on . . .

(1) A Leadership Level.

God’s people were faced with a group who wanted to join in with the work of building the temple at Jerusalem, but at the expense of compromising biblical truth.  According to verse two, these were people who were worshipping God, who were friendly and courteous, and who wanted to share in the building of God’s temple.  This appeared to make them acceptable as fellow believers and workers.  What was wrong with doing that?  Just this – They worshipped other gods.  On a church level today, we are told to “disregard our differences, join together on a common platform, and forget about clear and critical biblical doctrine.”  This is subtle and yet dangerous.

This proposal was also on . . .

(2) A Personal Level.

Do you ever hear the voice of the Devil whispering in your ear, “Do not be so strict and rigid in your faith.  You could win more friends and influence more people if you would relax your convictions and be more accepting?”  Sometimes he uses the voices of those in our families who are unsaved.  I wonder have you heard those voices recently, “Can you not tone down your convictions?  Can you not give a little in your Christian faith?  Can you not be more tolerant of other faiths?  Why are you so narrow-minded and dogmatic?  Why are you so exclusive?  Who do you think you are anyhow?”  Do you see something interesting here?  These “adversaries,” were amicable until the people of God answered with a differing opinion.

Notice . . .

c) Their Opposition.

Do you see what happened when God’s people stood there ground and said “No?”  Verse 4 tells us . . . This opposition was . . .

1. Purposeful.

Before leaving Babylon the hands of the remnant had been strengthened (Ezra 1:6) by all those whose spirit God had stirred, but now back in Jerusalem, the people of the land were working against them as Satan worked up a spirit of opposition.  The word “discourage,” in the Hebrew contains the meaning of “to weaken the hands.”  

They were determined to undermine the work.

What did they do?  

They demoralized the workers.

The word “troubled,” in verse 4 suggests that they actually terrorized them.  They employed tactics that struck fear into the hearts of the builders, and they did this to such a degree that the entire enterprise was brought to a standstill.

 I wonder, because of God’s work in you and because of God’s work through you, are you feeling the heat of opposition?  The Lord Jesus warned us did He not when He said in John 15:19, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”  Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”  Sometimes Satan comes . . .

As the serpent to deceive (4:2)

And when that fails,

he comes as the

Lion to devour (4:4).

He will use friends and family, times of joy and sadness, times when things are going well with us, and times when circumstances are against us. 

Always his aim is the same,

to undermine the work of God

and to crush the people of God.

Notice further, their opposition was . . .

2. Professional.

Verse 5 tells us that, “they hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose …”  They employed professional help.  These were corrupt Persian officials who were offered monetary inducement to thwart the plans of God.  The devil will do anything in his power to stop the work of God.  Make no mistake about, Satan is out to get you.

d) Their Accusation.

From verses 6 through 23 we have a parenthesis.  This a passage inserted into this chapter that needs to be marked off.  

Ezra 4:1-5 and 4:24-5:2 deal with

Rebuilding the temple under Zerubbabel,

While Ezra 4:6-23 recounts the history of

Opposition in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah.  

In movies there is often a “flashback,” to some incident in the past.  In these verses we have a “flash forward,” to events which take place several years later.  Why does Ezra, bring in these events at this time, since it breaks the continuity of the story of building the temple?  For one simple reason . . .

To show us the constant hatred

Of those who oppose God’s work.

Ezra shows us in these verses what the nature of opposition was at this time?  The Bible identifies it for us in verse 6, “… they wrote an accusations against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.”  That letter contained four charges against the Jews . . .

1. Jerusalem is a rebellious city: 4:12.

2. They will stop paying taxes: 4:13.

3. The king will not be given the proper respect: 4:14.

4. The king will lose control of territory: 4:16.

These people were doing the devil’s work.  If you make a serious study of the Word of God on how Satan is described, you will get the picture . . . 

  • In Mark 14:56 and 64, he is accused the Lord Jesus of blasphemy.
  • In Job 1:11, Satan accused Job of serving God out of self-interest.
  • In Revelation 12:10, he is described as “the accuser of our brethren.”
  • In Acts 6:13, Satan accused Stephen of blasphemy.

It is important for us to realize that if the devil cannot get us outwardly, he will seek to get us inwardly.  Do you know how he does it?  He will accuse you through your conscience.  He will attack your motives, he will remind you of your weakness, he will tell you that you are a hypocrite or a failure, he will suggest that God’s grace in your life is not real.  He never gives up.  

2) The Answer Of God’s People.

How encouraging it is to see their bold, courageous, and uncompromising stand.  I love how the Bible puts it in Philippians 1:27b-28, “… that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries …”  We, as God’s people today, need Holy Spirit boldness and courage to take our stand against any person, church, or social group that would encourage compromise of biblical beliefs in order to cooperate in any work.  We need to do it courageously, graciously, and firmly.

Notice that . . .

a) They responded negatively.

Verse 3 shows us they said, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel …”  Those of a liberal and ecumenical persuasion would think that Zerubbabel and the leadership were terribly intolerant to refuse this offer of help from the Samaritans who after all were not godless people, and genuinely wanted to help in building God’s house.  But their stand was uncompromising, for they realized that . . .

Such cooperation would

Undermine the work of God.

The question is . . .

Can we maintain

A Biblical Gospel

And stand together

With those who do not?

The answer is no.  Like the Samaritans, people today may outwardly appear to be Christians, they may be friendly and courteous, they may want to help in the building of God’s spiritual house; but like the Samaritans, there are other ingredients in their faith that we must take into account . . .

  • They deny the total inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.
  • They dislike any preaching on hell and judgment.
  • They decry the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus.
  • They denounce the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead.
  • They declare that there are other ways to God beside Jesus alone.

Charles Spurgeon used to describe this kind of believing and preaching as . . .

Using bits of the Bible

As coat hangers on

Which to hang a

Few moral platitudes.

The Bible is very clear on this . . .

  • In Galatians 1:8 the Bible says, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
  • In Jude 3 the Bible says we should, “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

I believe this should be every Bible-believing, Bible preaching church’s official position to the ecumenical movement . . .

We stand outside it,

We stand against it,

We stand opposed to it.

For the Bible says in Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed.”  That does not only go for church matters, but for personal matters, for matrimonial matters, and for social matters.  Many a believer has weakened his testimony through an unequal yoke, a secret society, or an unrighteous business partnership.  There is no question about where they stood.

b) They Responded Positively.

In verse 3, Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses said, “But we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel …”  Zerubbabel could have said, “Seeing as you will be only be mixing mortar, digging the foundation, hauling rubble away, and working with carpentry and masonry I suppose we could use you.”  But he did not do that.  Why?  Because . . .

This great enterprise that

They were engaged in,

Every facet of it is God’s work,

And the Lord’s work does not

Need the help of the world.

The same is true today . . .

  • We do not need the world’s money.
  • We do not need the world’s machinery.
  • We do not need the world’s mentality.
  • We do not need the world’s methods.

The Samaritans proposition was rejected because they did not belong unto the Lord.  Only believers are qualified to serve the Lord. Incidentally, that is another thing we believe in.  We believe in a saved membership.  How tragic for churches to permit into its membership, unconverted people, whose unspiritual thinking will contaminate the whole fellowship.  

God’s work is

To be done

In God’s way

By God’s people

For God’s glory.

The biblical guidelines for being involved in God’s kingdom work is laid out very clearly . . .

  • We must be saved.

Jesus said in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”  The Bible tells us what that means: In John 10:9-10, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” … “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly;”  in John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me;” Acts 2:36-38, 40b, Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.  Now when they hear this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for (because of) the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” … “and with many other words he testified and exhorted the, saying, ‘Be saved from this crooked generation.” and in Romans 10:13, “For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”

  • We are to be surrendered.

The Bible tells us in Acts 2:41-42, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized” … “and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  As they accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, they sought to join themselves with other believers because desired to grow by the learning and living of God’s Word (2 Peter 2:2).  Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:20, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.  Amen.”  An identifying mark of a genuine believer in Jesus Christ is their desire to obey the Lord and seek to grow in their understanding and love of Him.

What part are you playing?  Are you saved?  As a believer have you submitted yourself to the Lord and the truth of His Word?  It amazes me how many believers there are who are out there on the peripheral, and have never submitted themselves to the Lord and to learn and live by the teaching of His Word.  That is the responsibility of every local church.  That was the pattern in the early church as taught in passage in Acts 2:41-42 that we just talked about: They “received his word,” that is faith (accepting what God says about Himself, about Jesus, and about our sinful condition and asking Jesus to be our Savior and Lord), they “were baptized,” that is submission (following Matthew 19:20), they were “added,” that is local church membership, and they “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrinte and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers,” that’s growth.  

Sadly, the chapter ends on a down beat note, for we note,

3) The Apathy In God’s People.

Verse 24 says, “Now when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem against the Jews, and by force of arms made them cease.  Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued till the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”  This verse takes us back to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, back with the main context that has to do with the temple.  Verse 24 follows chronologically after verse 5 and shows us that apathy had crept in amongst the Lord’s people. The result?  The work stopped for and for 15 years not another brick was added to the building.

Two factors contributed to this apathy . . .

a) Harassment From Without.

The constant opposition had taken its toll.  The work of building the house of God ceased.  Perhaps you are thinking, “I thought God was in this, and if God was in a situation it could not be stopped.”  Wait a minute . . . Do not jump to conclusions.  I want to point out to you that delays are necessarily denials. The Bible says in Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore will the Lord wait that He may be gracious unto you.”  God has a purpose.  Indeed through Isaiah He says, “My counsel shall stand and I do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).  

Satan may temporarily delay God’s work,

But he cannot permanently defeat God’s work.

The Bible tells us about the work of God through the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, “We would have come unto, even I Paul, once and again, but Satan hindered us.”   

In building the temple, the opposition of the enemy caused the work to halt.  For 15 years nothing was done.  But . . .

The enemies actions

Would not determine

The final outcome,

Only God Himself would.

The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Jesus is reminding us that what God begins He always finishes.

For all outward appearances it seemed that God’s purpose in His Son at Calvary was defeated and that the agents of hell had won the day.  Even those the two disciples in Luke 24:21 on the road to Emmaus thought it was the end of all their hopes, “We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel.”  Then came Resurrection Day!  Far from being the end of God’s purpose it was the beginning of a new era, the birth of a new church, the dynamic of a new power and continued.  Aren’t you glad that the last word is never with men but with God.

There was also . . .

b) Discouragement From Within.

Verses 23-24 tell us the work ceased.  The immediate cause was opposition from without, but the secondary cause was discouragement from within.  For Haggai, who was a contemporary of Ezra, tells us in his book that the people of God had lost heart and were thinking only of themselves and their own houses.  He said in Haggai 1:2 that the people came to say, “The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.”

1. They lost Heart: the battle was too much.

2. They lost Vision: they went back and put materialism before the things of God.

3. They lost sight of God: For 15 years they had an altar, but the freshness of their first love was gone.

Does this describe where you are today?  Are you on the brink of resigning from some Christian ministry through discouragement?  Are you ready to call it quits?  Some years ago, someone gave me a little verse that said, “It is always too soon to quit.”  Why would you quit?

You have the Word of God before you,

The Christ of God beside you,

The resources of God within you,

The people of God around you,

And the glory of God before you.

The Bible says in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not, ( if we do not lose heart.”

Have you lost heart?  Has the battle become to hard?  Have you lost vision?  Are you more caught up with the material than with the eternal?  Have you lost sight of God?   Are the outward trappings are there, but the inward reality of a daily walk with God gone?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth

Will grow strangely dim

In the light of

His glory and grace

This is God 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.”

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.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 2:1-2, 64-70 – Only A List Of Names? Testimonies Of Being Preserved By God, Being Precious To God, And Participating With God.

