Good Morning, It is wonderful to be here with you this morning. Will you all take a moment to bow with me in prayer?
Dear Heavenly Father, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my strength and My Redeemer”. (Psalm 19:14)
Rev. David Owens began a sermon with the following short story.
This is a story told of a preacher and a NYC taxi driver who both died and went to heaven.
Saint Peter was at the Pearly Gates waiting for them.
“Come with me,” said Peter to the taxi driver.
The taxi driver did as he was told and followed Peter to a mansion. It had anything you could imagine from a bowling alley to an Olympic size pool.
“Wow thank you,” said the taxi driver.
Next, Peter led the preacher to a rugged old shack with a bunk bed and a little old television set.
“Wait, Peter, I think you are a little mixed up,” said the preacher. “Shouldn’t I be the one who gets the mansion, not the taxi driver? After all I was a preacher who served God every day, and I preached God’s word.”
Peter said, “Yes that’s true, you served God and preached the Word, but during your sermons people slept. However, the way that NYC taxi driver drove, people thought they were going to die, so they prayed and made all kinds of commitments to God.”
Well, let’s hope you will all be able to stay awake today.
Right now, I would like you to list either in some open area on your bulletin or just in your head if you like who you think are the Greatest Examples of Men of God from the Bible. I will give you a chance to think about that.
OK now I would like you to raise your hand if you have Ezra in your list.
Well, I am hoping that by the end of today’s sermon you might consider adding Ezra to your list.
As we begin our study of the scriptures today we are going to be introduced to a man named Ezra and we will get a chance to see what kind of influence he had on God’s people. I’d like to begin by giving you some background to his story.
Ezra was a Priest, a scribe, and a great leader. His name means “help”. Ezra dedicated his whole life to serving God and God’s people. He wrote most of 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Psalm 119.
The book of Ezra beings by Ezra telling us of the return of God’s people to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, in 538 B.C. about 50,000 Jews left Babylon to return to Jerusalem. The purpose of their return was to rebuild the temple of God. The restoration of the temple was completed in 515 B.C.
The first six chapters of the book of Ezra tell us about events that took place before Ezra was even alive. But Ezra Chapter 7 verse 1 begins with these three words, “After these things”. This statement is Ezra’s way to fast forward to about 60 years later.
So in Ezra Chapter 7 we now get introduced to the scholar/priest named Ezra. We learn in Chapter 7 that King Artaxerxes is now the king of Persia. We also learn that Ezra’s lineage can be traced all the way back to Aaron, Moses’ brother and the first high priest of Israel. Someone wanting to be a scholar/priest in the Jewish religion could not have had a better record of decent.
Now Ezra knew that the temple had been rebuilt, but the lives of the people of Jerusalem were in a state of total disorder, basically they were in shambles. God’s people had intermarried with foreigners who were opposed to God. Ezra prayed for guidance of how he could help them and then he took action.
Ezra was prepared to do whatever it took to lead a group of Jews back to Jerusalem and help the people in Jerusalem restore their relationship with God.
As Christians today we need to refuse to allow ourselves to be drawn into compromising with the world’s life-style and instead like Ezra align our lives by obeying God’s commands. We need to also pray and ask God for His guidance. We need to then be willing to study, follow and take action to teach God’s word.
So Ezra’s first move was to go to King Artaxerxes and ask for a decree stating that any Jew who wanted to return to Jerusalem could do so. The decree would then be a sort of passport they could take with them on their journey in case they ran into any opposition along the way.
The King granted Ezra a generous decree which showed that God was truly blessing Ezra and his request. It also was an indication that Ezra was probably a very prominent man in king Artaxerxes’ kingdom. Ezra was willing to give up this position of prominence in order to return to his homeland and teach God’s laws to the Israelites.
So let’s take a look at King Artaxerxes’ letter to Ezra.
King Artaxerxes’ Letter to Ezra
11 This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the Lord for Israel:
12 Artaxerxes, king of kings,
To Ezra the priest, teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:
13 Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who volunteer to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. 14 You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand. 15 Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem. 17 With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem.
18 You and your fellow Israelites may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God. 19 Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God. 20 And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you are responsible to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.
21 Now I, King Artaxerxes, decree that all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates are to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you— 22 up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. 23 Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons? 24 You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.
