************ Sermon on Ezra 7:10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 7, 2008
"Devoted to the Law of God"
Today, we celebrate the start of another church year. Many of our church programs started this past week. Sunday School and Catechism and choir start today. Various Bible Studies start up in the next couple of weeks. We hope and pray that this will be a year of spiritual growth, that we all will grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
As we start another church year, I want to remind you that the Bible is central to our growth as Christians. In some form or another, every single group in our church is focused on the Bible. So, it only makes sense that we focus on the Bible as we kick off a new church year.
I The Context
A Let me give you some context to our Bible reading for this morning.
We know that the people of Israel rebelled against God. They became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the Temple of the Lord. The LORD sent messengers to His people again and again, telling them to repent. But they mocked God's messengers, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against His people and there was no remedy.
Two times, God brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C. and again in 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar carried to Babylon all the articles from the Temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord's Temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. His army set fire to God's Temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile to Babylon the remnant of the leaders and nobility and craftsmen, who escaped from the sword. The Jews left behind in Palestine were the poor, the uneducated, and the unskilled – the people least able to restore the damage done to their country. Even though an altar was erected on the site of the demolished Temple, for all practical purposes the official Jewish religion with its various rites and ceremonies was no longer being practiced in the Promised Land (cf 2 Chron 36:15ff).
B Into this situation, in 539 B.C., almost seventy years after the first Babylonian captivity, Cyrus king of Persia issued a decree:
(Ezra 1:2-4) "The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. (3) Anyone of his people among you--may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. (4) And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem."Cyrus decreed that the exiled Jews could return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and Jews throughout the Empire were expected to help pay the costs.
So what happened? Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a group of exiled Jews returned to Judah to rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Not all the Jews in Babylon went back to Judah. A significant group stayed behind, because they had become prosperous, enjoyed a great amount of freedom, and were satisfied with conditions in that country.
The returning exiles enthusiastically began rebuilding the Temple and resumed sacrifices. I say "began", because they were opposed in their work of rebuilding by enemies to the north who set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. These enemies hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans (cf Ezra 4:4-5).
It is within this context that we meet Ezra.
II The Hand of God was on Ezra
A We learn five things about Ezra in our Bible reading.
First, we see the family tree of Ezra – that long list of names at the start of chapter 7. Most ministers skip over these names. I read them, because they tell us that Ezra traces his roots to Aaron, the first high-priest of Israel. Ezra is a member of the high-priestly family; he is an authentic and legitimate priest of God who is authorized to teach the Law of the Lord.
B Second, we are told that Ezra also knows his subject matter. Notice how Scripture puts it:
(Ezra 7:6) He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given.Ezra knew the Law. He studied the Law. He meditated upon the Law. He debated and discussed the Law with other scholars.
C The third thing we are told concerning Ezra is this: "The king had granted him everything he asked" (Ezra 7:6). Ezra had access to King Artaxerxes of Persia. Ezra had influence with the king. Ezra, we can say, had good relations with the king – to the point that the king granted Ezra everything he asked for. What did Ezra ask for? We may presume that Ezra asked for the things mentioned in the letter of Artaxerxes that we find in the remainder of Ezra 7:
-verse 13 - any Israelite or priest can go to Jerusalem
-verse 15 - they can take with them offerings of silver and gold
-verse 17 - they are to buy bulls, rams, lambs, grain offerings and drink offerings and sacrifice them on the altar of the Temple
-verse 21 - the provincial treasurers are to give Ezra whatever financial help he asks for
-verse 25 - Ezra is to appoint magistrates and judges in Palestine
D Fourth, we are told that Ezra "came up from Babylon" (Ezra 7:6). This happened in 458 B.C. – 80 years after the first group of exiles came to Jerusalem. At that time, Ezra the priest, came to Jerusalem with a group of Babylonian exiles – including priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and Temple servants.
E Review with me what we have learned about Ezra so far:
-he is of the family of Aaron
-he knows the Law
-he has good relations with the king
-he led a group of returning exiles to Jerusalem
Pretty impressive list, isn't it?!
I have not mentioned, yet, the most important thing about Ezra – something mentioned twice in our Scripture reading. Do you know what I am talking about? Two times we are told that the hand of God was on Ezra (Ezra 7:6,9). This is a popular phrase in Ezra and Nehemiah – used a total of eight times (Ezra 7:6,9,28; 8:18,22,31; Neh 2:8,18).
What does it mean to have God's hand on you? This indicates that the Lord has given His favor to you, that He is blessing you! This is why Ezra was so successful in all that he did. God was involved in all the efforts that Ezra undertook. The hand of God was upon Ezra.
There are two quick things we can say about the hand of God. First, it is almighty. It is with His hand that God upholds heaven and earth and everything that is in them. Second, it is loving. It is with His hand that God provides us what we need for body and soul.
