Ezra 5 & 6
Well, good morning, friends.
I confess to you that as I try to contemplate life, I think in terms of word pictures, metaphors and analogies. For example, I think about that great theologian, Forrest Gump, (audience laughs) who’s known for saying,
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” Forrest Gump
If you connect that to the following analogy, I think you’ll see how it fits, because I believe the Christian life is like a long distance road trip. The two are very applicable to each other.
Traffic conditions can vary widely and can be very maddening. I’m curious if we have any honest people here today, how many of you would say you struggle at least a little bit with road rage? ‘Stupid people… cutting in front of me… doing all kinds of crazy things!’ You’re just tooling down the freeway and all of a sudden you feel your blood pressure rising. You start to mumble under your breath, ‘People are going too slow…They’re idiots! People going too fast… they’re maniacs!’ Then you realize you’re talking about yourself because far too often that’s exactly what you and I do. Yeah, if we’re honest, ours is often an unrighteous kind of anger… but God’s never is.
As we do our drive by of the book of Ezra, God was upset. We’re seeing that today in chapters 5 and 6. He was exercising some righteous indignation. We left off last week with the traffic, if you will, having ground to a halt. The freeway had turned into a parking lot. Gridlock… ugh! The work of reconstructing the temple had stopped for a period of 16 long years, and the Lord wanted to motivate his people to get back into gear. So he prompted his preaching/writing prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to challenge the return captives to get after it! Let’s pause for application.
Sometimes I think we stop working for God because we think he has stopped working for us. In our weaker moments, we wonder, ‘Does God even care about me?’ ‘Does he really even know me?’ Yeah, he does. You’re not, we’re not, just the last four digits of our social security number to God. If you’re in Christ, you are God’s dear children and…
Romans 8:28, “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
“God’s silence does not equate to his neglect or absence of work.”
“In every situation, every circumstance of your life, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know.”
Maybe, just maybe, today God will break through into your lives by preaching in the same way he broke into the early Israeli lives through the preaching in the time of Ezra.
Let’s take the freeway off ramp now to Ezra 5:1-2, and I’m going back up to verse 24, the last verse of chapter four by way of a segue. Here I go.
Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied (or preached) to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose…” (They took action!) and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.”
In our series so far, Pastor Pat has been borrowing from our series title, God Help us by filling it in with various applications. Today, as you’ve already seen, my theme is entitled God, Help us Persevere. Is anybody listening to me today say, ‘Yeah, I need help persevering in my Christian life’? [Is anybody saying] ‘I need some encouragement’?
Listen to these illustrations. As a youngster, Walt Disney got fired by a newspaper because he supposedly had no good ideas. Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of school feeling like misfits. Albert Einstein couldn’t speak until age four… couldn’t read until age seven. As a boy inventor, Thomas Edison was said to be so stupid he’d never learn anything, and then one day the light came on… rather literally! A young high school sophomore basketball player got cut from his team, but he persevered and became known as one of the best basketball players of all time and his name is Michael Jordan. Be like Mike!
If we would persevere, we need to understand three insights about this character quality of perseverance from our text. Here is the first.
1. Perseverance begins with hope.
As a counselor, we’re constantly trying to instill hope into people who come to us. As a church, we’re doing that.
Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
The biblical hope does not include uncertainty, but it must include patience and perseverance. The biblical definition of hope is “hanging on” to a confident expectation of a better future. Our hope is found in the promises of God’s Word.
We read in Hebrews,
Hebrews 10:36 (ESV), “For you have need of (patience or perseverance) endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”
In context here, God told his people that the temple would be rebuilt. His providence would do it. He would pull it off, and in the end he did.
Now, a little backstory for these two chapters… Potential opposition arose once again from a local, unbelieving government official, just like it had previously, as we learned last week in chapter four. In this case, it was a governor named Tattenai who questioned who had given authority to the Jews to begin rebuilding. You see that at the end of verse three in your text. Here it is;
Ezra 5:3b, “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?”
Anybody ever questioned you in life? That question could have deflated the Jewish leaders, but it did not. They simply appealed to the highest court of Darius. Now look at verse five and note the reference to both providence and perseverance. We start with providence.
