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Ezra 3: Return to the Word in Obedience Print E-mail
Ezra
Sunday, 20 March 2016

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Trying to recover from difficult times can lead businesses in different directions. Some want to try something new. The old ways have led to the hardships, so they want to try something, anything new. They want to be innovative and creative, which are surely good things, and they want to let go of anything that they feel has held them back. They want to study the markets and appeal to the next generation. They want to move forward. Yet, others want to get back to the basics, back to doing things like they have always done them. They often feel that innovation is actually the problem. Thus, they want to get back to what made them successful in the first place. Two different approaches to the same problem.

Even though the Church is not a business since it deals with spiritual issues and depends on more than just a bottom line, I do think there are some parallels with these approaches to difficult times. For example, there are times when we need to be innovative and creative in how we labor to get the gospel to a lost and dying world. Like Paul, we need to ever be becoming all things to all people for the sake of winning the lost (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Yet, at the same time, we too must never lose sight of the basics. In our attempt to reach the next generation, we cannot forsake the old truth. If we lose the gospel in our attempt to serve the lost, we will be offering them nothing but a false hope. If we think that letting go of the Bible and what it teaches will actually help people, then we have misunderstood its message entirely. The people of God need the Word of God. And the people of God need to obey that Word.

When the Israelites came back to Jerusalem from exile, it seems that they and their leaders were determined to follow the Word. They knew that their disobedience had led to their punishment and they did not want to repeat that mistake. Thus, as they sought to rebuild the temple, they committed themselves to following the Word. We see that clearly in Ezra 3. They built the altar as it is written in the Law of Moses (v. 2). They kept the Feast of Booths as it is written (v. 4) and offered daily offerings according to the rule (v. 4). They offered praise according to the directions of David king of Israel (v. 10). Not only this, but it is obvious from what they are doing that they are following Godís Word in their building of the altar and the building of the temple. They are laboring to obey the Word. And what do we see resulting from such obedience? Letís consider seven results that we see in this passage and how they apply to us.

Obedience to the Word unifies us together (v. 1-2)

After making it back from exile to rebuild the temple, the people gather in the city of Jerusalem and we are told of their unity. Look at verses 1-2. The Israelites came back for a purpose and they wanted to obey the Word in fulfilling that purpose. This brought them together as one man to Jerusalem. Their desire to obey the Lord unified them. Not that division and struggle would not come, it surely would. But the Word and their desire to obey it gave them unity. The Word does that for Godís people. We have the potential as a local Church to go in a thousand directions, but the Word will bring us together and a commitment to obey it will keep us unified. They wanted to build the altar and offer burnt offerings as it is written in the Law of Moses. Such a commitment led to great unity.

Obedience to the Word drives out fear (v. 3)

Why did the people want to go ahead and build the altar first? We are told in verse 3. Look at that with me. The people are afraid. They have come back to a broken down city with no walls of protection. They are exposed. The peoples around them are a threat and they are aware of the danger. So why build the altar? One of my commentatorís notes: ďThe safest place in the world to be is in the obedient worship of God because to worship God in obedience to His Word is to be in His presence.Ē1

The people know that what they need is Godís presence. He is greater than all the surrounding nations. He is greater than all of their enemies. He is the One that they need. So, they build the altar in obedience to His Word. He is their protection and they want to honor Him through faithful worship. Our fears can drive us away from the Lord and away from His Word if we let them. They will tempt us to flee and pursue protection in other places. But the truth remains: it is always safer to be obedient to Godís Word than it is to be disobedient. We can take great comfort in that. As we labor to obey Godís Word through His grace we can know that He is with us and that His presence protects us.

Obedience to the Word instructs our worship (v. 4-6a)

Once the altar is built, the people begin to offer sacrifices. Look at verses 4-6a. Where did they come up with these regulations? Did they come back and form a committee to decide what and when they would offer their sacrifices. Did they put it to a vote? No, they just did it as it is written. They offered them according to rule. They werenít trying to be innovative at this point. They weren't trying to come up with new stuff. They were just following what the Lord had commanded them. They were keeping the Word and it was instructing their worship. God has given us His Word so that we can know how to worship Him. We want to worship by the book. We want to sing and pray and give and preach by the book. The Word should inform all that we do in worship.

