But we have sinned!

Today’s (Fr 04/08/2017) FDR is Ezra 10 and Matthew 22:1-14

Ezra 10

As we open the last chapter of Ezra we are struck by Ezra being in a confessional mode.  For something serious enough to again remove the Israel nation from its earthly home and worship place.  Israel could again loose Jerusalem, Judah and the Temple!  Ezra 9 disclosed this sin.

The banishment to Babylon came after God’s judgement on a people who had filled their land with abhorrent practices.  Their guilt for accepting this judgement is finally accepted by Daniel. (See Daniel’s prayer at Dan 9:4-19.)

Like other Old Testament leaders such as Josiah, Mordecai and Esther and Jehoshaphat, Ezra adopts an attitude of confession and prayer while seeking to make right what is wrong.

Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 30:19 what use the Law is before God. “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

Even today the law has the same purpose. Martin Luther too, gave this strong argument based on the same Deuteronomy passage: “… that by the words of the law, man is admonished and taught, not what he can do, but that what he ought to do; that is, that he may know his sin, not that he may believe that he has any strength.”

Then Ezra’s people, lead by their leaders, agree to a way to set themselves right before God and they spend a number of months carefully going about rectifying the abhorrent practices so that they may walk in God’s paths of righteousness.

Sending away their wives who were taken from other non-God fearing peoples and their children was a practice we would find very difficult in today’s post resurrection age.  Essentially, Ezra and his people are removing those who would not believe from among the tribes of Israel.  Here a cleansing of God’s people is being undertaken.

Matthew 22

This passage too is about conviction and choice.  Choice to obey or not.

As the King sends out his servants to bring in guests, each time he is refused.  Each time his royal invitation is disobeyed. So each time the King makes a more generous invitation to those less likely by earthly standards to be invited.

Jesus’ parable mimics His own work among us.  Even after the wedding celebration is filled the King finds those who did not respond correctly to his invitation and this person is bound and cast out of the wedding.  Here are echoes of Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats and the sorting out of the ‘faithful’ at judgement time by removing those who mimic the sheep of Jesus.  (see Matthew 25:31-46)

John 1:12-13 makes it clear why there is only one way to become and remain a sheep in Jesus’ flock, or a member of His church.

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

May each one of us walk prayerfully and carefully in the paths of our Lord Jesus Christ and encourage and support our sisters and brothers to remain faithful.

Glenn

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A country in sin, people in confusion.

Today’s (Sa 15/08/2015) readings are Ezra 9 and  Matthew 8:23-34

Ezra 9

Yesterday we learnt of the preparation Ezra made before returning to Israel from Babylon in Chapter 8.  Acts before God such as fasting, prayer and ensuring there were priests with them, and setting aside sacred items for the Temple.  Also making faith decisions about their protection so that this too might bear witness to those around them.  In this case especially to the Babylonian King.

Now after their arrival the sacred items are delivered, the sacrifices are made to God and the letters delivered to the government.

Now that the formalities are over the truth comes out about the behaviour of their fellow country men and women. While instructed to keep themselves apart from their neighbours, who would lead them to lives apart from God and therefore into sin, they have been intermarrying with the peoples surrounding them.  By this means offending God by not keeping themselves as a nation set apart as the chosen people of God.

Ezra is recorded in verse 10 as responding “But now, our God, what can we say after this? . . .”

Here he immediately responds on behalf of the whole people.  Beseeching God in his dismay and self abasement on behalf of all.

So I must ask, Do you and I have a role such as this when we encounter widespread sin in our own people and country?

Matthew 8:23-27

These four verses disturb me because they accurately describe the brittleness of my own faith.  Along with Jesus, the disciples set out boldly to get into a familiar form of transport, a boat, to go to another place.  Yet when challenged by a storm that is fierce enough and can tip them into the sea and send them to their death, the individual’s faith in a God of eternity, of a protector, turns to mush!  Yet the Son of God is still physically with them?  (And me too.)

