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Who’s Running the Show?

Published: 5 months ago- 24 April 2022

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

INTRODUCTION: WHO’S RUNNING THE SHOW?

When you consider that our world is coming out of a global pandemic, that Australia’s endured bush fires and flooding, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has perhaps put us on the brink of another World War. When you consider these I wonder if, like me, you’re left asking. WHY do things happen? Who’s running the show? Who’s calling the shots? Who’s moving and shaking? And on a PERSONAL level, life has its ups and downs. And whether at work or home or school, life can be painful, can’t it? With the bad there’s also good. And I’m sometimes left wondering WHY? Who’s running the show? Who’s calling the shots? Who’s moving and shaking? Well, if you were an Israelite living back in 539 B.C. You’d think GOD’S PROMISES don’t seem to add up. Because 70 years earlier King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon smashed Jerusalem. He LOOTED the TEMPLE. Took all the gold and silver. And along with the temple, REDUCED the CITY to rubble and ruin. Israel we’re a nation conquered, captured and EXILED. And you’d be asking WHY? Who’s running the show? Who’s calling the shots? Who’s moving and shaking, making things happen?

1. HOMECOMING

Now it wasn’t all bad. ‘Cos at the outset of the book of Exzra-Nehemiah there’s some good news. Ezra-Nehemiah is originally one book in the Hebrew scriptures – one story, one message. And it’s a HOMECOMING story. If you’ve been away on military duty, or you been living abroad, or in another state. Coming home is SO GOOD. Home sweet home. It’s where we’re meant to be. Ezra-Nehemiah is the story of Israel’s HOMECOMING. Israel’s RETURN FROM EXILE. a. The Bible Story Which fits well into the overarching story of the Bible. The Bible is the story of God working out His grand plan to gather a people for Himself. Effectively, to BRING THEM HOME. Back in the beginning, Adam and Eve rebelled. And got EXILED from the garden. God was gracious. He promises Abraham a big FAMILY and a place to call HOME. Israel grows into a large nation, but they find themselves EXILED in Egypt. And yet God RESCUES them. In the EXODUS He brought them out of Egypt, and into the promised land. But Israel rebel. And got split into two. The northern kingdom was defeated by Assyria. And the southern kingdom was dragged off into EXILE in Babylon. But now it’s 70 years on and Israel are on the cusp of COMING HOME. Bad times, good times, and you got to ask WHY? Whose running the show? Whose making this happen? b. The Repatriation Policy Well, it looks very much like Cyrus. Verse 1.
Verse 1 “In the first year of CYRUS king of Persia”
Cyrus conquered Belshazzar who took over from his father Nebuchadnezzar. Now Belshazzar threw a feast. And used the gold and silver goblets, looted from the temple. It was an act of deliberate contempt and blasphemy. And it was the last thing he did. That very night he was executed, and Cyrus became King. And as the new ruler he makes a new rule. In verses 2 to 4. For Israel it’s the ‘GO HOME’ policy. Cyrus allows Jews to RETURN to Jerusalem and to REBUILD. Which happens in three waves. Here in chapter 1 is the first group led by Zerubbabel. 50 years on, chapter 6, Ezra takes another group back. And then 13 years later, Nehemiah leads a group home. Now historically this story was used as ‘evidence’ to show the Bible wasn’t true. ‘Cos it was reasoned that no ancient superpower would ever send captives home, or help them rebuild, or advocate they worship their own gods. That was until archaeologists found the Cyrus Cylinder, a baked clay artefact, that dates back to 539 B.C. It’s housed in the British Museum. And though it doesn’t mention Jews, it speaks of Cyrus’ repatriation policy. And so it totally backs up the Bible. Which archaeology repeatedly does with Bible stories that were once disputed. In fact, Cyrus’ policy is now seen as the first ever declaration of human rights, the freedom of religion. Archaeology backs up the Bible. c. Rebuild God’s Temple Now let’s read Cyrus’ policy in verse 2. And listen carefully for where the repeated focus is.
Verse 2-4 “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to BUILD A TEMPLE for Him at Jerusalem Any of His people may go up to Jerusalem and BUILD THE TEMPLE of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, with freewill offerings for the TEMPLE OF GOD in Jerusalem.”
