Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Habakkuk 1:12-2:1 Is It Proper to Question God?

 August 6, 2023


Habakkuk 1:12-2:1 Sermon

From the Series: Habakkuk: A Prophet for Today?

Mountain View Evangelical Missionary Church

Is It Proper to Question God?

Good morning, it is so good to be back with you for another Lord’s Day Service. Thank you for having Marilyn and I back once again.

This morning, I’d like to continue our study of the Book of Habakkuk. We covered the first half of the first chapter last month and just to help you remember, I’ll do a quick recap.

We saw last time that Habakkuk was given a prophecy or an oracle from God. Interestingly, the word in the original Hebrew is massa which we translate here as “oracle”, but it can also be translated as “burden.” We will see as we progress through the book, that this prophecy certainly was a burden for Habakkuk as well as the entire people of Judah.

Something I neglected to mention in the first message was that the events listed in this prophecy were given ahead of time and it took approximately 66 years for all the events to unfold.

We saw that the primary reason for Habakkuk calling out to God was due to the corruption that was happening within Judah and from its rulers. The prophet called out against the violence, destruction, and injustice that the people were experiencing at the hands of their rulers. He felt that Yahweh was not aware of what was going on and that God was ignoring the cries for help from His people.

In the second verse, Habakkuk complains, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” Some commentators claim that this was done in an aggressive and confrontational tone, but I don’t see that here. I think that Habakkuk was using a persistent yet respectful tone when he was addressing the LORD.

Then we see that Yahweh answers, but it was not at all what Habakkuk was expecting. In essence, the LORD tells the prophet, “Look around and truly see and you will be astounded. I am at work already. I have been holding back this little group of miscreants called the Chaldeans, or you may know them as the Babylonians, (think King Nebuchadnezzar) and if you think it is bad now, wait until you get a taste of this bunch. They are a law and a justice unto themselves, they are proud and haughty, and brutal, and they think their own strength is their God. This group worships themselves and their accomplishments as their God.

And we see here, as so often is the case, that God does not act or do things in the way that we think they should be done. So, Habakkuk continues the conversation, but with a bit more respect and conciliation in his tone, and raises a second question.

So, I thought I might start by asking a question of you.

Have you ever had an occasion where things were getting to you, and you started to have some doubts and you cry out to God with a question? Maybe the situation was the unexpected death of a loved one, or maybe you received a devastating diagnosis from your doctor. 

A natural response in our fallen state is to cry out, “Why me Lord? Why is this happening to me?” We are not alone in questioning God. We can find many instances in scripture where people have cried out to God in anguish looking for answers or reasons for the situations that they were facing. On Father’s Day, we saw how Job cried out to God after suffering his loss.

David cried out to God numerous times, and they are recorded in the Psalms he wrote. Many of the prophets also cried out to God, sometimes in anguish over what they saw in their people's behavior. Other times, they cried out from the vision that they had received. When Isaiah received his vision of the LORD God sitting on His throne in all His Glory, Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Once Isaiah had been exposed to the wonder and majesty of God, he fully recognized just how sinful he truly was. Isaiah knew that even his mouth was unfit to proclaim God’s truth to God’s people, so in the vision, one of the seraphim flies to him and touches his mouth with a lump of burning coal and proclaims, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” This is a wonderful foreshadowing of the work of Jesus to come.

So, we see from Scripture numerous examples of people crying out to God and asking questions of Him. When we do this in our own lives, we are in good company.

It is possible that these difficult situations could even lead one to begin to question their faith in God. This is exactly the situation that we will see in today’s passage from the Book of Habakkuk. Please turn with me in your bibles to Habakkuk, chapter one and we will pick up the account of Habakkuk in verse 12. Habakkuk 1, verse 12.

READ HABAKKUK 1:12-2:1

PRAY

We see in this passage that the Lord’s answer that Habakkuk had received caused a faith struggle in the prophet. The answer was not what he had expected. God had told Habakkuk that He was going to raise up the Chaldeans, and God was going to use this “bitter and hasty nation” to bring judgment to God’s own people.

Habakkuk believed that the Lord could not tolerate wickedness, yet he noted that evil prospered. A thought that we can share with the prophet from our circumstances today.

We will see that Habakkuk sought an explanation he could pass on to his audience, but none was forthcoming. 

Lord willing, in the future, we will see by the time we get to the end of this book and the end of the conversation between Habakkuk and God, we will see that the prophet realized that the near future would lack visible reasons to believe, leaving only faith in God’s promise. Without immediate, material evidence of God’s love, he would have to say, “Although the fields produce no food … yet I will rejoice in the Lord”.

Let’s look a little closer at the first couple of verses of today’s passage.

READ HABAKKUK 1:12-13a

I think that we should look at this entire passage, the passage that some of your Bibles will mark with the heading “Habakkuk’s Second Complaint”, not simply as a complaint issued against God, but rather as a prayer offered up to God. A lament if you will. A lament is a type of prayer that one offers up to God while suffering. We see from this passage that the prophet fully expects to receive a response.

With that thought in mind that this is indeed a prayer, let’s see how the prophet begins his prayer. It is offered up with reverence and respect. It almost seems like Habakkuk is backpedaling a little after receiving the answer from God that he did.

Habakkuk starts with the recognition of some of God’s attributes, “Are you not from everlasting…” This is an attribute that the Bible speaks of often throughout the Old and New Testaments in various forms. Yahweh is the everlasting God (Isaiah 40:28), the everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6). He is described as an everlasting King (Jeremiah 10:10), and Redeemer (Isaiah 63:16). 

The Lord is a God of everlasting kindness (Isaiah 54:8), everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3), and everlasting mercy (Psalm 100:5; 103:17) who has established an everlasting covenant with His people (Hebrews 13:20). His kingdom is everlasting (2 Peter 1:11), as is His salvation (Psalm 45:17).

Everlasting does not just refer to the God that will exist into the future, but it also refers to the God that has existed from all eternity. The God that was before time and creation began. That’s the mighty God that Habakkuk was addressing and that is the same mighty God that we serve today. God does not change, and if we are entirely honest, God’s created people do not change either.

Of course, societies and civilizations come and go. Empires rise and fall, but people in our core, have not really changed. Technology and tools have made our work easier and made us more productive, but our combative and disobedient will remains. 

The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis had an expression he called “chronological snobbery”.  He defined it as this, “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited”. In other words, whatever we do today, and whatever belief we accept today, is the correct one, and whatever was believed in the past must be incorrect because it has been replaced by our superior belief system. The “snobbery” comes from the fact that we believe that ours is the correct belief. It is correct simply because we believe it. 

Societies decline because morals change, and what we call sin, becomes more readily accepted by culture. In our sophistication, we turn our backs on the very foundational teachings that allowed society to flourish in the first place. 

But Scripture tells us that God doesn’t change, only the people’s attitudes towards Him change. We see examples in the Old Testament of Israel and her people turning their backs on God and His Laws time and time again, and God must bring judgment on them in an attempt to bring His beloved people back to Him.

And before you fall prey to chronological snobbery, take a good look around at our present-day circumstances and try to explain to me how we, here in Canada, are any different from the Israelites in the day of Habakkuk.

Now back to verse 12, we see the prophet mention another attribute of God. “My Holy One”. So, not only is God everlasting, but He is also Holy. The word Holy when used as an attribute of God is defined as “the moral and ethical wholeness or perfection; freedom from moral evil.” So that is the definition of the word Holy when used as an adjective to describe God. 

Holiness is the verb form of the word Holy. Holiness is the action word and holiness is not just reserved for God. Holiness is one of the essential elements of God’s nature that is required of His people. We are required to pursue holiness in our lives, as followers of Jesus Christ.

Holiness may also be described as “sanctification” or “godliness.” The Hebrew word for “holy” denotes that which is “sanctified” or “set apart” for divine service. The Bible is clear that God’s people are called to be holy and to pursue holiness.

Exodus 19:5-6 states, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” These were direct instructions from God to Moses, for God’s people.

After being freed from slavery in Egypt, God continues with His instruction to His people to show them that they were now “sanctified” or, set apart by God, for God… and they were no longer to act like the people from the surrounding cultures. In Leviticus 20:23 God instructs His people, “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.”

Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “Yeah but, Paul, that is the Old Testament, and we now live in a time of Grace. C’mon man get with the times, we don’t have to do those things now. Stop being so picky!”

Fair enough. That is the Old Testament. We do live in a time of Grace. We have a new covenant found in the New Testament. Do you understand what that covenant is

Jesus, who is God from time everlasting, came to earth. Born of a virgin, Jesus took on human form in addition to His deity. Jesus did not just come into existence 2,000 years ago. Jesus took on human form. He was fully human and fully God. In time past, before Jesus was on earth, he agreed with the Father, to voluntarily lay aside some of His divine abilities to become the perfect and sinless human substitution for God’s wrath.

