Unchangeable, Promise Keeping God

And the journey continues….Ezra. Ezra is a history book about the Jewish people’s amazing return to Jerusalem from Babylon. Due to their evil idolatrous ways and forsaking of the worship of the one true God, they were carted away to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem was destroyed along with the temple. The precious gold bowls and articles of worship were carried away too. Their exile, which was warned about by a multitude of prophets, was accomplished by the Persian army and many of the Jewish citizens were deported to Babylon. All the prophets had foretold their exile and also their return. No date was given in earlier prophesy’s to their return but God promised to bring them back. As the time for exile approached, God sent a message to the people through Jeremiah that they would be exiled for 70 years and then be brought home to Jerusalem. The events in Ezra tell us how God used a pagan king to accomplish this feat and see to His people’s return 70 years after their deportation.

Daniel, one of the exiled Jews, spoke of how God uses all in His world to accomplish His will in his prayer. Daniel 2:21 He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the discerning.
Daniel knew that God controlled who was in power and determined the future of His people.

The book of Ezra opens 70 years later. Ezra is a Jewish official, a scribe and a priest in the service of King Cyrus of Persia. The regime has changed and Cyrus had a revelation from God and his heart was moved towards the Jewish people living in his realm. Ezra 1:1-4  “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:

“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:

“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.”

There are several amazing things about this occurrence. Their return was foretold by Jeremiah before their exile in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10. Here is 29:10 “This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.” God was very specific on the number of years they would be in exile (70) and that when they returned they would have provisions. Cyrus ordered fellow Jews remaining in Babylon to support them and their efforts to rebuild the temple. He, a pagan king, was used by God in a mighty and miraculous way aid in the return of God’s people. They did return and began rebuilding the city, walls and temple. Ezra stayed, led in the instruction of the people in God’s ways so that they did not sin continue to sin against God. He had to return to Cyrus’ court and Nehemiah was led to go and continue this restoration.

What lessons can we take from this story? Foremost, God keeps His promises. God said they would go, they did. God said they would return, they did. The events were orchestrated by God and not by the Jews who were in exile. God knew the correct time for their return and who was going to be in power. God knew Cyrus would listen to His message and act upon it. One would never have thought that the golden bowls, etc. that were taken as plunder and placed in the Babylonian temple by King Nebuchadnezzar were there for safekeeping. Only God could take away, preserve and then return them to where He wanted them to be. That same God is the God we know today. Hebrews 13:8 tells us “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He is our unchanging all powerful God who watches over all of us. This account gives me hope and assurance that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do, always and forever. It also assures me that God is Sovereign over nations, those in power and events happening in our world. When things look bleak, I need to always remember that God is indeed in control and walk trusting Him for my safekeeping. I know God keeps His promises!

Be encouraged by God today.

Linda

Waiting…Hard for them and us!

Jesus had been appearing to them for the last 40 days since his resurrection. He had been teaching and confirming who He was and their mission to continue to tell others about Him after He returned to heaven. They had many questions and voiced a few in Acts 1:6-8. Here was Jesus’ answer, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They wanted details- the how, when and where of His return but He simply reminded them of the power and their greater purpose. Jesus wanted patient obedience and focus from them.

How good are you at waiting? I’m not prone to waiting patiently, but when I know something is coming I can endure with a bit more patience. The disciples were commanded by Jesus to wait for the coming Holy Spirit that the Father would send. They were not to leave Jerusalem and go home either. The fact Jesus told them to wait there would have given them hope that it would be only a ‘short’ time before this promised power would arrive. Acts 1:1-5 “In my former book (the gospel of Luke), Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Is that a lesson you need to learn too? We know Jesus is to return and what our job is until he does. Why do we fret over the when and where? Just like the disciples, we need to wait for the right time for speaking out about Him, remain steadfast in faith, constant in prayer and filled with His hope. God’s timing is perfect and He alone knows when Jesus will return. Until then, just like the disciples- we wait. But, God has given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to tell others about Him. The disciples were waiting for that power- only a few days more until the Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost. They didn’t know it was only 10 days away so they returned to Jerusalem after the ascension and waited together . Acts 1:14 “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” This is a perfect example of how we can encourage and support one another as we wait.

If Jesus returned today, would He find you doing what He asked? Are you telling others about Him? Are you praying for others and remaining steadfast in your faith? Are you encouraging and praying with fellow believers? It was a challenge for the disciples and it is a challenge for us. They had just seen and heard Jesus and knew Him to be real and trustworthy. We have the empowerment from the Holy Spirit within us to be faithful and honor His requests, and we too know Him to be trustworthy!

May you seek to do His will while you wait for His return.

Linda