Grace For The Journey

  Be honest!  What do you do when you come up to a chapter in God’s Word like Ezra Chapter 2?  You have committed to reading methodically and systematically through the Word of God in your quiet time and you come to Ezra Chapter 2, so what do you do?  I do trust that you read and study the Word of God methodically and systematically.  Sometimes, I hear of believers who go in for the “lucky dip,” method of reading the Scriptures.  They just open the Bible anywhere and take that as their daily reading.  If you do that, you might be like the man that I heard about who opened his Bible for his morning dip and was startled by these words, “And he …. went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5).  He was not satisfied with that message for his morning devotions so he opened the Scriptures at random for the second time.  This time the text was “Go and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:37).  You can imagine that by time he was getting a little concerned.  He was determined not to give up, so a third time he took a go at “the lucky dip,” method.  This time he was even more startled, for his third reading was “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27).  Be careful about how you read the Word of God. But, if you are committed to reading systematically through the Bible and you come to this chapter, what do you do?  Do you skip over it and go on to (Chapter 3)?  We would prefer John chapter 1 or chapter 14, or Romans chapter 8, or Psalms 23, but Ezra chapter 2?  What significance could it have, it is only a list of names?  Yet there are things here of vital importance for the Christian, otherwise the Holy Spirit would never have moved Ezra to write it.  The Bible reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable ….”  This list (and a similar one in Nehemiah 7:6-69) shows that the returning exiles were the legitimate descendants of the Jews who occupied Israel prior to their deportation to Babylon.

The history of the Bible is redemptive history and such lists are meant to show that God has preserved the chosen people and the promised line of Messiah from generation to generation.  It is important to recall the context of this passage.  The Babylonian captivity has come to an end, and God stirs the heart of a heathen king to accomplish His purposes.  In 538 BC God works in the heart of Cyrus, the King of Persia who issues a decree giving the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  It is interesting that just as the deportation to Babylon had taken place in three stages, so the return of Jews to their homeland took place in three stages:

1. In 538 BC the first remnant returns under Zerubbabel:

2. In 458 BC the second remnant returns under Ezra:

3. In 445BC the third remnant returns under Nehemiah:

There were two Exodus’ in Israel’s history . . .

  • The first Exodus was from Egyptian Captivity – Genesis 15:13.
  • The second Exodus was from Babylonian Captivity – Jeremiah 25:11-12.

In Ezra we see them going home to broken walls, burnt gates, and a desolate temple to start all over again.  The amazing thing was that even after seventy years they were still together.  Here were a people who were . . .

1) PRESERVED BY GOD.

The gift of the land and the preservation of Israel as a distinct nation were tied in with God’s plan to send His Son, the Lord Jesus to be the Savior of the world.  Israel is a remarkable nation.  Israel is God’s covenant people.  Throughout the history of this tiny nation, an invisible hand has been upon her and it is the hand of God.  Israel is the nation that will not go away.  She is an indestructible people (Jeremiah 31:35-37).  Here Judah in the exile was preserved by God.  How?  How were they kept together?  Notice the means that God used. There was . . .

(a) Faithful Preaching.

Ezekiel ministered during the exile.  His name means “strengthened by God.”  He had a prophetic ministry that God had called him to exercise (Ezekiel 3:8-9).  Ezekiel and his wife (Ezekiel 24:15-27) were among 10,000 Jews taken captive to Babylon in the year 597 BC (2 Kings 24:11-18).  For the first six years of his ministry, he preached to the exiles, while Jerusalem was still standing.  Later he had the difficult task of keeping before the generation born in captivity the national sins that led to the exile.  It is worth remembering that the children of Ezekiel’s day were, generally speaking, those in later years who returned to Jerusalem at the end of the seventy-year captivity, a restoration that Ezekiel speaks of in the latter part of his prophecy (Chapters 34-48).  His ministry was very important –

Faithful preaching

Preserves

The people of God.

Many today think that preaching is a thing of the past or that we do not need a strong emphasis on preaching today.  In these wild, weird, and wicked times the work of the preacher is being rethought, revamped, and re-examined.  Preaching is being pushed from the platform in favor of celebrated experts and entertainers.  In an effort to appeal to people’s interests, the church today emphasizes a great many, different programs, methods, and approaches.

  • Small group activities.
  • Worship services were music and drama get top bill.
  • Musical evenings and Gospel concerts.
  • Seminars on everything from how to have a good marriage on to how run your finances.

Not all of these things may be harmful, and in their proper place may even be helpful.  But . . .

What has been sacrificed

In the flurry of activities

Is preaching.

But the Bible still says, “… How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).  What kind of preaching do we need?  We need the same kind we always needed.  We have a new kind of preacher in some quarters today who dilutes and waters down the Word.  But the Bible says “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

(b) Family ties.

These genealogies had been kept to provide proof that those returning were in fact the descendants of the original Jews who had gone into exile.  This generation-to-generation linkage was important to identify the Jews as God’s covenant people, and especially important to the Messiahship of Christ, as the genealogies of Matthew and Luke make clear.  Behind all of this was the strong emphasis on Jewish family life, which is as important today as it was then.  Do you see what God is doing?  He is using Jewish family life to hold the Jews together.  God was using the warmth of family life to preserve His people.

Recall what God’s law said in Exodus 20:12, “Honor thy father and mother that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.”  In Deuteronomy 6:6-9 God also instructed Moses to charge His people to bring the Word of God to their children, “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gate.” 

What an awesome responsibility

Before God it is to be a parent.  

Being a parent is not just a biological matter,

It is not enough to meet physical needs.

Being a parent is not just an emotional matter,

It is not sufficient to only meet their emotional needs.

Being a parent is a spiritual matter,

You have to meet spiritual needs.

The University of Chicago did a survey of its graduate students asking them where they received their clearest teachings or impressions on religion and morality.  The majority of those students answered they picked up their concepts of religion and morality from the meal-time conversations of their families.  Do you realize that your number one responsibility is to lead those children to know and accept the Savior?  

The Bible says that Noah was, “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).  He preached for 120 years, and the people ridiculed and mocked him..  Yet, one day when the rains of judgment began to fall, the Bible records that Noah, his wife, his sons, their wives all entered into the ark of safety.  

No person is a failure who can lead his family into the ark of safety.

I pray that you are passing on the Word of God to your children.  Is your faith being preserved by this means?

(c) Fearless Men.

Daniel and his three friends were teenagers in the year 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and began his conquest of Judah.  What difficult days they were for these young men . . .

  • There was a challenge to their walk as the king sought to conform them to the ways of Babylon.
  • There was a challenge to their witness as the wise men of Babylon were unable to tell the king his dream and were delivered unto death.
  • There was a challenge to their worship as Nebuchadnezzar demanded that all should bow in worship to his golden image and Darius liked the idea that no-one could pray to any God only to him.  

In Chapter 3 we see Daniel’s three friends were

Standing when everyone else was kneeling. 

In Chapter 6 Daniel was kneeling

When everyone else was standing.

What was the principle that governed their lives?  It was the truth that they learned from the Word of God in 1 Samuel 2:30, “Therefore the LORD god of Israel says, ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’  But now the LORZD says, “Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me hall be lightly esteemed.’”  These young people were encouraged by their parents, friends, neighbors, and nation to honor the Lord, obey the Lord, serve the Lord, live for the Lord, and glorify the Lord.  

Daniel went down to Babylon as a teenager

And he lived to the age of 86,

And he ended his life,

The way he began,

Honoring the Lord.  

Can you imagine

The tower of strength and

Star of hope he brought to

The captives during those

Difficult days of the exile.

They were faithful and fearless men, who had an impact on the rank and file of God’s people.  We see, secondly . . .

2) PRECIOUS TO GOD.

I think Dr. Ironside put it best when he said, “Most of the names are for us only names, but God has not forgotten one of the persons once called by these names on earth.”  Think of the pains the children of Israel took to keep a strict record of their families while in captivity, and here . . .

God uses his servant Ezra

Under the inspiration of

The Spirit of God

To pen their names.  

Is that not an indication

That our God is concerned

With us as individuals?

In this we see . . .

(a) Their Identity Made Them Precious To God.

They belonged to Him. The Israelites were a covenant people with an important God-given task to fulfill on earth and they could not allow themselves to be corrupted.  Indeed, we read of some in Ezra who were unsure of their family roots (2:59-63) and thus they were barred from partaking.  As a result, these same people down in Babylon felt that the Lord had forgotten them.  Isaiah had prophesied about this in 49:14, “But Zion said, ‘The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.”  Do you feel that way this morning?  Do you feel that because that trial has crossed your pathway that God does not care?  Do you believe that because your prayers are not answered that the Lord is uninterested?  Do you suppose that because you have been by passed for some promotion that God has forgotten you? Do you not realize that you are making the same mistake that the children of Israel did?  At the very time you are saying “My Lord has forgotten me,” at that moment God is saying, “Behold I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

My name from the palms of His hands

Eternity will not erase

Impressed on His heart it remains

In marks of indelible grace

Yes I to the end shall endure

As sure as the earnest is given

More happy but not more secure

The glorified saints in heaven

Recall what the Lord Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them shall not fall to the ground apart from your Father’s will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.”  You might not be important in the eyes of the world, but you’re precious in the eyes of God.  God regards you as one of His jewels.  The Bible says in Malachi 3:17, “’They shall be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts.  On the day that I make them My jewels …”  God is saying that each of us are very precious to Him and deeply loved by Him.  Do you realize that’s how God looks on you?  You are very precious and deeply loved!

(b) Their Fidelity Made Them Precious To God.

The total numbered who returned to Jerusalem seemed very small yet they constitute the “ remnant,” who in every age are faithful to God.  Ezra himself, in chapter 9 verse 8, in his most moving prayer speaks of the graciousness of God in permitting a remnant to return to their homeland, “And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place …..”   This doctrine of the remnant runs through all of the Scriptures.  It would be a good study for you to search the Scriptures on this subject.   Ezra lists them for us . . .

  • The leaders – (2:2; Nehemiah 7;7)
  • The priests (2:36)
  • The Levites (2:40)
  • The singers (2:41)
  • The children of the porters (2:42)
  • The Nethinims – hewers of wood and drawers of water. (Joshua 9:27)
  • The children of Solomon’ servants. ( 2:55 )

All with a contribution to make.  As Harry Ironside says, “How highly God values all that is done from devotion of heart to Himself and for the glory of His name.”  Could it be that you are experiencing loneliness in being one of God’s remnant?  Maybe in the place you work, in your home, in your school, or in your neighborhood.  Does your stand for truth make you feel isolated?  Can I remind you, that the Lord has others who are faithful to Him, and they are found in shops, business, colleges, and even in government places.  They are the modern equivalent of 7,000 who did not bow the knee to the Baals, the false gods, and wicked rulers of Elijah’s day. These are the remnant who one day will receive the crown of life for their faithfulness.

They are faithful and fearless men and women who have an impact on the rank and file of their world.  We see, thirdly . . .

(3) PARTICIPATING WITH GOD.

It is a privilege and honor to be co-workers with the Lord.  Paul speaks about this in 2 Corinthians 6:1, “Being workers together with Him.”  I want to suggest to you that these Jews participated with the Lord . . .

(a) In Their Going.

Do you remember the challenge of Cyrus?  In Ezra 1:3 he said, “Who is there among you of all his people?  Let him go up to Jerusalem.”   Here were a people who had turned their backs on Babylon and set their faces toward Jerusalem.  But why so few?  50,000 was a tiny number to go up to Jerusalem, in comparison with those who had gone down to Babylon.  Why so few?  It might help us to thing of the situation in Israel today.  In 1948, the modern state of Israel was established and immediately Jews began to return from all parts of the world where they had been scattered for nearly two thousand years.  But even so, the population of modern Israel is about 6.2 million, whereas the number of Jews living in other countries is about 9.8 million.  Some are returning but many living in the U.S.A. and the U. K. have become comfortable and they have no wish to exchange that for the hardships and dangers of war-torn Israel.  I am sure it was the same in Ezra’s day.  The people had settled down in Babylon: they had created a new lifestyle for themselves, they had become prosperous over the years (Jeremiah 29:4-7).  Who would want to take a dangerous journey to a city in ruins, and a temple that no longer existed.  The cost was too great, in modern language, they did not want to get kicked out of their comfort zone.  Sadly, many believers today are not so much at ease in Zion, as they are content in Zion.  We are like the people that Amos confronted in Amos 6:1, “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and trust in Mount Samaria, notable persons in the chief nation, to whom the house of Israel comes!”  Are we too comfortable in our faith, enjoying a laid-back kind of Christianity?  Does our commitment to Jesus Christ make any real demands upon us involving personal cost and sacrifice?  Does it even make demands when it comes to giving of our time, our energy, our money in the Lord’s work?  What about that other kind of cost in things like prayer for the ministry of the Word, and for the souls of those who are lost?

A missionary who was watching the construction of a beautiful temple asked an Indian lady, “How much will it cost?”  “It is for the gods,” she answered, “We do not ask what it will cost.”  Are you holding back your life because you are afraid of what it might cost?

These Jews participated with the Lord . . .

(b) In Their Giving.

