Changing Gears on the Same Highway
A Sermon for July 10, 2022
Veterans Memorial Chapel
By Ch Jim Odell
This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for July 10, 2022. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.
When I was early in pastoral ministry, we lived in Oregon. Several time a year, Nancy & I would take a trip to her hometown in Northern California, about a nine-hour trip. We would leave our small town in Oregon and travel a country divided highway for over an hour, before hitting the main interstate. Once on the interstate, we would put on the cruise control and speed along through the state with ease, till we hit the curves and mountains of Southern Oregon. We would stop the cruise control, slow our speed, and proceed. Then came Mt. Ashland. We would gear down and head up the mountain in one of the left lanes. As we passed multiple trucks, campers, boats, and trailers, we really had the feeling of speed right along. But in reality, we were hardly moving much more than 60. Once at the top, we reengaged our cruise control as we headed down hill toward the California boarder. The cruise control kept our speed down to a reasonable pace. This kept us on the road as we dropped into Northern California. Once in the state, we took the Yreka exit off the interstate. Once again, we found ourselves on a country highway. We slowed our speed but kept moving over the highland valley of Etna. Then we came to another high mountain pass of about 10-15 miles long. The road narrowed to two lanes with very little shoulder. We slowed up and watched the road, as we passed through this beautiful remote mountain pass. Failure to do so could send us down a ravine. No high speeds here. Coming out the other end, we again found ourselves on much less curvy mountain roads till we reached Nancy’s hometown of Weaverville, a small city nestled in the Northern California mountains at just under 3,000 foot in elevation.
On our trip, sometimes we were able to move right along, other times we needed to change gears and slow our speed. Getting there required several changes in gears and speeds to do so safely.
God has but one great comprehensive plan for His universe. One road to His ends. In order to get the world where He wants it to be, He moves it over “one highway”, so to speak. In doing so, sometimes He “changes the gears” to travel at a different speed or uses the steering wheel to head in a different direction. The same is true of His plan for nations, churches, families, and individuals. God may change gears or directions, but we are always being guided on the way He wants us to go.
As we approach Ezra chapter 7, a major change is occurring in the life of the Jews. God is introducing a new kind of leader in Jewish worship and spiritual development. Meet the “Scribe” (7:6, “teacher” in many translations). Judah is entering a new era. The “Law” is almost complete. All the OT Scriptures, except for Ezra, Nehemiah, & Malachi, have been completed. God now wants spiritual leadership to be conducted by “scribes.” No new revelation will occur for another 400 years. He now needs copyists & teachers.
Early in the OT, God used the “Patriarchs” like Abraham to lead his people. Moses was instructed to set up the Tabernacle system, with the “Priests” becoming the spiritual leaders, while “judges” ruled over civil matters. Samuel became the last “priest” with national oversight, and became the first “Prophet,” a religious advisor, especially to the “Kings,” the who ruled the civil matters. Prophets received “revelations” directly from God.
Now that the OT Scriptures were complete, God was establishing the “scribes” or “teachers” to be the spiritual guides of the Jews, while governors dealt with civil matters. The scribe was to study the “law” and teach it, making it understandable and applicable to the people of his day.
Over the next 400 years scribes would be the spiritual leaders. When Christ came, He established a church, where the “Elder-pastor-bishop” was the one with the spiritual oversight. His role was much like that of the scribe.
Let’s look at this new office and the first official religious “scribe.” Technically a “scribe” means, “one who writes or copies.” They were common in the Ancient Near East working from the palaces of the king, down to receipt writers for purchases of products sold in the market. Papers that needed to be preserved in Ancient times were written on paper or parchment, then as the paper wore out, they were copied on fresh paper by a scribe to preserve it.
The Religious scribe was one who not only copies the “Law” (or Old Testament), but they studied it. They were particularly interested in two things: 1) what the “Law” actually said, and 2) how the “law” or rule applied to the lives of people of their day.
Ezra was born in Babylon Provence. He was a direct descendant Aaron & Eleazer, Israel’s first two High Priests. He was a well taught teacher of the “Law of Moses” (7:6 & 10). He devoted much of his time to the study of Scripture.
The Persians Emperor, Artaxerxes, sent him to Jerusalem to help establish the worship of God in Jerusalem. Time has passed since the events of chapter 6. Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua have passed. So has Darius the King. The Persian King we know as Xerxes ruled 20 years after chapter 6 and before chapter 7. We remember him from High School or College world history as the conqueror of Greece. From the OT we remember him as the king in the story of Esther.
Now another King, Artaxerxes is on the throne. He is interested in Jews worshiping their God correctly, and Ezra is sent to teach people to do just that. Ezra brings with him a large retinue of Temple workers, Levites, Priests, Temple Guards & singers. With the blessing of God and the King, they arrive in Jerusalem ready to carry on worship from the Temple.
The one characteristic of Ezra we see in this chapter is his humility. Often when we see a leader rise up, he or she is up-front, demanding and forward in attitude. “I’m here, follow me!” “I have the answers.” “Do as I say.” Ezra is just the opposite. Look at the last few verses of chapter 7. He says, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, who put [this thing] in the heart of the King.” And, “Because the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me” (7:27-28).
He was not arrogant, simply, “God chose me to do this, therefore I need to find leaders around me to do what needs to be done.” “I need good leaders under me to help do what I need to do.” “The leadership world is not rotating around me. God is the one making the difference, I am just His tool.”
This is the attitude we all need as we move forward in a new world to serve Christ.
God Bless you,
CH Jim Odell