Emory Briggs, a mentor of mine once opened up his Sunday school class asking them, “How many of you follow the instructions when you set out to put something together?” How many of us do this? Some of us are bad about this. We may lay out all the parts but neglect the instructions. Worse case scenario we neglect God’s instructions. By reading and hearing God’s Word we begin to understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Please go with me in your Bibles to Ezra. Who was Ezra?
Ezra 7:10 (NLT)
10 This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.
Ezra was a priest, and author. I think of him as one who studyed but also applied God’s word to the culture in which he lived.
At Arcadia this past summer we took a look at God’s miraclous leading of the Israelites out of oppression and slavery in Egypt. Seven hundred years later the Israleites are taken captive to Babylon, modern day Iraq. In our story the second wave of Israelites are returning to Jerusalem after their Babylon captivity. The first wave of Israelites (Ezra 1:1-3) have lived in the land long enough to marry outside of the Israelite race. In Ezra 9:1 we are told that they married peoples from the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, Amorites, and the “Electric Lights.” Now I want to be careful here because although I am having some fun with the names of those living in and around Jerusalem it was certainly no laughing matter to God. God had specifically told his people that were chosen for his service whom they were to marry but what had they done? Look with me at Ezra chapter 9 beginning with verse two.
2 “For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.”
3 When I heard this, I tore my cloak and my shirt, pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat down utterly shocked. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel came and sat with me because of this outrage committed by the returned exiles. And I sat there utterly appalled until the time of the evening sacrifice.
EZRA’S PRAYER OF CONFESSION TO THE LORD
5 At the time of the sacrifice, I stood up from where I had sat in mourning with my clothes torn. I fell to my knees and lifted my hands to the LORD my God. 6 I prayed,
“O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens. 7 From the days of our ancestors until now, we have been steeped in sin. That is why we and our kings and our priests have been at the mercy of the pagan kings of the land. We have been killed, captured, robbed, and disgraced, just as we are today.
8 “But now we have been given a brief moment of grace, for the LORD our God has allowed a few of us to survive as a remnant. He has given us security in this holy place. Our God has brightened our eyes and granted us some relief from our slavery. 9 For we were slaves, but in his unfailing love our God did not abandon us in our slavery. Instead, he caused the kings of Persia to treat us favorably. He revived us so we could rebuild the Temple of our God and repair its ruins. He has given us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem.
10 “And now, O our God, what can we say after all of this? For once again we have abandoned your commands! 11 Your servants the prophets warned us when they said, ‘The land you are entering to possess is totally defiled by the detestable practices of the people living there. From one end to the other, the land is filled with corruption. 12 Don’t let your daughters marry their sons! Don’t take their daughters as wives for your sons. Don’t ever promote the peace and prosperity of those nations. If you follow these instructions, you will be strong and will enjoy the good things the land produces, and you will leave this prosperity to your children forever.’
13 “Now we are being punished because of our wickedness and our great guilt. But we have actually been punished far less than we deserve, for you, our God, have allowed some of us to survive as a remnant. 14 But even so, we are again breaking your commands and intermarrying with people who do these detestable things. Won’t your anger be enough to destroy us, so that even this little remnant no longer survives? 15 O LORD, God of Israel, you are just. We come before you in our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none of us can stand in your presence.”
UNFAITHFULNESS IN ISRAEL
God sees all those “Electric Lights;” that is the peoples living in Canaan as detestable! “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” The people of the land had given themselves over to doing whatever was right in their sight; therefore, the actions of all those “Electric Lights” living in Canaan were detestable. God had spoken through Moses (Exodus 23:24, Exodus 34:13-16, and Deuteronomy 7:1-5) telling the Israelites what they must do; therefore, God’s instruction is important because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
When Ezra heard that his fellow Israelites were marrying women whom were not followers of the one true God he tore his cloak and shirt, pulled hair from his head and beard. He then sat appalled until evening and prayed (Ezra 9:3-4).
The rest of the story is that every one of the Israelites that married someone that is not a follower of the one true God was to put their wives and children away. Yes, that is right anyone that married or had a child from any of the “Electric Lights’ (Ezra 9:1) were to divorce them. Yes, that includes children too. Does that bother you? It bothers me too! Some of us might respond in two ways: “That is just not right!” or others of us might say, “This is right because the Israelites failed to obey God’s instructions.” The later is correct because as followers of the one true God we have specific instructions for life and when we follow his instructions we please our Lord and Savior. This is what I mean when I say the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
INSTRUCTION TO OUR CULTURE
God had given the Israelites specific instructions but instead of following God’s plan they chose to follow their own which resulted in intermarriage between the races. Are you with me? Please listen to what I have to say. God is not against interracial marriage such as a black man marrying a white woman, or a Hispanic marrying an Asian. As long as both the husband and wife are followers of Jesus they will have God’s blessing. The problem occurs when one is a follower of Jesus and the other is not. For example my biological dad would claim to be a Christian; however, he is married to someone who is not. What do we make of this? First of all we would not have to make anything of it if he had followed God’s instructions of not being unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14). This is the issue God had with the Israelites that are returning to Jerusalem. Let me say it again so that we are all on the same page. God is not a racist and neither should we be. God is not concerned about what color of sin, what language, and what part of his world you come from. God is concerned about you and me being wholly devoted to him!
