UNFINISHED HOPE | Week 5: Unfinished Return
Topic: Old Testament
Christopher Rich – October 22, 2017
UNFINISHED HOPE | EZRA-NEHEMIAH | Wk 5
Unfinished Return | Ezra 7:1-6
Introduction | Unfinished Presence
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. 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, been released and journeyed from exile to Holy city. These are saved, free people no longer in captivity. Right worship has been restored. The people had faced adversity from the outside that led to empathy. God’s prophetic word came to them and they were spurred to renew the building of the temple work that had ceased for many years. This time with humility and boldness working with civil authorities. The temple building is complete and people celebrate Passover for the first time since returning from exile remembering the God who saved them from Egypt with a mighty hand also saved from exile with His providential intervention. While the dedication of the temple was a moment to commemorate it was decidedly less grand then the first temple. Something necessary and significant was missing. The manifest presence of God that came down into the first temple, did not come in glory to this temple. So while the adversity was overcome and the human work completed God apparently had more for them. This mission was not complete, the worship resumed was not fully restored. The presence of God was not fully experience by His people. Also there were still many of God’s people who had not return from the exile and were still distant or disengaged. There was more work to accomplish for His restoration of our ruins to be complete. Today we begin the next cycle of God’s renewal of His people that begins with the introduction to a new leader of God’s people who are in a state of unfinished return.
Unfinished Return | 7:1-6
Ezra 7:1-9 | Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4son of of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleaszar, son of Aaron the chief priest- 6this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.
We are now 60 years past when Zerubbabel and his crew finished the temple, yet we know there was likely great disappointment when the results of the rebuilding didn’t match the fullness of expectations. WE know many people wept when comparing the former temple to the current, but most importantly we are not told the presence of the Lord has filled (returned to) the temple. God’s renewal and restoration is going to continue but after 3 generations have come through, those who start aren’t always going to see the finish. A new leader emerges who is going to lead a new crew of exiles back to mission in the city.
Who is Ezra? We finally meet the guy who the book is named after and we get some flavor of what his role and lineage looks like. He is a leader among the exiles who had a connection or communication with the King and is returning for a purpose. The building of the temple has been competed but the work of building the community has not. They know they are supposed to worship the lord but have received very little if no instruction on what that actually means or looks like. But who he is and what he represents is as significant at what he is purposed to do. Ezra’s introduction is purposeful to present himself as a new Moses who are leading God’s people on a new Exodus. We see this first in his lineage. He list out 7 priests the preceded him who came after the destruction of the temple all the way to Azariah who was the first priest in Solomon’s temple. It goes back seven more priest who came before the construction of the temple. Until we see that he is a direct descendent of the first “chief priest” Aaron who is the brother of Moses.
Ezra is a Priest. Priest act as mediators between God and the people. They confess and sacrifice for the sins of the people they bring the people closer to the presence of God. This was an incredibly significant role in the life of God’s people. With this lineage Ezra is connected to God’s great works of salvation for, and presence with, His people. Ezra is born to be a priestly mediator for his people with their God.
How is Ezra like Moses and the second Exodus? As chapter 7 and into 8 go on you read in more detail about Ezra and the return of the people he led, many standout as vaguely familiar to the first Exodus.
- The timing of the departure from Babylon (7:9 “on the 1st day of the 1st month”) coincided with the Israelites departure from Egypt (the 1st day of the 1st month, see Exodus 12:1-2).
- He made sure that there were Levites and priests carrying the sacred temple vessels (8:15-17), just as there were among the Israelites in the wilderness (Num 10:13, 21).
- His support from the royal treasury (7:14-20) is an extension of the despoiling of the Egyptians”
- Ezra prays for a straight path (8:21) back to Jerusalem. This phrase adopts the promise of Isaiah 40:3 In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make a straight path in the desert for our God.
- Ezra mentions a three-day rest after arriving in Jerusalem (8:32) which imitates the three-day rest of Joshua and the Israelites after crossing the Jordan (Josh 3:2).
- Ezra is to appoint judges and leaders who will teach and administer justice (7:25-26), which corresponds precisely to Moses appointment of the same after the Exodus (Exod 18:13-27).
- He gathers 3 leadership families (two priestly and one descendant of David, see 8:2-3a) + 12 other families (8:3b-14) as a symbol of the renewed Israel he is leading through the wilderness (3 patriarchs + 12 tribes = ideal Israel).
