UNFINISHED HOPE | Week 2: Unfinished Journey
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ezra 1:1–2:63
Christopher Rich – Sept 24, 2017
UNFINISHED HOPE | EZRA-NEHEMIAH | Wk 2
Unfinished Journey | Ezra 1-2
Introduction | Unfinished
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we continue UNFINISHED HOPE - Our Ruins His Restoration our sermon series looking at the books of EZRA-NEHEMIAH. The two books of Ezra-Nehemiah are one united text with three accounts of different leaders (Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah) returning to rebuild different aspects of the city (altar/worship, community/law, and walls/structure) facing opposition, overcoming, celebrating but then seeing the efforts backslide and fail. There is great hope when the process is going, but each time that hope is not fully realized it is unfinished. Through these cycles of recognition, return, rebuild, and regression we are reminded of the simple truth that Our efforts on our own will never be sufficient to overcome our ruins. They will always be fragile falling back to decay. So for us as disciples of Jesus, or individuals who seek to grow and change we cannot look to the image of building a wall (strong and stable) for where we get strong enough to overcome all opposition. We also spent a significant amount of time walking through How God’s people got to the place they found themselves in. There was a decided lack of innocence but there was generations of God’s people who continued to walk in apostasy and idolatry. So in 1 Chron 9:1 we read the reason God’s people were taken into exile was their sin and faithlessness to responded to the saving work of God in their lives and their people with obedience and faithful worship. The city has been decimated, the temple destroyed, and the people deported, and vessels of worship desecrated. God’s people have been in exile for a few decades. As we open Ezra the journey from exile to Holy city begins as God’ people return to a home they’ve never known.
PART I | Declaration of Freedom | Ezra 1:1-6
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever 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 rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”
Every journey of restoration has a starting point. Interesting how this one started, because of the apparent source of the initiating action. It didn’t come from an internal revolt or protest from the Israelites. From a worldly prospective it came from the actions and decree of the Persian pagan king Cyrus. This happened in history 539 BC when he issues the Cyrus Cylinder which some secular historians refer to as the first bill of rights. Yet her we see the initiator isn’t actually Cyrus but God fulfilling His promises to His people through him (the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus). For Cyrus, lets’ not be confused with his motives or the purity of His worship of God. He was a pragmatic politician who saw how other empires (like Babylon) had been so tightly ruled in attempting to belittle and eradicate their cultures, customs, and religions that people actually became MORE hostile and rebellions to their imperial agenda. Conversely Persia actually encouraged local tribes, cities, regions to continue (even more ‘faithfully’) their religious practices as a pacification strategy. If they have their little gods but don’t interfere with Persian rule they will be content. It is Cyrus that ordered the people of Babylon to continue to fund and participate in worshipping the god marduk (bull sun god of Bablyon) and protect the temple because who he gave credit for helping him overcome Babylon. When he calls the God of the Bible “the God of Heaven” that’s him showing deference to the people of the God of the Bible, but not necessarily God himself. He is the God in Jerusalem….. close but not right on. Because Cyrus was Zoroastrian there is a chief God Ahura Mazada who is in a power struggle so the “God of Jerusalem” is just one of the “good gods” that helped a brother out in his quest to take over the whole world. It didn’t last long for Cyrus because he was killed in battle in 530 BC and none of us woke up fearing Medo-Persia. His whole life Cyrus thought he was building his own kingdom only when in fact it was all for God to use him to not build an empire but set people free to build God’s city for God’s people. Exile is over. Jeremiah said 70 years of captivity but gave hope that God had plans for you. Before Persia, Babylon was used by God to judge Israel, but they would not flourish or endure. The God who rightly exiles also graciously restores and returns His people to His presence. God is always the initiator – using Cyrus to cast out enemies, God gave him authority, for a purpose as promised.
Isaiah 44:28 | who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’”
Isaiah 45:12-13 | 12I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. 13 I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the Lord of hosts.
Isaiah preceded the exile by well over100 years and the fulfillment by nearly 200. Cyrus “First year” would be 539 BC and Isaiah was writing in 740-700 BC… and he’s giving a play by play like a live broadcast. This would be like someone writing is Israel in 1740 that Roosevelt would lead the US to overthrow Nazi Germany 200 years later…. If you read that in the rearview you might want to know what else he had to say. The purpose of pulling this in is not bible trivia but to see the God of the universe is the author of the story, so He can be trusted to know, foretell, and even orchestrate His story as it unfolds in time for us, but for Him it is already written. That should give us great peace as we consider the promises of God in light of whatever circumstances you might find yourself in at this present moment. So when in exile or captivity take heart that God had already written a story that He says is for your good, your flourishing, and a future hope. In this case God is beginning a new/second exodus. He has heard the cries of his people, they are in exile and He will free them. A millennium earlier God had taken out 4 million people from slavery in Egypt, led them through the wilderness to a promised land they were to inhabit and worship him in. They weren’t simply a family but a nation. Now this nation had fallen over a period of 500 years and have spent the past 50-70 in what can only be described as a long dark night of captivity and slavery again. Now we’ll see what returns to the land Certainly not a world superpower ready to reclaim their place as a favored elite nation. But instead we see a paired down, pruned back, relativity small community drawn out that looks more like a small church than a great kingdom.
