It's wonderful to be here with you, and it was good to start off last night in my little part in the Convention and share fellowship with you. It's great to be here again this afternoon. Now if you were here last evening, you will know that I'm doing a theme throughout the times that I'll be sharing with you in the Convention, and the theme is that of 'Solemn Assemblies'. I want you, if you haven't already turned to Ezra 8, to turn to it - Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, and then the Psalms. So if you get Ezra, we're now looking at chapter 9, and we're going to read the first 15 verses of Ezra chapter 9, so beginning to read at verse 1. Last evening we considered 'The Solemn Assembly Under Jehoshaphat', and today we're going to look at 'The Solemn Assembly Under Ezra'.
Verse 1 then of Ezra 9: "When these things were done, the leaders came to me, saying, 'The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, with respect to the abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass'. So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away captive, and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice. 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. 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. Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day. And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage. For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, which You commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, 'The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from one end to another with their impurity. Now therefore, do not give your daughters as wives for their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons; and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land, and leave it as an inheritance to your children forever'. And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this, should we again break Your commandments, and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations? Would You not be angry with us until You had consumed us, so that there would be no remnant or survivor? O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!".
Let's pray together, and I want to invite you, as I did last evening if you were here, to pray for yourself that God might speak. I hope you have come to hear from heaven, I want to hear from heaven, and I want you to hear from heaven. I don't want to get in the way, and I hope that you have an open channel in your heart just now to receive from God. Why not come and just say: 'Lord, please speak to me now. Speak to me by Your Holy Spirit as I come to Your word'?
Let us pray together: Holy Abba Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, and - hallelujah - risen again, we come to You through the new and living way, via the shed blood and through the intercession of our risen Redeemer. We ask now for the impartation of the Holy Spirit to come and minister to each heart. We thank You for the little ones here. We thank You, Lord, for everyone gathered, whatever their circumstances are, whatever their state is before You, O God. We pray, Lord, now that every single person would know what it is to encounter the Living God. We pray, Lord, that we will not be reminiscing about the resurrection of Christ today, but that we will be experiencing an encounter with the risen Jesus. Lord, we pray now that the Spirit of Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, will come and meet with us, and do something, Lord, in our hearts. We pray with Paul that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; that the eyes of our understanding being enlightened; that we might know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of His glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He has put all things under His feet, and given Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Let us know that power, Lord, we pray now. For Christ's sake alone, Amen.
I was sharing last evening how I felt compelled to speak on a certain biblical practice largely fallen out of our modern church custom, and even, for that matter, our vocabulary. A number of folk stopped me after the meeting last night and admitted, some seasoned Christians, that they had never heard of a 'solemn assembly'. It appears, as we look particularly at the Old Testament, that solemn assemblies have been integral parts of biblical revivals, a vital preparation for when God was going to move and do something new. Now, though Bible records of revival can greatly vary one from another, there are certain common factors that precede each of them. I mentioned last evening that Richard Owen Roberts highlights four, and they apply to Ezra, and I'm going to apply them each one as we look through this passage this afternoon. Some of you who were here will remember that the first factor in revivals in the Bible is a tragic declension, that is: every revival, particularly in the Old Testament, is preceded by a period of moral and spiritual decline among the congregation of God's people. Now, to these folk, they had been 70 years in Babylonian captivity because of their sins, and that covers a great gamut of Judah's history - but I have to quickly scour over it to when they come out of Babylon. I want you to understand that now, as they have come out, they have been there as a judgement upon their sins, and now as they exit much of their Jewish faith has been lost to them.
