Read Ezra 7:10 (ESV)
For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
If we long for our relationship with the LORD to be restored and our lives reformed, what do we need to do? What is the standard that dictates how we should live?
Pretend you are an Israelite exile for a moment. About 70 years ago, the homeland of your ancestors was conquered by an enemy, Babylon, and the people were deported to a pagan nation as punishment for their disobedience to God. Now, Babylon has itself been captured by Persia. But the Persian king is gracious and encourages your people to go home and rebuild. It sounds great, right? Except, some of you aren’t sure you want to return. Even in the midst of a pagan nation, God has been pretty good to you. You didn’t just survive, you thrived. Besides, this pagan land is all you’ve known. You know where you are is not God’s best for you. He’s promised to take you back to the Promised Land (Jeremiah 29:14)! But you also know that the Promised Land is a heap of rubble at the moment. What would you do? Would you return to your homeland, the land God had promised your people?
In the book of Ezra, we read that only a remnant chose to return to the Land of Promise. Ezra picks up where 2 Chronicles left off. It tells the story of two waves of returning exiles to Israel from Babylonia. Ezra was a priest and tradition holds that he is the author of the book that bears his name. He was a direct descendant of Aaron, Eleazar, Phinehas, and Zadok. He was well educated and well-practiced in the Law of the Lord. Even more than that, he was a righteous and godly man who wanted to see God’s people reformed morally and restored spiritually. He knew the standard of how God’s people should live was God’s Law.
The first section of Ezra tells of the first return to Jerusalem from 538-516 B.C. Zerubbabel led this first wave of exiles home. But only 49,897 Jews out of 2 to 3 million Jews in Persia chose to go home. King Cyrus decreed that they could go rebuild their homeland but only those “whose spirit God had stirred” decided to go. The ones that stayed did so for a variety of reasons. Some were too old or too sick to make the nearly 900-mile trek. Some had very young children. Some were fearful of the potential dangers they would face on the road. Others didn’t want to sacrifice the personal comforts they enjoyed because they had done well in Persia. Still other Israelites were living lifestyles that were totally disobedient to God. Obedience to God’s Law was not a priority for them.
Zerubbabel, their leader, worked hard to rebuild the sacrificial altar, resume the religious feasts, and begin rebuilding the temple. The foundation for the temple was laid in 536 B.C. and it was completed in 515 B.C. One Scarlet Thread of redemption that we find in the book of Ezra is Zerubbabel himself. He was the governor of Judah and was a direct descendant of David, part of the messianic line. It’s worth noting that while the temple he built was much smaller than Solomon’s temple, Zerubbabel’s temple would still be standing 500 years later and Jesus, the Messiah would walk the temple courts!
The second portion of Ezra records the second return of the Israelites to Jerusalem from Persia 81 years after the first. This time, Ezra was their leader and only 1,754 people returned. Even though he only brought a small number of people back from exile, Ezra contributed to the rebuilding of their nation in a big way. As a priest, he was concerned that the people who had returned with Zerubbabel had fallen into sin. Many of them had married foreign wives again, the very sin their ancestors had committed years ago that led them into pagan worship and idolatry. So Ezra interceded for them and prayed to the Lord on their behalf. As a result, the people confessed their sin and resolved to address the issue so that they would be obedient to the Law of God.
Friends, just like the returned remnant of Israel, we have all sinned before God and broken His laws. We need an intercessor. Thankfully, we have an intercessor even better than Ezra. We have Jesus Christ (Romans 8:34). Like the Israelites, we can confess our sins and turn back to God. We can believe in Jesus Christ and trust in His work on the cross on our behalf. When we do, our relationship with Christ can be restored and our lives reformed. We can study the Law of the Lord and in His strength and by the power of His Holy Spirit, we can do it.
Jesus, please forgive me for my sins. Thank You for being my Great Intercessor. Thank You for the promise that in You, my relationship with God can be restored and my life reformed. Help me live my life in obedience to Your Word, the standard that tells me how I should live. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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