UNFINISHED HOPE | Week 6: Unfinished Reformation
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ezra 7:7–7:10
Introduction | Unfinished Reformation
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. This is also a significant day in history of God’s church. Today (Tuesday) marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door which is recognized as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. After the gospel had suffered under generations of corruption and distortion from the Roman Catholic Church from medieval times-renaissance. Understandings of key Christian doctrines of Justification, the churches authority and how it was derived, the nature of sin, and the eternal state of the soul after death and others had drifted from a new testament understanding. The papacy, was seen as the ultimate infallible authority over doctrine and practice for Christians even above the Bible. It was massive movement that included generations of leaders and high-profile martyrs including John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, and Lady Jane Gray. It led to dramatic shifts shaping the course of nations, changing politics, while spurring great innovations in economics, medicine, industry, and science. Things like the “Protestant work ethic” and the spread of democracy all have their roots in the reformation. While these are highly significant in the course of world history and in shaping the culture we find ourselves in today, the greatest importance is in the reformation’s role in reclaiming and necessarily correcting the biblical view of salvation, justification, worship, and the authority of God’s word in the life of His people. It was a reformation not of reinvention but of return to the simple truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Summarized in five “solas/only/alone”, Christians, Jesus people, are those who are saved by grace alone (Sola Gratia), through faith alone (Sola Fide), in Christ alone (Solus Christus), as revealed in scripture alone (Sola Scriptura), to the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria).
We are Protestant not for what we are against but because of what we enthusiastically affirm. These are the simple, yet significant, truths of the Gospel of Jesus that brings new life to spiritual dead sinners while shaping and empowering God’s people the church to be on His mission of the restoration of relationships that have been ruined by sin. Since, we are prone to wander from the truth, constantly needing to be called to return to the Gospel, and are not yet in sinless glory, we are part of an Unfinished Reformation.
How God has designed and orchestrated renewal in the past mirrors how He is working for restoration today. For Ezra, 2,000 years before Martin Luther. He is leading a mission of return and reforming to bring people back to right relationship with God through covenant faithfulness. God’s people had three to four generations earlier made an initial return from earned exile because of the mercy of God. Earned because it was a just consequence of sin, mercy because it was God who saved them from captivity. That generation focused on restored worship directed to God, this one would focus on restored word from God.
PART I | Restored Word | 7:7-10
Ezra 7:7-10 | 7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him.10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
During the time 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/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. 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. Without God’s word as your external authority you will be ruled by the lesser internal authority of yourself: Your experiences, what do I see. Your intellect, what do I know. Your emotions, what do I feel. These will fail to keep us from the cycle of regression and ruin because our perspective of experience is flawed, our knowledge is not full and our feelings are fickle. So we rest in, build on, and seek restoration in God’s word, what has He said; because His perspective is perfect, knowledge is complete, and character is unchanging. Ezra had a heart set towards, and built, on God’s word. If we read this wrongly we’ll believe that Ezra had God’s favor and was carried on his journey because he was devoted to God’s word.
We’ll respond with a religious motivation (we are devoted to God’s word TO received God’s grace) rather than a Gospel motivation (We are recipients of God’s grace SO we are devoted to His word. Because of sin the only way Ezra could, or we can, have a heart set toward God’s word is if God changes us.
Ez 36:25-27 | 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
To have the good hand of God on us is to have a new heart in us. A new heart in us will change the way we interact with God’s word to us. A heart of stone will reject and rebel, a heart of flesh will receive and repent. Out of this new identity and new heart we become people who desire God’s word to change and shape us. We see in Ezra, and for us, it impacts us in three key ways: Study, Do, and Teach the word.
PART II | Heart Set to Study the Word
What do you have a heart set to study? We are all students. We all study something we all learn from something. What we study will shape our heart and our world view. How does what you study effect your heart? My Grandma watched 8 hours a day of MSNBC, it shaped her view of the world. We study what we love. We will pursue knowledge of that which captivates us. We study that which we find glorious or fascinating. What do you find glorious? What are you captivated by? What words are you building your life on? Are they true? Ricky Bobby built his life around words from his dad. “If you’re not first you’re last.” They weren’t true and the results were destructive. What false words are you building your life on? We are quick to study social media and when we do it shapes our view of the world, others, and ourselves that is not accurate and does not produce greater joy. When we study things, we give them influence and authority over our lives to shape our hearts and direct our actions. What are you studying and giving ultimate authority? Renewal and reformation come with a return to God’s word as our highest authority.
