Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ezra's Godly Example

My Sunday School lesson for Jan. 11 ...

Sunday we finished our look at the book of Ezra, focusing on how his obedience to God allowed him to be a godly example as he led exiles home to Jerusalem to bring the spirit of worship back to Israel.

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Let's talk role models. Who does our culture look to as role models? (Athletes, musicians, actors/actresses, politicians?)

Last year Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps was busted for driving 84 in a 45 mph zone and ended up with his second DUI. What difference does Phelps’ breaking the law make to his fans? What potential harm may his actions have on others?

Charles Barkley, NBA Hall of Famer and never one to mince words, once famously told a TV audience that he is not a role model.

Another NBA Hall of Famer, Bill Bradley (also a former Senator from New Jersey), had a different view, saying that “Sports is a metaphor for overcoming obstacles and achieving against great odds. Athletes, in times of difficulty, can be important role models.”

*** Which of these two views about athletes as role models falls closest to your view? Why? What are some key characteristics that make a person worthy of being thought of as a role model?

--- Raise your hands if you have thought that you were the only one not to have your stuff together? Sometimes we can lose sight of the long-term when we are bogged down in the things that we feel are holding us back, even if it's just a messy house and wild kids!

*** In today’s study, we’ll take a look at Ezra—priest, religious scholar, and student of God’s law—and identify the qualities and characteristics that made him such a worthy role model.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Last week we talked about the first wave of exiles returning to Jerusalem in 538 B.C.

--- The restored Jewish community rebuilt houses, towns, even the Lord's altar and temple. But hearts still had to be renewed.

*** Fast-forward 80 years to when Ezra led a new wave of Jewish exiles back to Israel in 458 B.C.

---Ezra led the people by example for a deeper commitment.

EZRA’S HERITAGE (Ezra 7:1-6)

1 After these events, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, Ezra—Seraiah’s son, Azariah’s son, Hilkiah’s son, 2 Shallum’s son, Zadok’s son, Ahitub’s son, 3 Amariah’s son, Azariah’s son, Meraioth’s son, 4 Zerahiah’s son, Uzzi’s son, Bukki’s son, 5 Abishua’s son, Phinehas’s son, Eleazar’s son, Aaron the chief priest’s son— 6 came up from Babylon. He was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which Yahweh, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he requested because the hand of Yahweh his God was on him.

*** Ezra had a strong family line.

--- Going back to Aaron, the chief priest and brother of Moses, this sets up that he had the proper credentials as an important figure. He was the right guy to restore proper worship in Jerusalem.

--- Ezra’s ancestor Seraiah [sih RIGH uh] had been the chief priest in Jerusalem at the time of the city’s destruction in 586 B.C. He and other key leaders were captured and executed by the Babylonian king (see 2 Kings 25:18-21). Their families and many other Jews were then taken as captives to the land of Babylon.

--- Azariah [az uh RIGH uh], served as chief priest in Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah. Azariah’s administration of the temple offerings yielded a surplus, motivating the king to prepare additional chambers in the temple. Extra officers were appointed to supervise the distribution of the offerings (see 2 Chron. 31:10). Perhaps, Azariah’s legacy to Ezra included the gift of administration.

--- Hilkiah [hil KIGH uh] was high priest during King Josiah’s reign in Jerusalem. This priest discovered the lost scrolls of the law in the temple. The reading of the law to the king sparked a season of spiritual and cultural renewal in the land (see 2 Kings 22:8–23:27). Perhaps the stories of Hilkiah’s achievements prompted Ezra’s zeal for teaching God’s Word and calling for repentance as the proper preparation for sincere worship.

--- Zadok [ZAY dahk] served as high priest during King David’s time. David assigned him the responsibility of leading the Levites who brought the ark into Jerusalem (see 1 Chron. 15:11-12). An important aspect of their preparation was personal purification before transporting the ark of God.

--- Phinehas [FIN ih huhs], Aaron’s grandson, displayed zeal for the Lord during the Israelites’ wilderness journey. He intervened when an Israelite man brought an idol-worshiping woman into the Hebrew encampment to live. God granted Phinehas a permanent covenant of peace and priesthood in light of his zeal (see Num. 25:6-13). Ezra may have gained courage and boldness from Phinehas’s example.

--- Eleazar [el ih AY zuhr] was a son of Aaron. Eleazar’s two older brothers died under God’s judgment, because they offered false worship (see Num. 3:4). Eleazar distinguished himself as the priest in charge of the Levites who served the sanctuary of the Lord (see Num. 3:32). At the end of Aaron’s life, God commanded Moses to take Aaron’s garment and place it on Eleazar. The act symbolized Eleazar’s ascension as high priest (see Num. 20:23-26).

