sermon intro video: http://storylineframework.com/2009/12/03/ezra-sermon-into-video-word/
About ten years ago while I was working at a summer camp, a group of counselors and myself were standing outside the camp chapel waiting for our weekly “skit night” performance to start. Our opening skit was called “the flour girl” because one of the guys would go around the stage asking every acting girl counselor if she’d be his flower girl, and they all told him “NO!” until he came to the last girl. When he would ask her, she would then blow baking flour (that she had been hiding in her mouth) all up in his face. Well, as we were standing outside, our flour girl had already put the flour in her mouth when someone made a funny. She laughed and then accidently gulped the flour which hardened in her throat and got lodged there. We all panicked and just stared at her as her eyes got wider and she started freaking out because she couldn’t breathe. The crazy thing was that we all were trained in CPR and the Heimlich about a month before. Since I was the in-charge program director, I did what every leader should never do: I told everyone to take care of it because I had to go get the nurse! About that time, she gagged, threw-up the flour and everything else, breathed again, and yelled at all of us for nearly watching her die!
So many of us and many people we know are literally suffocating spiritually. Just like our little flour girl, they need help. They need to be revived. People may even be around them who know how to help, but no one is doing anything about it. Some of you reading this right now, or people you know, have been created by God; but you have not been revived spiritually by giving your life to Jesus. Some have come so close to giving their lives to Jesus; but at the last second they decided to step back, and they never really made that change. Some of them have been saved recently, but they’ve never really lived it because something came into their lives that hindered them from following Him closely. Some have been saved and they have followed Christ closely, but they have since turned their backs on Him because they’ve fallen into sin. Some are saved, living well for Christ, but one day they will go through a situation like this. They will need to know how to be revived in Christ again. So many of us need to understand this passage of Scripture because we know people who are not living for Christ and whose lives needs to be revived, and we’re sick of just standing around watching them gasp for spiritual breath.
We’ve called this series on the book of Ezra “WORD.” Here’s the situation we find Israel in: Israel was once a kingdom in the land God had promised them, but that kingdom was divided and conquered. The southern part of the kingdom was conquered and carted off to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar. So Ezra is the book that tells the story how God brought them back from exile in the land of Babylon to their promised land of Judah. You’ll love this!
About 50 years after the conquering, the kingdom of Persia marches to Babylon and Persian King Cyrus defeats Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Under the rule of Cyrus over Israel, God began to work in His people’s lives again. God put it in Cyrus’ heart to release His people and let them go back home (Ezra 1:1-4). This is crazy, but God even uses pagan kings to accomplish His plan. We’re not exactly sure how many Israelites there were in Babylon at this time, but we see that only about 50,000 of them return to their home land (Ezra 2). That seems to be a very low number from the way Ezra writes about it. It really does sound similar to the story where Jesus heals10 lepers, and only one of them returns to thank Him (Luke 17). Did you know that some statistics go as far to say that only 90% of teenagers who grow up in the church do not return faithfully to church every again once they graduate high school? Could you imagine being conquered, taken from your home, and then not wanting to go back to God’s land once you’ve been freed to do so? But we do the same with our sin. Just wait!
God leads the 50,000 who do make the journey back home (from what I hear did not involve going through a candy cane forest, passing through the Lincoln tunnel, or any swirly-twirly gum drops), and through their obedience to His Word, He shows us a pattern of how to experience personal revival in our own lives. The very first thing God leads them to do is to rebuild the altar (Ezra 3:1-7). Why? He wants them to rebuilt the altar because that is where they see that He is holy, they are sinners, and forgiveness can only come through a substitutionary sacrifice. The altar is where the head of the family would bring an animal from their flock, lay it on the altar, confess his sin and the sin of his family, and then lay his head on the beast’s head as a symbol of his and his family’s sin passing to the animal. The priest would then kill the animal by slicing it from its throat to its belly. It was an ugly gory mess, but that’s exactly what God wanted. God wanted to show His people that sin was serious and it deserves death…their own death. But out of His grace, mercy, and love, God would one day provide a once-for-all substitute sacrifice for sin: His Son, Jesus Christ. The first way that we come back to revival has got to by returning to the sacrifice of Christ. Our daily confession and obedience from our understanding of His sacrifice is where we rightly understand that He is God, we are sinners, and our forgiveness can only come through His bloody substitutionary death. Do you want to return to Christ? Come back to Him first through His sacrifice for your sin.
Next, God lead them to rebuild His temple. The temple is where the people of God gathered to worship Him while the priests would make the sacrifices on the outside. Afterward, the priests would go inside to worship God more in the Holy Place and the room called the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies is where the Ark of the Covenant was, which symbolized God’s presence, power, and promises with His people. It was also His throne. It was where God’s glory would burn out of the heavens, drop down to the temple, and rest in the Holy of Holies on top of the Ark of the Covenant. Just like they rebuilt the temple for worship, the second way we experience personal revival and come back to Christ is by faithfully living a life of worshipping and glorifying the resurrected Jesus Christ. We see every decision, act, thought, and direction as a way to worship Him.
Third, God lead them through opposition. Israel’s enemies rose up and tried to stop them from building the temple. Their enemies threatened them so much that Ezra said the Israelites experienced both frustration and fear (Ezra 4:1-6). Their enemies even went so far to write a letter to the current King of Persia…now Artaxerxes. King A commanded them to stop building. Shortly thereafter, God told them to start building again. Another letter went out to the King of Persia…now Darius. Darius reviewed the situation, and ruled that they were rightfully rebuilding their land which was decided by original King Cyrus. When we experience personal revival, Satan won’t like it, and neither will the world. We must expect opposition. They may throw temptation, mockery, logical reasons, guilt trips, insults, or a cold shoulder towards us, but we must be resilient like Israel and continue to rebuild our lives in Christ as God has commanded.
Lastly, Israel knew that they had experienced genuine revival when they were able to celebrate the Passover again together. In the same way, we know that we have experienced genuine, personal revival when we are an excited part of a local church, having become a part of its people, treasuring the sacrifice of Christ, worshipping Him on a daily basis, and enjoying the Lord’s Supper with the local church you’ve become a part of and are growing in.
Just recently Jaycee was found. Eighteen years ago, her father watched his 11 year old little Jaycee walk out of the house like she did every morning, and go down the street to the bus stop. This time, when she was several yards away from him, her father saw a car stop right beside her, two people get out, grab Jaycee, force her into the car, and speed off. Her father jumped on a bicycle and tried to catch them, but they easily got away. No one found any trace of Jaycee for 18 years, until recently the 29 year old Jaycee was found trapped in a backyard shed where she had lived as her kidnapping couples sex slave. Could you imagine the police giving her freedom to finally go home…and her turn them down to say that she wanted to remain a slave to this couple who mistreated her? That’s exactly what we do with our sin. When we don’t return to Christ, we are saying that we want our slave master, Satan, to continue to rule our lives and mistreat us with his harmful ways. Jaycee did go home, 50,000 of the Israelites did go home, and that’s exactly what God is calling you to do as well. Go home! Go back to Christ. Return through a renewed belief in His sacrifice, by worshipping Him, facing opposition, and enjoying the fellowship of a church home. Go home by coming back to Christ.