Ezra: Out of Exile - Coming Home
It's a sermon series. We're going to cover a Ezra and Nehemiah. So it's pretty broken up into two pieces. We're going talk about Ezra and then we're going to talk about Nehemiah, but we're starting that that series of today and it's going to be on when I get there. It'll take us through the summer, but I think that it will be worthwhile. You know one of my one of my all-time favorite books is the book by JRR Tolkien The Hobbit. The Hobbit is it is great was actually like the first adult chapter book that I read on my own one summer my mom read it read it to me and then a little while later. I wanted to read it again, but she insisted that I read it on my own. He already read it to me. She didn't need to read it to me again. I could read it for myself this time and I love it. I fell in love with it then and I love it now and it is one of the things that sparked my lifelong obsession with books and with reading so Audrey, if you get upset with the number of books that I own you can blame Hobbit.
The book is by the way. Way better than the movies the movies are well. I try not to say this about works of art, but they aren't so I'll say it the book the movies are trash. The book is fantastic. The main driver of the book it is is this in the driver of the plot is this there's a there's a group of dwarf. It is a fantasy book. If you don't know that there's a group of drawers and they have been run into Exile from their Mountain Home by a dragon smiled and smiled his come in and taking over their home and their treasure and and the dwarves have been in Exile and they want to return until they launched an expedition taking along Bilbo. Who is the A4 named Hobbit to reclaim their home and their treasure from the Dragon.
You know a lot of stories that we have like this stories of people returning to a long-lost home. And I think it's because there's something about going home. There's something about longing for home. There's something about being home sick. That's just natural in us. We all want to go home. We all want to find him. We all want to be Where We Belong.
You know, it's one of those things. I love the fact that God called us to Fairmont. Just as I I love living in Williamsburg when we lived there and the truth is I don't think I want to move home ever to Okaloosa County for a whole lot of reasons, but but there's still something in my heart that longs and aches for the salt are in the sand and the Sunshine that you find on the Emerald Coast at home. It's something that's its natural in US.
Didn't want home. And God's people were no different gods people had been exiled by the dragon of Babylon carted off from Judea and Jerusalem to Babylon where they were captive. and then long to go home
And then Babylon was taken over by the Persians. We find ourselves this morning at the very beginning of the book of Ezra Ezra chapter 1 if you don't know where Ezra and Nehemiah are on there right before Joe which is right before the Psalms, which is about in the middle of your Bible. So start there and try to flip backwards a little bit if you find Ezra chapter one, that's where we're going to be today. Go ahead and turn with me there at home. And when you stand with me together as we read God's word.
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah the Lord Rouse the spirit of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire Kingdom and to put it in writing. This is what king Cyrus of Persia says the Lord the god of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and is appointed me to build him a house in Jerusalem in Judea any of his people among you may has gone to be with him and then he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord the god of Israel The God Who was in Jerusalem every Survivor wherever he resides be assisted by the men of that region with silver gold goods and livestock along with a free-will offering for the house of God in Jerusalem. to the family heads of Judah and Benjamin along with the priest and the levite everyone who Spirit God has roused prepared to go up and rebuild the Lord's House in Jerusalem, all of their neighbors supported them with silver articles gold goods, livestock's and valuables in addition to all that was given is a free-will offering King Cyrus also brought out the articles of the Lord's House that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem. These are the Articles from the temple to the Babylonians had to capture the Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. King Cyrus of Persia had them brought out under the supervision of Mithra death the treasurer who counted them out to sheshbazzar the prince of Judah this was their inventory 30 gold basins 1000 silver Basin 29, silver knives 30 gold bulls 410 various silver bowl and 1000 other articles the gold and silver articles totaled 5400 chest bizarre brought all of them when the Exiles went up from Babylon to Jerusalem. This is the word of God read it believe it and live it. Let us pray. Your God is we study. The wife in the ministry of your people as you called them a home out of Exile. Father help us do to identify the ways in our own lives and which we are in Exile in which we is your children are are sojourners in a Strange Land. help us to see the the ways in which you were calling to us.
