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(Ezra 4) Worship When Weak

(Ezra 4) Worship When Weak

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Ezra
Ref: Ezra 3

The city-wide worship service in Ezra chapter 3 gives us a perfect illustration of what Christian fellowship looks like. The Jews had prayed together, suffered together, and now they will finally worship together. Let's learn from their example today.

Other messages in this series are available here: Ezra


"Worship When Weak!"

Ezra 4

I often begin my sermons by reading from the many notes I receive by way of e-mail or snail mail.

Most of the notes I get are encouraging and uplifting – I got a couple this week that were the opposite –

I got this sympathy card from a couple in our church; it reads, “To pay our respects at this sad time.”  Inside is this note, “We want to send you our condolences on the passing away of Krispy Kreme on Walnut Street.  (Maybe you hadn’t heard – then they closed by saying) "May the good Lord get you through this difficult time.”

Well, card or no card, I don’t think they really care.

Then, to top it off, some guy in our church had the nerve to send me this story – I guess he thought it was funny.

A minister died and was waiting in line at the Pearly Gates.  Ahead of him was a scruffy lookin’ guy – beat up leather jacket, worn out jeans.  Peter finally comes and says to the guy, “Who are you, so that I may know your position in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The guy says, “I’m Joe Cohen, taxi-driver from New York City.”  Peter looks up his list and then smiles and says, “Oh, you're Joe . . . well, here, take this silk robe and golden staff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The taxi-driver struts into heaven with his fancy robe and solid gold staff – now it’s the minister’s turn.  Peter asks, “And who might you be?”  He says, “I am Joseph Snow, pastor of more than 40 years.”  Peter looks at his list and says, “Oh, so you’re Pastor Snow . . . well, take this cotton robe and wooden staff and go on in.”  The minister says, “Now just a minute, Peter; that man ahead of me was a taxi-driver, and he got a silk robe and golden staff – I get a cotton robe and a lousy wooden stick – I want an explanation!”  Peter said, “It’s simple – while he drove, people prayed; while you preached, people slept!”

I’m like you; I didn’t think it was that funny.

It’s true – there are times when I’m preaching that people are sleeping.  I don’t mind . . . just don’t snore.

Let me take you to a worship service where nearly 50,000 people attended – and I can guarantee you no one was sleeping.

It took place in Ezra chapter 3.

Notice verse 1.  Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem.

This verse sets the stage for the entire chapter.  “The people gathered together as one man. . .”  Call it unity, call it camaraderie, call it fellowship – I could not help but read chapter 3 and be struck with the theme of fellowship.

They arrived in Jerusalem as one.  One in heart, one in spirit, one in this incredible risk of faith.

In verse 1 they stand as one man

In verse 9 the workers stood together to oversee the workmen.

In verse 11 the people shouted and sang together.

There is a strong sense of unity and fellowship.  I read a definition of fellowship several months ago that came back to me as I studied this moment in Ezra 3.

Fellowship is the oneness of heart that comes when two friends are on the same side of a struggle:  like two couples who mortgage their homes and pool their resources and start a little business. . .like a man who takes his life savings to begin manufacturing his invention. . .it’s do or die.

Here all the Israelites stand at the entrance to a broken down city – overgrown with 50 years of weeds and brush – no stone sits upon another – totally scattered remains of a once great temple – and these people are risking everything.

There is a special fellowship shared by those involved in the same struggle.

There are three areas where the fellowship of the Israelite is observed in chapter 3 . . . let’s divide our study along those lines this morning.

First of all, there was the fellowship of giving.

If you back up to chapter 2 verse 68 you see the first signs of generosity – And some of the heads of father’s households, when they arrived at the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to restore it on its foundation.  69.  According to their ability they gave to the treasury for the work.  Key phrase – according to their ability!  They all didn’t give the same amounts – there was fellowship in giving even though there was a difference in the amounts they gave.

In verse 5 of chapter 3 and then implied in verse 7 as the people paid the masons and carpenters – here they are making the payments to the subcontractors – they are all involved – but they all do not contribute the same amounts.

We’ve seen the same thing occurring in our own building program  - our sound bite that we refer to on many occasions is the phrase “Not equal giving, but equal sacrifice.”

