“PRINCIPLES FOR SERVING GOD”
(A Series on Ezra: Building His Church)
Westgate Chapel 3/12/95 a.m. Ezra 3:1-6
PROPOSITION: A remnant people, returning to the City of God, serve the Lord with spontaneity, in the right place, with unity, with eagerness, with regularity, and with focus.
- 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.
- JERUSALEM had been destroyed 70 years before by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army.
- THE temple was leveled, the cities burned and the people carried of as slaves.
- GOD had allowed the fall of the city and the captivity of the people of Israel as discipline and to bring them to repentance....and ultimately back to Him.
- THAT 70 years of captivity in a foreign land had also served to grow a longing in many of the people to go back to Zion.
- AT the time that the story of the Book of Ezra was written, CYRUS was king of Persian and was moved by the Spirit of God to let Israel return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, the Temple and worship the Lord again.
- A TRULY miraculous and amazing turn of events.
- IN Ezra 1, God dealt with Cyrus the king of Persia who issued a decree to set the people of God free to go home and restore the City of God.
- IN Ezra 2, God gathered 50,000 of the millions of Jews living in captivity in Persia.....and sent them home. Last Sunday we looked at the profile from that chapter of a remnant people on their way back to the City of God.
- TODAY, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are going to look at some principles for serving God that we learn from this remnant people when they make the journey home.
- REMEMBER, as we apply this Old Testament book to our lives....
* God is doing only one thing in the world today. He is building His Church.
* You and I are doing only one of two things. We are either partnering with Him in building His Church, or we are tearing it down.
- GOD has chosen to focus His work in the world through the Church of Jesus Christ.
- IT is why He is calling a remnant people to leave the love of this world and rebuild the city of God, Zion, the Church of the firstborn.
- EVERYTHING else in life is of secondary importance.
- SO, the lessons that we learn from the Israelites who returned to rebuild the City of God as it lay in ruins, are crucial to our lives today....as we look to be a part of the restoration of the Church in our times.
- TURN with me please to Ezra 3.
- IN this chapter the returning people have arrived back in the Promised Land.
- AND there are six things about what they did when they got back that I would like to share with you from Ezra 3:1-6.
“When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem. (2) Then Jeshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. (3) Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices. (4) Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. (5) After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred feasts of the LORD, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the LORD. (6) On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, though the foundation of the LORD'S temple had not yet been laid.”
ii. serve the lord as First priority
- THESE people of God, after languishing for 70 years in a place of captivity were so excited to be back in the Promised Land that they hit the ground running.
- THEY didn’t all settle in Jerusalem you know.
- WHEN they got back to Israel the 50,000 returned to their ancestral homes and villages.
- THEIR homes and villages and fields must have been in an incredible mess.
- DO you realize how long my grass is already...with the warm weather we have been having?
- CAN you imagine the condition of your yard after 70 years without any care?
- THE fields had been neglected for 70 years.
* Fences down in the pasture lands.
* Agricultural fields overgrown by weeds and brush.
* Abandoned houses all dilapidated and run down, probably overgrown by wild vines.
- THERE were houses to build back to code.
- THERE were fields to cultivate and plow.
- THERE were pastures to secure, livestock to breed.
- THE work load required just to cope with the demands of this season in Israel’s life must have been incredible.
- BUT Ezra 3:1 says that...
“When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem.”
- NO edict was required to get them to the City of God, no law, no command.
- THE seventh month, called Tisri, was the most sacred of all months in the calendar of the Jewish people.
* It started on the first day of the month with the blowing of the trumpets to the Lord...a sound of victory and praise.
* Then the tenth day of that month was the day of Atonement for the sin of the people.
* Then, from the 15th to the 21st of the month, the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated....the celebration of their ingathering, the end of their wanderings.
- THEY had gone for 70 years without being able to celebrate the Lord in this way.
- SO, without coercion, or guilt, or a sense of “have to,” all 50,000 of the returning remnant people, had a common impulse to come to the City of God to celebrate His goodness.
- THE phrase “as one man” is a very emphatic statement in the Hebrew.
- THEY left all business appointments and household duties to come serve the Lord. They all longed to serve the Lord.
- THEIR service to the Lord was unconstrained and spontaneous.
- THAT is principle #1 for a returning remnant....serve the Lord as your first priority.
- IN Matthew 6:33 Jesus said,
“......seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
- HOW do you do that?
- JESUS answered that question in Matthew 22:37 saying,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’”
- PRINCIPLE #1......God’s returning remnant people serve the Lord as their first priority....EVERYTHING else comes after that.
iii. serve the lord in his church
- THE second principle that we learn from how this returning remnant people serve the Lord is found in verses 1 and 3,
- VERSE 1 says that they “assembled in Jerusalem.”
- VERSE 3 says that they “built the altar on its original foundation.”
- THEY had returned to the right place to serve the Lord.
- SACRIFICES and Old Testament worship were only supposed to take place in one place......in the City of Zion, and on the altar that David had provided for when he bought the site on Mount Moriah and built an altar to the Lord there....the future building site for the Temple.
