Let’s Go Home

Some of the Israelites, priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants accompanied him to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. Ezra 7:7 HCSB

I had the privilege of studying in Europe my senior year in college with a group that spent five weeks touring many different sites from London, England to Rome, Italy, to Paris, France. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I will never forget. But after being gone for five weeks, I was ready to go home and eat some American food.

It had been eighty years since the first group of Israelites had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. It is estimated that Ezra organized approximately 40,000 people to travel for four months by foot from Babylon to Jerusalem. He went to King Artaxerxes and asked permission to return to his homeland and to take some others with him. The king not only granted his request, but he also sent money, supplies, and items to be used in the temple. Additionally, the king made a decree which could be used like a passport to give the Israelites safe passage back to Jerusalem. Evidently Ezra had access to the king and probably held an important position. He was willing to leave his position in order to lead a group of people to his homeland and to teach them God’s laws. He was ready to go home.

Challenge: Would you be willing to give up your position in order to follow God’s will for your life? Tell God that you want to follow His plan for your life no matter what the cost. Watch how God will use you when you completely surrender your life to Him and His ministry.

Skilled Scribe

He was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which Yahweh, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he requested because the hand of Yahweh his God was on him. Ezra 7:6 HCSB

I was fortunate to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where I received the Master of Religious Education degree which helped prepare me for a lifetime of ministry, teaching, and educating others in Biblical truths. Even though I took classes in Old Testament, New Testament, history, and theology, I wish I was more skilled and knew my Bible better than I do.

Ezra was a scribe, which meant he spent much of his time recording events and transcribing copies of the ancient laws of the Hebrews attributed to Moses, usually the first five books of the Old Testament. As a scribe, Ezra would have been a student of the law and would have had a good understanding of all that God wanted from His people.

Challenge: Be a student of God’s Word. No matter how much you have read and studied your Bible, there are always new insights and principles you can learn. Ask God to reveal His purpose and direction for your life through His Word as you read and study it.

Ezra the Levite

After these events, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, Ezra – Seraih’s son, Azariah’s son, Hilkiah’s son, Shallum’s son, Zodok’s son, Ahitub’s son, Amariah’s son, Azariah’s son, Meraioth’s son, Zerahiah’s son, Uzzi’s son, Bukki’s son, Abishua’s son, Phinehas’s son, Eleazar’s son, Aaron the chief of priest’s son – came up from Babylon. Ezra 7:1-3 HCSB

My son, Nathan, is very interested in his family tree and has spent many hours studying and researching to discover facts about our past family members. He even had my mother and my father-in-law do a DNA test to determine their ethnicity. My maternal ancestors more than likely originated from Western Europe. It is interesting to discover certain facts about particular family members.

In these verses we discover Ezra’s family tree. It was common for people to document and record their family history. These verses were to show that Ezra was not only a Levite, but he was a direct descendant of Aaron, the chief priest’s son. This proved that he had the right and authority to be a priest in the temple and lead the second group of Israelites back to Jerusalem. Ezra was probably a prominent man in the community and was selected by King Artaxerxes to lead the Israelites back to their homeland.

Challenge: Look into your family’s history to discover if you have had any ministers or prominent people in your family in previous years. Praise God that you are an adopted child in His kingdom and that you have all the rights and privileges of a child of God.

Christ is Your Passover Lamb

The exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. All of the priests and Levites were ceremonially clean, because they had purified themselves. They killed the Passover lamb for themselves, their priestly brothers, and all the exiles. Ezra 6:19-20 HCSB

I have had the privilege of participating in a Passover meal. The Jewish people still celebrate the Passover each year. Passover means “to spare”. The Passover commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The last plague that God brought upon the Egyptians was the death of every first born son of humans and the animals. The Israelites were instructed to kill a lamb and place the blood over the door and on the sides of the door. When the “death angel” came and saw the blood, he “passed over” the house and did not bring death to that household. The Passover is a special meal that the family celebrates each year to remember the slavery in Egypt and how God provided a way for them to escape and go to the Promised Land.

