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Learning to Invest in the Future (Ezra 3:1-7) September 14, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Ezra, Religion, Sermons, Worship.
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INVESTING FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

(THE PAST, THE PRESENT, AND THE FUTURE)

Ezra 3:1-7

I am not going to live forever. For that reason, I want to do things that matter. There are a lot of good things that I can do that in the long run may not matter as much as other things, so I want to give my attention to the things that matter most.

A church is no different. Very few American churches last over a hundred years. Most churches during the last century were, humanly speaking, vibrant churches for one or two generations and then they begin decline. Again, that is why a church should focus on the things that matter now. There are a lot of good things that a church can do that in the long run may not matter as much as other things. For that reason, we need to concentrate on that which matters most.

In our Scripture passage today, we find the Jewish nation concentrating on the things that matter.

These people are recovering from one of the lowest points of their history. The nation as a whole has been in captivity for seventy years. Solomon’s temple, which had been a symbol of the pinnacle of Israel’s power had been a huge pile of rubble for fifty years. It had been destroyed because Israel was not faithful to their God. Most of the Jews had been killed or carried away captive into Babylon.

Now they have returned. Their situation is very tenuous. They have enemies all around them, who do not want them back in Jerusalem. In addition, homes must be built. Agriculture and commerce must be developed.

Despite the difficulties, there was much anticipation at this time for a great and glorious future. God had freed them from captivity as He had predicted through Isaiah and Jeremiah. What would God do for them now? And how would they react to the new opportunity that lay before them? What would they focus on? Where would they begin? On what would they set their priorities?

The leaders of the Jews understand all this and are involved in trying to establish a secure and prosperous future for the Jews. To do that, one of the things they must do is invest in the next generation. They want to accomplish the things that matter not just in their lives but in the lives of their children and their grandchildren. There are a lot of good things, needful things, to which they can turn their attention but if they do not center their attention on the future generation, they will fail. That is why they almost immediately focused on the rebuilding of the temple. God had chosen Jerusalem as the place where He would put His name and they recognized that a new temple would serve as stabilizing factor for generations to come, a place where every Jew could come to God.

Ezra 3 is the account of how they began.

How these people dealt with these problems have application for us as a church also. God has been working through a group of believers associated with this church for almost a generation. I am convinced God desires to accomplish His will through this church in future generations. That will take much investment in the future generation. Based on what God had done for us in the past and what He desires to do through us for the future generations, we can determine what we should be doing now. Those are the lessons that we want to learn today from Ezra 3:1-7.

THE LESSONS OF THE PAST – The foundation for lessons from the past are grounded not in experience or history but in the Word of God (3:2b, 4).

The Word of God reminded them of their priorities (verses 2 and 6). The first priority was not the building of the Temple nor even a wall of protection but rather the first priority was the regular service of God, which is the outward show of a heart attitude of worship and submission to God. God’s Word reminded them that God’s first purpose in this world was not to take care of them nor was it to make them secure and prosperous but rather, God’s first priority was to make a name for Himself on the earth and that Jerusalem was the place in which He had chosen to do that. That is why they built the altar. They could have waited for the temple before offering sacrifices but they understood that the temple alone is not what established God in Jerusalem. No, God established Himself in Jerusalem and then invited the Jews, “Come and worship me! Come, submit your lives to me! Come, bow before me and fear me!” Now there are lots of ways to do that but they went to the Word of God and saw that God desired an altar where God’s people would regularly consecrate themselves, seek forgiveness, and bring thanksgiving.

That is to be our priority also. Jesus made it clear that we are to serve the Lord God and Him only are we to serve. It is imperative that we look into God’s Word, and understand that what God desires and demands from us is our worship as evidenced by our service. This altar was first and foremost a place of consecration, a place where people came to exalt God and humble themselves, a place where His people submitted themselves to God, bowing before Him.

That is our investment capital. If we are going to invest in the future generations, we must have more than clean living. We must have more than good Bible teaching. We must have more than attractive programs. We must serve God in total submission to Jesus Christ. That is what I mean by worship. That is what the Bible means by worship. This altar was the center of the Jews’ worship. They were obviously not Americans. There were no songs to be sung, no lessons to be taught, no prayers to be prayed, no offering to be taken. There was simply the sacrifice of animals symbolizing their submission to God, both in the acknowledgement of their sinfulness and in the acknowledgement that everything good, they had from God and they were thankful to Him for it.

The Word of God reminded them of God’s work in their lives (Compare verse 4 with Leviticus 23:40-43 and Deuteronomy 31:10-13).

The purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles was to remind Israel of what God had done in their history. To remind them how that they had left Egypt and had dwelt in tents on their way to Mount Sinai, where God met with them and established His covenant with them. They needed to remember that God took care of them every step of the way, providing deliverance in parting the Red Sea, providing water at Marah through the miracle of turning the bitter water sweet, providing food through the giving a manna, providing victory when the Amalekites came out against them to destroy them. And during all of that they lived in tents waiting for God to tell them when it was time to march and leading them to their next destination through the pillar of cloud.

That is why, every seven years the nation of Israel was gathered during the feast of Tabernacles to hear the Word of God. It was not just so that the next generation would know the rules they were supposed to keep. It was so they would have a sense of who they were as God’s people and how that God had done great works in their lives.

In the same way, we as a church, need to be reminded of what God has done in our lives through this church. Fellowship Bible Church has a wonderful history. God has brought it through low times and through high times. Although we have not always been faithful, He has. During the times when it seemed that the greatest challenge was having a place to meet, God intervened and through His working gave this church land and helped them to build and to pay off that building. He has brought the church from a missionary work to a self-supporting, self-sustaining body. During just the past three years, He has revitalized a Sunday School program that was down to three children to one that has averaged four or five times that number. Sunday morning attendance has grown and despite people moving on, attendance has remained consistent. During that time, yearly giving has continued to grow.

Sunday night and Wednesday night are both much better attended than they were three years ago. Although our youth and Awana programs are down from a year ago, the youth group is rebounding and I am confident that the Awana clubs will rebound also. Teacher training has continued to take place. Musically, we have more people involved than we have ever had before.

It is important though that we recognize that all that has been accomplished in the past is the work of God. That is why we need the Word of God. Those of you who have been saved through this church, the Bible says that it was God’s doing. Those of you who have grown and have learned to serve God through this church, the Bible says it was God’s doing.

THE MOTIVATIONS OF THE FUTURE

The uncertainty of the short term drove them to God (verses 3 and 6). In fact, in chapter four we find that those opposed to God and to His people were successful in getting the building stopped for a short time. Rather, however, than letting the uncertainty of the short term hinder them, they chose to meet their problems head on and turn to God. As we talk today about how that God would have us invest in the next generation, we must understand that this is no sure thing. There is no guarantee of resources, no sure plan of success. There will be opposition both overt and covert when we invest in the future. There are risks to be taken and much will be demanded from us. Hidden sins might come out into the open. Apathy, pride, self-seeking behaviors will all seek to undermine our investment. That is why we need to turn to God. These people built an altar to God because they needed God. Not as a lucky charm who will guarantee success but rather as our Lord, who leads and guides us and makes the way possible before us. Are the dangers and difficulties real? Yes! Then let us turn to God for strength and insight and wisdom and success.

They understood their mission and committed themselves mentally and practically to accomplish that mission (verses 6-7). Two phrases are important.

First of all, they began to offer burnt offerings. For fifty years no burnt offerings had been made. Individuals had continued to serve God but as a nation there had been no public commitment to serving God. It was time for that to change. Think of the mental change that was taking place in their lives. They were as a nation returning to God. As a nation, they had been hidden from the public eye for a long time. Now the time had come for them to proclaim publicly through the burnt offerings that they served the one living and true God. They were not yet ready to build the temple but their minds have been set on the future. They were ready mentally to invest in the next generation.

Secondly, they gave. It would be another four and a half to five months before the work would begin but they did not wait. The future depended on their faithfulness now. Now this mentions money but there were other things that were also given. Before that altar could be built, rubble had to be cleared away. It is likely that some type of temporary shelter had to be built. Time was spent in planning and organizing. As with any great task, there was much to be done before the first stone could be laid. Looking at what it would take to invest in the future generation, the people realized we need to do now what can be done. So they gave and they cleared rubble and they planned and they organized. They did what was practically necessary to accomplish that mission.

Now what is that mission for us? It involves investing in the next generation. The investment in children whose only exposure to the message of Christ is through our Awana and VBS programs. It is the investment in a nursery which has as its purpose more than babysitting but an early exposure to godly men and women who present through loving care to infants and toddler their first taste of Christ-likeness. It is an investment in teens and young people on whom God has His hand, chosen to serve Him in significant ways. It is an investment in a Sunday School program that grounds our children, young people, and adults in the faith and the application of that faith. It is an investment in our children and having them in church on Sunday night where they can gather with the rest of the body of Christ and learn the Word of God. It is an investment in visiting and following up on those who visit us with the intention of finding a way to evangelize or to edify our guests.

THE DEMANDS OF THE PRESENT

The demand of commitment from the community (verse 1), from the leaders (verse 2), and from each individual (verse 5).