Jesus taught the Apostles, and through them and through His Word, the Bible, Jesus teaches us today how we may attain this Salvation. Jesus and the Father produced a way to repair the broken relationship between mankind and God. A relationship that was broken between the Creator and His creation, when original man disobeyed God while they were still in the Garden as recorded in Genesis chapter 3.

According to John 10:11 in the words of Jesus, He said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus laid down His life as a penal substitution for us and satisfied the wrath of God that was due to us. He laid down His life through His death on a Roman cross, was buried in a borrowed tomb, and then three days later, Jesus picked up His life again and was resurrected. The resurrected Christ is the one that wants a personal relationship with you. You are the reason that He went to the Cross. I am the reason that He went to the Cross. It was my sin and your sin that required the sacrifice of Jesus to lay down His life for us.

Now do you understand what He has done for you? Now that you understand, let me ask you a question, “Do you love Jesus?” I would like you to understand what Jesus has accomplished for you so that you may find His joy and His peace in your relationship with Him.

That is the new covenant that is proclaimed in the New Testament. Now, a covenant is a legal agreement between two parties, like a contract but even more binding. God is the one party in the agreement and we, His people are the second party.

God is the primary mover and shaker in this agreement, He is the initiator, and the bulk of the responsibility falls on His shoulders. Since He is the initiator and the Creator, He gets to set the terms of this agreement. Jesus carries the load, as the Hymn says, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe”.

What do we “owe” Jesus? We owe Him our obedience. Again, let me ask you, “Do you love Jesus?” Jesus challenges us directly with this question found in John’s Gospel. In John 14:15 Jesus asks his disciples, and by extension, He asks each one of us that calls ourselves a follower of Jesus, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

We are called by Jesus to be holy, to pursue holiness, not from a sense of trying to earn something, …for Christ has already given us the gift of Grace through His sacrifice, …but we obey because we love Him.

Holiness was not just an Old Testament quest. The Apostle Peter in his epistle 1 Peter 1:14-16 implores the followers of Jesus to be, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

The Apostle Paul also calls us to obedience through love, through the love of others. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12 and 13 Paul writes, “…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” 

Through love for one another, we pursue holiness, we grow in our sanctification, to become more like Jesus. Obedience is holiness. 

That was the definition of a Holy God, and the requirements that a Holy God asks of His people, the pursuit of holiness in their lives. That was the God that Habakkuk was addressing. He was making known to God that he was aware of exactly who God was.

But in verse 12 Habakkuk reminds God of a promise that Yahweh made to His people, specifically to the father of the Nation of Israel, Abraham. Just to make sure that you all are still awake out there, turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis 17:5-8.

READ GENESIS 17:5-8

This is the promise that Habakkuk is reminding God that He made to His people starting with the patriarch Abraham. That God had established an everlasting covenant. There is that word “everlasting” again. Habakkuk is not claiming divine protection from death for each individual in Judah. How can he, we all die! The promise that Habakkuk is clinging to is that God will not let His people be wiped from the face of the earth. That Yahweh will protect a remnant of His people and be in an everlasting covenant with them.

Let’s pick up the account back in Habakkuk Chapter 1. 

PAUSE

Look with me at the second half of verse 12. Habakkuk continues in his prayer to the LORD, “ O Lord, you have ordained them”, them being the Chaldeans that He is going to let loose on Judah. “…you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.” 

A couple of things here: The word “Rock” is often used figuratively to refer to God as Creator, a refuge, the sustainer, and as a symbol of God’s strength. Second, we see Habakkuk recognizing that the Chaldeans will be a legitimate judgment on Judah and well within God’s right to do so. Reproof is another word for reprimand or correction, and scripture is clear in several places that God has a right to rebuke us when we sin, and we are also to rebuke fellow Christians when we see them caught in sin. 

Leviticus 19:17 instructs us, “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.” Scripture makes it seem that not correcting your brother’s or sister’s sinful behavior would be the equivalent of hating them. I know this thought really upsets our modern-day sensibilities. We are told to just mind our own business, but that is not what God’s Word instructs us to do. Corrections must be made with gentleness and respect, and Mathew chapter 18 lays out the whole proper procedure to do the correction.

Some of us even reject the correction when it comes from God! We find ways to justify our guilty behavior by saying things like, “That law doesn't apply today .” or, “We are under Grace now, so I don’t have to worry about that”. These lies that we tell ourselves and tell others really are detrimental to our walk with Christ. As I said earlier, holiness is obedience, and we are called to be holy.