Now, we must grasp this: they have lost their Bible. Now we have got a great privilege to have an open Bible here, and I don't know how many Bibles there are in the room this afternoon - but we're coming down with Bibles, at least we are in our house. What a privilege we have, but they lost their Bible - these people of the book, the Jews, they lost the Torah and it has to be rediscovered again, the Law found in the Temple of God. They had even lost their sacred language. There is an allusion to this in Nehemiah chapter 8 and verse 8, we read that when the Law was discovered and it was read, they read distinctly from the book in the Law of God, and they give the sense and helped them to understand the reading. Now that had to be the case because they had actually lost the Hebrew tongue, they had been saturated in the godless culture of pagan Babylon and they had lost their identity as God's people to such an extent - and we don't have time to go into this in any depth, but if you read the contemporary prophet Haggai, in chapter 1 and chapter 2 as he delivers God's prophecy, God actually speaks of His own chosen elect people as 'this people'. Not 'My people', but 'this people' - it was as if God did not recognise them, their identity had disappeared in Babylon.
So, of course, they needed to rediscover the Law of God; but the consequence was that there was a famine of the Law of God in the land, a famine in the Word of God. Now I have to tell you from my heart - and everything that I'm sharing with you today and every day through this Convention, is from the depths of my heart - that I believe that we have a famine in the Word of God here in our land, and particularly in Ulster, but in Ireland and across the United Kingdom and Western Europe. Now some people find that very difficult to understand: how could it ever be said that we've got a famine in the Word of God? We know more about the Bible than we ever have - and I think that is a true statement. We know more of archaeological discoveries, we know more of theological dogmas, we have more knowledge at the touch of a fingertip, even on the Internet for instance - you can get any answer to any biblical question, and some varied answers of course, and not all of them agree - but nevertheless, the fact remains that I think there is a knowledge today, biblically speaking, that there has never been in the history of mankind. Even the multiplication of the word of God is at proportions that were only imagined. I mean, actually as I'm standing here preaching to you, most likely I'm preaching across the world 1000 times over because of the Internet - it's incredible! I wonder why I'm exhausted at times, well, that must be the reason! It's staggering, and yet what I'm talking about when I say there is a famine in the Word of God: we have lost the spirit of God's Law and Truth. I am now talking about, not adhering to every jot and tittle of the letter of the Law, that is a million miles away from what I'm talking about - I'm talking about the heart of the teachings of the Word of God, the spirit, not the letter of the Law of the spirit of the Law. It's what the Lord Jesus Christ meant when He talked about: 'My Word, My teaching'. It's not just some kind of doctrinal statement, or creedal assent, it is the full weight of the heart of God when He delivered the truth - we've lost it.
When the word is preached it's often preached without power. I'm not saying that in a critical way, because if God should choose to just leave me in an instant as I stand here, I would be completely lost - absolutely blundering my way through some kind of address. I do not take the power of God for granted, and it's not in me, it's not in any of us, it's a gift of God. But a lot of what is preached even in churches around our land today is the Word preached without power, and because of that there is a famine in the land just as there was in Amos' day. Listen to this staggering description, graphic scene that he painted of his own era: 'Behold, the days are coming', says the Lord GOD, 'That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but shall not find it'. That scares the living daylights out of me, because I think we're almost there. There is a tragic declension in the preaching of the Word of God in the power and demonstration of the Holy Ghost - there's not an awful lot of it about, and that's why many people are starving in the pews. Great evangelical tradition in our land, but people are starving! Why is that? There's plenty of Bible teaching... a tragic declension.
Then we see that also in Ezra's day there was a righteous judgement from God. Without exception, Old Testament revivals have always been preceded by some kind of a righteous judgement from God. In this case it was a restorative one, God wanted to bring His people back - for whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. God wanted Judah restored in the land, He wanted to bring them out of Babylon back to Judah - but the heart of the people had to be renewed if real blessing was going to come! You see, you cannot have restoration without renewal. You cannot have revival without renewal. Now, who wouldn't want revival? Eh? Who wouldn't want our churches to be filled on Sundays? Who wouldn't want our families to be converted and our neighbourhoods to be transformed? But here's a great question that hangs upon us: who is prepared for the repentance that is necessary, and the inner renewal of the hearts, your heart, my heart; the deliverance that is needed in our homes, in our families, and in our churches from the top down - a work of cleansing that needs to be accomplished before God can renew?
