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Ezra 8_21-36

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KNOWING THE GOD OF EZRA

(A Series on Ezra: Building His Church)

Westgate Chapel 8/20/95 a.m.                                Ezra 8:21-36

PROPOSITION:  Knowing God, like Ezra did, involves the comprehension of Him with the head, the response to Him of the heart and the obedience to Him of the legs.

i. introduction

-     EZRA is a Jewish priest and teacher who, in about 458 B.C., gathered a group of about 9,000 Jewish exiles from Babylon in Persia and headed back to Jerusalem to rebuild the City of God....and the Temple of the Lord.

-     EZRA is a man respected by the king Artaxerxes....and is “learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the Lord.” (Ezra 7:11)

-     IN the first half of chapter 8, Ezra stops the caravan nine days from Babylon, next to the Ahava canal, to find the Levites who were missing from the returning group.

-     HE sends a delegation to a town nearby that has Levites who can serve in the presence of the Lord...and before he starts back on his journey has 20 Levites and 220 temple servants.

-     AND this morning, we pick up the story in Ezra 8:21-36 (READ)

-     THIS route back to Jerusalem took four months for a caravan of people this large.

-     IT was a treacherous trip through an area notorious for bandits and marauding nomads.

-     IT was no secret that this group had some significant treasure with them.

*     25 tons of silver.

*     3 and 3/4 tons of silver articles.

*     3 and 3/4 tons of gold.

-     EZRA has taken on an awesome responsibility.

-     SO, the first thing he does, after the Levites are in place is to proclaim a fast.

*     That would be a period of time during which the people go without food.

•     It would humble them.

•     It would teach them their dependence on the Lord.

•     It would bring a yieldedness to the Spirit of God in the whole camp.

-     THEN Ezra called for a season of petition and prayer along with the fasting...for a safe journey through that treacherous region.

*     This was a season of prayer for the whole company.

•     Once again, it was a yieldedness in prayer for the whole congregation together.

-     THERE is not one battle in the Old Testament that was won by natural means.

*     Joshua against the Amalakites while Moses’ hands were raised in prayer.

*     The battle of Jericho.

*     David against Goliath.

*     Jonathan and his armor bearer against thousands of Philistines.

*     Gideon and his 300 against over 100,000 Midianites.

-     AND Ezra knew that the only way he and his company were going to make it through would be if God intervened....so they fasted and prayed.

-     IN fact, he was ashamed not to trust in the Lord for this miracle journey.

-     EZRA entrusted the treasury for the temple to the priests in the company....who guarded everything with extreme care until they delivered every article safely to the Temple.

-     HE knew that it was the priests and Levites who were to carry and guard the things of the Lord....so he set apart the priests and consecrated the treasury to the Lord before the journey.

-     AND four months later...they arrived safely at Jerusalem. Mission accomplished.

-     NOT one ounce of silver or gold lost.

-     NOT one man, woman or child lost.

-     EVERYTHING accounted for by number and weight (vs. 34)

-     AFTER a three day rest from the trip, Ezra conducts a massive celebration.

-     THEY sacrificed burnt offerings to the Lord.

*     12 bulls.

*     96 rams.

*     77 male lambs.

-     A BURNT offering was a voluntary act of worship, expressing devotion, commitment and complete surrender to the Lord.

-     THEN they also offered the mandatory sin offering of 12 male goats for cleansing and forgiveness.

-     THERE is one thing that rings through these final verses of Ezra 8......Ezra knows God.

-     I DON’T mean that Ezra knows about God...I mean that Ezra knows God.

-     THERE is no other way to explain this feat.

*     No marauders.

*     No bandits.

*     No thieves.

*     No losses.

*     No catastrophes.

-     IT is not because of the numerical strength of the company.

-     IT is not because of the military expertise or prowess of the group.

-     THEY made it through because Ezra knew God.

*     He humbled himself and the company before the Lord in fasting.

*     He called on the Lord in prayer.

*     He has obviously testified to the Persian king about the faithfulness of God.

*     He was jealous for the Lord’s honor in not asking for a military escort for the journey.

