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Regrouping to Move Forward

A Sermon for February 6, 2022

Ezra 1:1-8

Veterans Memorial Chapel

By Ch Jim Odell

This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for February 6, 2022. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.

Scripture Readings:

2 Chronicles 36:20-21

Ezra 1:1-8

Last month I did a “one off” sermon (a sermon not part of a series) on “moving forward into the new year with the positive thought that God is with us despite the new and changing environment that we faced.” As I thought on that, I believe the Holy Spirit was prompting me on how the entire narrative of Ezra & Nehemiah was so apropos for the world we live in. Many things are changing, economically, governmentally, in health services, in world relations, and so on. It is a wicked and changing world, yet the Lord is still doing great things in this world. Perhaps we need a reminder of this reality, as we “rebuild” our lives in this post pandemic, post Christian world, where God has placed us. Therefore, I am going to begin a series, from these two short books, highlighting the “rebuilding of our lives in a pagan world.”

I started our Scripture reading today by reading a couple of verses out of 2nd Chronicles as historic context. This afternoon read the entire last half of this chapter. Israel of Judah has hit “rock bottom” due to their disobedience to God. God has “kept His promise” to punish them for their disregard of His laws. The Temple along with all Jerusalem were destroyed and those left alive were taken into captivity to another land.

Now seventy years later, Zerubbabel, whose Persian name in Sheshbazzar, is given the vessels from the old Temple and is allowed to bring them back to the ruins of Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. A new beginning, an exciting time of rebuilding to “kingdom of God” in Jerusalem. Yet Jerusalem is not a capital city, Samaria is. Judah is not an independent nation, only a small city in a district, part of a province called “Beyond the River.” This province is made up what today is South Syria, Lebanon, Israel & Jordan. It is famous only for a highway to Egypt or ports into the Mediterranean.

Worst of all, the world is pagan. Emperor Cyrus realized the value of religious diversity, and he built his Empire on trade and commerce of a world of mutual tolerance. But it was not a world that recognized the uniqueness of the “God of the Heavens and Earth.” Yahweh was only “the God who is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:3). Zerubbabel and his followers must make their way by serving Yahweh in an otherwise pagan world.

But please look a little closer at the text. God is orchestrating all that happens in the affairs of man on earth. Look at 2 Chron. 36:15-17. God’s people turned from Him, and He sent prophets, but they ignored them. Therefore, God brought against them the Babylonians. When we disobey, God comes along to woe us back. But when we disobey, He is the one sending the punishment.

I am not saying that all “bad things” that happen, happen because of our disobedience. But sometimes that is the case.

But notice, God controls the blessings as well as the punishments. Just as God moved upon the heart of wicked Nebuchadnezzar to punish Judah (2 Chron 36:17), God also moved in the heart of pagan Emperor Cyrus of Persia (2 Chron 36:22 & Ezra 1:1) to cause him to decree permission to rebuild the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem. God is moving, we need to be alert to see how He is doing it.

Then we need to be attuned to how God may be directing our hearts in carrying out His work in our current world. See in Ezra 1 verse 5 how He moved in the hearts of certain Jews in Babylon and Persia to return to the rubble in Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple and reestablish worship of Yahweh. Others were led to support those who returned, but not to return themselves (1:6). These were not disobedient Jews, only people who received a “different calling” on how to respond to God’s work. In this connection look at Daniel 9:1 and 2. Daniel, as an older man in his eighties, one year before Cyrus’ decree, was led by God to pray for the children of Israel. He was most likely not able to endure the hardships of returning to a city of rubble and rebuild it. But he was able to use his time to intercede for Israel as God was readying to carry out His plan. For many of us, with more years in our rearview mirror, than out our front windshield, there is a great opportunity to develop our prayer lives, which may have been difficult to do in the busyness of years past. Just a thought.

In these passages we see how God moved on the hearts of pagan rulers to send His people into captivity, to teach them to hate idols. Then He moved again in the heart of a pagan ruler to return them to their land and rebuild their temple. Though small and insignificant at first, this was the beginning of setting up the city that would rule Palestine in the life of Jesus. The temple is the one Jesus visited and offered His Passover lambs and preached many of His sermons. Zerubbabel, grandson of the last King of Judah, only a governor of a city and district, became the progenitor of Jesus Christ Himself.

I would not fain to say that any of you are destined to that level of significance. But we exist in the world for the purpose of doing the will of God in our generation. It may look gloomy outside (and I am not talking about the weather). But God is moving in our world and in our hearts. As we rebuild lives changed by the pandemic and the economic and political issues of our day, let us keep watching for what God is doing, and follow His leading on living as a lamp in a dark world (Philippians 2:15).

God Bless each of you.

CH Jim Odell


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