“CROSSING THE FINISH LINE”
(A Series on Ezra:Building His Church)
Westgate Chapel 7/16/95 a.m. Ezra 6:13-22
PROPOSITION: The mission of building the temple of the Lord is accomplished, personally and corporately, through perseverance, priesthood, and prayer.
- (Thanks to pastors who ministered on Sundays and Wednesday nights in my absence)
- WHILE on vacation this year we experienced the full spectrum of American culture.
* Nascar race at Myrtle Beach.
* Gatlin Brothers in concert, also at Myrtle Beach.
* The National Symphony at Wolf Trap, outside of Washington DC.....Izak Perlman guest soloist.
- BUT it is the Nascar race that I want to talk about this morning.
* Main event.
* # 28.....6-8 year old Camaro.
* Started out 8th on the grid.
* Right at the start he picked up 5 places and was running 3rd, then a strong second...until they started lapping older cars.
* When they ran into traffic, #28 got blocked badly.....and the car running in first place got away.
* It did something to the car or driver, I am not sure which....because all of a sudden he dropped back from 2nd place.....to 7th or 8th.
* He lost his rhythm, got off the pace.....and then got mixed up in some accidents running in the pack and got further behind.
* In fact, a few times we couldn’t find him at all.
* Under yellow, he would strain his way back into the flow of things, but then drop back when the race got under way again.
* I finally gave up even looking for him. It was a pity because he had started so strong....but several things had hindered him.
* Something about how he had started, and how strong he had run in the beginning had attracted us to him.
* Then, around lap 199 (It was a 250 lap race), #28 started picking his way up through the race again.
* You would see him make a passing move here...and then there he would go again, around another competitor.
* Then #28 was on the top four leader board.
* Well, I will stop the suspense.......on lap 245 he was back in second place....where he was in the beginning, before he got blocked.
* And it was a duel for the next three laps.
* But with two laps to go.....#28 passed the lead car and crossed the finish line with distinction.
- DO you know that the apostle Paul was quite a Nascar fan?
- HE drew a number of his sermon illustrations from the races of his day.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (I Corinthians 9:24)
“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7)
“I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.” (Acts 20:24)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2Timothy 4:7)
- ALL of these analogies that Paul uses to describe the Christian experience.....are seen in the story line that we are going to pick up in Ezra 6:13 today.
- MY message is on crossing the finish line.
- (SET up and READ Ezra 6:13-22)
ii. perseverance got them across the finish line
- HERE is the first lesson from our story: Perseverance got them across the finish line.
- LOOK with me at some key words in verses 14 and 15.
“So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. (15) The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.”
- WE spent whole sermons from Ezra looking at the opposition they encountered trying to get the Temple of the Lord restored.
- IT wasn’t easy. It was tough.
- YOU have a mission just as important to God as the rebuilding of that Temple that is torn down right now.
- YOU have been given the mission of building a Temple of the Holy Spirit that will never be torn down.
* In you personal life...a Temple of the Lord.
* In your family....a Temple of the Lord.
* In the Church of Jesus...a Temple of the Lord.
- EVERYTHING else that you do in this life is secondary to the building of the Temple of the Lord....your life, His house.
- BUT like #28 in that Myrtle Beach Nascar race....it isn’t so important how you start the race....it was critical how you finish.
- JESUS, the author and finisher of our faith, set the example for us.
- HE persevered, He finished His race.....triumphantly.
* He came to lay His life down as a sacrifice for sin...so that you and I could be saved from judgment.
* That was the race before Him.
* Herod tried to kill him when he was just 2 years old.
* Satan tried to stop Him with those temptations in the wilderness....right at the start of the race.
* Peter tried to discourage Him from going to the cross.....even used his sword in the garden when they mob came to arrest Him.
- BUT in spite of opposition, danger, and the magnitude of the task, the Bible says that Jesus set His face like a flint to Jerusalem....where He would suffer and die.
- JESUS finished His race....triumphantly...so that you and I could do the same.
- HE persevered all the way to the finish line...so that in Him you could persevere to the finish line also.
- YOU will finish the race set before you by remaining in Him....abiding in Him.
- IN Him you are going to make it all the way...no matter what the enemy throws at you in the process.
- LISTEN to the author of Hebrews,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (3) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
- YOU role in finishing the race is to abide in Him....to remain in Him. THAT is where your energy has to be spent.