In Ron Blue’s book Evangelism and Missions he says, “The world today needs to hear the message of condemnation, the consequences of judgment, and the reality of hell. Why? Because most people don’t realize that they are lost.” He goes on to relate a story.
“One night in Segovia, Spain, I received a phone call from one of our new converts. She said, ‘Mariano is here in our apartment. You know, the one with the marital problems.’” So, Blue, on his way over to this person’s apartment stopped and picked up Raimundo; a new convert to Christianity. Once they got inside and found Mariano and heard his plight Raimundo interrupted, “Wait a minute, I used to do that, to excuse myself and blame everyone else. No. You’re a sinner!” At this time Blue was wishing his friend would not be so direct; however, this is just what Mariano need to hear because he came to Christ that night.
So what about you? Perhaps, you are married to someone that does not fear the Lord? Maybe you have a child or grandchild that is married to someone that is not a believer then what? Are we to divorce them as God had his people do in the text we are studying? No, you are to stay in that marriage (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11). You are to make that marriage work! How are you to go about doing this? Do it by living in the fear of the Lord. You got outside of God’s will when you married the unbeliever but you can correct it by repenting of your sin and falling at the mercy of God. Our God is holy and just. He is worthy to be feared but he is also loving and merciful. In some respects our culture has focused more on the mercy of God than the fear of God. We must have both. God demonstrated his mercy by sending his Son so that we can be made right in God’s sight so that we can be reconciled to him? If you have fallen outside of God’s Word then I plead with you come back. If you have made a mistake then I plead with you to ask for mercy. Our God is the same fearful God that had the Israelites put their unbelieving families away but he is also the same God whom allowed his Son to be put to death for our sake. God is love but let us never forget the fearful price God paid for you and me.
INSTRUCTION TO THE CHURCH
Israel and the church have some similarities; do you know what they are? Go back with me to Ezra 10:44. Ezra had just listed the family names of those who had intermarried; furthermore, each of these families experienced great loss of a family member, sometimes this included children too! Could God have the same jealously for his people today? I believe God is just as jealousy today as he was back then. The only thing is that instead of having a specific race of people such as the Israelites he now has a people set apart for his purposes and they are called the church the bride of Christ. And God’s discipline is just as stern today as it was back then. If there is any person living unfaithfully in the church then the elders are to take the appropriate measures outlined in Scripture.
See: Matthew 18:15-19, 2 Corinthians 2:7, 8, and 2 John
Let me ask you a question. Are we responsible for our culture?
I believe we are to a certain extent. You see when we are faithful to God and our spouse our culture takes notice. With the help of the Holy Spirit demonstrated through us we can bring transformation into the lives of people living in our generation. How might this occur? It happens by loving one another. Yes, that is right they will know we are Christians by our love.
Some of us may be blessed to have a believing spouse and believing children but we live in a land where people are not following God’s instructions found in his Word. We have to do something about this. We must repent for the sins of the people living in our land. We must ask that God be merciful to them. That God will show them the error of their ways. We must ask God to fill us with his Holy Spirit so that we can be used by his Spirit to help bring transformation in the lives of the people of our land. How do we help bring about the transformation God requires for salvation? We do it by sticking with our unbelieving spouse unless they have left us for someone else or are endangering our lives; we do it by living a holy life. We do it by following God’s instructions. We help bring about transformation in the lives of those around us by preaching the Word. This might come in the form of instruction such as teaching or it just may be telling someone how it is according to God’s Word!
On Friday I took a run over into Missouri. As I reached my last mile home I became overwhelmed. Not from fatigue but in repentance for things I have done and left undone. You see when I first came to Arcadia Christian Church it was not known for having outstanding small groups, a vibrant youth ministry, or superb preaching; however, it was known for it’s love! Over the last five years I have seen that love nearly vanish away. And so I am overwhelmed at my own responsibility for our loss. We at Arcadia Christian Church have not obeyed God’s Word as we should have. And I pledge with you today that we return to the Word. Study the Word, and apply God’s instructions so that God will restore us with his favor. In Jesus name. Amen.