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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Living Under God's Watchful Eye
Text:Ezra 5:1-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Give Thanks to God for Good Is He

Nearer, Still Nearer

Praise Waits for Thee in Zion

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“Living Under God’s Watchful Eye”
Ezra 5:1-17
The first six chapters of Ezra record the challenges of those who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. As the exiles returned, they faced immense opposition. The previous chapter describes how those who opposed the rebuilding of the Temple had written a lengthy letter to King Artaxerxes in which they described Jerusalem as “a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of rebellion from ancient times.” (Ezra 4:15)
They had warned: “The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.” (Ezra 4:12)
That same message of opposition continues in chapter 5. Tattenai, a leader in the opposition along with his associates, wanted the names of those rebuilding the temple. And the purpose was to put a stop to that rebuilding. Verse 4 has a sinister tone underlying it: “What are the names of those who are constructing this building?”
They wanted the names in order to bring charges – and imprisonment – to those who were rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. But then verse 5 gives us this assurance: But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews…”
The eye of the Lord was upon them! What a blessing! Yes, they faced opposition. The forces of darkness were at war against the kingdom of light. The great spiritual battle between good and evil was being waged, but the eye of the Lord was on his people.
And the same is true today.  The true church faces opposition of many types, both in the subtle suggestions to conform itself to society, becoming a politically correct church, and in the trials and martyrdom for those in the persecuted church. In these ways and more, the true church still faces both subtle and blatant opposition of many kinds.
But no matter what the situation, this chapter teaches us that in the trials of life God’s eye is on his people. As God watches over his people, he actively protects them and works for their good in a number of ways.
Guided By the Word
First, he guides his people by the word the Holy Spirit inspired. In verse 1 and 2 we read: Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.”
You see, as God’s watchful eye was on his people, he gave them guidance, direction and encouragement through his word. “…The prophets of God were with them, supporting them.”
Both Zechariah and Haggai were a great encouragement to the people. Zechariah had encouraged them by writing, in chapter 4:6 of his prophecy, “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord God Almighty.” And Haggai challenged the people to be careful how they lived their lives.  Zechariah focused their faith on the Lord and Haggai reminded them of their responsibilities as God’s people.
What a blessing that was to the people of that time! They lived in an era of political turbulence.  They lived in an era where God’s people – the Old Testament church – faced great opposition.  They lived in an era where many temptations were put before them by the world, especially the temptation to marry unbelievers. 
And as God looked down upon them, he sent them these two prophets, Zechariah and Haggai.  We call them “minor prophets” because their prophecies were short compared to the lengthy prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. But their message was anything but minor. Through Haggai and Zechariah, the Lord was giving encouragement, direction, and guidance to his people.
And the same is true today. We live in an era where the church is under attack by both subtle suggestions on doctrinal deviance and also outright persecution with the sword. We also live in a time of great political turbulence. In these challenging times for churches, and for Christian individuals, we have not only opposition from the world, but also the siren song of the world enticing us to conform ourselves – not to Christ – but to worldly pleasure.
Yet where is God’s eye?  His eye is upon us. His eye is on his people. As the hymn writer put it, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”  Just as he was watching over the people of Ezra’s day, some 2,500 years ago, so he watches over you and me.  And as he sees the challenges we face in the church, in society, and in our individual lives, he gives to us what he gave to the people of old: the precious teaching of his word.
They had Haggai and Zechariah in the flesh, we have them in the enduring and inspired word of God, along with all 66 books of the Bible. All 66 books are inspired by God and given to us for our encouragement and direction, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
The people building the temple back in Ezra’s day were familiar with the Psalms, and more than likely, the Proverbs as well.  Proverbs 3:5-6 would be so instructive for them, and for us. It is indeed instructive for God’s people of every era: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will direct your paths.” And the way he directs our paths is by the illumination of his word. “Your word,” Psalm 119:105 declares, “is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
God’s Intervention
Another truth that springs from this chapter is that as the Lord directs our path through the maze of life, he intervenes to prevent evil from destroying us. Did you notice the second part of verse 5?  It says, “The eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.”
That verse is telling us that God intervened to prevent harm from coming to them, and to allow them to keep working on rebuilding the temple. Tattenai and his associates wrote a letter to King Darius asking him to stop the rebuilding. But then they had to wait for a reply. And because they had to wait for a reply, the work kept going until that reply came, months later.
And in the meantime, Zerubbabel, Jeshua and all the others who were working to rebuild the temple were able to keep working until the reply came from the king. And when it came, it verified that King Cyrus had authorized the people of Judah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the house of God – the temple. The letter from the king silenced Tattenai and the others who had opposed God’s people.
