Posts Tagged 'Ezra'


A 1920s religious revival at Fairmont Baptist Church in Covington, AL

Acts 11:19—26

After the martyrdom of Stephen, evangelism among the population in Jerusalem came to screeching halt. In God’s providence, the Christians who were forced to leave Jerusalem brought the Good News to the people in Palestine. Wherever they went, these Christians shared the Gospel and caused the Church to grow. God took an awful event, the death of Stephen, and the subsequent persecution of some members of the Jerusalem church, and turned it into a golden opportunity to enlarge the church through the mission work of the persecuted Christians. These wonderful Greek-speaking Jews who fell in love with Jesus through His teachings returned to their homelands, proclaiming the Gospel to their people.

This section of Acts tells of two movements of the Early church along the Mediterranean Sea. The first was northward from Jerusalem to Antioch in Syria. The Gospel was freely preached and widely embraced in that city. The other movement was southward from Antioch to Jerusalem. The first carried the message of salvation to those in the north, the second carried material blessings from the new converts in Antioch to the the needy believers in Jerusalem.

In the history of Christianity, no other city of the Roman empire, save Jerusalem, played as large a part in the life and fortunes of the Church as Antioch, in Syria. This city was the birthplace of of foreign missions and the home base for Paul’s outreach to the eastern half of the Empire. It was the first place where believers in Jesus Christ were called “Christians.”

Unfortunately, Antioch was was also where the first schism threatened to split the infant church: should these Gentile-Christians submit to certain aspects of the Law, including circumcision.

Antioch also produced some of the greatest thinkers in the church, including Barnabas and Paul in the first century, Ignatius and Theophilus in the second century, Lucian, Theodore, Chrysostom, and many others throughout the third and fourth centuries.

1. Revival

(1) Its origin, verse 19

…the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed…

The Jewish establishment in Jerusalem thought Stephen’s death and their subsequent persecution of some members of “the church” would quash the enthusiasm of the followers of Jesus. They thought wrong! The unregenerate mind always thinks wrong when it comes to thinking about God:

Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee… (Psalm 76:10a, KJV)

The opponents of Christ may scheme ways to kill the Church, but it was Jesus who spoke those unchanging words of victory:

I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

God always works this way; whenever the Enemy thinks he has the upper hand, God takes that negative and turns it into a positive. He did it for Paul many time;, for example:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)

So God took what seemed like a terrible tragedy—the death of Stephen—and turned it into the event that changed the direction the Church was going in. This singularly negative event was the best thing that could have happened to the church in Jerusalem, for it got them out of their pews and onto their feet, carrying the Good News wherever they went.

(2) How it happened, verses 20, 21

Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

There were two things these missionaries had going for them: the Word of God and the Lord’s hand. In other words, these evangelists not only proclaimed the Good News (the Word of God), but there was divine power behind their words (the Lord’s hand).

God’s Word is not like any other written word. No book has the power behind it that God’s Word has. Paul expressed a similar sentiment in 1 Thessalonians 1:5—

…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.

It’s not the words of the preacher, it’s the Word of God he’s preaching that works with the hand of the Lord. We preach Jesus, and the hand of the Lord works wonders.

For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:9)

A preacher may preach a well-crafted sermon, but if the Word is not in it, there will be no power behind it. A preacher may may preach his opinion energetically, but if his opinion is not grounded in the Word, it’s all bluster that amounts to nothing. A preacher may preach great and soaring doctrines of the Church, but if those doctrines are devoid of the Word of God, he is nothing but noise coming from behind the pulpit. We are laborers with God when we work with God.

(3) The result, verse 21b

…a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

Thanks to the work of these once-persecuted believers from Jerusalem, Antioch soon became the leading center of Christianity. This really is a verse of triumph. Luke, who himself was a Gentile-Christian, may have been on of the early converts.

From verse 19, we get the impression that the initial ministry of the Jewish-Christians among the Jews and Greeks took place in the synagogues of Antioch. But it didn’t take long before this revival broke out of the synagogues, spread throughout the city and beyond, and finally news of it reached Jerusalem. The church leaders in Jerusalem, all of whom were Jewish-Christian, were now faced with a dilemma: what to do with this influx of Gentile believers.