 Matthew 8:28-34

Even the demons in these two men recognise Jesus and His place in time and in God’s plan for the world.  (v29)  They quickly submit to His authority and seek an alternate outcome, of being transferred to the herd of pigs, rather than eternal punishment.

Here is proof, not only of the power of Christ, but also of the intersection of our earthly world with the divine world as represented in Jesus.  He is both able to heal these men and deal summarily with their demons.  Regardless of whether it was in the demons expected time frame, God’s timing is enacted.  (v30-32)

Quickly word spreads to the local town about the formerly very powerful demonic men having their demons transferred and then drowned.

And yet “the world follows the money”, as a cynical mate of mine would say, and the townspeople ask Jesus to go elsewhere. (v34)

So I am challenged to ask, “Do you and I respond in these worldly ways to Jesus Christ and our omnipotent God’s call to us to serve Him?  How is God challenging us now?”

It as times like these when I feel I want to shrink from what is before me that I am reminded, sometimes too late, of these words in Joshua 1:9:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’

 

Not quite ready to leave

In yesterday’s Old Testament reading from Ezra 7 we see how King Artaxerexes having appointed Ezra his personal representative to the Jews in Jerusalem, now decrees that any Jew in Babylon can return home and he generously opens the royal treasury to finance Ezra’s trip and to offer as gifts in worship.

Chapter 8 opens with the passenger manifesto – a listing of the descendants of 15 individuals. It is estimated that about 6,000 including women and children accompanied Ezra on the three and a half month journey.

After camping for three days at the canal that flows towards Ahava, a check of the people assembled reveals that there were laymen and priests but no Levites to act as attendants for the temple amongst them (v18).  They had chosen to stay in the comfort of Babylon rather than return to carry out the strict routines of service in the Temple.

To remedy this major problem, Ezra summons the leaders to help find Levites to accompany them on the journey. But even then only about 40 Levites from two families were willing to join Ezra’s caravan. So they had to further enlist 220 temple servants  (v20) to fill the void. These were men of a mixed origins who were inferior to the Levites in status but were motivated by God’s spirit to make the trip.

Reflecting on these verses I find myself questioning if I/we at times show a similar reluctance to step up for service of the Lord? Am I / are we too comfortable to want to get involved in ministry opportunities? Would I have wanted to remain in Babylon than to set out on the journey into the unknown?

That issue resolved Ezra proclaims that the travellers fast to humble themselves and beseech God’s protection for the people and possessions on the journey. The treasures that the group were transporting to Jerusalem made them tempting target for bandits. Verse 22 is particularly revealing about Ezra:

I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’

Ezra had gone out on a limb by proclaiming his faith in God’s ability to protect the caravan. Having done so, he was now embarrassed to ask for human protection.

It is a challenge to us to likewise go out on a limb for God and when we do so not rely on human intervention to help us get through.

In verses 24-30 we see that the sacred objects were entrusted to the Levites and priests for safe keeping. The silver, gold and bronze they were to carry were worth many millions of dollars in todays value – yet they left with no military escort or armoured van.  Verse 28 tells us that both the people and the objects were sacred and consecrated to the Lord. They stepped out in faith and God answered their prayers (v31).

Their journey safely completed and treasure delivered, the returning exiles offered a huge sacrifice as a thanksgiving to God for his mercies and as a sin offering.

 

Getting the job done bit by bit

Today’s (Sa 11/10/2014) FDR is Ezra 6 and Romans 13:1-14 which provide us with a broad expanse of our tasks before returning to worship of God in His holy place.

The last few days have seen our colleague writers touching on various parts of the struggle to complete the rebuild of the Temple and celebrate its final completion that is recorded in Ezra.  Also in this passage we see the rulers return to the original document of King Darius which again cleared the way for the Temple to be completed.

