A Fresh Start
By God’s decree
Doxology - Hymn 110: “Let us gladly with one mind” (only verses 1, 2, 5)
Call to worship
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. (Psalm 100:1-2)
Grace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit.
Hymn No 1: “Rejoice the Lord is King”
Invocation and the Lord’s Prayer
Hymn No 159: “I am so glad”
Scripture Reading Revelation 7:1-17
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Declaration of pardoning
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:8-10)
Hymn No 385: “What shall I do my God to love”
Offering and Dedication
Hymn: “How great Thou art”
Prayer for others
Scripture Reading Ezra 1:1-5; 2:64-70
Sermon A Fresh Start – By God’s Decree
Dear Brother and Sister in the Lord,
8 If you are about to make a life-changing decision – a resolution that will really impact on your entire life, you weigh up all the options. There are the pros and the cons to consider. But in the back of your mind there is always this niggling issue: is it right? There is always this possibility to one day look back and say, “I should not have done it!”
8 If the decision we are talking about would include eternity, not only a decision that will effect your posterity once you have gone the way of all flesh, but would include your personal eternal life, we would need to know that we are doing the right thing.
8 In this case we need to know Someone who knows not only the past and the present, but also the future. In fact we would need to know Someone who is not really part of this reality we live in. It would need to be Someone who is distant from time and space, Someone who to whom the past, the present and the future are actually not divided up in these categories, but to whom existence is something which is standing firm from all time and into all time.
We do not know such a person on earth. Not only is their a person who knows for sure what the future holds, but there is also no one who can actually do much to contribute to the present. They might have an impact on the life around them, but their impact would be limited due to the imperfect and restricted character of their sinful nature.
8 Shortly put: if we would decide to make a turnaround to not life the old life of displeasing God and rebelling against Him; if we decide to change our lives so that it will eternal impact, we find ourselves tangled up in our limited sinful human nature, incapable of contributing anything to our salvation and righteousness before God.
And yet, we preach the Gospel of Christ in the hope that people would make such a decision. I pray to our Saviour that even this morning as there might be someone who does not know that he or she is safe in the salvation of God, who does not know that heaven is a certainty beyond all doubt; who knows that Jesus Christ as his or her Saviour and Redeemer; that such a person will make that life-changing decision.
8 But you might argue, as I argued in the beginning, that we are inadequate and restricted in our limits to time and personal salvation and that we cannot contribute anything to our salvation, how can you make that decision?
I think we have the wrong question here. The question is not whether we make the decision to follow Christ and give Him our life to follow Him with a complete heart; the question is rather, “If I make that decision, where does it come from? What and who put that desire into my heart to convict me of sin, righteousness and judgment? Who spurs me one to understand that I need salvation, and that without that salvation I am lost forever?
8 Gods eternal decree
We read a few verses in the book of Ezra this morning which I would like to repeat. Keep in mind, these verses refers not to the people of God in the first instance – however it includes them very personally – 8 these verses tell the story of the unfolding plan or decree of God. This plan was revealed from Genesis and was now unfolding in the life of the people of God as it would have its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ – through is death on the Cross, his burial, his resurrection and his ascension - to purchase before God the righteousness that would set free those God decrees to have eternal life.
8 Let’s read these verses again:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm …” Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.
In these verses we learn of God’s plan. We heard last week about God’s faithfulness to his covenant made to Abraham, the father of all of those who believe. This covenant was proclaimed by the prophets and however the people rejected it, God remained faithful and He did as He promised.
Now, 70 years later – about two generations later – something happened: The godless king of the Persians announced the proclamation. Where does it come from? The Bible says “God moved his heart”. Well if God moved his heart to announce the proclamation, one could argue that it would be of no consequence if the hearts of the people who rebelled against in the first place to the extent that God punished them with slavery, would not be touched by the announcement that they had found mercy in the eyes of God and that He wanted them back in the Promised Land.
That’s why we read: Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.
But we need to understand a few things here: not all of those who had been deported to Babylon pack their bags and went back to Judah. Only a small number decided to do so. Why? Only those who were moved by God to do so did it. The others found the comfort of the new environment too easy to even contemplate a journey to Judah. They did not feel the movement of God in their hearts to pack up and go.
