Yesterday we looked at Ezra, the man. He was a man of the Word. He was “a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses.” (7:6) He not only studied it. He put it into practice. He taught it to others. He serves as a good example of what it means to be a man or woman of the Word.
Ezra 7:10 (NASB) 10 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.
The role of the scribe will continue for four centuries until the time of Christ. Ezra is the fountainhead of this office becoming prominent in God’s economy. G. Campbell Morgan explains:
“During the time of the monarchy of the United Kingdom, a scribe was a royal secretary. During the later period of the disrupted kingdom, the scribes had become men whose business it was to copy and to study the laws of the nation. With Ezra a new order began. The scribes now became men whose chief business was to interpret the Law, and to apply it to all the changing conditions of life, and the new circumstances constantly arising. As messengers of the will of God, they took the place of the prophets, with this difference: instead of receiving new revelations, they explained and applied the old. Of this new order, Ezra was at once the founder and type.”
Today we see Ezra taking action.
He proclaims a fast (8:21). He knows the five-month journey from the river Ahava at Babylon to Jerusalem is going to be dangerous. The people would be traveling approximately 900 miles on foot. Instead of hiring security forces, Ezra puts his trust in God and makes an earnest appeal to God for a safe journey through prayer and fasting.
He was aware that he had made a claim to the King of Persia that the Lord God of Israel would protect them, so he was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to accompany his fellow-travelers. Instead, he sought the Lord to provide for their safety and God answered his prayer.
It would seem that Ezra brings every detail before the Lord in prayer. Do you do this?
Ezra sets apart twelve of the leading priests, and puts them in charge of the precious materials that were to be brought to the house of God in Jerusalem. He reminds them that they, and the gifts that they bear, are to be consecrated to the Lord.
The journey begins in Ezra 8:31.
Ezra 8:31-32 31 Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way. 32 Thus we came to Jerusalem and remained there three days.
On the fourth day they take inventory and are assured that all the people and the materials for the house of God had arrived safely. They worshiped the Lord with burnt offerings of thanksgiving.
EZRA – THE REFORMER
Ezra receives a report from the leaders and is grieved to hear of the mixed marriages that have once again brought spiritual corruption to the people. The leaders and the officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness (Ezra 9:2).
Ezra gives a public demonstration of his grief over the nation’s sin, tearing his tunic, cloak, hair and beard. His example gathers other people to join him in a public recognition of their sorrow until the time of the evening sacrifice.
Ezra intercedes on behalf of his people, citing their guilt on account of their shameful disobedience. He acknowledged that they were being shown “a brief moment of grace”, an opportunity for reviving the testimony of the temple once again; “to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.” (9:9)
Ezra 9:9 9 “For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.
The NIV translation helps us see the New Testament application and our calling to be co-laborers with God in the building of His house:
Ezra 9:9 b: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.
In Ezra’s prayer of repentance, he contrasts God’s clear commands in Scripture with clear examples of Israel’s disobedience. (Ezra 9:10-12). Yet he proclaims that God has punished them less than their sins deserve (Ezra 9:13).
Ezra acknowledges the gospel truth of God’s righteousness and that they are deserving of God’s wrath. He makes a confession for the people of the covenant.
Ezra 9:15 15 O LORD, God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”
NEW TESTAMENT READING: 1 Corinthians 5:1-13
The importance of church discipline is emphasized in this passage.
Paul has learned that the Corinthians are tolerating blatant sexual immorality in their midst. A man has taken his stepmother to bed. Rather than confronting the man with his need for repentance, the church has turned a blind eye, and perhaps approved it with a false understanding of God’s grace. Paul rebukes the Corinthians for not putting him out of fellowship (1 Cor 5:3).
The principle of church discipline is to promote restoration of wayward sinners to genuine fellowship with God and His people. The unrepentant person who is continuing in sin and presuming that they are walking in the light when they are walking in darkness must be confronted with the truth. In 1 Corinthians 5, the man who was practicing sin deceived himself into thinking that he was still in fellowship with God. The church was complicit in his deception by not disciplining him. By being handed over to Satan, and deprived of the benefits of Christian fellowship, it is hoped the guilty party would be left alone with their sin, recognize its sinfulness, become honest with God, repent, return and be restored to the church.
