This week we continue our sermon series called “Rebuilding the Church: Rebuild, Renew, Revive”. This is the fourth message in the series. We are using Ezra and Nehemiah as our primary texts, however, we will look at other related books throughout this series as well. Today we will be in Ezra chapter 4.
This is a period in the history of the Jews which focuses on restoration. The people of God had been in captivity for decades, their temple was destroyed, their worship all but nonexistent, and their ministry lost. But with the fall of their captors, and their own emancipation, it was time to start again - to rebuild, renew, and revive.
In a similar fashion, our church here at Calvary has gone through some very difficult years in the immediate past. As we are emerging from them and moving forward toward the new and exciting future God that has in store for us, I believe their are many lessons we can learn from the Jewish exiles who returned to rebuild.
Up to this point, we have seen the Babylonian Empire give way to the Medo-Persians. Soon after, the new king named Cyrus the Great released the Jewish exiles and allowed them to return to Judah to rebuild the Temple. A group was assembled, and they returned to Israel under the leadership of a man named Zerubbabel. After a brief time, they all gathered in Jerusalem. First they rebuilt the altar and then they laid the foundation for the new temple. All of this work was being done as the citizens of the city looked upon the returnees with bitterness and disdain. As we begin today’s message, a few years have passed and it is around 536 BC. The people living in Jerusalem are becoming increasingly disturbed by the presence and activity of these Jewish exiles.
I. A DISINGENUOUS OFFER (Ezra 4:1-3)
The citizens of Jerusalem during this time were not Jews - rather they were a people who would come to be known as Samaritans. They were foreigners who had been placed there by the Assyrians years before. They themselves had been exiled from their various homelands to Israel, just as the Jews had been carried away to Babylon. And so, when the people of God returned to what had been their home they were met by a city that was hostile to their presence.
These Samaritans were a mixed breed, who had incorporated their various pagan religions with Judaism. Thus when they claimed to worship the same God as the Jews, their words were not completely true. He was simply one of many gods they worshiped. They offered to "help" with the rebuilding of the temple, but in reality they only wanted to infiltrate and frustrate the efforts of Zerubbabel and his workers. Their insincerity was evident, and the remnant who had returned rejected their offer.
As we seek to rebuild our church, we will certainly face opposition and obstacles. We must be careful to recognize them when they arise, even if they come in disguise. This will require Godly discernment. We must understand peoples’ true motivations. Sometimes what appears to build us up will actually tear us down.
II. AN APPEAL TO THE KING (Ezra 4:4-16)
For the duration of King Cyrus' reign, the Samaritans conspired against the Jews. They sent a letter during the reign of King Ahasuerus lobbying against the effort to rebuild. Another letter was written a few years later during the reign of Artaxerxes, which is transcribed by Ezra in this passage. Their effort to prevent the reconstruction of the temple continued through the reign of Darius. It was an ongoing, prolonged assault against the people of God.
In their letter to Artaxerxes, the Samaritans falsely accused the Jews of rebuilding with the intent to revolt. The remnant of Jewish exiles was relatively small and of no consequence. These accusations against them were ridiculous and completely unfounded. Such slanderous comments are the work of Satan himself.
As we seek to rebuild our church, we must be mindful that our accusers are actively working against us. What we are doing is a divine work that brings glory to God, and therefore it is an affront to Satan. He and his followers will resist our efforts fiercely.
III. THE KING'S RESPONSE (Ezra 4:17-22)
As requested in the letter he'd received, the king researched the history of Israel to determine its reputation. As the Samaritans had pointed out, Israel did indeed have a long history of revolt and rebellion - not just against earthly kings and kingdoms, but against God as well. Their stubborn, rebellious reputation played a major role in the king’s decision. And so, knowing their past nature and fearing the worst, Artaxerxes decreed that the rebuilding of the temple was to be suspended indefinitely.
As we seek to rebuild our church, we will have to overcome ill feelings that we may have caused over the years. Unfortunately, even the best churches occasionally do things that hurt people and turn them off - Calvary is no exception. We will have to develop and cultivate a reputation of of love and righteousness.
IV. THE WORK CEASES (Ezra 4:23-24)
When the king's response came, an armed force was dispatched to stop the temple reconstruction. Although the exiles remained eager to work and rebuild, they were physically prevented from doing so. The rebuilding of the temple would remain suspended for 16 years. Zerubbabel and his followers would have to patiently wait on God's time table, trusting that someday they'd be allowed to finish the work they'd started.
As week seek to rebuild our church, we will face obstacles that might slow us down or even stop us for awhile. Even so, we must not become discouraged. We must move forward, knowing that success will come according to God’s timing.
What had started out so promising had now seemingly come to an abrupt end. The temple was not rebuilt, and the people were prohibited from completing it. It seemed that the enemy had prevailed and the obstacles before them were just too great to overcome…
Here is the bottom line - the Devil does not want God’s people to rebuild the church. He will use whatever means necessary to keep it from happening. Some of his attacks will be direct and others will be indirect, some internal and others external. He will try to infiltrate us with enemies who pose as friends, he will slander and accuse us falsely before others, he will seek to smear and damage our reputation, and he will even resist us physically if necessary.
As we seek to rebuild, renew, and revive our church we should fully expect opposition and obstacles to come our way. When they come, we must turn to God in order to overcome them. No matter how long it takes and whatever roadblocks stand in our way, we must remain committed to the task that the Lord has laid before us. In His power and for His name, we will rebuild the LORD's church!