2. Barnabas pays a visit

(1) What he was, verse 22

News of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

With the salvation of the Samaritans, the conversion of some Gentiles in Caesarea, and now all these new believers in Antioch, the folks back in Jerusalem were concerned that maybe the church was growing too fast and that things may have been getting out of control. In response to the Antioch revival, the Jerusalem church sent a delegation to Antioch to check it out. The man they chose was Barnabas, a Jew from Cyprus, who had an outstanding reputation in the church and appeared to be an all-around good guy. He certainly was a man with a generous spirit:

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36—37)

He was the perfect man for the job. He must have been extremely friendly and outgoing since he garnered the nickname “Son of Encouragement.” The future of the church depended on what this man would report back. As a result of Barnabas’ response to the revival, it was enabled to continue, with many finding Christ as a result.

(2) What he saw, verse 23a

When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done…

Barnabas was amazed at the grace of God when he saw, not only all the new believers, but also the harmony that existed between Jew and Gentiles within the one Antiochean church. This was a breakthrough of momentous proportions. A man’s inward character determines what he sees. A Roman philosopher cold only see in this religious revival a “vile superstition.” Barnabas saw the manifested grace of God. The proud Athenians saw only their many gods, but Paul saw an entire city given over to the sin of idolatry. Some things can only be “spiritually discerned,” and God’s grace is one of them. Because Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith (verse 24), he recognized immediately God was at work; he didn’t need anybody to tell him. Do you recognize God at work? Can you see the grace of God manifested in a person or situation? If you are full of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to discern the things of God.

(3) What he felt and what he did, verse 23b

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
…he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

Barnabas certainly live up to his nickname! He immediately began to encourage these new believers in their new faith. Bighearted Barnabas was so sold-out to Jesus that he was “glad” to see anybody serving the Lord, Jew or Gentile! Instead of looking for faults and criticizing this new movement, he gave it his stamp of approval and blessing.

3. Barnabas gets some help

Barnabas was the right man in the right place. He related well to the people living in and around Antioch. He was bilingual, familiar with Greek culture, and may well have been a businessman familiar with that culture of Antioch. But Barnabas needed some help; he couldn’t do it all by himself. While Barnabas was a mighty encourager, the believers needed more than just encouragement. This cosmopolitan, Greek-speaking metropolis needed the talents of an intellectual giant as well as a Spirit-filled encourager.

It had been some ten or more years since Saul, now known as Paul, found the Lord on the road to Damascus, and this was the man Barnabas sought out. We have no record of what Paul did during the intervening years, between the time he left Jerusalem (see Acts 9:20) and when Barnabas found him in Tarsus. From Galatians 1:21—24, we can be sure that Paul was not idle during those years; he continued to preach and minister for Christ in and around his hometown of Tarsus. It is likely during these years that the apostle received the “five lashings” he wrote about in 2 Corinthians 11:24, along with the other afflictions he enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11:23—27. Some scholars think that it was during these years in Tarsus that he began to experience the “loss of all things” for the sake of Christ, maybe even the loss of his family (Philippians 3:8).

Barnabas seemed to always have a “soft spot” for this one-time persecutor of the church. He came to Paul’s support when others doubted his conversion (Acts 9:27) and he recognized that Paul had a ministry among the Gentiles. Together, they worked in Antioch for about a year. These two men, different as night and day in one way, were extremely effective ministers and became lifelong partners in the great work of the Gospel.

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

While there were many converts in and around Antioch, some in the city were not impressed with the work of Barnabas and Paul, and nicknamed this growing group of Jewish and Gentile believers “Christians.” The Greek word, Christianoi, means literally “Christ followers” or “those who belong to Christ,” was a term of derision.


Why are you called a Christian? Originally not a complimentary term, it was used of people who identified completely with Jesus Christ because they patterned their daily lives after His and His teachings. Unfortunately, for many so-called Christians today, that description applies to them only on Sunday. During the other six days of the week, many so-Christians seem to set aside that nickname, living not for Christ, but for their careers, for money, for their families, destroying their marriages with unChrist-like attitudes, ruining their bodies through chemical dependence, and using language that is not glorifying to God in any way.

So, the question, “Why are you called a Christian?” is an intensely personal and important one to consider. It may make you blush. You may not know how to answer it. Zacharius Ursinus answered that question like this in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question: But why art thou called a Christian?