The presence of the community was necessary for several reasons. The seventh month, which roughly corresponds to September/October in our calendar was the time of three great festivals, the Feast of Trumpets which began on the first, the Day of Atonement which was on the tenth, and the Feast of Tabernacles, which was from the 15th-23rd. Three times a year they were supposed to gather as a nation together (Deuteronomy 16:16-17) and one of those times was the Feast of Tabernacles. But they gathered early because they wanted to serve God through the burnt offering and they came prepared to give as the Lord had blessed them. If we are going to invest in the next generation, yes, it will cost us money, it will cost us labor, it will cost us energy and time but there is another cost that seems very obvious but which we often forget. It will demand our presence. Showing up only on Sunday morning is a very small investment. When you come to prayer meeting, when you come to Sunday School, when you come on Wednesday night, you are investing your life. There are three ways to determine how someone is investing their life. By how they spend their money, by how they spend their time, and with whom they spend their time. All three of those are covered in the gathering of the people for this feast.

The commitment of the leadership was also necessary. Jeshua and the priests as well as the royal family represented by the governor, Zerubbabel and his sons took a lead in establishing the service of God. It is also necessary, if we are going to invest in the next generation, we must as leaders of the church be in the forefront in giving, in church attendance, in prayer, in participation, in inviting kids to VBS and Awana and youth group, in finding ways to reach out more effectively, in finding better and more effective ways to edify the believers, in finding better and more effective ways in establishing our people in the faith, this and more God expects of us and the congregation should expect of us and the next generation should expect of us. The leadership sets the tone. Our families set the tone. If we fail to live up to our commitment, others will follow us and fail to commit to theirs.

There are several different types of sacrifices offered on this altar. There was the regular burnt offering which was a lamb in the morning and a lamb in the evening. That offering was a sacrifice of consecration, of submission to God by the whole nation. Then there was the New Moon offering which also a national offering. The offerings of the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles were also national offerings of thanksgiving or in the case of the Day of Atonement, for forgiveness. We are talking about an enormous number of national offerings. Individuals though also brought offerings. You see commitment should come from the body of believers and it should come as well from the leadership as a group but there is for each and every one of us a place where we must ask ourselves individually, “What am I willing to do?” We are talking about of our own free will. Not what must I do nor even what can I do. Although these first questions are important, it is essential for us to commit ourselves willingly to serve God. We are presenting ways in which you can do that but you must be willing.

The necessity of work to clear the rubble, build the altar, organize the service of God (verses 2-7, see also chapter 2). What are you going to do? We have been calling for help to work with Awana, there are other areas where you can help. Why have you not volunteered? If we are going to invest in the future, there are some things that must be done and everyone of us is capable of finding a way to help, to work, to give of our energy and time. What have you done? What skills do you have that you are willing to use to serve God? What will you give? Are you willing to invest in the future?

 

 

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Thanksgiving Sermon from Ezra 9 and 10 November 25, 2007

Posted by roberttalley in Confession, Ezra, Religion, Sermons, Thanksgiving.
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CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING

Ezra 10:6-14

INTRODUCTION: As we leave the Thanksgiving season, we want to look back one more time at the word “thanksgiving.” The word that often is translated in the Old Testament as “thanksgiving” or “praise” is found in verses 1 and 11 of Ezra 10. It is translated, however, in these cases with the word “confession.” “At first glance these meanings appear unrelated” (Vine). What is the relationship between confession and thanksgiving?

WHAT PEOPLE TODAY UNDERSTAND UNDER THE TERM “CONFESSION”

 

I knew a fellow once who believed very strongly in confession. This man had a horrible temper. He treated his family badly. He had a filthy mouth talking about things that even today you would not hear on television. He hated the church. He often made fun of Christians. He was a what one might call a working drunk. Every night though, according to his own testimony, before he went to bed, he would confess his sins to God, settle his account, so to speak, and make sure that he was covered by God.

Obviously, he is an extreme case but I am afraid that he is not that much different from most of us. We think of confession as a listing of sins, “…a moralistic, autobiographical catalogue of sins– infractions of a legal code…” (Vine), and in return for that listing of sins we get some sort of favor from God. We look at it as filling out a job application for God and we had better make sure we list our whole criminal record, otherwise God will find out and will get us in some way or the other. As we look at this word more closely, I trust that you will understand more fully what confession truly is, and how that we might integrate it into our lives in the way that God intended for us.

THE NEW TESTAMENT WORD FOR CONFESSION 

The concept “confession” can be described by the phrase “to say the same thing as another, i.e., to agree with” (Strongs #3670). This may involve a confession of sin but there are a number of other things that can be confessed and not all confession is to God.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:32, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” We find a similar statement in Luke 12:8, “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.” This is not a confession of sin but a confession of relationship between those who believe and Christ himself.

