Sunday, January 20, 2008

Strength lies in partnership with God. Ezra #3

How does God use pagan people? Good question. Let's look at that idea this week.

We have been speaking about the returning exiles from Babylonian captivity to their Homeland. We will now be speaking about how God uses even the pagan king for His purpose. Any questions so far?

The problem with evil is it is here. Even in a wonderful family or in relationships and certainly in society and around the world, evil sticks up it’s ugly head and effects lives in some serious ways.

One look at the Newspaper and you will see evidence everywhere. In all levels of society, educational background, economic status, political affiliation, denomination, race, creed or color. Evil is there.

We should not be so surprised at that! One lady, any years ago, who used to come to ICCS, told me that she felt the world was getting better and better. No sooner than she told me that, she told me of the time she and her daughter was mugged and dragged a number of feet before the thief broke the handbag handle and got away—after hitting her a number of times. I asked her: This is a sign of getting better? She could not answer and I felt she could not because she could not believe that evil would be so close to her. She needed to know the Love of God in a big way. She left Japan rather distant and cold to the claims of Christ saying: “I’m doing OK. No problems here!”

Here is the beginning statement: God uses people whether they know it or not. Good or bad, evil or holy. Mentally sound or not so sound. Old or young. God does use people because He made people to work together. And these arrangements He has made are set from the foundations of Time. 

Jer 29:11 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.” 
Or 1 Cor 2:7 No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began
Or Zechariah 12:1 This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel. The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him…” 

This is His Work in us.

Hard statement but I do hope that we will see the truth in that before this hour is over.  

I guess the most popular section in the Bible of God using people is found when the Hebrew people were leaving Egypt after 400 years of bondage. God had told Moses that he was to tell the Pharaoh to let His People go, knowing all the time that he would not…stubborn and cold hearted as he was. God used the king’s cold heart to teach the Hebrew people and then the Egyptians and then all who heard of that ten plagues that God was a God of His WORD and that He was the one in charge.

Cut to the New Testament, with Jesus standing before the Roman ruler Pilate. 

John 18:33-38; 19:4-5, 7-11

God was going to use this so-called leader to bring His Only Son to the Cross—that is why Jesus came. God used Pilate for His own purpose. Salvation of all who are lost…and that included Pilate!

Back in the Old Testament, this thing about Cyrus being predicted one century and a half before his birth that he was going to “let His People go”, just like in Egypt. Only this time, God was also using this king to punish Babylon for their sins and evil. They lost their kingdom in an over night coup d’├ętat.  

Who was this Cyrus? Some of the things I read showed him as everything from a family man who loved his family to a tyrant who ruled with an iron fist. Both may be true. What does the Bible say?

Turn to 
2 Chronicles 36:22-23
 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 to put it in writing: 
 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…' "

This is repeated in
Ezra 1:1-2
 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 to put it in writing: 
"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
The same thing!

Then in
Ezra 5:14-17
 He even removed from the temple of Babylon the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to the temple in Babylon. "Then King Cyrus gave them to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor."  

Way back before Ezra, Isaiah wrote this in
Isaiah 44:28
 who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, "Let it be rebuilt," and of the temple, "Let its foundations be laid." '

Isaiah 45:1. & 13
listen what God calls this man! 
1. "This is what the LORD says to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 

13.
I will raise up Cyrus in My righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild My city and set My exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty."

Who was influencing this King? Of course, there were his right-hand men of like background and upbringing. Men whom he had fought with and alongside. And there was a Hebrew man who was there before, during and after Cyrus’ rule: Daniel. What do we know of that man? A Godly man, who was filled with the Spirit of God and could interpret the king’s dreams. He gave the king a lot of lessons in who this God was that entrusted him with this task to rebuild-not only the temple but also to proclaim “'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.”

The man whom he had beaten also spoke like that: He was powerful. He knew the power of God from that time at the fiery furnace to say ...

(Daniel 4:1-3)
 1. “King Nebuchadnezzar, To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world: May you prosper greatly! 2. It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. 3. How great are His signs, how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; His dominion endures from generation to generation.” 

He was in partnership with God!
That man’s son lost the kingdom in one evening because of his wickedness.

So, we can well imagine the excitement of the Hebrew people—who knew their writings, when they heard of a man named Cyrus, a Persian, had broken the power of Babylon. During the first year of his rule, he made the announcement of a startling reversal of Babylonian resettlement policy. Basically, “God told me to let the Hebrew People return and for them to rebuild the Temple of their God in Jerusalem and by the way, I’m going to pay for it out of my own personal bank account.”

The darkness was lifted and the People of God were allowed to go home. The time of punishment was over for them. They were restored yet with the need for refreshment, from time to time—just like us!

Well, let’s leave Cyrus and move to general principles. Those would be found in Psalms and Proverbs. 
First, look at...

Psalm 27:2
 When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.
 

There is the promise of help and protection. Their evil nature will only hurt them in the long run. The fight/pain is still there but I have the final victory!

Ps 37:1
Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; 

Ps 37:9 For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
 
The future for those who choose evil is set. They will be cut off from the living. Their end is sure—unless they repent. They should not be our role models.

In Proverbs, we can learn from the evil men: 
Proverbs 4:14
 Evil men will bow down in the presence of the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
 

The reality of their place on earth is that they, even they, cannot stand before the Righteousness of God or of His People. The wicked will not enter the gates, just bow down AT the gates. This is a symbol of not being able to enter their rest. 

Matt 11:29, Jesus said:
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

Lamentaions 5:21 
“Restore us to Yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old.”

Proverbs 12:12
 The wicked desire the plunder of evil men, but the root of the righteous flourishes. 

The end is empty, dried up, no life, whereas the life and end of the righteous will prosper, thrive & live.

The Lord Jesus speaks of the evil man or the man whose heart is far from God as a man who is in a dry and thirsty land. Nowhere can he find nourishment for his parched throat. He is wandering without hope in the world. His heart is far from the Lord. He is spiritually dead. He needs to be restored to life by the Cross!

There is a church in Decatur IL., USA with the name of The Church of the Living Dead. While that is a name that may be hard to endorse on TV, they were serious. Apart of their relationship with the Lord (which gives them life) they are dead people walking.

Ken Nishiono told us about the verse that shook his spirit in. 

Rev 3:16 
“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of My mouth.”
 

The death of the world may not come from missiles and bombs but will end because we no longer care. The same goes for the Church. Let’s shake off the apathy now and live a living Faith. It’s strength lies in partnership with God.

So here we have the two sets of Groups. On one side, a group of people from every walk of life, every creed and color, who want things their way, in their time table, with their methods and input and on the other side, we find men and women from every walk of life, every creed and color, who want things their Father’s way, in His time table, with His methods and input.

Where do we put our trust? 

Joshua 24:15 
"But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

The Lord Jesus worked both with and among pagan people. He worked with the religious and unreligious people. His greatest joy was to work with people of a like heart: a heart that was open to His touch, open to His Message of Forgiveness, open to His complete love. He showed that on the Cross and in the empty grave three days later.

Where is your strength?
Your strength needs to be in partnership with God.

Next week: Dealing with Criticisms.