Since the beginning of the year our Church has been walking through one of the last stories in the Old Testament. It’s the story of the Jewish exiles coming home from Babylon. It’s found in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. There has been a tremendous amount of joy for us appear as we walked this road with the Israelites. We’ve learned much and applied more. Let me sum it up for you from Ezra’s point of view.
God was not through with His people. The Temple, the constant reminder of His presence and expectations was now rebuilt. The people were exuberant! They were ready to listen to whatever God wanted them to do next. I’m sure as they surveyed the property their eyes quickly fell to the dismantled city wall. They had experienced plenty of opposition in the last 20 years and wanted more protection than ruins offered them. God would provide that through Nehemiah’s leadership, but that was not the next step. The next step for the people of Israel was to rebuild their hearts.
It is at this midpoint in his story that Ezra appears. Ezra is a scribe, that is, he is trained in the preservation and translation of the Scriptures. It was his job to hold the truth of God high and make sure it was carried to the next generation without blemish. Ezra knew what it meant to walk and build slowly, a trait I am trying to learn! God knew Ezra would take his time with His people and so He sent him to teach them His Word with patience and boldness.
There is a key principle we must learn here before we ever hear the rest of our story. We cannot, we must not just work. Even though our hands are antsy and our minds are ready, we must slow ourselves to wait on the Lord. How do we do that? We do what Ezra led the people to do. We submit ourselves wholly and completely to the Word and God and His Spirit that fills it and us. The Word must become paramount.
The truth is most of the time we walk and live and read and study in the dim light of the world around us. We glean much truth and gain much insight but what we read and learn is little in comparison with what the Lord will teach us when He comes. It is the difference between what the Pharisees knew on their own apart from Jesus and what Jesus showed them they really knew when He appeared. This isn’t a rebuke, it is just the truth. We long for the illuminating work of the Spirit. In the case of Israel, the Spirit worked through the scribe Ezra and his teaching was as Light to the people. And as usually happens the Light illuminated a specific sin.
When God revealed to Ezra the sin His people had allowed in their midst it was as obvious as if someone left the gate open, all the cows escaped and no one cared. But this is often the case with sin. It slips by us and we rarely notice it or its effects apart from the illuminating work of the Spirit through the Word. When Ezra found out he sat down, pulled out chunks of his hair and ripped his clothes. He was mortified. This response seems drastic but it is necessary when we realize the damage our sin does to our lives and the lives of those around us; it is necessary when we realize the damage it does to God’s own heart. I fear many times we dismiss our sin as simply forgivable and as nothing more to deal with. We rarely consider the lasting consequences of our sin.
Ezra hears about this sin and pulls his hair out. We hear about a sin and think “Aww. It’ll be alright. I’ll apologize later.” And move on. Do you feel the weight of this story? Here’s where I usually stumble in this topic. I think “well God, I’m not perfect and I never will be. So I might as well just get used to this particular sin. Can’t we just move on?” I read in the Scriptures that God will not just move on. He will convict and convict and convict of this sin until we either sit up and deal with it or walk away from Him. He will not let it go.
The Hebrews in Ezra’s day had been giving into this sin for years! You’d better believe the Lord had brought them to the place of conviction before. But for whatever reason they hadn’t ever really admitted it was a problem. I think they needed to see Ezra’s reaction to understand God’s response to their sin. Sometimes we need to hear the agonizing, piercing cry our sin brings to the lips of our Creator. We grow weary of the discipline and forget its purpose. I remember my grandmother telling me one time her dad made her whip him so she would know how much it hurt him every time he had to whip her. She said she cried the whole time.
When was the last time you grieved your sin? Or worse, we get so accustomed to our sin, when was the last time you deeply confessed your sin? God’s arm is not short that He cannot save and His grace is not limited that it cannot reach you. Why do we wait to confess? Is it time, do we not have enough of it? Is it the fear of what God might say to us if we allow Him to really show us our hearts? Do we not take our sin that seriously or do we just not take God that seriously? Whatever the reason for our hesitation, now is the time to set it aside and lay our sin at the feet of the only One who can really do something about it.
Will you do that with me? Just say “Jesus please fix my heart! Show me where I am wrong and give me the courage to offer it to you. Lead me to the right!” Ezra did and their lives were turned upside down. I’ll tell you the rest of the story next week.