“AT THE HEART OF IT ALL”
(A Series on Ezra: Building His Church)
Westgate Chapel 2/26/95 a.m. Ezra 1:5-11
PROPOSITION: God still MOVES on the human heart to accomplish His purposes and waits patiently to see if we will respond in obedience to Him from a heart touched by His grace. .
- THE book of Ezra, in the Old Testament, is the story of how God rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the Temple...using a remnant of His people who had been in captivity in Babylon for over 70 years.
- LET me give you a little background to the book of Ezra.
- 470 years before the story of Ezra took place God had made a nation for Himself out of the Jewish people.
- HE had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and had taken them to the promised land of Canaan.....where they ate from vineyards they had not planted and lived in homes they had not built.
- BUT they had gotten lazy and fat in the Promised Land and had turned to worshipping the pagan gods of the Canaanites surrounding them.
- GOD had been 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 a 30 year period.
- 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.
- SO, for 70 years the people of God languish in a foreign land, held captive by a pagan king.
- BUT the longer they are in captivity, the more their hearts begin to yearn for Jerusalem....and the Temple and the songs of Zion.
- NOW, in the book of Ezra, after 70 years of God’s discipline in that dark land, a little light begins to flicker.
- CYRUS is the Persian king on the throne of Babylon.
- AND, 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)
- AND, three Sundays back, we took a look at the beginning of the miracle of deliverance that God initiated in the first 4 verses of Ezra 1....beyond anybody’s wildest dreams.
- HE moved the heart of a conquering nation to let the conquered people go.....and even help supply their re-building process.
- NOW, this morning, we are back in the book of Ezra...chapter 1, verses 5-11.
- LET’S read together.
“Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites--everyone whose heart God had moved--prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. (6) All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings. (7) Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god. (8) Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. (9) This was the inventory: gold dishes 30 silver dishes 1,000 silver pans 29 (10) gold bowls 30 matching silver bowls 410 other articles 1,000 (11) In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver. Sheshbazzar brought all these along when the exiles came up from Babylon to Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:5-11)
- THE first, and amazing thing that I want you to see this morning, from this passage, is that in spite of Cyrus’ generous offer, in verses 1-4, to set the Jewish captives free.....
* Free to leave the foreign land populated with pagan people serving pagan gods.
* Free to leave their captivity and be a delivered people once again.
* Free to return to their home and rebuild their houses....and their city.
* Free to go back and worship God in His holy mountain.
* Free to go back and sing the songs of Zion.
- IN spite of this miraculous chance at freedom, after 70 years of captivity...history records that the majority of the people of God stayed in Babylon.
- THEY had become very comfortable in Babylon.
* Some had built houses there and felt at home.
* Some had bought land there and settled in.
* Some had invested too heavily in Babylon to leave it behind.
* Some had married Babylonian wives and their family ties in that strange land were too strong.
* Others had friendships in Babylon that they couldn’t leave behind.
* Some had accumulated great wealth and had too many business connections to leave.
- SO, when the call of God came to leave Babylon and go back to the city of God......most kept right on with business as usual.
- THAT blows me away.....but it shouldn’t surprise us. Satan has been deceiving people that same way for thousands of years.
- THE call of God to follow Him always looks as if it will upset our plans for a comfortable life.
- SO, in most of life we find ourselves facing two very distinct and different paths......stay in Babylon or follow God.
- AND we are just not designed to serve two masters. Jesus said,
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)
- IN the seven verses that we are studying today in Ezra 1, 4 very different groups of people face that same decision.
- AND it does appear that the choice is a HEART issue for them all.
- IN fact, Ezra 1:5 says of the people who went back to the city of God......everyone whose heart God had moved......prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.
- THEY left Babylon and headed back to rebuild Jerusalem.
- FOLLOWING God is a heart issue.....a heart response to the MOVING of God in our lives.
- THAT is where the victory is won or lost.....in our hearts.
- THAT is where we become entrenched in Babylon or surrender to God’s call......in our hearts.
- THAT is where we cling to the world and our love affair with its priorities....or turn our backs on Babylon and head home to Father.
- GOD still MOVES on the human heart today to accomplish His purposes.....and waits patiently to see if we will respond in obedience to Him from a heart touched by His grace.
- WHICH will it be? Babylon or the City of God?
ii. the hearts of the dads
- LET’S go back to our story in Ezra 1:5.
- THE first group that allowed their hearts to be MOVED by God was the Dads.
- EZRA 1:5 says that the family heads of Judah and Benjamin.....prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.
- MOST of the people of God wanted to stay in Babylon where it was comfortable and prosperous....and they did.
- BUT it was the Dads of Judah and Benjamin who were the first to respond to Cyrus’ decree for freedom, and pack up their earthly belongings and lead their families back to the city of God.
- GOD MOVED on their hearts and they followed....leading the way.
- THAT is still the way that God works today.
- AS Dads go....so goes the family.
- AS Dad’s heart is MOVED by God, and he obeys....so moves the family back to the City of God.
- THE Bible has held this truth of the spiritual leadership of fathers for centuries.
- AMERICA has forgotten the power of a family following God and led by Dad.
- PROMISE KEEPERS sounded the trumpet call of the Spirit to the fathers of America...but even the press is starting to sound the alarm about a nation abandoned by Dads.
