- 2 Timothy 2:8-13;
- Ezra 1:1-11
My dear Brother and Sister in the Lord,
Today we commence a series of sermons titled “A New Beginning”. The title of this sermon is “A New Beginning”. We will hear the Gospel of how God faithfully dealt with his people by calling them out of captivity to worship Him and to be a witness of his mercies to the nations around them.
The verses we have read from the New Testament, 2Timothy 2:8-13, reminds us of the faithfulness of God towards those He elects. The apostle Paul encouraged the young Timothy to endure hardship. In Paul, the young evangelist Timothy would find an example of endurance for the sake of the elect.
God’s eternal decree
If we would decide to make a turnaround to not live the old life of displeasing God and rebelling against Him; if we decide to change our lives so that it will eternally 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 yet know whether he or she is safe in the salvation his or her Saviour and Redeemer—that such a person will make that life-changing decision.
But you might ask, considering our inborn sinful inabilities and our limits to time, how can you make that decision?
I think this is the wrong question. 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?”
We read a few verses in the book of Ezra this morning which I would like to repeat. Let’s read these verses again:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil 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.
These verses refer not to the people of God in the first instance – however, it includes them very personally – 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 history of God’s people as it would have its ultimate fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
God of the covenant
It is impossible to say we are in a relationship with God, without understanding that God initiated his relationship. The apostle John states, it is not us who loved God first; no, He loved us first.
God’s relationship with us is expressed in a covenant. In this covenant, God promises to save the lost, care, love, provide, nurture and protect his people. He saves them by grace out of slavery and bondage and makes them his own people.
But this covenant stipulates that God’s redeemed people are called to live a life holy unto the Lord, different than other people. They are called to live by the stipulations of the covenant. Obedience to the expressed will of God, these people, saved by grace, would enjoy the covenant blessings of God. But God, as the superior partner in this covenant, also stipulated that He would punish them when they would break covenant with Him. One of the consequences of covenant-breaking was that they would be carried off to a foreign land to serve in bondage foreign kings. God promised to turn his back on his people and send the curse of the covenant upon them. This is what happened just as God warned through the prophet Jeremiah. Over the last so many weeks we have been following the rebellion of Israel against the covenant of God up to the point when they were taken in slavery in Babylon.
But a remarkable aspect of God’s promise was that He would never forget them. He would purify and cleanse and bring back a remnant to the Promised Land. God made a promise to David that there will always be someone along his line on the throne—all of this pointed forward to the new Head of the Covenant, Jesus Christ.
This “New Beginning”-series concentrates on God’s promise to restore his people to their land. Yet, we have to have a long view—the focal point should always be in Christ and how He made it possible that the nations of the earth would share in
The covenant people
God called Israel out of Egypt. God remained faithful to his covenant with Abraham. He had pity on them. He provided for them. He saved them to worship Him. Our chief purpose always remains to love God and enjoy Him forever.
The same applies to the people who serve as slaves in Babylon after Jeremiah. They were there for seventy years. God had promised that he would return his people because He would be faithful to the promised He had made to David.
God remembered his promises made through Jeremiah:
But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever. (Jeremiah 25:12)
In the year 539 when God raised up a servant for Himself: Cyrus. Two hundred years prior the Lord sent his word through Isaiah:
[The Lord] who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’ (Isaiah 44:28)
In the first year of his kingship, this king proclaimed that Israel was free to go back. God moved his heart:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil 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 and to put it in writing: (Ezra 1:1)
Just like in the case with the Egyptian slavery, God had pity on his people. He provided for them. The purpose of their rescue: they would worship God. His law would once again live in their hearts and would govern their every thought, action and motive. The heart of Cyrus was moved by God. Then, we read, “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”.
Not all of those who had been deported to Babylon packed 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 back to dusty and devastated 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 in some way. They were not moved unto salvation, but they were moved to support those who eventually undertook the journey of about 1,000 kilometres on donkeys and camels with barely enough to survive the journey, to at least make a start in the rebuilding of the altar, the temple and the city of God.
Those who made the decision to go might have thought it was their own decision. But 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?
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 teach 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. But God gave us the exact number, not just a rounded number. Verse 64 says there were 42,360 people. For God numbers and names are important. To us, it might be boring.
When it comes to eternity, 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; someone whom God has moved the heart to accept and believe the Lord Jesus Christ is my righteousness. I may refer to the day that I accepted the gift of salvation as the day of my spiritual birth, but behind the scene was the unfolding plan of God’s salvation of the elect. He moved me. He called me through and by his Word and Spirit. And He gave my gift of forgiveness. 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!”
From all nations
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.
Some Israelites probably didn’t like the idea that there were some with a 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.
God is still calling from each and every tribe and nation and language a people to Himself. Their names are added to the Book of the Lamb. It is important because it inspires the church to go into all parts of the world to spread the seed of the Gospel until the last of the elect has heard the Word of salvation. This includes some terrible people, murders, adulterers, robbers, drunkards who beat their wives and children up. When God stirs their hearts, they will 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. “That moment the vilest offender a pardon receives.“
Others 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.
Revelation 7 is 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.
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 is faithful. He does as He promised. He saves in Jesus Christ. 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 a 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.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 5 January 2020