Renewal: An overview of Ezra
"The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him" ~Ezra 8:22
God's hand renews. This is the theme of Ezra, which is one of the books that describes how God kept His covenant faithfulness to His people by bringing them back home after decades of exile in Babylon.
How did God's people get carried away into exile? It was the result of breaking their covenant commitments to God by chasing after other god's and participating in twisted living and profane worship (2 Kings 17:7-18; Jeremiah 2:14-25). As consequence for breaking their commitments to God, God sent the fierce nation of Babylon in to destroy Jerusalem and the temple and take captive most of the citizens. It was 50 years before the first group of God's people returned to Jerusalem.
After Persia defeated Babylon, God stirred the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to allow His people to go back home. Ezra tells us that the first group that returned restored the sacrifices and reconstructed the temple (Ezra 1-6), and when the second group arrived God's Word was restored (Ezra 7-9). Even though there was opposition to be overcome and sin to be dealt with (Ezra 10), God renewed His people.
Now it is time to ask, "In what ways did God renew His people?"
1. He renewed them by His own hand (Ezra 1:1,5; 5:5; 8:22). God motivated the kings of a mighty world power to let His people go and He filled the hearts of His people with a desire to return. This is how true spiritual renewal always begins. God does a work in us first.
2. He renewed their dependence on His presence (Ezra 5:1-2; 6:14-15). The people were strengthened through the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to take up their tools and finish the work of the temple. The temple stood as the symbol of God's presence among His people. As God's people, we still need His presence today and fortunately He has left His Spirit to live in us and enable us to live in a manner that pleases Him (1 Corinthians 3:16).
3. He renewed their gratitude in His faithfulness (Ezra 6:19-22). After the completion of the temple, the people celebrated the Passover and remembered how the first time God led his people out of captivity. Their hearts were filled with joy as they observed God's continued faithfulness. As we see the decline of the world around us, it's tempting to think that God's people today, the church, have been forgotten; but remember the God who led His people out of Babylon, is still leading people out of the kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13) and He promises to never forsake those who are following Him (Matthew 28:20).
4. He renewed their commitment to obeying His Word (Ezra 9:4; 10:1-4)
As Ezra preached the Word God exposed areas of disobedience, and the people responded submissively. They actually encouraged Ezra to follow God's Word completely! When true renewal happens, God's people will say, "Yes and Amen!" to the Word of God.
5. He renewed their passion for living separate from the world (Ezra 10)
Repentance is always present when there is true spiritual renewal. God's people will make life altering decisions to break away from worldy habits and customs. Where there is no repentance, there is no true spriritual renewal.
If I close with this list, I would be missing something very important. God's people began to falter in their obedience. As great of a leader as Ezra was the people went backwards in their obedience, and even with the help of Nehemiah the people did not maintain their distinction. They abused the temple, forgot the Sabbath, and joined themselves in forbidden marriages that no doubt led to godless living (Nehemiah 13). What is God going to do? He will come for His people. "A a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day." (Ezekiel 34:12). And He did come in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is fully God and fully human and as such He is the good sheperd (John 10). Jesus has come to do what Ezra, Nehemiah, and even Moses could never do, that is transform the hearts of the people whom He leads. While others worked on the temple and the city walls, Jesus works on hearts and makes new anyone who comes to Him for renewal (2 Cornithians 5:17).
God will be "favorable to all those who seek Him, but His power and anger are against all who forsake Him" (Ezra 8:22). Oh, do not take this warning lightly. Seek God today for there is no guarantee of tomorrow. Jesus has laid down His life for sinners, and His death pays the penalty for the sins of everyone who trusts Him, but the wrath of God remains on all who forsake Him (John 3:36). Come to Christ today and experience the good favor of God.
HOW CAN I USE THIS SERMON REVIEW?
1. Meditate on the areas in your life where you need spiritual renewal.
2. Introduce your children to this book by reading it to them and talk about how God keeps His covenant promises.
3. Talk with a Christian-friend who has "went backwards" in their commitment to God and show them how God is compassionate to renew those who will seek Him.
4. Share this post with a non-christian friend and pray for them to come to faith in Jesus Christ.