If you’ve brought a copy of the Bible with you, you can find Ezra chapter 4. I should probably just say something as we get going. I don’t assume everybody brings a copy of the Bible with them, (In fact, a lot of you don’t because you’re using your devices, and we do put the scripture up on the screens) but we do reverence this book at Saylorville Church. I say that because we don’t shy away from any passage in the book. We take the Bible very, very seriously.
The Apostle Paul told us in the New Testament that all scripture is profitable. What that really means is ALL scripture is profitable, so we don’t have to run away from anything. I need to throw that little encouragement, or caveat, as we get into this message today, God help us fight our enemies. That said, Ezra, chapter four. So if you make your way there, that’d be great.
So just last week was a very moving morning. In all three of our services, the steps were filled with people kneeling and confessing and returning to God. Remember in Zechariah God says “Return to me and I will return to you.” By droves, many of you did both publicly and many of you did privately. It was a beautiful thing!
If you did so, it’s all good now. Right? You know better. If I’ve learned anything in my walk with God, it is this. Whenever I take a stand for God, Satan will take his stand against me. As you’ve heard me say many times where there’s a door, there’s a demon. Where there’s opportunity, there’s opposition.
When we left off in our study of Ezra, If you’ll recall, great things were happening! The first returnees arrived under Zerubbabel. At the very end of chapter three, they put up the altar, they laid the foundation of the temple, and there’s this explosion of praise and clapping and praising the Lord! Most of the young people couldn’t believe it. The temple was going to get built! But all the old codgers were complaining and crying because it wasn’t going to be as grandiose as the last time. Remember that? That’s the last slice of the last chapter.
Ezra 3:13, “…the sound was heard far away.”
… far enough, by the way, that the ears of the enemy perked up and soon enough they showed up on the scene. Mark this down. Opposition will rise up at the exact time you stand up for God.
So with that in mind, Ezra, chapter four, just the first five verses for now.
Ezra 4:1-5, “Now when the adversaries (that means enemies of Judah and Benjamin) of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the LORD, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel…
(by the way, that tells you about who these individuals actually were. But anyway, we’ll get back to that too.)
… Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Then… (This is their response) the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors (or advisors) against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.”
The year in this moment is 536 BC. I want you to tighten your thinking caps for a few moments here. The book of Ezra can be confusing to a reader because Ezra himself doesn’t even appear until the seventh chapter … 70 plus years later. Here’s a simple outline for Ezra. The first six chapters is the first return under Zerubbabel (that name you have for your next kid). The temple foundation is laid, not the temple itself, not the superstructure, but the foundation is laid. The outline is there. It’s 536 BC. The second half of Ezra, chapters 7 through 10, that’s the second return. Ezra shows up. It’s 70 years later, and he restores the spiritual life. Notice the date, 458 BC. The first return under Zerubbabel, Ezra wasn’t even born, and yet Ezra wrote the book of Ezra. That shouldn’t surprise you. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Last I checked, he wasn’t around at Creation. So, in chapters 7 through 10, when Ezra finally does appear, it’s 78 years later. Nehemiah, who builds the walls, doesn’t show up for another 10 years, like 444 BC. (Ezra and Nehemiah are contemporaries.)
All of you that are all about numbers, you’re eating this up. The rest of you are going, ‘Boring…’ I get it. But the reason this is important is because (I’m not going to read them all. I’m going to sort of summarize them for you.) verses 6 through 23 are parenthetical. They’re meant to illustrate Ezra’s point. Here’s the point. Israel’s entire history has involved constant, incessant enemy opposition. In Ezra, verses 6 through 23, he momentarily leaves the current time period, 536 BC, and tells or illustrates how down through the years (down through the decades, in his case) Israel’s enemies have constantly opposed them. In fact, if you look at verse 6, it says,
Ezra 4:6, “…in the reign of Ahasuerus…” (That’s another king, not Cyrus.) “…in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
Ezra 4:7, “…In the days of Artaxerxes…”
That’s another king. And the bad guys are mentioned here. If you look all the way down to verse 12, it tells us that these people wrote a letter to the king against the Jews that says,
Ezra 4:12, “…be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing (what?) the walls.”