The project is about rebuilding the Temple. That’s ‘cos Jewish identity and national life revolved around the Temple. The Temple was GOD’S HOUSE. It represented God living at home among them. Yet the Temple didn’t only represent that. It made it possible. Because the temple was the place of sacrifice. Sinful people deserve the punishment of death. Yet the blood of animals was shed in their place. So sinners could be forgiven so that a holy God could live amongst them. Now the temple and animal sacrifices didn’t actually remove sin. They were PICTURES of what God promised to do, and what He ultimately did IN JESUS. Who is the TRUE TEMPLE, GOD WITH US. And the TRUE SACRIFICE.
Hebrews 9:26 “[Christ] appeared once for all to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
Jesus blood, His death, takes our punishment. And secures forgiveness. But for then, the rebuilding of the Temple represented the rebuilding of a nation around God. And whose making all this happen? Well, King Cyrus is the bigshot who seems to be calling the shots! d. Go and Give Cyrus allows the Jews to do two things. Verse 3.
Verse 3 “Any of His people among you may GO up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple “
Vere 4 “[Go] And [verse 4] in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to [GIVE them or] PROVIDE them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, with freewill offerings for the temple of God “
GO and GIVE. So verse 5.
Verse 5 “the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites [got ready] to GO “
And verse 6.
Verse 6 “neighbours [GIVE] them articles of silver and gold, goods and livestock, and valuable gifts “
Chapter 2 lists all those who GO back. Close to 50,000. And people GIVE freely, generously and sacrifically. Chapter 2 verse 68.
Ezra 2:68-69 “the heads of the families gave freewill offerings towards the rebuilding of the house of God According to their ability they gave [half a ton] of gold, [almost 3 tons] of silver and 100 [very expensive] priestly garments.”
That’s huge. The gold alone is worth a staggering $38 million dollars. In 1813 King Frederick William III of Prussia was trying to rebuild the nation after some costly wars. He was seriously short of finances. So he appealed to the women of Prussia to give their jewellery, their gold and silver, so as to be melted down for money. In exchange he gifted them with a decoration made of an iron cross inscribed with, ‘I GAVE GOLD FOR IRON.’ The response was overwhelming. The women prized their iron gift from the king much more than their former expensive jewellery. The decorations were proof for all to see that they had sacrificed for their king. It became unfashionable to wear any other jewellery. And so was established the ORDER OF THE IRON CROSS. We follow THE KING WHO HUNG ON A WOODEN CROSS. How much might we be willing to SACRIFICE for Him? How much are we willing to GO and/or GIVE for His sake? e. Summary OK. So Israel, who’ve hung tough, are heading home. The Persian policy of repatriation. Though you’re left asking ‘WHY?’ Whose running the show? Whose calling the shots? Whose moving and shaking, making things happen?

2. THE SECOND EXODUS and END TO THE EXILE

Now it’s important to note. The story is told in such a way as to remind us of the EXODUS. God bringing Israel out of slavery in Egypt and settling them into the promised land. There’s various pointers. The phrases “go up to”, verse 3, and “come up from”, verse 11, echo the way the exodus is described as “coming up from Egypt”. The gifts from neighbours and Cyrus echo the plundering of the Egyptians. The spotlight on the temple articles in verse 7 to 11 makes the point that the gold pots and silver pans are GOING BACK. That which was carried away is returning to it’s rightful place. And people are going back too. The list in chapter 2 of the numbers and names echoes the exodus lists in the early chapters of Numbers. And then, in the first verse of chapter 2 the word “captivity”comes twice, echoing the captivity in Egypt. And in verse 70 they “settled [down] in[to] their [own] towns”, which echoes how Israel, under Joshua, settled in the land. All these echoes and parallels are designed to portray this homecoming as a SECOND EXODUS. Exodus two point ‘o’. And an exodus that ENDS THE EXILE. There’s a lovely simple summary statement right at the end of chapter 1.
Ezra 1:11 “the exiles CAME UP FROM BABYLON TO JERUSALEM.”
The HOMECOMING is a SECOND EXODUS. An END to the EXILE.

