Zerubbabel built the temple of God, but Ezra built the people of God. He led them out of spiritual darkness into the light of spiritual truth. And as we prop this puzzle picture in front of us today, we'll discover how it can help us rebuild our own spiritual lives too.
Other messages in this series are available here: Ezra
We’ve just completed our study in the 6th chapter of Ezra. While on paper chapters 6 and 7 are separated by only a half an inch, in real life there was a 58 year gap.
The first phrase of Ezra chapter 7 and verse one is “Now after these things. . .” But Ezra doesn’t tell us what those things were. We do know by piecing the time line together that one of those things was the marriage of a king to a beauty contestant winner named Esther.
During the period of time between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7, the excitement surrounding the Temple completion waned. Zerubbabel has faded into the background. The city Jerusalem still lies in ruins without walls or gates. The people were farming the land, enjoying their own homes and, unfortunately, satisfied with mediocrity in their relationship with God and compromise in their relationship with the Gentile pagans around them. We’ll discover later that they actually began to intermarry with the unbelievers.
Frankly, the pioneering excitement was gone!
Zerubbabel had built the temple. Nehemiah will come along later and build the city. Someone at this critical juncture needed to come along and build the people.
They needed a reformation – and reformation throughout history always occurs when people return to building their lives according to the blueprint of the Bible.
Martin Luther, the reformer of the 1500’s wrote, “I have made a covenant with God that He send me neither visions or dreams nor even angels. I am satisfied with the gift of the Holy Scriptures, which give me abundant instruction and all that I need to know both for this life and for that which is to come.
Think of the many similes of Scripture which reveal its power in the life of the believer:
1) The Scriptures are like a scalpel by which the Holy Spirit performs spiritual surgery; for the Word of God is living and active, "sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrews 4:12
2) The Bible is like a mirror; and, when you look into its pages, you come face to face with yourself. You are struck with your depravity and all your weaknesses, failures and sins. James 1:22-25
3) The Bible is like a window; for you also see through this book a holy God whose love is so deep and His mercy so unmeasurable that He would take a sinner like you and me and make us children of His own family. John 1:12
4) The Bible is also like a time machine which transports you back in time to observe other nations, other governments, other families and individuals in their struggle with timeless truths. Then it whisks you into the future and shows you the breathtaking dimensions of heaven and the terror of an eternal hell.
5) The Bible is like a bodyguard for the heart, soul and flesh. For we’re told that the word tucked away in our hearts will keep us from sinning. Psalm 119:11
6) The Bible is like a general store. 2 Timothy 3:17 The scriptures have been given so that the man of God, the child of God, will be equipped for every good work. The word “equipped” could be translated “outfitted – stocked with the supplies needed for every good work.”
7) The Bible is like a suit of clothes. For Paul told Titus that we as believers are “to adorn the doctrine of God.” Literally, believers are to robe themselves with the doctrine of God revealed in the Scriptures. Titus 2:10
Those are just a few of the similes of scripture.
Several of the activities of the Bible are clearly spelled out in the Word.
1) The Bible convicts a person of sin – “[the Bible] is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart and there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:12, 13)
2) The truth of these pages regenerates and brings to life a person who was dead in sin; “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
“For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God." (1 Peter 1:22-25)
3) The Bible nurtures a believer, and we’re told to “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)
4) What’s more, the Bible produces hope. Paul wrote in Romans 15:4 “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Did you catch that? Through the encouragement of the scriptures you might have this sense of hope.
-Remember the word to Thy servant in which Thou hast made me hope. (Psalm 119:49)
-I have remembered Thine ordinances from of old, O Lord, and comfort myself. (Psalm 119:52)
The one thing we can see and touch that God said would without fail bring us encouragement is the Bible!
5) The Bible also counsels and guides the believer “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for:
- teaching (this tells you what to believe)
- for reproof (this tells you what is right),
- for correction (this tells you what is wrong),
- for training in righteousness (this tells you how to do what’s right).”
The problem is, the average Christian will travel across town to get under the teaching of the Bible, but he will not walk across the living room to get into the Bible for himself.
6) Another activity of the Bible is that of reviving a believer.
“This is my comfort in my affliction, that Thy word revived me." (Psalm 119:50)
In our age of exposure to the truth – through books and conferences, seminars, studies, radio and television – all wonderful things, yet tragically, subtly, the believer, as Lewis wrote, constantly traffics in holy things and becomes
The Christian community is, as one professor of mine was fond of saying, like a bad photograph--overexposed to the light and underdeveloped.
What’s the solution?
There’s the one last thing that the Bible is for the believer. I want to inject it here: the Bible is the picture on a puzzle box. It shows you what the finished product looks like
I don’t like doing puzzles, but my wife loves it. Just give her a large cup of coffee and a 1,000 pieces of challenge, and she’s delighted. If I come home from the office and the dining room table is covered with puzzle pieces, I know, for one thing, we’re having leftovers for supper. In fact, if I want to make some points as a sensitive husband, I’ll say, “Man am I ever in the mood for Dominoes.” There are times when I’ve gone over and looked at what she’s doing – and without fail, I’ve noticed that she has the lid of that puzzle box propped up nearby. She often refers to it, studies it, searches over it for clues of color. You see, that picture box lets her know what the finished product looks like. It serves as a guide to direct.