Paul referred to Christ as “our Passover who has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7 and 1 Peter 1:19). John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29). Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood so our sins might be forgiven and we can be released from the slavery of sin. As believers, through Christ’s blood we have power over death and will someday defeat death and live eternally with God in heaven.

Challenge: Praise God for the wonderful gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly died on the cross so we might have forgiveness of our sins and receive eternal life. Thank Him for being your Passover lamb and dying in your place. Listen to the song, “Bold the Lamb” on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAyHhFjx4PM

Great Shout of Praise

They sang with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord: “For He is good; His faithful love to Israel endures forever.” Then all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s house had been laid. Ezra 4:11 HCSB

There have been times in my life when I have really felt the presence of the Lord during worship and wanted to shout, but I have kept my excitement to myself. In our culture we are not accustomed to shouting in church. In most worship services we have a few songs and preaching, but seldom will we find someone shouting praises to the Lord. Some churches tend to have more subdued worship services while other denominations seem to have more excitement and freedom. One way of worship is not necessarily right or wrong, for there are many different ways to express praise and thanksgiving to God.

The people of Israel were excited about the foundation of the temple being completed and they naturally offered praise and thanksgiving to God. They did this through songs and a great shout. The words of the songs reminded them of the love and faithfulness of God. Today, we offer songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. Too often people do not participate in the singing because they do not know the words or they just don’t like the music, but we are to make a joyful noise before the Lord. God deserves our praise and thanksgiving. Maybe we need more shouting in our worship services.

Challenge: Participate in singing the songs at your worship service, even if you do not know the words or don’t like the music. God deserves and wants to hear your praise and thanksgiving. Praise Him for His everlasting love and faithfulness. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. How about giving a big shout of praise for Jesus!

Are Things About to Collapse?

When the builders had laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple, the priests, dressed in their robes and holding trumpets, and the Levites descended from Asaph, holding cymbals, took their positions to praise the Lord, as King David of Israel had instructed. Ezra 3:10 HCSB

On July 17, 1981, two suspended walkways through the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City, Missouri collapsed, killing 114 people at a tea dance. The collapse was due to a late change in design, altering the method in which the rods supporting the walkways were connected to them, and inadvertently doubling the forces on the connection. This illustrates the importance of a proper design, foundation, and construction.

The foundation of the temple was vital to the construction of the building. If the foundation was not strong enough and properly built to support the weight of the walls, it would collapse. The same is true in our lives. We must have a strong foundation in Jesus Christ. Without a strong foundation, our spiritual lives will collapse in ruin. A strong foundation is built through faith, trust, and spending time in God’s Word and in prayer each day.

Interestingly, the people began the rebuilding of the temple before they began to rebuild the walls of the city which would protect them from the attack of other nations. The people realized that no matter how strong the city walls might be, without God they were defenseless. The most important thing was to put God first in their lives and have a right relationship with Him. He would be their Protector and Provider.

Challenge: How is your spiritual foundation? Is it about to collapse? God is the Master designer and wants to help you make the right connections so you can build a strong foundation of faith and trust.

Camping Out

They celebrated the Festival of Booths as prescribed and offered burnt offerings each day, based on the number specified by ordinance for each festival day. Ezra 3:4 HCSB

When I was 10 years old, my parents and I took a six week trip to the west coast. We traveled through Texas to visit my grandparents, and then we continued to travel west where we saw the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, and Death Valley before we made our way to San Francisco where my father attended the Southern Baptist Convention and preached a revival for a friend. We then traveled through the Redwood Forest to Seattle, Washington where we went to the World’s Fair and saw the Space Needle. On our way back home we traveled through Yellowstone National Park where I caught my first fish. Except for the time with grandparents and when my dad was preaching the revival, we camped out every night in a small tent. It was a memorable trip that I will never forget.