Why is this important? This is not fun Bible trivia or hey check out the cool correlation between these two figures. Like when you see all the correlations between the Lincoln and Kennedy Assassination and your mind is blown. This is Ezra being identified with and embodying the role Moses played for God’s people during the first Exodos to remind the people in exile of what God has done in the past so they can see the connection to what He is doing in the present and look to what He will do in the future. Ezra is presented as a New Moses who will lead the people back to Covenant Faithfulness. God is intentional about Ezra’s identity, Ezra didn’t get to choose who he was born into. God is granted favor in the world to save His people with a might hand. We also see God’s hand is ON Ezra to fulfill His purpose. Ezra is also involved. OUT of Ezra’s identity He is also acting in ways that bring honor to God and mirror the way God has prescribed salvation, deliverance, restoration to take place. Some of the similarities are intentional by Ezra, but all are intentional by God to show God’s faithfulness to His people. That is the general purpose for Ezra and the second exodus back to Jerusalem. There is another purpose for Ezra we need to drill down deeper to see. Ezra was a priest to shepherd God’s people AND a scribe to steward God’s word.
What was Ezra’s purpose in his return? We’ve had worshippers return earlier let’s do the sacrifices right, let do the ceremonial stuff that shows what our relationship with God looks like. It was a very superficial way to look at worship only around forms and actions taken. In addition to God’s presence not being manifest it is clear God’s word was also not present in an authoritative capacity, certainly not in a way that was forming the community and hearts of the individuals. Restored relationship with God is not comprehensive and life giving if it doesn’t not include renewal of recognizing God’s authority over your life. They had the forms of worship and the object of worship correct, we worship the God of the Bible, Creator of Heaven and earth. They sang the right song and did the gatherings, holidays etc. Yet this worship of God had not permeated all of life. We’ll see later during the period between Zerubbabel and Ezra the people’s lives didn’t reflect a renewal of the relationship with God that is truly transformative and distinct from those who do know or don’t follow the God of the Bible. Ezra comes back not only as a priest/mediator, but also as a scribe/teacher of God’s law given to God’s saved people. As always order matters, God has acted to save a people in captivity and exile, God has moved them to be on mission of restoring right worship, now God is moving to remind them of His instruction and commands. This is Ezra’s role in restoration bring God’s word, God’s law to bear on the lives of God’s people for covenant faithfulness and continual flourishing. He has been gifted and is “skilled” in the God’s word, not for himself alone but for God’s people.
Law of Moses that the Lord “Had Given” Ezra didn’t come back with creativity but with renewed covenant. Let’s return to what we know faithful looks like. God had given it. The Law was God’s instructions to God’s people who have been saved and taken from slavery/captivity. It is a great gift to be given clear guidance from God. Ezra is there to preach and teach the Bible to God’s people so God’s word would be what shapes the community. He didn’t say, everything was too tight back in the day, but we know better let’s pretend there is no law or commands from God. Or let’s make up something new or assume that God’s desires for His people has shifted merely because of the passage of time or change in current culture. God’s renewal included a restoration of His law. Worship without accounting for God’s law is lawlessness. Law without the context of God’s grace and mercy to His people is an oppressive burden. If we as saved people of God set free to pursue restored worship and relationship we should be ready to receive guidance, direction, instruction, even commands from God as He (not us) is the one who prescribes what right worship looks like.
Unfortunately, when it comes to our relationship with the law we react to being saved by God in one of two ways. I say unfortunately because both of these are ineffective for lasting joy and flourishing.
#1 We work to exhaustion. Because we’re saved and a new creation, lets with every ounce of strength we have let’s attempt to fill that role. We pursue the law with great vigor believing we are maintaining our salvation (Saving Private Ryan, Earn this!!) We receive salvation, the mercy of God as a gracious gift but think that God’s mercy and grace were for that moment and not for all moments. So we try to keep in God’s favor by keeping the law. When we succeed there is great pride, when we fail, there is great despair. This is false and not the gospel. We really only think of Jesus primarily as our example WWJD, but forget He’s our sacrifice in our place AND our obedience in our place. He is has accomplished the law.
Gal 3:2-3 | Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected (ending) by the flesh?
#2 we forget God’s law. Or we do the other which I think can be more common. We say “Jesus paid it all,” He fulfilled the law so I don’t have to do ANYTHING! Don’t tell me to do anything. In fact if I put any effort in at all I am saying somehow Jesus work isn’t enough. This is false view of what Jesus has accomplished for you. You love Jesus sacrifice in your place but you need to remember he’s also gifted you with His righteousness. I am a new creation! YES, So stop acting in old ways, put them off and put on new ways. What are those? The commands and instructions of the Lord. We forget that the Jesus who is our substitute is also our example. We believe wrongly, that Jesus set us free but that freedom is actually independence. Rather than dealing with the burden of God’s law we pretend paid for sin is a license to continue in sin.