Look at verse 13 with me. READ Habakkuk 1:13

We see the prophet challenging God’s behavior trying to use God’s own attributes against Him. Of course, the statement that god “cannot look at wrong” is a misapplication of the concept of God’s eyes. First off, this is what is known as anthropomorphism, which is the application of human physical traits to a spirit being such as God. God is spirit, so He has no literal eyes. Second, this statement fails to recognize two other important attributes of God, namely that He is all-knowing and omnipresent. God cannot help but look at the evil of this world, because of his omniscience and omnipresence. Where could God possibly go to escape the presence of evil?

But this is a ruse, a false premise being established by the prophet so that Habakkuk can repeat his question from verse three, “Why Lord?” Habakkuk’s second set of questions rephrases, intensifies, and expands the original question in light of the new information given in Yahweh’s response. The key question of the chapter (and the book) is asked in both sets: “Why do you tolerate wrong?” (1:3b), and “You cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” (1:13b).

Others have asked the same or similar questions of God in the Bible. People from Job to the psalmist as well as the prophets Jeremiah and Malachi. So, if you have asked God similar questions, you are in good company.

In verse 14 and following, Habakkuk goes on to use the sea and a fishing metaphor for the impending chaos that the Chaldeans are going to bring upon Judah.

READ HABAKKUK 1:14-15

The hook, the net, and the dragnet are all used in fishing for various purposes. The hook is used to catch a single fish, and the net or gill net, which is probably what is meant here, is used to catch specific species of fish based on the size of the openings in the net. Smaller fish slip through the net, while larger fish simply bounce off and swim away. A dragnet is an indiscriminate method of fishing, and it ensnares everything large and small that falls within its reach.

Interestingly enough, all three of these techniques and tools have been shown to be used in ancient warfare. Cave paintings have shown hooks and nets being used against one’s enemies in times of war. The dragnet would have been a terrifying image for the hearers of this prophecy, the thought that everything in the path of the Chaldeans would be swept up and carried off by them into captivity. And of course, we know from history that this is exactly what happened, and it is referred to as the Babylonian exile.

Look at verse 16 with me.

READ Habakkuk 1:16

“He sacrifices to his net”. The prophet is of course referring to the Chaldeans and their army. What he is saying here is that the Chaldeans were worshipping their own strength. We make sacrifices to, or for, the things that we make into idols in our lives. It may be an object, like a car or a house, or it may be a sport like hockey, football, or golf. Maybe it's your job or your business or farm? Not that these things are bad by themselves, but when they take the place of priority over God in our lives, we have turned them into an idol.

When we think of the word “Idol” what comes to mind is the image of a wooden, stone, or metal statue that we bow down to. That’s one definition. Another definition is the things to which we make sacrifices.

Billy Graham is credited with saying, “Give me five minutes with a man’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is”. Today, I would say, “Show me your bank statement and your Google calendar and I can tell you where your priorities lie.” We may not make blood sacrifices to the idols in our lives, but we do sacrifice our time and money to the things that are important to us.

Another form of idolatry is fashioning the God of the Bible into a god of our own making. When we pick and choose which teachings we will obey, or when we ignore certain attributes of God, we are not worshipping the One True God, but rather we are worshipping an idol of our making. A god that bows to us instead of the other way around. 

When we teach that God is only love and ignore His Holy and Just aspects of His being, then we are worshipping an idol. When we live our lives ignoring the coming judgment, we are worshipping an idol. When we ignore the clear teachings found in the Bible and contort God’s Word to fit cultural ideas rather than having culture bend the knee to God’s teachings, we are worshipping an idol, a god of our own making, a false and pagan god, just like the Chaldeans.

Habakkuk is confirming what the LORD said back in verse 11 when He was describing the Chaldeans. “…guilty men, whose own might is their god!”. 

But look at the second half of verse 16, who can blame them for worshipping their tools of war and their own strength, for the bible says, “for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich.” For many that is all that matters in this world, right? Results. What will it get me?

Look with me at the final verse of chapter one.

READ HABAKKUK 1:17

Habakkuk asks one final question of God. It is a version of every lament, “How long, O LORD, how long?” Habakkuk is trying to confirm with God that there will be an end to the carnage. 

This is a legitimate question. The thing that we forget, and while we are in the middle of the suffering it is easy to forget, that “this too shall pass”. Empires come and go. Conquering armies are in turn defeated or simply return home. While suffering will always be with us, individual trials will come and go.

Now there is an unfortunate chapter break here because the first verse of chapter 2 actually belongs with chapter one because it is the ending of the lamenting prayer from Habakkuk.

READ HABAKKUK 2:1


Habakkuk finishes his prayer to Yahweh with a statement of submission to God’s authority.

