HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, November 21, 2021
Youtube link... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEISkm0UdCE
HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, November 21, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “Going Home”
Texts – Ezra, Nehemiah, Isaiah 45
Last week, we left the people of Israel and Judah having been taken captive by first the Assyrians and then finally the Babylonians. They have been removed from their homeland and strangers have been moved in to take their place. They are desperate to go home, but because of their sin, ‘the land has vomited them out’ (Leviticus 18:28), just as it had done to the earlier Canaanite inhabitants. What has happened is exactly as was predicted; no one could claim, “I didn’t know.” However, as much as God was disappointed with His people, He was by no means done with them…and He had a plan to bring them back. But, like many of God’s plans, this one comes with a couple of surprises. And, years before God enacts His plan, He tells the people all about it.
Isaiah 45:1-6,13 - “This is what the Lord says to Cyrus, his anointed one,
whose right hand he will empower.
Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear.
Their fortress gates will be opened,
never to shut again.
2 This is what the Lord says:
“I will go before you, Cyrus,
and level the mountains.
I will smash down gates of bronze
and cut through bars of iron.
3 And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness--
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.
4 “And why have I called you for this work?
Why did I call you by name when you did not know me?
It is for the sake of Jacob my servant,
Israel my chosen one
I am the Lord;
there is no other God.
I have equipped you for battle,
though you don’t even know me,
6 so all the world from east to west
will know there is no other God.…
13 I will raise up Cyrus to fulfill my righteous purpose,
and I will guide his actions.
He will restore my city and free my captive people--
without seeking a reward!
I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!”
At the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, it wouldn’t have made any sense. “Cyrus? Cyrus who?” Fast forward 150 years, give or take a few decades, and it becomes perfectly obvious. God was going to work through a pagan king to bring His people back home to Jerusalem after the time of their punishment by exile was completed. Jeremiah had told the people how long their exile would last, “This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again” (29:10). And as we will discover today, God fulfilled His promise.
Over the seventy years that the Jews found themselves enslaved in a foreign land, empires had risen up only to crash down hard. The Babylonian empire, so great when it conquered Jerusalem, had fallen to the Persian empire under Cyrus the Great. Unlike previous emperors, Cyrus had a respect for the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. He is even credited by some with creating the first declaration of human rights as found on the ‘Cyrus Cylinder.’ Despite being a pagan king, God most obviously had an impact on the heart of this man.
“FREE TO GO HOME”
Ezra 1:1-3 – “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom: 2 “This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you!”
Can you imagine being amongst the captives when the word began to spread? The new power of the land was going to let you return home, was going to encourage others to support your endeavours and was returning items stolen by earlier kings for the rebuilding of the Temple. Sounds too good to be true. But it was true! The invitation was sent out and under the leadership of Zerubbabel a number of the Jewish exiles made the long journey home.
The events that follow as outlined in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah (originally written as a single piece by an author known as the chronicler), cover one hundred years and three groups of exiles returning home under three individuals. God used each of the leaders to rebuild one major aspect of their home. Zerubbabel, the first governor of Judaea, oversaw the rebuilding of the Temple. Ezra, a priest, taught people the Law of Moses. Nehemiah, a later governor assigned by the Persian Empire, oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of the city and implemented further reforms. At times, the story reads a little bit like a ‘two steps forward and one step back’ narrative.
“REBUILDING THEIR HOME”
The Altar is Rebuilt – Ezra 3:2-3 – “Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening.”
The Rebuilding of the Temple Begins – Ezra 3:7-8a – “Then the people hired masons and carpenters and bought cedar logs from the people of Tyre and Sidon, paying them with food, wine, and olive oil. The logs were brought down from the Lebanon mountains and floated along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to Joppa, for King Cyrus had given permission for this. 8 The construction of the Temple of God began in midspring, during the second year after they arrived in Jerusalem.”
The Building is Paused – Ezra 4:4-5 – “Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work. 5 They bribed agents to work against them and to frustrate their plans. This went on during the entire reign of King Cyrus of Persia and lasted until King Darius of Persia took the throne.”
In verse 24, we read that the enemies of the Jews convinced the then king, Artaxerxes, of the danger of allowing the project to continue and he brought it to a full stop. However, in the time of the next king, Darius, a more thorough search of the records was made and a very different directive given:
Building Resumes and Is Completed – Ezra 6:6-12 – “So King Darius sent this message:
“Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River, and Shethar-bozenai, and your colleagues and other officials west of the Euphrates River—stay away from there! 7 Do not disturb the construction of the Temple of God. Let it be rebuilt on its original site, and do not hinder the governor of Judah and the elders of the Jews in their work.
8 “Moreover, I hereby decree that you are to help these elders of the Jews as they rebuild this Temple of God. You must pay the full construction costs, without delay, from my taxes collected in the province west of the Euphrates River so that the work will not be interrupted.
