Before we get started today I want to take some time and remind us where we are in the story of Ezra. We have finished looking at Ezra 1-6, which I would define as Act 1. We are now entering Act 2 in Ezra 7-10. Act 1 helps understand how we can deal with the external opposition that are preventing us from joy in God—how we can be living temples—living lives of worship to our God. In Ezra 7-10 or Act 2 we will focus more on the internal factors that prevent us from being instruments of God’s glory.
We live in a culture today that desires to make a difference in the world. We want to make a mark—have a voice at the table. The question becomes how does that happen? I don’t think that is always possible, so in some ways that is not a healthy biblical expectation. But in another sense we also need to be striving to do as much as we can as long as we can. But once again how do we do that?
Theme: The world is only changed one way, by the Word of God.
1. How to gain Biblical influence—Ezra 7.1-10.
As the story continues in Ezra 7 we get another genealogy. All throughout the Bible we see genealogies are important. The significance of this genealogy is that it reveals the family history of Ezra and the faithfulness of God. Ezra is a descendent of Aaron, which means he is a descendent of Moses. We know Moses was the spiritual leader who led the children of Israel out of captivity. Moses had a unique relationship with God—READ Numbers 12.6-8:
And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”—Numbers 12.6-8
Moses had a unique relationship with God, but so does Ezra—READ Ezra 7.6. How was Ezra unique? What was he known for? “He was...skilled in the Law of Moses.” This is a consistent theme throughout the Bible that we can easily forget friends. People who succeed in the kingdom do not succeed through current cutting edge strategies, methods, or other forms of worldly wisdom. No, success in the kingdom is through the studying, doing, and teaching the Word of God. Listen to what the text says, “[Ezra] was...skilled in the Law of Moses...and the king [Artaxerxes] granted him all that he asked.” Why did this happen? The author tells us, “...for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.”
Ezra made a choice to commit his life to the study of God’s Word. The implication of “...SKILLED in the Law” is at least TWO things. First, there are those who have a natural gifting in the Word or God given ability in the Word. These people can pull things out of passages, and we end up saying, “I would have NEVER seen that!” Second, there are those who have become “skilled” in the Word through discipline or practice. They learn the disciplines of studying the Word and keep working at it.
Now matter where you are in these categories do not neglect—READ Ezra 7.10. No matter what if you “set [your] heart to study the Law of the LORD...do it and teach” you will gain “SKILL” in the Word. If you are a Christian, and others know it, then you are doing and teaching them something. The question is whether or not it is Biblical.
2. Skill in the Word leads to wisdom—Ezra 7.11-26.
As we move into the next section we get to see the results of Ezra’s hard work and God-given ability. I think we see the value of this more clearly by exploring two particular phrases in this section—READ Ezra 7.14 and 25. The common phrases are, “according to the Law of your God, which is in your hand” and “according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand”. These are statements or observations by a secular king. WOW!
OT scholars have had trouble for centuries reconciling the relationship between the LAW and WISDOM Literature of the OT. Ezra does not seem to have that problem. “...IN YOUR HAND” implies Ezra is bringing the Law of God to bear on these circumstances and this particular situation. I don’t know about you but I have read the Torah or Law (which is the first five books of the Bible) and I would have a hard time convincing a secular politician that it relevant to their current circumstances. But Ezra was able to articulate the Law in such a way that this secular king saw it as “WISDOM”.
Friends if you want to be able to do this with your fellow co-workers, employers, family members, neighbors, friends, and etc. then I want you to know this is possible. Some of you may never have the God-given ability of Ezra, Tim Keller, or John Piper, and that is ok. But I believe you can learn the same disciplines all these men are using. If you can learn how to find Christ in every text of the Bible you will learn WISDOM. Before you move onto anything else in your Bible study look for Christ FIRST. Listen to what Paul tells about wisdom:
...we preach Christ crucified...the power of God and the wisdom of God.—I Corinthians 1.23-24
I strongly believe the Cross of Christ helps us understand the Bible and our lives. If you want wisdom seek to grow deeper in the Cross of Christ. I believe another way to define “power” is influence. If you want more influence in our world then I would encourage you to dig deeper in understanding the Cross of Christ. This is our compass, our North Star.
Many people in Scripture we not great orators, but listen once again to what Paul says in I Corinthians:
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God...For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received...the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.—I Corinthians 2.3-5, 11-12
If you want influence in people’s life know God’s Word, but if you want to understand the Word, then know the Christ of the Cross.
3. Only the Bible can change hearts—Ezra 7.27-28.
Friends this works. Look with me in—READ Ezra 7.27-28. The text said God put these things on the “heart of the king”. God did this. God displayed His power and wisdom through a man “skilled” in the Word. The phrase “hand of the LORD” appeared in today’s text (Ezra 7.6). The hand of the LORD is a phrase all throughout the OT that describes the power and influence of God. But the primary way God exercises this power or influence is through His Word. Ezra did not change the heart of the king. No, he knew only God could do something like that, and God did. Ezra stuck to the Bible and it changed the king’s heart.
Not only did it change his heart, or change his affections, but he also saw Ezra a wise counselor. This is why he said things like—READ Ezra 7.18-20. Biblical wisdom leads to trust and freedom. The better you know God’s Word, see how it bears weight on various circumstances you gain more trust and freedom.
Now let me give you a warning. The Bible is not simply an instruction manual or a road map. This are not clear lines and paths friends. There are some things in Scripture that are CLEAR, but others not so much. It is in these areas that are not so clear that we are diligently search the Scripture for Wisdom. When Ezra was praying and thinking through this situation I am sure he was thinking the example of Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and other strong Biblical saints who had come before him. He sought to be person of conviction, but also willing to work with those who do not treasure what he does.
For me this only comes through deep meditation on the Cross. I am tempted to believe that I will gain more influence if I fight and claw for it. I am tempted to believe I will be seen as wise the more I fill myself with the wisdom of the world. I am tempted to believe I can use logic and reason to argue people into conversion. I am tempted to believe if I do a lot of research on the current methodology or strategies for church growth, small groups, evangelism, or anything else then I will succeed. Instead what I need to believe is the promise found in Joshua 1.8:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.—Joshua 1.8
There are a lot of silly controversies in our world today. If we are going to fight as Christians we should fight for holding each other accountable to God’s Word.