Ezra 1:5-6 | 5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. 6 And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered.
God is the initiator of the declaration and He is the initiator of the response. The declaration went out to the entire land of Persia that now included all of what was Babylon and had people from each of the 12 tribes of Israel but we see not all of them respond. They’ve gotten comfortable in exile and captivity. Only three tribes of the twelve represented. Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites. God stirred in them a heart to rebuild what was ruined. They were saved for a purpose. God saves releasing His people for a purpose, you’re not released to be independent nomads, but purposeful pilgrims on a new journey towards joy. This is God who is calling each person to return to Jesus – though you’ve been exiled since birth by sin. How has God been stirring your spirit to want more, find peace, be home? God is calling His people back to Jesus.
In all this God is the one who is doing the work, for His Glory but look at how He’s doing the work. THROUGH individuals, families, and governments, even favor with their communities around them. When it says “all who were about them” it’s talking about their unbelieving/gentile neighbors. These people, these exiles who have been charged with seeking the welfare of the cites they were exiled to have been walking in obedience and the response to obedience to God and His commands is they are thought well of and esteemed in the community around them. Let this be said of us in an increasingly pagan and pluralistic culture we find ourselves in that we care enough about the cities and places we dwell that we seek their welfare effectively that even if/when charges are leveled against us they fall flat on a choirs of “we know they care about us, because they have shown us.” This charge has been given to new testament/new covenant Christians. We are called by Jesus to love our neighbors so we should… Love our neighbors.
PART II | Vessels of worship | v7-11
Ezra 1:7-11| 7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9 And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 10 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 11 all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.
When you read of the destruction of the temple, taking the vessels of worship as trophies by pagan leaders showing the domination of the Babylonian god over the God of Israel (Yahweh, IAM) how discouraging and faith fracturing would that be. The height of pride would happen a few generations later when the Babylonian king (with His city under siege) would throw an epic frat party and call for these holy vessels of Israel be brought out to be abused and desecrated. And now God, again with His mighty hand through the rise of Persia comes an annihilates the Babylonian empire. God’s vessels of worship will no longer be under captivity, under wicked control and foreign abuse. The oppressor is neutered, freedom is granted. They are now making a purposeful journey away from where they were to where they belong. Nebuchadnezzar had carried away vessels for worship and now they’re back. You have a restoration of that which the enemy said was his to defile, God says no they are mine for worship and purity…..
This is us. 2 Timothy 2:20-21 says we are God’s vessels of worship. Our call and purpose is for worship.
Romans 12:1 | I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Our act of worship is walking the journey. You have a journey of 900 miles from Babylon back to Jerusalem. It’s long, it’s unknown but every step taken, every day walked, every obstacle overcome is a step farther from Babylon and closer God’s city. This is what it means to be a Christian where you’ve already been declared free by the king. You are no longer in exile and captivity. A new city awaits and now you’re on a journey from exile to home. And you’re not alone in this God did this for you and a people.
PART III | Unfinished Journey | EZRA 2
All God’s word is profitable for teaching, reproof, etc. So a deeper study of these verse will not be fruitless. But when you see the preaching of the Old Testament in Acts, you often see cliff notes versions, and summaries. At times this is how we’ll preach and teach through this text. Read it, listen to it on your Bible app meditate on it, name your kids from this list (a few of my favorites are Ono “the other Elam” Hagabah. But there is much to glean as disciples of Jesus on how we respond to the call of God to walk out of exile and into the mission of renewal for His glory. We see in this chapter there is a general call but a specific response. Chapter 1 Cyrus had given this decree and that has gone out on blast inviting and encouraging people to return to their true home. We saw in verse 5 that hearts were stirred by God. AND now have deeper confirmation of God’s stirring by being giving a specific account of the census of those who responded to the call with active obedience.