In Acts 23:8, we find that the Pharisees confessed the resurrection even though many of them did not confess Jesus Christ. In other words, they believed something and agreed with that doctrine.

In fact, only 5 out 41 times is confession in the New Testament related to sin and four of those times are the confession of sin publicly. Although it is not wrong to confess your sins privately before God in your prayer life, you do not find that done very much in the New Testament. The only time I am aware of is in the Lord’s Prayer when Christ teaches that we should ask for forgiveness of sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Sin is taken very seriously but what is normally emphasized is repentance and not the listing of our sins.

God wants a lot more than a simple listing of our bad deeds. He desires repentance, a change of mind and direction, and confession, an agreement with him about our sin. I’m afraid that what we usually call confession is that we in our hearts plead “no contest” rather than plead “guilty” to our sin and we hope that because of that the judge will somehow let us off for good behavior.

THE LACK OF TRUE CONFESSION IS A REAL PROBLEM. 

Spurgeon put it this way in his sermon “CONFESSION OF SIN ILLUSTRATED– PSA. 32:5”. “…I would remind you that thousands of those who call themselves “miserable sinners” in our public services, if they were called to plead before the bar of God would have the effrontery to say “Not Guilty.” They might not use the words, very probably they would use terms, having the opposite meaning, but their heart-plea would be, “not guilty.”…We have heard of a woman who readily allowed that she was a sinner; “O yes, sir, we are all sinners…” But when the visitor sat down and opened the book, and pointing to the commandment, said, “Have you ever had any other God save the Lord?” She did not how that she ever had. “Had she ever taken God’s name in vain?” “O dear no, sir, I never did anything so wicked.” Each precept was explained, and she very positively claimed that she had not broken it. She had not violated the Sabbath; she had not killed anybody; she had not committed adultery; she had not borne false witness, or coveted anything; she was altogether, in detail, innocent, though in the gross she was quite willing to say as other people, “Oh, yes! I am a sinner, of course, sir, we are all sinners!” which, being interpreted, means, “I am ready to say anything you like to put into my mouth, but I do not believe a syllable of it.” The inward speech of the unconverted man is, “I am not guilty.” Ask the unhumbled transgressor, “Art thou worthy of God’s wrath?” and his proud heart replies, “I am not.” “Art thou worthy to be cast away for ever from God’s presence on account of sin?” and the unbroken, uncontrite soul replies, “I am not. I am no thief, nor adulterer, nor extortioner; I have not sinned as yon publican has done. I thank God that I am not as other men are,” Man pleads Not Guilty, and yet all the while within his heart, so proud and boastful, there may readily be discerned abundant evidence of abounding sin. The leprosy is white upon his unclean brow, and yet the man claims to be sound and whole. If there were no other evidence against us, the very pride which boasts of innocence would be sufficient to convict us of sin, and will be so when we are taught right reason by the Holy Spirit.” (from Spurgeon’s Encyclopedia of Sermons)

WHAT DO CONFESSION OF SIN AND THANKSGIVING HAVE IN COMMON? 

You are probably now asking yourself, what then does confession have to do with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is a confession that what God is doing is the best and only way. True confession of sin and true thanksgiving both recognize the same thing. God’s way is the best and only way. His perspective is the only accurate perspective. Look at Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks <3670> to His name.” Those two words translated “giving thanks” are the word “confession.” True thanksgiving is agreeing with God about who He is and what He is done. That is why we can give thanks during the difficult times, because we agree with God that what He is doing, no matter what it may be and no matter how little we may understand what He is doing, it must be right and just and good.

EZRA’S CONFESSION 

Ezra 10 begins in verse one with Ezra weeping and confessing. We find the content of his confession in the previous chapter, Ezra 9:5-15. Let’s look at what Ezra was agreeing with God about, what He was confessing.

He was confessing, agreeing to, the guilt of himself and his people (verses 6-7a, see also verses 10-15). None of us sin in isolation. Ezra identified himself with his people. He knew that he was not guilty of the exact sin to which he was confessing but that is not the point of confession. Confession is agreeing with God about sin and your sin.

He was also confessing, agreeing to, the justness of the judgment of God (verses 7b-8a and 13-14). Notice that Ezra in his prayer did not directly ask for anything. There is no petition, only confession. He does not even ask for mercy. He does not say to God, “Look how sad I am, look at how repentant I am, how great my sense of sin is.” He does not expect mercy because of his show of repentance. What Ezra is doing here is drawing close to God by seeing himself and his people from God’s perspective and doing what he can to bring his people with him to see that same perspective.