Do you see what they did when they assembled on the site of the ruined temple?  We read about it in chapter 2 verse 68, “Some of the heads of the fathers’ houses, when they came to the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God, to erect it in its place.”  Although the temple was in ruins, that house still existed in the mind of God and in the hearts of His people.  They loved that spot, and it was there they gave to the work of the Lord.  In Nehemiah 7:70-72 the Bible tells us the tribal leaders and Zerubbabel the governor gave generously, and the common people followed their good example.  This reinforces the thought – Everything in God’s work rises and falls with leadership.  That is why God demands dedicated men to challenge His people and lead the way.  Now did you notice how they gave to the work of the Lord?  They gave . . .

1) Willingly.

The Bible says in verse 68, they, “offered freely.”  They did not require a sermon on stewardship to cajole them into parting with their money. Our love for Christ can be measured by how much time and money we gave to Him.

2) Thoughtfully.

The Bible says in verse 69, “after their ability.”  The rich according to his riches and the poor according to his poverty.  Paul puts it this way, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1 Corinthians 16:1).  Are you giving, or do you plan your giving in a systematic, thoughtful way in relation to the wages you earn?

3) Cheerfully.

The Lord was their vision and in the light of that vision everything else paled into insignificance. The Bible says, “For God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).   Do these Old Testament saints put us to shame in relation to our giving?  Do you realize that giving to the Lord’s work is not a fringe activity but a spiritual obligation and opportunity?  Surely if we acknowledge Christ as Savior and Lord, then His Lordship extends to every part of our lives, including our giving.  Yet, as someone has said, “many a Christian’s wallet or purse is unconverted.”  Is this you?  Sure, you are saved, but are your pockets are sown up?  

4) In Their Goals.

In the closing verse of chapter 2 we see that the people are dispersed to their own towns and villages and started rebuilding their homes and their lives.  But that was only after they had made provision for the temple.  

Their goal was this . . .

God first, and only then did

They give attention to

Their own personal concerns.

For so many, including Christians, other things are put first – Fashion, food, finance, fitness, the family, and the future.  It is nice to have all these things but everything must be in its proper order, for our God is “a jealous God,” (Exodus 20:5) and will not come second to any one or any thing.  As long as we downgrade Him in our hearts, we shall never fulfill our true potential as His children.

Only a List of Names?  Yes, but this faithful remnant speaks to us today and tells us that we are . . .

Preserved by God,

Precious to God,

And

Participating with God.

This is the Lord’s list for Israel, but did you know the Bible has another list.  We are told about that list in Revelation 21:27, “But there shall by no means enter into it (heaven) anything that defiles, or causes an abomination, or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  Our name is not written in Ezra chapter 2, but is our name in the Lamb’s book of life?  Have you repented of your sins?  Have you turned to Christ and received Him as your personal Savior? 

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.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 1:1-11 – A New Beginning

Grace For The Journey

  One day, towards the close of the 18th century, a gentleman and a lady sat side by side in a stagecoach as it rumbled its way through the English countryside. The lady appeared to be occupied with the content of the book in her hand, at times reading, at times meditating on what she had read.  She was enjoying the words of a lovely hymn,

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace

Steams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise

She turned to the gentleman and sought to interest him in what she was reading.  She asked him if he knew the hymn.  At first, he appeared embarrassed, even a little agitated.  Eventually with tears in his eyes he said, “Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago and I would give a thousand worlds if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”  The man on the stagecoach was Robert Robinson.  The hymn was the product of his pen some thirty years previously.  In the words of his own hymn, he was “prone to wander,” but thank God he experienced the restoring grace of God.  We are all “prone to wander,” and “prone to leave the God we love.”  When we catch up with the Jews in the book of Ezra, we discover that they are in captivity in Babylon.  God has a way of giving us what we insist upon having.  The Psalmist says, “And He gave them their request but sent leanness into their soul.”

(Psalm 106:15).  God allowed Babylon to conquer His people because they were given over to idolatry.  He sent them back to Babylon to the very center of idolatry, and there God cured them of idolatry forever.  From that point on the children of Israel were monotheistic.  They believed in the only one true Lord God.

I want you to take on a journey back in time to about 500 years before the Lord Jesus was born.  That means, we are going back in time to about 2,500 years to this land that was known as Babylon.  It is modern Iraq, but in those days it was Babylon, the fountain head of all idolatry; Babylon, the origin of every germ of evil teaching; Babylon, where the children of God, the Jews were in the land of captivity.

There are six books in the Old Testament, which have to do with the Jews being in captivity in Babylon. Three of those books are in the historical section of your Bible, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.  The other three books are in the prophetical section of your Bible: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.  

Those six books have to do with

This period of time known as

The captivity and the return

Of the Jews back to

The land of promise.

Ezra is a book that emphasizes . . .

The ongoing work of God

Among His people to

Preserve, protect, and promote

His redemptive purposes.

Now you might wonder why I would take us into a study of such an old part of Israel’s history.  After all, we are living in the year 2021.  We are a modern people.  We have needs and we face problems that seem a lot different than way back then.  We live in an age that focuses on experienced-centered living that focuses more on how one feels and how one is to walk by faith and obedience.  Need I have to remind  you that people in every age are the same.  We need to study this portion of the Word of God because it will directs our mind to a God who is holy, who demands reverent worship, uncompromising loyalty, total obedience, and wholehearted commitment.   

Chapter 1 is all about “A New Beginning.”  Beyond that, it is all about God.  We will learn about God’s providence, God’s people, and God’s provision.  It will be a great adventure of learning and living by these marvelous and always abiding truths.

1) THE COMFORT OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE.

Do you know providence is?  The best definition that I have found is, “Providence is that work of God in which He preserves all His creatures, is active in all that happens in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”  Now we see in the opening verses of Chapter one.  We see here the providence of God in relation to . . .

a) God’s Word.

We see that in the opening phrase, “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 prophet  Jeremiah had prophesied not only the fact of the Babylonian captivity but the duration of it.  He said in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10, “And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.  Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the LORD, ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation” … “For thus says the Lord, ‘after seventy years be completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you in causing you to return to this place.”  The seventy-year captivity began in 606 BC and in 536 BC Cyrus issues this amazing proclamation, allowing the Jews to go back to their homeland to rebuild the temple.  

The decree of Cyrus was

The fulfillment of prophecy.

No doubt during the long night of the exile God’s people must have wondered at times if they would ever see Jerusalem again.  Psalm 137:1 gives us vivid picture of how the people felt, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.”  All seemed to be lost and there appeared to be not future for the people.  But . . .

God was faithful to His Word

And did not forget His people.

Do you recall Joshua’s witness at the end of his life, “Not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you.  All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).  The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”  This nation had broken the Covenant, but the Lord had remained faithful to His Word.  One of the great proofs for the inspiration of the Bible is the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Someone has said that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about the first coming of Christ.  All of those prophecies were fulfilled to the exact detail.

Isn’t it an amazing book we hold in our hands?  In spite of their sins, these exiles were God’s chosen people and children of the Covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3).  God was faithful to His promises and He did not forget His people.  But then He never does!  Are you finding that difficult to believe?  Are you going through some kind of personal exile?   Is your situation dark and gloomy?  Is Satan whispering in your ear that God has forgotten you? Is he tempting you to look at your circumstances rather than God?  The truth God wants you to stand on is that at such a time, when everything else has failed, the only thing we have left to rely on is the faithfulness of God and His Word.   We also see the providence of God in relation to . . .

b) God’s World.

God is in control of the nations.  God is governing global affairs in accordance with his blueprint for mankind.  God is still on the throne.  

  • It was the Lord who raised up Nebuchadnezzar whom He called, “My servant,” (Jeremiah 25:9 27:6 43:10 ), to chasten the people of Judah.
  • Then He raised up Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and establish the Persian Empire.  The Lord called Cyrus “My shepherd,” (Isaiah 44:28 ) and “My anointed,” (Isaiah 45:1).  In Isaiah 45:13 the Lord said, “ He shall build my city and he shall let go my captives.”

Now when we consider the fact that these words preceded Cyrus’ decree by about two hundred years it is really astonishing and amazing.  Here we see the sovereign hand of God working through the processes of history.  This is all the more remarkable when we realize that Cyrus did not know God (Isaiah 45:5).  But God knew Cyrus.  The Bible reminds us “that the hearts of kings are in the hands of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:1).  Whatever political motives lay behind Cyrus’ decree, God was working out His own plans.  What a God we have!!  What a Bible God has given us!

Proverbs 21:1 continues, “The kings heart is in the hand of the Lord; Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”  People do not have to be Christian believers for God to use them.  It does not matter whether it is a president, or a prime minister, or a mayor, or a governor, God can exercise His sovereign power to accomplish His purposes for His people.  This is one reason why the Bible exhorts believers to pray for those in authority, not that our political agenda might be fulfilled, but that God’s will might be accomplished on this earth (1 Timothy 2:1-8).  Puritan John Watson said, “God can make a straight stroke with a crooked stick,” and that is what He did with Cyrus.  

If we could lay hold

Of this great truth

That God is control

We would be

Freed from anxiety.

As we watch the news programs on television, and see the world scene with its rebelliousness, perverseness, political unrest, and shaky foundations we might become fearful for the future.  That is why it is so important to listen to God.  He says in Daniel 4:17, 25, and 32, “… That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.”

But there is another thread here, not appearing in this chapter that God used in the fulfilling of His purposes.  For we see here God’s providence in relation to . . .

c) God’s workman.

In the 9th chapter of Daniel we find Daniel reading His Bible.  Do you know where he was when he was reading it?  He was reading Jeremiah’s prophecy (25:8-11).  Do you know what he was reading about?  The end of the captivity after seventy years. (Daniel 9:2).  That really grabbed his heart!  Daniel knows that the captivity has lasted nearly seventy years.  It is almost time for God to take the Jews back to their own land, and that drives him to his knees in prayer and to cry, “Lord do as you have said.”  

Some believe that Daniel, prime minister in the administration of Cyrus, showed his monarch, these prophecies about the duration of the captivity, and that under God Daniel’s influence had the effect of disposing the king to be favorable to the exiles.  It is possible that Daniel’s last official act was to prepare the papers releasing his people from Babylonian bondage.  

Now that is . . .

Not only wonderful but amazing . . . 

To be able to stand back and

See the heart of God planning

And the hand of God shaping

The events of history according

To His plan and power!

I heard about a ship that was caught in a storm.  The passengers were fearful that the vessel might sink.  A group of them huddled together, in a state of distress.  Then someone suggested that one of the party should go and talk to the captain.  The chosen person made his way to the helm of the ship, where he saw the captain from a distance. He moved toward him and as he did so, he caught a glimpse of the captain’s face. Immediately his fears were quelled, because he had seen on the captain’s face . . .

The serenity of man who

Had nothing to fear.

It was obvious that

Everything was

Under his control.

Are you filled with fear like this?  You need to get a glimpse of the face of the Captain of our salvation!  The One who has everything under His control.

2) THE CHALLENGE FOR GOD’S PEOPLE.

Look if you will at verses 2 to 3, “Thus Cyrus king of Persia: all the kingdoms of the earth the LROD God of heaven has given me.  And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.  Who is among you of all His people?  May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God, which is in Jerusalem.”  What a challenge this was.  For those who would return home it would involve considerable sacrifice and hardship. They were not going on a holiday, but were faced with a dangerous journey of some 900 to a 1,000 miles and the land waiting for them had been devastated, and its temple had been razed to the ground.  What a challenge.

Now we need to put this challenge in its context.  We see . . .

a) Nationally: The Glory Of God Had Departed.

We see an important phrase in verse 2, “The Lord God of heaven.”  This lovely expression is peculiar to the books of the captivity.  During the captivity God was known as the “God of heaven.”  Why?  Judah turned away from the Lord and Jerusalem was burned, and the temple was destroyed.  The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the glory of God departing from the earth (Ezekiel 9:3, 10:4 11:22-23). That Shekinah glory cloud that had rested on the mercy seat lifted in the Holy of Holies and then moved over to the threshold of the temple door.  Then it moved from the temple to the Mount of Olives on the east of the city.  Finally, it departed back to heaven and for a period of time, until, Christ came, there was no glory of God on earth.  God was the “God of heaven.”  Do you see where Judah was a nation?  “Ichabod,” could be written over the nation, the glory had departed.

b) Spiritually: A Passion For God Had Declined.