* Remain in Him in the face of set-backs.
* Remain in Him in the face of enemy opposition.
* Remain in Him in the face of disappointments.
* Remain in Him in the face of crises.
* Remain in Him in the face of discouragements.
- LIKE Ezra and the Jews who had come back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the Lord....CONTINUE until you have COMPLETED the mission and crossed the FINISH line.
III. PRIESTHOOD GOT THEM ACROSS THE FINISH LINE
- GETTING across the finish line for Ezra was not simply completing the physical building of the Temple.
- THE finish line wasn’t crossed until the priests and Levites had been put in place and the sacrifices for sin and the sacrifices of thanksgiving were taking place in that Temple.
- LOOK at some key words in verses....16-18.
“Then the people of Israel--the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles--celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. (17) For the dedication of this house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and, as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel. (18) And they installed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their groups for the service of God at Jerusalem, according to what is written in the Book of Moses.”
- HERE is the principle: The priests and Levites got them across the finish line.
- IT wasn’t until the sacrifice for the sins of the people was being consistently applied that Ezra’s race was finished.
- IT wasn’t until the sacrifice of praise and dedication was being offered in the Temple that Ezra’s race was finished.
- SO priests and Levites were installed.
- AND when that had been accomplished...THEN it says that there was joy in the house of God.
- YOU cannot finish the race set before you without operating in the priesthood that God has assigned you.
- THAT is what it is going to take to get you across the finish line.
- THE apostle Peter writes, in I Peter 2:5,
“.....you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
- THEN in verse 9 Peter writes,
“.....you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
- WE cannot have the church of Jesus here at Westgate Chapel without YOU operating in your priestly calling.
- IT is the task of the pastors to help you identify that calling, to equip you to function in that calling.
- BUT we can’t have church....we can’t cross the finish line that God has laid out for Westgate Chapel without you taking your role as a priest in your family, in this body of believers, and in this city.
- THIS principle is what now stands between us and finishing the race set before us.
- EVERY priest in his/her place.
iv. prayer got them across the finish line
- HERE is the last principle that I discovered in the remaining verses of this chapter about crossing the finish line.
- I WILL read the verses, see if you can find the principle.
“On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover. (20) The priests and Levites had purified themselves and were all ceremonially clean. The Levites slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles, for their brothers the priests and for themselves. (21) So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel.”
- DID you see it?
- “SEPARATED.....TO SEEK THE LORD.”
- THE priests purified themselves....the people purified themselves....IN ORDER TO SEEK THE LORD.
- EZRA had not crossed the finish line until the people of Israel were seeking the Lord.
- THAT is the attitude of the true Christian life....to seek the Lord.
* What does He want of me?
* What does He feel about what I am doing?
* What is on His heart for my life?
* What is the mission that He has for me?
- THIS whole race that Ezra was running wasn’t about Jewish nationalism.
- IT wasn’t about architecture or a building.
- IT wasn’t about the restoration of religious systems or programs.
- IT was about restoring a people who would seek the Lord.
- THAT is what this was all about.
- SEPARATED from the unclean practices of the world so that we can seek the Lord.
- THAT is why prayer is so important to us here....because it is one of the main ways that God’s people seek the Lord.
- THAT is why the Wednesday night prayer meeting is so important to us here.
* And it doesn’t matter if we ever see a miracle....it matters that we seek the Lord.
* It doesn’t matter if we get goose bumps every Wednesday night...it just matters that we seek the Lord.
- THAT is the attitude of heart that Adam and Eve rebelled against....they wanted to figure life out on their own.
- THAT attitude of independence from God is the root of all sin.
- SO how do you combat that worldly spirit of rebellion against God? You separate yourself from the world in order to seek Him.
- HOW do you get across the finish line of the race that God has set before you? You seek Him.
- YOU cross the finish line by persevering.....even when you are going through the valley of the shadow of death.
- YOU cross the finish line by functioning in your priestly role.
- YOU cross the finish line by living a life of prayer.
- JESUS ran the race and finished the race for the prize set before Him. Hebrews 12:2 says about Him....
“.....who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
- EZRA finished the race...and verse 22 says,
“For seven days they celebrated with joy the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the LORD had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria, so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.”
- YOU are going to make it...if you run to cross the finish line.
- PAUL writes, in Philippians 1:4-6,
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, (6) being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”