Now let me show you this here for Judah. When Judah went into Babylonian captivity there were three stages in the deportation to Babylon. Likewise in their return to Judah there were three stages of return to Jerusalem. The first stage of return was under Zerubbabel who rebuilt the Temple - first things first. We see in chapter 3 and verse 3 here that the altar had to be set up first, and that speaks of our need for a true heart-relationship with God - before there is going to be corporate revival, we, each of us as Christians, need to (Romans 12:1) offer ourselves living sacrifices unto God which is our reasonable service, it's our expected worship. You'll not get a pat on the back for that, that's what we should do because of what Christ has done for us - that's basic Christianity. That is, if you like, setting up the altar before God. Then in chapter 3 and verse 10, Zerubbabel laid the foundations of the Temple. Now a lot of Christians have never gotten around to laying the foundations. If you have time at some stage today or later on, study Hebrews chapter 6, the first verses, and you will see there that the apostle talks about not laying again the foundations. He mentions a list of things, I'm not going to go into it, but things that many Christians have never entered into: the doctrine of baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection, so on and so forth. That's the foundation.
Now once Zerubbabel started by laying the foundation and building the altar, the work of God was opposed. If you know your biblical history, you will know that here in chapter 4 the work was opposed by certain Samaritans, and God had to raise up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, and they preached - and through their preaching the work was resumed. The children of Judah had only laid the foundations and then they gave up with the opposition - and it's so easy to throw the towel in when the enemy comes against us. But then in chapter 5 the work is resumed, it's finished in chapter 6. Now there is a second move of people after Zerubbabel, I want to skip over that one and go to the third quickly.
First of all Zerubbabel came into the land again, and started rebuilding the Temple - but the third return of people was under Nehemiah. Nehemiah constructed the walls of protection around the restored city. Now this is an important principle that I want to emphasise here this afternoon: the principle of building walls - do you know about this? Listen to this verse in Proverbs 25:28: 'Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls'. Whoever has no rule or discipline over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls - in other words, you're vulnerable spiritually, you've no spiritual protection. You might have the altar of God erected, you might be worshipping God in some form of private temple in your heart, but you need protection. As I preach at this Family Service, this is something that I think we really need to understand here in our homes: there are certain gates through which the enemy gains entrance into our lives, into our homes, and into our churches - and they are left open to the enemy. What Nehemiah started to do was: he rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem, and he started from the gates and built out. In other words, he started at the weak, vulnerable places where the enemy could enter, and he built the protection roundabout. Now that's important, and it's only an aside that I mention that.
So first of all they returned into the land, Zerubbabel built the altar, he laid the foundation, they got discouraged and Haggai and Zechariah had to come and preach them up again to building. Then thirdly Nehemiah builds walls, but I want us to home in on the second return which is Ezra. You see, there was no point building walls of protection if God's people were not renewed in their heart. This was why God raised up Ezra. It's alright having an altar, it's alright having a foundation and a Temple, and having all the rites and rituals, but the people of God needed to be renewed. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
So there was a tragic declension, a righteous judgement from God, but then there was the raising up of an immensely burdened leader or leaders. Now there are several men that I've already mentioned: Zerubbabel, a civic leader, God raised him up for this hour; Haggai, Zechariah, prophets who got the people building again; Nehemiah, the governor; Joshua, another contemporary, the high priest; and Malachi the prophet. All of them had a job to do in relation to the restoration of God's people in the land, and there was even a woman by the name of Esther of course - who was not used in the restoration, but in the preservation of God's people, and her story fits between chapters 6 and 7 here of Ezra, a period of about 58 years. But what I want you to understand is this: God was imparting the same vision to many people. I've got to tell you here today that God is doing that now. I don't know most of you, but I know that God is imparting into the hearts of people - some I have never really known before, and God has brought them across my path - and there is a vision that is reciprocal that God is giving about something that He wants to do, some new thing. You find that whenever God wants to move again, He places the same vision and burden in different people's hearts all over the place. Amos 3 tells us about this, verse 7: 'Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets'. I believe God has a way of doing things, and when He's about to move in a new way, He reveals it.