The people of God found that the geographical distance between Babylon and Jerusalem reflected something of the spiritual distance between themselves and God. They were estranged from the Lord, removed from the blessing, and under His discipline.  Spiritually, life in these two centers Jerusalem or Babylon, speak to us of two different kinds or levels of life that may be experienced by the people of God.  

It was always

Up to Jerusalem

And

Down to Babylon.

Paul identified the spiritual significance of these places when he said to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corintians 3:1, “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual but as unto carnal.”  Here we have the New Testament counterparts of Zion and Babylon.  You probably know that Corinth was the carnal church of Paul’s day?  They were marked by strife, division, and immaturity. They were man centered when they should have been Christ-centered.  They were feeding on milk, when they should have been feeding on meat.  Spiritually, they were like these people of old by the rivers of Babylon.  How did Judah ever land in captivity in the first place?  Their passion for God declined.

(1) There Was A Departure From The Worship Of God.

Their love for the Lord had grown cold and idolatry usurped the place that should have been the Lord’s in the hearts of His people.  They had heard and knew the importance of what God said in Exodus 20:3, “Thou shalt have no others gods before me,” but they treated it with indifference and even contempt.  I wonder do the words of Robert Robinson’s hymn summarize your spiritual condition? “ Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”  Could it be that you, like Israel, have fallen out of love with Christ?

(2) There Was A Departure From The Word Of God.

God had instructed the children that every seven years the land was to enjoy a Sabbath.  The whole year the land was to be rested. (Leviticus 25:1-4; 26:32-35).  But, the children of Israel did not live by God’s Word.  For 490 years the land had no rest.  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 70 years.  

Some years ago, a prison chaplain noticed one of the prisoners sewing a covering on a pair of overalls.  Greeting the man cheerfully, the chaplain said, “Good morning, friend, sewing?” “No sir,” replied the prisoner with a grim smile, “reaping.”  The Bible says, “the way of transgressors is hard” (Proverbs 13:15 ).  These causes have their spiritual counterpart today.  Could it be that the decline of a love for the Lord and obedience to His Word has led you spiritually down to Babylon?

c) Personally: The Hour Of God Had Dawned.

The Lord not only moved the heart of a heathen ruler, He motivated the hearts of a Hebrew people.  These were days of great stirrings. Verse 1 tells us, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.”  The prophet Haggai in chapter 1 verse 14 tells us, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel” …. “and the spirit of Joshua” …. “and the spirit of all the remnant of the people, and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts their God.”

It was Zurubbabel, who led the first return from Babylonian captivity and he did so because the God of heaven “stirred up,” his spirit.  It reminds us of Paul in Athens where he waited for Silas and Timothy.  Luke says in Acts 17:16, “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.”  Paul’s spirit was so grieved by the idolatry of the city that he was moved to preach the gospel.   Are our hearts ever stirred when we contemplate the idolatry, the blasphemy, the depravity, and the anarchy of our nation?

This is what happened at the time of the recovery from Babylon.  God’s hour had come. God was moving towards the bringing in of the promised Messiah, and this required that the chosen people should be present in the promised land.  

This is what gave urgency to

The leaders and to the people.

They understood that the Lord

Was in this thing and so

They rose up to go.

This is what revival is all about!  

God stirring the hearts of His people.

Revival is not something on

The outside that works in.

Revival is something that

God does on

The inside and works out.

Revival is a heart matter.

It is something that begins to take place in the human heart. There is Divine Sovereignty in revival as God stirs the heart, but there is human responsibility in revival as we meet the challenge.  Cyrus says in verse 3, “Who is among you of all His people?  May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel) He is God, which is in Jerusalem.”  We cannot create the wind, but we can set the sails.  Is your cry this?

Oh for the floods on a thirsty land

Oh for a mighty revival

Oh for a sanctified fearless band

Ready to hail its arrival.

3) THE CERTAINTY ABOUT GOD’S PROVISION.

The Lord not only delivered His people from Babylon, but . . .

He also provided all

The costs for the journey,

And for the settlement

In Jerusalem as well.

Think for a moment about . . .

a) Those that remained.

Sadly, all were not ready to leave Babylon.  Jerusalem and its temple lay in ruins but that did not matter too many.  

No doubt a great number

Had grown comfortable

In Babylon and preferred

To remain there.

But one thing that can be said in their favor is this – There was no spirit of enmity or judgment between those who remained and those who returned.  As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that those who remained helped their brethren who went up.  They provided the things that they needed.  Verse 6 tells us, “Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.  And all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold; with good and livestock, and with precious things, besides that was willingly offered.  Cyrus also brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods . . .”  God moved in the hearts of those who stay to support those who were going.   I am sure they were encouraged by what God was doing and helped them to be reminded about God moving and care which they would need when they got back into the land.

Did you know that in warfare it is estimated that for every soldier out there on the front line there has to be ten people behind him?  Ten people getting supplies to him, food, clothing, medical care, and ammunition.  The same not true in the army of God.  That is why it is important to keep a strong home base.  The stronger we are at home, the more we can do abroad.

b) Those that returned.

In God’s Hall of Heroes are the names of nearly 50,000 Jews who left Babylon for responsibility in Jerusalem.  The Lord had called them back to do a difficult job . . .

To rebuild the temple,

To restore the city,

And

To reform the people.

It involved a four-month journey, a distance of almost 1000 miles, and a great deal of faith, courage, and sacrifice.

Who would meet their needs? God.  

Who would provide the materials? God. 

Who would give the manpower?  God.

Do you know what one of the great names for God in the Bible is?  “Jehovah-Jireh,” which means “the Lord will provide”(Genesis 22:14).  Here is a great truth . . .

Those whom God calls He equips.

Take the case of Hudson Taylor walking on Brighton beach on the 25th June 1865.  He came to the decision to begin a mission work in central China and wrote these words in his Bible, “Prayed for twenty four willing, skillful laborers.”  Two days later in faith he opened an account in the name of the China Inland Mission with the sum of ten pounds. In the years that followed God provided all that was needed so that it became one of the great faith missions of the Christian world, with hundreds of workers in the field.

What about godly George Muller of Bristol?  On the night he had made known his intention at a public meeting to start an orphanage, he made it clear that no one would ever be asked for money or materials, there would be no charge for admission and no restriction on entry because of class or creed.  All those employed as masters, matrons and assistants would be unpaid and had to be believers.  At the end of the meeting no collection was made but a lady gave him ten shillings and volunteered for the work.  The next day, a husband and wife volunteered their help, and also promised, to give all their furniture for use in the orphanage.  From that point on Muller never looked back and never lacked support for the work.  For . . .

God’s work done in God’s way

Will never lack God’s supply.

I wonder is God challenging you specifically?  Is He exercising your heart about ministry?  Is He calling you to “… go up …. and build?” (verse 3).  Is the Lord challenging you, is He stirring your heart to get involved in His work?  Is He calling you to build up the work of God in the place he has planted you?  Are you available to Him? Are you willing to say . . .

Mine are the hands to do the work

My feet shall run for Thee

My lips shall sound the glorious news

Lord, here I am send me

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.”

God At Work Among His People: The Book Of Ezra – Introduction

Grace For The Journey

  Most of you know the setting of the book of Ezra. The Babylonians had begun their conquest of Jerusalem in 606 BC, and had finally destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and took many of the people captive.  After 70 years in captivity, in 538 BC, Cyrus issued a proclamation allowing the Jews to return to their land and rebuild their temple, and nearly 50,000 returned under the leadership of Zerubbael.

The primary architect of Israel’s new identity was Ezra, the priest, described in Ezra 7:6 as the, “ready scribe of the law of Moses.”  As a scribe, his primary task was the study and exposition of the law.  Through the work of Ezra, Israel had a job to do, and although they faced times of trial, testing, and tribulation, the Lord saw them through.  

Ezra is one of the great spiritual leaders of the Old Testament.  His name means, “Yahweh helps.”  He was used of God to lead the Israelites back to the Promised Land, much like Moses did previously.  In fact, this return to the homeland from Persian captivity has been called Israel’s “second exodus.”

The book of Ezra tells the story of two returns. The first was led by Zerubabbel to rebuild the temple (in chapters 1-6) and the second was led by Ezra to rebuild the spiritual condition of the people (in chapters 7-10).  The key verse of the book is found in Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Interestingly, the principles found in this small book stating how God dealt with His people more than 2,500 years ago, still speak to the heart and issues of God’s people today. Here are 10 powerful principles from the book of Ezra which intersect the lives of believers in today . . .

  • God is sovereign.  In the book of Ezra, God was at work through historical events. Persia defeated the Babylonians and took possession of the Israelites. However, Persian national policy allowed deported people to repatriate.  This allowed the Israelites to return home after 70 years in captivity, thus fulfilling a promise of God. God is still sovereign over the affairs of nations today.
  • God raises up people for specific purposes.  Most likely, Ezra’s parents were a part of the original deportation from Israel and Ezra was born in captivity.  Despite difficult circumstances, God raised up Ezra for the special task of leading His people (1:1-4).  God still raises up people today for special work.
  • God often uses the most unlikely sources.  Whenever the Israelites prepared to return, God spoke to Cyrus, the King of Persia, to provide treasures to help rebuild the Temple in Israel (1:5-11).  It is amazing how God works in the hearts of the most unlikely sources to accomplish His work.
  • It is vital for a person to ensure they are truly in God’s family.  In Chapter 2, great care was taken to ensure the pure lineage of Israelite families in their return (2:1-70).  Today, people must ensure they have truly experienced salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • Place spiritual matters as a priority.  Whenever the Israelites returned, their primary emphasis was upon re-building the Temple first rather than the city walls or gates (Chapter 3).  The Temple was used for spiritual purposes, while the wall was used for military and political purposes.  Putting spiritual matters in order in your life is always the greater priority.
  • There will always be opposition to God’s work.  As Zerubbabel led the first group of Israelites back to their homeland and began to rebuild the Temple, great opposition arose from their neighbors.  The opposition came at two different times as they re-built (4:1-22; 5:3-6:12).  Today, the enemy often brings opposition whenever believers attempt to carry out God’s commands and work.
  • Joy is possible in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Four times in the book of Ezra the word “joy” is mentioned.  Two times the text mentions the joy of the Israelites whenever the foundation of the Temple was completed (3:12-13).  Two times the joy of God’s people was mentioned whenever the Temple was dedicated (6:16; 22).  Their circumstances were far from joyful as the charred remains of their homeland surrounded them and provisions were meager.  Yet, the Lord gave them joy.  Today, it is important for believers to remain joyful regardless of the outward circumstances.
  • God’s Word is primary.  Beginning in Chapter 7, the priest Ezra arrived in Israel. His primary emphasis was upon God’s Word.  He devoted himself to the Word of God and to teach its ordinances (7:10).  God’s inerrant, infallible Word must be primary today. Devoting ourselves to it and its commands is the first task of every believer, minister, and church.  God will bless the primacy of His Word.
  • Spiritual leaders are to be prayer warriors.  One of the most inspirational passages in the book was when Ezra prayed for the people.  He was made aware by servants of the sin of intermarriage among the people.  Interestingly, Ezra did not petition God for one request, yet he immediately confessed the sins of his people to the Lord and set an action plan of repentance.  The poignant words of Ezra form one of the most beautiful prayers of the Old Testament (9:5-15).  Spiritual leaders must intercede for God’s people today and be prayer warriors on their behalf.
  • God Takes Seriously Marrying Outside of the Faith.  In Chapters 7-10, one key sin plagued the Israelites – They disobeyed God by intermarrying with those who did not have a covenant relationship with Yahweh.  The prohibition was not based upon race rather it was based upon faith.  The monotheistic worship of God alone was to remain pure among His people.  Today, it is imperative that believers in Jesus Christ avoid being unequally yoked with unbelievers in a marriage relationship (2 Corinthians 6:14).

One of the undercurrents running throughout this small, yet powerful, book is one of hope.  The story of Ezra encourages a people who had lost hope in the future.  This is the plight of many in our modern culture as well.  Many people have lost hope.  The pulpit is a wonderful place to encourage their spirit from the book of Ezra and show that a vital, living relationship with God through Jesus Christ provides wonderful hope for the future.

The book of Ezra can also be a great “help” for Christians today.  Let me explain why.  Ezra gives us a historical account of the return of some of God’s people to Jerusalem.  Many of the events that happen are fitting illustrations for God’s people today.  As we go through the Book, we will discover many parallels between the time it speaks of and ours.  In this sense, Ezra is very up to date and pertinent in relation to many issues we face in our Christian lives today.  This old book sheds so much light on many questions which Christians ask today, such as . . .

