February 11, 2024: Message: Doing It Right, Again | Scripture: Ezra 3:1-7 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: Holy, Holy, Holy | It Is Finished On The Cross | He Will Hold Me Fast
If able, please stand with me as I read to you from Ezra 3:1-7. TWoL: When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubabbel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses, the man of God. They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord. From the first day of the seventh month, they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. So, they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus, king of Persia.
I wanted to take a minute to clarify something that I said in one of my classes on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. In that class, I was speaking on the absolute atrocity of abuse in the home and in the church, and how we will not tolerate it as a church, and a question was asked. The question was, “what are your views on divorce in cases like this?”
What I said was that, while abuse in the home is a terrible, grievous thing, Christ gives a singular ground for divorce in the Bible, that is, when one of the spouses has been sexually unfaithful—affair, unrepentant use of pornography, acts of predation, etc. These are valid, although extremely sorrowful, grounds for divorce because of how the covenant between husband and wife has been broken. Abuse, on its own, without infidelity, is not a breaking of the covenant, and thus, biblically speaking, should not lead to divorce.
Now, before you start throwing tomatoes at me, I wanted to clarify this, knowing how extremely difficult a situation this is for families—maybe even families that are or have been amongst us because I take this very seriously. I said in that class that a man who lays a hand on his bride, or seeks to emotionally manipulate and disparage her, or anything of that nature—he is not a man, even if it’s in “self-defence.” A similar thing could be said about a woman, although her claims for self-defence will tend to hold greater weight.
My clarification about my statement, however, is this: although, I would not recommend divorce from your spouse in situations of abuse, I would very much say, “Get out. We have a place for you to stay with us. I’m going to call the cops. I’m going to call a lawyer. We will provide for you. We will make sure your kids are getting to school and getting picked up. We’re going to do all we can to make sure you’re safe.” I believe this is absolutely necessary when a home is dangerous. I believe, in part, this is why elders exist in the church—not just to preach the gospel to you—but to live it out and to protect you from the ways of the world and the devil.
Yet even in this, as we get you out of the home, as we do all that we can to keep your kids safe, as we get all the proper restraining orders, police involvement, etc. in place, my recommendation in that dark night of your soul would still be not to get a divorce. That doesn’t mean I want you meeting with your abusive spouse on your own—perhaps ever. That doesn’t mean I want him or her to see your children without proper supervision.
But it does mean that you leave open the possibility for a second chance—an observable, carefully scrutinized, tested, vetted kind of second chance—where you would not have one but many voices, professional and lay, others and your own, that can speak to his or her repentance and renewed trustworthiness. And if such trustworthiness can never be established, then it’s right for you to stay away physically and dedicate yourself to prayer for him or her. But the truth is that you can do all of this without a divorce.
Why? Why would I say such a seemingly heartless thing? Well, part of my answer would be based upon how Scripture defines marriage, and who you belong to when you say the words, “I do,” but the other part of it—the more important part—is because of the fact that we have a God of second chances. In fact, we have a God who, though we were unfaithful, gives us not just second chances, but thirds, fourths, fifths, on and on and on.
And the issue that is before us is a matter of perspective. See, very often, when we hear about abuse, if we’re not already in that situation, we imagine ourselves to be the victim (or the supporters of a victim), but this morning, I want us to flip that and imagine that we are the culprit. I want us to imagine that we are the abusers, the unfaithful husband or bride, the terrible parent who hates their children, the man who can’t die to self and love his wife, or the woman who thinks her husband’s an idiot and can’t respect a thing he says.
I want us to imagine that we’re the bad guys, and how we’d want to be treated if and when our evil catches up to us—when that prison cell threatens to slam shut before our face, when you’ll never get to have an intimate conversation with your best friend ever again, when the judge is about to slam the gavel, taking away everything you have and love. Would you want a second chance, and how would you treat it?
I hope most of us would make the most of it—that we’d make our second chances count—that we’d find ourselves immensely blessed if there’s still something left for us to lean back on, and this is what our passage is about today. Israel was the bad, unfaithful, abusive spouse, but God gives them a second chance. What do they do with it? Well, they will, eventually, sin again, but at least in our passage today, I think they make the most of it, and they show us how we, in our incredible sinfulness, might also do the same.
