When you live in this world long enough you begin to see repeated patterns. The more time you spend in the Bible the same thing happens. One of those repeated patterns is God’s people getting into trouble and seeing no way out. Just when it seems like things can’t get any worse God shows up, rescues His people, and they end up better off than they were. People can get into trouble because of the sins of others or because of their own sin. Both exist in the Bible, and more often than not, it is usually both. So one of the repeated patterns we need to learn is: FIRST, what God expects of us, and SECOND seeing how we fail to live up to His expectations. Must never forget how deep our sin is—how rebellious we are. Repetition shows or reminds we have not mastered what God desires for us. This is what we call a liturgy. Do the liturgies we have remind us of who we really are?
Theme: We should all be striving to order things God’s way.
In Ezra 8 God’s people begin facing another problem. Ezra 7.28 told us that Ezra began gathering the leading men to go back with him to Jerusalem to help in the rebuilding of God’s Temple and properly instructing God’s people in the Word. Before they set out on the journey Ezra makes a list of all the people who are going with him—READ Ezra 8.1.
1. Order can cultivate and express care—Ezra 8.1-14.
Genealogies are not exactly the most exciting things to read in the Bible. But what is the heart behind them? And what is the heart behind the one here? Genealogies remind how much God cares about His people. Listen to what God tells us in Luke 12.6-7:
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.—Luke 12.6-7
God keeps track of His people. Making a list of the people you are responsible for seems wise if that is what God does. Making this list is a way to cultivate care among God’s people.
Another thing we can see in this list different kinds of roles among God’s people—READ Ezra 8.1-2. We know these men are “heads of their father’s houses”, but there are some unique “heads” in this list. The sons of Phinehas and Ithamar make a connection back to Aaron. We are told in Exodus 19 that the entire nation of Israel were supposed to be priest to the world. But we are also told that there would be spiritually mature “priests” among the Israelites to help them be better priest in the world. The first of those was Aaron and these two men are his descendents. The priest’s role was to help the people keep the liturgies God requires that would help them keep the faith. For instance, there are liturgies in the NT as well:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.—Hebrew 10.24-25
God has given the NT church (the new Israel) spiritually mature men called elders. These men are given to the church to help them keep the liturgies that God requires of us. At Refuge this is why we have weekly Gatherings, Refuge Communities, and Discipleship groups called Doxa Groups. These are care spheres that will help us live out Hebrews 10.24-25. I believe this can change from church to church and there is freedom for that. But elders are in charge of how that is going to look like in their local church.
We later find out in the OT that there will be a Christ, a Savior of the world, who will be a descendent of David. So in this list we see both descendents of the priest and the king. The priests will help the people of Israel keep the faith, but one day the King will come and make everything right. We live the same way today. We have spiritually mature priests who help the rest of the priests keep the faith. And we all are waiting for the Savior, Jesus Christ, to come again and put an end to all our suffering.
2. Order calls for everyone to do their part—Ezra 8.15-20.
After Ezra makes his list and then gets everyone together to make the trip back to Jerusalem—READ Ezra 8.15. But what did Ezra find out? The Levites (his very own tribe) did not show up—they decided not to come. Why is this such a big deal? So what, they decided not to come?
The Levites had a certain role in the life of the Temple. They were the assistants of the priest. We learn in I Chronicles 26 that the Levites were supposed to be the officials and judges of Israel. They would handle the finances, administration, and etc. so the priests could focus on their priestly duties. Ezra knew he would not be able to effectively do what he supposed to do if the Levites did not come and do their job or role. Ezra also knew while there is a lot of freedom in the kingdom of God this is not one of those freedoms. This was the role of the Levites in the kingdom of God. The Temple, God’s worship center, would not function the way God wanted if these people did not do their part.
Once again this idea makes its way into the NT. In I Corinthians 12 Paul uses an illustration to describe the church—TURN to I Corinthians 12.12-28. Anyone here who is a Christian has different gifts God has given you to help build up the body of Christ—the Church. Everyone needs to understand their roles, gifts, and exercise those gifts. If people do not then the body does not function probably. It becomes deformed. Imagine our church is like a giant eye. If I came to a church and saw a giant eye walking around, then I would think that church has something weird going on.
Also notice in this text that God does look at people the same way the world does. The parts of the body that seem weaker might actually be the strong parts. This is why it is so important that we understand that leadership in the Kingdom of God will not always look like leadership in the world. In fact sometimes those who are very successful people in the world will be horrible leaders in the church.
Ezra saw the need for these Levites, and did something about it. So in Ezra 8.16 he put together a recruitment team. The team sought out men with “insight”. They did this in faith. I mean at this point the men did not come voluntarily, so it was going to require a move of God to change their minds. But look what happens in—READ Ezra 8.18.
“The good hand of God” is communicating two important theological truths to us that the unbelieving world really struggles with. Some people believe the God of the Bible is powerful but He is not good. He does not use His power to accomplish good. God becomes this deistic powerful being who is far from emotionally and personally. Other people believe God is very personal and emotional but He is weak. The God they believe in is good, but not very powerful. But here in our text, what is revealed to us is the God of the Bible is both good and powerful. God understood there needs and wanted to help. The goodness of God expresses His loving concern. But it does not end there, because the same God who loves us is powerful enough to do something to actually help.
Where God most clearly demonstrates His goodness and His power is at the Cross. The Cross is the truth we regularly revisit to gain insight and wisdom. This is why Jesus encourages us in Luke 9.23 to pick up our cross daily and follow Him. What does that look like in your life friend? What is the cross God is calling you to bear right now so the goodness and power of God can be displayed?
Ezra 8.16 tells us God brought men of “discretion” into the situation. God did not just provide any kind of Levites, no, he brought wise and insightful Levites. Men who could help govern with Ezra. They could help manage the order, so Ezra could focus on what he was brought to the people to do—which was instruct in sound doctrine. We live in a world looking for more wise and insightful people. Wisdom and insight come from the Word of God. What was the last piece of wise insight you gained from the Word? With wisdom and insight comes order. God’s Word provides clear instruction, and if we can strive to live out His instruction then we would succeed. Not according to the standards of the world, but in the Kingdom of God. This will require a reordering of our priorities, values, our whole life. Are we ready to submit our whole life to God? What is holding us back? Because if there is something that is your true God.