Summary: Four ways to know that God’s people are ready to accomplish the work He has for them.
It’s been a few weeks since we’ve been in Ezra, so I think it’s important that we spend a few minutes remembering where we are. That’s always an important thing to remember in your own personal Bible study. It’s very easy to get so wrapped up in a particular passage or verse that you forget the big picture. It’s always important to take a step back and check your context. You remember that back in chapter 7, Ezra finally showed up on the scene. It had been 59 years since the first remnant had finally finished the temple under Zerubbabel and Jeshua. But during that 59 year period, not much happened. The people didn’t grow in their walk with the Lord. Instead, they became satisfied with the ceremony and ritual of temple worship. In other words, they had grown complacent because they were satisfied with simply going to church. They did religious things because it was the thing to do, not out of their love and devotion to God. That’s why God sent them Ezra. By God’s grace, Ezra had devoted his life to a personal threefold mission. You remember his personal mission statement back in 7:10: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” He devoted his life to knowing God’s Word… to doing what God’s Word said for him to do… and to teaching others what God’s Word said. So when he took the second group of exiles with him from Babylon to Jerusalem, that’s exactly what he did. And an amazing thing happened. In the process of teaching the people God’s Word, they began to see their sin. They didn’t point their fingers at other people’s sin. They saw sin in their midst and they each began to see themselves as the chief sinner. And when they began to see that, they began a period of public confession. It started with the leaders. And when the leaders began to publicly confess their sins before Ezra, it drove him to his knees. Chapter 9 gives us one of the most powerful prayers of corporate confession in all of scripture. And that brings us to tonight’s passage. Tonight’s passage immediately follows that tremendous prayer from Ezra on behalf of the remnant. What was the problem? The problem was that they weren’t accomplishing the mission God had called them to do. Why weren’t they accomplishing it? Because they had unconfessed, unrepentant sin in their midst. Because of their sin, they had erected a barrier that was standing in the way of accomplishing the work God had for them. The work God had for them was to rebuild His holy city Jerusalem. Not because God needed a city, but in order to stand as a witness and a testimony to the nations of God’s grace and power and mercy. That was their mission. What’s ours? Ours is to make disciples of Jesus Christ everywhere we go and in everything we do. Make disciples and baptize them and teach them and train them and send them out so they can make more disciples of Jesus. What’s standing in the way of our doing that? What’s keeping us from accomplishing the mission God has prepared for us? It’s got to be our own sin. So if it’s our own sin, how are we going to know when we’re ready to cast that barrier aside and get to work accomplishing our mission? We’ll know it the same way that the remnant knew it. The remnant had four things that told them they were ready to cast aside the barrier of sin and get on with their mission. The first thing was, they had the right assembly. Look at verse 1.
The first way we can know we’re ready to accomplish our mission is that we will have the right assembly. Look at this scene that’s happening around Ezra. Ezra’s heavenly gaze is pointing all the people to God. Ezra prayed. Ezra confessed. What did Ezra have to confess? He hadn’t broken God’s law by marrying a pagan woman. But as part of them and as their spiritual leader, he identified himself with their sin. He identified himself with their sin and he confessed it before God as if it was his own. And when, as 9:5 says, he fell on his knees and stretched out his hands before God, the people responded. They responded by assembling. One of the things we talked about this morning was how the Bible tells us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. These people didn’t. They assembled in a great congregation. Everybody came. Men, women, children came and they came together. And when they assembled together, something wonderful happened. Because of the overwhelming sense of the holiness of God in that place, they saw their own sin. The leaders and princes of the people had seen it for them before. Ezra had seen it for them before. But now they saw it for themselves. This great congregation of men and women and children saw their sin. They saw how far they fell short of God’s glory. And when they saw it, they didn’t ignore it. They didn’t attempt to justify it. They didn’t attempt to deflect it on to other people. They saw their own sin and were broken because of it. They were broken and joined Ezra in his tears. That’s the right kind of assembly. We have so many different ideas of what church is supposed to look like today. And the sad thing is that most of our ideas about church tend to focus on styles. What does the sanctuary look like? It’s too contemporary or it’s too traditional. Is it formal or casual? Is it revivalistic or liturgical? Is it old-time religion or fresh and exciting and new? Guess what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what color the carpet is if the floor underneath it is rotten. Forsake not the assembling of ourselves together. Why? To taste and see and partake of the awesome holiness of God in worship. And when we just begin to catch a glimpse of His holiness, we have no choice but to see our own sin. And when we see our own sin in light of God’s holiness, we will be broken. We’ll be broken just like the remnant was. They knew they were ready to cast aside the barrier of sin and get on with their mission because they had the right assembly. They also had the right answer. Look at verse 2.