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Reference: Ezra 6 v 13-22
You can’t beat a good celebration!
Whether you’re an out and out party animal, or a reserved “let’s keep it all quiet” sort of person – we all need to celebrate.
Last week was a great example of a nation celebrating, as a young royal married his princess. As the bishop said: “Two people fell in love, and we all turned up”. There’s plenty in the world to make us feel down – but occasionally we can celebrate. Last week’s wedding was such an event. And now we come to a passage in Ezra, where, after all the trials they have been through, the people of God burst into unrestrained celebration. Here’s the passage from Ezra 6:
Then, because of the decree King Darius had sent, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates carried it out with diligence. So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. For the dedication of this house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and, as a sin offering] for all Israel, twelve male goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel. And they installed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their groups for the service of God at Jerusalem, according to what is written in the Book of Moses.
On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover. The priests and Levites had purified themselves and were all ceremonially clean. The Levites slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles, for their relatives the priests and for themselves. So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbours in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel. For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the LORD had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.
This is a great moment in the lives of these people who had returned from Babylon and who had endured s much.
1. A Milestone to Celebrate
“the LORD had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.”
We need to be a people who celebrate every work of God in our lives, from financial provision to major breakthroughs…God is the one who works supernaturally on our behalf every day. We need to acknowledge that and mark it with celebration.
2. A Means to celebrate
How weird is this to 21st century eyes:
“Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. For the dedication of this house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and, as a sin offering] for all Israel, twelve male goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel.”
What a way to celebrate: killing hundreds of animals, and offering them to God!
But they knew, and we know today, that the only basis on which God can be a part of our lives is if our sin, that which keeps us from God, is dealt with. The only that sin can be dealt with is if justice for it is done completely. And the only way that we can be free from that deserved justice, to experience God’s love, is if something, or someone else stands in our place to take the consequences of our sin. So celebration has to be accompanied by sacrifice. And today, it is no different.
3. A Meal to Celebrate
Many hundreds of years previously God had taken the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. After a series of devastating plagues he brought a catastrophic judgement on the Egyptians, killing the first born in every house. Yet for the Israelites, the blood of a lamb slaughtered in every house meant that God “passed over” their houses and they were spared. Ever since then, they had celebrated the Passover, with a special meal. A Celebration of God’s sparing them from judgement.
Today we celebrate our own Passover. There are no more lambs or goats to be killed in our place. Instead, we remember the once for all time sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, who offered himself for our sin, so that when God judges the world, as He will, He can pass over all those who have trusted in Jesus. Jesus is our Passover Lamb. With bread and wine we remember that today. And we celebrate, with hearts full of joy and gratitude.