Romans 6:1-4 | What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
There is a third better way. The Gospel calls us to rest in Jesus’ work and walk in Jesu’s life as we are changed by Jesus grace. Jesus is our obedience in our place so we can walk in obedience. Jesus is our righteousness in our place so we can be righteous. The choice is not between religion and relationship (hate those ditches) its is recognizing that any true real intimate deep relationship that flourishes with connection has to have definition of what it looks like. We understand that with any truly deep relationship includes humble submission and definition to ensure the relationship has a framework for flourishing. We understand the importance of the law in our civil life, no one wants to live in anarchy. We are an incredibly legalistic society. Many laws exist for our good. Not all law is good, but God is good and so his law is good. God’s exists to restrain evil and cultivate flourishing. Sin has caused the law to increase. Gal 3:19 | Why the law? It was added because of transgressions, God gives law to restrain evil. WE get this every time there is a tragedy was the first thing we debate? What new law can we add to prevent this from happening again. As if evil and sin can be legislated away. Law does have a certain restraining effect and provides a sense of security. My Airline pilot friend says when people complain about security at an airport he wonders if they’d like to take flights that haven’t been screened. Want to eat at a restaurant that has no health codes? But Law alone cannot transform hearts only slow down the impact of sinful hearts on others. It can at times act like a dam holding back the water of our own evil. But when water level get to high or the dam too weak it over flows, the dam fractures and flooding of our own sin negatively impacts those around us. When restraining sin become the priority then legalism will necessarily increase. So the questions becomes not how are we restraining evil, but how are we rightly direct our worship properly? One is a negative motivation driven by fear the other is a positive motive driven by flourishing.
What is God’s law and how has it “increased”? How do we engage now? We see the trajectory of the law in the narrative of scripture. Before sin in garden there is but one law “don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God’s law is a frame work of flourishing “don’t add evil (rejection of God)” to creation. This was broken at the willful disobedience to God’s law. Sin entered our heart and our world and increased with each passing generation leading to personal and corporate slavery, decay and death. God pursued a people, promise deliverance, and provided salvation. Then as His people were led out of Egypt He met the first Moses and gave him the law that would be the framework for flourishing for a people saved from slavery but still not in a new home of sinless perfection. This turned one law into 10 commandments for saved people. This was expanded to 600+ laws and statues governing relational, civil, religious, even healthy life. Legalists took this and added literally thousands of laws on top so that none of the actual laws would have the possibility of being broken. This made life incredibly laborious, burdensome, with little perceived assurance as you were only a minor infraction away from impurity. As the law grew and grew condemnation grew all the more as people were made more aware of their inability to carry it out. There has to be a better way. There is. God has given us a new covenant.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 | 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
God’s answer for our faithlessness to the covenant is a new covenant. God will forgive sin, and be with His people. God’s presence with His people again is still the outcome. Because of the sacrifice of sin the separation isn’t necessary, God’s people will know Him! His Law won’t be written on stone like Mount Sinai but on their hearts. The promise renewed is comprehensive, He doesn’t merely forgive sin (no wrath yeah!) He guides his people with His Law written on their hearts by The Holy Spirit. We are not old covenant people we are new covenant people so our relationship is different because we are on the side one who came who didn’t abolish the law but fulfilled it. A reestablishment of Levitical law is not what’s required but to return to really the first law of love God love people. Ezra’s reforms we’ll see in coming weeks echo Jeremiah’s prophecy of new covenant but they are not the fulfillment of it. The fulfillment of Jer 31 came in Jesus to establish a covenant relationship of love and grace through Christ. Jesus comes as a better teacher and scribe than Ezra and distills the complexity of the law with simplicity that is far more comprehensive than specificity could every achieve. The Law is Love God and love people. Jesus loved God perfectly, Jesus loved people perfectly. Jesus, God the Son, was more perfectly religious than any of us will ever be and more morally perfect than any have every achieved. He is sinless. Jesus is more gracious merciful and compassionate than anyone who thinks they love others well. He is able to love people perfectly because He has perfect love and communion and relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit. He imparts this love, his love controls and compels us in ways that the law never could. On the cross He is the perfect sacrifice for sin in our place and His blood make us cleaner than any priest could. He is a better High Priest than Aaron or Ezra who is able to flawlessly mediate between a holy God and lawless sinners bring us in to right relationship. His love transforms us making us a new creation than can be encourage even admonished at times to enjoy loving God and loving people and purse each of these as a framework for flourishing.
So we don’t seek to return to Jerusalem, or long to go back to Sanai, and we know we cannot go back to the law of the garden because we now know good and evil. We expectantly hope for the new Jerusalem where there is no more sin to restrain or confront because it’s all be removed. So live with the Law of Love God and people written on your heart because you’ve been saved by Jesus, given the Holy Spirit to be empowered live as a new creation who is ABLE to put off sin and put on obedience for all who Trust Jesus.