Ezra 5:5, “But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, (just like he’s on you today, if you’re his child.) “… on the elders of the Jews, (that’s providence,) and they, (the pagan authorities,) did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it.”
This implies that the Jews kept on building through the appeal process. That is perseverance. You keep going. Keep calm, and carry on! That’s the mandate for God’s people.
Just to remind you, Darius was the name of the King of Persia. That was the ruling empire at this time. Darius checked the decree from his predecessor, Cyrus, found it to be valid and urged the temple reconstruction to continue. Providence was at work.
I want to give you an assurance that providence is at work in every Christian’s life here today, whether you can see it or feel it or not, he is at work. What’s he trying to do? Have you ever perceived what he’s trying to do? Is he trying to build courage in the midst of opposition? Is he essentially trying to develop stamina for the long haul of life challenges? Do you need hope? Then try on for size this quote from Charles Spurgeon. I love this!
“Hope itself is like a star — not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, but only to be discovered in the night of adversity.”
So look up to the bright and morning star, the Lord Jesus Christ, who endured the cross, despising the shame and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Consider him who endured such hostility from sinners lest you become weary in your walk. Look to Jesus.
[Revelation 22:16, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”]
[Hebrews 12:2, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”]
So to get back on the road of rebuilding, we need to begin with hope.
2. Perseverance continues with humble holiness,
and I say humble because a whole lot of people were involved in the rebuilding, but only a few people were mentioned by name and only a few people got credit. In fact, in chapter 5 verse 16, you’ll see a local official, a pagan official named Sheshbazzar, who was given the credit for laying the foundation of the temple, when actually it was Zerubbabel, the political leader of Israel, and Jeshua, the religious leader, who took charge, and it was the grunt men of the Jewish workforce that actually pulled it off and did the work themselves. So as we look at this, we say, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t seem to be fair!”
I know my own heart and the hearts of God’s people well enough to know that oftentimes we feel like we’re being overlooked in life. Maybe it’s on the job… maybe it’s in the home… maybe it’s at school or maybe, God forbid, it’s in the location of the church. I want to urge you to be careful because God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble;
James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
[1 Peter 5:5b (ESV), “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”]
Proud people think they’re indispensable. ‘They can’t do it without me!’ But I want to remind you that the cemetery is full of indispensable people… yet the work always goes on. Here’s my point. You will not persevere in the Christian life or in Christian ministry if you have to be the person who gets the credit. ‘Hey, everybody, look at me!’ That’s today’s culture. The word “Celebrity” and “Christian” are not synonyms. They’re antonyms. They’re opposites. There’s only one celebrity and (who is his name?) It’s Jesus! We’re here to worship Jesus, not ourselves. God will use whomever He will and sometimes He uses people and allows credit to go to people we wouldn’t expect.
In fact, it was a breakthrough day for me when I finally realized that God reserves the right to use people with whom I disagree. Imagine that! He’s God… and I’m not! It’s amazing how much could be accomplished for the Lord if we don’t care who gets the credit, because it’s all about him anyway. So ours must be a humble holiness.
We’ve talked about humility, but where do we find the idea of holiness in this text? Well, as I read these two chapters over and over again, I could not escape the emphasis on the repetitious phrases referring to the temple, whether called “the house of God,” which is the most common reference, or numerous other synonyms. I counted up 28 references to this term! As a preacher of the word, it’s almost like the Holy Spirit was shouting to me, ‘Hey, Curt… Curt… Don’t skip over the obvious!’ The book of Ezra is about my temple! Prioritize my temple! Talk about my temple! So I will.
What was the temple? (Curt used several pictures in his sermon.) We’ll start with the northeast elevation from Solomon’s temple, which was previously, of course, more ornate than the one being built here in Ezra. You’ll notice that there was (in the picture shown) a brazen or brass altar where sacrifices were made, (a picture of the cross of Christ, the ultimate sacrificial altar, where our sins were paid for.) There were lavers, (these little containers of water) where the priests could wash their hands and their feet before they went into the Holy Place, because holiness under the Lord is what he requires.