As we study your word May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable and pleasing to you our God and our King. I'm in.
So as we start this series on Ezra and Nehemiah, it's important for us to know a couple of things about Ezra and Nehemiah. The first is a fact that it's actually one book written in the English Bibles that you probably have. I don't know that any of you or at home reading the Hebrew Bible. I'm assuming that you're that you're reading the in English translation and you're going to see it was finished to books. And the reason for that is that there was a Greek translation of Hebrew scripture that occurred about a few decades before the birth of Jesus called the Septuagint call the Septuagint because 70 Jewish scribes were involved and its translation of the Septuagint was that the scripture actually of Jesus that was probably the Greek translation of scripture that he had. We know that the Greek translation that Paul and some of the other New Testament authors had because that the translation that they are quoting And when they translated into Greek for whatever reason they split as written the Amaya into two books and so as the Christians of the early church a depth adopted the Septuagint as there is there tax is their version of the scriptures? We sort of kept it as two separate books, but in Hebrew it is one book and if you have if you ever do see the Hebrew Bible or if you see a Jewish translation of scripture, you'll see Ezra and Nehemiah as one book and what Ezra and Nehemiah does it tells the story is primarily through the lines of two leaders who were involved in this guess what their names are Ezra and what's the second one Nehemiah absolutely it so it tells the story of the Exiles returning home to Jerusalem in Judah from the Exile and rebuilding first. They they rebuild the Temple and then the city but also the rebuilding of the people of God. Did the people of God have been have been broken down just like the temple and the city Gates of Jerusalem Exile is a violent act picking someone up from their home ripping them from their home carting them someplace new.
Is an act that in its violence is geared and designed to destroy the identity of the people that are being exiled and this is what Babylon did. When they conquered a people they would they would take them and then rip them not only away from their Homeland, but they would also rip them away from their identity. See it's easier to control some someone if their identity has been smashed. Let's remember the Prophet Daniel and his friends that we meet in the first chapter of the Book of Daniel Wright. What happened their names are Hebrew names are taken away from them and they are given Babylonian name. They're given strange food and an attempt is made to take their faith in the force them to worship foreign gods. Then attempt to pair a people down to break it down so that they can be controlled so that they can be made. File after they lose any sense of their own identity. When the Exiles return from Exile when they returned to Jerusalem when they return to Judah not only is there a physical rebuilding that has to take place but there is a spiritual and identity rebuilding that is needed as well.
As I mentioned it is Babylon is Nebuchadnezzar who who carries the people of Judah off in the Exile, but it's the Persians that send them back. See that's the Persians conquered the Babylonian Empire the Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire and the Persians that send them back. They don't do it all at once and in fact some juice because by this point the people of God are now Jews, they they leave it Israelites. They leave as children of Judah they leave is Hebrews. They come back from the Exile as Jews. But there is a Jewish community that stays in Babylon. For centuries after the return from the Exile some never return to Jerusalem. With the Persia sends them back because Persia did the whole conquering thing differently than Babylon Persia didn't rip people out of their homes and try and straighten strip them of their identity and break them down the Persian spot that it would be better for them in the long run. If they left the people they conquered where they were in simply turned them into assholes. I have conquered you and now you owe me taxes.
And so it's at the beginning of Ezra and Nehemiah that we see the people of God are in Exile, but also that the Persians are in charge. In fact the very first words of the book of Ezra in the first year of King Cyrus of Persia.
And this is when God. begins to work
isn't that second phrase that we see God beginning to work? in the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, In order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah, It's between those commas that God begins to work. Okay. So so who fill the word that Lord spoke through Jeremiah? What word was that? We find it in Jeremiah chapter 25 in verses 11 and 12. This is Jeremiah prophesying to the people before the exile This whole land will become a desolate ruin in these nations will serve the king of Babylon for 70 years when the 70 years are completed. I will punish the king of Babylon and that Nation. This is the Lord's declaration the land of the Chaldeans were their iniquity and I will make it a ruin forever. Well, that's what's happened. Right Babylon has been overthrown by the Persians and he made the landowner a ruined forever Babylon has never risen again.