*     He recognized the gracious hand of the Lord on the group.

*     He has faith that those who trust in the Lord receive His gracious intervention...and those who forsake the Lord receive His anger.

*     He respects God’s requirements that the priests carry and guard the things of the Lord.

*     He is VERY careful with the things of the Lord.

*     He is intent on restoration in Jerusalem, the City of God.

*     When they arrive safely, he arranges the thanksgiving celebration before the Lord.

-     EZRA knows God.

ii. EZRA KNoWs God

-     THAT word “know” is a fascinating word.

-     IN Western thought, knowledge is information....period.

-     KNOWING is finding a fixed position on some issue or body of facts to hang your hat on.

*     2 plus 2 is four. You can camp on that and feel safe. It is a fixed position.

*     The square root of sixteen is four. A fixed position. We call it knowledge.

*     The laws of gravity....or of thermal dynamics provide you with  fixed positions on those subjects when you know them.

*     The study of geography, mathematics, physics, or astronomy all provide you with fixed points for understanding our world.

-     WE call that knowledge.

-     BUT the Hebrew word for “knowing” is “yada.”

-     AND “yada” involves experience as the reality of knowing rather than the timeless principles behind things.

-     KNOWING is Hebrew thought is an ACT...and it embraces every means of knowing such as seeing, hearing, investigating, experiencing.

-     THIS is much more dynamic than simply having an opinion about something or someone.

-     GOD is NOT a set of timeless principles, like the ten commandments, or the sermon on the Mount.

-     HE is God....and He has and is a will, a divine will.

-     BUT God is a will who has specific divine goals.....

*     ...to claim what is rightfully His.

*     ...to bless those who trust Him and enter into His covenant relationship.

*     ...to judge those who reject His divine love for mankind.

-     THAT is not a fixed position that you can know by studying the principles of Christianity.

-     THAT is a person with divine will.....and knowing Him is.....

*     ...acknowledging Him.

*     ...pursuing Him.

*     ...experiencing Him.

*     ...responding to His initiatives of grace.

*     ...submitting to His claims.

*     ...entering into His covenants.

*     ...living in His power.

-     THERE is a vast difference between that kind of “knowing” and knowing the Bible stories about God and being able to quote John 3:16.

-     IN a personal relationship with God He moves His will on your behalf (perhaps in ways that He does with no other human being)....and your understanding of and response of faith to that will is knowing God.

-     THIS kind of knowledge is NOT a fixed position....because you cannot reduce God to a fixed position or set of principles.

-     DO you see how I can say that the essence of Ezra 8:21-36 is that Ezra knew God.

*     God moved His will concerning Israel, and specifically, Ezra.

*     Things started happening in Artaxerxes heart..and a decree was issued.

*     Ezra was stirred by God to lead a company for the restoration of the Temple.

*     Ezra responded in obedience.

•     The fast.

•     The intercession.

•     The consecration of the priests and the treasury.

•     They set out for Jerusalem.

*     God protected them until they arrived at their destination.

*     Ezra initiates thank offerings to God.

-     EZRA knew God.

*     ...acknowledging Him.

*     ...pursuing Him.

*     ...experiencing Him.

*     ...responding to His initiatives of grace.

*     ...submitting to His claims.

*     ...entering into His covenants.

*     ...living in His power.

iii. DO YOU KNOW GOD?

-     DO you know God?

-     I DON’T mean do you know the Bible stories, or theology, or principles of inductive Bible study.

-     THOSE can be just fixed positions of knowledge that produce nothing in your life.

-     I MEAN do you know God?

*     ...acknowledging Him.

*     ...pursuing Him.

*     ...experiencing Him.

*     ...responding to His initiatives of grace.

*     ...submitting to His claims.

*     ...entering into His covenants.

*     ...living in His power.

-     GOD is knowable....though He transcends human knowledge.

      “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him..” (Matthew 11:27)

-     THE highest kind of knowledge is knowing God.

      “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (34) "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (35) "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" (36) For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

     

      “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ...” (Philippians 3:8)

-     KNOWING God IS life eternal.