9 “Give the priests in Jerusalem whatever is needed in the way of young bulls, rams, and male lambs for the burnt offerings presented to the God of heaven. And without fail, provide them with as much wheat, salt, wine, and olive oil as they need each day. 10 Then they will be able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the welfare of the king and his sons.
11 “Those who violate this decree in any way will have a beam pulled from their house. Then they will be lifted up and impaled on it, and their house will be reduced to a pile of rubble. 12 May the God who has chosen the city of Jerusalem as the place to honor his name destroy any king or nation that violates this command and destroys this Temple.
“I, Darius, have issued this decree. Let it be obeyed with all diligence.”
Ezra and Nehemiah faced similar opposition when it came to cleaning up the priesthood, teaching the people to follow God’s laws and rebuilding the city walls; unfortunately, not all the backward steps were as a result of the work of their enemies who didn’t want to see the city rebuilt and prosper.
At each stage of the rebuilding of their home, the various leaders reminded the people of the importance of serving God alone. They did this through the retelling of their story, reading the Law of Moses, times of confession and sacrifice and times to celebrate with joy the new things that God was doing. As we read through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, it is impossible to miss the joy mixed with sorrow, the desire to move on but the calls for caution, the desire to be free yet constantly being restrained. They may be home, but they are still not ‘free.’
“HOME, BUT NOT FREE”
Nehemiah 9:34-37 – “Our kings, leaders, priests, and ancestors did not obey your Law or listen to the warnings in your commands and laws. 35 Even while they had their own kingdom, they did not serve you, though you showered your goodness on them. You gave them a large, fertile land, but they refused to turn from their wickedness.
36 “So now today we are slaves in the land of plenty that you gave our ancestors for their enjoyment! We are slaves here in this good land. 37 The lush produce of this land piles up in the hands of the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They have power over us and our livestock. We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.”
Though free to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and inhabit the land formerly the sovereign territory of Judah, they remained a vassal state of the great Persian empire. Over the course of the next five hundred years, Israel would find itself under the control of the Greeks, Seleucids and Romans as slaves to foreign nations. They dreamed of the coming Messiah and the day when He would bring them freedom. But there was another freedom that the early exilic leaders recognized that the people needed.
The returned exiles were quick to fall into old sinful habits:
· Both Ezra and Nehemiah had to rebuke many, including leaders and priests, about marrying and making alliances with foreigners who worshiped other gods. Wasn’t that a major reason for their captivity in the first place? Idolatry had lead them into adultery against God.
· Nehemiah came to the defense of the oppressed who were being mistreated by their wealthy counterparts; due to the large amounts of interest being charged, the people were having to mortgage their property and sell their children as slaves just to survive. Nehemiah told them to stop it!
· After returning to Babylon, having acted as governor of Judaea for twelve years, Nehemiah returned for a visit and found the Temple being used for storage space and those who were to be performing religious duties returned to the fields because the people were neglecting to pay them the agreed upon support. He also found people selling and buying on the Sabbath. Nehemiah once again put things back in order but you can hear the doubt in his words that it will last, “Remember this in my favor, O my God.” He has done his best, but the people’s greatest problem persists…sin…and he doubts their ability to live fully obedient despite consequences.
They needed saving from themselves and their natural inclination to reject God in favour of other loves. They needed another rescuer. Not a pagan king, but God the King…and as promised He was coming, though as yet, they did not fully understand. Just as Isaiah had promised the coming of Cyrus, he also told of a greater king to come…which brings us to Advent next week and our “Need of a Messiah.”
So what are our takeaways?
· When God makes a promise, we can trust Him to keep it, even when it doesn’t make any sense to us. God-sense is anything but common sense. If He could tell the people of a coming rescuer in the form of a pagan king years in advance, what reason do we have to doubt His promises?
· When doing God’s work, we will face opposition. We have an enemy who does not want us to succeed in our obedience to God. But, when we hit roadblocks, it is up to us to continue in our obedience. Our success is determined, not by numbers or bank accounts or even the approval of people…obedience to God alone will result in His ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.”
· We all long for a home that is coming when we will no longer be slaves—slaves to the tyranny that comes from living on a rotting planet as well as the tyranny of sin that exists in each one of us. But without God in our lives, we can never hope to know freedom, either on this side of the grave or the next.
For further study…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkETkRv9tG8 (The Bible Project – Overview: Ezra-Nehemiah)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSua9_WhQFE (The Bible Project – Exile)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bszz_ReGfXQ (Spoken Gospel – Ezra-Nehemiah)
Sunday, November 28, 2021- “The Need for a Messiah” 1st Sunday of Advent - Prophets - In-person and Online – Communion Sunday
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
(Collingwood EMCC Church)
"Learning and Living the Way of Jesus!"
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!