And it's the end of the 70 years after the punishment of Babylon. The people are able to return but it's not just Isaiah God's Prophet Jeremiah, but God's prophet Isaiah also spoke. In fact, he specifically makes reference to Cyrus and I in Isaiah 45 the very beginning of that chapter. The Lord says this to Cyrus his anointed his right hand. I have grasped to subdue Nations before him and disarm King's the open doors before him. And even City Gates will not be shut Isaiah picks out and says, there will be this man Cyrus and Cyrus will subdue the nation's Babylon before him.
Did the people work went into went into Exile they were there for 70 years, but God promised them even before they went into Exile that he would restore them. You don't have to wonder how many years is a long long time.
I have to wonder if any of you know, 65-69 if the people of God were we're a little tired. We're a little despondent. I have to wonder if they had even if it ever felt like God was going to keep his promise
Have a wonderful Insight around like you're 65, or we sure it's not you know, you're right.
It feel like God has forgotten them.
Imagine sitting in Babylon and thinking how in the world is God going to make this? right I think it's important to note that God took and use the exile to teach his people a lesson.
We've talked before it earlier. We we we did a series a few months ago. We did a series on the Book of Judges and we talked about the cycle that exists in judges that exist in judges and it continues through the rest of the Old Testament and the people of God fall into idolatry and then they repent and then they fall into idolatry and then they repented there's this sort of continuous cycle that goes on
For the Exile brakes. That's like a wee. Wee see no more evidence in the Old Testament. Or in the historical record that the people of God fell away after the exile.
I never again worship false gods.
We got it used that time of the exile to to teach them something to to break them of something.
And we have to ask ourselves if we are in a time of Exile and I think that we are I think the scripture tells us that is Christians. We are always in Exile as Christians. We are always strangers in a foreign land is as Believers as followers of Christ. We're never quite going to fit in.
Peter tells us that
but I also think that right now we're in an exile and one of the reasons I know that is it I look around this room and I count seven people. Oh eight nine. Sorry. I missed two more up in the balcony.
Where Nick viall?
What is it? The God is trying to teach us what what lessons of faithfulness do we need to be learning right now in this season? What Idols in our lives and in our heart is God trying to tear down and permanently replace. with himself
What is the lesson?
Oh God calls his people home now. I'm fulfilled his promise. the god also provides
You know God doesn't just cause Cyrus to allow the Jews to return to Judah and Jerusalem, but but he causes Cyrus and the others to bless them to give them money and silver and gold and goods and livestock.
Note the similarity between this action and the action.
when the people leave Egypt
Exodus 12 35 and 36 the Israelites acted on Moses his word and ask the Egyptians. This is after the Passover. This is after the plague of the firstborn the Israelites acted on Moses word and ask the Egyptians for silver and gold items and for clothing and the lord gave the people such favor with the Egyptians that they gave them what they requested and in this way they plundered the Egyptians.
Similarly when God calls his people out. from Babylon back to Jerusalem and Judea he provides for them. He causes the people to bless.
God made provision for them. No to that it was as we said that it was it wasn't just gold and silver but items that were Central and important to their identity the the items from the temple were or returned to them. Things that should have been being used to serve God to serve the Lord of hosts that have been mean used to serve false. God God hates them back. So that they can be used in the worship of him again.
When God reclaims and restores us it is always in abundance. May not be in material in abundance. But God restores in abundance. God ensures that the things that are supposed to be his will be returned so that they can be used for him and God and Shores. that when we return we will be provided for.
