Preparing Our Hearts

Introduction: Our scheduled study for October is in the book of Haggai. We began last week with a look at the prophet and the issue he was called to confront.

  • Following the Babylonian captivity, the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland and, with the blessing of the king of Persia, rebuild the temple. But not long after beginning to rebuild they became discouraged and stopped. Haggai came on the scene with God message to return to work and rebuild the Temple. The people responded to Haggai’s words and the Temple was rebuilt in 4 years.
  • There are 3 other messages of God delivered to the people through Haggai. We will look closer at those messages in the weeks ahead, but this morning I want to consider another key player in Judah’s restoration in Jerusalem.
  • Ezra, a priest and scribe, was sent back to the land after the temple was completed. It would seem that Ezra’s primary role was to help with the spiritual renewal of the people back to the law of God. That renewal included more than just Temple worship. It was a call to comprehensive repentance and obedience. There are some lessons for us here. Ezra is a great example of faith and commitment in a time of spiritual renewal.

I. The Great Example of Ezra. We find a great example of faith and commitment in the priest, scribe, and man of God named Ezra. Consider some background:

A. The period of the book of Ezra spans the years from 536 to 433 B.C., following the captivity of Judah by the people of Babylon (606-536 B.C.). God was providentially using his servant, Cyrus, King of Persia, to fulfill His promise to return a remnant to Jerusalem.

B. In Ezra 1-6, the first group of Jews was led back to their home land by Zerubbabel who also exercised leadership in the rebuilding of the temple. What an exciting time. Read Ezra 3:1-7. Restoration is an emotional journey. Ezra 3:10-13 – 0 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood* in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”* Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off.

C. We do not meet Ezra until chapter 7 – Ezra 7:8-9And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. In 458 B.C., the second group of Jews was led home by Ezra and a great spiritual renewal occurred.

II. Ezra 7:1010 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel. When we look to the example of Ezra, we discover a great man of God! He was the person for the time. He was what Israel needed to be. Ezra wholly devoted his heart and his life, to not only know the law of God, but to practice it himself and then teach others the law of God. Ezra demonstrates to us what a genuine servant of God is and we would do well to imitate his example!

A. Ezra Had Prepared His Heart for God (Ezra 7:10). What does this mean?

1. Prepared” [Hebrew – KUWN]: .to be prepared, to be firmly established, to set up, to be fixed or steadfast, to be securely determined. – Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon

a. When you prepare your heart, you firmly establish or determine within yourself that you are going to do something! It is to look forward with determination. Pleasing God does not happen by accident. It takes diligence and determination on our part.

        • In looking forward to the end of this present world, Peter wrote, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14). Discipleship involves determined choices driven by principles learned. (“you are just one choice away” sing on a church building sign. Is this true? Is it just one choice or is it many choices? Luke 9:23If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Our hearts are prepared for God by making daily choices to follow Him.

b. Spiritual renewal demands a determined decision to serve God alone. 1 Samuel 7:3 – 3 Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” NKJV

c. Ezra was determined to do what God wanted Him to do.

B. …To Seek the Law of the Lord. Seeking the law is necessary to pleasing God. Seek. [Hebrew – DARASH] .to seek with care, inquire, to investigate, to study, to seek with application… Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon

1. To seek God’s law is to study and examine His word with all diligence with the earnest desire to understand the will of the Lord.

2. Ezra studied the law of the Lord diligently! He was a skilled scribe. (Ezra 7:6) – an “expert in the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of His statutes to Israel. (Ezra 7:11). King Artaxerxes declared he had “God-given wisdom” (Ezra 7:25).

a. James encourages us to pray for the wisdom that God provides. At the same time Paul told Timothy to give attention to reading and meditation (study).

b. We prepare our hearts to do God’s will by looking in to His word and learning .Bereans- Acts 17:11 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. NKJV

C. …To Do the Law of the Lord. Ezra sought with purpose. He wanted to know on order to do. Why do you want to know God’s word Psalms 40:88 I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.” Ezra’s desire to obey God and do His will in evidenced in his willingness to put himself on the line by using his knowledge of the law to appeal to the King on behalf of God’s people. God’s hand was with him and King Artaxerxes decreed that everyone was to obey the commands of Ezra’s God.

1. Ezra declares that God granted mercy to him by putting the desire to help in the heart of the king, and giving him encouragement. God does grant mercy to those who strive to do the will of God. Ezra, without delay, obeyed God’s will by gathering the second group of Jews and leading them home (Ezra 7:28b).

2. Ezra’s determination to obey the law of God is also evidenced in his personal humility and sorrow as he recognized disobedience among the people. He fasted and prayed and mourned over the sins of others Ezra 9:5-6 – 5 At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God. 6 And I said: “O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens. Those who desire to actually do the will of God are emotionally moved by their own failings. They are not arrogant or presumptuous. They do not attempt to justify their sin or diminish their guilt. True obedience begins in contrite confession of failure. Ezra and the leaders of Judah came to recognize that the nation was in disobedience because many had married foreign women from among the pagans. Ezra 10:1-3 – Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. 2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. 3 Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.

3. At times obedience is hard, and seeking to do God’s will leads us to some tough choices. But Ezra understood that knowing what God wanted was not enough. He had prepared his heart to do the word of God.

      • James 1:22-2522 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

a. Once we have learned something from God’s word how will we respond? Where do we go from here? (e.g., confession, Bible study, evangelism, love, patience, encourage).

b. Blessings come from God when we hear and obey God’s word (Luke 11:28 – …blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” After Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, he made the application – they were to wash each other’s feet. It was important they understand what Jesus said. But He demanded more. John 13:1717 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

D. …To Teach statutes and ordinances… It was the job of a scribe to be a teacher. Ezra taught the people the statutes and ordinances of God. Do you think people need to know about God’s law? How should we do this? Notice how Ezra and the Levites taught the people: Nehemiah 8 accounts the people gathered before Nehemiah and Ezra, as they stood to hear the words of God – “They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8). This is what we must do. Read from the Bible in order to demonstrate that we are discussing God’s words and not man’s. Explain it, and do so in a way that will cause people to understand it. We cannot expect one to obey what they do not understand.

    • Ezra 8:21-23 – 21 Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. 22 For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.” 23 So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer. Ezra had even spoken to the king about God. He taught the people a great lesson about the value of fasting and prayer as well as lessons in humility and trusting in God.

1. Due to Ezra’s good example and leadership, the people responded to his teachings – Ezra 10:10-12 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. 11 Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.” 12 Then all the assembly answered and said with a loud voice, “Yes! As you have said, so we must do. NKJV

2. We are to pass on to others what we know of God’s will. We must be committed to teach one another- that is our own brethren the word of the Lord. Paul declared that he had met his responsibility to others. Acts 20:20 – 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, – have you? Acts 20:27 – 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.

a. Like Ezra and Paul, we must not be timid, shrink back or hesitate to teach one another God’s word.

        • 1 Thessalonians 5:14 – 14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
        • 2 Timothy 2:24-2624 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
        • If we prepare our hearts to seek, do and teach, we can lead ourselves and others out of captivity and be renewed to serve and worship God and He desires.

Conclusion: We must also “prepare our hearts” or focus our minds and determine to present the Gospel to a lost and dying world (Mark 16:15). What do you choose today?

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