True Spiritual Leadership
This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for August 14, 2022. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.
Last time we were together we met Ezra, who first shows up in the 7th chapter of his book. Ezra is arriving in Jerusalem 81 years after Zerubbabel. He is a descendant of the ancient High Priests, well taught in the OT Scriptures, and is called a “Scribe.” This is a major shift in leadership for Judaism. Under Moses the Israelites were led by Priests and Judges. In Samuel’s day that changes to prophets and kings. From now on it would be “scribes” or teachers and governors (appointed by foreign governments).
Ezra stands at a pivotable point in Jewish history and culture. He ushers in a new era where there will be no new “direct revelations” to God’s people until the arrival of the Messiah. The scribes would study the “Law of Moses” (all the OT) and apply it to their current situations in new and unique circumstances. Exactly how they will do that will be discussed more later in the book.
What we see in chapter 8 of the book Ezra, is how Ezra goes about in leading God’s people into the future, while still anchoring the lives of the saints in the ancient truths and rituals of the “Law of Moses.” As of this point in history, all the OT is complete except for Nehemiah and Malachi. No new revelations would come until the angel Gabriel tells of the birth of John the Baptist to Zachariah, John’s father. That is 400 years later. For us, this is the length of time between the Pilgrim’s landing in 1620 and our lives today, 400 years. A lot has changed in that time. The Bible truths need to be applied to each change.
Good leaders are needed to guide the new generation forward into the new world, while at the same time teaching the “old truths” and showing their relevancy in new circumstances. Otherwise, one of two things happens. 1) An “anything goes” mentality moves in and changes order and morality into cultural and spiritual chaos. 2) Or the “truth” gets hidden in ritual and dogmatism of the past, and the group becomes entirely unrelated to its the current world. To avoid either extreme, we need godly leaders who know both the “old truths” and the “new world,” to guide the people of God to live godly in their world.
Ezra leads in a godly way. Let me show you three godly ways of leadership in this passage. Our story begins as Ezra readies himself and his followers to begin their journey to Jerusalem. 1. Maintaining Ancient Truth (7:15-20): As he looks about among the persons readying to leave, he notes that he is lacking “Levites” to be the gate keepers, the singers, and the maintenance persons in the Temple, as both Moses and David had commanded, under God’s instruction. The tribe of Levi provided the “Priests,” sons of the clan of Aaron or Kohath. The rest of the tribe of Levi was to support the Priests in their duties. Ezra’s “migration” did not include Levites but did include Priests. What is he to do? He could ignore the commands of the law, and appoint “just anybody” to do the work, not just members of the right tribe. He might reason, “after all it was a new world, and these commands were made centuries ago.” As long as we run the Temple, why should it matter?
Or he could demand that the “old truths” be observed and recruit qualified Levites to join the expedition. That is what he did. He sent to a leading center of Jewish culture and recruited men (families) to join him on his migration to Jerusalem. By following God’s Word exactly, he was successful in his establishing of proper Jewish worship that would continue into the life of Messiah and his early church.
2) Trusting in God for Protection (7:21-23): As Ezra’s group gathered and was ready to move out, Ezra called on all in the group to fast three days and pray for success from God for their journey. Ezra was calling his followers to “humble themselves” and fast. It is so easy for followers to think, “I am doing something important, so God is with me. I am being obedient to God and moving back to the Promised Land, while so many others are just staying in their cosey lives in Babylon or Persia. I am so much better than them. Therefore, God will therefore take care of me, ‘I’m worth it.’”
Also, it is easy for a leader to tell everyone to “follow me, I am God’s man of the hour. Follow and don’t worry about anything, I have it in control. Do as I say, and things will be fine.” Both of these opinions leave God out and gives Him a secondary role in the project. God is the real hope providing the ability to do anything in His name (John 15:5). Ezra realized his ability to move this crowd over the desert to Jerusalem was not in him but in God. Leaders need to remember this. So do each of us. God is working in and through us, it is His good will not our own that gives us success in any aspect of life.
3) Being Transparent with God’s Things (7:24-28): Lastly, Ezra was transparent in his dealings. We see this in the paragraph where he appoints men to care for the silver and gold going to Jerusalem. He inventories it in Babylon. Assigns it to certain trusted men to transport it, then inventories it again in the presence of all the officials. He was honest and transparent. This is a real challenge to leaders in a world where “accountability” seems to be passé. Ezra demonstrates the importance of being transparent, thus avoiding “the appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22).
Both God’s work and property belong to God. Leaders need to remember they are stewards of what God has given. Each of us must take care of all God has given and use it in ways that please Him. This goes for leaders and the people. It is so easy for a leader to think the ministry belongs to Him. Many a leader has fallen because they forgot whose ministry it really is.
Our world continues to be a world of change. New things, new circumstances, new challenges. We still need to be applying the “old truths” of the Bible to our “new world” situations. We need to heed the leaders who want to help us make that transition. But we must see if they are of Ezra’s quality. And we also need to be making good applications of “old truths” in our “new world.”
God Bless you,
CH Jim Odell