Sola Scriptura - Scripture alone is to be the final authority of all that it speaks. God’s word is from God and so is sufficient, inerrant, and infallible. For the reformers this was an important contrast to the Roman Catholic church who saw the Pope/Papacy as the inerrant and infallible word of God ABOVE the Bible. So when we consider who we let lead and who we will follow we have to know what authority they are under. Ezra’s credentials were not from some unique experience or a specific supernatural call from God, or even the nature of his office/role as leader of God’s people. Ezra could lead because he was first led by God’s word. In order to be led by and shaped by God’s word you have to know it. Disciples of Jesus, Christians are lifelong students of God’s word. Good leaders are good students of God’s word. They know all they truly have to bring to bear on God’s people is from their engagement with God’s word.
Why don’t we study God’s word? We don’t think it’s as relevant or impactful to our lives. We misunderstand what our motivation for study should be. We don’t know God’s word because we don’t study it. So we suffer as Christians from a deficiency in Biblical literacy (we don’t know The Story) and a lack of Gospel fluency. What we do know of God’s word we fail to apply or engage with properly because we miss the point of all of the Bible. It’s not an instruction manual life or guide to human happiness, it’s about God and what He’s done and is doing for His glory Soli Deo Gloria It’s a book for us but it’s not about us it’s about Him. We don’t study the Bible to better know the Bible, we study the Bible to better know His Gospel
Creation (Good) – Fall (Sin) – Redemption (Jesus Saves) – Restoration (Jesus returns New Heavens/Earth)
Jesus is the word of God to know God’s word is to know Jesus. To know Jesus is to know God’s word.
John 1:1, 14| In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
This means we study God’s word to know Jesus more completely. To know Jesus is to know eternal life. Jesus has the final word on God’s word and he says all of the bible points to Him. Jesus tell scribes “you search (study) the scriptures hoping to find eternal life, but you search in vain if you don’t see they are truly about me.” The Bereans were lauded to for searching the scriptures daily to find the truth of God in Jesus. We study to have our new lives with Jesus, shaped by Jesus, to be equipped for the mission of Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 |16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I think part of why we don’t study God’s word is because we know it will rightly correct us or challenge us. We like profitable, but we don’t like reproof or correction because we don’t really think we need ether of those things. To be corrected and trained is to be made uncomfortable with the truth that we need correction and we’re not complete. We are incomplete needy people. Humble study of God’s word will cut down to the core of our heart. If you’re never challenged in anyway when reading or engaging with God’s word you’re doing it wrong. We don’t study God’s word solely for information but for transformation.
PART III | Heart Set to do the Word
James 1:22 | But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
What we study will impact what we think and do. Studying and knowing the word means nothing without affecting behaviors and beliefs. Because we need correction and equipping, renewed and reformed people are those who hear, read, listen, study God’s word AND become doers of it. This means we repent.
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. - Martin Luther first of 95 Theses
What is repentance if not a turning from our words back to God’s word? Reorienting of our affections so that behaviors & attitudes adjust to align with the word of truth. We need heart dispositions towards God’s word. Ask yourself, what are you hearts deepest desires? What do you wish you could do?
Disciples and Leaders of God’s people are those who have been given new hearts, new desires, to know God’s word and have it lived out in their lives. Renewal, and reformation requires actual change otherwise it’s just rebranding our old lives and expecting them to somehow be different. Study must lead to do.
Matt 23:2-4 | 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
Leaders and disciples of Jesus are not perfect people, but they are new people. We study to know Jesus more fully so we can follow Jesus more faithfully. So how do we study God’s word in a way that effectively leads to following, doing, observing it in our actual new lives? How does study get to do?
1 - Observe – What does it say? Am I able to see what is being said and how? What word/terms are repeated and emphasized? How is it relating to other scriptures? Who What When Where Why?
2 -Interpret – What does it mean? Not what does it mean to me, but what did the original writer mean to say to the original audience. Specific verses and sections of scripture might have multiple applications
3 -Apply – What do I/we do? This is essential. If I learn something but it doesn’t lead to right action it’s worthless. I heard my kicker on my fantasy football team was injured and out this week. I can memorize that fact be able to recite it and tell it to other people; but if I didn’t act to drop him and add another kicker it information was meaningless. Where when you have studied God’s word, commands, instructions have you struggled to apply them? How has observation and interpretation not led to application? There is struggle with this because if we could simply know what God’s word says, what it means, and what we’re do AND could simply do it perfectly we wouldn’t need Jesus in our place. We have sin and do sin and that distorts our relationship with our ability to DO God’s word. If we could have just studied and done God’s word in the garden we’d be good. God says “don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” interpretation “God doesn’t want us to eat of the tree”, application, “don’t eat of the forbidden tree.” God’s law is simple Love God and Love people, just do it! But we don’t, these questions are a great and necessary place to start but they cannot be where we finish or we will be mired in frustration and failure.