The walls wouldn’t be built for over 90 years from this current text. That’s the point. If you go all the way down to verse 24, the very last verse in this chapter, Ezra goes back to the beginning, back to where we were in those first five verses, and he says,
Ezra 4:24, ”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.”
This would be like me telling you about how Israel became a nation in 1948. Remember that? A lot of you know that. That’s like astounding! It would be like me telling you about all the events that occurred when Israel became a nation in 1948 and all of the opposition from the Arabs all around trying to push them into the sea. It’s amazing that they even survived! And then pausing, because it’s 2023… not 1948, to show you how the opposition to Israel has continued. It continued in 1956. It continued in the Six Day War of 1967. It continued in the War of Yom Kippur in 1973, and on and on up to the present hour… Israel’s enemies hate them! And then, going back, “…as I was saying in 1948”… You know what I’m saying? That’s the idea here. (And if that doesn’t make any sense, please don’t tell me, because I really worked hard to get that down.) (audience laughing.)
Here again is Ezra’s point of application. When you take a stand for God, Satan will take his stand against you. Mark it down. That’s why we must fight!
In verse one, these individuals are called adversaries. That word literally means “foes” or “enemies.” Who were these enemies? In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar had taken captive many of the inhabitants of Judah to Babylon during the days of Daniel. When he did that, the land wasn’t vacant, it still had inhabitants. Let’s just put it this way. They weren’t the cream of the crop. They were the lowlier servants. The best, the highly esteemed, the intellectual, the theologians… the smartest people he took with him. He left the lower end of the spectrum there. Then Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, actually dumped a lot of Assyrians into that area. For that 70 year captivity, while the children of Israel are in Babylon, back in Israel, there are [Israelites] living there. They would become to known in the New Testament as… the Samaritans, the half Jews. They were Jews who intermingled with Assyrians both physically and spiritually. It became sort of a cultic, syncretistic religion. Syncretism is when you take your faith and somebody else’s faith and blend them together. In fact, look at 2 Kings 17, verse 33.
2 Kings 17:33, “So they feared the Lord, but also served their own gods…”
Look at that! (You should underline that, your Bible.)
…after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.”
There’s your explanation for what was going on back in Israel. If that sounds strange to you, serving God and serving idols, it shouldn’t, because some of you are doing it right now! You’re struggling right now attempting to live a life that honors God because you know that’s a good thing to do (Amen?) while honoring the gods of money… materialism… sex… entertainment and self.
Just the other day, I was talking with a young man who had come to Christ in recent days. He said, “I literally worshipped myself.” And he said, “Let me tell you something, Pastor. It doesn’t work!” If, like this young man, you’re living in this juxtaposition, living a syncretistic life where you want to honor God and also honor the gods of our culture because the culture is dominating your life … it doesn’t work. Your guilt will remain. Your shame will remain. Your lostness will remain. Your loneliness will not go away… until you find your rest in Jesus. That’s what Augustine, the great theologian said.
“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Augustine
Can I get an ‘Amen?’ Syncretism doesn’t work. It didn’t work then, it doesn’t work now.
You want to know what does work… for the enemy, that is? Threats. And that’s why Ezra illustrated the enemy’s success record, stopping the progress of God’s people down through the years in verses 6 through 24. And then he goes back to the time where the story began. Let’s look at the last verse, by the way, since we might as well get our eyes on it. Again,
Ezra 4:24, “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.”
The work of the temple ceased shortly after the foundation was laid in 536 BC. Sadly, it would remain dormant for 16 years until God would raise up a great preacher and prophet by the name of Haggai.
It’s a little bit like churches today that sort of focus on the good old days. Have you ever been in one of those? ‘Yeah, the good old days when we had revivals and people got saved…’ and your church is just sitting there dormant right now. Warren Wiersbe was right when he said,
“The Christian life is not a playground. It’s a battleground.” Warren Wiersbe
And what do you do on a battleground? You fight! Again, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells Christians,
1 Timothy 6:12, ”Fight the good fight of faith.”
Have you ever read that? Sure you have. By the way, Paul says it’s a good fight. By saying so, he’s implying there is a bad fight. And some of you get involved in too many bad fights.
For the record, I’m not against those of you who are politically oriented, you’re cultural warriors, and you fight against the immoral issues of the culture. I’m for you, I think it’s a great thing. But don’t do that at the expense of the greater fight, which is called here a good fight. Fight the good fight of faith.
