The Book of Ezra, Part 4
The Jewish people were returning to their homeland! The Temple was being rebuilt! Things were looking up for Israel–at least, they would have been, if not for its sin. Ezra the priest saw the people’s unrighteousness and reacted as God desired: He repented for their sin. His humility and leadership shine through in the Israelites’ return to Israel, as we conclude our 4-part study on the book of Ezra this week.
Because of this repentance, the Jewish people endured, unlike the other people groups of the world that had been conquered. God preserved His Chosen People. He used Ezra to bring them back to Himself and share His matchless grace with people that had sinned against Him, just as we do today. And just as Ezra instructed the Israelites, we should not abuse this grace but rather praise God because of it. We hope this study of Ezra has reminded you of the great love, grace, and sovereignty of God both through Israel’s history and your own life today!
If you missed the first three parts of this series, you can catch up on our Archives page.
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover with me as our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. Have you visited our website, foiradio.org. After this episode ends visit us if you haven't been there yet, we have over eight years' worth of programming on our site for you to listen to. Once again, that's foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Steve, we are wrapping up our series on the book of Ezra. We have studied throughout Ezra and we're going to land this plane today by looking at really what is the heartbeat of what Ezra is trying to communicate to a Jewish people who have lost their way as they were attempting to rebuild Jerusalem, rebuild the temple. Sometimes when we're trying to do the right things for the Lord, we can actually begin to lose focus of him as well. So, Ezra has been called to go and to reignite the fire of God's love for them, his mercy and compassion to set them on the right direction, and that's how we're going to end our series on the book of Ezra.
Steve Conover: But first in the news, house speaker Kevin McCarthy recently spoke in Israel's Knesset plenum. The speaker celebrated the US Israel relationship and pledged that America will always stand by the Jewish state and defend it. McCarthy said, "As long as I am speaker, Congress will continue to fully fund security assistance to Israel."
Chris Katulka: Well, here's my take. McCarthy's visit to the Knesset shows that the house speaker isn't interested in Israeli politics or who is the governing coalition or who is the prime minister. The house speaker's presence represents the American people's support of the Jewish state as a whole and is resolved to stand up against Iranian aggression in the region.
Chris Katulka: We are wrapping up a four-part series on the Book of Ezra, a book of the Old Testament that really highlights how God's promises never fail. God's promises never fail to Israel in their darkest moments and to us in our darkest moments, the Book of Ezra, it's more than just a historical account of the Jewish people returning to their homeland. Ezra is speaking to a Jewish audience that we're losing sight of God's purposes in their lives and community, and that's exactly what we're going to see today. To set the stage for Ezra, we just want to remind you that this historical book was probably written around 450 BC long after the original call was given for the Jewish people to return to the land of Israel. Ezra is speaking to encourage those exiles who had come back under the leadership of Zerubbabel, to stay strong in the Lord, to continue in true temple worship and to remind them to maintain their relationship with God and not to abuse his mercy that's been poured out on them over and over and over again.
Now last week, I dedicated an entire episode to surprises. Surprises are funny. Some people like surprises and some people just can't stand them. Surprises show up in various ways and sometimes people are surprised because of a joyous situation, like a surprise birthday party or a surprise trip somewhere with your spouse or even a surprise promotion or raise that you might get at your work. But then there are those surprises that aren't so joyous like the surprise when something goes wrong in the family or the surprise situation you have to deal with in the office. Just listen to some of the synonyms for a surprise, it was shock, bombshell, revelation, eye-opener, shocker and whammy. Now, those don't sound like the kind of words to describe a surprise birthday party, your spouse, sibling, or friend planned for you.
I really think Ezra was surprised in both ways when he appears on the scene in Ezra chapter seven, and what shocked him the most was to find all of the people of Israel, the priests, the people of Israel, the Levites have not separated themselves from the local residents who practiced the detestable things. That's what it says in the text. When he finally stepped foot in the land of Israel and when Ezra finally made it, he was surprised to find all of the Jewish people interacting and practicing sin, which is how they ended up in such a spiritually precarious situation. To begin with, Ezra the priest originally planned to dedicate himself to the study of the law of the Lord to its observances and to teach its statutes and judgments in Israel's as it says in Ezra 7:10.
