This morning I read through the book of Ezra. I was reminded again of some foundational truths that are so necessary for our faith walk as we follow Jesus.
When you first begin studying the Old Testament, the 39 books might seem disorganized and disconnected from one another. We tend to read each book separately, standing alone from the others, but really, the Old Testament is one story that unfolds over a period of about four thousand years. Many of the books overlap in actual time. The timeline pictured below puts things in perspective.
As a scribe in the priestly line of Aaron, Ezra was tasked with restoring the spiritual worship of the exiles who had gone back into the homeland to rebuild the Temple that Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed. God put the idea in the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, just as he promised at the end of 2 Chronicles when the Israelites were being carried off into captivity. By the time Ezra arrived, the Temple had already been completed, but the first six chapters of the book tell us what happened during its construction. These events, and what happened after Ezra arrived, reveal lessons that are relevant to our faith today, 2400 years later!
#1 – Ezra reveals that God alone is sovereign over all.
Ezra 1:1 – Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia…
Don’t buy the lie that because someone is in a position of (supposed) authority they have power over your life as a child of God. God used the heathen Assyrian and Babylonian kings to discipline His people for their rebellion, but they could only do what God allowed them to do. Now, when it’s time for the remnant to be restored, He stirs up Cyrus’ heart, not only to let them return but to fully fund both their trip back and every resource that would be needed to build the Temple. He even returned all the gold and silver furnishings that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen. The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1). God is sovereign over the affairs of men. No one can prevent His purposes and plans from being accomplished (Job 42:2; Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 8:10).
#2 – Ezra proves that God’s Word is key to the success of any endeavor.
Ezra 6:6b,9b-10 – The king granted him all he requested because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him. … the good hand of his God was upon him … For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.
Do you want God’s hand of favor and grace on your life? God possesses all authority and power and right over all His creation. Why would you not want to live and work and walk in His blessing? Ezra was chosen for a particular task, but in and of himself, there was nothing special that enabled him to be successful. Ezra had positioned himself to receive God’s protection, His favor, His grace, His mercy, and for God to move and act on his behalf as he carried out his part in the story God was writing. Ezra had set his heart to study God’s Word, to practice it in daily obedience, and to share it with others. This was the secret of all his success, and it is the cure for all our failures in life. (See Joshua 1:8).
#3 – Ezra reminds us that God is more gracious than we deserve, yet a righteous and holy God to be feared.
Ezra 9:13-14 – After all that has come upon us for all our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this, shall we again break Your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations? Would You not be angry with us to the point of destruction, until there is no remnant nor any who escape?
After the celebration of the restored Temple, Ezra learns that the people have intermarried with the local Gentile nations. This was their downfall before God sent them into captivity. These marriages brought idol worship into Israel and led them astray from God. Ezra is rightfully horrified. God has been merciful to restore them, and they are willfully choosing to go right back into their sin. God’s grace is infinite. His heart is compassionate. He longs to show grace and mercy to His people. But He will not suffer our willing disobedience forever. This is not just an Old Testament idea erased by the New Testament grace of the cross. Followers of Christ who have been saved by God’s grace (the spiritual children of God) should have the same understanding of sin that offends God. When dealing with an unrepentant believer, Paul says, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5). The writer of Hebrews also warns those who go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth. In essence, it is trampling underfoot the Son of God, and regarding as unclean the blood by which we are sanctified and is an insult to the Holy Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:26-29).
Serving God is pretty simple when you think about it. We must believe He is who He says He is, in all His infinite, righteous, holy, omnipotent, sovereign, all-knowing nature. We must trust His Word as the infallible, inerrant, God-breathed, inspired authority over every aspect of our lives and the ultimate source of all wisdom. And we must stay as away from every sinful thing – anything that offends His righteous nature, allowing the Holy Spirit to prune away all that remains of the old creation and live out the life of Jesus in and through us.
Ezra did it. So can we, by the grace and mercy and power of the sovereign, loving God who saved us.