--- Shallum [SHAL uhm] was included in the priestly genealogy but without any notable deeds. Ahitub [uh HIGH tuhb] is known only as the father of a priest whose loyalty to David cost him his life (see 1 Sam. 22:11-16). Amariah [am uh RIGH uh], Azariah [az uh RIGH uh], Meraioth [mih RAY ahth], Zerahiah [zer uh HIGH uh], Uzzi [UHZ igh (eye)], Bukki [BUHK igh (eye)], and Abishua [uh BISH yoo uh] also appear to be without special distinction.

--- You know who else had a strong heritage? Jesus! Matthew went through the whole genealogy to show how Jesus descended from the Old Testament's "Who's Who" list.

--- QUESTION - How would you describe your spiritual heritage? Who are one or two persons who served as your spiritual role models?

*** Verse 6 - "The king had granted him everything he requested because the hand of Yahweh his God was on him."

--- Even King Artaxerxes recognized Ezra’s expertise in understanding and teaching God’s law.

--- God’s providential hand appears in every act leading to the return of His people and the restoration of the nation. God not only used faithful believers like Ezra, but He moved pagan rulers like Artaxerxes to participate in His plan. Ezra recognized God had put this matter into the king’s mind. The glory and praise belonged to the Lord alone (see Ezra 7:27-28).

--- God chose Ezra to be His instrument in bringing the covenant people back to Him. God gives believers spiritual gifts to serve His people, placing believers in positions where they can best use their gifts and talents.

--- QUESTION - How do you recognize God’s favor on a person? How can you see God’s hand in developing you for use in His kingdom?

EZRA’S JOURNEY (Ezra 7:7-9)

7 Some of the Israelites, priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants accompanied him to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. 8 Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, during the seventh year of the king. 9 He began the journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month and arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month since the gracious hand of his God was on him.

*** Ezra brought exiles back who knew how to get the community worshiping again.

--- Priests and Levites served in the Lord's house. Then you have to have a choir, right? The gatekeepers and temple servants helped to maintain the temple and its activities.

--- QUESTION - Think of who we would bring if we were called to bring worship on the road? Would you be able to be used, and in what role?

*** It was a long trip.

--- In two ways: The returnees fulfilled decades of hopes and dreams. And the trip took a long time, 4 months over hundreds of miles. That's a lot of walking (about 10 miles per day), camping, trying to find food, and anticipating getting to a home they've never seen.

--- The king granted Ezra incredible amounts of gold and other provisions for the task. However, he did not send troops to guard the caravan. So Ezra led the people in three days of fasting and prayer for God’s protection before proceeding to Jerusalem (see Ezra 8:21-23).

*** God is with those who work for Him.

--- Note the phrase “since the gracious hand of his God was on him” in verse 9. Note that a very similar phrase appeared back in verse 6.

--- Ezra couldn't have done it without God's hand.

*** QUESTION - How have you recognized the Lord’s hand working in your life?

*** We can see how God’s hand was on Ezra during his journey to Jerusalem. Let’s see what Ezra planned to do once he had arrived there safely.

EZRA’S GOAL (Ezra 7:10)

10 Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.

*** Ezra gave a whole-hearted effort.

--- He had made up his mind to teach God's Word to His people and lead a spiritual revival.

*** QUESTION - What motivates a person to move from studying God’s Word to obeying it? What can hinder a person’s obedience? Does obedience lead to more discovery of the truth?

*** Ezra the teacher.

--- Think of something you have taught to someone else (examples: cooking, auto repair, knitting, carpentry, painting, etc.). What makes a good teacher?

--- Knowing the subject matter is key in teaching. He had to study and obey before he could teach. Teaching others the truths of God requires us to be a student of God’s Word and an example of obedience.

*** Like Ezra, Paul was a role model for the New Testament.

--- Paul wrote in Philippians 3:17 - "Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do."

--- The saying goes, "Forget your past. Jesus has." Paul knows that his testimony is powerful, but the power comes not in what he was, but in what he is doing for God then and now.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** Think back to Michael Phelps and his disobedience to the law.

--- Question: What could he do to restore trust that he will obey the law in the future?

*** Evaluate your own potential as godly role models.

*** Think of the ways Ezra placed himself in a position to be used by God. What step can you take to place yourself in a position to be used by God?

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