Three things we’re called to do to make our second chances count …
1) Become a Bible People
We actually see this in the very first words of Ezra 3: “When the seventh month came …” In this one phrase, we learn that the people of Israel, in their second chance, having just spent 70 years in captivity because of 400 years of sin—this one phrase tells us that they’re Bible people.
What I mean by this can be explained by taking a look at Leviticus 23. There, you’ll see that the whole chapter is about different feasts and festivals during the year, the most important time of the year is described for us in verses 23-44. In this section of verses, there are three separate feasts and festivals that all happen within the span of about 22 days, and all of them begin on the first day of the seventh month.
This day was meant to signal the start of that which was new—a new chance, a new year to find atonement, which happened on the tenth day of the month, a new opportunity to praise God for his grace in sustaining them through the Exodus and, now, the exile (the second Exodus)—a new opportunity to be the people of God as they were meant to be. And as soon as they come back into the land, they make sure not to miss it, and to carry it out exactly as it was written in Scripture.
We see even more of this as we look at the other verses of Ezra 3. All of them gather in one place as one man to Jerusalem. This is called the holy convocation. Leviticus 23:27 talks about this, but even more striking is its similarity to the gathering of the people in Jerusalem at Mount Moriah in 2 Chronicles 5. As the temple is being raised, dedicated, and offerings are being lifted, all the people gather together in the seventh month. They are following both the law and those who preceded them in following the law.
Then, we see the coming together of Jeshua and Zerubabbel. Jeshua is from the priestly house of Judah—he will become the high priest to offer the sacrifice of atonement, similar again to Leviticus 23 and, also, 2 Chronicles 7. Zerubabbel, on the other hand, is someone we see again in Matthew 1. His name is among those from the line of David—the line that gives credibility to the kingly authority of Christ. It is by David’s house that the temple is to be constructed, just as Solomon sought to build the temple in 2 Chronicles 2. These two: a priestly and kingly figure are necessary components, according to Scripture, when it comes to the temple’s construction and religious practices. And here they are.
Then, in Ezra 3:3, the altar is set in its place—that means the place where God mandated it to be set on Mount Moriah, which follows 2 Chronicles 3:1: Solomon built the house of the Lord on Mount Moriah in following God’s instructions to king David. In Ezra 3:7, they bring cedar trees from Lebanon to Joppa in accordance with 2 Chron 2:8 where cedar for the temple was to come from Lebanon into Joppa.
And if you read a little past our text through the rest of chapter 3, in verse 8, they wait to begin construction on the temple until the second month of the next year. Why? Because Solomon began construction of the temple in the second month (2 Chron 3:2). In Ezra 3:8, again, they appoint Levites from twenty years old and upward to supervise the work. Why? Because these were David’s final instructions for Levites in 1 Chronicles 23:27.
In Ezra 3:10, you see the arrangement of builders, priests, Levites, singers, and musicians, which is meant to mimic the arrangement of builders, priests, Levites, singers, and musicians in 2 Chronicles 5:12. Then, in Ezra 3:11—I know we didn’t read these verses, but what do they sing in that verse? As the temple is built up, they sing, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And if you look in 2 Chronicles 5:13, 7:3 and 6, what do they sing in those verses? “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
And just in case we’ve missed all of that imitation, because it’s very possible that by the time Ezra-Nehemiah has made it into the hands of God’s people that they’ve forgotten all these parallels, the writer of Ezra 3 adds for our benefit in verse 2, “[they did these things,] as it is written in the Law of Moses,” then in verse 4, “[they did these things,] as it is written,” then, again, in verse 4, “[they did these things,] according to the rule,” then in verse 5, “[they gave offering] at all the appointed—that is scripturally appointed—feasts of the Lord.”
In other words, the suffering of these people had given way to the inescapable realization that the way to make your second chances count—the way to know God’s glory was to be a people of the Book and to live their lives in imitation of those who had done so. And the question before us is how does your life correspond with that same Book? How do you seek to imitate those who live in light of its words?
Now, perhaps, you’ll respond by saying, “well, Pastor Stephen, there are so many hard passages in the Bible! So many difficult things that we don’t understand.” And I’ll respond, “yes, that’s true. There are a lot of difficult texts, but here’s the thing, most of us, if not all of us, even though there are hard texts in the Bible—most of us know what God desires of us—how he wants us to act. The question isn’t, “how good of an exegete are you?” but, “how important is the joy and fellowship of God to you?”