The hand of God was upon Ezra. The gracious hand of God was upon Ezra. You might say, "So what?" It was because the hand of God was upon Ezra, that the king granted Ezra everything asked for (Ezra 7:6). Even a pagan king can recognize when the Lord God Almighty is blessing someone. It was because the hand of God was upon Ezra, that Ezra and company were able to safely make the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:9). A direct route across the desert from Babylon to Jerusalem is about five hundred miles – about twenty-five days travel by camel or horse. It took Ezra and company about three-and-a-half months, but they probably took the northern route to avoid the heat and drought of the desert. Even the northern route was full of danger because rebellion had broken out in Egypt and the highways were unsafe. It was because the hand of God was upon Ezra, that Ezra was able to take up his calling in Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, reinstate the priesthood, repair the altar, promote spiritual reform, and lead the people in a public act of repentance and confession. All of this, because the hand of God was upon him. Ezra would be the first to say that all the success in his life was because God's gracious and mighty hand was upon him. Without the blessing and presence of God's hand, all that we do comes to nothing and means nothing. You know what the Psalmist says:
(Ps 127:1) Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.We need God's blessing!
III Ezra's Devotion to the Word of God
A Our text this morning starts with a small but very important word – the word "for" or "because." That word "for" joins together verses 9 and 10. That word "for" tells us there is a connection between verses 9 and 10. Listen to these two verses as a unit:
(Ezra 7:9-10) ... the gracious hand of his God was on him. (10) For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.Do you hear the connection? The hand of God was upon Ezra because Ezra devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law. On this kick-off Sunday, I want to tell you that there is a connection between the study of God's Word and having the gracious hand of God upon you. Or, to put it another way, God delights in blessing those who love His Word.
B Now, let me correct an error before I say anything else. I am not saying that we should study the Word so we can be blessed by God. We must never think that we can purchase or earn the blessing of God. We must never think that the Lord is forced to bless us because we study the Word. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace. Yet, out of grace, God delights in blessing those who love His Word.
C It is immediately clear that Ezra loves the Word of God. We notice three things: Ezra studied the Law of God, Ezra observed the Law of God, Ezra taught the Law of God.
Our English Bible says Ezra "had devoted himself to the study" of God's Word. The actual Hebrew tells us Ezra "had set his heart on the study of God's Law." In the Bible, the word "heart" does not mean the organ that pumps blood around the body; rather, "heart" represents the whole of one's being or the center of one's being. Thus, we can say that Ezra concentrated his whole life on the study of God's Law. He studied – that is, he investigated, he analyzed, he researched, he searched, he pondered, he meditated. Ezra would not let a day pass without spending time in and with the Word. And, don't forget, God delights in blessing those who love His Word.
Ezra also observed the Law. He put it into practice. Ezra was not only a hearer of the Word; he was also a doer of the Word. Ezra submitted to the Word of God. Remember what the Apostle James says about this?
(James 1:22-25) Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (23) Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror (24) and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (25) But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.Did you catch the final line? Doers of the Word are blessed. They are blessed by the gracious hand of God. Because God delights in blessing those who love His Word.
Ezra also taught the Law. Ezra diligently and skilfully instructed the people in God's Law. He didn't teach off the top of his head, of course. He carefully prepared his lessons. You were not going to catch Ezra entering the classroom or Temple not quite prepared, not quite sure what he was going to say. So, Ezra faithfully taught the Law to the people. God blessed him, because God delights in blessing those who love His Word.
D Ezra studied the Word, Ezra practiced the Word, Ezra taught the Word. On this kick-off Sunday, I want to remind you that these three activities are fundamental. We, too, are to study, practice, and teach the Word.
Do you remember Ronnie? I introduced you to Ronnie a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the second commandment. Ronnie is someone I met on YouTube.com. Ronnie, if you remember, has some definite opinions about church and worship; I need to add that those opinions are definitely wrong. Well, Ronnie also has some definite opinions about spiritual growth. Let me quote Ronnie:
Well if you think about it, I guess that's why I love our Christianity so much. It's just so easy to be a part of it. You always reserve the right to just leave the church if they don't meet my expectations. Alright? Ok?Wrong again, Ronnie! You are responsible – not the minister – for your own spiritual growth. You need to study, to practice, and to teach the Word of God. And God will bless you because God delights to bless those who love His Word.
Ok, well maybe God's asking me to take responsibility for my own spiritual growth. No He isn't, that's silly. I mean, that's what the pastor gets paid to do. He's paid to learn and to grow and to pursue God so I don't have to. Yeah.
Study, practice, teach. These are the three legs of a stool. A one-legged and two-legged stool does no good because a stool needs at least three legs to stand on its own. Likewise, we can't just study the Word; we also need to practice the Word and teach the Word. And God will bless you because God delights to bless those who love His Word.
Study the Word, practice the Word, teach the Word. We are called to do that as a Church. That is why we have Sunday School, Catechism, Bible Study. And, don't forget, God delights to bless those who love His Word.
Study the Word, practice the Word, teach the Word. We are called to do that in our homes. Parents, do you make sure there are family devotions every single day? Do you take charge of the spiritual growth of your children?
Study the Word, practice the Word, teach the Word. We are called to do that as individuals. We are called to do that as young and old, male and female, married and single. Unlike Ronnie, we know we are responsible for our own spiritual growth. And, we know God delights to bless those who love His Word.
Study the Word, practice the Word, teach the Word. Now, let me remind you of what was written by the Apostle John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
(Jn 1:1-2,14) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was with God in the beginning ... (14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.Do you hear what John is saying? The Word became flesh. Jesus is the Word.
You cannot study the Word, practice the Word, or teach the Word without meeting Jesus.
Study the Word, practice the Word, teach the Word. Meet Jesus. Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Draw closer to Jesus. And, God will bless you. Because God delights to bless those who love His Word.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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