For the balance of our time… God help us … fight! Here’s the first thing you ought to fight. Fight compromise with conviction. We live in the greatest arena of compromise the church has ever known and it’s had a lot of compromising times. Today the culture seems to drive the church and its theology rather than the other way around. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? What we believe should drive the way we live, the way we act, the way we think. But too many of us, because the Bible isn’t being inculcated into our hearts and minds, start to capitulate. You give into the culture. Like Moody said,
“The place for the ship is in the sea, but God help the ship if the sea gets into it.” D.L. Moody
Amen? (I just thought of that. I should write it down for the next service.) But as I look at this, our fight must be unified. If you look at verse 3… (I love this!) These guys come disingenuously saying, ‘Hey. Let us build with you. We worship God like you do.’ In verse 3, here’s what it says;
Ezra 4:3, ”But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them…”
and then they make their declaration. It’s not just Zerubbabel, the leader, but Jeshua, the priest, gets involved, and the other heads as well. The response to their enemies came from all corners of Jewish leadership (which I love!) That’s a unified front. That’s the way our fight should be.
Just the other day, a recent visitor to Saylorville Church commented to us their appreciation that no one preacher totally dominates the pulpit. And I say, “Amen! Don’t you?” It used to be that way many years ago, but it really illustrates the truth of our conviction that a Christ-honoring church should be elder-lead. The benefit to the congregation is the comfort of knowing that major decisions are not arbitrarily made. They’re not made by just one person, but by a collection of godly men and women. We bring in the collective wisdom of what God is doing in our church, though the men lead.
Our fight must be decisive. We’re talking about fight compromise with conviction. We have to be men and women of conviction and not compromise. As such, our fight should be decisive. Notice again at the end of verse three, when they respond as one,
Ezra 4:3, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God…”
Very strongly stated, Zerubbabel, Jeshua and company saw through the disingenuous ploy of these Samaritans.
Saylorville Church has also declared it’s dependence on God and his people and independence from outsiders, regarding our beliefs, regarding our practices, and regarding things like building and remodeling. We don’t go outside and borrow money. I’m not saying if somebody else does it, we should condemn them… don’t. But we have sought the Lord’s leading to be dependent on him (Amen?) without compromise. This is what John tells us in
3 John 1:7,
3 John 1:7: ”For they have gone out…” (These are the missionaries,) “for the sake of the name…” (watch this…) “taking nothing from the Gentiles.”
Have you ever read that? So it’s a decisive move. So I’m just saying followers of Jesus, if indeed you are, and I don’t assume that all of you are, but if you are, fight compromise with conviction.
Secondly, fight your enemy as a conqueror. In verse three again, when they make their declaration, they don’t just say, ‘You’re not going to help us build. We’ll do it alone.’ At the very end of verse three, it says, “He cites the permission “that had been granted to them by Cyrus.” and we’ve talked about this already.
[Ezra 4:3b, “… “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”]
God led Cyrus to free the Jews to both return and rebuild. So they had that freedom. As a follower of Jesus, you need to face your enemies and fight them as a conqueror. You’re already a conqueror… Remember? 1 John 5:4, it says here’s the thing that causes us to overcome.
[1 John 5:4, ”For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”]
It is our what? Anybody know? It’s our faith. Our victory, making us over comers or conquerors, is our faith.
I couldn’t help but think of that old hymn. Some of you older ones, remember that old hymn?
Faith is the victory.
“Faith is the victory! Oh, glorious victory that overcomes the world.”
That’s what makes us victors. So, Saylorville Church, face your enemy as a victor.
Just the other day, I was at one of my coffee watering holes. I was out on the deck. It was a beautiful day as I was doing some studying. I looked up, and I couldn’t believe my eyes! I hadn’t seen this guy for years. I have to be honest. With all candidness, I was worried. This young man about a half a dozen years ago came to Christ through our ministry. He was wonderfully saved, super tender-hearted and on a great trajectory. Within literally weeks of his conversion, a series of circumstances overwhelmed him, not of his own doing. (I can’t describe to you what they are. I’d be giving away this whole thing if I did.) It was so gut wrenching, so heart wrenching, and eventually it sent him away. I stood up and we started interacting. He’s an overcomer! He’s thriving for Jesus Christ! He’s living for Christ! I looked at him and I said, “You are a testimony with the Apostle Paul, and Philippians 1 verse 6,
Philippians 1:6, “…being confident of this very thing. He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
We need to remind ourselves in this fight both who we are and who’s we are. You are more than conquerors! Paul said in the book of Romans 8 verse 37,
Romans 8:37b, ”… more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
So then, face those fears, your enemy, and face your foe knowing that sometimes you’ll have to work through your fears, and maybe even in spite of them, but you do so as a conqueror of Christ Jesus.