Now listen, if you didn't get a chance to listen to last week's program, be sure to visit foiradio.org and there in our archives page, you can listen to this entire series and so much more. In fact, eight years of radio content. So, again, be sure to go to foiradio.org.
It's what Ezra does that serves as an example for us today as believers. Instead of yelling and screaming at all of these disobedient people who surprised him and who once again abandoned God in his commands, the text says in Ezra chapter nine, starting in verse three, it says this, "When I Ezra heard this report, I tore my tunic and my robe and ripped out some of the hair from my head and my beard, and then I sat down quite devastated. Everyone who held the words of the God of Israel in awe gathered around me because of the unfaithful acts of the people of the exile. Devastated, I continued to sit there until the evening offering. At the time of the evening offering, I got up from my self-abasement with my tunic and torn robe, and then I dropped to my knees, and I spread my hands to the Lord my God. I prayed, "Oh my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you., my God. For our iniquities have climbed higher than our heads and our guilt extends to the heavens."
Now, listen, as a priest, Ezra repented on behalf of his people. Throughout this four-part series, I've been saying that Ezra was used by God to remind the Jewish people of his mercy and kindness and not to take advantage of it. Listen to what Ezra says in chapter nine, starting in verse eight, he says this, "But now briefly, we have received mercy from the Lord our God and that he has left us a remnant and has given us a secure position in his holy place. Thus, our God has enlightened our eyes and given us little relief in our time of servitude. Although we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our servitude. He has extended kindness to us in the sight of the Kings of Persia, in that he has revived us to restore the temple of our God and to raise up its ruins and to give us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem."
Ezra continues in verse 13. Listen to these powerful words of repentance. "Everything that has happened, he says, to us has come about because of our wicked actions and our great guilt. Even so our God, you have exercised restraint toward our iniquities and have given us a remnant such as this. Shall we once again break your commandments and intermarry with these abominable peoples? Would you not be so angered by us that you would wipe us out with no survivor or remnant? Oh Lord, our God, you are righteous for we are left as a remnant this day. Indeed, we stand before you in our guilt. However, because of this guilt, no one can really stand before you." Ezra, the priest, tells God, "Lord, even though we don't deserve your grace because of our sin, you have exercised restraint. You have remained faithful and patient with us despite our disobedience to your commands, and even as we continue to disobey you." Ezra says, "We still have a remnant in this land to this very day."
Ezra led the people not by pointing fingers at each one and personally judging each one for their sins, but Ezra led the way by repenting himself on behalf of his people. The wise priest tore his own robe, pulled out his own hair and cried out to God on his own for forgiveness, asking for forgiveness for the sins committed by other people. He could have said, "I didn't make this mess. I want nothing to do with this. You all clean it up yourself. I'm going back to Persia." No, Ezra took it upon himself as a priest to repent on behalf of the wayward people. Ezra did this because he knew the law. He led by example because it was a priest's job to lead by example. It was the priest's duty according to the book of Leviticus, to teach the Israelites the law.
Listen to what God told Aaron and Leviticus chapter 10, starting in verse nine, it says, "You and your sons are not to drink wine or strong drink when you enter into the tent of meeting or else you will die. This is a permanent statue for the generations to come. You must distinguish between the holy and common, between the clean and unclean so that you may teach the Israelites all the statutes that the Lord has given them through Moses." The Jewish people who returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest, were not being taught to distinguish between what was holy and common or a better word for common would be secular, what's holy and secular or clean and unclean. They were blurring the lines. Once the shock, the surprise wore off a bit for Ezra, his mission became more clear. He would teach the people to distinguish what's holy and secular, what's clean and unclean so that they might live lives according to the commands of the Lord. Now, when we come back, I want to share with you one final thought about Ezra's ministry to Israel.