Can I encourage you to turn to the book of Nehamiah and to read it in a couple of sittings knowing of the struggle against opponents who wanted the  whole project to fail so that the people of God could not achieve what God wanted for them.  This account provides a much more detailed understanding of the sorts of opposition and how the people of God worked together to achieve God’s aim for them.

Can I also note that here again are  leaders or authorities who may not have been believers in God yet they were facilitating His work.

Paralleling Ezra is today’s Romans passage which talks about our responsibilities to the authorities God places over us and how we are to obey them.  Even down to paying taxes.  Then too this passage gives us instruction about how we are to treat our neighbours and how we are to live our lives.

So like you and I as we struggle to keep our minds, hearts and bodies on our task of building God’s church so we can see parallels between ourselves and the ancient God’s people who were rebuilding  their church (or temple) for God.

I have been struck a number of times this week in our readings by how much these parallel readings suggest a picture of what we, yes you and I, are to do as we seek to influence our community and provide the strong opportunity for others to know God.  So strongly do I see this parallel that the nine Key Mission Communities(KMC) we are embarking on are the tools which God has given us to engage with more of our local community to know better the one true God.

Taking the analogy further, as we love our neighbour as ourselves we seek to build them with us using the tools of KMC to become members of Christ’s church.  So the new church of Christ grows by His grace.

I look forward expectantly to those coming days of celebration when we too can celebrate the completion of Christ’s church.

Glenn

You don’t know how, but you know it will

On a long winters day it’s easy to wonder how it will ever be warm again. But you know it will.

When you’re covered in sweat in the middle of summer, you may wonder how relief will come. But you know it will.

Some days you wonder how you will make it through the day. But mostly, you know you will.

At times we can despair over whether our kids will survive in the big world they are in. But somehow we know they will.

As we move into the book of Ezra today, the Israelites have been experiencing the exile. The message of destruction came with a promise and hope (see Jer. 25:12, 13; 29:10) which many had given up on. They couldn’t see past the destruction of their land and hopelessness of the situation in which they found themselves. But some, waited in hope. They trusted the promise. They believed that God’s faithfulness would be vindicated. They didn’t know how, but they knew he would!

So,

that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia…“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1-3)

And right there, a simple faith was shown to be magnificent. No doubt there were days of anxiety, days of despair, days where they wondered if and when God would do what he promised. Yet even as the couldn’t see how, they knew he would. They knew he would because they knew his power and his character.

Even though they couldn’t see their way out, they knew God could.

Even though the couldn’t see God’s faithfulness, they knew he was.

And so they trusted. And their trust was vindicated. God was faithful.

In an unimaginable turn of events that can only be construed under the power of God, the King of Persia becomes the conduit for the fulfilment of God’s promise to his people. Who’d have thought? Who’d have seen? Who’d have planned it? Sometimes God brings forth his promises in the most unpredictable ways – we don’t often know how he will bring them about, but we can know he will.

What do you find yourself wondering about this morning? No doubt there are things in your world that are pretty confusing or worrying or difficult to come to grips with. We all experience very real and human responses to the brokenness and sinfulness of the world we live in.

What promises can you trust today? Perhaps the promise that God cares about you? Perhaps the promise that God will provide your needs, or comfort you in troubles? Perhaps today you want to cling on to God’s promise that he is renewing all things or the promise that Jesus will return to make all things right.

Sometimes the hardest thing is to trust. It all seems so impossible. You can’t see how his goodness and faithfulness will come. But because of his power and character, you can know he will!

 

The inevitability of opposition

Today’s Life Journal readings are Ezra 4, Psalm 113, 127 and Luke 9

We have in this fourth chapter of Ezra an attempt by the people of the land to stifle the efforts of the returned exiles to rebuild the temple. First they try this deceptively, suggesting that all they want to do is help the Jewish people rebuild the temple:

Ezra 4:2 – “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.”

But their real motive is revealed after the Jews refuse their offer.