Verse 1-2 You have clear leadership beginning with Zerubbabel, and nearly a dozen others. You have clarity on the family linage of many “The sons of” and for others their geographic background “the men of” you have break down of roles. Each group and person You have “know men” priest, singers, levites temple servants. All told there are nearly 50,000 over a few years. This is not an insignificant amount. They are well equipped for their journey. Each of these families, tribes, locations, offices and roles represent people who have only known exile, who by God’s Spirit have been moved by a vision of going back to a place of dwelling in/near the presence of God. They left what they knew the misery, the security, even the mission of helping the cities they were in flourish for a long journey away from familiarity into an unknown adventure participating in renewal and restoration of God’s people dwelling again with God. Each step they take for 4 months is a step of faith. They know turning back is not their home. They know they have been called to return to a home that they have only been told about but have never seen or experienced. The make-up of this first wave of exiles is telling in how God executes renewal in the life of His people. It’s like to Oregon Trail game where you don’t want to end the game a banker you want to be a carpenter/farmer so you can build produce to sustain for the people that are to follow. But God’s economy is different. He doesn’t start with the structures or the laws, he starts with the hearts. The first wave was not the builders, but he brought back worshippers. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are at building something if the object of and nature of your worship is distorted. This is telling in how God designs renewal. Nehemiah with the structure is LAST. Right worship is first. How God’s people came to their own ruin was from worship problems, not a skill or ability issue. You want renewal, have right worship.
In this chapter we see different families from different places with different roles all united together on one path to one place for one mission. The saved people of God is Family on Mission Together.
Ezra 2:59-63 | 59 The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer, though they could not prove their fathers' houses or their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: 60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, 652. 61 Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, and the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). 62 These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 63 The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.
There is this large group who were outside the clear family line but wanted to participate so they walked. Only problem they couldn’t prove they belonged to the people through genealogies. They were not found in the book and considered unclean. They were denied full participation in the community and holy food. So who is in the family? Are you? As Christians, we live in a far better time where we don’t need to trace our family linage to prove we’re part of Abraham – Isaac – Jacob’s family. We don’t have to look through our bloodline to see to see if we belong to the family. We look to the lines of blood that flowed down the cross from Jesus who’s sacrificial death in our place purchased our redemption and adoption into the family of God. We don’t have to prove it we have to receive it. It was His royal declaration “it is finished” on the cross that declared an end of our captivity to sin and death. We don’t have anything to prove, we have a place to go, a mission to be on and all who claim Christ as their new family get to partake of the holy meal (Communion) We are released and free to begin a new journey out of Babylon and to a new Jerusalem with a called out community of God’s people that at times seems small and out of balance but is perfectly arranged and deployed for God’s purposes. What is your Babylon? Where are you in exile?
Ezra 2:68-70 | 68 Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site.69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work 61,000 daricsof gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests' garments. 70 Now the priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel in their towns.
Everyone of them had been blessed by God with resources and networks of people around them God doesn’t call them to more than they are capable of or equipped for. He calls them to respond to gracious salvation with clear generosity. They’re blessed by the government, their communities, AND they gave of themselves for the purpose of God’s kingdom being established and His presence being made know in the place they were called to. We have been perfectly equipped by God with favor, influence, blessing, so each of us is called to give cheerfully to fund the mission God has called us to be on. So saved people on the journey are people who freely give because they have been feed to give. We give because we’ve been given much and we are motivated by the mission we’ve been called to. Where have you been blessed or equipped by God that according to your ability you should be directing to His mission? You worship God with everything your time, your talent, AND your money. This is why we give.
We are now a people called to invite others on the journey. What Journey are you on? Where have you found yourself in captivity or slavery? Where has God called you out to leave and not be transported to instant bliss but a long hard journey where the destination is actually faithful worship? We are all called, if God is stirring you to begin the journey begin by placing faith in Jesus. If God is spurring you to continue move from sitting wondering why you still feel in exile and begin to walk in obedience. If you’re not sure if you belong on this family or kingdom know there is a place for everyone regardless of your family line, place of birth, your status or your role, there are singers, priest, builders, young, old, nobles and peasants all who left exile and are walking on a journey away from captivity to a forever city of joy. It’s a place we’ve never been – a home they’ve never known, but we know it’s ours by promise and decree of God’s Word. This world as it is will never be nor feel like home or home we should long for and walk towards our home in Jesus. The beginning of Ezra is a retelling of the Exodus story out of Egypt, but more importantly, it foreshadows the coming of Jesus Christ and his forever Kingdom on the New Earth. We are home (now) in Jesus and as we wait for his (not yet) return and our forever home with him. Jesus Christ is the home away from exile for which you were destined. We are no longer exiles. We are no longer in captivity. But we are not yet home. As God stirs our hearts with His Spirit He leads us home to Jesus who makes us to be his home - his temple. So the home we are destined to be in is not ruined city but resting in Jesus Christ is the home away from exile for which we are destined for and walk towards as we Trust Jesus.