Summary: The change that revival brings is UNCOMFORTABLE. Real revival will reach inside you and DESTROY everything. You will be WRECKED with a deeper understanding of the gospel and a more passionate relationship with Jesus. You will be purged of known sin.
Opening illustration: The lone tree in the farmer’s field near our home remained a mystery. Acres of trees had been cut down so the farmer could grow corn. But one tree remained standing, its branches reaching up and spreading out. The mystery was solved when I learned the tree was spared for a purpose. Farmers long ago traditionally left one tree standing so that they and their animals would have a cool place to rest when the hot summer sun was beating down.
At times we find that we alone have survived something, and we don’t know why. Soldiers coming home from combat and patients who’ve survived a life-threatening illness struggle to know why they survived when others did not. [Julie Ackerman Link, ODB]
Let us turn to Ezra 9 and catch up with the story of the remnant of Israel being revived …
Introduction: The Old Testament speaks of a remnant of Israelites whom God spared when the nation was sent into exile. The remnant preserved God’s law and later rebuilt the temple (Ezra 9:9). The apostle Paul referred to himself as part of the remnant of God (Rom. 11:1, 5). He was spared to become God’s messenger to Gentiles (v.13). If we stand where others have fallen, it’s to raise our hands to heaven in praise and to spread our arms as shade for the weary. The Lord enables us to be a tree of rest for others.
In the midst of the joy of God’s grace in allowing a remnant to return to their homeland, Ezra mourned. He mourned because the people of Israel were not only physically distant from God, but spiritually distant as well. Yet God in His grace did more than enable the physical return of the remnant; He also preserved a spiritual remnant. Upon hearing the law of God, the people recommitted themselves to Him (Ezra 10:1-4).
In today’s context we are so desensitized toward sin, we fail to have the proper response toward it, whether it is our own sin, or sin in others. We minimize it, justify it, or ignore it and go on our way unaffected by it. If we see someone reacting in a godly way toward sin, we think that he is a bit carried away or extreme. He is judgmental or intolerant. How dare he cast stones at others! Does he think that he is without sin? And so, by casting our stones at him, we justify our sins and go back to business as usual, wondering why God doesn’t bless our lives more than He does. That is exactly where Israel was!
What does the revival of the remnant demand?
1. Godly RECOGNITION of SIN (vs. 1-2)
How do we know what is right and wrong? A popular song (supposedly Christian) a few years ago asked, “How can it be wrong when it feels so right?” I hope that most Christians know that feelings (of the flesh/contradict the Spirit led) are not a solid basis for determining right and wrong. I’ve had Christian spouses tell me that they feel a peace about divorcing their mates for unbiblical reasons. The peace they feel is the relief of escaping from a difficult relationship, not the peace of God. But they often act on feelings, rather than on God’s Word. Sometimes I get unmarried couples who report that they have sex often and they feel good about it! That tells me that this couple doesn’t have a clue about what God’s Word says about sexual purity before marriage. Their sense of right and wrong has been formed more by the culture than by Scripture.
The priest's work was not only to offer sacrifices to God. He must deal with failure and sin among the people, and such cases were soon brought to his attention by the leaders. Ezra was appalled when he heard about these Jews marrying pagans because he knew that God’s Word condemns it. God prohibited the Jews from intermarriage and seeking the peace and prosperity of the pagans in their pagan ways (Deut. 23:6; contrast Jer. 29:7) in order to keep the holiness and purity of His people. This was a spiritual problem not a physical one. There had to be a clear separation of God’s people from the pagans or God’s people would be drawn into the pagan practices. Blending in with the world rather than being distinct from it has plagued the church down through the centuries. The culture has infiltrated and influenced the church than we influencing and impacting the culture.
James 4:4 bluntly says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” First John 2:15 is no less strong: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”