‘The sin of the unequally yoked’ (part 2) (Ezra 10:1-44)

After Ezra had wept and prayed about the sin of the people of God in taking themselves foreign wives, a deep sense of conviction followed and the leaders of the people urged Ezra to take action. In Ezra 10:1-44, we not only learn the names of the men who took foreign wives, but also the way in which this matter was to be dealt with as the wives, and in some cases their children, were sent away. While this sounds harsh to modern ears, Ezra’s goal had been to establish a sense of the need for personal and national holiness. The Messiah who was still to come, would not be born from a ‘mixed- marriage’. At the end of the book the reader will realise that the promised kingdom had still not arrived. And when the King in that kingdom did come (Jesus), he did not send people away because they were law-breakers but gathered them in because of grace.

‘The sin of the unequally yoked (part 1)’ (Ezra 9:1-15)

When Ezra finally returned to Jerusalem with the ‘second wave’ of returning exiles with him, he soon found that all was not well in the beloved capital. Ezra 9:1-15 tells us that news came to him from the mouths of the officials of the people that many of the returned exiles had married people of the surrounding nations. This was no small thing to have happened, but was serious. God had forbidden His people from the outset of being ‘unequally yoked’ with those who were not His people, and this act of the returned exiles was a breach of that directive. The news shocked Ezra and drove him to express great grief, but it also led him to pray and confess the sin of His people to God, pleading with God for forgiveness. The prayer recorded in Ezra 9 is one of the great prayers of the Bible and clearly reminds us that while the world ‘winks’ at sin, God sees things far differently!  We are all guilty before Him on many counts and need His mercy and forgiveness, which He gives to those who ask because of His Son, Jesus.

‘Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem…and yours’ (Ezra 8:21-36)

When Ezra set out for Jerusalem with the ‘second wave’ of 5,000 or more returning exiles with him in Ezra 8:21-36, the journey itself was a test of faith. Before they left, Ezra had advised the Persian King that he would not need the king’s soldiers to accompany them (even though they had with them much gold and silver), because ‘God’s hand would be upon them’. This was a statement that Ezra could well have lived to regret, but he had no need to. Setting out with trust in God, and having that trust in God renewed by prayer and fasting, Ezra and the Jews arrived safely at their destination. All of God’s people are on a journey to the heavenly Jerusalem and this too is a test of faith. The destination is certain and so is the God who calls us home, but the journey itself is a trial that requires faith in the promises of a faithful God.

‘Missing and found! How God’s supply met His people’s need’ (Ezra 8:15-20)

When Ezra left Babylon at the request of King Artaxerxes, to return to Jerusalem from Babylon with those that accompanied him as a ‘second wave’ of returning exiles, the text of Ezra 8:15-20 tells us that he noted that there were no Levites among the people returning with him. The Levites worked in the Temple as servants to the priests, often completing many of the menial and lowly tasks enabling the priests to do their work. Knowing that this would be vital for the proper functioning of God’s people, Ezra sent word to Iddo with his need. Iddo responded by sending 38 Levites and an additional 220 temple servants, while Ezra acknowledged God’s ‘good hand’ upon him. The call for gospel workers remains. The work is hard and often without reward. Jesus told us to pray to God (the Lord of the harvest) to thrust workers out into His harvest field, but are there those who will answer the call?

‘More than just a list of hard-to-pronounce-names’ (Ezra 8:1-14)

When Ezra left Babylon at the request of King Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem, he did not set out alone. Ezra 8:1-14 records the names and the genealogies of those who set out on the four month trek with him. While the text gives us little more than the names and numbers of these returnees, this information is useful. It tells us that Ezra was an eyewitness to the events  that his book records, thus increasing our assurence that the Bible is historically accurate, and it also tells us that this return was part of the plan of God. One of the men returning with Ezra to Jerusalem, Hattush, was descended from KIng David abd was the great great grandson of Zerubbabel who appears in the genealogy of Jesus. God’s plan was to bring the Messiah into tyhe world through a family, and this family was now becoming known. God’s purposes are still being worked out for the whole world. His plan is to unite everything under the feet of that Messiah, Jesus and like they people of old, we wait for Him still.

Ezra’s right royal task – for the King and for God’ (Ezra 7:11-28)

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. Continue reading

‘Meet Ezra: the man God prepared for His service’ (Ezra 7:1-10)

There are lots of men in the Bible. 956 to be exact. Ezra is one of them though he is not as well known as some of the others. In Ezra 7:1-10 we are finally introduced to the man whose name is both the title and the author of the book. Ezra’s ancestral line is given to us to show just how important a man he was. He was born into a priestly line and could trace his heritage back to Aaron, the first high priest of Israel. Ezra was also a man of importance. He had the honour of being appointed by the Persian kind Artaxerxes, to return to Jerusalem to help the people re-establish themselves. Ezra was also a scribe and was therefore a student of the Scriptures, but it was not just with his head that he approached God’s Word, but also with his heart, to learn it and be changed by it. This is why Ezra is a great model for believers today to imitate.

‘Lessons from a significant Passover celebration’ (Ezra 6:19-22)

Four months after the dedication of the Temple, the people of Israel gathered together for a special Passover celebration in Ezra 6:19-22. This was the first Passover to be held since the time of exile in Babylon (90 years earlier) and so it was a very special time. The meaning of the Passover was defined by God in Exodus 12. It was a feast to mark the night in which the angel of death ‘passed over’ the people of God when he came to punish Pharaoh. At this joyful celebration of the Passover, it was significant that the meal was not restricted to Israelites by birth, but included all who through repentance and faith put their trust in the Lord. Since Jesus came to be our ‘Passover lamb’ believers are assured that his death in our place as a (substitute) not only means our sins are forgiven but also means we will celebrate the victory of His sacrifice for us forever.

‘Lessons from the day of the Temple’s dedication’ (Ezra 6:16-18)

After the work on the Temple of Israel had been completed under the good and sovereign hand of God, Ezra 6:16-18 tells how the people set about to dedicate their new place of worship. Although it was a great day of celebration and thanksgiving and was marked by great joy, the day was little comparison to the dedication of the first Temple that happened centuries before during Solomon’s rule. Nevertheless, the celebration was marked by the offering of many sacrifices and worship ‘according to the Law of Moses’. The way they worship and they way we worship is also defined in detail by our God. The New Testament picks up these them of the Temple and reminds believers that we are the temple in which God lives by His Spirit. And God’s Spirit lives in us because Jesus paid the price of our purchase with His blood. We are not our own but have been bought at great cost. Our worship, and all of our lives are therefore to be a reflection of this truth.

‘The Temple – finished but with more to come’ (Ezra 6:1-15)

After the Temple had been left unfinished for many years, the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah stirred the people of God into action. Ezra 6:1-15 tells us that despite the local governor’s attempt to get the building work to be stopped again, under God’s good hand and with the confirming signs of His providence and His provision, the Temple was finally completed just over four years after the work had been re-started. This was a great day for the people of God. But greater still was God’s plan, as announced through the prophet Zechariah, that the One called the ‘Branch’ would one day come into His Temple. Jesus was the One who was the ‘Branch’. He was descended from David and was known as the ‘Son of David’, the Messiah. John chapter 2 tells us that when He came into His Temple, He acted like He owned it and spoke of it being torn down and rebuilt in 3 days. He was speaking of His body of course, and this was one of the first promises of His death and resurrection by which God’s people are saved.