To the child – 10 dollars may be a tremendous sacrifice.

To a college student  - 100 dollars may to him be a challenging sacrifice

To the executive or the business owner – $100,000 may be that which represents an equally challenging sacrifice.

Building a temple in Ezra chapter 3 wasn’t any easier than building a worship center in Cary – it still takes the same basic thing – fellowship – the oneness of spirit that comes when friends are on the same side of the struggle.

Is it any wonder then that the Enemy of the church seeks more than anything else to divide the family.  To turn unity of passion and purpose into a forced companionship that just shows up at the same address every Sunday morning.

John Haggai illustrated that difference this way:  He said, “Two chickens tied at the legs and thrown over a clothesline may be united, but they do not have unity.”

Then secondly, I want you to notice their fellowship in this building process.

There is fellowship in the building process even though there was a difference in their individual functions. 

Notice verse 2. 

Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brothers arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God.

Skip to verse 5 –

and afterward there was a continual burnt offering, also for the new moons and for all the fixed festivals of the Lord that were consecrated, and from everyone who offered a freewill offering to the Lord. 

Talk about simplicity.  This is a far cry here from Solomon’s temple wherein they offered their sacrifices some 70 years earlier.

In the past they had a magnificent temple – here it’s a simple altar, surrounded by rubble.

I must stop here long enough to say this verse makes me restructure my thinking about God.

Here are two wonderful truths about God and the worship of God.

Number one – God never refuses worship even when it’s basic and dare I say even simplistic.

In other words, God isn’t impressed by all the trappings. 

I’m glad for that, aren’t you?

You can worship Him at the kitchen sink or during the morning drive to work.

We as a congregation have these past 12 years worshipped in everything but a traditional sanctuary.  For 6 years it was in the bandroom of a junior high school.

We used to come in on Saturday night to clean it up – the janitors knew we would and so they wouldn’t clean at all on Friday – we would get trash cans full of stuff – then on Monday, if it wasn’t clean, we’d get in trouble.

But we had wonderful worship.

Now for just over 6 years we’ve been in this fellowship hall. That’s why there isn’t a choir loft or a baptistry.   A kitchen was planned to go in behind me – and this room would be used for meals and banquets.  Then we outgrew the master plan for this 7 acre site and knew we needed to move.

What wonderful worship we’ve enjoyed here.

Now we’re planning to move next year to our new location and into our new place of worship – and it’s a gymnasium.  What I call a glorified gymnasium.  In other words, we’ll dress it up so you don’t think you’re surrounded by basketball goals – they’ll be hidden in the ceiling. 

Our traditional sanctuary will not be built until the entire site enters its final building stage.

I anticipate being somewhere around 50 years old.

That’s when I need to be reminded of this truth here in Ezra chapter 3.  Because you and I have not missed anything essential when it comes to worshipping God as a church family.

Worship does not depend on the environment – on stain glass and padded pews – worship depends on the heart – the convicting truth to me is that today while I preach in this beautiful building – there are Chinese believers holding worship services in the woods; there are Arab believers worshipping God in their cells;  there are Sudanese believers who’ve been sold as slaves singing quietly to God from inside their slave quarters.

Some of the sweetest, most sacred moments of  worship take place in the most basic environments. 

I want you to notice something else – look at verse 3.  So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands.

If I were writing the Book of Ezra – I would have left that part out – it doesn’t make the people look good.  It doesn’t sound spiritual.  Whoever was proofing Ezra probably said, “Ezra, do you really want everybody to know that one of our primary motivations for building this altar was fear?”  “Yes, leave it in.”

Which, by the way, reveals another wonderful truth about God:

God doesn’t reject your worship, even when you faith is weak.

God does not say to His child – “Listen, I’ll not listen to your prayer until you get it together. . .as long as I see your knees knocking, I’ll not answer your prayer.”

God accepts their offerings – He accepts their praise – and at the same time He knows they are like scared children, running to Him for protection.

By the way - by simply turning around this truth – you discover an interesting challenge for the believer.  Even when they were weak with fear they worshipped God.