Finally, he was confessing, agreeing to, the cause of their good fortune, God’s relationship to His people (verses 8-9 and 15). This is a relationship of mercy, a relationship of covenant, a relationship of justice, where God determines how things should be and it is our responsibility to step in time. It is our part to conform, to agree, to confess, to submit ourselves to God. In that sense, confession is the highest form of worship. We are agreeing with God, with who He is, and with what He does.

THREE PRODUCTS OF TRUE CONFESSION

Hope (verse 2). True confession does not result in depression. True confession does not result in discouragement. Why? Because true confession is not just a confession of sin and guilt but a confession of the character of God. There is hope to be found in the character of God.

Spurgeon said once that a lesson we need to learn about confession is that “the fact of sinnership is no need to despair.” Now the reason there is hope is not because of the guilty plea. A true confession of sin can be boiled down to one word, “Guilty!” Sometimes I have confessed to a wrongdoing and I said, “Guilty, but…!” Why? I’m looking for hope in that second word because there is no hope in the word “guilty”. Agreeing with God about my sinfulness and the justice of my sentence gives me no hope. My only “…hope is in the Lord, who gave Himself for me and paid the price for all my sin on Calvary’s tree.” In other words, a confession to a relationship to God is the only basis for hope. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

Commitment (verse 3). When you agree with God about your sin, about yourself, about Him, about His plan, about His Son, you then come to the place where commitment is demanded from you. The evidence of the reality of your confession is seen when you commit to obedience to Christ and His Word.

Action (verse 4). It is possible to make an outward commitment without following up and doing what you have committed yourself to do. True confession produces hope, it produces commitment, but it also produces action. “The knowledge of sinnership leads to right action” (Spurgeon).

OPPOSITION TO CONFESSION 

That does not mean that the changes are easy. Some were opposed to the action resulting from this confession (verse 15) and you may have some opposition to acting on your confession to God. Some of the circumstances around the commitment these people made were very difficult (verses 10-13) and we know that later some of the people fell back into the same sin (Nehemiah 13). Ezra and Nehemiah, which may originally have been one book, revisit this theme repeatedly. Nehemiah 1 opens with Nehemiah confessing the sins of his people and the greatness of his God and committing himself to doing whatever God desired him to do and then acting on that commitment.

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS? 

Recognize that true thanksgiving involves not just being happy for what you have but recognizing the reality of your blessings. We do not deserve one blessing. We are hopeless in this life because of sin but God in His mercy has provided hope for us through Jesus Christ.

Second, if you are a believer, start working on your confession. Find out what God says about your sin and agree with that in your heart. If God says your sin is an abomination to him, think of your sin as an abomination and not as a habit or addiction or quirk or personality trait. But don’t stop there. If God says that He is merciful to you through Jesus Christ believe Him and depend on Him for salvation. If God says that He loves you and will care for you in Christ Jesus, believe Him. If God says that there is no other word from Him except for what He has revealed in this book, then turn to this book and no where else to learn from God. If God says that Jesus Christ is God, not a just a man, but also a man, believe God and do not look for any other information. If God says that you need to confront those who you have offended or who have offended you, do it. Don’t look for an excuse to get out of it. If God says you need to love that person that gets on your nerves in this church, before you two leave this building, give them a word of kindness or encouragement. You say, people will think I am doing it just because you preached on this subject. Isn’t that the point? Is the point of preaching to entertain you or to drive you to God and obedience to Him? Is the point of singing His praises to make your worship enjoyable or are you changed by the songs that you sing? Is the point of giving an offering to support the church or to model the example of your Savior? Are you today because that is what you do on Sunday morning or is your church attendance a result of your confession before God?

CONFESS FAITH IN CHRIST 

If you haven’t trusted Christ as Savior, God wants you to confess also. Romans 10:8-11 says, “…The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” {#De 30:14} (that is, the word of faith which we preach):  that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” {#Isa 28:16}”

You see confession and faith are entwined together. This confession is not just the mouthing of words but the result true faith in Christ. The Bible reveals Christ as the Son of God who came and became man to die for your sin. He rose from the dead and ascended to His Father. If you are to be forgiven of sin, you must agree with God not only about your sin but also that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for your sin is the only hope of salvation. You cannot do this. You must trust Christ to save you.

God sees you as a condemned sinner without hope but God loves you. He sent His Son, Jesus to die for you, to shed His blood for you. Will you trust Him today? Will you confess Him today? He will transform you, He will cleanse you through the blood of Jesus Christ. Believe on Him today.