The second half of this book is about Ezra, this man, a priest from the family of Aaron. Apparently he requested permission from the King of Persia, realising that the remnant in the restored nation desperately needed spiritual instruction and guidance. The altar had been built, the foundation laid, the Temple was being erected, but there was something wrong with their hearts - it was a form of godliness, if you like, without the power. Here was a man, thousands of miles away, who had a burden! Do you have a burden for Ireland? Do you have a burden for the United Kingdom? Ezra's burden led to sacrifice, and that's always what happens. It took Ezra four months to make the journey of nearly 1000 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem. You see, if God is calling you to give you His burden for this hour, there will be sacrifice that will be involved. Young people, you got to understand this: if you want to go through with God, there's sacrifice. Now don't get me wrong: it is the best thing to be in that place, but it costs and you've got to be prepared for that!
Here was this man, burdened and willing to pay a sacrifice - the Jews called him 'the second Moses'. That's what they nicknamed him! If you turn to chapter 7 and verse 10, you will see why: 'Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel'. That reveals that he was determined to be a man of the book, not just a preacher - and, wait till I tell you, the place is coming down with preachers. Now you might find it difficult, maybe you have a vacant church or something like that, but anybody can preach. I'm not demeaning the act of preaching, but what we need today is not another preacher, we need Ezras who determine themselves to know this book, to obey this book and to teach it. Now it is believed by many scholars that Ezra wrote the books of Chronicles. It is also believed that he organised the sacred writings of the Old Testament into the canon that we now have. It is believed that it was Ezra who wrote Psalm 119, as well as Psalm 1 as a preface to the book of Psalms. Many biblical historians believe that it was Ezra who promoted the concept of synagogue as a local way to teach the word of God to communities.
Now, I said last evening that we need a revival - we need a revival in a passion for the glory of God, but we also need a revival of the preaching of the Word of God. But I'm not talking about Bible exposition, I'm not talking about alliteration and illustration, I'm talking about prophetic, Spirit-anointed preaching of the Word of God - that's what we need! One of the greatest revivalists, George Whitefield, records his own relationship with the Scriptures, I quote him: 'I began to read the Holy Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over, if possible, every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh life, light, and power from above. I got more true knowledge from reading the Book of God in one month than I could ever have acquired from all the writings of men'. Jonathan Goforth, greatly used in China and elsewhere in revival from 1908 onwards, looking back on those years said: 'We wish to affirm, too, that we can entertain no hope of a mighty, globe-encircling Holy Spirit revival without there being first a back-to-the-Bible movement'. Goforth certainly practised what he preached, for in 19 years he read through the Chinese New Testament 55 times.
This is a point of historical fact: revival never springs out of the liberal wing of the church, never! How could it? They devalue the book! Well, I'm telling you today now, and take my word for it: that evangelicals are devaluing the word of God! I'm not talking about translations, it's nothing to do with that, I'm talking about believing what this book says! We need a revival of faith in the Holy Scriptures! I'm not talking about some return to legalistic form - oh, we need delivered from legalism! - I'm talking about an impassioned desire to love God and to obey God in the power of the Spirit. I'm talking about what Leonard Ravenhill meant when he said: 'One of these days some simple soul will pick up the book of God and read it and believe it, and then the best of us will all be embarrassed. We have adopted the convenient theory that the Bible is a book to be explained, whereas first and foremost it is a book to be believed, after that to be obeyed'. Now, I know nothing about the Faith Mission College, but I hope that's the way you teach the Bible - because there are things we cannot explain in the Bible, but we've got to believe it and we've got to obey it.