Answer: Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am a partaker of his anointing; that so I may confess his name, and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him: and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life and afterwards I reign with him eternally, over all creatures.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd



The Cyrus Cylinder


Ezra 1:1—11

Ezra is the author of the book that bears his name. He was a priest and descendant of Hilkiah, the high priest who found a copy of the Law during the reign of Josiah (2 Chronicle 34:14).

Ezra had a big problem. As a priest, he was unable to perform the duties of his office during the Babylonian Captivity. Where would he perform them? There was no temple where he and his exile friends were forced to live. The temple back in Jerusalem was destroyed, although they probably weren’t aware of that yet. But even though he couldn’t do his job, he was not idle during his exile. He spent time studying the Word of God.

[Ezra] was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. (Ezra 7:6)

When we get to the end of 2 Chronicles, we see the Southern Kingdom, Judah, carted off by Nebuchadnezzar into an exile that would last 70 years. We hear nothing from all those Jews in captivity until Ezra put quill to parchment to resume the history of God’s people.

A helpful way to look at the historical books of the Old Testament is like this:

  • The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles record the history of Israel (Northern and Southern Kingdoms) before the Babylonian Captivity.
  • The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther record life after the Babylonian Captivity.

Ezra and Nehemiah are two books but they really belong together, just as the the men who wrote them belong together. Ezra was the priest, Nehemiah was the layman, yet both men were used by God to accomplish His will for Jerusalem. They worked tirelessly together to rebuild the city, its buildings, its walls, and especially the Temple.

God’s timetable is sometimes difficult to understand sometimes. Sometimes it seems to take Him forever to “get off the dime” and answer a prayer or do something we have asked of Him. Other times, God seems to move a the speed of light. But God’s time is always perfect, down to the second. During the 70 years of Jewish Captivity, Babylon was racing toward its own judgment, just as the Captivity was God’s judgment upon Judah. It’s not coincidental that Babylon’s downfall coincided exactly with the deliverance of the Jews.

In the first year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar carried away many Jews into captivity. He reigned a total of 45 years. He was succeeded by his son, aptly named Evil-Merodach, who reigned 23 years. He was followed by Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, who ruled for all of three years. Add that up, and we have the 70 years under which the Jews were held in exile, not allowed to return to Jerusalem. Near the end of Belshazzar’s brief reign, Darius, the Mede, captured the capital city, Babylon, and Cyrus, king of Persia, became its ruler (see Daniel 5).

Why is all this dry historical stuff important? It’s important because all of it fulfills Bible prophecy:

…who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’ (Isaiah 44:28)

What is exciting is that the prophet Isaiah wrote that prophecy and named the Jew’s deliverer 150 years before it happened! That dry historical stuff proves the supernatural nature of the Bible! It proves the inspiration of Scripture.

Not only was that prophecy fulfilled in God’s perfect time, these were also fulfilled:

But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever.” (Jeremiah 25:12)

This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.” (Jeremiah 29:10)

…in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. (Daniel 9:2)

All of those prophecies were written long, long before they were fulfilled. The Word of God is nothing if not amazing!

1. The need of being stirred up, 1:1 (KJV)

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia…

The will of God will never get done by human beings until our spirits are “stirred up” to do it. Doing God’s will is contrary to the human nature; we want to do what we want to do; we want to do what we think is best for us. Most Christians struggle just as Paul did:

I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18, 19)

How do we get the victory over the selfish desire to live only for ourselves? We need our spirits stirred up by God. God does not want a bunch of robots doing His bidding, so He never forces us. God wants us, as His created, free, moral agents, to come to the right conclusion on our own: to live for Him and do His will. But we need His help to get to that place.  We need to be stirred up!

This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me. (Psalm 119:50)

It is entirely possible to have a form of godliness while our spirits are sleeping the sleep of death. We all need to be stirred up, just as Cyrus was stirred up.

2. God stirs up the spirit, 1:1 (KJV)

The source of all spiritual life and power is God. It is God alone who is able to stir the human spirit. We can do our best to manipulate, to bribe, to shame a fellow believers into living right and into doing God’s will, but that’s not the right way; God must stir the spirit. We can’t do that. We can point a believer in the right way, but it’s ultimately up to God to stir their spirit into obedience.

