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Ezra 1_1-4

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AGENTS OF GOD’S PURPOSES

(A Series on Ezra: Building His Church)

Westgate Chapel 2/5/95 a.m.                                      Ezra 1:1-4

PROPOSITION:   God’s principle purpose in His world today is building His Church, and we have the option of being either passive instruments of what He is doing or agents of His sovereign purposes right now.

i. introduction

-     THERE is something going on as we sit in this sanctuary this morning that is more important than predicting the next earthquake to hit the Seattle region.

*     More important than finding a cure for cancer or AIDS.

*     More important than balancing the Federal  budget.

*     More important than peace in the Middle East.

*     More important than an effective Nuclear weapons ban.

*     More important than the unemployment rate....or global warming.

*     More important than the next ten years without Major league baseball.

-     SOMETHING is going on as we sit in this sanctuary this morning that is infinitely more important to God than all the national economies of the earth rolled into one.

-     WHAT is this activity that is so important to God that world wars pale by comparison?

-     YOU will find a clue to what IT is when you listen to Jesus’ final verbal instructions to His 120 disciples right before He left them.

-     HIS LAST words to them were,

      “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

-     I SUBMIT to you that this is the activity that is so important to God that everything else in the world pales by comparison.

-     BUILDING His Church is the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit....from Genesis to the present.

-     IN JOHN 5:17 Jesus said,

      “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.

-     IN JOHN 4:34-35, Jesus said,

      “My food, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest'‘? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

-     THERE is no breath between Jesus’ reference to the will and work of the Father....and His appeal to us to be in the fields of His Father’s harvest.

-     NOTHING is more important to God right now.

-     THIS is His call to Westgate Chapel in 1995.....to MAKE disciples of Jesus in everything that we do.

-     THIS is His mission for us this year.

-     BUT it will come at a price....and some are paying that price already.

-     AND the price will be intensive spiritual opposition and warfare.

-     GOD sent Dean Sherman, back in November, to tell us, from Judges 3, that God had left the enemy in the land to oppose us, so that we would learn warfare....to get ready.

-     THEN in January, God sent Mario Murillo to remind us that God’s blessings and power and healings were for one reason......to make us effective in the harvest of souls.

-     AND in more ways than I can go into this morning, the enemy has turned up the heat in lives and families all over the congregation...THIS WEEK.

-     MY ‘phone has been ringing off the hook.

-     BY Thursday I was starting to see the enemy’s strategy.

*     Get us distracted by flooding our lives with so much turmoil that we are taken up full time applying bandages and first aid.

*     And we are too wounded, tired and battle-worn to bring in the harvest that is white and waiting for us.

-     THE Lord reminded me of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, when the captives came back from Babylon.

*     They had to fight the enemy with one hand and build with the other.

-     AND that is exactly what we will have to do here this year.

-     THAT is the call of the Spirit to us this morning.

-     SO, Lord willing, I am going to begin a study of the book of Ezra....this morning.

-     HERE is a people who had to learn how to fight with one hand and build with the other.

ii. god is working his purposes in ways greater than the church is apt to think

-     A LITTLE background to the book of Ezra.

-     FROM Genesis to Acts 10.....God’s principle people of revelation and power was the people of Israel.

*     No people had ever been so favored.

*     No people had ever been so exalted.

-     PAUL says in I Corinthians 10:11, concerning the history of the nation of Israel, that,

      “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.

-     SO,  after making the Jewish people a nation, and giving them the promised land of Canaan.....where they ate from vineyards they had not planted and lived in homes they had not built.....they got lazy and fat and turned to worshipping the pagan gods of the Canaanites.

-     GOD was patient with them for 400 years....sending prophets and tough times to try and turn them back to Him.

-     FINALLY, He sent Nebuchadnezzar......in three devastating military campaigns against Judah....over 30 years.

-     AND when they still wouldn’t turn back to God in repentance....He had all but the poorest taken off into captivity in Babylon.

*     The land is sacked, ravaged.

*     Everything of value is carried off.

*     Villages are leveled and burned.

*     The Temple is ransacked and destroyed.

*     The priests are murdered.

*     Everyone who is physically able is marched off to a strange land.

*     They come under the rule of a stranger for the first time in 400+ years.

*     Their years become marked in the history books by the years of the Persian kings.

-     THIS is the darkest time in the history of the people of God.

-     LISTEN to the heart of the prophet Jeremiah as he records those days.

      “The Lord has rejected all the warriors in my midst; he has summoned an army against me to crush my young men. In his winepress the Lord has trampled the Virgin Daughter of Judah. This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed. Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her. The LORD has decreed for Jacob that his neighbors become his foes; Jerusalem has become an unclean thing among them. The LORD is righteous, yet I rebelled against his command. Listen, all you peoples; look upon my suffering. My young men and maidens have gone into exile.” (Lamentations 1:15-18)

-     SO, for 70 years Israel languishes in a foreign land, held captive by a pagan king.

-     THE longer they are there, the more their hearts begin to yearn for Jerusalem.

-     AND after 70 years of discipline in that dark land, a little light begins to flicker.

-     CYRUS is the Persian king on the throne of Babylon.