Paul calls the church to corporate holiness. Be who you truly are! Just as leaven, symbolizing sin, is purged from households on the Passover feast, so the act of putting away sin logically accompanies taking Christ as your Lord and Savior. For He is our Passover Lamb, and died that sin would be put away.
Sin corrupts the person and the crowd. It is like a contagious virus that spreads. While we are to pursue holiness and fulfill the Great Commission by working among those in the world and rescuing those who are lost from sin, we are not to associate with those who profess to be Christians but do not exhibit a changed life.
1 Corinthians 5:11 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
We are not permitted to align ourselves with false brethren. Paul clarifies that those who exhibit a consistent behavioral pattern of the aforementioned sins and claim to be Christians, are self-deceived.
While we are not to have a critical or judgmental spirit, we are to humble-heartedly exercise discernment, judge righteously and seek to restore brothers and sisters who have gone astray.
1 Corinthians 5:12-13 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
READING FROM THE BOOK OF PSALMS– Psalm 31:1-8
This is another cry for help. The Psalmist recognizes his immediate need for all that the Lord has revealed Himself to be- a rock of salvation, a refuge and fortress, a present help, a guide and counselor.
We have the words that a thousand years later would be heard on the lips of the Messiah:
Psalm 31:5 5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.
The Psalmist is aware of the importance of keeping his heart consecrated to God.
Psalm 31:6 6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols; I trust in the LORD.
He also rejoices in God’s love, His mercy and deliverance.
READING FROM THE BOOK OF PROVERBS- Proverbs 21:1-2
Proverbs 21:1-2 1 The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. 2 Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.
We have seen examples of this in our Old Testament and New Testament readings. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 10:20), and stirred Cyrus’ heart (Ezra 1:1). In the New Testament, God opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:14).
PRAY FOR THE NATIONS- LAOS
Lao Peoples Democratic Republic
Area: 236,800 sq. km
Narrow, landlocked country mainly between Thailand and Vietnam. Mountainous and 55% forested.
Population: 6,436,093 Annual Growth: 1.82%
Largest Religion: Buddhist
Challenges for Prayer
The suffering Church has recognized that persecution is one factor in its growth – persecution keeps them praying and relying on God. The situation has improved very slightly; but at the local and village levels, Christians still find themselves to be targets. Persistent social pressure and the prevention of building new church buildings are two primary opposition strategies. Persecution takes personal forms as well, with strong spiritual opposition compounding family and social pressures to continue practicing traditions. Pray for:
- a) Perseverance and grace for those who must endure, especially those singled out by persecutors. Property has been seized, and ministers arrested and even killed.
- b) Increased openness to evangelism, church planting and building – not illegal, yet still obstructed by the government. Much growth, by necessity, takes place “underground” in house groups, since the more formal congregations are watched and must be cautious. Pray for continued boldness to share the gospel.
- c) Discipleship, teaching and biblical literacy for all who respond to Christ. Pray that believers will grow strong in faith and not fall away. Pray also that they become salt and light in their own society, and in a way that is truly Lao.
- d) A cross-cultural mission’s vision in the church to reach the many ethnic minorities.
The Lao Evangelical Church is one of two recognized Protestant bodies (along with the SDA) wherein several groups have been forced by the government to amalgamate. It is the largest and most influential Church, and where most of the Christian growth has occurred. Pray for the LEC, in particular the pastors, that they might demonstrate unity, genuine love and humility; pray for wisdom to handle the growth and to deal with the situations in both established congregations and house churches. As the primary state-approved Christian body, the LEC itself struggles with issues of accountability, transparency in finances, and healthy relationships with smaller and newer denominations. Pray that God might expose any wrongdoing among church leaders and raise up faithful, humble and authentic servant leaders in the LEC.
PRAYER: Father, help us to realize our calling as men and women of The Word. Ready our hearts to study it, practice it and teach it, that the body of Christ would be edified and those who are lost might be awakened to their need for Your salvation. You are our Rock, our Refuge and Fortress. Thank You for sending Your Son to be our Passover Lamb and take away our sins. His perfect representation as Substitute has caused You to impart the Spirit of holiness to live within us, empowering us to cast out the leaven of sin and live for Your glory. Stir our hearts to do what is pleasing to You today rather than what is right in our own eyes. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.