You know the ten commandments, you know the fruit of the Spirit, you know those famous passages like Love is patient and kind, it doesn’t envy, it doesn’t boast, it is not arrogant or rude, it keeps no record of wrongs …”
Most of us know that it’s not right to lie or covet after what others have, yet our hearts condemn and betray us, how? By lying and actively desiring after what others have or are doing. Many of us know greed is a sin. Yet, we hoard what we have. We’re stingy in how we give and help those in need. We all know that sexual immorality is wrong! Yet, men, we know the statistics for pornography use. We know that there’s to be no activity of this sort outside of marriage. Or how about the clarity of the Bible in not marrying or putting yourself in compromising situations with non-Christians? We all know what to do.
And there may be some of you here who are like, “yes, lean in to all those sinners, Pastor Stephen.” Yet how many of us forget that self-righteousness—pride-filled judgment—is perhaps the most often condemned sin in Scripture—it’s the rap sheet of every Pharisee!
What does your life look like under the exposing light of Scripture? Are we people of the Book? Do we surround ourselves and imitate other, faithful Christians who follow the Book? Do we seek first the kingdom of God, knowing that is the only concern he gives us in Scripture? All the other stuff he’ll take care of, but so often we go looking for the other stuff, when everything we need is right here in the Word.
What does it mean to be the ransomed people of God? What does it mean to have received a second chance? Well, I hope it means that we want to live our lives according to the one who has ransomed us—that we might be people of this Book—of his Book. Yet, secondly, I hope it also means that we want to be people that worship.
2) Become a Worshipping People
As Israel’s coming out of captivity, and as they walk onto this hallowed ground given to them almost a millennia ago, having thought just months before that they’d never be able to do this again, Israel’s most pressing desire is to worship their God. See, these Jews have just been through deep tragedy—though their circumstance was the product of their own sin, they suffered for it. The entirety of their identity had been ripped from them. And so, they’re coming back into Judah—they’re looking into Jerusalem, and they’re not walking. They’re running. They’re racing to worship.
Most commentators are in agreement that this seventh month would have been in the same year that they arrived in Judah. They would have gone back to their cities or towns for a brief stint, set up whatever they could, but as soon as the seventh month came, all of them—it says as one man—flocked to Jerusalem. They were intent upon going as soon as possible. This tells us that they desired to invest the right time—God’s time—their time—they wanted to worship in a timely manner—to make sure they didn’t miss when God wanted them to worship. They showed up on time and on target.
Yet, more than this, they not only sought to worship in the right time, but they sought to worship in the right place—in Jerusalem—the city and mountaintop of God—at Mount Moriah where God had called upon Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and where God directed David to build the altar. And we’re told, in verse 3, that they set the altar in its place—that is on Moriah—”for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands.”
In other words, the reason why these people are so dedicated to following the Bible and worshipping in the right place at the right time—to hurry up and build on this mount—is because there are scary people, watching their work, perhaps, threatening to attack, and the only assurance that these Israelites have for their protection is if they do what they’re supposed to do exactly how they’re supposed to do it. There are enemies afoot, and the only way to know God has your back is if you do as God has required. So, they build the altar right, and they build it in the right place so that they might have confidence that God is for this and for them.
Unfortunately, one might read this story and think these Israelites are being legalists—that they’re strapping their boots on too tightly because God doesn’t demand perfection. We like to say, “true worship is a reflection and an attitude of the heart.” And while this is true, a heart that does not want to do things the way God wants us to do them—a heart that is focused not on what God wants from us but on what we want for ourselves is not a worshipping heart.
The difference between legalism and true worship isn’t obedience—both require obedience. The difference is the focus. Legalism makes it about yourself—what you’ve earned, whereas true worship makes our obedience about God and his saving grace—grace that moves us to do right by him.
And these Israelites are moved to do right by God by building in this specific place, even though the other people in the land are unhappy with them, because if they build anywhere else, all of this wouldn’t be worship. They might have an altar, and they might offer sacrifices upon it, but to build somewhere else because they feel threatened would be to do exactly what exiled them in the first place. People can be scary, but God—for those who are ashamed of him or who desire only to obey when it’s convenient for them—is far scarier.