Ezra 4:4 – Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

How long did they try and “frustrate their purpose” for? All the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia, which amounts to a period of around 20 years. 20 years! These guys were serious “adversaries” (v1), truly relentless in their attempt to bring down Jewish efforts to rebuild the temple.

The Bible tells us that we also, in the New Testament age, can expect to face similarly relentless opposition. In fact, Scripture says that it is inevitable, for the world in its natural state “loves the darkness… [and] hates the light” (John 3:19-20) – the world loves its sin and hates it being exposed. Jesus tells us that in light of this people will hate us because of our trust in him – “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt 10:22). Wherever the gospel is preached faithfully, there will be opposition, there will be persecution, because people love the darkness and hate the light.

How are we to react to this opposition when it comes? It’s amazing what Scripture says in answer to this question:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12)

“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:13-14)

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:41)

When we are persecuted for the sake of Christ, the Bible says that we are blessed, and should consider it pure joy. But how can we possibly do this?

Stuart reminded us last night that God is in control of all things, that he is sovereign even over suffering. It is only by remembering this that we can ever hope to consider our trials to be “pure joy”. It’s only when we remember that suffering for Jesus’ sake is a gift, granted to us by God (Phil 1:29), that we’ll be able to rejoice like the early believers in being counted worthy of being persecuted for His name (Acts 5:41).

Father, please help us today to be so enamored with Christ, that we too would rejoice in any persecution that comes our way because of our trust in Him.

Daniel Budd

A Pale Shadow

Today’s Life Journal readings are Ezra 2-3 and Luke 8

There seem to be some circumstances in life where our emotions collide with each other so intensely that we can’t express adequately what’s going on inside. I’m thinking of times like Christian funerals, where our pain in losing someone close to us collides with our joy in knowing they are with Christ, which we are promised is “far better” (Phil 1). Sometimes we just aren’t sure how to express these conflicting feelings, like the clash of great joy with immense sorrow.

The returning Jewish exiles appear to have found themselves in one of these situations (Ezra 2 and 3) as they arrived back at Jerusalem, rebuilt the altar, and began work on restoring the temple.

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD.

“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel”.

And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.

This was clearly an occasion of great joy for many Jewish people. For the first time in decades they were again able to worship God in the land that he had given them. And more than that, they had an opportunity to rebuild the temple – a place where God had chosen to make himself known to his people since the time of Solomon. What delight would have welled up in Jewish hearts as the foundations were laid!

Yet this joy was also accompanied by great sadness. Have a look at Ezra 3:12 –

But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy…

You see, there were some of the very old among the returning exiles who remembered the glory of the old temple, and could see that these foundations paled in comparison to the former structure. There was a sense in which their hopes and expectations for the restoration of God’s house were not being met, and they were filled with sorrow because of it.

…so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping…

Here again –  the collision of both delight and sorrow. And I want to suggest that this points us to a greater reality in the story. While the return of the exiles was a real triumph for the Jewish people in many ways, it also did not live up to the great hopes that the people may have had (see Haggai 2:2-9). Not only was this temple seemingly a pale shadow of the former, but the whole restoration to their homeland was a pale shadow of what the Jewish people had longed for.

As Christians, however, we know that this is not the end of the story. As Haggai 2:9 says, “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former”. In fact we are already part of this latter glory that eclispes even the glory of Solomon’s temple. God has established a new spiritual temple composed of people from all nations who trust in the Person and work of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:16-17). What a wonderful, glorious reality! And as we’ve just read in Revelation recently, it points to an even more incredible day, when the Lamb in all His glory, shining like the sun, will dwell in the midst of His redeemed people (Rev 21).

What joy the Jewish people had even though their restoration was but a pale shadow of what they had hoped for. May we rejoice, knowing that the latter glory has already been partly revealed in us, and longing, like God’s people in Ezra, for that day when God will dwell with us in all the fulness of his glory.

Daniel Budd