(In the second slide… ) We see inside the Holy Place, the first room, three pieces of furniture. On the south side, there was the menorah with seven candlesticks, (seven, the perfect number of God.) This menorah pictures the fact that Jesus is the light of the world. There were no windows in the temple. This was the light. Jesus provides the light. On the opposite side, the north side of this holy place was the table of Showbread or the table of the Presence. There were 12 loaves, six in one stack, six in another, each weighing about five pounds where the priests could eat them. The bread pictures how God sustains and provides for his people, the 12 tribes of Israel (and all who come by faith to Jesus Christ.) He is the bread of life! (In a few moments, we’re going to be partaking of that symbol, what Jesus provided for us in His perfect body.) There was also the altar of incense where the people of God through the priest would offer their prayers through the incense symbolically to heaven.
(In the last slide…) In the most holy place, the Holy of Holies, once a year the high priest would come to offer a sacrifice on the altar, the ark of the covenant, overshadowed by the wings of the cherubim, showing the holiness of God. The room was filled with holy smoke and light! The priest went in with fear and trepidation to apply the blood on the day of Atonement, Yom Kippur in the fall of the year to make a sacrifice for the people to make atonement for their sins. This was the temple. In short, the temple was the place where God’s people came to meet with Him. It was the place of salvation, the place of worship, the dwelling place of God on earth.
In New Testament times, King Herod enlarged and improved the second temple, the one built by Zerubbabel and by Jeshua, but it was destroyed by the Romans in A.D, 70. Jesus not only predicted that destruction, but he used the play on words to talk about himself, his own impending death and resurrection when Jesus said to the Jewish leaders in
John 2:19, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
… and so he did in the gospel. I want you to stay with me. When the temple proper was destroyed, Jesus became the personal temple of God on earth.
John 1:14, “And the Word (the logos,) became flesh [and dwelt among us,] and we beheld His glory (That’s the Shekinah glory, that manifest presence in the Holy of Holies. It was now in Jesus Christ because HE is the God man… made flesh) and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Jesus is the temple of God.
Now for the record, I believe there will be a future rebuilding of a physical temple in Jerusalem on the temple mount just as Bible prophecy predicts. [Shown on the screen] is a remnant of that temple that goes way back to Ezra’s time. [In the lower right hand corner of the picture shown] is what we call the “wailing wall.” It’s a retaining wall that remains from Ezra’s time. Some of you are going on the tour with Pastor Pat this fall in November, and you’ll stand at the temple mount here at this very spot. You will revel at what God has done and is doing even into the future. Some of you are asking, however, another question. What in the world does this temple have to do with us today? In my answer may be the most important thing you’re going to hear me say this morning. Listen carefully. If you come to know Christ Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, (and I’m not assuming everybody here has,) right now, Christ’s Spirit lives in you. Get this. YOU are the temple of God on earth right now!
1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that YOU are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
So wherever you go, he goes and whatever you do, he does. That’s rather astounding… and maybe more than a little convicting.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (…In your temple which is God’s.)
Let me stretch you a little further. Think about this. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, he did not come to Herod’s temple, a stone structure. The Holy Spirit came to 120 temples of flesh, each marked up by little pillars of fire, indicating the Shekinah glory of God, (Now indwelling YOU!) Christ IN you, the hope of glory! Hallelujah! …What he’s done for us in the Savior.
Let the Spirit speak to you right now. Take a look at your temple. How are you doing with your eyes…what you look at? Your ears… What you listen to? Your tongue… What you say or how you say it? Your mind… what you think about? Your hands and your feet… What you do and where you go? God is building a new temple in the Lord within you. The question is, will you yield to Him? He is a resident, but he wants to be president… president of your life.
We now come to the final step in our perseverance with God.
3. Perseverance concludes with a holiday.
Perseverance, if you will, has a payoff, namely in context. It concluded with the celebration of the completion of the temple and also the celebration of the most holy feast of Passover in the spring of the year.
So let me now jump into chapter six, beginning in verse 16, and you can follow along.
Ezra 6:16, “And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.”
down to verse 20b
Ezra 6:20b-22, “So they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. It was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by every one who had joined them and separated himself from the uncleanness of the peoples of the land to worship the LORD, the God of Israel. And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy…”(that’s an operative word, a key word there,) for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the King of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”
You need to know that the Passover Lamb referenced here as a picture of none other than the one we’re going to celebrate momentarily, the Lord Jesus. Jesus is the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. He is the Lamb that was set aside by God the Father to provide for us the redemption we so desperately need. He’s the one who shed his blood and we (by faith if we’re in Christ) have applied his blood to the door posts of our lives so that the death angel has passed over us and condemnation for us is no more.
Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Hebrews 10:17,“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
But we must personally apply the blood of the Lamb if we’re to be spared and forgiven. The real question is, have you really done that? We must not only believe that he died to pay for our sin, but believe that he lives again and ever lives to make intercession for us. And if we truly believe from the heart, his Spirit comes to take residence inside of us and make us transformed temples. So the question that you must answer, have you believed? And if you have, has it shown up in your temple?
Richard Wurmbrand, the famous Romanian pastor imprisoned and torture at the hands of the communists in the 20th century, once said this;
“There are two kinds of Christians; those who sincerely believe in God, (implied: through Christ) and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe. (What’s the difference? He says,) “You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.” (You can tell them by what they do in their temple.) Richard Wurmbrand
The late Dr. R.C. Sproul adds this:
It’s one thing to believe “in” God. It’s quite another to “believe” God. There’s a difference.
The apostle Peter grabs another analogy in…
1 Peter 2:5, [“…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”]
… where he reminds his readers that Christ’s followers, (and here’s a simile) Christ’s followers are like living stones being built up as a spiritual house, into the temple of God, to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In context today, we’re to offer a sacrifice of praise from our lips.
Ezra 6:22b, “…for the LORD had made them joyful … in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”
Here’s a little instruction. As we go to the table of the Lord momentarily, I want us to celebrate today. I want us to be joyful! I’m not talking about “hallmark” happy here… Okay? I’m talking
Nehemiah 8:10, “… the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
He’s the one that gives us energy for Christian living. God is going to complete his temple work in YOU! He is going to not only invest a little, but everything to finish what he has started.
Philippians 1:6, “…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
(One final thought before communion…) If you think about Israel, if you know your Old Testament, you know that they had to feel like a yo-yo in their earthly travels. I mean, up and down the free way of the the middle east. Abram gets called out of Ur of the Chaldeans, ancient Mesopotamia, all the way to the end of Canaan to the Promised Land. Later his progeny, 70 strong, go down to Egypt where Joseph has been sent and advanced to spare them in a time of famine. They stay there until, unfortunately, there arises a Pharaoh, a king, who does not know Joseph. The people of God are in captivity for 400 long years before Moses comes along despatched by God to lead them out. After 40 years of wilderness wanderings, they go across the Jordan River and back into the Promised Land, as detailed in the book of Joshua, where they possess the inheritance that God had ordained for them. But then, the people of God fell into idolatry and he took them into captivity until our book when he brings a remnant back to the Promised Land. Whew! You may feel weary in your journey to the Promised Land of heaven.
In illustration… In the bird kingdom, there are species of migrating birds who take long journeys. We see them flying overhead regularly. We don’t know how they do it in the spring and the fall. They may take their cues from length of days or changes of weather. Some suggest they follow the sun, or the stars or wind patterns. But one particular species called the Arctic tern holds the record for the longest migration. This little bird travels more than 43,000 miles every year from its nesting ground in the Arctic to its winter home in Antarctica and then back again! It basically flies from one end of the earth to the other and then back again every year. And because it can live to more than 30 years of age, it can travel enough miles in its lifetime to go to the moon and back again, almost three times… Wow! And you thought you were tired! Scientists call this instinct. Hey, we know it’s GOD who that put that in them!
The same God who put a song in these traveling terns is going to give you strength and a song, suffering saint, as you persevere toward the kingdom of God that he has promised for YOU! But it won’t be by instinct. It’ll be by the power of the Holy Spirit within you who reminds you, like he did the Apostle Paul;
Philippians 3:14,“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
So Christian friend, keep calm and carry on… no matter what! Persevere until you’re made perfect in the Promised Land. And remember, “More people, More like Jesus,” will eventually and ultimately become ALL of God’s people just like Jesus…and there’s our hope!
Let’s bow in prayer. Father, I thank you that soon our suffering will pass, though our song will last forever. Thank you for the body of Jesus, the perfect substitute, the shed blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice for sin. Help us in this long journey of life to keep our eyes on the finish line, to keep our eyes on Jesus. We pray in His name. Amen.