- HOW about it, Dads? Will you allow your heart to be MOVED by God? Will you obey the call and lead your family and your nation back to God?
* It starts with God’s call in your heart....and you allow Him to take out the heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh....tender to the things of God.
* Then it moves from your heart to your feet in obedience.
* And then you become a man forgiven...loved by God.
* And then you become a man of your promises....to your spouse, your children, your employer.
* And a man of the Word.
* And a man of prayer.
* And a man of integrity.
- A MAN of God leading his family in rebuilding the city of God.
- IT was the first group to be MOVED by God heading back to Jerusalem.
- IT is the first step in the journey back to healing and wholeness in our land today.
iii. the hearts of the spiritual leadership
- THE second group that allowed their hearts to be MOVED by God was the spiritual leadership.
- EZRA 1:5 says that the priests and Levites.....prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.
- AFTER the importance of the fathers in the family, the next group critical in the rebuilding of Zion is the spiritual leadership in the land.
- SOME of the harshest words in Scripture are reserved for people in spiritual leadership who are not leading people to God.....but taking care of #1.
- IN fact, in Ezekiel 22:26, we discover that it was partly the priest’s fault that Israel went into captivity in the first place.
“Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.”
- BUT 70 years of captivity have produced a broken and contrite spirit in the hearts of the spiritual leaders of Ezra’s day....and they are being MOVED in their hearts by God to lead the people back to the City of God.
- THE pastors, evangelists, teachers, elders and deacons are the next group, after Dads, to have their hearts MOVED by God and get ready to lead the way home to Father.
- I SEE the Lord doing this right now throughout the land...
* There is a holy disatisfaction growing with things as they have been in God’s household for the last fifty years.
* There is a renewed hunger for the secret place with God...as the only fountainhead for true ministry.
* There is a new obedience to the call to prayer.
* There is a new humility in leadership....a servant heart emerging instead of a love of position.
* There is a new passion for the true work of God in people’s lives....not playing church anymore.
* There is a growing zeal for the harvest field...not just numbers as a measure of success.
* There is a new unswerving commitment to God’s Word growing instead of compromise with sin and the world.
* There is a new spirit of cooperation and unity within churches and in between groups and denominations.
- IT is happening. Spritual leaders are having their hearts MOVED by God and are leading the way back to the City of God.....but we need more men and women of God in spiritual leadership to allow their hearts to be MOVED of God.
- WE need priests like the prophet Joel describes for the end times,
“Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:17)
- HOW about it spiritual leaders of Westgate Chapel? Will you and I allow God to MOVE our hearts towards Him and the rebuilding of Zion?
iv. the hearts of the unbelievers
- THIS next group to be MOVED in their hearts by God is an interesting bunch. It is the unbelieving neighbors of God’s people in Babylon.
- THESE are the people least likely to be MOVED in their hearts by God.
- LOOK at verse 6.
“All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.”
- HOW many of you know that giving away your jewelry, livestock, things that you treasure, and offerings of cash.....is not natural?
- THEY had no stock on what happened in Jerusalem.
- JERUSALEM was over a 700 mile journey away.....that was months of dangerous travel in those days....who cared about rebuilding Jerusalem or the Temple of God???
- THEY served other gods. Who was Jehovah to them?
- BUT God had MOVED on the hearts of the Persian citizens....and they contributed heavily to the project.
- I BELIEVE that we are seeing God do this today.
- THE hearts of men and women in our communities are filled with despair and hopelessness, and they are being MOVED towards the city of God.
- THEY have accumulated things and success and possesions...but they are empty-handed and without God.
- AND He is in the process of drawing them to Himself.
- THEY are coming our way.
- I PRAY that we are ready for them when they arrive.
v. the heart of the king
- THE next person to be MOVED in his heart by God is the king.
- VERSE 7 says,
“Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god........(9) This was the inventory: gold dishes 30 silver dishes 1,000 silver pans 29.....”
- BY right, all that stuff was his. Cyrus’ empire had won it fair and square in battle. He didn’t need to give it back.
- BUT verse 1 already told us that God had MOVED Cyrus’ heart.
- SO, here he is dragging out all of the spoils of battle....from his own pagan god’s temple....and sending them back to the city of God.
- BECAUSE God has MOVED on his heart.
- WHEN God begins stirring the nations in response to the prayers of His people.....there is no earthly leader who can stand in the way.
- HE is going to rebuild the City of God and no one is going to stop Him.
- EVEN the hearts of the kings are in His hand.
- GOD is still MOVING the hearts of people today, like He has already done in this service.
* Spiritual leaders.
* Those who are near to God and those who are far from Him.
- IT is to the heart of man that God speaks and you and I choose how we will respond.
- WHEN God begins His work in your life, He begins with your heart.
* When you first come to Jesus, it is your heart that is convicted of its sin and your need for Him.
* When we respond to the call of God and receive His grace and salvation, He puts His Holy Spirit into our hearts as a guarantee of what He has done.
* And when we are walking with God, depending on His Holy Spirit to bring us through life victoriously, we live in daily hope because of God's love in our hearts.
- IN fact, the majority of our Christian life is lived from the heart...out as God MOVES on us by His Spirit.
- SO, what are we to do?
- SURRENDER your heart and obey His voice today.
- IN fact, one verse in Hebrews says,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7)