Summary: What are you holding back from God?
Today, I’d like to start off by asking a question that I think a lot of people dread to hear or see on an application. That question is, “Who are you?” It doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult but yet when you sit down to try an answer the question you don’t know where to start or where to go with your answer. This question is even more dreadful to someone who is young because you think, “I don’t who I am! I’m only 12.” Even still there are still adults who don’t really know who they are.
There are so many different directions that you could take. You could pull out a recent picture and begin to describe what you look like. You could pull out your passport and talk about your citizenship to a certain country. Maybe you talk about being a student, lawyer, or an accountant. Maybe you talk about belonging to a certain club or group. According to Josh McDowell, in his book, Seeing Yourself As God Sees You, none of these things really answer the question of, “Who are you?” Instead these things answer questions like, “What do you look like?” “Where do you belong?” and “What do you do?”
Today, I’d like to look at this passage in Ezra because I think it helps us to look at this issue of identity and can help us answer the question of “Who are you?”
Last month I read this passage to the Sr. High Guy’s Bible Study. When I was finished reading the passage I asked them, “So…what did you get out of that passage?” One of the guys said something along the lines of, “I know the author didn’t have a life if he had the time to write those names down for nothing.” The other three guys all nodded in agreement as I’m sure that some of you are right now.
It’s such an odd feeling that you get when you open your Bible one morning and find that your devotional wants you to read one of these infamous “lists.” We are stuck between thinking, “It’s the Bible. It’s God’s Word! I’m supposed to like it.” To thinking, “What is the point! It’s a dumb list. It is going to be SOOO boring to read.”
Honestly, how many people here have ever skipped over a passage like this? I have done it many times! In my time though that I was reading the other parts of the Bible I took to heart the passage from 2 Timothy 3:16 which says, “All Scripture is Godbreathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” This passage means that this “list” from Ezra and all the others like it are useful. Let’s figure out how.
First we need to understand “what” this list is. We don’t have to look too far to answer this question because it tells us in verse one. “These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town,)…” Around 605 BC King Nebuchadnezzar had taken the people of Israel captive and made them to be exiles in Babylon. The people lived as exiles for close to 70 years, until Cyrus, King of Persia, conquered Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Then one of the first things that King Cyrus did with this new land and people that he controlled was that he issued a decree to the Israelites to go back to their own land. Ezra 1:3 says, “Anyone of his people among you-may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem and Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.”
So, this is a list of the people who went back to Jerusalem! Now, I’m sure that some of you are still thinking, “It’s still just a list. I don’t care who these people are, what do they have to do with me?” Let’s try to figure out “why” the list of exiles was written down. I think there are a few things that play into this.
First, these people would have been living in Babylon for 67 years! Could you imagine living somewhere with your family for that long and then just easily getting up and leaving? This would be like President Bush waking up one morning and telling all the Japanese people in America to go home!! It would not be a very easy thing to do.
“But wait, weren’t they exiles?” Yes, these people were exiles in a land they didn’t belong. But the fact of the matter is that they would have been like peasants living in this land, not slaves. They would have had homes and jobs. They would have grown accustom to the laws of the land, most likely learning a lot of the customs of the Babylonian culture. These people would have been completely comfortable living in the land of Babylon, especially under the rule of Cyrus.