“I will station myself on the tower and look out to see what He will say to me”. That is the proper way to submit questions to the LORD. Acknowledging that we will wait on Him for the answers.


CONCLUSION

At the beginning of this passage today we saw that Habakkuk was processing the shock of the news. We heard it also in his statement of incredulity, “We will not die!”. Immediately, however, he said that he believes Yahweh concerning the Babylonians: “You have appointed … you have ordained” (1:12b). In one verse Habakkuk progressed from incredulity to acknowledgment of the facts through his trust and knowledge of Yahweh. Even though Jerusalem will be captured, and God’s people exiled, they will survive as a people, for God is a Rock of refuge. “We will not die” becomes a cry of hope for the future.

Habakkuk raised objections that we also echo today. Both he and we realize that we don’t like the world we see or the world as God describes it. Our implied question to God is twofold: (1) “Why don’t you destroy the wicked?” or at least don’t sanction their success; (2) “Why do the wicked exist at all?” Be careful with the second question. We tend to think of evil as being on a sliding scale, but to God, all sin is wicked and detestable. We are there on that scale somewhere.

Questions and lament are part of a believer’s burden, and honest dialogue with God is a necessary form of relationship with him. Lamentation and questioning are God’s gifts to the believer. They provide a pathway of honest faith and faithful conversation with him in horrible times. One-third of the Psalms are prayers/songs of lament.

Jesus himself lamented faithfully to the Father from the cross, using the words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Like Habakkuk, Jesus models for us the possibility of being honest with God about our situations through lament without guilt.

Habakkuk’s protest is faithful and inspired because it is done out of the conviction that God is good all the time, even in death and dying.

Habakkuk implies that he knows God has made the world and people “like fish in the sea.” The real problem is that he doesn’t like it, not that he doesn’t understand it. Let me repeat that, the real problem is that he doesn’t like it, not that he doesn’t understand it. God’s world gives the wicked and the violent too much freedom. Isn’t that truly the reason why we reject some of God’s teachings? It’s not that we don’t understand it, it’s that we don’t like it or like the fact that we must submit to it. When we pick and choose like that, we are placing ourselves in a position of judging God. We can question Him; we have no authority to judge Him.

Who here hasn't struggled with questions regarding God or the circumstances that we find ourselves in? In these times of struggle, we must ask ourselves, "Why do we worship The Father?” Just because he gives us good things, or because of who He is and the salvation He has given us?

Times of trouble may test our faith and our relationship with God. 

I want to leave you with a couple of definitions of faith from a couple of famous Christians. I mentioned C.S. Lewis earlier and here is how he defined faith, “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”


And finally, the early church Father Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”


I implore you to place your faith in who God is and His unchanging nature and not in the circumstances that you may find yourself in.


PRAY


Monday, February 12, 2024

When God Rebuilds...Ezra-Nehemiah Part 07 Ezra 3:1-6 First Steps

 February 11, 2024

From The Series: When God Rebuilds…

Part 07 First Steps

Ezra 3:1-6

Mountain View Evangelical Missionary Church

Here we are working our way through the Book of Ezra once more and we are now on chapter three of the book.

INTRODUCTION

                So far in this series, we have seen how God is laying out a pattern for the rebuilding process. A pattern that we can follow today as we approach the rebuilding of our church! This same pattern can be a useful pattern for church planting as well.

                First, we saw God moving in the hearts of people. Yahweh started with King Cyrus and He moved the King’s heart to allow God’s people to return to their land and capital city of Jerusalem and begin the rebuilding of the Temple. God further moved Cyrus to release the Temple articles such as the gold utensils and silver pans that were used in the worship of the One True God.

                Next, God moved the hearts of His people to finance this project, but Yahweh also moved the hearts of about 50,000 people to return to their homeland and begin the restoration process. During this process, we saw how there was a confirmation that was done to ensure that those who were returning were entitled to return. Those who were going to serve were entitled to serve. There was unity in their work that was confirmed in their community and the actions that they were taking as a community.

                So, we saw God was at work, and the people joined God In this work through their efforts and giving, and now this week we will see that they were ready to re-establish their relationship with God the Father and they were going to begin with worship.

                Turn with me in your Bibles to Ezra chapter three and starting at verse 1, we will read and study the first six verses together. If you did not bring your Bible with you this morning, you should find one underneath one of the seats in the row in front of you. We lovingly refer to those as the Pew Bibles and you will find chapter 3 of Ezra on page 375 of the Pew Bible.