25 And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. 26 Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.
So we can see from this section of scripture the king had great respect for Ezra and the God that Ezra worshiped. He not only fulfilled Ezra’s request for the Jews safe passage but also provided silver and gold and freewill offerings with which Ezra was to buy various animals and grains for offerings of sacrifice to God. So the king set forth a decree that was above and beyond what Ezra had requested.
Isn’t that the way it is with us when we send up a request from God? God blesses us with so much more than we could even have imagined.
Now let’s read on in Ezra Chapter 7 verses 27 and 28.
27 Praise be to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way28 and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.
Here in these two verses we see that Ezra praised God for all the God had done for him and through him. Ezra had honored God throughout his whole life and God had chosen to honor him. Now because of the king’s decree Ezra could have assumed that his own greatness and prominence and charisma was the reason for the king’s blessing but instead he gave all the credit to God.
We also should be grateful to God for all our success and never think that it is a result of our own power.
Ezra and the people traveled approximately 900 miles and it took about 4 months to make that journey. The trip took them through very difficult and dangerous lands. The people prayed for God to give them a safe journey and God honored their request.
Our journey today (the things we may be going through) may not be as difficult or as dangerous as Ezra’s but we need to recognize our need to ask God for guidance and protection each day.
Before setting out on that journey Ezra made all the physical preparations necessary but more importantly he also made spiritual preparations.
Ezra and the people prayed and fasted. They were showing their dependence on God for protection and that prepared them spiritually for their trip. Their faith that God was in control and their affirmation that they were not strong enough to make the journey without God should be an example for us today.
We need to put God first in our lives. When we rely totally on Him, we too will receive God’s guidance and protection.
There are some really important lessons that we can glean from this Bible lesson today.
Ezra devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord. We need to not just read God’s word each day. We should be studying God’s word and sharing it with all who will listen.
Ezra’s heart was devoted. He prepared his heart to seek, to do, and to teach God’s word. For Ezra simply studying God’s word was not enough. It should not be enough for us either. Ezra listened for what God had to say and then he took action and obeyed God’s word.
Many people KNOW God’s word and they can even quote God’s word fluently but there is a very big difference between simply knowing and quoting God’s word and actually doing what it says.
In James 1:22-24 we learn.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Ezra made it his mission to know and DO God’s word. But not just that. He also devoted himself to teaching God’s word to others.
Now, I am sure there are some of you saying to yourselves right now, “Well teaching isn’t really something I am any good at.”
Let me share with you this quote by William J. Toms, “Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.” Jerry has put that message on our church sign down along the main road. Do you get what it is saying?
Our actions speak louder than any words we may say. Others see us in the best of times and in the worst of times and how we react to others in those situations can speak volumes as to how our hearts are with God.
Listen to the advice Paul gave Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15.
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
Ezra also devoted himself to prayer and fasting. Fasting is simply giving up something good for something better.
John Piper wrote, “Fasting is for times of yearning and aching and longing.”
As we pray and fast we seek a more intimate walk with God.
One of the Bible’s best examples of this time of prayer and fasting is found in Matthew 4:1-11
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,and they will lift you up in their hands,so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’]”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness fasting and praying before He began God’s work on this earth. He needed time alone to prepare for what His Father had called Him to do.
Jesus was able to resist the devil’s temptations because he not only knew scripture, but he also obeyed it.
Ephesians 6:17 says God’s word is a sword to use in spiritual combat. Knowing Bible verses is an important step to resisting the devil’s attacks, but we must obey the Bible as well.
Note that Satan memorized Scripture, but he failed to obey it.
Knowing and obeying the Bible helps us follow God’s desires.
We cannot force the hand and favor of God to be with us, but if we walk obeying God’s word and communing with God through prayer and fasting, His hand will surely be upon us.
Lastly we must remember that we can do nothing of significance without God, but with God we can do all things that God wants to accomplish through us.
This lesson today is as much for me as it is for anyone else. As I look at my own life I can see that I need to grow in each of these areas:
Be devoted to God’s work.
Go before God in prayer and fasting.
Be dependent on the hand of God to lead me each day.
How about you?
Like we saw in the opening story, becoming a NYC taxi driver may not be the best way to influence others toward making a commitment to God but following Ezra’s example surely will.
Will you please bow your heads and pray with me?
Lord, some days I have failed so miserably. Please forgive me. Help me to be more devoted to your work. Help me to come to you in prayer and fasting lifting up my needs and requests to you. Help me to rely on your guidance in all that I do and to always give you glory and praise. In Jesus precious name I pray. Amen.