Now the fourth factor in all these moves of God - a tragic declension, a righteous judgement from God, the raising up of an immensely burdened leader or leaders - but fourthly, there is always some extraordinary action. While it varies from revival to revival, the most common taken was that of the solemn assembly. Here in chapter 8, what lovely words, and to hear a child read it makes it very special, verses 21 to 23. Before setting out on the long journey back to Jerusalem, Ezra proclaimed a three-day fast by the river Ahava, and he was asking God's protection on their journey. That's what he means when he says: 'To seek from God the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions' - a right way. He wanted God to be with them. He was like Moses, when Moses said: 'If Your presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here'.
Now let me ask you a question, in fact it's God asking you the question. God is asking you this question: are you prepared to go on without the consciousness of God's presence? I'm not. I'd rather stack shelves in Sainsbury's than to go on without the consciousness of God's presence. I don't want to be harsh, but I do need you to consider: if the Spirit of God did not show up this morning at most of our churches, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches, would they or would they not go on as normal? Would they perceive the absence of the Divine Presence? Ezra didn't want to live in that farce, he didn't want superficiality, and so he fasted and prayed - that was to humble themselves to seek the Lord. There is a great lack of fasting going on today in our modern age, and the only conclusion that we can take out of it is that we must be proud, because fasting is a way that we humble ourselves before God. Ezra knew he needed God, and he met at this river of Ahava - which means 'continual flow', that's what it means - because he knew he needed the River of God.
You see, Ezra understood this, and you have heard - I'm sure - quoted a thousand times at this Convention 2 Chronicles 7:14: 'If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land'. Do you know who wrote it? Ezra. Oh, he knew all about it, he wrote it, we quote it - but do we humble ourselves? I'm asking you seriously: do we humble ourselves enough to fast and pray and seek God's face in the solemn assembly? You see, we need God's direction, as I said last evening, because the future witness of the church is at stake. From a human perspective the church is only ever one generation away from extinction, the power of God aside - but that's reality. In verse 22 we see in chapter 8, Ezra was ashamed to ask the King for earthly protection. He could have asked for an armed escort but he had already told Artaxerxes that God's good hand was upon him and was upon the Jews. So he had to walk the talk, he had to trust in God's covenant and God's promises, he had to have faith - Faith Mission, we need a revival of faith! It's time we possessed our pronouncements. It's time we stopped looking everywhere but God!
Here in chapter 9 verses 1-15, now he has returned. God has been with them on their journey, and he's in Jerusalem, and the first thing Ezra did when he heard of the compromise of the Jews all roundabout wasn't to form a committee, it wasn't to have a convention, or to even preach repentance. The first thing he did was, he went to the Temple, he sat down on the ground, and he expressed his grief before the Lord. He even pulled his hair out, and he ripped his clothes. Verse 3 of chapter 9 says he was astonished, do you know what that word means in the Hebrew? 'Shocked', 'horrified', 'desolate'. 'How can you who have partaken of the covenant of God be so blessed, and yet have sinned such heinous sins?'. Now listen, I know I'll be accused of painting the picture blacker than black - but wait till I tell you: I've ceased to be shocked when I hear some of the sins that God's people are partaking of. Ezra was broken before the sins of God's people, and then something very interesting happened, something I believe God is doing and wanting to do today.
During this time of Ezra's fasting and mourning, a crowd gathered around him. Who were they? Look at verse 4: 'Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me'. Now when God gave the Law to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai, we read that the people trembled - but that was an awful long time ago. They hadn't been trembling since, but now God's Word delivered in the power of the Spirit was convicting them, and they started to tremble. They feared before God, and we read in Isaiah 66:2: 'On this one', God says, 'will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word'. He sat like a dumb man, shaking, until the hour of the evening sacrifice. Why did he choose the hour of the evening sacrifice to start his prayer of confession in the hearing of Israel? Well, surely he had his eye of faith from the sacrificial lamb that would make atonement for the people's sins. Daniel's great intercessory prayer, if you look at Daniel 9, was at the hour of the evening sacrifice. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that's what it was a pointer and a picture to. I think what Ezra was doing is what Daniel was doing, what every intercessor of God does, it's like Aaron, the high priest, on the Day of Atonement, they are placing their hands on the head of the scapegoat, they're confessing Israel's sin and releasing it into the wilderness - and that's what we as God's people need to do in our brokenness, in our burden, we need to come to Calvary again, we need to confess our sins, we need to agree with God that we have gone the wrong way, we have not dwelt in covenant with Him. We need to repent! We need to renounce! We need to forsake! For He says: 'He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy'.
They were guilty of the sins of the nations - are we? We are, you know. Do you know that the divorce rate among evangelicals in America is no different than among ordinary people, in fact in some instances it's worse? Paul said to the Corinthians: 'It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality that is not even named among the Gentiles' - I think we are there now today. Do you know where we need to go? We need to go to Calvary.
'Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away one stain.
But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they'.
Watts said in one of those verses:
'My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine,
While, like a penitent, I stand,
And there confess my sin'.
Are you walking in the light this afternoon? Father? Mother? Are you walking in the light? For if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another. One of the signs is: are you right with your brother, are you right with your sister? Are you right in marriage? Are you right in your family? Believers, I know, but things aren't right. You're not walking in the light! I don't care how many conventions you go to, how many meetings - the churches that are splitting left, right and centre are not walking in the light. They can have right doctrine, they think, but they're not walking in the light! Then the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin; then we know that connection, if we confess our sins! That's what solemn assembly is all about: He is faithful and just to forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Ezra's prayer, if you compare it with Daniel's confession - I don't have time - Daniel 9, even Nehemiah's prayer in Nehemiah 9, he confesses the sins of the people. In verses 5 and 6, he looks back at Israel's sins and he confesses them. He admits that the people deserve captivity, and he uses several images to show the people's plight. He says in verse 6 that they are like drowning men and women: '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' - they sin more and more. He says in verse 8 that they were like a little peg, so much of the future was hanging on them: 'We are peg in the house of the holy place' - do you know what that means? The sense in which the future hung upon their testimony. They were elected and chosen of God to be a witness to the nations roundabout, but they failed in covenant. There is a sense in which, as we are gathered here as families, most of us Christians, that the future of God's witness hangs on you and hangs on your family.
The remnant that had to serve as a wall against the awful encroaches of sin, verse 9, to make them a wall around the city - you are God's last line of defence! Have you ever considered that? Your witness in this town, in this province, in your family, in your neighbourhood could be God's last line of defence. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying: God doesn't need you, and He doesn't need me. I heard Johannes Facius say on a recording there this week that, I think, he wrote a book called 'God Doesn't Need You', and then he wrote another book 'God Doesn't Need Us'. Then he went to his publisher, and he said: 'I'm going to write another one, 'God Doesn't Need This Book''. The publisher said: 'You can't write a book called 'God Doesn't Need This Book', it'll not sell!'. God doesn't need us. Like Mordecai said to Esther, 'If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place; but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this'. God doesn't need you, but you can stop the rot! You can make the change! You can turn the tide! Father, mother!
The great issue for Judah was that if the nation was polluted, how could Messiah be born? That's the real issue here, verse 2. In other words, the sin of Judah was hindering Christ's coming down. I don't need to apply that. Nothing has changed, when God wants to get something done He sends His servant with the Word of God. No sooner had the teacher, Ezra, preached the Word of God than it began to reveal sin - for the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the soul and spirit, the joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intents of the hearts of men. Now I want you to picture the scene, close your eyes for me - I'm almost finished - picture this: thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people converging on the city of Jerusalem. Fathers, mothers, children and grandparents, farmers and city officials and politicians. The scribe, Ezra, stands on a high wooden platform and opens the book of the Law. Ezra reads the Law aloud from daybreak until noon as he faced the square, this solemn assembly. Many could not understand what was being read, they didn't even know the language, but as Ezra read a group of Levites instructed the people in the Law while they were standing there.