Not only is a stirred up spirit an obedient spirit, it is a living spirit; it is a spirit that has been raised from the death. Did you know that the unsaved are already dead? They may be up and walking around, but they are dead. It isn’t until their spirits have been stirred that they come alive. And a stirred up spirit is a spirit with a purpose:

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

3. How God stirs the spirit

There are two ways God stirs the human spirit:

(1) The Word of God. We know from reading the book of Daniel, that the prophet poured over the Scriptures, trying to understand them; trying to make sense of the prophecies. Daniel came to the conclusion that in all, God’s people would be exiled for 70 years. Daniel served in the king’s court in Babylon, so it is entirely possible that he showed Cyrus the prophecies in Scripture about himself (see Isaiah 44:28; 45:1—13).

This is the primary way God communicates to His people today. Christians want lightening strikes and cosmic billboards pointing the way, but the fact is, the Bible is the complete revelation of God’s mind to His people. Want to know want God’s will is? Find it in the Bible! Want to know what God thinks about an issue? It’s in the Bible. Nobody needs a special, supernatural revelation “from on high” to know the will of God! All you need is the Word of God, properly understood and applied.

(2) The providence of God. The fact that Cyrus was now governor of Babylon was an act of divine providence; it was God, quietly and stealthily working behind the scenes of human history to get His chosen man in the right position, at the right time, to carry out His prefect will for His people.

God always works that way in the affairs of human beings. Christians work so hard, sometimes, to ensure that such-and-such thing will happen, we expend so much time and energy carefully arranging all the dominoes of our lives, when all we really need to do is simply trust God! And when things don’t go as we planned, we get all bent out of shape and sometimes we feel like doing what Job’s wife told him to do:  “Curse God and die!”  We ought to have this kind of attitude:

If so, nothing can happen in the great Circuit of his Works, either without his Knowledge or Appointment. And if nothing happens without his Knowledge, he knows that I am here, and am in this dreadful Condition; and if nothing happens without his Appointment, he has appointed all this to befal me. (Robinson Crusoe)

It’s amazing that so many so-called Christians are blind to the providence of God. Cyrus was no believer, yet he recognized that the purposes of God had been entrusted to him. It’s an awful thing to know the will of God and to ignore it. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira!

God stirs up the spirit of a person, somehow making them know and feel their place in His great plan. Nobody can be obedient to God or work to accomplish His will unless they have been, like Cyrus, stirred up.

Watch out for circumstances that might seem odd. Keep watch on the people that come in and go out of your life. Pay attention to your surroundings. It may well be that God is providentially stirring up you this very day!

4. Evidence of a stirred up spirit

From what we know about Cyrus, there were three evidences that Cyrus had been “stirred up.”

(1) Manifested faith in the Word of God.

Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (verse 2, KJV)

Somehow, Cyrus knew what God wanted him to do. He simply knew what God’s Word was concerning him and he simply believed it. Keep in mind, Cyrus was no Jew or believer in Yahweh, yet he was keen enough to feel his spirit being stirred by the Word of God such that accepted it and believed it. What does that say about the so-called Christian who knows the Word, is exposed to it every Sunday, yet continually questions it and does his level best to avoid it?

You can tell a believer whose spirit has been stirred up because he has an unshakable faith in the Word of God. Is that your view of the Bible? If not, maybe you need to be stirred up.

(2) A confession of God’s purpose.

…the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom… (verse 1b, KJV)

When we discover what the will of God is concerning us, we should never be ashamed to make it known to the world. Remember these sobering words of Jesus:

If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)

(3) A bighearted disposition.

The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (verse 3, KJV)

Cyrus knew what he had to do, he knew what God’s will was concerning himself and the Jews, and he stepped out in faith, made a proclamation, and made an offer the Jews could not refuse! When God stirs a spirit, he stirs it completely. God never does anything in a half-hearted manner, and neither will we when we commit to do His will. God is generous, and so should we be. God always goes “over the top” and so should we.

And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. (verse 4, KJV)

Talk about being sold-out to God! Cyrus was completely committed to God’s program and he wanted everybody to be as sold-out as he was. When you are stirred up, you want everybody around you stirred up as much as you are.

Do you know what doing the will of God is? It’s noble:

But the noble make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand. (Isaiah 32:8)


The spirit that has been stirred up by God will want to do God-like things; big things for God. The story of Cyrus makes us think of what the great missionary William Carey famously said:

Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.

The stirred up spirit is always on the look out for opportunities to do great things for God. Such people are the ones who “seek first the kingdom of God” and His righteousness.

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

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