The people of Israel “camped out” for 40 years as they traveled in the wilderness. They lived in tents and lean-tos. The Festival of Booths (also called the Festival of Shelters) lasted seven days, and it was a reminder of how their ancestors had lived in temporary housing as they journeyed through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. The festival was to remind the people of God’s protection, guidance, and provision. The Festival of Booths is described in detail in Leviticus 23:33-36.

Challenge: Even though the people had disobeyed God, He still loved them and provided for their needs. God loves you and will provide for your needs if you will only trust Him. Thank Him for your home and the many blessings He has provided for you and your family.

First Order of Business

By the seventh month, the Israelites had settled in their towns, and the people gathered together in Jerusalem. Jeshu a son of Jozadak and his brothers the priest along with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his brothers began to build the altar of Israel’s God in order to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Ezra 3:1-2 HCSB

My wife and I enjoy camping. We have a small 1982 Coleman pop-up camper we have used with our family for twenty years. When camping, the first order of business is to get the pop-up camper set up so we will have a place to sleep. It is important not to be distracted by other needs so we can focus on the main business.

Once the Israelites were settled into their new homes, the first order of business was to build an altar for sacrifices so they could follow the laws of Moses as instructed in Leviticus 1-7. The altar symbolized God’s presence among them and God’s protection. It also indicated God’s purpose for the Israelites – They were to worship and connect with God. The sacrifices indicated that the people realized they had sinned against God and needed to offer a sacrifice to have a right relationship with Him. They also needed God’s guidance and protection.

Challenge: As believers, our main purpose is to seek God and follow His will for our lives so we might bring glory to Him. We no longer are required to offer animal sacrifices, but we are asked to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice each day (Romans 12:1). Our first order of business each day should be to read God’s Word and pray. How well are you taking care of the main purpose for your life?

Got Tell It on the Mountain

After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Luke 2:17-18 HCSB

There is a wonderful song titled, “Go Tell It on the Mountain”. Wikipedia reports that “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is an African-American spiritual song, composed by John Wesley Work, Jr., dating back to at least 1865, that has been sung and recorded by many Gospel and secular performers. It is considered a Christmas carol because its original lyrics celebrate the Nativity of Jesus: “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere: Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born”

The shepherds did what all of us should do. They heard the Good News, responded to the Good News, and then shared the Good News. The final command of Jesus to His disciples was, “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” As disciples of Jesus, that is also our command. The shepherds immediately went and told others about what they had experienced.

Challenge: With whom have you shared the Good News this week? Watch for opportunities to share how Jesus has changed your life. Make a list of people you know who need to hear about Jesus and then ask God to provide opportunities for you to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those you encounter. Listen to the song, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” as sung by Dolly Parton on YouTube at https://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play;_ylt=A0LEVr7vVJJUHBMAKDAPxQt.;_ylu=X3oDMTB

Let’s Go

When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough. Luke 2:15-16 HCSB

We have a very nice ceramic nativity set that my wife’s mother and father made for us years ago. Each piece is hand-painted and is one of our treasured possessions. Every year as we decorate our home for Christmas, we carefully unwrap each piece and place it in the stable that was built by my father-in-law for the nativity set. The nativity set reminds us of the “reason” for the season. Christmas has become such a secular holiday that is all about buying and receiving gifts that too often the baby Jesus is forgotten in the business of the season.

The shepherds did not hesitate. They did not wait until morning. They responded immediately and left the fields in the darkness of the night and went to Bethlehem to see if what the angel had told them was actually true. Notice that the shepherds went straight to Bethlehem, they did not take a detour. They were in a hurry to go and see the Messiah, the baby Jesus. Surely, excitement was in each step as they headed for Bethlehem.

Challenge: Do you have the same excitement you did when you first received Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior? Are you excited about meeting and developing a relationship with Jesus? Thank God for sending His Son to earth to live a perfect life and then to die as a sacrifice for your sins so you might have forgiveness and eternal life.