Last time we were together we saw the opposition that arose against the people of God. We witnessed how the enemies of God shut down the construction of the temple and (essentially) impeded the growth of God’s kingdom. The men of Judea had been stopped dead in their tracks.
We must keep in mind that this is no minor issue. We have to keep in mind that this is the story line of the Messiah.
So as we read the events that transpire, and think of them in terms of the Geneses 3 story line, we need to acknowledge the tension. This isn’t just a minor roadblock. This is a ghastly terror to the fulfillment of God’s promises.
But, never fear, God is here. Chapters 5 and 6 of Ezra are chapters that are to fill us with hope and expectation. They are here to solve the diabolical dilemma that is chapter 4. In sum, they are here to remind us that God is sovereign over all, the One who no power can thwart or deter.
This is not to say that these two chapters do not have any drama to them. The story develops in such a way as to keep you biting your nails. But through it all we see the divine power of God, working for the advancement of his kingdom.
In sum, this passage declares that God is sovereign. And when we look into this passage we find his sovereignty found in the word He declares, the world he controls, and the worship He receives.
I. The word He declares [1-2]
The passage begins by introducing the ministries of two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah. Now, keep in mind that we have moved about 15 years forward in our timeline. The work on the house of God had been shut down for well over a decade. 15 years is long enough to get into a good routine of normalcy. Life probably had slipped into the doldrums of everyday living and normal meant no worship of YHWH, no majesty or glory of the Holy One of Israel.
Life was about me and my normal pattern of waking, working, and sleeping.
Into this irreligious repertoire come two men who speak the word of God. We learn from their books that their ministry isn’t anything extravagant. They only preach a few sermons over the course of a few months. But this is enough. Verse 2 tells us of the power of the gospel and the impact that word had in the lives of the Judean men. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the people rise up and begin to build once again.
Just notice the cause and effect of verses 1 and 2. The word leads to work and worship. It is a clear testimony to the power of preaching and the might of the message.
In 1 Thess. 2 Paul talks about the “word that is at work in you.” That’s what we see here. We are reminded that God’s word has muscle. It exercises power. Through the Spirit it moves men out of their spiritual lethargy and accomplishes the purposes of God in this world.
And we should remember that this is the same mode of operation God uses today. How are our kids kept from flying headlong into the abysmal floods of immorality that surround us today? Does it not make sense that we would see our children follow the tides of unbelief and take up lifestyles of promiscuity, profaneness, and a world of other sins. Are we not outnumbered? Even if we kept them hidden under a rock all their lives, is that enough to really stem the tide of idolatry?
We have to understand that there is only one way to preserve them in the faith. It is through diligent declaration of holy truth.
Or what about a church that has fallen into the doldrums of apostasy? Is there any way a church can be rescued from the clutches of liberalism?
Some of you know the story of the church in Winesburg. It was once a part of the UCC, perhaps the most liberal denomination in America. One day the pastor took to the pulpit and announced to the congregation that this was his last day. He was retiring as minister. The congregation, of course, was shocked. They didn’t know that this was going to happen. They, of course, were in a scramble to get someone to fill the pulpit the next few weeks and figure out how they should proceed forward.
It just so happened that an evangelical man was in the area visiting his parents. He had been recently ordained and was looking for a call. The congregation asked him to come and fill the pulpit for a few weeks, just until they could get a plan together. He consented to a 6 week stay. At the end of the 6 weeks they asked him to stay for 6 months. That 6 months turned into 6 years.
During that time the church was transformed into a thriving gospel community. People began to realize the errors that they had fallen into and they began to seek the face of God once again. They began to hear about God’s grace and learn the doctrines of the faith. Eventually they left the UCC denomination and joined the Presbyterian Church in America.
How did this come about? It wasn’t due to any gimmicks or human centered hype. It was solely due to the fact that the word of God was unleashed. When that happens, the Lord stretches forth His sovereign arm to do grand things in the lives of His people.
But, make no mistake, God’s sovereign sway is not limited to the spoken word. He controls the world and everything in it.