READ EZRA 3:1-6

                Let’s take a deeper dive into what these passages are saying to us today.

                Let me start with a couple of questions. Do you also see that there is a pattern being established by God for His people to follow in these Bible verses? The Book of Ezra certainly seems to be laying out an obvious pattern for the actions of His people in this adventure.

                We can see from Scripture that the God of the Bible is a God of order. We can see that this is self-evident when we read the first two chapters of the very first book in our Bible, the Book of Genesis. We don’t have time to read it all today, so that will be your homework for this week. Go back and read the first two chapters of Genesis. It is simple to deduce from the Creation account found there that Father God is a God of order.

                I will paraphrase here and give a short rundown of what those chapters say. On day one of Creation, we see light coming from the darkness, a separation of light and darkness. Then on day two, we see a separation of two types of water with a vault between the two waters. The vault was called “Sky” and the water above the sky we would call water vapor in the clouds and the water below the sky would later be separated and gathered in one place so that we had the sea and the land.

                On the third day, Yahweh also created plants that produced seeds and fruit which produced plants of the same kind. This seems like an insignificant statement but think about this for a minute. What if you planted wheat… and corn grew up instead? What if you planted an apple tree and plums or grapefruit grew on it instead? How chaotic would our food supply be? A God of order arranged for each of the trees and seed-bearing plants to reproduce after its kind.

                On the fourth day, God separated the light even further into a great light for the daytime and a lesser night for the nighttime and arranged them in such regular paths to serve as signs to mark sacred times and to differentiate hours, from days, from months and years. Imagine how useless a calendar would be if the Earth’s orbit were unpredictable and inconsistent. Only a God of order would call it good.

                On the fifth day, we have birds in the sky and fish in the sea being created. Once again, these creatures recreated after their own kind. On the sixth day, we see the creation of the creatures that live on the land. The high point of all creation was the man and woman that God created in their own image. The man was given dominion over the whole earth, and it was good.

                All of creation speaks to a God of order. Each eco-system was created in perfect balance and things only get really messed up when mankind in his arrogance thinks that he can balance things better than God the Creator can and man begins to meddle with the system.

                The Old Testament speaks of God’s sense of order in other places as well. Job 25:2 says the following, ““Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven.” It is God who establishes the order in the heights of heaven and God also establishes the order on Earth as well. We indeed live in a fallen world, a sinful world, and the One True God of the Bible still maintains order in this world. It seems chaotic to us sometimes, but according to Romans 8:28, “28 … we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

            Do you remember back in the account at the end of Genesis, when the sons of Jacob came to tell their brother Joseph that their father was dead, do you remember how the brothers were afraid that Joseph would take the opportunity to seek revenge on his brothers for the wrong that they had done to him when they kidnapped and sold Joseph into slavery?

            Do you remember what Joseph said to them in Genesis 50, verse 20? “20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…”

            We can see that there is order within the Godhead as well. Each of the three persons of the Trinity has their specific roles, and there is no competition between them, only perfect love and obedience.

            In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul also instructs us that God is a God of order.        

            1 Corinthians 14 verse 33 says the following, “33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.”

            According to Paul, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are also to have order in our worship services. We see it hinted at here in verse 33 and then in verse 40 of the same chapter after Paul has given specific instructions regarding prophecies and speaking in tongues we read the following statement summing up how worship should be conducted:

            “40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Our Lord Jesus Christ desires that we worship Him in an orderly and fitting way. What does that mean exactly? I think that there is some room for cultural interpretation here. Some cultures and communities find it acceptable for people to be vocal in their enjoyment of the preaching or singing. Some people groups lift their hands, wave their arms, or sway near their seats without being a distraction for their neighbors.

            I’m not sure bright lights, loud music, and fog machines are needed for orderly worship of our Lord. Some of these mega-churches seem to have crossed over into the realm of entertainment and performance rather than genuine, repentant worship of a merciful God. Even smaller churches with more modest budgets, like our church, are still required by the Lord to conduct our services in a “fitting and orderly way”. We shouldn’t do these things in a legalistic or Pharisaical manner, but rather from a respectful and appreciative standpoint for who Jesus was and what He accomplished on our behalf.

            Even the arrest, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were finely orchestrated by Jesus and the Father. Next month on Easter weekend, we will be able to go into more detail about those events, but I will remind us this morning that not one of the events that happened during Holy Week, those last seven days that Jesus spent in Jerusalem before He was placed in a tomb, were a coincidence or a mistake.

            The Bible tells us that before the foundations of the world were laid, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit conceived of a plan to reconcile us back to a right relationship with them. Before the events that occurred in the first two chapters of Genesis, the Trinity formed a plan that would bring their Creation back into a loving relationship with them. A wonderful, marvelous plan that would make a way for a sinful, rebellious creature, made in their own image, to be brought back into a loving relationship with the perfect loving Trinity.

            A relationship so perfect, so loving, and so complete that it didn’t need to create mankind. You know what? I can’t say it any better than Scripture says it. Let’s turn together to Romans chapter 1, starting at verse 16, and let me explain why I preach what I preach, in the manner that I preach it. Romans 1:16 will be found on page 911 of the Pew Bible

READ ROMANS 1:16-32

            Paul said back in verse 20 that God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen from all of Creation. All of this world screams out that there is a God who has a divine nature and is so powerful, yet… “although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

            It is because we are more attracted to darkness than light. Our sinful nature is more apt to rebel against God than be attracted to God. Yahweh gave us the Law, not so that we could redeem ourselves, but to show us that we cannot earn our own righteousness. We need to be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ to stand before a Holy and Just God free from condemnation.

            Do you think that it was a coincidence that Jesus happened to be in Jerusalem at the time that the priests were offering up the sacrifices that were being held to commemorate the Passover?

            The original event occurred while the Israelites were trapped under slavery by the Egyptians. Do you remember how the Israelites were instructed to take a lamb, a lamb that was spotless and without blemish, and sacrifice it? They were to take the lamb’s blood and mark the sides and the tops of the doorframes so that the angel of death would pass over them. Only the Egyptians would lose their first-born sons that night. Then the Israelites would be freed from their slavery and delivered by Moses into God’s hands and eventually into the promised land.

            All of that was a foreshadowing of how Jesus would have His perfect blood, spilled during the Passover sacrifices, and He took on the wrath that was due to us, from the Father. Jesus was our perfect and spotless lamb that was sacrificed on our behalf so that we would be freed from the slavery of our sins, and we will eventually be led to the eternal promised land when we pass from this life to the next. That is why, we as Believers should have no fear of death.

            If we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus died on that Roman Cross nearly two thousand years ago for your sins and mine, that He was buried in a borrowed tomb, and then three days later He rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, if we believe and confess these things, then we can quote the prophet, Hosea and say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

            So friend, if you do not yet have this relationship with Jesus if you do not have this assurance about your death, if you have not yet accepted this free gift called Grace that allows you to become an adopted child of God through Jesus Christ, then please make this confession today.

            All of this was ordered and orchestrated by God to bring God the Glory. We serve a God of order and peace not a God of chaos.

            We see in other writings of Paul that order was important to Paul. In his instructional letter to one of his young pastors-in-training named Titus, Paul wrote the following instructions…

                “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” As you can see from the slide, this instruction is from Titus chapter 1, verse 5. These instructions apply every bit to us today as they did to Titus almost two thousand years ago.

            Paul wasn’t some wild-eyed church planter running around the Middle East evangelizing and starting churches and then abandoning the new group of Believers, just to go on to the next town and start the chaos all over again.

            Paul was working hard to build something in an orderly fashion. A structured organization of churches. A family of Believers belonging to a larger regional family of like-minded individuals. Many of the books that we have in our New Testament were letters written to a specific church initially, and then they were meant to be circulated and copied at other churches in the region as a way to multiply the teachings of the authors to a wider audience.

            So, I think I have shown that the One True God of the Bible is a god of order. Since He is a God of order, it makes perfect sense that God would have an ordered plan for the return of His people and the rebuilding of His Temple.

            Let’s get back to our passage from today and move on to the second point in today’s bulletin. Turn with me back to the Book of Ezra, chapter three and verse 1. We are back on page 375 in the Pew Bible.

READ EZRA 3:1

            We see from Scripture that the time is described as the seventh month. This would be the seventh month of the Ecclesiastical Hebrew calendar known as Tishri and that corresponds with our calendar for the months of September to October. I say September to October because the Israelites used a lunar calendar and their months had either 29 or 30 days, so depending on the year, it would line up with our Gregorian calendar either in September or October. The Hebrew calendar is a little confusing because the months are numbered differently depending on whether you are observing the Ecclesiastical calendar in which all the religious festivals are ordered, or if you are following the civil Hebrew calendar.

            For example, in the middle of the next month, the month of Nissan is the first month of the Ecclesiastical year, but it is the seventh month of the civic calendar. The Bible lists the months in the Ecclesiastical order, so the seventh month would be Tishri.