  • How should Christians gather?
  • Can a minority be right?
  • The unity of the church, what does it mean for us today?
  • What do we do when many turn their back on biblical teaching?
  • Separation from evil and the unity of the church, a contradiction?
  • How can we recognize a true revival?

The book of Ezra describes a wonderful revival which occurred after 70 of the darkest years of the history of God’s people.  What had happened?  In 722 BC the 10 tribes had been led captive into Assyria (2 Kings 17:6).  Over time, they vanished completely, and we still do not know where they are today.  Only two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, were left in the country.  Just over one hundred years later, in 606 BC, Nebucadnezzar came and took the vessels of the temple, as well as the most promising young people as captives (2 Chronicles 36:6.7).  A captivity of 70 years followed, just as Jeremiah had predicted (Jeremiah 25:12 and 29:10).  Here they were, far from Jerusalem, without temple, without sacrifices, without their national feasts, and unable to sing the songs of Zion (Psalm 137:1-4).

At the end of these 70 years, a Persian king, Cyrus, conquered the Babylonian Empire and founded the Medo-Persion Empire.  This new king made a proclamation stating that all the Jews who wished to do so were free to go back to Jerusalem and to build the house of the Lord there.  About 43,000 people responded to this call and went up to Jerusalem.  Their experiences are extremely instructive for believers today.  Their return to Jerusalem encourages us to return to first principles and faith principles found in the Word of God, not modified by the ideas of men.

The faith of those who returned; their failure, their work, their “ups and downs” all speak volumes to the believer today.  To the extent that we, similarly, are not satisfied with “Bablylon” but have a heart for the place God has chosen, we will be able to derive much “help” from this book of Ezra.  I am looking forward to this adventure with you!

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.”

Captivated And Captured By Christ: Hebrews 13:15-25 – How We Finish The Race.

Grace For The Journey

We are wrapping up our study through Hebrews.  This is the last message and I always feel a bit sad as we finish a series.  It is like saying goodbye to an old friend.  We will be starting a new study tomorrow, verse-by-verse through the Book of Nehemiah.   The series will be called: REBUILD: TRUSTING GOD TO DO HIS WORK.  We are to trust God to do the work, whether He is doing the work of rebuilding a fractured wall or a fractured soul.  I am looking forward to forward to that study.  But first, we finish the Book of Hebrews.

The key verses of Hebrews are Chapter 12, verses 1 and 2 where the writer refers to the Christian life as a race.  He encourages the Christian throughout the letter to press on as Christians, persevere through hardships, difficulties, and setbacks.  Do not stop!  Keep moving!  Keep running the race!  If you fall, get up and get back in the race.  It is not about how many times you fall.  It is whether you get back up and keep running and finish.  You may have fallen a time or two, but get back up.  Keep running.  Let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, keep your eyes on Jesus, be “captivated by Christ,” the author and finisher of our faith.  Amen.

We left off at verses 14 last Friday and we talked about the great truth: that while this world is passing away, if we are “in Christ” we have a city that continues on forever.  We are not to fall in love with this world, we are not to give up on Christ when suffering hardship, and we are not to turn our back on Jesus when the going gets tough . . . Keep looking unto Him as you run the race, be captivated by Christ! 

Since the Christian life is a race and since the writer has been dealing with this for some time now, persevering, continuing to live our lives faithfully to the end, faithfully finish the race, running to the finish.

As we run to the Finish Line, here is what we will do.  Three main actions . . .

1) Offer Sacrifices That Are Living – Verses 15-16.

The author mentions the offering of sacrifices in verses 15 and 16. It is clear that he does not have in mind the old sacrifices under the old covenant – quite the contrary!   He is not talking about old dead animal sacrifices but living sacrifices.  This is like the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:1, “I beseech ye therefore by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  Living sacrifices.

The sacrifices required under the old covenant, handed down by Moses, were sacrifices that accomplished a kind of temporary forgiveness.  That is why they had to be repeated.  They could not fully or completely atone for sin.  You will recall the writer says in Hebrews 10:4, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”

God prepared His people for the coming of the Ultimate Sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ.    The animal sacrifices of bulls, goats, and lambs foreshadowed, or pointed forward, to the Greater Sacrifice to come.  As His cousin John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  The writer has been making the point that animal sacrifices are no longer necessary.  Jesus Christ is here!   These are sacrifices that are living in verses 15 and 16:

You can break them down into two main sacrifices, one per verse . . .

Singing in verse 15

And

Sharing in verse 16.

Or more specifically: continual praise and continual generosity. 

First kind of living sacrifice of . . .

1) Continual Praise – Verse 15.

Verse 15 declares, “Therefore by Him let us continually(that is, in contrast to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ that is not repeated; let us continually…) offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”  Giving thanks to His name with the fruit of your lips through singing.  Continual praise may be in song or in statement, but it means to proclaim our allegiance to the Lord, to thank Him, to glorify Him.  Rather than pouring out the blood of an animal sacrifice, we pour out our sacrificial praise to God.  Continually.  Even after we leave the worship service.   Continual praise and thanksgiving to God. 

Second kind of living sacrifice of . . .

B)  Continual Generosity – Verse 16.

Verses 16 states, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”  It is one thing to say or sing, “Praise the Lord,” it is another thing to give generously in the Lord.  True worship is not just our closing our eyes and feeling good about ourselves in the Lord.  It is that, to be sure, but it is more than that, much more.  Remember that Jesus summed up the entire commands of God by saying we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – AND – Love our neighbor as ourselves.  It is two-directional.  Love vertically up to God, and horizontally out to others.  These things “please God” – These actions bring joy to God!  In the giving we also find joy.  Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.  More blessed; more joyful.

J Vernon McGee said, “The Lord Jesus is up yonder at the right hand of God—that is where He is as Head of the church—but His feet are down here right where the rubber meets the road.  He wants Christianity to be in shoe leather, and He would like to walk in your shoes.”  How can you “walk this out,” offering the living sacrifice of continual generosity?  By sharing of your treasure, time, and talents.  Bringing our tithe and offering to the Lord.  Tithing ten percent of our paychecks.

Tithing is not a bill. 

Tithing is a blessing. 

It is a worship experience. 

Tithes and gifts given

Through the offering

Are the means by which

God finances the work of ministry.

Generous giving of our treasure, of our time – just spending time with people.  Going to grab a coffee with someone for disciple-making.  Realizing we exist to develop generations of God-glorifying disciples who make disciples in our the community to the continents.”  Generous giving of our treasure, our time,  and our talents – using our talents and abilities to bless others; musical gifts, teaching gifts, like teaching a Bible Study Class, serving, greeting, sharing the gospel this week, showing hospitality to strangers.

As you run to the finish line, offer sacrifices that are living.  Secondly, as you run to the finish line . . .

2) Be Submissive to your Leaders – Verses 17-19.

The writer calls for the church to submit or follow the leadership of their shepherds, pastors, or ministers.  We follow their leadership by . . .  

(A) Obey Them – Verse 17.

Verses 17 says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”  A church without leaders is chaos!  And leading is not always easy.  It is much easier to watch than to lead.  It is easier to be a “backseat driver” or “armchair quarterback,” questioning the decisions or motives of leaders.  The writer says “obey those who rule over you.”  God has called ministers to lead the Body of Christ.  Our church governmental structure is minister-led, deacon-served, committee-operated, and congregation-affirmed.  Minsters lead, the pastor leading as first among equals.  We have got a great ministerial team.  Ministers are those who “watch out for your souls as those who must give account.”  Each of us will give an accounting for our leadership before the Lord Himself.  It is a sobering thing for each minister to consider.  This is one reason why the writer asks for prayer, “Let them do so with joy and not with grief,” literally, “not with groaning.”  Ministry can be demanding and exhausting.  At times ministers are like, “aahhgrrrhh!”  The writer urges the minsters to watch out for your souls with joy and not with “aahhgrrhh!”   The reason he says this is, “for that would be unprofitable to you.”  

Choose to assume the best of the motives of those who lead.  Unless they have violated your trust, follow them.  Unless they have taught heresy, follow them.  They are God’s chosen leaders to minister to and through the Body of Christ.  It does not mean your ministerial staff is perfect.  And everyone said, “Amen!”  By no means is any minister perfect, but neither are you perfect.

Church membership is about connecting to a local church and following the leaders of the church as the church is empowered and equipped for ministry.  Leadership is important.  And so is follow-ship!  Resist the secular American tendency to be only loosely affiliated with a number of organizations, like a self-centered “church-shopper” merely tasting what different churches offer them, like a man picking over items at a buffet, avoiding accountability to members and ministers.

The church is not a buffet of items at a restaurant, items for you to pick over to feed yourself, smiling upon some and frowning upon others.  The church is more like a bunch of servers in the restaurant, where each member is gifted to serve one another in ways that make God smile, because ultimately we all serve Him.

(B) Pray For Them – Verses 18-19.

Verse 18 also says, “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.” I and our ministerial staff appreciate the prayers of our people!   Keep praying for your church’s leadership team.  We need your prayer.  

Included in the exercise of prayer is a desire brought out in verse 19, “But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.”  The writer seems to have a close relationship with the Hebrews.  He asks them to pray for them, for the leaders and adds, “that I may be restored to you the sooner.”  The writer most likely had some kind of pastoral relationship with them.  He wishes to see them soon.  

As you run to the finish line, offer sacrifices that are living, be submissive to your leaders, and thirdly . . .

3) Be Strengthened By The Lord – Verses 20-25.

The strengthening that the Lord does in Christians is seen in verses 20 and 21.  The writer is talking about what the God of peace does for us.  The God who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead (verse 20), is the same God who (verse 21 now), “makes us complete in every good work to do His will, working in us what is well pleasing in His sight.”  The phrase “make you complete,” unlike in other places in Hebrews, does not refer to . . .

The completing of our salvation,

But to the equipping of our souls

To live the Christian life as God intends. 

It is God’s providing the strength

We need to run the race.

Verse 20 says, “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.”  Verse 20 is the only explicit reference to the resurrection in the entire Book of Hebrews.  It has been implied in previous texts, but this is the first time it is mentioned in an explicit way.  And that is largely because the author’s stress has been on the ascension of Christ and His current work of intercession as He reigns at the right hand of the Father.

The writer references in verse 20 “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” this is the new covenant we studied a few chapters back.  Unlike the old covenant which has run its course, the new covenant is an “everlasting” or “eternal” covenant.  It lasts forever.  It will never become obsolete or need to be replaced or repeated.  Speaking in grammatical terms: what Christ has done for us is not a comma, but a period.  Better still . . . An exclamation mark!

The writer refers to Christ in verse 20 as “that great Shepherd of the sheep.”  It is kind of neat that there are three different references to Jesus Christ as shepherd in the Bible. 

  • Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep – John 10. 
  • He is referred to as the personal Shepherd who cares for every area of our lives – Psalm 23.
  • He is referred to as the Great Shepherd who has done all that needs to be done to provide for us, protect us, and bring us home.
  • Jesus is referred to as the Chief Shepherd who returns for the sheep and will give us “the crown of glory that does not fade away”   in 1 Peter 5:4.

The Great Shepherd of he sheep lives and intercedes for the sheep.  Always caring for His sheep, the Eternal Shepherd caring in past, present, and future:

  • As the Good Shepherd He dies for us
  • As the Great Shepherd He lives for us
  • As the Chief Shepherd He returns for us

Past, present, and future, or as the writer put it earlier: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Amen! 

Verse 21 states, “Make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  Note again the phrase “make you complete.”  Christ’s work has to do with God’s providing us the strength to do His will.  It is similar to the Bible’s teaching in Philippians 2:12-13 – it is God’s work that makes human work possible. God works in us, strengthening us to live for Him and to do what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.

The strength to please God

Is provided by God Himself. 

We work, we run, we strive,

We persevere, but we do not

Do it in our own strength. 

Christianity is not a religion

Of self-help or self-effort. 

Christianity is the working out

Of what God works in us. 

God strengthens us to do His will,

Bringing pleasure to Himself

As we run our race.

You would think the writer is done, but he is like every preacher: he has always got something else to say!  Verses 21 to 25 are like a PS in his letter.

Verse 22 says, “And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.”

The phrase “I have written to you in few words” may mean that he had much more he wished to say.  Recall, for example, back in Hebrews chapter 5, verse 11 when he said with reference to Melchizedek, “of whom we have much to say…”  Or, remember when he was describing the glory of the earthly tabernacle in chapter 9, verse 5 where he says, “of these things we cannot now speak in detail.”