- NO new innovations, no new location, no new God, no new theory, no new Mountain of the Lord, no change in venue.
- THE same City of God, the same altar of sacrifice.
- THE returning remnant people of God had come back to serve the Lord in the right place.
- NOW for us today, there is no such injunction as to the physical place where we are to serve the Lord.
- BUT there is a spiritual place that is right....a location that is required.
- HEBREWS 12:18-24 tells us where that place is,
“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm....you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, (23) to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, (24) to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
- YOU and I come, BY FAITH in Jesus alone, to the City of God, the presence of God....and this location is defined as the place where.....
* A place where......thousands of angels are gathered in joyful assembly.
* A place where......righteous believers are gathered as the Church of Jesus.
* A place where......believers names are written down in heaven, because they have a living faith in Jesus Christ.
* A place where.....Jesus applies His grace to those who come to Him in humble faith.
* A place where.....Jesus’ blood has the final word...and that word is “forgiven.”
- NOW, that may not be a physical place that you can see with your natural eye...but it is just as real.
- AND it is no wonder that in the same book, Hebrews 10:25, the writer says,
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
- BECAUSE God has chosen to reveal Himself and anoint His people when they gather together in His Name.
- PRINCIPLE #2....God’s returning remnant people serve the Lord in His Church.
iv. serve the lord in unity
- PRINCIPLE #3......God’s returning remnant people serve the Lord in UNITY.
- IN verse 1, the people assemble “as one man.”
- IN verse 2, Zerubbabel the prince, and his associates, and Joshua the priest, and his associates united their efforts to rebuild the altar of the Lord.
- LEADERS and people were as one man.
- DO you understand how much more effective it is to serve the Lord when we are united?
- NO wonder the Psalmist said,
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! (2) It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. (3) It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)
- CHRIST died to make us one. That price alone should encourage us to maintain the unity of the peace in His Church.
- PRINCIPLE #3.....God’s returning remnant people serve the Lord in UNITY.
v. serve the lord from the altar
- PRINCIPLE #4.....look at Ezra 3:3&6,
- BEFORE the returning Jews started work on the foundation of the Temple...they were compelled to get the altar rebuilt first, so that they could offer sacrifices to God.
- YOU see, in the Old Testament scheme of things, there was no way to approach God’s presence in the Holy Place without first offering a sacrifice for sins.
- THERE was no access to true worship until the sacrifice was offered to God.
- SO, the altar had to be restored first.
- HEBREWS 9:20-26 says,
“He said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.’ (21) In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. (22) In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (23) It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (24) For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. (25) Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. (26) Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
- THERE is no other way to worship the Father but by the blood of Jesus His Son.
- THE characters in this chapter of Ezra were eager to get the altar rebuilt and the sacrifices re-established first.....and so must you and I.
- IT is a non-negotiable principle for serving the Lord.
- PRINCIPLE # 4.....God’s returning remnant people serve the Lord from the altar.
vi. serve the lord with consistency
- THE next principle I find in all of the references in these first six verse of Ezra 3 to....
* Morning and evening sacrifices...verse3.
* Burnt offerings each day....verse 4.
* Regular burnt offerings for all the appointed feasts...verse 5.
- AFTER 70 years of not being able to serve the Lord according to the Word.....these people launched into their worship with consistency.
- NO stops and starts.
- MORNING and evening.....every day....all year long.
- (Tell story about trail hiking taught by Miller Fagely......never break stride.)
- LIKE the apostle Paul, in the face of shipwreck, beatings, abandonment, hatred, jealousy.....he just kept on keeping on.
- LIKE the saints of Hebrews 11.
- IT is not a matter of when you feel like it, or if nobody looks at you wrong, or if you are healthy....you serve the Lord day in and day out.
- PRINCIPLE #5.......God’s returning remnant people serve the with consistency.
vii. serve the lord with determination
- HERE is the last principle for serving the Lord found in this passage.
- EZRA 3:3 says that the Jews had reason to fear the peoples that lived in the vicinity.
- YOU see, the local inhabitants had had free run of the territory for 70 years.
* No one had encroached on their turf in that span of time.
* No one had run their herds in those valleys for 70 years.
* No one had interfered with their lifestyle for 70 years.
- THEY had begun to believe that the region was theirs to do with as they pleased.
- CYRUS was 1000 miles away.
- THEY could have cared less what his decree had been concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
- THEY were starting to get restless about all this re-settling and re-building going on.
- SO they started making noises that they were not going to put up with it.
- SO the people of God said, “we had better get the altar of the Lord up quick and start calling on His Name.”
- THERE was a determination to serve the Lord regardless of the opposition.
- PRINCIPLE #6.....God’s returning remnant people serve the Lord with determination.
- CAN I review these principles with you?
1. Serve the Lord as First Priority.
2. Serve the Lord in His Church.
3. Serve the Lord in Unity.
4. Serve the Lord from the Altar.
5. Serve the Lord with Consistency.
6. Serve the Lord with Determination.