Summary: The presence of the temple and the work the remnant did to built it stood as a testimony and a powerful witness for God. What stands as a powerful witness to our age? The Word of God sent out from the Church of God proclaimed by the people of God.
1. The first effect that comes from having a powerful witness is on the created
2. The second effect that comes from having a powerful witness is on the called
3. The third effect that comes from having a powerful witness is on the comfortable
Tonight’s passage is 31 verses long. It runs all the way from 7:11 through to 8:14. There are three main parts to this passage. First there is a letter from the Persian king Artaxerxes that runs from 7:11-7:26. And in that letter he addresses three groups of people. He addresses the Jewish remnant as a whole in verses 13-20. He addresses his own Persian government treasurers in verses 21-24. And He addresses Ezra specifically in verses 21-26. The second main part to tonight’s passage is in 7:27-28. That is Ezra’s response because of the king’s letter. Finally, the first 14 verses of chapter 8 give us a list of people who went up with Ezra from Babylon to Jerusalem to add to the remnant who was already there. Now, how in the world does that apply to us? How in the world does a 2500 year old letter and a list of names apply to us today? Well, in order to figure that out, we have to look at what caused all this to happen. Of course we know that God is in control and that He ultimately caused it to happen. But God uses means to accomplish His will. So, what was it that God used to cause the wicked king Artaxerxes to write this wonderful letter? What was it that God used to cause Ezra to come out of his years of inaction and spring into action? What was it that God used to cause the people to break out of their comfortable complacency and join God’s work in Jerusalem? It was the presence of a powerful witness. By the time we get to our passage, the temple in Jerusalem had been completed for 59 years. For 59 years, the temple had stood as a powerful witness of what God can do through the willing hands of His people. Hands that didn’t have enough money. Hands that didn’t have enough resources. Hands that didn’t even have enough hands. But hands that accomplished what God had told them to do. And what He had told them to do stood as a powerful witness to who He is. See, the temple wasn’t for the remnant that built it. They received tremendous blessing from it. But it wasn’t primarily for them. The temple was primarily to be a powerful witness to those outside of Jerusalem. And it was. And that’s what this passage shows us tonight. It shows us the powerful witness of the temple to that age. So if God designed the temple to stand as such a powerful witness to that age, what has He planned to stand as a powerful witness to our age? His Word, sent out from His church, proclaimed by His people. And when that happens, it is a powerful witness. That’s what I want for us tonight. I want us to be the powerful witnesses God has called us to be. When people of Ezra’s day saw the temple of God standing in Jerusalem, they knew there was a God in Israel and YHWH is His name. When people see us proclaiming the gospel everywhere we go, they will know there is a God in Brushfork Baptist Church and Jesus Christ is His name. That’s what I want for us. As that happens, there will be certain effects. And that’s what we’re looking at tonight. Tonight, we’re going to look at three effects that come from having a powerful witness. The first effect is on the created. We see that in Artaxerxes letter from 7:11-26.
The first effect of a powerful witness is on the created. As I said, the first part of our passage tonight is a letter from Artaxerxes. By no stretch of the imagination was Artaxerxes a believer. He wasn’t a convert to the Jewish religion. He was a Persian. History tells us that Artaxerxes was a believer in a religion called Zoroastrianism. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t just a casual believer in Zoroastrianism. Under him, Zoroastrianism became the official religion of the Medo-Persian Empire. In many ways, Zoroastrianism is very similar to eastern religions today. It has things in common with Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age religions, even Wicca and paganism. The bottom line is, Artaxerxes would have fit in very well in America today. He would have agreed with the people like Oprah who think there are many ways to get to heaven. He would have agreed, because like them, he would have understood heaven as our finally getting rid of all the material stuff and realizing that we are indeed god. He would have loved to hear the modern gurus teaching that we are all part of a universal consciousness. He would have loved the teaching of meditation and yoga and centering techniques and chakras in our schools. He would have loved Al Gore’s ideas of Mother Earth and “saving” the planet. He would have fit right in to 21st Century America. That’s who he was. That’s what he believed in. The idea of an all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing, holy, personal God who speaks and interacts with and judges His people was completely foreign to him. As a matter of fact it was offensive to him. Almost as offensive as it is to our “inclusive” “tolerant” society today. But I want you to look at his letter. No less than 15 times does Artaxerxes write the name of God. But it’s not just the fact that he writes the name of God. Pagans refer to god all the time. But when they refer to god, it’s always in referring to some type of unknowable universal force. It’s always referring to something like the force in Star Wars. But for some reason, that’s not how this pagan Artaxerxes refers to God. He uses personal terms to refer to God. He talks about a God who personally gives law. He talks about a God who personally interacts with Israel. He talks about a God who commands and speaks and wills. And notice in verses 25 and 26 how he refers to God. He refers to God as Ezra’s God. What a witness. That’s the same witness that Paul had on the men of Athens in Acts 17. In Acts 17, Paul stood up in the Aereopagus and pointed to an altar. An altar to the unknown or unknowable god. It was an altar they had built to the unknowable god behind everything. The same unknowable god Artaxerxes worshipped. The same unknowable god Shirley McLain worships. The same unknowable god Oprah worships. Paul pointed to that altar and said, “you worship a god that you can’t know. Let me tell you about the God who is personal. Personal enough to command you to repent. And personal enough to send His Son to die for you.” That is standing as a powerful witness in a religious but godless world. Paul was a powerful witness before the men of Athens. The presence of the temple in Jerusalem was a powerful witness before a pagan king. Are we standing as a powerful witness before an increasingly pagan world? Notice that Artaxerxes wasn’t converted. Notice that most of the men of Athens weren’t converted. But they did acknowledge God. And sometimes that’s all a powerful witness to the pagan world does. Many times the only effect it has is an acknowledgment of God. That’s all it got from Artaxerxes, but God was glorified. It’s one more example that we aren’t responsible for the results. We are responsible to stand as a powerful witness to show the created world that Jesus is God and we’re not. God is responsible for the results. The first effect of a powerful witness is on the created. The second effect is on the called. That comes in Ezra’s response that follows Artaxerxes’ letter in verses 27-28.