Summary: How do you feel when you see the sin in the world around you? Do you feel the same way about the sin that’s in your midst? What about the sin that’s in your heart?
It seems like every few months in the news, we hear about some new espionage investigation. One thing you can count on in this world. Somebody somewhere is spying on somebody else. As a matter of fact, the Defense Department spends millions of dollars per year developing new technologies to spy on our enemies. We have spy satellites that are so sensitive they can spot a single burning cigarette in the middle of the desert at noon. We have spy equipment on our aircraft that is so sensitive, it can tell you the brand name of that cigarette. Besides that, we have all kinds of electronic equipment that can eavesdrop on any electronic communication signal imaginable. You would think that with all of that technology, we’d have no problem knowing what our enemies are up to. But we do. Why is that? Because, even with the most sophisticated technology in the world, knowing what’s going on in the world boils down to one thing. It boils down to personal observation. Basically, it boils down to paying attention to what’s going on around us. For years, do you know what the most reliable indicator of American military action was? It wasn’t a surge in communications traffic. Those things can be masked and they can be faked. It wasn’t a surge in supply and hardware movement. Those things happen all the time for military exercises or mobility tests. So, if it wasn’t those things, what was it? For years, the most consistently reliable indicator of American military action was what was called the “Domino’s Meter.” Sounds high-tech, doesn’t it? Well, here’s the extent of the technology. Observers could reliably tell 24-48 hours before a major military operation was going to happen by the dramatic increase in the number of Domino’s Pizza deliveries to key government buildings in Washington DC. All of that technology. All of that counter intelligence equipment. All of the sophisticated plans and procedures. All of that, and the dead giveaway is a bunch of teen-age kids with pizza delivery signs stuck on the top of their beat up cars. Now, does that mean that all of that high-tech stuff isn’t necessary? No. What it does mean is that the first line of defense is always simple, personal observation. Being aware of what’s going on. Paying attention. As Christians, we have a common enemy. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We have a common enemy. It’s not each other. It’s not people in the world. It’s not even against bad people. Our common enemy is deeper than that. Our enemy is the same as our Lord’s enemy. And His enemy is sin. God hates sin. When you’ve trusted Jesus as our Savior, He becomes Lord of your life. And when Jesus is Lord of your life, you will hate the things He does. That means that as Christians, our enemy is sin. So if our enemy is sin, then one of our key defenses against sin is a version of the “Domino’s Meter.” We have to be personally observant. We have to start paying attention to what’s going on around us. We have no hope of defeating sin in our lives if we ignore it. We have no hope of defeating sin in our church if we ignore it. We have no hope of impacting this community and this world for Christ if we ignore the sin that is all around us. In our passage tonight, Ezra has arrived in Jerusalem with the second group of exiles. They spent three days hanging around Jerusalem—probably just looking around and getting their feet on the ground. Then, as we talked about last week, they worked on the preparations they needed to get started with the work God had called them to do. Ezra prepared the temple. He prepared the people’s hearts. And he prepared the outside world. All of that took a little bit less than five months. Now, the preparations had been made. So since the preparations had been made, it was time to get busy, wasn’t it? You would think so, wouldn’t you? But that’s where we go wrong so many times. Many times if we were on a rifle range, we’d be a messed up bunch. First, we’d have trouble figuring out the right target. And then, once we figured the target out, we’d have trouble loading our gun. But even in the best of circumstances, when we get our target and we’ve loaded our gun, this is how we do it. We go, “ready, fire, aim.” Sometimes it’s even worse than that. Sometimes it’s “fire, ready, aim.” But either way, once we have a target and a loaded weapon, we want to fire away. I think that’s where so many of our attempts to do ministry go astray. We see a need. We know what the Word tells us to do. So we jump right in to try to fix the need. Sometimes, by God’s grace, it works. But most of the time it fails. I think that’s why most new church plants fail within the first 3 years. They fail because we get in a rush. We don’t aim before we fire. Or we fail to follow Ezra’s lead. When Ezra followed God’s call to go to Jerusalem, what did he do? He gathered the people on the banks of the Ahava canal. That took time. They spent three days there in fasting and prayer. Then they had to make the trip from Babylon to Jerusalem. That took several months. Then they got to Jerusalem and jumped right in, right? Wrong. They spent three days doing nothing. Maybe resting. Maybe looking around. But basically nothing. Then they got started, right? Wrong. Then they spent at least 4 months in preparation. If you add all that up, that’s close to a year of no results! Of course, that’s how we look at it. But Ezra looked at it as being ready before firing. He looked at it as aiming before firing. And a key part of his aiming was observing. After the time of dedicated preparation, Ezra had led and taught the people in such a way that they began to observe some things. Throughout this whole process, they had begun to grow in the Word to the point that they began to see some things that were going to get in the way of doing the work that God called them to do. As they were aiming, they saw some things in the way. They saw some things that would keep them from hitting their target. Verse 1 says that when all the preparation was finished, the leaders in the community came to Ezra. Because of the preparation and the prayer and the fasting and the continual teaching of the Word, Ezra had equipped the people. He had equipped the people in such a way that they began to recognize the sin in their midst. They recognized the sin in their midst and began to hate it the same way that God hates it. And when they did, they came to Ezra. And when they came to Ezra, they reported four things about the sin that they observed in their midst. First, they observed the extent of sin in their midst. Look at the first part of verse 1: