Have you ever been at party, family event, or just a get together and everyone is generally having a good time, but then that one person just sucks the life out of it? A Party Killer. Everyone is laughing, and then that person or a group of people come and just ruin it for everyone else. That is what happens in our text today.
I know it has been a while, but the last time we looked at Ezra the Israelites were sent by Cyrus the king of Persia to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of God. A pagan king told these Israelites to rebuild God’s Temple. I mean how amazing is that! When we get to the end of Ezra 3 the people reinstituted some of the Mosaic Law, laid the foundations, and had a party so loud that the whole region heard it. But what came with that is people who wanted to ruin the party—Party Killers. God’s people party—we call it WORSHIP. That is where our story picks up today—we are gonna see the worship killers.
Theme: God is keeping His promises even when the worship killers come.
1. God gives us leaders to help stop the worship killers—Ezra 4.1-3.
This section of Ezra opens up with this statement, “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exile were building the temple...” That becomes an important statement, because it tells us the outcome before the story even starts. These people are “adversaries”, but it does not seem like in the beginning—READ Ezra 4.2.
So, what is going on here? The people who are coming to Zerubbael have a story that can help us understand what is happening here. Some of you might know that after the reign of Solomon the kingdom of Israel split. 10 tribes from the north became a kingdom known as Israel, while 2 tribes of the south became known as the kingdom of Judah. The northern tribes were eventually taken into captivity by Assyria. Eventually the king of Assyria sent them back to their capital city Samaria. We read about this in II Kings 17, and in verses 27-29 it says this:
Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord. But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived.
So while these people learned from a priest they were either taught false doctrine or did not pay attention to the instruction. What this tells us about these people is that they did not worship the same God as the people who are returning to rebuild the Temple. Zerubbael and the other spiritual leaders of the people, knew this story and was preventing the people from compromising their theological convictions. They were being good spiritual leaders.
Friends, this same idea makes it way into the NT church. Who has God given us today to protect us in the church? The elders or pastors. Paul tells us Titus 1.9 that elders are given to the church to instruct in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it. They instruct and rebuke. This implies you will have to believe someone might know more than you.
God has always placed spiritual leaders over our lives who help us spot the enemy. That can be external enemies or the internal enemies. This is not some power trip I am trying argue for here. Pastor means “shepherd” and that is an important metaphor to explore and keep in mind. Jesus gives us in Matthew 18 that explains that God would leave everything to pursue even one of His sheep. And this how He ends that, “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18.14). So this is God’s heart for His people—He has the heart of a shepherd. But now listen to what God tells through the prophet Jeremiah, “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3.15). Follow the line of thought in the Bible here, Jesus, God, is the chief shepherd, but He gives His people shepherds to care for them since He is not physically with us (I Pet 5.4). He has not left us about healthy leadership. Good shepherds will always smell like sheep. I cannot force myself in your life, but I want to be. I love you. I am here to help. I hope and pray you will let me in.
2. Worship killers true motives are always revealed—Ezra 4.4-24.
Immediately we see the true motives of these people—READ Ezra 4.4-5. They begin to “discourage and frustrate” the Israelites plans to rebuild the Temple. They start to bribe counselors to stop them from building. If they really wanted to “help” them would have supported the rebuilding even if they couldn’t partake. They just weren’t content to see the Temple of God being raised again. When things don’t the ways we want in church are we willing to say that is ok, because the kingdom of God is advancing? This can trickle down into your marriage, work, parenting, recreation, and all of life. For those who love Jesus we are living temples now—God’s places of worship. We cannot just use our mouths, our bodies, our finances, everything we have as our own.
Now this is where Ezra 4 can get a little confusing. The things that take place in Ezra 4.6-23 happen during a different time period than where we are in the story. This is a “flash-forward” and not a “flashback”. How do we know this? Well, first, we see the letter they write is written to a different king than the one we started with in the story. The first king we saw was Cyrus, but this letter is written to Artaxerxes. Second, the letter is not about the Temple being rebuilt, but about the city and walls—READ Ezra 4.11-13. And what is their argument? These people have a pattern of being rebellious and they won’t pay their taxes. They ended up convincing king Artaxerxes that he should stop rebuilding of Jerusalem.
The problem is this is partially true. Because the people of God are rebellious toward God they end up not being a blessing to the surrounding nations. Thus they do not live out the Abrahamic covenant. Also if you look in II Kings 18 and 24 you will see that God sent some these nations to punish Israel, but because they continued to not listen to God or His prophets they would try to fight back.
This is a common tactic of God’s enemies—they accuse us through partial truth. They twist and manipulate God’s word, our words, history, and etc. I mean consider what satan is trying to do to Jesus in the temptation of Christ in Matt 4 or Luke 4. Every time satan takes some text from God’s word and tries to deceive Jesus through it. The same tactic was used on our first parents in the Garden. What was the result of that? DEATH spread to all (Rom 5.12). This is why it is SO important to know sound doctrine. When we know sound doctrine we can more clearly see the motives of our enemies. Doctrine is a life and death matter. It is not something to take lightly.
3. Our interrupting circumstances do not frustrate God—Ezra 4.4-24.
If all that was not about the rebuilding of the Temple, then why does Ezra place that in the story? It seems like an interruption right? I have said this before, and I will say it again, in the Bible events are arranged theologically and not always chronologically. The meaning of the events is more important than order the events. What we learn about God in the midst of this is more important.
All the scholars agree that the reason this is inserted is to show the reader that no matter circumstance, or opposition, God will accomplish His purposes. Job 42.2 says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” While these interruptions frustrate and discourage us does not we can impose those feelings on God.
So what are we supposed to do with these interruptions? How are our hearts supposed to handle them? The people took a stand in Ezra 4.3, and then things didn’t seem to work out. What happens when you do what God says and it doesn’t work out? Was God wrong? Can we trust Him anymore? Even just speaking those questions out loud, or to a friend, help me hear how silly that sounds. It is not sound doctrine. It is not what God has revealed all throughout His Word. Listen to this one little statement in—READ Ezra 4.24 (“...and it ceased UNTIL the second year of the reign of Darius”).
Friends just because it seems to us that the world is falling apart, does not mean God and His plans are falling apart. The greatest person to ever walk the face of this earth faced opposition, and to His follower, the world around it looked like He lost. He took a stand for what He believed in, and was crucified for it—HATED. Jesus says John 15.20 that if they persecuted Him they will certainly persecute us. But He also says in John 16.33 that we will have tribulation, but we have hope because He has conquered the world. Now this promise was before He went to the Cross and was resurrected. So what was He basing this on? His current circumstances? No! He was basing this one the Promises of God. As hard as His trial would be, how painful, God would end His suffering and give Him victory over His enemies. Through Jesus we are promised that God will defeat our enemies. All our lonely nights, debts, sickness, disease, death itself will be healed. Just because we have it tough now, does not it will last. Until Jesus comes back we will always have external and internal worship killers. But I want you to have hope today friend. Not in yourself, but in the Promises of God.