      “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

-     KNOWING God today has been reduced to a mental assent to principles.

-     DO you know Him?

-     J.I. PACKER, in his book, I Want to be a Christian, says that knowing God involves three things...and they are three things that Ezra had in Ezra 8...

*     Head.

*     Heart.

*     Legs.

-     THERE is no other way to know God than by having ALL three in your life.

 

-     HEAD

 

*     You read, study and understand God’s Word.

*     You listen to preaching and teaching.

*     You see God revealed in creation.

*     You study His nature and actions (theology).

*     You listen to testimonies about God’s faithfulness.

 

*     Ezra had read and studied the Scriptures.

*     He knew about God’s faithfulness in the past.

*     He knew the laws of God re: the priests and their functions.

*     He knew about God’s desire to have His Name dwell in the City of David.

*     He knew all  the principles about sacrifices.

*     He knew about prayer and fasting...and that God answers the prayers of those who trust Him.

 

*     But head knowledge isn’t enough.

*     Unfortunately this is where a great deal of American Christianity ends.

*     It has become an intellectual exercise...done in classes, Bible studies, small groups, sanctuaries, and the Christian media.

*     We call it knowing God.

*     By itself it is just having fixed positions...mostly that puff up and divide.

 

-     HEART

 

*     You experience the presence and power of God in your life...in a real and vital relationship.

*     His love that you experience is what constrains you to love Him in return.

*     You receive what your head absorbs about God and you humble yourself in His presence.

*     You allow conviction to grip your heart and life....until it produces repentance that leads to life.

*     You allow godly sorrow to produce a hatred for sin and longing for holiness.

*     You experience the joy of the Lord in His presence.

*     You live a life of brokenness before Him and long to be in His presence.

*     Heart is response to God.

 

*     Ezra had experienced God in his heart.

*     He called the company with him to humble themselves and seek the Lord.

*     He knew what it was to experience the gracious hand of God on them.

*     He knew the shame before the Lord that he would experience if he called for an armed escort.

*     He knew the fear of the Lord...and surrendered to God’s plan and will for the journey and the restoration of the Temple.

 

*     But heart alone is a dangerous thing.

*     Humility can become morbid and immobilizing.

*     Fasting and prayer can become an end in themselves....a spiritual asceticism.

*     The gifts of the Spirit can become a merit badge.

*     Experiencing God’s presence or manifestations of power can become the source of pride....a spiritual elitism.....or actually work against faith.

*     Heart alone is vulnerable to the suggestions of the flesh or the eccentricities that accompanied much of the monastery movement of the 3rd and 4th centuries.

*     As Pentecostals we are vulnerable to this excess.

 

-     LEGS

 

*     You obey and live the relationship with Jesus.

*     You witness to those in darkness.

*     You give of your resources in tithes, offerings and time.

*     You use your talents for the kingdom of God, FIRST.

*     You serve Jesus and His agenda in the world.

*     You worship privately and when the church gathers.

*     You pray and fast.

*     You go when He says go.

*     You bear each others burdens.

*     You live the sermon on the Mount.

 

*     Ezra called the fast and the prayer meeting.

*     He set apart the priests and consecrated the treasure.

*     He set out from the Ahava canal for Jerusalem.

*     He weighed the holy treasure when they arrived to be a good steward.

*     He offered a burnt offering.

 

*     But if all you do is the doing....it won’t be long before you just dry up and wear out.

*     Doing alone is a miserable, lifeless kind of existence.

 

iv. conclusion

-     BUT put all three together, like Ezra did, and you will know God.

-     THE HEAD...with the renewing of your mind, filling your intellect with the things of God.

*     When you fill your mind with the things of God you are on your way to knowing Him.

-     THE HEART....responding to His will and His presence, being melted and softened by His touch.

*     When you experience Him in a prayer time, a worship service, and your heart yields, you are on your way to knowing God.

-     THE LEGS....running to obey His Word and His command.

*     When you DO the will of the Father, you are on your way to knowing Him.

-     ISOLATE any one of those three and you will miss God.

-     PUT them together and, like Ezra, you will get to your destination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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