-     A Godly man named Daniel is his Prime Minister....and one day Daniel sits Cyrus down and reads him Isaiah 44:28,

      “I am the Lord......who says of Cyrus, '‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’”

-     NOW Daniel also knows what the prophet Jeremiah had written about the length of the captivity and the restoration of Jerusalem......and it is recorded in Daniel 9 that he also launches into an intensive season of fasting and prayer because he realizes the significance of the restoration of Jerusalem.

*     God had a sovereign purpose for His people back in the land...so they had to go back and rebuild the Temple and the city.

*     The Word of God was to be heard echoing through the streets of Jerusalem once again.

*     The voices of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi  were to be heard  thundering in the land once again....and recorded.

*     Towns like Bethsaida and Nazareth had to be rebuilt.

*     Alexander the Great would march his armies through a rebuilt Jerusalem one day.

*     And Caesar Augustus would bring his famous Roman roads into the region inhabited by Jews.

-     ALL so that Paul could write in Galatians 4:4,

      “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

-     LITTLE did Cyrus and Daniel know that from that little flicker of light....in the rebuilding of Jerusalem....the stage would be set for THE LIGHT who would come for the salvation of the whole world.

-     SO, in about  458 BC, while the city of God is still in ruins......almost 600 miles away in Babylon, king Cyrus is moved by the Spirit of God to fulfill the purposes of God.

-     TURN with me to Ezra 1:1.

      “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “ (Ezra 1:1)

-     WRITE this down. King Cyrus was a passive instrument in the purposes of God. A passive instrument.

-     HE was used of God but he had very little to do with it.

-     THERE are four principles that I want you to get from these four opening verses in Ezra 1.

-     HERE is the first one.

1.   God is working his purposes in ways greater than the church is apt to think.

-     WE may feel like we are just a small congregation in a city, state and nation that is busy with things far bigger and more important than Westgate Chapel.......but God planted us here 40 years ago to be about a mission that will be further reaching than all the inventions of Bill Gates or MicroSoft.

iii. god is working his purposes in ways greater than the world supposes

-     LET’S move on to our second principle. It is found in verse 2,

      “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.’” (Ezra 1:2)

-     THE nations of the world back then were watching the kings of Babylon and the Medo-Persian kingdoms roll through the land....defeating every opposing power, like once mighty Egypt.

-     THEY thought they were witnessing the normal ebb and flow of empires....subject to its seemingly whimsical fate...but all along God was orchestrating it all for His ultimate purposes.

-     HIS purposes were always number 1.....even though they didn’t know it or recognize it.

-     GOD had put Cyrus on the top of the heap at this time in this place.....for ONE REASON....to get His people back to Jerusalem and get the Temple rebuilt.

-     HERE is our second principle.

2.   God is working his purposes in ways greater than the world supposes.

-     THE world may take the mid-east turmoil like it is more of the same. But God is aligning the nations and powers of this world for His final glory.

-     THE world may think nothing of Dan and Jan Eide in Chengdu....but He has turned the fate of nations with the witness of one missionary before and He will do it again.

iv. god is working his purposes in individual men, more than they are aware

-     LET’S read on, in verse 3,

      “Anyone of his people among you--may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:3)

-     CYRUS, aware that He is being used as an instrument in the hands of God, calls for “any of God’s people” to go and be used of God to fulfill His purposes in the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

-     ALL of the conquering and ruling that this mighty Persian king had done....and the stirring of God in Cyrus’ heart is in the process of trickling down now to individual Jew out on the public works projects and vineyards of Babylon.

-     SO, here is the third principle.

3.   God is working his purposes in individual men, more than they are aware.

-     YOU may think that the lay-off’s at Boeing are a result of delayed delivery schedules......it may be God getting you ready for a specific role in His purposes.

-     DON’T pass off any event, challenge, crisis as being meaningless when you are a child of God.

-     CYRUS was just a passive instrument. He wasn’t even a man of God and look at what God was doing in his life in the smallest of things like who his Prime Minister was.

v. god is working his purposes through the heart and mind to the hand of men

-     LET’S go to verse 4,

      “And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:4)

-     CYRUS actually commands a tax on his own people to help fund the restoration of the city of God.

-     HE touched Cyrus’ heart and mind and Cyrus spoke and penned this decree.

-     THEN God touched the hearts and minds of the Persian people and they gave of their substance to rebuild Jerusalem.

-     HERE is the fourth principle for today:

4.   God is working his purposes through the heart and mind to the hand of men.

-     THE purposes of God became action in Cyrus and the Persian people.....and they didn’t even know that they were being set up by God to fulfill His divine, eternal purposes in Jerusalem.

-     THEY were passive instruments.....and didn’t know it.

vi. conclusion

-     HERE is my final challenge to you.

-     KING Cyrus and the Persian people were unwitting passive instruments in the purposes of God.

-     HOW much better it is to be AGENTS of His purposes, like Ezra and Daniel....than passive instruments.

-     THE kingdom of God is amongst us.

-     GOD is fulfilling His eternal purposes throughout the world at this very moment, while we sit in this sanctuary.

-     HE is building His Church.

-     IN ISAIAH 46:10b -11 God says,

      “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”

-     HIS LAST words to His disciples were,

      “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

-     ARE you going to be a co-worker with Him and an AGENT of His kingdom purposes?

-     OR are you going to be a passive instrument, never part of His eternal plan?

-     CYRUS or EZRA? Which will it be?

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