Obedience to the Word compels us to give (v. 6b-7)

The worship begins around the altar, but the temple has still not been rebuilt. In order for that to happen, resources are needed. We see them gathering those in verses 6b-7. Look at those with me. You cannot build a temple without masons and carpenters and wood and stone. So the people gave. In addition to what the Lord provided through Cyrus, the people were willing to give. Kingdom work requires financing. It requires money. It took money to build the temple and it takes money to get the gospel to the nations and to support the work of the local Church. When we keep our eyes on Godís Word and the mission that He has given us in His Word, then we are eager to give to support that mission. They wanted to see the temple rebuilt, so they gave. We want to see healthy churches and people from every tongue, tribe, and nation believe in the gospel, so we give.

Obedience to the Word guides our progress (v. 8-9)

It is the Word that gets them started and keeps them moving. Look at verses 8-9. The leaders knew that they needed to get started, so they came together and made a beginning. They got organized and appointed the Levites to oversee the work. They were the tribe that the Law charged with overseeing the sacrifices and the worship in the temple and they are put in charge of overseeing the building of the temple at this point. We are even told the names of certain individuals who would oversee the work. Although other tribes and other leaders could have done this work, the leaders appointed the Levites, perhaps to make certain that the work was done according to all that Moses had written in the Law. Either way, they want to obey the Word and rebuild the temple, so their progress continues. If we want to obey the Word, then it must serve the same purpose for us. We must let the Word move us forward. We must let it define our success. We must let it guide our progress.

Obedience to the Word inspires our worship (v. 10-11)

As soon as the foundation is completed, the people pause to praise to God. Look at verses 10-11. We must remember that this is not just a building project for the Israelites. They are not just trying to get the work done. This is worship. They are rebuilding this structure so that they can obey God through the offering of sacrifices. As we mentioned earlier, they desire His presence and His protection. Thus, the Levites lead them in offering praise when the finish the foundation. And how do they do this? They worship according to the directions of David king of Israel. They follow the instructions that the Lord gave to David. They lift their voices and sing responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord. They participate in the worship. They praise the Lord and give Him thanks.

And what do they sing? A song that they have sung before: For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel. This is a common refrain in the worship of Israel. They love to sing about the goodness of God. And so should we. Our worship should be inspired by the Word and all it teaches us about God. We should sing and pray and preach the Word. And the Lord and His goodness should be the focus of our praise. So then, how has He been good to us? He sent us His Son to be our perfect Redeemer. Jesus came and paid for our sins at the cross so that we could repent and believe in Him. The Lord has been good to us in Christ! And we should lift up our voices in praise and thanksgiving to Him!

Obedience to the Word keeps us humble (v. 12-13)

A strange thing happens as the people begin to worship God. Look at verses 12-13. Some are shouting for joy and others are weeping. Why the mixed response? We are told that it was the old men who had seen the first house that were weeping. Why are they weeping? Because they remembered the greatness of Solomonís temple that had been destroyed as a just punishment for their sin. They were glad to be home, glad to be rebuilding the temple, glad the foundation was done. But they knew that all of this was necessary because of their rebellion against God. And so they wept. When we are honest with ourselves as we labor to be obedient to Godís Word, we cannot help but be humbled by our past mistakes. We know that we are forgiven in Christ and we shout for joy because of that. Yet, as we focus on His death this Friday, we also remember why He had to die on that tree: to pay for our rebellion. The Word keeps us humble in this way.

Conclusion
Although we are not charged with building a physical temple in obedience to the Word, we are charged with building a spiritual one. Paul calls the Church Godís building and Godís temple (1 Corinthians 3:9, 17). We are being built as a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). And Peter calls us a spiritual house and a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). Thus, all those who have turned from their sins and trusted in Christ are now a part of the new temple, the new dwelling place of God. Is that you? Have you put your faith in Christ as your Savior? If so, are you laboring by His grace to be obedient to His Word as construction continues? Like the Israelites in Ezra 3, may we look to the Word and obey it as we seek to build Godís temple. Amen.

1 James M. Hamilton, Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah CCE (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2014), p. 28.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 30 March 2016 )

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