Big Idea: Confidence comes by realising God always works in and for his people for his purposes.
If you get on an aeroplane and fly to Rome, and then catch a bus into the city and then walk through the streets and work your way down to the right gate you’ll enter into the Vatican City. And if you line up and pay your money and join the queue, and work your way through the massive crowds in the cavernous Vatican Museum you can, eventually and briefly (because there is a time limit) see the roof of the Sistine Chapel. Painted by Michelangelo at the early end of 1500’s. No speaking, no flash photography allowed – except if you are American tourist, so none of the rules apply
. And if you paid a bit more money and hired the headphone set you’d have a commentator talking you through what you are looking at (and you’ll hear the closest thing to the gospel being told in all of the Vatican City
). And at the centre of it all, the focus point, the place where all your travel has brought you to, amid all the hustle and bustle, all the detail and all the splendour, all the camera flashes going off and the security people shushing and glaring and telling people “no flash” is this scene – the hand of God.
It is well worth the effort, worth the time and worth the expense. Put it on your bucket list, and take a camera with a fast lens so you don’t need a flash.
However, what I want you to see from our passage today is that Ezra’s portrait of the hand of God is more far-reaching, more masterful, and infinitely grander than even that depicted by Michelangelo.
It is far better for us to reflect on this expression of the hand of God.
Why is it so much better for us to see Ezra’s portrait of the hand of God?
Because understanding Ezra’s portrait of the hand of God will give us increasing confidence in living our lives as followers of Jesus and in our being on mission for him.
Do you want that?
Let’s take a look, please have your Bible open to Ezra 7; a few short books to the left of Job
. And the first confidence boosting truth we see is that…
GOD HAS GOT THIS (V1-10)
It’s obvious that Ezra was written before the invention of the “Spoiler Alert.”
This account could have been a real cliff-hanger, an absolute page turner. Instead, it starts with a synopsis, a narrator’s summary.
Take a look from v6 …
Ezra got some Israelites together and they went to Jerusalem, it took 4 months and it all went well because the hand of the Lord was on him. No drama what-so-ever.
But what the summary lacks in flare it makes up for in substance. And the substance of the message is much better than a short-lived thrill from a well told tale. The substance of the message is Confidence. Confidence in God.
God’s got this.
- 7:1a Different king, 70 years later (458BC), been another king in between, the book of Esther takes place during that time, a lot has happened but we have the same God with same eternal plan.
- 7:1b-5 Genealogy: Long list of strange names but it’s testament to God’s ongoing faithfulness not only to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but in raising up a man for his purposes.
- 7:6a Here we have Ezra. A man of skill in the Word: gifted by God.
- God is good to his promises, he raises up and equips his people for his purposes.
- 7:6b No apprehension in approaching the king (cf Esther, Nehemiah); no doubt, no drama, just confidence.
- 7:6c, 9b Twice – the hand of the Lord was on him.
Everything very straight forward and matter of fact.
God’s got this.
It is a great truth, while the kings and rulers of the earth change, God does not change.
Sam and I reading through “Knowing God” at the moment. An absolute classic by J.I. Packer. Chapter 7 this week, God Unchanging.
The God with whom they had to do is the same God with whom we have to do.
What’s true of God 2480 years ago is true today. God is still God and God has still got this.
We can be confident to trust him in all that he has planned for us. Confident to take him at his word, to live by his word in our world, to be his set apart or holy people.
To bet all we have – our very lives, on the one he has revealed to be His Saviour, Jesus Christ and to lose our life in daily dying to self and following him. Because we know and have confidence that our unchanging God has got this.
Now notice for a minute, the nature of those God uses for his purposes.
7:6 skilled in the Word of God and the hand of God
7:9 good hand of God on him … v10 For …
- Set his heart; studied, did it, taught it.
Twice in this section we read that God is using the one committed to his Word to achieve his purpose. Later on Ezra will tell the king that the hand of God is good for all those who seek him (8:22).
Confidence in the unchanging God whose hand is good for all who seek him.
It seems to me that our lives are like cups of hot water needing the tea bag of God’s Word to give life and flavour and character.
Is your life steeped in God’s Word, coloured, flavoured, characterised, defined by God’s Word?
My job description here at MPC. Clarity on our direction – a church steeped in the Word. A new logo that looks like a tea bag … ???
We can be confident that God has got this, absolutely. And that confidence shaped and affirmed by being people who seek him and listen carefully to him.