Verse 23 begins his postscript, “Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.”  Timothy is interestingly the only Christian mentioned by name in the entire epistle!  Timothy apparently had been imprisoned, but we are not told where nor why.

In verse 24, the writer greets everyone, “Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.”  The phrase “and all the saints” suggests there were small groups or house churches meeting throughout the city.  That is an inference, to be sure, but why else would the writer say, “Greet” … “all the saints” if not because not all were present at any one time the letter was read?  He also adds the phrase, “those from Italy greet you.”  Given that Rome was where this letter was first known and quoted, most scholars agree that the audience was in Rome and the writer is writing either from some other location in Italy or abroad and is passing along the greetings of their compatriots. 

The writer concludes with a word of grace in verse 25, “Grace be with you all. Amen.”  What a great way to sign off!  Not better way to conclude a heart-felt correspondence that praying that God’s grace, His unearned favor, His rich blessing of favor in Christ, may grace be with you all, amen.  

As we close this study, I do not want to end without inviting you to receive Jesus Christ as the One who is better than anyone or anything.  If you have been clutching to other gods, let go of them in repentance and take Christ!  Remember that the distinct feature of this letter has been the continual lifting up of Christ as the One who is better than anyone or anything.  Jesus is better!  Be captivated by Christ.  Continue to “fix your eyes on Jesus” as you run the race.  It requires constant diligence and effort.  We have to continually re-calibrate and re-focus throughout the day, looking unto Jesus again and again.

It is so easy to fix our gaze elsewhere.  How many times do we pull out our phones and look at them?  Seems like every time we have a break, we pull out your phone and look at it.   Waiting in line – we pull out your phone and look at it.  Even at a stoplight, I have seen people pull out their phone and look at it.  Waiting on your order at a restaurant – Pull out your phone and look at it.  What if . . . Instead of continually looking at our phones all the time – What if we continually looked at Jesus throughout the day?    Waiting in line – We close our eyes and look to Christ.  At a stoplight – Think about and look to Christ.  Throughout the days of the coming week, I encourage you to look to Christ, re-calibrating, re-focusing our lives by looking at Jesus, being captivated by Him.

He is better than anyone or anything!  At the end of the day, and at the end of our lives, all we have is Christ.  Because we have Him we can run the race with endurance, looking unto Jesus who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross for us.  No matter what happens to us – persecution, suffering, setbacks – you can get through anything, because all you have is Christ, and when you have Christ, He is all you need.

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.”

Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 13:7-14 – Living for the City to Come

Grace For The Journey

We are nearing the end of our studies in the Book of Hebrews.  We will just have one more passage to look at Monday.   We left off yesterday we left off in Hebrews 13 verse 13 looking learning about being content and thankful for Jesus Christ who never leaves us nor forsakes us.  There are two approaches to the issue of contentment – what is and what isn’t.  The “what is” approach looks for things to be grateful for.  The Bible tells us tells us to give thanks “whatever the circumstance.”  During tough times, it takes real discipline to identify the good, dwell on it and take the “what is” approach.  The “what isn’t” approach focuses on what you wish the circumstance were and not what the circumstance actually is.   What happens is sadness and regret pour in the mind as the difference between the ideal and reality is contemplated.  The “what is” approach leads us to be saddened by dreams that do not come true, people who do not measure up, and relationships lost.  This can lead us to spiral into disappointment and depression.  But does not have to be that way!  For each of us, difficult times can turn in to joyful times of thanksgiving or a rough time bringing on depression and loneliness.  The “what is” approach will help keep joy in the our lives regardless of the circumstances.  For the Christian, “what is” is always Jesus and, unlike our circumstances, He never changes, nor does He leave us or forsake us.

So . . .

Focus on what you have in Jesus and be grateful for your family, grateful for your spouse, grateful for your kids and grandkids, grateful to be with them, grateful for what you have and what you can share, grateful for a day to spend time together, to positively influence them, to pray for them, and to love them. 

When I first began studying this passage, I had a hard time seeing it as anything other than a series of disjointed statements; no real connectivity from one verse to the next.   At first glance it seems like there is just a lot of interesting “stand alone” statements that bear no immediate resemblance to one another, much the way puzzle pieces poured out of a puzzle box look to us, scattered across a coffee table.  Each piece has its own identity but there is no immediately obvious connection from one piece to the next . . . No big picture that looks anything like the picture on the cover of the box.

Then, the more I studied, the more I began to see natural connectivity from one verse to the next, verse 7 tying to verse 8, and verse 8 as a bridge to verse 9, and so on.  As the study days passed, I began to see a “big picture” emerging from these eight verses.  By the end of the week, what was especially surprising to me was . . .

To discover how these eight verses

Actually summarize the entire letter of Hebrews! 

Just eight verses and yet a neat and

Succinct exposition of the main themes

We have been studying

Throughout the 13 chapters,

Namely persevering in our faith,

Continuing to run the race,

Our Christian lives, enduring hardships,

With our eyes on Jesus.

My goal today is to teach through this passage and us to see . . .

How this passage

Is a micro-summary

Of the entire letter

And – more importantly

– How we are to live in

light of its teachings. 

The first truth the writer brings out is . . .

1) We Learn from the Faithful – Verses 7-8.

Christians learn from the examples of others, especially from our faithful leaders.  Our faithful leaders.  That is verse 7 says, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.”   When I first read this verse, I thought it had to do with pastors and elders in the church, especially when coupled with verse 17, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

Here is a verse that talks about how ministers shepherd the flock and lead the church.  They do so as those who “watch out for your souls” and “as those who must give account.”  Ministers will give an accounting to God for all they do in ministry.  And the writer says, “Let them do so with joy not with grief.”   He is saying, follow the lead of your ministers and obey them so that joy resounds throughout the church; do not grieve them so that joy is gone, a condition the writer describes as “unprofitable for you.”  Some see verse 17 as going along with verse 7, but I do not think it does.  The writer does not say, “Obey” in verse 7 as he does in verse 17.  He says “Remember,” which suggests that these particular leaders were no longer around.  He is asking them to remember those who have led them, who have “spoken the Word of God to them, those who proclaimed the word of the Gospel to them; those who taught them about Jesus and how to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. 

The writer is calling them to remember them, “considering the outcome of their conduct,” or the “outcome of their lives” – the way their lives turned out and how they lived right on up to the very last day.  They were able to do that because of the example of those who they are asked to remember, “whose faith (they) follow.”  That phrase sums up all of chapter 11.  The writer says in verse 39 of chapter 11, “And all these, obtained a good testimony through faith.”

That is the same idea here in verse 7.  There are godly examples who have gone on before us.  Faithful leaders.  Those whose entire lives are an example of living by faith.  They finished the race.  They kept the faith.  We learn from our faithful leaders.  For many of us this includes not just the men and women of faith in the Bible, but others in our memories who have lived out the Gospel before us while they were here, parents, grandparents, etc.  They modeled genuine faith in Christ.  Remember them.  Our faithful leaders.

The second truth the writer bring out to us is . . .

2) Our Faithful Lord – Verse 8.

This is great statement in verse 8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  The Lord is faithful!  You can count on Him.  He will never let you down.  His nature does not change.  He is always the same.  You can depend upon Him, rest in Him, and trust Him.  He does not vary.  

Verse 8 appears to be a bridge from the thought in verse 7 to the thought in verse 9.  In verse 7 the writer mentions those “who have spoken the Word of God to you,” God’s Word beginning with proclamation of the Gospel.  The Gospel does not change, unlike that which is warned against in verse 9, “various and strange doctrines.”  Christ’s nature does not change, and neither does Christianity change.  

Even in our modern technological world, we have to get software updates on our computer or phone?  You have an iPhone, for example, and mobile operating software on your phone is now at its twelfth major release.  And after iOS 12 comes out in less than two months you have to update it to iOS 13.1.  That is common among things that are imperfect and incomplete.

Christianity needs no updates.  It came to us as a complete body of faith 2,000 years ago, “released,” if you like, released perfectly and utterly sufficient.  And it remains trustworthy, reliable, applicable, and relevant today.  It needs no developers to tweak it or improve upon it.  Like Christ Himself, it is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  

In Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Yancey records an amusing anecdote about Billy Graham who certainly believed in the unchanging nature of Jesus Christ.  After a trip to Russia at the height of the Cold War, Graham came under fire by many political conservatives who said he had “set the church back 50 years.”  When Graham heard that, he lowered his head and replied: “I am deeply ashamed.  I have been trying very hard to set the church back 2,000 years!”  Jesus Christ, the same yesterday today and forever.  We learn from our faithful leaders, our faithful Lord. 

The third truth that the writer brings out to us is . . .

3) We Live By Faith – Verses 9-12.

Two sub-points here.  How do we live by faith?  First . . .

A) By Being Stabilized By Truth – Verse 9a.

The first part of verse 9 states, “Do not be carried about (or carried away) with various and strange doctrines …”  The word “carried about,” or carried away pictures someone who is inadequately grounded and loses his footing, as in being carried away by a strong current at sea; loosing your footing, he is swept away.  This is a person inadequately grounded in truth and is swept away by the strong current of false teaching.  “Various and strange” doctrines are teachings that have been added, wrongly added to the unchanging doctrine of God’s Word.  It is being added in an attempt to improve upon the original message, appealing to man’s desire for the new and novel, or some new thing that will make one man wiser than the next.  In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul is in Athens preaching the Gospel at the Areopagus in Athens.  The Areopagus was a hill where Grecian philosophers gathered regularly.  Remember how Luke described the people there?  He says in Acts 17:21, “For all the Athenian and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.”  Some new teaching.  That statement describes many folks today who are always looking for the newest thing.   They are tired of the old and familiar.  They do not want to hear about the old, old story nor do they want to live by the truths of the Bible, with its teachings about hell and the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone.  The writer uses the imperative mood here in his warning indicating the seriousness of the issue and the need to obey and stay with God’s Word.

Would you be able to recognize “various and strange doctrines” if you heard them from the pulpit, or read them from a book or online?  Would you immediately be able to tell what is strange and unfamiliar and does not belong to the truth?  It is often noted that federal agents are trained to recognize counterfeit currency by carefully studying genuine banknotes.  They become so familiar with the original that any “various” or “strange” markings on the counterfeit is immediately recognizable as foreign.  Agents learn by the fourfold method of “Touching, tilting, looking at and looking through” each note.  When a suspected forgery is in the mix, they can immediately tell by touching (the way it feels), tilting (looking for color in a holograph, for example), looking at and looking through the bill (carefully studying and identifying tiny features often missed by counterfeiters).   

While there is merit in studying cults and world religions, the Christian’s best use of time is to become so familiar with God’s Word by touching, tilting, looking at, and looking through, that he knows that truth.  They know the truth and can immediately spot error, whether that error comes from a teacher, even a much sought-after speaker, or a best-selling book.  There is something in the teaching that does not ring true as we read or listen.  It has all the markings of a counterfeit.  

Christians at every level of growth and experience must continue to study God’s Word by daily studying, studying in small group Bible Study classes, listening to teaching and preaching of the Word, and filling our lives with the truth.  Regular familiarity with the Word keeps us grounded and keeps us from being swept away by false teaching.  We live by faith; we are stabilized by truth. 

Here’s the second sub-point that really is the crux of the passage.  Not only are we stabilized by truth, but we are also . . .

B) Strengthened By Grace – Verses 9b-12.

Verse 9 continues by saying, “ … For it is good that the heart be established by grace (strengthened by grace), not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.  Whatever else this phrase means “foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them,” one thing is clear: the writer is saying . . .

That the way to establishes our hearts

Is the way that strengthens our hearts

Which is another way to say,

Becoming strong in your inner spirit

And having the ability to keep going

When the going is tough.

How to we strengthen our hearts?  The writer says Christians are strengthened by grace; another way of saying living by faith in Christ and growing in Him; this is the way to become strong; strengthening our hearts.

What does he mean by this statement about foods here?  Do not try to strengthen your-self by eating certain foods.   I do not think by “foods” he that he is addressing some kind of new diet that was circulating among the people, promising them both physical and emotional benefits.  Even today we are told that certain foods can strengthen both body and spirit and so people rave about one diet or another.  And they are many, aren’t they?  Atkins diet, Crash Diet, Jenny Craig, Mediterranean, Nutrisystem, Slim Fast, or South Beach.  Neither do I think he is describing organic foods, gluten free, or fat free foods, or sugar free, caffeine free, antioxidants, soy products, or range-free chickens.  Some of those diets may appeal to many of us, especially after Thanksgiving or Christmas week!   There is nothing wrong with any of those methods to be and keep healthy.  I just do not think the writer has in mind popular diets circulating around Rome or other major cities. 

