- Sermon Notes
Ezra’s Prayer for Revival
March 4-5, 2023
The book of Ezra is the story of God’s rebuilding and restoring Israel. They had been defeated by the Babylonians and exiled to Babylon for 70 years. Finally, Babylon itself was defeated by the Persians and Cyrus the Great came into power.
One of the first things Cyrus did was to issue a decree that any of the Jews who wished could return to Jerusalem to rebuild and restore the holy city and the holy Temple.
Not all of them wanted to return, some had grown quite comfortable there in Babylon. What’s not to like? It was a wealthy city with many worldly comforts. There were restaurants and theaters. The Babylonian Hanging Gardens were considered one of the wonders of the world. In Babylon, you could buy the world’s finest Persian rugs. Everything a person could desire was found in Babylon.
But there were those who knew in their heart that Babylon was not enough. This world is not enough. There are deeper places for the soul’s desire.
As I mentioned before, the pleasant things of the world are certainly pleasant. There’s a difference between worldly things that are sinful, that are poison to the soul, and those things which are not necessarily sinful of themselves, but which are pleasant and enjoyable; caramel macchiatos, dinner with friends at Red Robin, watching football, snacking on Doritos.
These things are pleasant, but they’re not enough. These things cannot satisfy the soul that desires glory. There were Jews who longed for more than anything Babylon had to offer. They longed for Jerusalem, that city where God had placed his name. That city where God’s glory dwelt above the mercy seat in the holy Temple.
There is a great longing in the soul for something more, something far greater than this world has to offer. The soul longs for revival, for more of God’s glory.
Ezra came to Jerusalem in the second wave of exiles returning to the city. The king of Persia issued a decree that any of the people of Israel who were willing to go to Jerusalem could go with Ezra. The king even sent gold and silver and abundant provisions as a gift and offering to God.
But all was not well in Jerusalem. After Ezra arrived, some of the princes of Israel approached him with concerning news. “The people of Israel and the priests and Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands. For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.”
God sent them back to Jerusalem for revival, for restoring and rebuilding Israel as a people of God. This was a tragedy of epic proportions. The people had sinned, and Israel was at risk of a great tragedy.
Ezra’s response and his prayer for revival are filled with life lessons and spiritual applications even for us today.
I. God Calls You a Holy People
- Verse 2 – “The holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands.”
- Israel was God’s chosen people, a holy race; He calls them holy as unto the Lord.
Deuteronomy 7:6, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; for He has chosen you to be a people for His own possession of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
- Is there a modern equivalent? Yes, in a similar way, God calls you who are followers of Jesus Christ a holy people…
1 Peter 2:9, You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…
A. Holiness is received and fills the soul
- You probably don’t think of yourself as a royal priesthood, or a holy person. Most people are very much aware of their sin and cannot comprehend the idea that they are holy.
- But you are. If you are following Christ, God Himself has taken residence in your life. If God Himself is residing in your soul, doesn’t that make you holy?
- In other words, holiness is something you receive. You cannot become holy by your own effort. In fact, every one of us was born in the nature and condition of man.
Romans 3:9-12, We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
- This is nature of man. This is the condition in which each person is born. I’ve quoted before from the Minnesota Crime Commission who researched the root cause of crime. Their report describes the nature of sinful man…
Illus – A quote from the Minnesota Crime Commission: Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants, when he wants it – his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toy. Deny him these wants, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous, where he not so helpless. He is dirty. He has no morals, no knowledge, and no skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free reign to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child will grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, and a rapist.
- If that is the nature and condition of man, how can it be that God calls you a holy people? Yet He does…
1 Corinthians 6:17-19, The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality; you are sinning against your own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
- Holiness is something you receive that you might live according to it that holiness.
B. Holiness is beautiful on the soul
- When God calls you a holy people, it’s not just a theological truth. It’s much more than that, it’s a transforming power. We live by much more than theological truths, we live by the transforming power of God.
- Many cannot understand, many do not grasp the depths of this truth. Please dive deep into this understanding. It will transform who you understand yourself to be.
- When God calls you to be holy, he is calling you to live according to that which fills your soul.