3. THE WHY

But we got to ask WHY? Whose running the show? Whose calling the shots? I mean, WHY did Cyrus send them home? Why did Cyrus want the temple rebuilt? Why give such resources? Why give back all the temple’s gold and silver? Why did ANY of this happen? Two related reasons, both there in verse 1. a. Keeps [His Word]
Verse 1 “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to [here’s the first reason] in order to FULFILL THE WORD OF THE LORD spoken by Jeremiah “
This all happened ‘cos God made PROMISES. And God KEEPS HIS WORD. Hundreds of years before, the prophet Jeremiah pronounced judgement. That Israel would be taken away into exile. But God ALSO promised. In Jeremiah 29 verse 10.
Jeremiah 29:10-14 “‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and FULFIL my good PROMISE to BRING YOU BACK to this place. I [have] plans for you, plans to prosper you plans to give you hope and a future. I will be found by you,’ declares the lord, ‘and will BRING YOU BACK from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished [exiled] you, and will BRING YOU BACK to the place from which I carried you into exile.'”
God promises, ‘I’ll BRING YOU HOME.’ The prophet Isaiah names Cyrus as the one God will use to accomplish this. Long before Cyrus even existed. That’s how in control God is. Human promises can be flimsy and feeble, and unreliable. And broken promises may cause deep hurt. But when God GIVES His Word, He KEEPS it. He always follows through. b. Moves [Hearts] Two reasons. God FULFILS His word. And He does so by MOVING HEARTS. God’s enemy Verse 1.
Verse 1 “in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, THE LORD MOVED THE HEART of Cyrus “
Persia was the superpower of the day. Cyrus was the MOST POWERFUL MAN on the planet. And yet he is putty in God’s hands. God is the MOVER and SHAKER. Cyrus is simply an instrument in the hands of God. Who MAKES it all happen. God’s people Though God doesn’t only move the heart of an unbelieving king. In verse 5;
Verse 5 “the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites [prepare] to go up and [re]build the house of the Lord “
Now, it would have been no small thing for them to go. Yes, they were in exile, but Babylon had become home. Life was pretty good there. Comfortable. Relocating comes at considerable cost. I mean, who likes packing and unpacking? Uprooting the family. Getting kids placed in schools. Getting to know new neighbours. Leaving behind everything’s that familiar. Starting over isn’t easy. Ask any refugee whose fleeing war for a better life. But especially here, when unlike refugees, these guys are going back to the BOMBSITE. These guys are going back to do some heavy lifting, rebuilding from scratch. And they know it’s likely they’ll face violent opposition. So WHY go back? Verse 5. Who gets ready to go?
Verse 5 “the family heads the priests and Levites – EVERYONE WHOSE HEART GOD MOVED “
People move ‘cos God moves people. People have a change of heart ‘cos GOD CHANGES HEARTS. It took the MIGHTY WORK OF GOD. c. Summary God GIVES HIS WORD. And KEEPS HIS WORD. And He MOVES HEARTS. He MAKES THINGS HAPPEN. God RUNS THE SHOW He CALLS THE SHOTS. He’s the MOVER and SHAKER. The one whose SOVEREIGN and in sovereign CONTROL.