God never asks the believer to put the pieces together without providing a puzzle picture of what that looks like – how it acts – how it responds – how it even confesses after sinning.
God did not bring you into the family and then say – “From here on out, you’re on your own – just give it your best shot!”
As one author wrote, “To leave a new believer on his own shortly after deciding to follow Christ, would be like putting a young person in the cockpit of an airplane and saying, 'Congratulations on your decision to become a pilot – here’s the stick – now enjoy your flight.'”
No, we’re told how! We’re given the book, and tucked away inside are living pictures with real names like David, Moses, Paul and Ezra: pictures of life that you can prop up in front of you to study and look at and refer to, to help you as you try to put the pieces of your own life puzzle together.
Did I mention Ezra? Can you imagine the average Christian getting to heaven and meeting Ezra for the first time? And the Lord coming over and saying, “This was one of the pictures I drew in the Word to help encourage you to walk with me . . . did it help?
“Uh . . . who did you say he was?”
A man named Ezra happens to be one of those puzzle pictures God intended to give you hope.
He’s finally introduced in this second half of the Book that bears his name.
We’re immediately given his Family Relation to other high priests before him.
7:1. Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, there went up Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2. son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3. son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4. son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, [the] son of Bukki, (obviously a mother somewhere in here who liked rhyming names!) 5. son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest.
That’s important news.
Ezra is the descendant of the first high priest, Aaron, the brother of Moses.
Now, all of the men between Ezra and Aaron are not mentioned; but enough of them are listed to remind the nation of Ezra’s significant heritage.
Verse 1 mentions Seraiah. This was Ezra’s grandfather. He was the high priest who was martyred by Nebuchadnezzar when Babylon captured and enslaved the Israelite.
Further in verse 1 Ezra’s forefather Hilkiah was mentioned. In 2 Kings 22 you discover that, as the nation Israel was being reformed under the godly king Josiah, it was Hilkiah the high priest who discovered the forgotten book of the law. It was that discovery that brought about a national revival.
I find it interesting that Ezra generations later will do the same thing.
Even further back than Hilkiah, in verse 2 is the mention of Zadok. Zadok was the loyal priest who refused to follow David’s son, Adonijah, but remained loyal to old King David even when it seemed that everyone else was following this usurper to the throne. He risked his life by following David’s orders and anointing a young son named Solomon to the throne.
What a heritage! It’s no wonder that Ezra had an immediate following when he made his decision to leave Babylon and go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the people according to the law of Moses.
You may be here today, the son or daughter of a long line of godly men and women. Don’t take it for granted! Thank God for it – like Timothy whom Paul reminded of his heritage. Timothy, you learned the sacred scriptures as a young man through the teaching of your mother and grandmother. Of all the things you could give your children – give them the Word. Talk about the Lord. Relate life to them in terms of commitment to Jesus Christ. Remind them that they are uniquely created to bring glory to God.
Timothy learned at the knee of his mother and grandmother the scriptures which Paul wrote; they were able to make Timothy wise unto salvation.
If you’re like Timothy or Ezra, don’t take it for granted. Build on it . . . take advantage of it . . . multiply it into the lives of others.
But some of you here today do not come from a long line of believers. In fact you are the only one in your family to have trusted Christ.
You don’t have a godly heritage; you are beginning the heritage of faith in Christ. You are the first one in your family to profess to know Christ personally as your Savior. You are the Aaron in your family tree!
Don’t regret it – revel in it – stand in awe of the wonder of God’s grace – He allowed you to hear and see and believe. He saved you!
Become an Abraham Lincoln who once said, “I don’t know who my grandfather was . . . I am more concerned with what his grandson will become.”
Now notice verse 6. This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which the
Lord God of Israel had given.
The Hebrew language states literally that Ezra was a “quick” scribe. Literally a “fast copier.” However the term referred not so much to speed with which Ezra copied the Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and most likely Joshua, which was also available; but that Ezra was proficient in the Law of God.
In fact, the term for scribe referred to a man who was a scholar in the Torah. In reality, the thing that made Ezra stand out among his peers, the quality that made him so dynamic in the hands of God, was not his heritage. It was his heart.
You can sneak down to v. 10 and read, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
Is it any wonder that generations after Ezra would call him the “Second Moses?” They called him that because Ezra led the people into the green pastures of God’s word.
Zerubbabel had built the temple. But Ezra built the people. He led them out of spiritual darkness into the light of spiritual truth.
Next Lord’s day we’ll prop this puzzle picture in front of us again and discover even more how God intended for Ezra to help us with the puzzle of our own lives.