1 Peter 1:14-16, Do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in ignorance, be like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in your behavior, because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
- When God calls you to be holy, He’s calling you to something beautiful. Holiness is beautiful on the soul.
- What is holiness?
Illus – I used to teach a class called What a Christian Believes; part of that class was on the nature of God. And I asked the question, “What is holiness?”
- Holiness is God’s nature. Everything God is is an aspect of His holiness. I submit that everything God is is beautiful on the soul.
- God is love, God is patient, God is kind, God is gracious, God is forgiving, God is peace, and every aspect of God is beautiful.
- The more God fills your soul, the more the soul is made beautiful by His glory. Holiness and that which is beautiful is something you receive.
Ephesians 5:18, Be ye filled with the Holy Spirit.
II. Sin Makes People Blind
- Verse 3 – “When I heard this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my beard and sat down appalled.”
- Ezra saw what they could not see. Sin had blinded their spiritual senses.
- Sin makes people blind…
Matthew 15:8-14, “You hypocrites, did not Isaiah rightly prophecy of you, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.’” Then the disciples came to Him and said, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard the statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
- The people couldn’t see until Ezra opened their eyes.
- Blindness will rob you of every good thing.
- When Jesus descended the Mount of Olives on that day we call the Triumphant Entry, He saw Jerusalem and began to weep…
Luke 19:41-44, When Jesus approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will not leave one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the day of your visitation.”
Illus – The leaders of Israel could not see the signs of the times, yet it was right before their eyes.
A. God loves you
- God didn’t want them to intermarry with the peoples of the lands because He knew what this would do to their soul.
- Marriage is the closest, most intimate of all relationships and it is impossible not to be influenced by a spouse. Intermarriage would draw them away from God.
1 Kings 11:1-2, King Solomon loved many foreign women from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Yet Solomon held fast to these in love.
- God is very concerned about the condition of your soul because he knows what you do not know. He knows how ugly it is. He knows how poisonous it is to your soul. He knows how much it will hurt and destroy.
- God loves you and wants you to have life, and life to the full. He wants to keep you from that which will steal, kill and destroy.
- God sees it for what it is.
Luke 16:15, “That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
- This is an understanding of deep proportions. If we could grasp the meaning of that statement, it would transform our soul. What the world calls beautiful, God finds detestable. What the world highly desires, God calls an abomination.
- God is bold to proclaim sin for what it is. People are holding on to cheap imitations, God has something far more glorious in store for you than that! That’s why He’s so bold to proclaim it!
1 Corinthians 2:9, “Things which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.”
B. There is always still hope
- Chapter 10:2, “We have been unfaithful to our God, yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.”
- They will make a covenant with God and put away these foreign wives according to the counsel of God’s word.
- In other words, their soul is stirred within them, and they want to make it right.
- If there is anything standing in the way of that which is glorious to the soul and honoring to God? Then that it be removed. That is also part of revival. In fact, you cannot have revival without it.
- But it comes from a desire for more of God. The soul desires that which comes from the heart of God…
Illus – Some years ago Pastor Matthew and I were leading a pastor’s conference in the DRC. There were probably 250 pastors in attendance. About 3 days into the conference a small group of leaders asked for a private meeting. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but many of these pastors have mistresses.” How many” I asked. “Probably 60%” they answered.
We prayed and asked God for wisdom. What followed was nothing short of amazing.
- There is yet hope, because God wants nothing to stand in the way of the fullness of God in your life. When you see that that which God desires to do in your life is beautiful, you will want to set aside anything standing in the way.
- Now is the time to get right with God.
Ezra 9:1-15 NASB
1 Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy [a]race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.” 3 When I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering.
5 But at the evening offering I arose from my [b]humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my [c]hands to the Lord my God; 6 and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have [d]risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. 7 Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to [e]open shame, as it is this day. 8 But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. 9 For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.
10 “Now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, 11 which You have commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end and with their impurity. 12 So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters to your sons, and never seek their peace or their prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it as an inheritance to your sons forever.’ 13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this, 14 shall we again break Your commandments and intermarry with the peoples [f]who commit these abominations? Would You not be angry with us [g]to the point of destruction, until there is no remnant nor any who escape? 15 O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.”