EXPERIENCE JOY IN GOD’S FAITHFULNESS
Ezra 1:1-4; 3:10-13
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest news ever proclaimed – and it does bring Joy to the World! As Christmas draws nearer, we eagerly await the joyful reminder of that day. In the story of the birth of Christ we do not find a kind of restful lazy joy. Instead the story is tense, uncertain, and impossible except for a miracle. You might find this season to be tense and uncertain. We desire to experience joy, and we can, when our lives are focused on the faithfulness of God. God’s faithfulness becomes evident in times of struggle, disappointment, and uncertainty.
In our series called Christmas Rush we have talked about Embracing hope in the promise of God (Jeremiah), Finding comfort in the love of our God (Isaiah), Experiencing joy in the faithfulness of God (Ezra).
Ezra was a a strong-minded leader, priest, and scribe in the period after the fall of Babylon. He was permitted to lead a group of priests and other Jews back to Jerusalem after the exile ended. Ezra’s goal was to restore the worship of God at the temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. This was a shining moment of trust in God’s Faithfulness. From this account three truths about God’s Faithfulness that can bring light into our Christmas Rush today.
GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IS PROMISED
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writingEzra 1:1, CSB
Ezra begins his historic record by reminding us that God Promised a deliverance from the exile. Before the exile Jeremiah begged God’s people to repent of idolatry and wickedness, but they would not. He warned them of consequences. They did not listen. He promised that God would deliver them after a time. Ezra’s account reminds us that God does not forget His promises. I’m sure they wondered through those years if God had abandoned them.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb? Even if these forget, yet I will not forget you.”Isaiah 49:15 , CSB
God’s faithfulness is a part of who He is. It is not dependent on our faithfulness. It is not taken away when we fail to follow Him. It is always present, and He always remember. In the Christmas Rush, if God feels far away during times of discouragement – remember He will not forget you.
GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IS SURPRISING
This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of his people among you, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 Let every survivor, wherever he resides, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.”Ezra 1:2-4 , CSB
God used King Cyrus of Persia to fulfill his will. In his proclamation he claims that God has given him all the kingdoms of the earth and appointed him to build the temple (God wouldn’t even let David build the temple!) It is surprising that God could use a pagan king to accomplish His will … but he did. As the Israelites leave the exile their neighbors give them treasures – a reminder of the Exodus and the plunder the Egyptians gave to the Children of Israel as they left!
There are many surprises in the story of God redeeming the world. (We forget that they are surprising because we are familiar with them!) God used a young unmarried couple to bring his son. The king of the universe born in a manger. The first to hear the great news were lowly shepherds.
In the Christmas Rush, be aware that God is at work and watch for ways He is blessing you in unexpected moments or through unexpected people. Every gift, prayer, recognition of beauty, and every time the Christ Child is portrayed we have opportunity to glorify God for us ultimate faithfulness. How many times has God used a smile, a word, some event that normally wouldn’t have caught our attention ….but this time it blessed us?
God’s Faithfulness is Promised, Surprising, and…
GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IS MOVING
We shouldn’t think this was an easy time. They had to rebuild the foundation of the temple.
-There were people who were threatening them (3:3 They set up the altar on its foundation and offered burnt offerings for the morning and evening on it to the Lord even though they feared the surrounding peoples.).
-Schedule of sacrifices, burnt offerings, and collections was new to them and demanded full attention. (3:4-5 They celebrated the Festival of Shelters as prescribed, and offered burnt offerings each day, based on the number specified by ordinance for each festival day. 5 After that, they offered the regular burnt offering and the offerings for the beginning of each month and for all the Lord’s appointed holy occasions, as well as the freewill offerings brought to the Lord.).
-Long term project required persistence / tenacity (3:6 On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, even though the foundation of the Lord’s temple had not yet been laid.).
They were unable to do all of it and hired skilled people who could get the jobs done
(3:7 They gave money to the stonecutters and artisans, and gave food, drink, and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so they would bring cedar wood from Lebanon to Joppa by sea, according to the authorization given them by King Cyrus of Persia.).
Yet they had a joyful spirit of worship!
They rejoiced together with songs and praises. Robes, trumpets, ceremony, cymbals, songs, and thanks.
Ezra 3: 10-11, CSB
When the builders had laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple, the priests, dressed in their robes and holding trumpets, and the Levites descended from Asaph, holding cymbals, took their positions to praise the Lord, as King David of Israel had instructed. 11 They sang with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord: “For he is good; his faithful love to Israel endures forever.” Then all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s house had been laid.
Some wept as they recalled the former glory.
But many of the older priests, Levites, and family heads, who had seen the first temple, wept loudly when they saw the foundation of this temple, but many others shouted joyfully. 13 The people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shouting from that of the weeping, because the people were shouting so loudly. And the sound was heard far away.Ezra 3:12-13, CSB
“For the world keeps hurrying on. And always some are gazing out ahead with faith and hope and an immense enthusiasm. And always some keep looking back at what they think was better.” (Gossip, 1928)
When we consider the ways that God has been faithful to us, we should be moved in our souls. Moved to give thanks and praise. Moved to remember our journey of faith. The mixed emotions are understandable, but the forward nature of faith is expected.
God’s Faithfulness moves us.
Conclusion. In spite of the Christmas Rush, there is joy for the world to be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Luke 2:25-35 Simeon waited on God’s promise … and it finally came when baby Jesus was brought into the temple.
Luke 2:25-35, CSB
There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said, Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace, as you promised. For my eyes have seen your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples— a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel. His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary: “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts[d] of many hearts may be revealed.
What are we waiting for? God has been faithful in your life to bring you to this point. On the verge of a new year, in what way will be be willing to be moved by the reality of His faithfulness? God Is Faithful! His Faithfulness is promised! It is sometimes surprising! Always moving.
- When you think about the faithfulness of God, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is there a Bible story or verse that you remember?
- The joyful spirit of the people is surprising, given the difficulty of the task. Can you recall some of the difficult aspects of the project from chapter 3? What have you done for God that was hard for you personally, but it still brought you great joy?
- The Bible says they rejoiced together with songs and praises. There was mention of their robes, trumpets, ceremony, cymbals, songs, and thanksgiving. (Ezra 3:10) What are the trappings of the holiday season that bring you the most joy? If they do, how do those relate to the birth of Christ and what that means to you?
- Ezra 3:11 gives quite a human element to this story. Some remembered the grandeur of Solomon’s temple, and in comparison the second temple was not so grand.Why are we sometimes still attached to “the good old days”
What are some problems with always thinking the past was better?
- What was the setting of the story of Simeon (Luke 2:25-30)? What age do you speculate Simeon to be? What moved Simeon to praise God? What is it about Jesus that most moves you to praise Him?
- What else did you see in this text you wanted to talk about?
Sermon by Authur John Gossip, The Clash of Age and Youth, 1928