Talk given at Poole High School for Poole Christian Fellowship on 28 January 2017.
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Reference: Ezra 1 v 1-4
This is the second in the series “Rise Up and Build” in which we are walking together through the book of Ezra. After last weeks’ general introduction we start to look at the text today:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”
The story so far:
In the book of Exodus God delivered his people out of slavery under Moses. With signs and miracles he brought them over the Red Sea and in his love he gave them a law and showed them how to live. Note the order: God saves us, and then teaches us how to live. If we truly belong to God, then there is nothing that will stop us from being his people. But is does not follow that we will continue to experience his blessings. In the desert they disobeyed God and it was a full 40 years before they went into the land. When they eventually did possess the land under Joshua they quickly went back into their old ways. There were high points – notably the reign of King David – but the story of the years in the land is of years of disobedience, during which God told them again and again that they would forfeit the land they had been given. Eventually there was no other way to resolve the issue, and Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem and the people of Israel were taken into captivity. When we pick up the story the years of exile are about to come to an end.
1. God’s Discipline
God has no need to “get even” with his people. All vengeance for sin happened at the cross. For those who believe in Jesus as their saviour that transaction is done forever. But God is a loving Father who disciplines His children. So we may expect that when we wander from His ways, a loving Father will not leave us to our own devices. Instead He comes after us with his merciful discipline. At the start of this book, the Jews have been on the receiving end of that for 70 years.
Maybe there are some of us who know that we have let the Lord down. We have experienced the consequences of our foolishness. With God there is always a way back. His justice and his discipline are a part of His love for us.
When |Jerusalem was being burnt down the writer of Lamentations wrote these words:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him…. ….. For no one is cast off by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.
God’s dealings with us mean that he only works in us for our good.
Which bring us onto our second point:
2. God’s Faithfulness
The passage starts
, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah,
Jeremiah, who had prophesied repeatedly the fall of Jerusalem had also prophesied that Jerusalem would be restored.
This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future… I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
The point is, that however dark things may become. God remains faithful. And every promise that He has made He will fulfil. That is true for the human race for churches and for individuals. What has God promised you?
3. God’s Sovereignty
It is one thing to believe that God is faithful It is quite another to believe that He has the power to do what He has promised. Here we have a most extraordinary, almost unbelievable situation. There was no way that the Baylonians were going to let the Jews return to Jerusalem. So what does God do? Regime change. Cyrus defeats the Babylonians and makes it possible for the Jews to return home. The lesson here? God is sovereign. He can manipulate nations and empires if He wants to to fulfil His will. Amazingly, years before King Cyrus was born Isaiah had prophesied:
who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”
I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty.”
God can do whatever He likes! That means that your life is under the hand of God. It means that everything in your life, including the hard things, are under God’s sovereign care.
4. God’s Invitation
And now we come to the key point, not only of this talk, but of this book. Having experienced God’s discipline, his faithfulness and His sovereignty, God’s people now have an invitation from Him. It is an invitation to work with Him on the rebuilding on His temple, so that God can be worshiped by the nations. What an amazing privilege. Rebellious backsliders get to participate in God’s plan!
That is true of us as well. Whatever we may have done, whatever background we are from, however we may have let the Lord down, today we receive an invitation to join with Jesus in building His church.
We are children of the promise, the promise Jesus issue when He said “I will build my church”. So we have an opportunity to join with Him in the greatest task of all time, the task of working with Hi to build His church. There is no greater job.
Incredibly, many of the Jews didn’t make the trip back to Jerusalem. It was just too comfortable! There were too many dangers and too much opposition. Similarly, the invitation to build with Jesus is a costly one. There are so many more comfortable things to give our energy to. But we risk foregoing the opportunity to build with Jesus a temple, a house that will be God’s church and part of eternity with Him forever. Would it not be extremely foolish to turn down such a gracious invitation?
So for all of us, let’s not be like the excuse- makers that Haggai prophesied about when he said “These people say “the time has not yet come for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt””. Let’s be those who say. Yes. Lord, I hear your invitation, I believe the time is now. What can I do to help?
“We will stand as children of the promise.
We will fix our eyes on Him our soul’s reward.
Till the race is finished and the work is done.
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight”