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Jan 31, 2016

Strong Hands, Focused Hearts

Strong Hands, Focused Hearts

Passage: Ezra 1:1-6:22

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Story

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: anticipation, move of god, perseverence, priority, return from exile, strength, waiting, work, worship, rebuilding a city


This message looks at Ezra 1-6 and the ministry of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. God calls his people to strengthen themselves for the challenging work of the Kingdom and to get to work, but only after the priority of worship has been firmly established in their lives. This message looks at how our experience at Mosaic Fellowship is mirroring what God did with the Jewish returnees from exile.


Strong Hands, Focused Hearts

The Story—Return from Exile—Ezra 1-6, Haggai & Zachariah

INTRO:  Thanks to Eric for preaching last week.  That allowed Sandy & me to spend a little time with Daniel in S. Cal last week.  Traveling is always a…waiting experience.  You have to wait in line to check your baggage, wait in line at the TSA checkpoint, wait at the gate for the plane, wait on the tarmac for the flight to leave, wait for the fasten seatbelt sign to go off before you get up and wander around the Oh-So-Spacious cabin, wait for the lavatory to be freed up, wait for everyone to exit the plane, wait for your bags at the return baggage carrousel…you get the point. 

            Life is really an awful lot about waiting too.  Just think through your life for a little bit. 

  • When you’re a preschooler, what can’t you wait to start? (Kindergarten)
  • When you hit 1st grade, what did you find yourself waiting for every day? (Lunch…or recess)
  • After 180 days in school in 1st grade, what could you hardly wait for? (Summer vacation!)
  • And after 3 months of summer vacation, what could you hardly wait for? (School again!)
  • In grade school, we couldn’t wait for…junior high…then high school…then a job or college.
  • After college you could hardly wait for…meeting Mr. Right…and getting married.
  • Then you could hardly wait to…have children.
  • And when you had children, you could hardly wait to…get a good night’s sleep again!

Life involves a lot of waiting.  So…what are you waiting for right now?  Especially spirituallySomeone you can hardly wait to know Christ?  Something you can hardly wait to see God do? 

            Today we’ve come to the portion of God’s Story in history that His Jewish children, exiled from the Promised Land to Babylon, had been waiting for for 70 years. The prophet Jeremiah had told them that their exile would last for 70 years.  Tens of thousands of them had been dragged off to a foreign country and forced to be resident Prisoners of War in a pagan land.  God was both punishing them and disciplining them, all in an attempt to make them hungry for Him and for life that was really life. 

            So when the 70 years of captivity came to an end, God moved in the heart of pagan king Cyrus, king of Persia, to let 50,000 Jews return to Israel.  Most of these folks had been born in captivity.  The vast majority of them had never seen the Promised Land.  Most of them were probably far more comfortable just going about their business in captivity than they were pulling up roots and taking a troublesome journey 900 miles across desert to start a life from scratch in a land that had been desolate for 70 years. 

            Maybe a few of you here today can hardly wait to move.  That’s possible.  But I wonder:  how many of us can hardly wait to leave everything familiar to move to a place we’ve never seen, that is virtually wilderness, and start all over again…from scratch…everything—businesses, homes, families, cities…kind of like settlers in the wild west? 

            Most, if not all of us, would need some pretty compelling reasons for making that kind of move.  So WHY would 50,000 people be eager to do just that?  What was it that made the people of God willing to wager everything, sell all and migrate 900 miles to Israel?   [Responses.]

I’m sure it was a combination of all those things and a few more.  But when God goes to record THE driving reason, guess what He puts down.  Let’s turn to the book of Ezra, the priest, to find that answer…chapter 1.

            Ezra was the priest who led the returning captives back to Jerusalem.  At the same time, two other prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, gave prophecies within 2 months of each other.  We’ll see how some of their prophecies fit into this part of God’s Story with His people in a moment.  Here’s what was unfolding in about the year 538 B.C. with His people.  It has a lot to say to what is unfolding with us in 2016 in Spokane…at Mosaic…and in our own hearts and experiences. 

            Ezra 1:1ff--In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing….”  Those prophecies came from Jeremiah 25:9-12 & 29:8-19

Here’s the wonderful thing:  God always orders history according to His declared word.  It happened then and it is happening now.  That should keep us from getting too riled up about world events.  And it should make us want to find and hold onto every promise of God.

APP:  Imagine the difference it will make in our mental state, our peace of mind, our very prayers themselves, when our minds are saturated with promises that God will never let drop to the ground. 

CHALLENGE:  How about we all decide to learn 1 new promise a week from God’s word this year?  50 in a year!  That will change our experience with God and people this year.

Notice something else from vs. 1:“The Lord moved the heart of King Cyrus to make a proclamation…and put it in writing.” 

            Now, not every royal or presidential proclamation or executive order is divinely inspired.  In fact, most of them probably aren’t.  But this one was.  And God made sure that the king put it in writing.  That’s an important detail because later the Samaritans (half Jews/half Assyrians who had resettled in Samaria) are going to get a couple of later kings (Xerxes & Artaxerxes) to stop the rebuilding (see Ezra 4).  But the reality is that, from time to time in human history, God puts it in the hearts of pagan rulers to make decisions and take actions that carry out exactly God’s will on exactly God’s timetable.  Whether it has been Cyrus of Persia or Caesar Augustus of Rome, the results have always been just what God prophesied. 

            That is not to say that everything or even a majority of what world rulers and governments decide is to fulfill God’s word.  Much of it fulfills the will of Satan but is still allowed by God.  But even that should give us rest in the knowledge that if God chooses not to stop great evils, His sovereign hand is still in charge, still at work and still doing in this lower story world that which will lead human history (and our personal histories) into His grand upper-story plan. 

            But back to our story.  Cyrus is no ordinary pagan ruler.  Listen to his decree and ask yourself how much of speaks biblical truth. 

Ezra 1:2-4

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”

  • He understands his authority proceeds from God, not himself.
  • He understand his role in history under God’s rule in history.
  • He uses his authority to encourage true worship of the true God.

APP:  May I make a not-so-politically-correct observation of contemporary world leaders…and Presidential candidates?  Too many of them, in both political parties, are completely ignorant of these most fundamental truths.  And that is always very dangerous for everyone who finds themselves under their leadership.  If national leaders worship the wrong gods (wealth, power), their people will suffer.  If they don’t recognize that their authority proceeds from God and that they are answerable to God, their people will suffer.  And if they don’t believe God rules over them, their people will suffer.  It matters not the political party; their people will suffer. 

APP:  So don’t be ignorant of the spiritual state of the people you vote for.  It will matter!

So what’s all this have to say to us trying to rebuild the spiritual foundations of our own city? Just this: WORSHIP must take priority if the people of God are to be restored.  The people’s return to Israel was not just about cherished land.  It wasn’t just about getting as far away as possible from foreign governments.  It wasn’t primarily about starting new businesses or building new homes or restoring old dreams.  It was about WORSHIP—getting close to God in the way and in the place where God said that was important. 

APP:  This is one of the chief marks of a spiritually revived people of God.  In an environment where our hearts are warming to God, we’ll make greater and greater efforts to gather with God’s people for worship.  That may be worship through united prayer.  It may be worship through united service.  It may be worship through music or art or study of His Word.  It may be worship through loving fellowship or worship through reflective and meditative solitude.  When seeking God is our highest priority, finding God will be our frequent experience. Improved, increased and impassioned worship will take priority when we’re letting God move among us. 

But in an environment where people are cooling towards God, you will find them abandoning gathering together with God’s people in worship for any number of distractions. 

Ezra 1:5--Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. 

            When God moved their hearts…THEY moved!  That has been true throughout all human history.  If God is moving in our hearts, we WILL move!  We won’t be able to be stationary.  We won’t stand still.  We won’t be stagnant.  We’ll be like moving water!  We’ll be refreshing springs. We’ll be moving out in fresh steps of faith

            It is when the people of God stop experiencing the moving of God in their hearts that we stop being a force for movement in their city, nation and world.  It is striking throughout the history of the church how much God’s people actually, literally MOVED when God gripped their hearts. 

  • The Pilgrims moved to the wilderness of the New World. They left the advanced cultures of Europe to advance into the wilderness of North America.  They came primarily and almost exclusively because of their longing to worship God unbridled by the state church of the King of England.  They came with a desire to raise their children and grandchildren in a way that taught them God’s Word and work. Hundreds of them left family, home, their English culture, their trades, their jobs just because God was moving them to move. 
  • The “modern missions movement” experienced the same thing. From William Carey and Hudson Taylor who left England to Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Cam Townsend (Founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators) and tens of thousands of 20th and 21st century missionaries who left their hometowns in the U.S., when God moves in the hearts of his children, his children move. 

APP:  This is why we are doing the hard work to MOVE DOWNTOWN again ASAP.  It’s not because we are drawn by the beauty and glamour of downtown Spokane (there isn’t much of that).  It’s not because it’s THE most desirable neighborhood in the city.  (It isn’t!)  It’s not because the rich live here…or the land is cheap…or the problems are small…or the people are all movers and shakers.  It’s because God is moving on our hearts…and that move is making us uneasy staying where we are and passionate to move into a place of great need and great opportunity.  

            So why is it that lots of God’s people never move?  Lots of the Jews stayed in Persia.  (That’s how Esther’s story came to be.)  Lots of Puritans stayed in England.  Lots of churches stay in the suburbs. 

            I think that moving takes more faith.  And most people prefer the certainty to a place they know to the uncertainty of a move they don’t know.

But when we are people “moved by God,” something is going to happen to even the people around us who don’t choose to make the move with us.  Look at Ezra 1:6--All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.  Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god.”  And the chapter goes on with the thousands of articles of gold and silver King Cyrus sent along with them. 

Even their neighborsboth believing Jews and pagan Persians—found themselves giving the resources needed for rebuilding of this center of worship. 

APP:  We’re seeing that happen right now with Mosaic.

  • Pioneer Pathways space—Lease for $1/year!
  • Proposal for Stewart Title Bld--Sale. Just this week the asking price of that building dropped $185,000!
  • Mosaic Bikes—Gift last month from a non-religious company in Seattle who heard about what we are doing downtown and made a donation. Gifts of bikes, parts and TIME people have showered on us.  So much so that we have a whole 3-car garage full of bikes and parts besides what is in the shop.

And I think this is just the beginning.  As people outside of God’s family…business neighbors, community neighbors, non-profit neighbors…see the steps of faith we are making and the impact that is having on our city, they are going to step forward and offer their “gold and silver” to see people transformed in their city by the power of God. 

So…let’s PRAY for a few things

  • Community Coffee Shop that trains people how to work in the service industry
  • The sale of Stewart Title. It will take a.) God moving the present owner (Dave Black), and b.) God protecting it from selling to someone else.
  • Unite Family Services—work with medically fragile foster children in our community
  • Youth for Christ cooperative youth center with us.

[Time of prayer???]

Notice something else in Ezra.  The giving didn’t stop with the moving.  When the nearly 50,000 POWs returned to Israel, when they actually got to the site of the work (the destroyed city and Temple of God in Jerusalem), they gave amazingly. 

Ezra 1:68-69--When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site. 69) According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 darics of gold [about 1,000 pounds], 5,000 minas of silver [about 3 tons of silver] and 100 priestly garments.

            If we were to calculate the value of that amount of gold and silver simply at today’s prices, it would be nearly $15 million!  If you figure an average family size of 5 people, that figures out to about $1,500/family (10,000 families) in freewill offerings towards rebuilding the temple. And that in a day when the average person had far fewer resources and far less income than today. 

APP:  We’ve experienced that kind of giving already among us here in the last 18 months.  Out of this little congregation, God has brought some $200,000 in “freewill offering” giving. What I mean is, God has moved our hearts to give $200K above our regular tithes and offerings (which have amounted to about another $200K/year). That’s astounding, utterly astounding for a group of people like us! All that has enabled us now to come to the table with offers to actually move on property that is available.  There will be more steps of faith and more needs. But they will simply be new opportunities to watch God do amazing things. 

When renewal of our worship is our priority, even plain, average people of God will find generosity welling up in our hearts.  I think we are going to see it happen again and again as we engage in the next step of rebuilding worship in the core of our city.  Because above all else we want to be people experiencing the heart of God in the heart of our city.

Let’s keep moving.  Ezra 3:1-6 tells us something very strategic.  Not only was renewed worship THE priority for the people of God.  Rebuilding the altar of sacrifice was the priority in that worship

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem. 2 Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices. 

Dealing with sin God’s way is the first stage of renewing worship.

For Israel at that time it meant renewing the daily sacrifices on the altar in Jerusalem.  That was the first step in getting right with God.  It’s still the first step today. But what a difference!

For us the repentance piece is still critical. But how the process has changed

  • They had to rebuild an altar; we get to review the cross.
  • They had to bring an animal to sacrifice; we get to bring our gratitude as a sacrifice of praise.
  • They had to watch life blood drain out of an innocent animal; we get to watch Christ’s life poured into us during communion.
  • They had to watch their offering be consumed by fire; we get to experience our lives being consumed by the Holy Spirit.
  • They went home with their guilt temporarily covered; we go home with our sins washed away forever.
  • They had to live day by day with sacrifices that left them with guilty consciences; we get to live moment by moment with Christ Jesus who is making all things new!


Ezra 3 goes on to tell us about the next steps in the rebuilding of the Temple.  Suffice it to say that it involved a LOT of WORK!  It involved a TON of PEOPLE.  And it produced a very interesting yet somewhat opposite response in God’s people…depending on their AGE[Read Ezra 3:10-11]

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:

He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 

This was the unified response.  So let’s DO the SAME—sing!

But then something happened based upon the age of the worshipers.  Ezra 3:12ff--

12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. 13 No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

APP:   Here’s the danger the older every one of us gets in our spiritual journey with Christ:  comparing what WAS with what IS can turn rejoicing into sorrow.  DON’T DO IT! 

Do you know why?  It’s not just so we stay on the happy side of the ledger. No. The prophet Haggai gives us the reason in a message he gave to these very people some 16 years later.  They had been slowed and actually stopped in their building effort by opposition.  But perhaps more telling is that they had moved their efforts from building God’s house to building their own houses.  And I’m sure that some of the old guard who remembered how grand Solomon’s Temple was had just lost their steam, if not their heart, for building something “less”, something “smaller”, some might have even said something “inferior.” 

Listen to what God said:  Haggai 2:1ff--on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? [Skip to vs. 6.]

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The glory of the Lord is not about the size of a PLACE; it’s about WHO is present and WHAT is done in that place.  This second temple, though inferior in size and architecture and ornateness was SUPERIOR in the one category that really counts—God’s glory!  This temple would actually last longer than Solomon’s temple had.  And this temple would see the Only Begotten of the Father teach in it.  It would see greater glory--“the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15) the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He would teach in its courts and turn the world upside down with His glory displayed there! 

APP:  Friends, don’t despise “smaller things” when it comes to physical facilities.  The glory of God is not bound by the size of the building!  It is only limited by the size of our devotion

Personal Confession: (Visiting The Gathering House in the Garland District.)  They’ve done in the Garland area what we have been trying to do downtown here for 3 years in getting space.  Oh, they tried to do it here for 8 years.  But, like us, they couldn’t find the building.  And unlike us, they had a building worth over $1 million.

So a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a good idea to take the staff and go visit them and pick their brains about what they had learned.  Boy, was that a foolish thing to do in hindsight.  The more I sat there and listened to their journey, the more discouraged I got.  Satan kept whispering in my ear, “See, they had a lot more resources than you do.  They worked at it a lot longer than you did.  They had a building.  And research shows that you need at least 8,000 sq. ft. to “do church” in the city.  So John, you got noth’en!  You might as well give up and go away!” 

It took me days to recover from that experience.  And as I finally did, God began to speak again to me what I’ve heard before:

  • STOP comparing yourself and Mosaic with others.
  • Who set those rules of minimum space and minimum capital you must have? Not me!
  • It just leaves more room for God to get the glory and you to walk by faith!

