After introducing us to the reformer Ezra, Ezra 7:11-28 explains how Ezra set out for Jerusalem bearing a letter of authority from King Artaxerxes of Persia. Although he was a relative ‘nobody’ in Jerusalem (depsite his important ancestry), this letter gave Ezra the authority to do his work. The letter from the King also sets out the kind of work Ezra was to do. He was being sent to Jerusalem to enforce both the laws of Persian rule but also the law of God which Ezra knew, taught and lived out. The law of God is helpful for God’s people all the time because it shows up how far short we fall. Yet God has not left us with His law alone, He has also given us His gospel which is the cure for our sin that is revealed by the law.
Due to a recording error, the first part of this message is not found on the audio, but the missing introduction is reprinted below!
“There are not many times or occasions in your life when you are likely to receive a letter from royalty, maybe if you hit the 100 mark it will happen, but even then it will only happen the once. In my first parish our secretary was privileged to receive a reply from Buckingham Palace in response to a copy of our church’s history which had some photos of the Queen in it dating back to her visit in 1954. But even then, the response came from one of the Queen’s attendants, and not Her Majesty directly. But Ezra, however, could tell us something about this subject today. We are in the seventh chapter of Ezra, having just been introduced for the very first time to Ezra himself. The opening ten verses of chapter 7 described him in terms of his character and his lineage, which were important matters to report considering the important work that Ezra had come to Jerusalem to do. Our verses today also tell us that Ezra came with other credentials. He came with a letter in his hand, a letter from the King of Persia himself, Artaxerxes the Long-armed, he was known as, for he apparently had one arm…his right arm…longer than his left arm. History tells us quite a lot about Artaxerxes and also about the Persian Empire over which he ruled. And that history tells us that almost as soon as Artaxerxes came to power, his empire was troubled by an act of rebellion. It happened in Egypt. It was supported by some Greeks. It didn’t last long and it was soon crushed, but it meant that things were a little shaky. And this fact might help us understand a little why the King was so keen to have Ezra return to Jerusalem to impose the rule of law in Jerusalem. The last thing the King needed was this spirit of rebellion to spread from Egypt up into Judea. To have a strong base of law-abiding citizens in Jerusalem was of course greatly to his advantage, and that partly explains why Artaxerxes gave this letter to Ezra and sent him on his way. Now, as I said in verses 1-10, we were introduced to Ezra the priest, scribe, scholar of the Law of Moses, civil servant, ambassador and godly leader. Ezra has just made the four-month trek from Babylon to Jerusalem. And now he’s arrived with this letter in hand written by none other than King Artaxerxes himself, containing news of much needed aid that was coming from the king himself and from the personal treasury of the king, but also of the help that was coming from the exiled Jews in Babylon. So it was a good letter, an encouraging letter on the one hand, but then it also came with a carrot-on-the-end-of-the-stick-like warning. The letter bears testimony that Ezra had come to impose the rule of law, but, and it was a pretty strong ‘but’ at that……if the Jews didn’t obey that rule of law, then there would be severe sanctions. But for now these three things from this royal letter that Ezra was bearing.”