Nevertheless, Israel doesn’t only seek to worship in a timely fashion and in the right place but with the right leaders and with the right resources. Last week we heard of all the Jews who returned from Babylon, and what we see there is that 10% of them are priests from Jozadak’s line, father of Jeshua. Those who are Levites, 20 and older, are to take care of what’s being built. There are to be gatekeepers, singers, and musicians. They’re to hire trained masons and carpenters. On top of that, they give of their money—some of them give more than what they’re supposed to give not because God requires it but because all they have and are belongs to him anyway!
And what I haven’t mentioned yet, you might have noticed, I keep glossing over this in verse 1 is that they don’t only seek to worship at the right time, in the right place, with the right leaders, and with the right resources, but they worship in the right manner. Jerusalem gathered as one man to worship. All of them in one place, all of them at the right time, all of them with their leaders, all of them contributing their resources, all of them with one heart—all of them together upon this hilltop, for everyone, including their enemies, to see. The glory of God is meant to be displayed in the gathering of his people—people who love him, people who have been saved by him, people who desire, truly, to give their lives to him.
Israel’s desire coming out of captivity was to worship and to worship rightly. And this is meant to challenge us. Do we put our best foot forward in our worship? Do we love to worship? Kevin DeYoung puts it this way: do you come regularly to worship? Some of you may answer, “yes. I’m here every week.” But then, ask yourself, do you come ready to worship? Do you come on time? Do you know what this place is? Do you honour your leaders? Do you give your offering? Do you love your people? Have you set apart a portion of your week to prepare your heart?
Today, is what the world calls Super Bowl Sunday, and I don’t want to take away from your excitement for the game, but I have split emotions about what it all means because there isn’t a bigger day in all of America where people prepare and join together to worship, but it’s not to the Holy God of Israel. People will spend nearly a billion dollars on this single day—eyes glued to the TV from morning till night—yelling, screaming, praising. It’s chilling when we think about how enthralled we get by men who throw, catch, or kick a ball, but when it comes to the gospel—when it comes to the Bible—when it comes to God, we’re hardly motivated enough to get out of our beds.
Does God move you? Is he your greatest delight and passion, and do you die to self so that you might have more of him—that you might be able to worship him?
George Mueller, famous for starting and running an orphanage by the power of prayer alone, once put it this way: “There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will, died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends, and since then, I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”
And the challenge is this: if God stripped you not only of your sin today but also of all the things that you enjoy in life, would you still give him your worship? Israel’s answer that day at the dawn of their second chance was yes because God was now their everything. What then is God to you? Can you die to self for his worship?
And how is it that we can get there? How do we become a Bible-centered, God-worshipping people? What does it mean to be given a second chance? It means that we’re a forgiven people.
3) Become a Forgiven People
Perhaps the way I’ve framed this passage has obscured one of the main themes that runs through it, but more than the centrality of the Word and more than the people’s intention to worship is their need to be forgiven. They’ve been in captivity for 70 years not because they’re innocent but because they’re sinners, and something needs to be done with that sin in order for their second chance to last. Why does the author of Ezra focus on the seventh month? Because the seventh month centres around their atonement!
For twenty-two days of the month, the people of God are offering sacrifices to atone for their sins! Day-after-day, week-after-week. And still, none of it was enough! Why? Because, as verse 6 tells us, the foundation of the temple had not yet been laid. God still needed to come. Their sentence in captivity might have been served, but they needed forgiveness—they needed to know that his presence was with them.
Yet, for us, not only has the altar been built up, and the blood of the offering spilt, but the entire temple has been completed in the cross of Jesus, and the glory of God has filled it in the victory of his resurrection. He is not only the foundation and hope of forgiveness, but he the cornerstone—its precipice—the assurance of forgiveness. By his blood, the wrath of God has been satisfied—because he is the propitiation for our sins.
And by this we are certain that we have come to know him—by this we know that we’ve been forgiven, saved, and given new hearts leading to new life—given a second chance—if we keep his commandments—if we become a people of the Book—if we love to make him the object of our worship.
We can only make this second chance count if we’ve been forgiven, and this is the masterful, all-humbling truth to how such a life might become ours: that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. If you confess and believe in your heart the gospel, you will be freed from the captivity of your sin and freed to walking in the Word, giving yourself in worship, loving the Lord your God.
Christ dies, Christ rises, and Christ forgives so that you might make your life about him. So, don’t waste this gift. Make your second chances count. Give him your heart because he took your sin and made you righteous by the offering of his own blood.