Chris Katulka: Hey, everybody. I had the honor of returning to Israel this past March on our Up to Jerusalem tour, our executive director, Dr. Jim Showers, and I led two full buses of almost 100 people to see the Holy Land.
Steve Conover: It's really good to see people back touring the land. Chris, what would you say was the highlight of this latest trip for you?
Chris Katulka: Steve, for me, the highlight is always the same. It's watching people experience Israel for the very first time.
Steve Conover: Agreed through the years, I've also witnessed people who have read about the holy land for their entire lives to finally see it with their own two eyes. There's nothing quite like it.
Chris Katulka: It really is incredible, so if you're listening right now and you want that to be you, we want to invite you to join us on our next up to Jerusalem tour where you can go back in history and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, come worship together in a communion service at the garden tomb. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea and so much more.
Steve Conover: Learn more about our upcoming October tour and our 2024 dates at foi.org/tours. Again, that's foi.org/tours.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everyone. We are wrapping up our series on the book of Ezra. One of the most amazing things about the history of the Jewish people in the scriptures is that they did something no other ancient people group did in their history. They acknowledged their sin and in doing so proved that God was not dead but absolutely alive, and here's what I mean. In the ancient day when a large empire would conquer another nation or group of people that conquering empire would express to those they conquered, that their lowercase G gods are losers, they're weak. If their God was supreme, then it would've protected and defended them, but as it turns out they lost. So, their God must not be that great. Eventually, those peoples would simply assimilate into the local culture of the empire or nation that conquered them and their identity would disappear.
It's the reason that you don't interact with Hittites or Canaanites or Jebusites or Moabites. These people were challenged by larger empires, larger nations, and you know what? They lost and with their loss their gods and identity disappeared, but that did not happen to the Jewish people when the Babylonians came and conquered them and carried them away to Babylon. I'm sure that the Babylonians mocked the capital G God our God, but unlike the other groups of people, the Jewish people realized something as they were being carried away. Their God isn't dead. Their God is alive because God told the Israelites this would happen if they did not follow him. God said, "If you do not obey my commandments, nations and empires would come in and carry you away. They would exile you." And you can read all about this in Deuteronomy chapter 28. See when every other nation abandoned their nation's gods in the wake of the Babylonian captivity.
The Jewish people knew that God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was more alive than ever because his words came true. It's the reason they landed themselves in captivity, and it's also the reason that Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah would return to rebuild. Ezra, the priest, was there to rebuild the spiritual life of the Jewish people because they had fallen away from God. Again, Ezra's confession highlights this history of Israel's sin, and you just have to listen to it because listen to how he says it. This is Ezra and Ezra chapter nine, it says, "Oh my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you. My God, for our iniquities have climbed higher and higher than our heads and our guilt extends to the heavens from the days of our fathers until this very day, our guilt has been great because of our iniquities, we, along with our kings and priests have been delivered over by the local kings to sword, captivity, plunder, and embarrassment right up to the present time, but now briefly, we have received mercy from the Lord our God."
Ezra is saying, "Despite our history up to this present moment, we don't deserve God's grace, and yet once again, we have received mercy from the Lord Our God." Ezra is telling the Jewish people God has once again extended his hand of grace to us. We shouldn't abuse it. As we end this study on Ezra, I actually believe the Apostle Paul says the exact same thing to us. "Now that grace has been poured out on us, we shouldn't abuse his mercy." Romans 6:1 says this, Paul writes, "What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may abound, or grace may increase?" He says, "Absolutely not. How can we died to sin live in it?"
Ezra's leadership in repentance. That's what Ezra did. He led through repentance. Ezra's leadership in repentance compelled the Jewish people to respond in the same manner to God and the people wept aloud. It says in Ezra chapter 10, "Then Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, the descendants of Elam addressed Ezra. This is the whole nation of Israel now turning to Ezra and says, "We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the local peoples. Nonetheless, there is still hope for Israel in this regard. God would remain faithful." Did you hear the people repented because they saw Ezra repent? God would remain faithful. His mercy would endure, his grace would abound, but we should learn from Ezra not to abuse the grace and mercy god constantly pours out on us. Thank you, Lord.