II. The world he controls
In the rest of chapter 5 and most of chapter 6 we see the peculiar powers providence. As we read this exciting story, we can’t help but note that there is an omnipotent hand guiding and directing all that transpires.
For instance, verses 3-5 tell us about of what Derek Thomas calls God’s preventative providence
A. the building was unhindered [5:3-5] Preventative providence
Verse three introduces Tattenai and his associates. Tattenai was likely a newly appointed governor of this particular region. Now, we recognize that Tattenai is not as opposed to the work as the people we met in chapter 4. Tattenai seems to be simply concerned about regulatory propriety. When he comes to town, he sees that people are starting this construction. And he’s concerned that this is not in accord with Empire policy. So he seeks to make the due inquiries.
But what is noteworthy is that the building project was allowed to continue unhindered during this whole process. This isn’t typical. Even today, if some government agency has to check into the validity of your work, you usually have to shut down operations until it is resolved.
But the men of Judah did not have to deal with any of that bureaucratic tape. Verse 5 makes sure we understand that this is not simply coincidence. It was because the “eye of their God” was upon them.
There’s never a moment in our lives that we are not under the watchful care of God’s eye. Our God is like a mother whose gaze is constantly watching over her children to protect them. And sometimes he exercises this preventative providence. That is to say, he prevents things from happening to us and allows us to continue going about our work.
Elizabeth and I used to attend a church with Bruce. From time to time Bruce would raise his hand during the praise & testimony time. He would regularly say that he’d like to praise God for all the things that didn’t happen to him in a day. He would simply say that he was thankful that he had not been in a car wreck or had a piano fall on his head. He recognized that God was not only doing things for him, but also preventing things from happening to him.
God’s providence not only prevents us from being deterred, it also ensures that the gospel is proclaimed.
B. the gospel was proclaimed [5:6-16] proactive providence
In verses 6-16 we have a copy of Tattenai’s letter to Darius, but it’s more than a mere correspondence addressed to a dignitary. It is a declaration of the gospel.
First it declares the Lord to be the “great God.” Polytheistic religions typically acknowledge that there is one God that is above all the other gods they worship. Imagine Darius’ reaction when he read this! This is not just the house of any god, but it is the house of the God of gods!
The letter also declares how this God punished his people and, in so many words, how he forgave them and is now restoring them. That’s the gospel. It is a reminder that the true God is a God of grace and forgiveness. He will not remain angry forever, but will renew & restore his people.
I can see how it all transpired. Tattenai inquires of the Judeans and they give their reply as to what is going on. They don’t really intend any sort of evangelization. They just give the facts. But God takes it to the next level. It is just as Paul said, “The word of God is not bound.”
It is always fun to see how God opens doors for the proclamation of the gospel. I love to collect such stories. One of my favorites is regarding the ministry of Martin Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones was a spectacular preacher. His sermons had a great effect upon those who heard them. But one time two ladies were sitting in a coffee shop discussing the message that they had heard the day before. A man at the next table couldn’t help but listen in on what they were saying. As a result of his eavesdropping he ended up being converted.
God’s providence always provides an avenue for the gospel. It is the usher that directs it to its proper destination. Who knows what God is doing or where he’s sending his gospel, or how he is sending it.
Now, notice how particular/ precise God’s providence is.
C. the records were found [6:1-5] particular providence
At the beginning of chapter 6 we are told that a search is made for the precise decree that Cyrus made. And verse 2 tells us that a record was found in the city of Ecbatana.
We might brush this off as no big deal. After all, isn’t that what bureaucrats do? Are they not famous for leaving a paper trail for everything? But that’s just the thing. It would have been like searching for a needle in a haystack. It isn’t like they just pulled out the flash drive or googled it.
You also have to keep in mind that Ecbatana was city is located over 300 miles away from the city of Babylon. So an inquiry was made from Jerusalem, which was 900 miles from Babylon, and the document was found another 300 miles away. We shouldn’t miss the incredible turn of events here. That this manuscript was found is an incredible demonstration of how God was intimately involved in the process.