And by doing what he says…
SO LET’S GET BUSY (7:11-8:23)
Because the hand of the Lord is obviously at work Ezra confidently gets to work, gets busy, gets on with mission.
Ezra’s bookmark DID NOT read “Let Go and Let God.”
Ezra steps out to approach the king (v6) and gets all he asks.
is a copy of the king’s letter.
You have the authority and the means to do everything you need to do in having a faithful ministry in Jerusalem
Ezra did his part in asking, and in v27
we read that God did his part when he moved the king’s heart
. God is working as his people work.
Paul says, I planted and watered but God provided the growth. God in his grace includes us, his people in his mission. We can be confident in going as he sends.
When I was a young fella there was a guy in town called Mono Matt. We called him Mono Matt because his name was Matt and he only had one leg. Mono Matt.
Apparently king Artaxerxes’ nickname was “Artaxerxes Long Arm.” Historians tell us that he had one arm longer than the other.
But it is not this long arm that gives Ezra confidence
. His confidence
is in the hand of God.
And this gives him courage (v28b
). Good theology gives you courage and confidence
And also clarity. It gets him moving, gets him busy.
I gathered …
All names in second wave of exiles (8:2-14) related to the names in the first wave (2:3-15)
and the good hand of God was on us.
Ezra planting and watering, God giving growth.
Through the Providence of God (hand of God) and the diligence of his people the means and members for the mission at hand are assembled.
He has been busy, busy because he is confident but not confident because he is busy.
Confidently boasts in God v22
But will not presume upon God v23
So the people do the work of Fasting and Prayer
- Fasting; humbling yourself before God (v21). I desire your favour more than flavour (food).
- My hunger for food reminds me of my greater hunger for God’s hand to be at work.
Prayer + Fasting is confidently but humbly bringing our requests and needs before God knowing that he hears and trusting in his power and love to act (v23b
). He listened to our entreaty, our pleas.
That’s part of our work. That’s the basis of our confidence. Is it your practice? “No Bible no breakfast.”
Is it the practice of our church? I loved seeing 167 people at our family fun night. Yet I’m struck that in comparison we only get 40 to our once a term prayer meetings. Not just MPC. Ezra had 5000 (v21).
7am Saturday morning might present some challenges. But it could be that “fasting” might mean fasting from a few extra hours of sleep on a Saturday morning once a term, or fasting from our usual Saturday morning routine. Seeing that imploring God to guard and guide us is of utmost importance for our mission.
It could be we are don’t realise that a lack of prayerfulness is actually a sinful presumption upon God.
How can we as a church expect to see God given growth in our mission apart from imploring our God for His hand to be at work? Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
It seems to me that there’s some confident work for us to be getting on with as we await our …
HOME COMING (8:24-36)
At the end of chapter 8 Ezra’s band of dispossessed Israelites are coming into Jerusalem. A home coming for people who have never actually been home before.
Can you imagine organising 5000 men, women and children on a four month, 1500km journey.
Who finds it hard getting the family organised to be at church on time?
In addition to all their own stuff they had they were carrying (v25-27), 22.1 metric tons of silver; 11 metric tons of gold; and precious accoutrements for the temple, along with the 29 000 bottles of wine and the 22000 litres of olive oil (from the list in chapter 7).
They are an obvious and slow moving target for enemies and thieves. I can just imagine Hollywood’s portrayal of the journey – moments of drama, discord and danger. Here is the account of their travels Read v31
Ezra says, the hand of God got us home safely. V31 actually reports that attacks just didn’t happen.
The returned exiles arrive in Jerusalem where they enjoy the fullest expression of their relationship with God (v35-36
Ezra shows us that confidence comes from the hand of God.
Maybe American tourists ignore the pressure to avoid flash photography in the Sistine Chapel because they are more over awed by the hand of God and they decide that nothing will stop them from capturing that vision for themselves.
Wouldn’t it be good if we had that attitude. To capture that vision.
But just imagine how confident we could be if we had more of God, not just his hand
What confidence could we have if the full expression of God was among us?
Ezra was a man of the Word. Jesus is the Word become man. God in the flesh, our ultimate confidence.
Christianity Explored – how do we know Christianity is true; rather than all the other options.
Do and Done
No drama, no doubt, no ominous music in the background as we live our lives in him.
By faith in Jesus you will know the full expression of relationship with God, a confidence in this life that God has got this, a confidence in our mission to declare his glory, and a certain and enduring hope that eternal life is ours already. Confidence to persevere in faith.