EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 2

THE KEY OF SUCCESS

(IN THE LORD’S WORK)

Ezra 6:14

So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.

This verse may be taken to be the key to success, insofar as the remnant was concerned. Servants and maids, masters and mistresses, priests and laymen, in all close to 50,000 exiles eventually accepted the offer of Cyrus to leave their captivity and journey from Babylon to Jerusalem.

It was a long and perilous trek through sometimes hostile, always unfriendly terrain, yet this remnant considered themselves blessed to be able to return home and engage in the work of rebuilding. Really, these people were involved in the greatest work of all: the work of the Lord.

God’s work takes many forms; sometimes it may be in the form of preaching a sermon or teaching a Bible class. Other times the work of Lord may look a lot like physical labor, like laying brick upon brick . The Lord’s work is doing whatever He tells you to do in order to fulfill His will and purpose(s) for your life. For this remnant, God’s will was for them to rebuild the City of David. This they did with great joy.

1. The work, 1:3

Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.

The primary task of the remnant was not to rebuild their homes, although in time they would. The house they were commissioned to build was for the honor of Yahweh; it was to be a testimony to His Holy Name. This was to be God’s House, it was His will, and yet it was Cyrus’ command. Sometimes God’s work may not look like God’s work to you; it may come from unexpected sources or be prompted by unlikely circumstances.

But if you are a believer, it is your solemn duty to do the work God has commissioned you to do, in whatever form it may take. God’s work for you may take a surprising form, but if it is to His glory, do it. God’s work for you may be not be what you expect, but it it is His will, then pour your heart and soul into it. God’s work for you may be the very last thing you think you are capable of doing, but if it honors the Lord, then put your hand to that plow and don’t look back. Every believer should be engaged in building a house of testimony for God.

2. The beginning, 3:3

And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.

Notice the very first thing they they worked on: the altar. This work began in “the seventh month” (3:1), one of the most sacred months of the Jewish year. The first day of this month, Tishri, is Rosh Hashanah, the “new year.” Ten days after that is the Day of Atonement, then the Feast of Tabernacles. So you can see, Tishri was an important month; the perfect month to start a great work for God!

During their 70 year sojourn in Babylon, the Jews had no way to worship as they should; there was no temple, no altar. Instead, they were surrounded by dozens of Babylonian temples to a variety of deities. No wonder the people, as soon as they were set free, went straight for the altar to repair it.

The altar is the only acceptable place for God’s work to begin, whatever it may be. The altar must be given its true place in the house of God’s Church if it is to be built up and established. What is the altar of God’s Church? It’s not the doctrines of man. It’s not a church constitution or a book of denominational polity. The altar of the Church is the altar of Cross, and the Cross must be the basis of any work we do for God. All our work must be built upon the Cross, not upon our wisdom or talents or ideas and goals. Any attempted work for God is in vain and will come to nothing if it is not built on the Cross of Christ.

Notice what the people did once the they repaired the altar. They did not hold a “grand opening” or congratulate each other for a job well done. They immediately held a great worship service. This worship service was not some carefully crafted and orchestrated liturgical event, it was a spontaneous outburst of praise to God because the people were filled with joy and thanksgiving. The Church can take a lesson from this faithful remnant, because this is the kind of worship that results from when God’s people work His will.

3. The enemies, 4:1, 2

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

You can be sure that what happened to the remnant when they began to rebuild the House of God and when they offered God shouts of praise and worship will happen to any believer who decides to live a life wholly dedicated to God.

Never forget Peter’s warning:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

It’s not a question of “if you attract the enemy” it’s “when will he notice you!” The Devil always sets his sights on Christians who are on fire and sold out to Jesus Christ. He has absolutely no interest in “the 75% majority” of Christians who are lazy and lukewarm; he has them right where he wants them and they pose no threat to him or his plans because they never attempt to do anything for God. But if you are a worker; if you are producer for the Kingdom of Heaven, you can be sure that it is just a matter of time before the enemy comes prowling around you.