What is it that has you rattled these days?  What’s being shaken loose from your perfectly nailed down life.  

It is in those rough waters where your prayers are refined and reduced down to the purest form of worship.

Like the stormy water in Matthew 14 during which Jesus came walking to the disciples who were out in the boat.  Peter hollered out and said, “Lord, bid me to come to you.”  That’s the biblical way of saying, “Lord, that looks like fun – can I do it too?”  And the Lord said, “Come on.”  So Peter climbs over the side of the boat and starts to walk out to the Lord on top of the water; and he’s thinking to himself (I’m guessing, “Christianity is really great!  Man, this is the life!)

Then the text says, “But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out saying, “Lord, save me.”

Now that’s reducing the prayer down to bare essentials.

He did not say, “Lord, Thou who created all things in only 6 days; You who art my refuge and strength in time of trouble; I praise Thee today for the rolling waters of the sea. . .”  

No . . . “Lord, I’m gonna die!”  More accurately translated, “But seeing the wind, he became afraid and said, “Lord, save me.”

Jesus reached down and grabbed Peter’s hand and as he pulled him up he said, “Peter, your faith is small – did you forget I could take care of you even out here in the storm?”  They return to the boat and get in and the text says, “And those who were in the boat worshipped, saying, “You truly are God’s Son.”

Some of the greatest discoveries about our Lord are learned in the storms of life – when we are terrified – when we learn what it really means to pray.

The Israelites are terrified by the enemies around them – they do not have a wall around their city.  Did you notice the significance that they didn’t begin building the wall first?  Then built the altar first.

You see, you do not pursue security – you pursue God and find in Him security.

Building this altar is another way of saying Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God, and all the things you truly need will be provided.”

You do not seek protection from the storm – you seek after God and discover He is your shelter even if the storm never goes away.

The best time to worship God is when you're weak.

Some of the purest adoration offered to God is adoration offered through lips that tremble and eyes that are filled with tears.

The Israelites were in the center of God’s will – completely terrified.

“When I am afraid,” David wrote, “then, I will trust in Thee.”  Truth is, trust is often the deepest when we are afraid.

Worship when you are weak.  God will never reject that kind of worshipper and that quality of worship.

There’s another moment of fellowship within the Israelite camp – it’s the fellowship they experienced as they praised God.

Notice verse 8:

Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of
Jozadak and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of the

Skip to v. 10.

Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of
Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the directions of King David of Israel. 11 And they sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.”
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.

Now I want you to notice that they are celebrating with trumpets and cymbals and song – over what?  The temple has been reconstructed??  NO!  The foundation has been laid.  That’s all. 

Just the foundation.  And they started an outdoor concert to the glory of God.

The word translated “praising” in verse 11 comes from the Hebrew verb “halal.”  It means to boast about someone – to thank someone.  Halal is the root form from which “hallelujah” is formed.  Hallelujah came to signify praising the Lord.  Extolling the virtue and honor and glory of God.

To say “hallelujah” means, “I boast about God. I lift up the honor of God’s glory.  I praise the virtue of God.”

Later in the text you discover they are literally shouting their praise – they were shouting “Hallelujah.”

Let’s try it together – like they must have done it here!

HALLELUJAH . . . now that was impressive!  Notice the last phrase of this chapter – “and the sound was heard far away. . . I’ll bet the nursery workers didn’t even hear us!

Try it again – HALLELUJAH!  Louder . . . HALLELUJAH.


We have just said a Hebrew word that means, “Lord, we praise you – we glorify you – we boast of your faithfulness.”


There was fellowship in their praising even though there was a difference in their emotions.

Notice verse 12.  Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of father’s households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy.

Weeping and laughing.  Sobbing mixed with singing.

Their sorrow was only to be expected – did you notice?  These were the old men who had seen Solomon’s temple in all it’s beauty and splendor – this temple will be nothing like it. 

Josephus the 1st century Jewish historian records for us these words, “They recalled to mind the former temple which had been very great and costly, and seeing that this one fell short of the old one because of their poverty, and considering how far they had fallen below their ancient prosperity and a state worthy of the temple, were downcast, and being unable to master their grief at this thought, were moved to laments and weeping.”