"When you preach or read the Bible only to get to an application you're a biblical humanist and make it all about you. It's about Jesus and His righteousness applied to you!" - Jeff Vanderstelt
Here are three more questions important for us to answer as we seek to move from study to doing:
4 - Fall – How have failed to do what God’s word has called us to? (implication of sin in our lives)
5 - Redemption- What did Jesus do or How did he do it on our behalf? – Gospel Jesus in our place. Jesus has been perfectly obedient to God’s word for us because we have failed. We need His righteousness.
6 - Restoration - How can we live in light of Jesus work in our place in the power of the Holy Spirit? – If we are in Christ we are new creations part of a new people individual and corporately empowered for new life. This is the heart of God’s word leading to actual Gospel transformation. This is what we call Gospel Living, live that is Saved by Jesus’ work AND Changed by Jesus’ Grace. It produces a reformation in lives that have been transformed by the Gospel. But it is an unfinished reformation if the transforming power of the Gospel stops with your life/our life only. The Gospel makes students and doers are on mission to teach the truth and power of the Gospel to others. Gospel transformation is for you but doesn’t end with you.
PART IV | Heart Set to Teach the Word
2 Timothy 2:1-2 | You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
There must be a personal impact of the word on your life before teaching/influencing others. This is not moral/spiritual perfection but authenticity and humility 1 John says “WHEN we sin, we have an advocate before the Father Jesus Christ the Righteous.” – be a case study of grace & power. I was AND am in need of God’s mercy and grace, I am still being changed by Jesus’ grace. I fail, but with humility repent and return to the truth of the Gospel. Ezra was a model reformer because what he taught was what he first lived, and he lived his live from what he had made sure from God’s word. There was an order of study, conduct, and teaching that helps interacting with God’s word function most effectively. Study brings certainty and conviction. Doing brings confidence that God’s word has the power to set free to transform hearts and lives. Teaching brings joy that God’s words will lead a reformation that includes our individual lives but extends far beyond our immediate time and place to future generations and all nations.
Just as we are all students we are all teachers. Everything we say, do, and even don’t do preaches and teaches something to someone. Being teachers of God’s word is not an optional add on for some disciples but is the mission given to every disciple. Jesus says we are to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit AND teach them to observe (do) all that I have commanded. Go. Teach those who have been made new to do. The mission is of return, renewal, restoration that requires reformation. When Jesus says “Go” it’s an “as we go” in the normal and routine parts of our daily/weekly lives. Who are you teaching? Who around you have you been given influence over? Who is watching your life and learning from it?? What are you teaching them in your speech, actions, and attitudes? Where do we need to be reformed as teachers? Maybe we’re ignorant, that’s ok to recognize but not to remain in. We can’t easily teach “as we go” if we don’t first know. If we don’t have a knowledge of God’s word to share it with confidence, we need to grow. What do you need to study? Where are you shallow? Where do our lives not match what we know? Where are you afraid of being found out as inconsistent or hypocritical because we’re walking in unrepentant sin? Where do we need to confess and repent of sin so you can be free from condemnation and insecurity? Studying, doing, teaching is lifelong work; the ongoing task of bringing the gospel to bear on the everyday lives of God’s people.
In Ezra 7:10 it says he is teaching “in Israel”. There is the context of Gospel Community of exiles. He grew in knowledge, application, and confidence of God’s word and character in an environment of exile. We can have great confidence we can grow as disciples in the places cultures and context we find ourselves in.
PART V | Jesus is the WORD
Jesus the perfect word of God. In Jesus we don’t pursue perfection in doing God’s word we are pursued by the one who is the perfect word of God. We need Jesus sinlessness and obedience in our place. We need his sacrifice for us and righteousness to us. But we cannot forget Jesus not only came to live the life we couldn’t, die the death we deserve, but teach us what new life, resurrected life looks like. We need the teaching of Jesus as much as we need the sacrifice of Jesus.
We study Jesus not because we love him, but because he first loved us.
We obey Jesus and do what he commands because of what he’s done for us being obedient to go to the cross.
We teach and make disciples because he has told to go and he will be with us always to the end of the age.
Jesus has not returned yet, we are not in the new restored heavens and earth so until He does we are part of a great and continuing Unfinished Reformation of return and restoration in our lives, in our families, in our communities, our cities, and world that will be fueled and formed by individuals, families, and churches who study, do, and teach the Gospel to themselves, each other, and to the world. It’s where we call everyone and remind ourselves to Trust Jesus.