But even their hearts were moved by God, not unto salvation, but to support those who eventually undertook the journey of about 1,000 kilometers on donkeys and camels with enough to survive the journey, and with enough to at least make a start in the rebuilding of the altar, the temple and the city of God.
8 But there is more to this story. Those who made the decision to go might have thought it was their own decision. But we know, from the Word of God, it is not the case. It was God who moved them to do so. From their perspective it was their personal life-changing decision. From the perspective of eternity, it was merely an outworking of the plan of salvation decreed by God from before the foundations of the world were laid.
Genealogies in the Bible do not make for the most interesting reading for the average person. But since they are included in God’s infallible Word, we must understand that God had a reason for including them. So, what does it tell us?
8 A study of the list of names given in chapter 2 (and compared with that in Nehemiah 7) leads us to understand that all the tribes of Israel were included. What does it tell us? It is another way to proclaim to us the wonderful truth about the sealed number of the elect. The number of those called by God, those elect from all eternity are sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ. We are told that almost 50,000 returned to Israel. But God gave us the exact number, not just a rounded number. Verse 64 says there were 42,360 people. There are those who argue that numbers do not really always add up in the Scripture and therefore they are of no importance. But I differ. For God numbers and names are important. To us it is boring.
8 But let’s just for one moment put ourselves in the picture: Let’s say you expected your name to be there and it was not added. Can you see the importance? To you and to me our names are important. It is most important to know that my name is written on the scroll of the Lamb as one of the elect; one God has moved my heart to accept and believe that I need redemption and that the Lord Jesus Christ is my righteousness. And, yes, I may refer to the day that I accepted the gift of salvation as the day of my spiritual birth, but understanding the unfolding plan of God’s salvation of the elect, I understand that He moved me, He called me through and by his Word and Spirit. And He gave my gift of forgiveness. I want my name in that list.
And because it is an act of God, my name is now written in the blood of Christ and no one can blot it out – not into all eternity. “When the roll is called up yonder, I will be there!”
8 But there is another remarkable thing coming out of the list of names of those called by God. Some do not have typical Jewish names. There were those who were called by God, moved by his Spirit, to join the Israelites to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the house of God.
The elect is not from the Israelites only. Some Israelites probably didn’t like the idea that there were some with a less checkered past included in the list. Take for instance verse 58: The temple servants and the descendants of the servants of Solomon. They were probably those who had been captured by Solomon from the neighbouring nations and employed as slaves in the service of the king. And then there were the others: Verse 59: The following came up from the towns of Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon and Immer, but they could not show that their families were descended from Israel.
So God is still calling from each and every tribe and nation and language a people to Himself. There names are added to the Book of the Lamb. It is important. God is still adding Australians, and Greeks, and Russians, and Portuguese, and Samoans and Papa New Guineans to his universal church.
8 Some are terrible people, murders, adulterers, robbers, drunkards who beat their wives and children up. They all find grace in the eyes of God. When they hear the Gospel call and repent, they are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Some are not so terrible – they do not steal or commit adultery or all the other bad things. But they need repentance all the same, because no one can earn eternal life – it is a gift from God.
8 Let’s sum it all up in the words of our Confession of Faith:
3. By the decree of God, to manifest His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.
4. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, to everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto: and all to the praise of His glorious grace. (WCF Chapter 3:3-5)
This is the most humbling and also the most reassuring doctrine in the Bible.
But we read about it in the New Testament also this morning. The reading was Revelation 7. There we read about the New Israel – the church, called by God. Their number is sure: 144,000 – the symbolic number of the full number of God’s elect from the old dispensation and the new dispensation.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
I conclude this sermon. God’s salvation is perfect and stands into all eternity. He moves the hearts of his elect to respond to the gospel call. He calls you. This process could be called the working of the Spirit to give you new birth, because we must be born again to see God. Do you hear that call? You must respond and come to Him. This the Bible calls repentance. Repent, come to Christ and be saved. AMEN.
Hymn No 102: “Sovereign grace over sin abounding”
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ (Numbers 6:24-26)