Thirdly, God help us fight the lies of man with the truth of God. Now you saw what happened when these guys got turned down. Notice right away… look at it again in verse four,
Ezra 4:4, ”Then the people, (the Samaritans) of the land, discouraged the people of Judah made them afraid to build and bribed advisors against them to frustrate their purposes.”
The word “discouraged” in the King James says “they weakened the hands.” That’s actually a literal translation. (I really like that translation.) It’s a word picture of depression. When I’m down, when I’m heavy, when I’m hurting, when I’m super discouraged, I have to rally myself to do anything. Don’t you? It’s why depressed people have a hard time even getting out of bed.
These Samaritans had caused a real spirit of oppression, heaviness, discouragement. It says they made them afraid. The Hebrew word means “to palpitate.” It literally carries the idea of being terrified. They were shaking on the inside for fear. We’re not told exactly how, But Ezra’s future commentary that we alluded to here, in verses 6 through 23, where he takes the next 70 years or so, tells us what they did. How did they cause the people of land to be discouraged, to be fearful? In a word … threats. You see it says they bribed, literally the word means “hired” counselors or advisors. I got to thinking about this. The bad guys hired counselors against the people of Israel. That’s how they beat them?! I thought myself, what would advisors use to frustrate God’s people? What do all enemies do to frustrate God’s people? They used (Are you ready for it?) … Words. We all know the power of words. Do we not? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but [words can never hurt me]”. That’s a lie, and you know it. Words can lift us up. Solomon said it;
Proverbs 15:23, “A word spoken at just the right time. How good it is!”
Amen? Mark Twain said,
“I can live for two months on one good compliment.”
… and I could too! Or they’ll take us down. Again, Solomon said in Proverbs chapter 15 and verse 4,
Proverbs 15:4, ”The harsh words can crush our spirit.”
Isn’t that true? Think about what words can do to people, whipping people into frenzies [like] Hitler’s demagoguery. Remember that? Moving masses of people toward evil. Surely Solomon was right again when he said,
Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”
The very thing nobody can control. Amen? Words don’t even have to make sense to motivate people.
I was watching this documentary on John Madden. You remember John Madden, the great football coach for the Super Bowl champions, the Oakland Raiders, and even better known as a commentator for football for many years? He died recently. He was telling about how he whipped the Raiders into a frenzy before they went out. He said, ”I’d heard this expression I really liked. I didn’t even understand it really. But I got them into the locker room and I said, “”Don’t worry about the horse being blind. Just load the wagon!”” (audience laughing) That doesn’t make sense, but the players ran out on the field and won the game! Wow! Talk about the power of words… and throw a personality in there with it!
When I witness the naiveté of Christians and the garbage that many of you swallow and believe by what you read on the internet, social media platforms, et cetera, I think every one of us should have these words written over our computer. “The gullible believe anything they’re told. The prudent sift and weigh every word.”
[Proverbs 14:15 (ESV), “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.”]
Have you ever read that? You say ‘no’ because that was from the Message translation, but still it’s good. That is the sense of the word. This was written a thousand years before Jesus. Human nature doesn’t change. And some of you just believe it because somebody printed it. It’s the dumbest thing in the world. Don’t be dumb. How do we fight lies and misinformation? I’ll tell you how… With truth! Amen?
Philippians 4:8, “Whatsoever things are true…”
John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
And the words of these enemies were causing them fear. In fact, in verses 4 and 5, the Hebrew tenses in the word for discouraged and fear, there are all participles. All that means is these enemies were constantly discouraging, constantly frightening, and constantly hiring advisors to speak against them. In other words, whatever your enemy did successfully yesterday, he’ll do it again tomorrow. And if it didn’t work the day before, the enemy doesn’t go, ‘Well, that didn’t work. I’m not going to try that again.’ Uh-uh. Remember Jesus? Tempted… the perfect Man, the God man, tempted for 40 days in the wilderness. Luke’s gospel puts a little addendum,
Luke 4:13, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] (and there it is) to try it again later on.”
Speaking of Jesus being tempted, how did Jesus respond? One, two, three times with,
Luke 4:4,8,12, “It is written…”
Jesus relied on the truth of God by quoting Old Testament truth. I mean, if Jesus was relying on truth, then how much more should we? So, fight. Fight the lies of man with the truth of God.
And finally, fight the fear of man with the fear of God. Verse 24, the very last verse again;
Ezra 4:24, “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.]”
Some of you probably think, “Where is ‘them fearing God’ in the story here?” It’s not. That’s the point. Sadly, the fear of man fueled the enemy of God, and they prevailed. The work on the temple, that outline of the temple, the foundation laid, the thing they were cheering and praising the Lord about last week, in chapter three… sat just like that for 16 years! From
536 BC to 520 BC… nothing. Oh, not really nothing. The people of the land did well. They built beautiful homes. They lived off the land. They became successful. The temple sat dormant… until God raised up a great preacher by the name of Haggai, who said, ‘What are you doing living in luxury? Get up and build my [God’s] house!’ And they did. But that would be 16 years. The spirit of God, through Haggai the Prophet, stirred, Zerubbabel and Jeshua and all the heads of the houses, and everyone in fact, to stop staring in fear at their enemies and start looking to God. And that’s when it changed. Everything changes when that happens, when you stop looking at your enemies. That’s what some of you do. You just stare at the things that are detracting you. Your enemy could be somebody in your life, you can’t keep your eye off of them. And that’s your problem. Get your eye off of them!
One of the great icons of this last century in Christianity was Dr. Charles Stanley. Many of you came to know and love him and listened to his simple but powerful sermons. What a man of God! He lived a great, long life and had a very productive ministry. He died at age 90 a week ago. He lived through a lot. He told the story of being super discouraged when he was a young pastor in his 30s. A lot of enemies were coming after him saying things because words are so powerful… right? Threats were hanging over him. And he went and visited a widow in her 70s who had invited him over to her house and he went there and he just began to divulge his woes. She walked him over to one of the classic pictures I’m sure many of you have seen that was on the wall. She said, “Look at this picture. What do you see?” (By the way, Daniel was a contemporary and he would have been old. Remember, he was the one who probably told Cyrus, ‘Hey, you’re in the Bible.’ But here he is in the lion’s den.) The lady said, “What do you see here?” and Stanley said he was was looking at everything… and at those lions and their faces. The lady said, “Look at Daniel. What is he doing?” In that moment, Stanley realized Daniel wasn’t looking at his enemies. He was looking to God, and Charles Stanley said, “That made all the difference in my life.” His whole life became a life of obedience to God, not worrying what his detractors and his enemies were doing.
Some of you in this room need to be like Daniel, because you’re not even a Christian. You’ve got things around that are bothering you… your sins, the things that have alienated you from God. Look to God.
Another great preacher, a generation before Stanley was Charles Spurgeon. As a young boy, he was in a Methodist chapel one day. Some stump preacher gets up and preaches from Isaiah where it says, “Look to me, look to me and be saved.”
[Isaiah 45:22, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”]
That preacher looked at Charles Spurgeon and said, “Young man, you look miserable!” How would you like to have somebody say that? (Pastor said, “Do you want me to go around and start reading your faces right now?” Somebody said, “No!” That’s funny!” Pastor said! I won’t, but that preacher did.) He said, “Young man, you look miserable! Look to Jesus.” And he did, and he was saved. And a whole generation of people in England were converted as a result.
Some of you need to look to Jesus right now to be saved, and believe that he died for you and rose again for your sins. And many of you need to get your eyes off the lions, and, like Daniel, look to God and fight the good fight of faith. Let’s pray.
Our Father, that’s our prayer. May you be honored. May you help us in our fight to fight a good fight. Some of us have compromised. Forgive us for that. Help us learn to come back and be people of real conviction, Lord. And come up against the fears we have of men and see you in a greater way. We pray all these things, Lord, asking your blessing upon us that you would do your work in our hearts. In Jesus name. Amen.