Summary: If we are in Christ, God will speak to others through us. God will tear down our shells or walls and then we can discover what our ministry passion is-i.e. teenagers, the elderly or drug addicts. God calls on us to minister to those in need.
In the reading from Ezra 8:21-36, Ezra and the Jews are returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, just like the Jews travelled to the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses and Joshua. They decided to trust in God for protection instead of relying on an armed escort provided by the king of Babylon. The native peoples who prowled through the desert in Old Testament times were as dangerous as they are today. Travellers usually had an armed escort, but Ezra spoke so much to the king of God’s providence that it would have been foolish for him to ask for armed guards.
There is not one battle in the Old Testament that was won by man-made means. Each battle was won by men who knew God. Ezra is another person who knew God. Ezra decided that the exiles should commit themselves to God’s protection by fasting and prayer. God is not a set of timeless principles such as the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. He has and is a divine will who has specific goals:
1. To claim what is rightly his, namely us.
2. To bless those who trust him and enter into his covenant relationship.
3. To judge those who reject him
Knowing God means acknowledging him, pursuing him, experiencing him, responding to his initiatives of grace, submitting to his claims, entering into his covenants and living in his power. Ezra met all of these conditions, and we must ask ourselves if we meet these conditions as well.
Knowing God involves three things:
1. Head. You read, study and understand God’s Word. You listen to preaching and teaching. You see God revealed in creation. You study his nature and actions. You listen to testimonies about God’s faithfulness. Ezra met all of these qualifications, but head knowledge is not enough.
2. Heart. You experience the presence and power of God in a real and vital relationship in your life. His love constrains us to love him in return. You receive what your head absorbs about God and you humble yourselves in his presence. You allow conviction to grip your heart and life until it leads to repentance that leads to life. You allow sorrow to produce hatred of sin. You experience the joy of the Lord. You live a life of brokenness before him and long to be in his presence. Ezra met all of these qualifications, but heart knowledge alone is a dangerous thing because it is vulnerable to manmade desires.
3. Legs. You obey and live a relationship with Jesus and do what he commands. Ezra met all of these qualifications, but if all we do is the doing, we can burn out quickly.
All three of these have to be put together in order for us to know God. We have to renew our minds with godly things. We have to be melted and softened by his touch. We have to run to obey his word and commands.
When you consider the dangers of their journey, their faith was great, and it was rewarded by divine protection. This had to have been one of the most astonishing events in history. As they travelled, they carried orders from the king. These orders were shown to the governors of the areas where the exiles travelled. As a result of these orders, the governors supported the exiles.
The commission from the king Ezra included orders to carry over 25 tons of silver and gold from the Babylonians to the temple of Jerusalem. Ezra gave twelve priests and twelve Levites the responsibility and accountability for carrying this treasure. Ezra carefully distributed all of the offerings for the temple. This ensured that everything would arrive intact, especially since the offerings would be weighed in Jerusalem to confirm the safe passage of the offerings.
Ezra did not build a physical structure. He re-established the true worship in obedience to the Law of Moses. When Ezra and the exiles prayed to God, their focus changed from the immediate to the eternal. They had a hunger for God. Their focus changed from their earthly journey to their eternal journey. They trusted God. God’s oversight of history forms the background for the Book of Ezra.
Ezra was more than a Biblical scholar. He had a burning desire to teach God’s law to the people and to practice it as it was written and intended. He was burdened that the Jews were not following God’s law correctly and was committed to showing then their errors. Ezra had the goal of leading the Jews back to proper worship and practice. For example, while in Babylon, the exiles mixed with foreigners. Ezra asked God to forgive them. They deserved everything that happened to them because they disobeyed God by mixing with the foreigners, but God remained faithful to them. The exiles had to repent and change, which meant that there could be no more marriages with non-believers.