This is God’s “tada” moment. This is his way of saying, “I am in complete control of every little detail in the world. Nothing is hidden from me. Nothing is too small or too hard for me.
I particularly appreciate this because I’m a guy who is prone to loosing my keys. But it comforts me more that God is working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
But God’s providence is not just preventative, proactive, and precise. It is also profuse.
D. the provisions were given [6-12] profuse providence
After finding the decree of Cyrus Darius sends an email back to Tattenai. But his response is more than simply a rubber stamp to okay the project. Darius not only tells Tattenai not to interfere with the building project, he tells Tattenai to fund it with the royal treasury.
This is the big reveal. This is the typical liberality that we should expect from God. But it should never cease to amaze us either. The Lord is the God of the extravagant. We might be conservatives in many things, but we should recognize that God has one area where He is extremely liberal. All we have to do is look at the lilies of the field.
To be sure the Lord might not indulge our lusts. We would be fools to think that this is some sort of health and wealth gospel. But we should not short change Him either. We should always remember that He is “able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.”
Now, there’s one more demonstration of God’s sovereignty over the world. It is not enough for Him to open up the royal treasuries and throw tons of money at them. He wants us to recognize that He is in complete control. He wants us to understand that He governs the world and all that is in it. And that is why we have verses 13-15
E. the powers were used [13-15] Powerful
Verse 13 tells us that Tattenai “did with all diligence what Darius had ordered.” And in verse 15 is almost redundant. It says that they finished their building by the decree of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, & Darius, & Artaxerxes.
That verse is simply reiterating everything that should be apparent to us already: That God is in supreme control. Every earthly power is at his disposal. The king’s heart is like a stream in the hand of the Lord; He directs it wherever it goes.
If we had chapter 4 standing alone, we might be given reason to be sullen. The powers of this world put the clamp down upon the church and we’re completely impotent to do anything about it. But when you put chapter 4 in context of chapters 5-6, what you find is that the looming pillars of the world are nothing more than pawns in the hands of God, being used to execute His will.
But there is still one other place where we see God’s sovereign hand at work. We not only see it in His word He speaks and the world He controls, we also see it in the worship he receives.
III. The worship he receives [16-22]
In verses 16-22 we see how God’s people join together to worship him once the temple was completed. And I want you to note two things about this worship. First, that they worshipped with joy. And not just any joy, it is a divinely imbued joy.
A. The joy they experience
The word joy is used three times in this section. We see it first in verse 16. But we also see it twice at the end of the passage. And verse 22 is the most noteworthy because it says that it was the Lord who had made them joyful.
I’ve begun to read a rather fascinating book. It is a classic and has been around for quite some time. It is called “How to win friends and influence people.” It is by Dale Carnegie. Now, perhaps you have the same reaction that my daughter did when I told her about it. “Poor daddy. He has to read a book on how to make friends.”
There’s probably a lot of truth to that. But the book is still fascinating because it talks about being positive and encouraging. It says that the best way to get people to do what you want them to do is not by yelling at them and continually scolding them. Rather it is by being a joy to them and serving them.
What is interesting is that this book is not written by a Christian. But he keeps saying that being a joy to someone and an encourager is not our nature. He probably wouldn’t be a guy who believes man to be sinful and depraved, but he recognizes that man’s nature is to be dismal, angry, and disappointed.
He’s right. Our nature does tend to the glum. And that is why this is such a great thing. The hearts of men are dreary things, but God has the power to lift it and imbue us with joy.
But God’s power is not just seen in the joy He gives, it is also seen in the growth He gives.
B. The growth they experience
Make sure you do not skip over verse 21. It mentions the people of the land. Remember who the people of the land were? They were the Samaritans. They were the heathen people who had sought to hinder their work back in chapter 4. Now what do we see here? They are said to have separated themselves from their uncleanness and now were joining in the worship of the Lord.
Here is a clear display of the sovereignty of God at work. His enemies are subdued by grace. They people of the land cannot help but see that the Lord is all powerful and deserves to be worshiped.
Somewhere along the line they became convinced that the Lord is God and that they needed to begin to follow Him. And that is nothing less than a divine miracle.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.