What is he getting at here in verse 9 where he mentions “foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them?”  Given the context of the letter, I think he is talking about those believers who had gone back to the Jewish food and dietary laws and restrictions of the old covenant.  Remember under the old covenant as described in the Old Testament, God’s people were prohibited from eating certain foods; foods described as “unclean.”  There were foods they could not eat and foods they could  eat.    By the time of the new covenant as described in the New Testament, all foods are considered “clean.”

These Jewish converts to Christianity were facing persecution for their faith and many were tempted to go back to the old ways.  And some were trying to find life and meaning with God through observance of the old rules and rituals of the old covenant. The writer is teaching here in verse 9 that the heart is strengthened, or the very essence of a man or woman is made strong, not by Jewish dietary food laws.  He says those food laws have not ever profited anyone spiritually.  They were given to highlight the special relationship between God and His people, to show the world ere are a people separate from the world.  Here are a people who are different, have different ways of living for, and serving, the one true and living God.

Our hearts are not strengthened by

Jewish dietary food restrictions,

But by the grace of God

Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

That is how a heart is made strong.

Applied to us in our day – the way you strengthen your heart is not by external religious practices – Rules and regulations.  The way you strengthen your heart is to see that “the heart is established by grace.”

You want life?  You want a heart for God?  You want to be strong spiritually and be able to grow spiritually strong, and experience God’s presence and power?  It comes by grace, by believing in Christ, and allowing God’s grace to pour in you and through you as you grow in your faith in Jesus Christ.  It comes by getting to know Him through prayer, conversations with God throughout the day, reading His Word, hearing from Him in the Bible, worshiping with the Body of Christ, small group study, preaching, musical singing and worship.  This is how the heart is “established by grace.”  Not by slavishly obeying food laws or other ceremonial laws or sacraments in a mechanical impersonal way that has nothing to do with the grace of God.  

We are to live Christ, breathe Christ, talk Christ, and think Jesus Christ – Strengthening our hearts by grace is to live a Christ-intoxicated life.  

This truth is expanded upon in the following verse 10, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.”   The writer is stressing the difference between the old and new covenant.  He is using the term “altar” here in a figurative sense, saying that we Christians have a different kind of altar than the altar under the old covenant tabernacle worship of the Israelites.  Our altar is, in essence, the cross of Christ.  And, “those who serve the tabernacle,” that is, those priests serving under the old covenant “have no right to eat” at this altar, the altar of Christ.  They have no right because they refuse Christ or reject Christ.  They do not see that Christ is the fulfillment of the old covenant promises.

The writer has said throughout this letter that all of the things under the old covenant were shadows of, or pointers to, the reality found in Christ, pointing forward to the Christ who would come.  Every animal sacrifice offered under the old covenant, whether during the time of the tabernacle or the temple, every animal sacrifice pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ.  When an animal was sacrificed on the altar by a priest, it accomplished a temporary kind of forgiveness, but the blood of bulls and goats itself could never permanently remove sin.  These animal sacrifices prepared the people to understand the need for a greater sacrifice to come – the perfect Lamb of God – Jesus – who takes away the sin of the world.  While believers under the old covenant did not enjoy as much revelation from God as we enjoy today, they were saved the same way as we are – by grace alone, through faith alone, in the perfect sacrifice to come, Jesus Christ alone.

Anyone who is trying today to live under the old covenant, the old altar, robs himself of the rich “feast” of feeding on Christ at the new altar of the Gospel.  That is his point here in verse 10.  We have an altar, a better, new testament altar, the altar of the cross of Christ, from which comes life in every sense of the word!  Jesus is better than anything or anyone.  

Verse 11 states, “For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp.”  The author is now comparing the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement and the offering of Jesus Christ.  You can read Leviticus 16 later for the background.  Leviticus 16 teaches that the high priest was not allowed to eat food from the animals sacrificed on the Day of Atonement.   Unlike most of the Old Testament offerings, the remains, or the “bodies of those animals” used in the sin offering were “burned outside the camp.”  They were not allowed in the sacred precincts of the camp. 

Now watch the connection to verse 1, “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.”  The writer is saying that Jesus, like the sin offering on the Day of Atonement, “suffered outside the gate.”  This is a reference to the cross at Calvary.  Jesus carried His cross to Golgotha, outside the city, outside the city gate, where He suffered and died as a sacrificial offering for our sin.   And like the sin offering on the Day of Atonement under the old covenant, Jesus was not permitted inside the sacred precincts of the camp.  He suffered outside the gate, outside the city of Jerusalem.  He died outside the gate.  He was buried outside the gate.  But . . . Look what Jesus’ suffering accomplished – not a temporary forgiveness of an animal offering, but He suffered, “that He might sanctify the people with His own blood.”  What can wash away my sin?  What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus – His life and death on our behalf as the perfect, once-for-all atoning sacrifice for our sin.  He makes us holy.  Not foods.  Not animal sacrifices.  Jesus Christ.

This is the central theme of the letter! 

Jesus is better than anyone or

Anything under the old covenant. 

Jesus is better!

Now watch how the writer skillfully connects the theme of Jesus’ better sacrifice to Christian suffering.  Jesus “suffered outside the gate,” rejected by those inside the gate, inside the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was treated no better than an unclean animal carcass, not allowed inside the sacred city.  Jesus suffered outside the gate.  He suffered shame, disgrace, and the reproach of unbelievers.  Verse 13 says, “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” 

Here’s another main theme of the book of Hebrews. 

Do not collapse under suffering. 

Do not give-in when

Persecuted for your faith.

Jesus suffered.  We will suffer with Him.  And the key to getting through the suffering, hardships, difficulties, and persecution is to look forward to the future heavenly rewards that are ours in Christ.  We learn from the faithful, we live by faith, and . . .

3) We Look To The Future –  Verses 13-14.

The writer shows us we do this in two ways . . .

A) Bearing The Reproach He Endured – Verse 13.

Verse 13 declares, “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”  He suffered for us.  Why should we not expect to suffer for Him.  This is what the hymn-writer is talking about when he says, “My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus.”  He is talking about going forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  He is talking about our expecting reproach this week as a Christian; not being surprised when we are ridiculed for our faith.  We bear His reproach.  Christianity is not something people immediately and universally accept as true.  Why? 

Because Christianity strikes at

The center of our pride. 

It does not tell us

We are good people and

We can become better. 

Christianity tells us we are sinners

And we cannot become better. 

That is not a popular message.

That is bad news.  Separated from God now and hereafter because of our sin.  We should not expect people to immediately run to Christ, run to a faith system that insults their pride, when every other major religion appeals to their pride.  

All other religions say, “You can do this.  You just need to work at it.  Live a good life.  Do these things.”  It is performance-based.  It suggests you can, if you just bear down and push through, you have the strength within you to rise above your circumstances and earn a way into paradise.  Christianity says that is bogus.  You cannot do it.  You are a sinner.  And God is holy.  Try as you may, you will always sin.   You will never consistently “not sin.”  If you hope to stand in the presence of a holy and perfect God, you will have to consistently none of us can.  

Bad news, right?  But . . . And here is the Good News, here is the Gospel!  Rather than expecting us to come to Him, God comes to us in Christ, lives a perfect life for which we can get credit, dies a perfect death of substitution in our place, and is risen from the dead as God’s acceptance of what He has done.  Jesus took our punishment upon Himself on “the altar,” the altar of the cross outside the gate.  If we believe on Him, we feed on Him, we take Him into our lives, we are saved.  Good News!  But . . .It requires our admitting we are sinners, not as clever as we think we are, not as good as our moms and neighbors tell us we are.  No, we are sinners in need of a Savior.  When we share that message, we can expect to bear His reproach.

The initial readers of this letter were looking for a way to avoid His reproach.  They wanted to remain in God’s favor without the suffering.  They wanted the blessings of life under the One True and Living God, but without the bloody, crucified Messiah part.  The writer of Hebrews is, in essence, saying: “Not possible.”  And furthermore, “Why would you want to turn your back on the very One to whom the entire old covenant points?!”  Without Christ there is nothing.  All you have is an old covenant religious system that has removed the climax, the very apex of the entire system; like removing the peak of a mountain, or the roof of a house, or the cornerstone of a building.  Without Christ, you have nothing!

They were challenged to leave the safety and security of the old covenant ways, their social and emotional attachments to the temple, fellowship, family, all that they were familiar with – leave it and go out, bearing the reproach of Christ – not unlike what the writer says about Moses back in Chapter 11.  Remember Hebrews 11:26, where he says Moses esteemed, “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he looked to the reward.”

That is the second sub-point.  We look to the future, bearing the reproach He endured and . . .

B) Anticipating The Reward He Secured – Verse 14.

Bearing Christ’s reproach can be a challenge.  When faced with persecution, we may be tempted like the folks who read this letter 2,000 years ago, to go back to seemingly easier ways of our lives before Christ.  But . . .

The key is not to look back,

But to look ahead –

To look to the future,

Anticipating the reward

Christ has secured!

Verse 14 says, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”  Like Abraham, we do not find life in this “city,” a city that does not continue.  We look to a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).  

That is especially important to remember when you are facing reproach and ridicule for your faith.  When ridiculed, do not buckle . . . Go to Jesus outside the gate and identify with Him.  Your life is in Him . . . Not in the approval of others!

We are outsiders.  We are on the outside.  Remember that as Christians.  Watch yourself.  Our “old man,” the old us, that is still with us, the prideful self does not like to be an outlier, the strange person going against the flow of popular culture.  I mean, it is easy in church.  We are on the inside and we are among friends.  But once we go outside the church building, we find ourselves among the world, where things are less comfortable.  We are regarded as being on the “wrong side” of things. 

Ladies gathering together for coffee or tea, the conversation turns to risqué television shows or lurid movies, and there is the gentle sound of laughter among the group, and one turns to you and asks, “And what do like?”  The guys out back having a break among the water cooler in the fog of cigarette smoke and coarse joking, and someone turns to you and asks, “What do you think?”  When you live your faith, and share your faith, you will be an outlier.  

When you are at work or school this week, your faith in Christ may come at the cost of being regarded as “out of touch,” outside the popular circle, outside the gate.  When it happens, just look to the future; look to the reward Christ secured for you.  This world is not our home.  There is a world to come for the Christian – a grand and good world to come.  For here we have no continuing city, but there we do!  A continuing city, continuing into eternity.  

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.”

Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 13:1-6 – Actions That Come From Our Gratitude For What God Has Done

Grace For The Journey

  Today we come to the last chapter of our verse-by-verse study through Hebrews. Chapter 13 is a chapter containing a number of practical exhortations about living the Christian life in our everyday world.  The writer reminds us that Hebrews . . .

Is not primarily a theological

Treatise on the new covenant,

But a letter written to real people

Living in the real world.

It is a letter about how

Theology is to be lived out.  

Doctrine leads to duty.

Instruction leads to application.

Revelation (the revealed word) leads to responsibility.

Yesterday we saw that we belong to an unshakable kingdom and the things that cannot be taken from us.  This leads us to grateful hearts, surrendered wills, and spirited of God.

What that worshipful gratitude looks like is evidenced in the succeeding actions of Chapter 13. We will be looking at the first six verses this morning.  Through our study we will discover three main things—compassion towards others, a commitment to purity; and then contentment with the things we have.

We are going to be looking this morning at how . . .

Gratitude to God for the life

We have in Christ leads to specific

Attitudes towards God and one another.  

The Gospel empowers us and

Motivates us to live rightly among others.

You may have heard about the pastor who was preaching on forgiveness, forgiving one another, and especially forgiving our enemies.  After he preached the message, he asked his congregation by show of hands, “How many of you can forgive your enemies?”  Most of the hands went up, but there was this sweet older lady on the front row who did not raise her hand.  And he said to her, “Mrs. Smith, can you not forgive your enemies?”  To which she replied, “Well, I don’t have any.”  And the pastor said, “Really!  No enemies.  What a great example for us!” And he asked her join him on the platform.  And he said, “How old are you, Mrs. Smith.” She said, “I’m 98 years old.”  He said, “98 years old and no enemies!  How is that possible?” And She said, “It’s easy. I’ve simply outlived them all!”