Steve Conover: Israel, on the verge of becoming a state, a teenage Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the Holy Land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his savior, his collective writings from well over 50 years of ministry continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi.
Mike Kellogg: I recently met with a group of ultra-Orthodox men to whom I have spoken many times. "We bring you something you have never seen." Once said. Another man pulled out a picture of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Rabbi Schneerson was the Hasidic leader of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch movement for 44 years. One man held up his picture and proclaimed, "This is the true Messiah." Underneath Rabbi Schneerson's picture was written, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6, "I know what you believe." I told him. "But I know about whom this was written." "Then tell us so we also shall know. You have created your own Messiah. He is holy." He insisted. "Only God himself is holy. This one about whom you read in Isaiah 53, do you want to know where else you can read about him? Show us where it is written about our holy one."
So, I opened my Bible to Micah 5:2. There it is written, "But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah it out of you shall come forth to me, the one to be ruler in Israel who's going forth or from of old, from everlasting." After they read it, they looked at me with anger and began to shout, "You want to make us Christians?" "Look at the book you were reading." I replied, they saw, they were reading from the Hebrew scriptures. "You have turned a mere man into a God. Even Rabbi Schneerson himself did not claim to be Messiah." I could see they had no rest in their souls. "Do you believe in this one from Bethlehem." One asked, "I believe in this one about whom it is written in the Bible. You should be ashamed that you venerate a man from New York City."
Then I began teaching about the Holy Spirit of God, but as soon as I mentioned him, they started shouting again. "You speak like those Christians. Show us where it is written about the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Please open the Book of Psalms and read chapter 51. Read what King David asked the Lord in his prayer when he was in trouble." As they read verse 11, they grew quiet, so I took the Bible from them and read the verse in a loud voice, "Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Was king David a Christian?" I asked. "You are trying to brainwash us." "How mistaken you are." I told them, "I am trying to show you the truth in our Hebrew scriptures, you refuse to study Isaiah 53, but then you go to people to show them that passage. I want people to believe what is written in Isaiah 53. You want them only to believe Rabbi Schneerson is the Messiah." We parted in peace, and they told me as they have many times in the past, "You have given us much to think about."
Chris Katulka: The impact of Zvi's life in ministry in Israel, it didn't end when he went home to be with the Lord. In fact Zvi's legacy lives on, our Friends of Israel ministry representatives continue to share the gospel in Jerusalem, Israel, and really all throughout the world. We also serve Holocaust survivors and their families. We provide free food, medicine and clothing and we even promote the safety and security of the State of Israel and the Jewish people everywhere. So, when you give to the Friends of Israel, your donation actually allows us to advance the gospel of our Messiah Jesus. You can give online by visiting foiradio.org. Again, that's foiradio.org. You can click right there on our donate link. Also, be sure to let us know where you listen when you contact us.
Steve Conover: Thank you so much for joining us today and for the last four weeks as we covered Ezra. Chris, where are we headed next week?
Chris Katulka: Next week we have a guest coming into the studio. Guy Caspi is coming from Israel. He works with Magen David Adom, which is like Israel's Red Cross, and he's going to be sharing about the work that he does to help Israelis and to help save Israeli lives and so much more.
Steve Conover: The conversation you're going to want to be tuned in for. We hope you join us then. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, edited by Jeremy Strong, who also composed and performs our theme music. I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio PO Box 9 1 14 Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. And I'll give you one last quick reminder to visit us at foiradio.org. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
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Apples of Gold: Rabbi Schneerson
“This is the true Messiah!” That’s what a group of ultra-Orthodox men holding up a picture of Rabbi Schneerson were saying. Zvi couldn’t understand how Rabbi Schneersnon could be the messiah just as the men couldn’t understand how Jesus could be the Messiah. When Zvi accused them of making a mere man into a god, they began a spirited discussion. Listen to find out what Zvi had to say and if he was able to change their minds about who the Messiah is.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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