CONCLUSION: EZRA-NEHEMIAH, JESUS and US?

a. Sovereign God Which is our first LESSON. God is in SOVEREIGN CONTROL. The nations of the world have Kings, Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers. In 4 weeks Australians will vote to determine who will be Prime Minister. And you should vote responsibly and wisely. Your vote counts. Though at the end of the day remember that;
Daniel 4:25,32; 5:21 “The Most High is SOVEREIGN over ALL kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes.”
Cyrus was a king. But our GOD is the KING OF KINGS. Who SOVEREIGNLY rules and reigns everything and everyone. Behind all that happens on a global scale, and in the personal details of our lives, God is the mover and shaker. Nothing beyond His control. Nothing outside His control. And in God moving the hearts of Cyrus and His people He REVEALS HIS OWN HEART. And His heart is FULL OF LOVE. God is FOR His people. He is FOR His promises. And for us who follow Jesus, whatever you’re going through, wherever you’re at, whatever path you tread, whatever pain, GOD LOVES YOU. Deeply and profoundly. God’s heart is SET ON YOU. He has plans to prosper you. With every spiritual blessing in Christ. Plans to give you a future. The home of heaven. God’s heart is full of love for you and me. And He moves hearts. He’s SOVEREIGNLY working out His grand plan for our good and His glory. b. Promise [Keeper] Ezra-Nehemiah God is sovereign. Which means when God GIVES His Word, He KEEPS His Word. Specifically He PROMISED another EXODUS and an END to EXILE. Which looks like it might be fulfilled in Ezra-Nehemiah. But Perhaps you’ve searched online for a holiday destination. And you find a holiday resort that looks amazing. You book a week. Pay the big bucks. And you’re so excited. But then you arrive. The place is infested. Electricity’s intermittent. Swimming pool’s half empty and dark green. Food’s inedible. You got SOLD A DREAM. The REALITY is a NIGHTMARE. By the end of Ezra-Nehemiah. The temple is built but it’s a pathetic copy of the original. The walls are up, but foxes knock ’em over. And Israel remains subject to a foreign King. The dream doesn’t square with reality. The book ends and they’d be asking, ‘Is this it?’ They’re left aching, longing for God to make good on His promises. To TRULY fulfill His Word. Jesus Which He ultimately does in JESUS. Jesus is the CENTRE and FULFILMENT of all God’s promises
2 Corinthians 1:20 “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘YES’ in Christ.”
The EXILE ENDS with the coming of Jesus. The true temple. GOD WITH US. And the TRUE EXODUS is achieved through Jesus’ SACRIFICE, His BLOOD SHED on the altar of the cross. Out of slavery to freedom . Out of sin to forgiveness. Out of darkness into light. Out of Hell and settled for eternity into the HOME-LAND of Heaven. c. Living as Exiles And so, if God is sovereign. And if He has kept all His promises in Jesus. – HOW THEN DO WE LIVE? Unlike back then, we live this side of the cross. Though like them, we still live this side of Heaven. We live waiting for the final fulifllment of God’s promises. Jesus’ return, judgement, and our heavenly home. We lives as, what Peter calls, “foreigners and EXILES”, “scattered throughout the [world]”. We live as EXILES in a hostile world. A world in which we’re up against it? Under pressure to retreat, or keep silent, or go with the flow. We live in a world where sadly so much of the CHURCH lies in ruins. Having compromised the gospel. Set the Bible aside. Forsaken their first love. So much of the church needs to be rebuilt and restored. So HOW THEN DO WE LIVE? Yes, God’s sovereignty and promise keeping ought to be bring us comfort, security, confidence, calm, and so much else. Though let me close by highlighting 2 simple implications or actions in this story. May GOD who won our hearts so MOVE our hearts such that we’re; so gripped by the gospel, so in awe of Jesus, so amazed by His love, so overwhelmed by His mercy, THAT we do 2 things. We GO and we GIVE. So will you GO? Will you and I put feet to our faith? Will we take the gospel over the fence to neighbours? Or across the room to colleagues? Or around a meal with family. Will we take the gospel as a church to North Brisbane. Inviting others along to Christianity Explored. Will we take the gospel to the world. With the Birchleys in PNG. With the Stewarts in Japan. And we don’t give up or give in. Rather we GIVE. Now if you anything like me, money and possessions have a strange hold on us. It takes a mighty work of God moving in our hearts for us to part with it. So will you and I GIVE? Freely. Generously. Will we make EXTRAVAGANT SACRIFICES to build God’s church and to make known Jesus Christ. In whom the promises of a sovereign God are Yes and Amen.