I’ve been in Spokane now for the past 23 years.  I’ve done the multi-million dollar, larger church building thing.  And I’m more excited about what we are in the thick of doing downtown with a fraction of the space and a fraction of the people and a fraction of the finances than any other project I’ve ever been involved with. 

And then, this week, God brings us this passage to remind us that smaller places, smaller buildings, smaller projects can bring even greater glory to God.  The glory of this present house can be greater than the glory of hundreds of larger, more beautiful, more expensive places.  It’s all about a.) the presence of God, and b.) we the people whose lives encounter God. Those two things have never depended on money or buildings ...and they won't now either. 

            So let’s lay some new temple foundations in this city!

Let me end this morning with a couple of verses I skipped in the last reading in Haggai 2:4ff--But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.

 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

We didn’t have time to view it this morning, but there was plenty of opposition to even building this smaller temple. In fact, this is sort of the tap-root of the Jews’ hatred of the Samaritans that we see even when Jesus walked the land of Israel.  Remember the woman at the well in John 4?  That historic antagonism dates back to this very building project. 

What appears to be a rather bad-faith offer to Zerubbabel in 537 B.C. by the half-breed Samaritans to help the Jews rebuild the Temple exploded into outright opposition.  For six years the Samaritans did everything they could short of murder to slow the work on the Temple.  Sadly, they eventually completely stopped work on it for 10 years.  So for 16 years, the opposition was fierce. 

Finally, Haggai and Zechariah come along and, with their prophecies, reignite the nation’s passion to pursue God through completing the Temple. 

Notice how many times Haggai commands the people to “be strong”.  He singles out particular leaders with this command.  And then he dumps it on ALL the people of God as well. 

Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.

Friends, we not only need hearts that are focused on worship of God 1st and foremost; we need HANDS that are STRONG to DO the work it will take to make downtown Spokane one of the best places in this city to encounter God and one of the hardest places in this city to get to hell! 

It will demand growing strength.  God wants to use every one of us in this journey.  But to do so, most of us are going to have to GROW stronger.  We’re going to have to get tougher spiritually.  We’re going to have to ‘work out’ spiritually, run the treadmill spiritually, lift weights spiritually, run marathons spiritually IF we are going to have what will be demanded of us to make this place a place where the glory of God is great. 

So when the going gets tough, determine to get tough spiritually.  Determine to grow through engagement in multiple spiritual practices that will build spiritual muscle—practices like studying God’s word with others, serving people, giving generously and regularly, fasting, prayer, times of solitude and silence, worship, sharing our faith in Christ, etc.  That’s why we come here week after week—to get stronger for the battle.

But it isn’t enough to just ‘lift spiritual weights’.  I find nothing more pathetic than some over-muscled body builder type who won’t make or take the time to put a few of those muscles to work doing what is actually needed…whether it’s helping someone move…or hanging drywall…or leading a Bible study …or swinging a hammer…or fixing a bike…or opening their heart to someone in need.  We must not only “be strong.”  We must WORK!

APP:  There is going to be plenty of work over the next 6 months at Mosaic.  And, God willing, that work will blossom into more ministry than we ever imagined.  We’ll need more children’s workers, more people painting walls, more evangelists sharing Jesus at the bike shop, more servers serving coffee to hungry hearts in a coffee shop.  We’ll need more mentors of young men and women, more small group leaders of Bible studies, more recovery sponsors, more musicians willing to play evenings as well as weekends.  We’ll need more drivers and monitors for medically fragile foster kids, more youth leaders as we partner with YFC, more health workers and social workers and prayer counselors

            So I think one of God’s words to us today is, ‘Be strong, all you people of the church…and work!  For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Jesus Christ.

CLOSE:  Ask GOD what HE wants YOU to do? 

  • Give your life to Christ?
  • Renew your worship of God in some way?
  • Volunteer?
  • Let someone know of your skill or trade that is needed?
  • Get trained?
  • Give more…more often?

Let God speak.  And then determine to share what you think He told you to do with someone who will help you do it.