Often, we think only in terms of what God does to actively promote the good of his people. But as we do so, we sometimes forget to think about all the times God actively works to prevent calamity from coming upon us. 
We have perhaps all had the experience of being stuck in traffic and we complain. And then further down the road, what do we see?  A tragic accident, a mangled mass of metal, and we wonder, “Did anyone survive...?”  And then we realize, had we not been in the traffic jam that brought such complaint, we would have been in that tragic accident.
God not only actively works for our good by what he does, but also by what he prevents. It is the “preventive providence” of God that we often forget to thank him for. That is the providence which Psalm 91:3-4 speaks about: Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
But more important than physical protection, the Lord, with his eye on his people, gives spiritual protection. We pray about that in the Lord’s prayer when we pray “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” That petition is a prayer for the “preventive providence” of God; it is asking God to prevent circumstances from leading us into a place of temptation. As you look back on your life – even if you are young – you can undoubtedly see situations and circumstances where God intervened in unique ways to protect you from harm, to provide for you, and to guard you from further temptation. Why? Because he is the omniscient, loving God whose eye is always on his people.
God Uses All Means
As we read in this passage how God actively works for our good, we see thirdly that he uses a variety of means. In verses 13 to 16 a review is given of how the Lord used a wide variety of people and events to bring the exiles home to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city. Ezra writes:
     However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. 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, and he told him, ‘Take these articles and go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem. And rebuild the house of God on its site.’
    So this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem. From that day to the present it has been under construction but is not yet finished.
The Lord used Cyrus to restore his people back to Jerusalem, just as he used Nebuchadnezzar to bring them into captivity because of their refusal to live by his word. Both kings were immensely powerful. When verse 13 refers to Cyrus as king of Babylon it is not some scribal error. Rather, Cyrus, as king of Persia, had multiple nations under his control. He could rightfully be called not only the king of Babylon but the king of a number of nations. In one ancient text he refers to himself as “the king of the world.”
Yet how does the Lord address Cyrus? He doesn’t call him “king of the world.” Instead in Isaiah 44:28 we read how the Lord says: “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all my desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple,’ Your foundation will be laid.’”
The reason why God is able to utilize all these events and people, as he works for the good of those who gave saving faith in his Son, is there in verse 11 which describes the Lord as “the God of heaven and earth...”
He holds the whole world in his hand. He has all things and all people at his disposal.  He can use whatever means he wishes to accomplish his will and to work for the good of his people. God can use Nebuchadnezzar to bring judgment and he can use Cyrus to restore the people to Jerusalem, for “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Prov. 21:1)
And the next chapter – Ezra 6 – records how the Lord used King Darius to give a favorable ruling to the people rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem. What a blessing to live under the watchful eye of Almighty God!
Our Response
It is a great comfort that we live under God’s watchful eyes: He gives guidance through his word. He prevents evil from destroying us. And he actively works for our good, using a variety of means. But it is also a great responsibility. Precisely because we are under his watchful eye we must turn from sinful ways, recognizing that our sin angers God and brings temporal consequences.
It is popular to downplay the anger of God. God is indeed the God of supreme love, and often that attribute of love is stressed without ever speaking of his righteous and proper wrath against sin.  At other times God’s anger might be brought up, but always in relation to someone else. You know, God really was angry at those residents of Sodom and Gomorrah. Or Jesus sure was angry with the money changers who were using the temple for financial gain.  Or God is sure angry with all those people in our nation today who have turned away from him.
It is true that the Lord was, and is, angry with a proper and righteous anger in each one of those situations. But the people of Ezra’s day recognized that God has a proper anger with his own people when they sin; and as he disciplines them, he allows temporal consequences to come into their lives.  We read of that in verses 11 and 12:
“We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.”
The Lord had warned his people time and again that if Israel and Judah did not repent of their ways, he would chastise them. They did not repent. God allowed the Assyrians to take Israel captive; God allowed the Babylonians to take Judah captive. That is true with every nation. The Lord declares in Jeremiah 12:17, “‘If any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,’ declares the LORD.”
But it’s not just on a national level that we see the consequences of sin. Individually, God disciplines those whom He loves. If you or I continue in a favorite sinful habit, without repentance – without a sincere, repeated effort to turn from it – God will allow his discipline to bring us to our senses and bring us to himself. That is the message of Scripture, Old Testament and New. 
In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter describes how judgment begins with God’s people. And the author of Hebrews quotes from Proverbs 3 to describe how God disciplines those whom he loves. Likewise, in the Old Testament, even in the beautiful 90th Psalm, we are reminded that our sin angers God, and that if we don’t repent, he will chastise.  Moses, the human author of Psalm 90, prayed: 
We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
 You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
 All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan...