The writer of Hebrews wants us to do more than outlive our enemies.  The Gospel empowers us and motivates us to love God and love others rightly.  Let me invite you to consider these three main actions Christians are to have . . .

1) Be Compassionate Towards People – Verses 1-3.

Verse one states, “Let brotherly love continue.”  The word “love” is the Greek word “philadeplhia.”  J. Vernon McGee insists we translate it “brother Love” and I think he may be right.  Brotherly sounds a bit weak, almost optional, whereas Brother Love is real clear: Love your brother.  He is talking about our Christian brothers and sisters.  Our brother is any man or woman, who is “in Christ.”

This verse is similar to Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” We are to love for one another in the church with a brother love, irrespective of race, regardless of social background or personality type. The writer says we are to let brotherly love “continue.”    This  suggests we have a tendency to forget.  We are to keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters regardless what they do or say.  Then this love for one another within the church is to flow out the church doors and into the community – a love for others who are not necessarily brothers and sisters.

Verse 2 tells us, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”  The word “strangers” is a word that suggests both Christians and non-Christians. In fact, there seems to be a wordplay in the original, in the Greek.  Brother love was “philadelphia” and this word for strangers is “philoxenia” and so the writer is saying something like, “Hey, remember: Compassion towards people includes both philadelphia and philoxenia.”

The word “entertain” connotes hospitality, demonstrating compassionate hospitality towards strangers.  He has in mind active compassion towards those who are in need. In first century, this active compassion often took the form of providing a place to stay and food to eat.  When folks were traveling in the ancient near east, there were no Holiday Inns or Comfort Suites that provided comfortable, safe rooms, and hot breakfasts. Many inns were dangerous and uncomfortable places.  So, Christians provided their own houses as places of refuge for weary travelers.  

The natural attitude of a Christian is one of hospitality.  Christians want to be hospitable to both believers and nonbelievers.  It makes us feel good to provide for others.  But we can forget over time and become protective of our things. Churches can turn inward and forget to turn outward.

I heard about a grandfather who used to say this short humorous prayer when he prayed before his meals, “Thank God for the four of us; thank God there is no more of us!”  Some people apply that sort of thinking to the church – “Us four and no more.”  The Bible says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers.”  Reach out.  Provide for others. Invite them to come in.

Then the writer makes a statement in verse 2 that causes us to sit up and take notice, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly, or unknowingly entertained angels.”  In showing hospitality to strangers, some Christians have entertained angels without realizing it.  Is that an amazing sentence?!   What is he getting at?  We have noted before the writer takes for granted that his readers know the Old Testament well. He may be alluding to Abraham back in Genesis 18 and 19; Abraham’s showing hospitality to some mysterious visitors not knowing they were actually angels.

Do not miss the author’s point here.  He does not want us to get sidetracked on a theological discussion about angelology, the study of angels in the Scriptures and what angels really look like, and so on.  There is a place for that, but that is not what he’s wanting us to do . . .

He is wanting us to be

Compassionate towards

People, all people,

Even folks we don’t know.

This is a pretty clever way of saying, in essence: Just act like every person you meet is an angel, and you will do well.  Just act like every person you run into, whether you know them or not, just treat them like an angel, and you will be showing genuine love, genuine compassion and hospitality. 

That homeless person outside the restaurant; the old man in the wheelchair you are walking by in the hallway; the wanderer alongside the highway.  If you knew they were angels, would you be more likely to be hospitable?  The salesperson who is interrupting the ballgame knocking on your door; the single mom with the unruly child ahead of you in line at the grocery store; the young lady in prison.

Verse 3 specifically speaks to this, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated –since you yourselves are in the body also.”  Remember the prisoners.  Be compassionate towards them, too.  He probably means primarily those who are in prison for persecution.  You will recall that from chapter 10 where he recalled this attitude earlier, Hebrews 10:34, “You had compassion on those in prison.”  Christian persecution led to mistreatment.  The writer encourages his readers to remember them “as if chained with them,” and he adds, “since you yourselves are in the body also.”  That last phrase could refer to the Body of Christ, the church. You and I are members of the body, the church.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12;26, “When one member of the body suffers, all the body suffers.”  The writer could be just referring to the physical limitations of our human bodies.  We all are “in the body” and therefore we suffer hunger and pain.  In either case, the point is clear: Remember those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering, feeling their pain in your own bodies.

I said that the writer probably has in mind primarily those who are in prison for persecution.  At the same time, however, we know that people were often imprisoned in Bible times for other reasons: inability to pay debts, for example, as some of the parables of Jesus reflect.  There could be other reasons for imprisonment, men and women unjustly prosecuted, or people awaiting trial.  In any case, our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-36, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  When Jesus spoke those words in Matthew 25 the people are like, “Wait a minute Jesus, I do not remember your being in prison!  You!  Locked up?!  I do not remember your asking me for a sandwich outside Subway last week!  I do not remember your asking for a couple bucks standing along the main strip in Butler.  I think I’d remember that.”  And Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

Our first action – Be compassionate towards people.  Our second action . . .

II. Be Committed To Purity – Verse 4.

Verse 4 says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”  Here is a clarion call to purity, a commitment to sexual purity. The writer first extols the virtue of marriage.  He says marriage is honorable among all, it is a good thing.  Not everyone must be married, but it is a good thing to be married.  Honoring marriage among all includes abiding by God’s exclusive definition of marriage as the committed monogamous union of a man and a woman.  To define Christian marriage otherwise is to impose upon God’s definition man’s rebellious preferences.

The writer adds, “and the bed undefiled.”  That is another way of saying sex within marriage is a good thing.  Christian intimacy is neither bad, nor dirty, nor evil.  It is honorable and the bed undefiled.  Truth is, no one enjoys intimacy better than Christian husbands and wives.  Intimacy is God’s gift.  But it is an intimacy to be enjoyed in the boundaries of marriage.

Then the writer adds this statement at the end of verse 4, “but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”  The word “fornicators” is the word “pornous,” from which we get “pornography.”  It is a word that encompasses sexual immorality in general, and more specifically sexual impurity among those who are unmarried.  The word translated “adulterers” is a different word, a word that refers to impure relationship among married persons.

The last three words of verse 4 should get our attention: “God will judge.”  God will judge all “fornicators and adulterers.”  Those who are not Christians have even greater cause for concern in that God will judge them outside of Christ.  Unbelievers have no righteousness of Christ credited to them.  They are separated from God.  Their fornication or adultery is part of their sin in general that needs the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  They need to be saved to escape final condemnation in hell.  Maybe some of you reading this today need Christ. You need to repent, turn from your sin, and turn to Jesus to be saved.

God will also judge the Christian who has engaged in fornication or adultery.  The judgment of God for Christians does not mean final condemnation in hell.  It means God will discipline Christians.  Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”  God’s judgment upon Christians is not about God’s punishing us and final condemnation in hell.  Jesus Christ took all of God’s punishment upon us for sin; Jesus took all the wrath of God for believers.  How we thank God for that!

God’s judgment upon Christians who engage in fornication and adultery has to do with His chastening and scourging those He loves.  This judgment has to do with loss of future rewards in heaven as well as His allowing us to suffer consequences here in this life.  King David for his adultery, for example, suffered great consequences for his sexual immorality.  You cannot help but notice it in the years of his life after he committed adultery with Bathsheba.  He was a broken man, a weaker man.  A bird does not fly as high when its wing is damaged.  We are wise to take heed to the writer’s warning and be committed to purity.  Paul warns in Galatians 6:7: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

We have always needed this call for sexual purity among God’s people.  It is a message that is not always well received by popular culture.  Even John the Baptist got his head chopped off for preaching against open marriage (Matthew 14).  Despite the popular Hollywood movies, despite the popular music we stream on our devices, despite the popular television, Netflix and Hulu episodes, sex belongs exclusively in marriage and nowhere else.  Does that sound prudish?  I am sure it does by today’s lax moral standards, but it is true nonetheless.  You will be glad to follow God’s Word to the letter here.  It will save you from a world of hurt.

Someone has rightly said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”  If someone laughs at you for being so “puritanical,” you tell them, “Thank you!”  Do you know what the word puritanical means?  It comes from the word “puritan.”  Like our godly English Baptist forebears who crossed the Atlantic to live in this country as those who loved God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength it is a badge of honor to be called puritanical.  But before we “Amen” too loudly, let us remember it was Jesus who said that adultery is not just something you do with your body, but adultery is something you can do with your mind, with your thinking.  In Matthew 5:27-28 He said, ““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

Looking lustfully at the opposite sex leads to adultery in the heart.  Looking lustfully, thinking inappropriate thoughts, and viewing sexually explicit images on the internet, all of these things may lead to our downfall if we do not take charge of our thoughts and, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “…take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  It takes discipline.  Adrian Rogers used to say about people of whom it is said “How far they had fallen,” that we did not know how low they were living.  In other words, people do not usually fall a great distance all at once.  It occurs little by little over time.  Compromise here, a little compromise there.  We cover up on the outside, but we have been living low for quite some time, indulging that secret sin.  Deal with it and get rid of it this morning.  Decide to live for the Lord instead of for lust.  And when you sense that it is starting to raise its ugly head again through sexually suggestive comments others make, or you think, or a joke, or something that you see on a screen, act against it again.

When we are driving on the highway and all of us have seen those guardrails around curves and alongside a bridge.  Why are they there?  They are there not to punish you, but to keep you on the road, to keep you from veering off in the wrong direction.  God’s rules for sex and marriage are like guardrails that God has put up in your life, not to punish you, but to keep you on the road of life and to keep you from veering from His way and hurting yourself.

Our first action – Be compassionate towards people . . . Our second action – Be committed to purity.  Thirdly . . .

III. Be Content With Possessions – Verses 5-6.

Verse 5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.  For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”  This was one of my first memory verses years ago.  I memorized from the King James Version and it reads, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.’”  The word “conversation” was the Old English way of referring to “behavior.”  The writer is talking about our behavior, or our conduct being without covetousness, but be content with such things as you have.

In the original, in the Greek, “covetousness” is more literally, “the love of money.”  The real focus here is keeping our lives free from love of money.  Remember, it is not money that is the problem, it is the love of money.  The Bible tells us in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil …”  God is wanting us to be honest with our hearts here.  If someone says they do not love money, but they fantasize about it, romance it, and lose sleep over it, that sounds a lot like love to me!

The writer goes on to say, “Be content with such things as you have.”  He is not saying, “Stop working.  Just lay down and don’t do anything.”  Contentment is not a call to be idle.  The Bible is replete with exhortations to hard work, even build wealth, and being good economic stewards of what God gives you.  What the writer is doing here is giving Christians an important spiritual principle: Don’t love stuff.  It is the 10th Commandment: Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Madison Avenue suggests something very different!  They may as well say: “Covet this! Covet that!”   I heard about a man and his wife who were in a meeting one time and they were talking to some friends during a break.  The wife complimented her friend for the dress she was wearing.  The woman said, “Well I didn’t want to covet it, so I bought it!”  I do not think that is what the writer has in mind!

Notice something unexpected here in verse 5.  The writer says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.”  You would expect the writer to conclude by saying something like, “for God will provide all you need.”  But he does not do that.  The writer says, “… Be content with such things as you have,” why? “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ and he is quoting there from Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1.

The writer is teaching us that

Contentment is something built

Upon the character of God, namely

The fact that He is always with us.

His will always be present.

Literally, the Greek is, “No, I will not leave, no, nor forsake you.’”  My English teacher in high school used to get on to me using a double-negative in my papers.  Notice that God uses a quadruple negative!  “No … I will not … no … nor…”

Verse 6 expands upon this fact . . .

That the Lord Himself is

The bedrock of our security.

Contentment does not come from

Our owning a lot of things and

Having enough and feeling secure

So we can sit back and enjoy it all.

Contentment is found in Christ alone.

Verse 6 declares, “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”  This is a quote from Psalm 118, a popular Jewish Thanksgiving Psalm, used often in festivals.  The writer is driving home the point that contentment is found solely in Christ. This was Paul’s point in Philippians 4: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” … “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verses 11-14).

One writer says we must remember that nothing overly tragic can happen to us.  We can lose everything we have, and it will be okay so long as we endure in the faith.  our Lord warns in Luke 12:15, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”  I admit this is easy to say and a much harder thing to actually live out.  But everything that can be taken away from us will be taken away from us one day.  Nevertheless, we have everything we need in Christ, and we can be content because we serve a God who cares for us. The Lord is on our side.  Our life is in Christ! He is our greatest possession. All I have is Christ!

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.”