Summary: Prayer Warriors, Part Five: Ezra’s Prayer
THE CASE OF THE UNEQUAL YOKE (EZRA 9:1-15)
This message is intended for the youth, the young professionals and the singles.
The weakness of God’s people in the areas of romance and marriage was confirmed to me the week I was preparing this message. I was in Los Angeles on a Monday morning when I decided to join my old friends, including a non-believer, for lunch. The believers were active in church and fellowship and even leadership.
The conversation for an hour and a half quickly centered on matchmaking a mutual male friend, a believer, with a single girl who is a non-Christian. They were brimming with excitement listing, suggesting and brainstorming possible activities for the two strangers, including karaoke, ski trips, and hot pot dinner.
At night, I was still bothered by the lunch conversation and so I wrote an e-mail to the Christians, discouraging them from matchmaking the Christian, especially one who is not an active churchgoer, with a non-Christian and explaining why I had not objected during lunch. After leaving it two days in the outgoing box to make sure I do not regret writing it, I sent it (11/30/02).
“Please reconsider matchmaking brother X with a non-Christian. First, a Christian should not be equally yoked with a non-Christian. Second, his past dating relationships with non-Christians have led him farther away from the Lord, and never nearer. Third, we should focus our energy more on praying for him to return to the Lord. I did not want to share this during the luncheon out of respect for non-Christian friend, who is not a believer yet.”
Praise the Lord, we did not engage in an e-mail war!
The principle of yoking believers, but not Christians with non-Christians, in marriage is recorded in 2 Corinthians 6:16: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” The understanding of the principle can be traced to an agricultural principle recorded in Deuteronomy 22:10: “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” In biblical times, a farmer was discouraged from joining an ox and a donkey at the heads and necks for the purpose of carrying a load. This mix and match method does not work because not only do the ox and donkey not belong together, they do not move or work or behave the same way.
After the Israelites had settled in the land after the exile, the new generation reverted to the old ways. Their marriage to Gentile women, who were idolaters, threatened to lead Israel on the path of apostasy. Ezra the priest was not opposed to interracial marriage, but interfaith marriage. Surprisingly, the people accepted Ezra’s unpopular message and not opposed or ridiculed him. Why did the people respond to such an unpopular message? What did he say that touched their heart and changed their mind?
Do Not Repeat What You Were Forced to Endure in the Past
5 Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God 6 and prayed: “O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. 7 From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.
A pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England – it was the judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and became a Christian worker. Yet as they knelt there, the judge and the former convict neither one seemed to be aware of the other.
After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor and said to the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?” The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.” The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what marvelous miracle of grace.” Then the judge said, “But to whom do you refer?” And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.” The judge said, “I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”
The pastor, surprised, replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.” “Yes,” the judge replied, “it did not cost the burglar that much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Savior he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help. But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on level with the burglar. It took much grace to forgive me for all my pride and self deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I sent to prison.” (James Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited 257)