Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ezra 1: A New Beginning

2 Chronicles 36:22-23/Ezra 1:1-7 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel— he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem." Then rose up the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. (ESV).

Jeremiah was the prophet who lived through the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews to Babylon. In the midst of his sorrows over the destruction of Jerusalem and suffering of God's people as expressed in Lamentations, God gave him this prophecy: This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." (Jer 29:10-14)

In a demonstration of His sovereign rule over the kings and presidents of the nations of the world, we read that "the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing" (Ezra 1:1). Now, we know that Cyrus was a heathen Persian king who ruled after Darius, yet God stirred his spirit and caused him to make that proclamation that allowed Jews in exile to return to their homeland. When the Jews finally returned to Jerusalem, 70 years had elapsed and a new generation had arisen who had never seen Jerusalem nor the temple. Nevertheless, Cyrus' proclamation set in motion God's promise to the Jews, that He would restore them to their homeland and would prosper them again as a nation. (Notice Cyrus' edict was also recorded in the last two verses of 2 Chronicles 36 and identical with the one in Ezra 1:1-3, which tells us that Ezra was the author of Chronicles and Ezra.)

Not only did God stir the spirit of Cyrus, He also stirred the people to return: "Then rose up the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:5). God was sovereign over history and He stirs up kings, presidents and people to fulfill His divine agenda. While He stirs up the spirits and hearts of people through His Holy Spirit, nevertheless, they had to exercise their free choice to respond to that stirring by making the move.

Even as we face a new year 2013, the question that must fill our hearts and minds is: "What is God doing around the world today and how does He want me to play a part in that historical process?" There are still many Christians who are singing the old youth fellowship song, "this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through." Such mindset must change because for God, this world is his stage for action. There is no dichotomy between "this world" and the "world to come". We are called to be God's agents in this world to engage it to fulfill God's agenda, not to escape it. If God himself is actively engaged in this world's affairs by stirring up kings and presidents to fulfill His purpose and agenda, He is also actively stirring up His people to fulfill the same agenda. We are not left here to fulfill our agenda and our ambition, but rather we are here to fulfill God's agenda and ambition.

But what is God's agenda? "Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power (1 Cor 15:24). God's agenda is the Kingdom of Christ. And the Lord Jesus is calling us in this new year to re-align our lives with this kingdom agenda in Matthew 6:33, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Our agenda as God's people is not to seek "all these things" (material wealth and prosperity) but to seek first God's kingdom and righteousness through our vocation -- whether in the workplace or in the community. And when we get our agenda right, "all these things" will be "given to you as well". Hallelujah!

If God is stirring something new in your spirit, don't ignore it. Obey and align your life with God's eternal agenda played out now in our contemporary history.

Father, what a privilege to be living in these days and times, when the opportunities to serve You are present everywhere. Give us a Kingdom mindset that sees our work as our ministry to fulfill Your Kingdom agenda, just as Daniel and Ezra while they were in exile. Amen.

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