You know it's easy for us to sort of fall into this this mentality this mentality that that existed in the Israelites after they left Egypt, right? We can call the back to Egypt committee. It's easy to exist here to think man. We had it so much better in Egypt. It was safe. It was Secure we knew what was going on. We were fed. We knew we weren't wandering in the desert. The people begin to Marin and say these things and want to go back to Egypt in that's easy for us, isn't it? Because it's hard sometimes for us to have belief that when we step out in faith, when we go in the direction that God is calling us when we step toward God and begin that process of being reclaimed and reaming restored to God it's easy for us to think that everything that we're leaving behind will stay there and then we won't have anything going for it and that God won't bless us and that there won't be any abundance in that. We're going to be left without
Sometimes in life we fight it. We fight to go back to the way things were we fight to the keep old patterns we fight to keep her old songs, we fight to keep the the old ways of doing things because when we did that way the church was full but if we do something new, I don't know what's going to happen. But if we do something new on the face of God we step out on faith and it has ended his abundance in his Reclamation in his Providence. God will provide
He will reclaim and restore his people in abundance.
He will not leave us to starve in the desert.
I can't help if we think about this idea of returning and restoration. I can't help but think of probably one of the most famous Parables that we have. The parable we find in Luke chapter 15 The the return of the Prodigal Son.
I can't help but think how how similar this story is. In so many ways to the story of God's people see the the prodigal son. He goes into a self-imposed Exile because he thinks he knows more than the father. He thinks he can do better for the father. He doesn't want to be under the fathers.
Rule under the father's Authority the people of Israel Patton wanted to be under God Rule and authority over and over and over again. They had rejected him. They had turned away from him. They had gone to the temple and torn down the things of God and replaced it with the things of idols. EBay thought they knew better.
And so in that far lands The Prodigal losses. everything
he hits. rock bottom Which happens to be the bottom of a pigsty?
imagine for a Jew how far down you have to fall? the land in a pigsty
eventually The Prado comes to his senses he knows and he was around he goes man. It may be bad and father's house because he still doesn't get it. He's still doesn't understand what the love of the father is with the love of the father look like he still doesn't have it but he has a least enough Moment of clarity to say it may be bad there but it would be better for me to be a slave in his house then to be stuck where I am.
And he begins that Long Road Home.
And what happens? What happens as he comes over the hill as the father looks out and sees him the father doesn't wait for him to get all the way to the front door. The father runs out to greet him. Let's translated into Robeson County vernacular God the Father jumps on the four-wheeler and takes off after him.
When he finds them he throws his arms around him. He he puts his his best coat on him. And he looks to his servants and he says kill the fatted calf. He provides he puts his ring on the son's finger.
Brothers and sisters. I know that we live in uncertain days.
Man, you turn on the TV you pull up Facebook or Twitter, which I don't recommend right now. And you just inundated with it?
the virus the protest around the virus the killing of George Floyd the protest around that the protests that turned into riots.
the burning of police precincts the burning of buses
complete total lack of leadership at every level
but here is the truth.
This is a truth that is as true. Now as it was in the first year of Cyrus has rain God will reclaim his own. And he will bring them home.
And he will not only redeem our past but will give us an abundant future.
there a lot of businesses there a lot of churches
they are never going to come back from this virus or not. They're gone forever. They're closed permanently.
Is there a lot of churches in this country? And let's be honest Fairmont First Baptist is one of them who has an uncertain future because our congregation is getting older. And we're not seeing younger people coming in.
Dodgers. It's congregations across the country is congregations across this County.
We have to ask ourselves. What is the lesson? What is the idolatry that God is trying to break us of
and are we going to have the boldness to step out on faith to return home to return to the truth to return to that declaration that we were given right before Pentecost all those years ago to proclaim the gospel in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the Earth. Are we going to be a people who go and make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit in teaching them to obey all of the things that Jesus commanded us. Are we going to step out on faith and assumed that with we step home and is we return to God we return home God will provide. Where we going to stay in Babylon and lick the boots of our oppressors?
I'm going home. Hope you're coming with me.