Who knows the power of your anger?
    For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
Teach us to number our days aright,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(Psa. 90: 7-9, 11, 12)
We see that the people in Ezra’s day had a proper response to the righteous and proper wrath of God against sin. They sought to conform their lives to God’s will and to the teaching of his word. And we see that they numbered their days aright as they took the Passover, as described in the closing verses of the next chapter. After rebuilding the temple, Ezra 6:19 records how “On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover.” The Passover points so clearly to Jesus Christ, who in 1 Corinthians 5:7 is described “as our Passover lamb.”  
As you may recall, the Passover was instituted by God when Israel was in bondage to Egypt. Moses was instructed by God to tell the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb without spot or blemish. They were to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes. Then, when the angel of destruction took the lives of the first born in all of Egypt, the Israelites who had the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their home were passed over for judgment. It is a crystal-clear picture pointing to the cross and the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
We are sinners unable to save ourselves. Our sins condemn us and bring us under God’s righteous and proper judgment. But in grace unfathomable, God the Father sent his Son, Christ Jesus, who willingly came to this earth to redeem sinners from their sin by shedding his blood to cover our sins. In the place of our sins, Christ imputes his perfect record of righteous obedience to everyone who has saving faith in him alone.
It is a precious truth that Jesus bore the wrath of God the Father on the cross of Calvary. Every believer in Jesus can have full and complete assurance of their salvation through saving faith in him alone. But God’s grace doesn’t give us a license to sin.
The people described in this portion of Ezra knew that by personal experience. They realized that the fall of Judah and the captivity in Babylon was a result of sinfulness; they acknowledged that in verse 12.
Just because we are saved by grace, we have no license to grieve the Holy Spirit or trample on the shed blood of our Lord. Rather, as 2 Corinthians 7:1 says: “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
In your life and mine, may we be ever watchful of our ways, turning from sin, realizing the truth of Hebrews 4:13 that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.”
And may we always focus on Christ, our Passover Lamb who willingly shed his blood to cleanse all who have saving faith in him alone from their sin. Then, with deep gratitude for the gift of salvation, we can also take comfort that in all the troubles of life God watches over his people with tender love, even in discipline. And he promises to work out all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose, just as he did so long ago in the days of Ezra. Amen.
sermon outline:

   But the eye of their God was watching over the elders...  - Ezra 5:5a


                         “Living Under God’s Watchful Eye”
                                                 Ezra 5:1-17
I. This chapter teaches us that in the trials of life, as God’s eye is on His
    people (5), He:
    1) Gives guidance through His Word (1-2; Prov. 3:5-6; 2 Tim. 3:16)
     2) Prevents evil from destroying us (5b, 17; Psalm 91:3-4)
     3) Actively works for our good, using a variety of means (13-16)
II. Applications: As we take comfort that we live under God’s watchful eye (5),
      we must also:
        1) Turn from sin, recognizing that our sin angers God and brings temporal
             consequences (11-12; Psalm 90:7-9; Hebrews 12:4-11)
       2) Look to Jesus with praise and adoration since He alone redeems His people
           from their sin (Ezra 6:19; 1 Corinthians 5:7)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Ted Gray

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