The remnant stirred up the enemies all around them they worked for God and they came, professing to be their friends and people who loved God as they they did. God’s enemies are nothing if not slick and deceptive. And if you are not alert and if you don’t exercise some God-given discernment, you will be taken in and you will be devoured and spit back out, useless for God.

These enemies of the Jews offered to help them, but of course, their intent was really to destroy them. The child of God will always be destroyed when get in bed with the Devil. You cannot do the work of God with the Devil’s tools. Their work of restoration was a great success and they attracted their enemies. Thank God there were some men of God who had discernment and could see through they schemes of the enemy.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14—15)

When it comes to living and working for the Lord, there can be no compromise! And how the Devil hates believers who know how to stand up to him and stand their ground for Christ. The Devil never lets up his attacks, by the way.

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. (verses 4, 5)

But the one thing the enemies got wrong was this: they set out to frustrate “their plans.” Rebuilding and restoring the Temple and Jerusalem was never “their plans,” they were God’s plans, and the Devil can never frustrate the plans of God. He will always prevail.

4. Temporary interruption, 4:24

Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Sometimes, the enemy may win the battle, but he will never win the war! Just as in Ezra’s day, any apparent victory Satan may win is short lived. However, a careful reading of the text tells us just how and why the Lord’s work stopped: it was stopped by a lie. The enemies of the Jews lied about them, lied about their motives, and the king who was allowing the Jews to do their work was duped by all the lies.

Now, put yourself in the place of that faithful remnant. For two generations they had lived in exile. Finally, by the grace and providence of God, they were allowed to return home and rebuild His house, His city, and their lives. For a time, they had success, and they praised God, gave Him the glory and the credit, and all of a sudden, they had to stop the work all because of a lie. How do you suppose these people felt? Had they misinterpreted God’s will? Was God’s Word now untrustworthy? Did His providence mean nothing at all? Was it all a bad joke?

These are questions every single believer asks himself when he hits the proverbial brick wall and can’t seem to go around it or over it. It’s the old story of the human condition: life is never easy. Indeed, a true believer can be living according to the Word of God, doing just as he should be doing to fulfill God’s will for him and still experience seeming defeat at the hands of Satan. When that happens, you probably feel like Job. You definitely feel like the faithful remnant.

But winning a battle is not the same thing as winning the war.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

5. A renewed effort, 5:1, 2

Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

In the face of certain defeat, what did the remnant do? They preached they Word of God and got right back to work. Another revival broke out. When God’s people listen to His Word and trust His Word, they will always move ahead. The trouble with so many so-called Christians today is that they would rather trust what they see and hear, instead of trusting in the Lord. But notice, in this bad and confusing time, the prophets—the preachers—stood up and boldly started proclaiming God’s Word. They didn’t let circumstances stop them. There is a great need today for preachers to stand up and preach the Word of God, not their own ideas. When God’s work comes to an apparent standstill, it’s the Word of God, proclaimed loudly and clearly, that gets the discouraged workers going again. Cheer leading, and other worldly methods of encouragement won’t do it. The only thing that get a discouraged child of God up and working again is a big dose the Word.

This faithful remnant needed to be reminded of that which they knew: Yahweh had saved them out of Babylon so they could serve Him in Jerusalem. It’s hard to remember things like that when circumstances are against you. God bless the prophets and preachers who don’t berate and beat up their flock when the flock strays a bit!

Haggai and Zechariah preached the Word, and it was not preached in vain. Darius, the king who had been duped, saw the light and “providentially” found the decree made by Cyrus that set the Jews free. He immediately set things right by sending a letter to those liars who were trying to stifle the people of God:

Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site. (6:7)

Thanks to the faithful prophets, we read this:

So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. (6:14)

Even though we are “more than conquerors,” we are still subject to the foibles of all people. We get frustrated in our work for God. We get discouraged. We get “weary in our well-doing.” The cure for our weakness is a clearer understanding of God’s will and God’s Word. It’s a greater appreciation for God’s grace and His purposes in our lives, both as individuals and as the Body of Christ. It’s a whole-hearted devotion and commitment to those purposes no matter what.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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