When they finished, we read in Nehemiah, Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and then all the people answered: 'Amen! Amen!', while lifting up their hands, and they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground, and said: 'This day is holy to the Lord your God'. As Ezra prayed in verse 4, he trembled. He knelt down and bowed down, because nobody can stand before God! Later on we read that the people engaged in public humiliation and putting away the sins, the seeking of the Lord with all their hearts. But I want to ask you, and I'm finished: what will you do before the message of God? What will you do?
Let us pray. Now I want to take a moment, God has been speaking. Ezra proclaimed a fast at the river Ahava - listen - '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'. Is there a father in this place, and you know that you have not been operating as a priest in your home, you have not been erecting the altar of God - and I'm not talking about having to do something regimentally every day at a certain hour, I'm just talking about a spirit of worship and godliness in your home. I'm not talking about strict rules and regulations, I'm talking about heart-worship and devotion to the Living Christ. Is there a father here today that will stand to his feet and say: 'I will, from this moment on, seek a way for my ones, my little ones'. Is there a father?
Just where you are, as every head is bowed and eye closed, is there a mother that will join that father? Single parents? Is there a whole family that will stand to their feet and say: 'We will be part of what God is putting into folks hearts. We will seek the Lord in our home for a right way for us, for our little ones, for this nation'? Are there any? Stand to your feet. Are there any? Is there anyone, and maybe you're not a family man or woman, but God has spoken to you, and God has told you about your sin and you need to repent, and you need to sort things out? Is there someone, and God is birthing within you this vision of revival? I'm just addressing folk here whom God has touched, who are trembling before the word of God - is there anyone trembling before the word of God? The word of God is keeping me awake these nights, I'm finding it hard to get to sleep, and when I waken hard to get over again. Is there anyone who feels the burden of Ireland? Is there anyone who feels the burden of this United Kingdom who will stand and say: 'Lord, I will take the burden, and I will make the sacrifice, I'll make a sacrifice, whatever it is I'll make it, and I'll be there for You. Whenever small or great You want me to do, I will do it in obedience to You'?
Now, I'm going to pray for those who are standing, and everybody please pray as well. You address God, I'm not going to give you the words to say. You come in repentance, just bear your heart to the Lord, confess whatever is in your spirit, you talk to the Lord, you deal with Him. I know counsellors can be available at times, but you really need the Holy Ghost to counsel you. You need to seek on with the Lord, maybe you need to sit on in the church, or wherever, and just seek the Lord. Let me pray for you now: Father, I thank You for these dear ones whose hearts you have touched. Lord, I just pray that You will seal the work of the Spirit that has been done in them. If these fathers need to set things right and put walls of protection around their little families - so many avenues and gates for evil to enter in. We pray for the little ones gathered here, that You will protect them, Lord; O God, spiritually, that you will protect them - but that we will be a covering for them, and not allow anything harmful to enter into their lives, that will not be guilt on our part for exposing them. Help us to get the balance right, to not be too tightfisted in everything; and yet, Lord, to have spiritual boundaries in our lives so that what we do, to an extent, they will not take to extremes. I pray for the fathers, we need godly fathers, Heavenly Father, who will be examples and will take the lead. We need godly mothers who will respect godly fathers. Oh God, we pray for those whom You are birthing something of revival in. Thank You for what You're doing, it's the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes. Lord, fan the embers to a flame, we pray, even in this convention: 'Revive us, O God!', we pray - that Your people may rejoice in Thee, that the fires of revival will spread across the whole of Ireland. Open up more revelation to us in the sessions that are yet to be. Lord, bless these dear souls. If any are under the oppression of the evil one, in the name of the Lord Jesus we rebuke him, the strongman, in the name of the Stronger Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and command him to depart and leave them. For the glory of the risen Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at the Faith Mission Easter Convention in Bangor, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the second recording in his 'The Solemn Assembly' series, entitled "Under Ezra" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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