The words, “Unable to master their grief. . .” struck me.  Their grieving started out as one would expect – and appreciate.  They grieved over the loss of their temple glory.  They grieved over the loss of what could have been had they not disobeyed God. 

But their grieving went well beyond this chapter.  It went on and on.  The prophet Haggai eventually came along and rebuked the elderly men for clinging to the past and so discouraging the people that the work actually stopped.

Mastered by grief is not good grieving.

What is good grief?

Two thoughts from this context of Ezra:

  1. Good grieving is when we grieve over our burdens without becoming bound to our past.

What do you cherish more – your memories, or your dreams?

What you’ve done in the past – or what you’re trusting God for in the future?

  1. Good grieving is when we grieve over our pain without avoiding God’s perspective.

Here to these elderly men, the primary focus should have been what God was doing – not what He had done.

There was a new generation – a generation who needed a healthy link between the past and future – and they were not providing the proper link.

One of the authors I read wrote from his own family experience:

Seven years ago my father died.   My mother continued to live in the house they shared together for 30 years, and recently she has made necessary and beautiful changes in the house.  She has replaced curtains she and my father picked out together and has removed the wallpaper they hung together.  While my mother weeps again over the loss of her husband, especially each time she makes such changes, she does not allow her grief to keep her in a house with dilapidated furnishings.  In contrast to the grief by the elderly men of Jerusalem, we need to find, like my mother, right ways to grieve even as we move ahead with our lives." [Establishing the Foundations  p 75]

That’s quite a testimony to her son, even though he’s grown and writing commentaries.  Ezra chapter 3 meant more because of what his mother was going through.

One more thought from this chapter – it struck me that they began to praise God only after the foundation was laid . . . not the entire temple finished.

They laid the foundation and then held this celebration, the older men notwithstanding. 

We’ve made a little progress – let’s praise God now!  Let’s not wait until it’s finished, shall we?  And the majority of the people said, “Great idea – let’s praise God now, for a work in progress.”

What a challenge to all of us – you don’t have to wait until everything is right to praise and worship God.

How tempted are you to say to God, “Lord, I’ll serve you when everything in my life is put neatly together.”  When everything’s arranged, Lord, I’ll spend some time with you – when I finish this stage in my life – I’ll get around to worship.”  No, now!  In the middle of your life, which could be characterized by a sign hung over your head that reads: “A work in progress; a Christian under construction!”

Then . . . seek His perspective.  And while you're at it – don’t forget to sing His praises.

A couple of months ago, I was discouraged about several things related to our building project.  We had suffered some setbacks from our efforts to rezone this property; we were delayed in our financing – it seemed the whole history of relocating was bearing down on me – you know, one of those times, when you take responsibility for something that’s not yours – you’ve been there too?!   I happened to be driving near our land and decided to pull in – my wife would tell you that my version of driving near the land simply means that I'm driving in Cary.  

I pulled in with a heavy heart. 

Yet, sitting there at dusk, looking out over land that didn’t seem to be coming together, God convicted my heart – my discouragement was really the result of  pride (c’mon let’s get these building up so everyone can see ‘em) and impatience (c’mon, Lord, step in and remove the obstacles – we’ve got some things to do!).

Then I got out of my truck – walked a little bit toward the project  - now I was discouraged and convicted – that’s a great combination.

The strangest thought impressed me – sing!  I didn’t hear a voice, or have a vision – I was just impressed to sing.  And so I began to sing - out loud.

I’m telling you this, by the way, not so you’ll think I’m  some kind of saint – I want you to know, I’ve only sung a solo out there once.  And I didn’t sing because I was on a mountaintop and really felt like singing.  But I do want you to know that afterwards and even during the song God refocused my mind and heart with the truth of His faithfulness.

The song I sang was:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him all creatures here below;

Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts;

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

He was and is, worthy of praising – there’s that word, “Hallal”ujah.   Our perspectives need re-arranging, God is at all times worthy of praise.

I encourage you to sing that this week – sing it at your weakest moment – in the midst of whatever bears down on your heart.

Worship Him when you are weak . . . He welcomes your praise.

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