            For some trivia knowledge, according to the Hebrew calendar, today is 2 Adar1 in the year of AM 5784. AM stands for Anno Mundi which is Latin for “Year of the World”. The Hebrew calendar does its best to trace itself back to the days of Creation, so according to the Hebrew calendar, the Creation event happened 5,784 years ago. Sorry for that rabbit trail.

            So, we see from verse one that some time had passed and after the first wave of returnees had settled in their towns, word went out for them to gather in Jerusalem during the seventh month, the month of Tishri for re-establishing some of the sacrifices and observing some of the traditional feasts.

            There is some debate among scholars as to whether we can pin down exactly if this happened in the first year of the return or not. This account closely parallels the account in Nehemiah chapter 7 when Ezra arrives in Jerusalem and the events happen during the seventh month of that year as well. Because of that debate, we will put the exact year that this happened here aside for now and we will instead concentrate on the significance of the events rather than the precise time of the events. We have to keep in mind the literary methods with which the Bible was originally written and extract that information properly and not impose methods that are an unfair treatment of the text. What I mean is, that this passage is not written as a literal historical textbook, so it would be unfair to treat the text like it was written like that.

            In Verse 2 we see the name Joshua, son of Jozadak mentioned. This man is identified as a priest here in this passage and in the Books of Haggai and Zachariah Joshua, son of Jozadak is identified as the High Priest. Here in verse 2 Joshua is identified as a priest and we see Zerubbabel also mentioned here. If you remember, when I was going through the genealogies a few weeks back I mentioned that Zerubbabel was a governor and a descendant of King David. We see these two men mentioned here to give legitimacy to their actions in the reconstruction of the altar.

            We have a priest, who would go on to become a high priest in the Temple and a descendant of King David presiding over the reconstruction of the altar. Pay close attention to the wording of the second half of verse 2, how did they reconstruct the altar?

            “In accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.” These men consulted the Scriptures on how they were to construct the altar and prepare the sacrifices that were to be offered up to God. This is critical here for a couple of reasons. I will ask you a question here to help you put it in context, do we have the freedom to worship God in whatever manner we deem appropriate?

            It seems to be that Scripture is clear that we do not have that freedom. This passage tells us that these men consulted the Law of Moses what we would call the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Old Testament.

            King Solomon, the son of King David, is a prime example that we are not to worship God in any manner that we see fit. 1 Kings 11, verse 4 contains this condemning statement, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.”

            Later in verses nine to eleven of the same chapter, we read how God removed His favor from Solomon’s life, and chaos would come to the kingdom after Solomon’s death. Second Kings and Second Chronicles tell us exactly how that judgment would play out and lead us to where we are studying today in Ezra.

            2 Kings and 2 Chronicles give account after account of how the kings after David and Solomon continually turned away from Yahweh and turned to the worship of other Gods. Kings Ahaz, Shishak, Joash, and Amaziah are just a few among those listed who turned from the One True God of the Bible and worshipped false gods like Ashtoreth and Molek.

            God is specific and particular on how we are to worship and how we are to come before Him. He alone is worthy of worship. I am not permitted to interpret God’s Word how I want or desire.

            I take the words from James chapter 3 very seriously when I come before you on Sunday mornings, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” God desires that we stay true to His teaching and worship Him fittingly and appropriately. In an orderly fashion, not chaotically, and not in some random manner that is not befitting a King. How we come before God for worship is a direct indicator of the level of respect, we have for Him as Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

            We see this level of respect in these passages in Ezra. They consulted Scripture and they desired to do their best to observe the Law of Moses. Too many churches today use the presence of Grace to excuse their laziness and undisciplined free-for-alls on Sunday mornings. Are we doing our best on the Lord’s Day for the Lord? Are we showing the proper level of respect and honor that is due the Creator of the Universe?

            Look at verse 3 of Ezra 3. “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings to the Lord, both morning and evening sacrifices.” Scripture is clear here that these men faithfully placed the altar where it belonged on the temple grounds. They located the placement of the previous altar in Solomon’s Temple and placed this newly rebuilt altar in the same spot.

            This required bravery and there may have been an easier way before them. “Despite their fear of the people around them”, this indicates that some push-back or potential push-back was happening from their neighbors. They could have taken the safe route and hidden the altar away or perhaps moved it to another location where who they were worshipping could have been obscured and accepted.

            The same applies to us. If we need to expand in the future because of the massive growth that the Lord may bring our way, if it is His will, then we shouldn’t fear what our neighbors will say or what the county may have to say about it. If it is God’s will for these things to happen, then He will clear the way for us.

            The same applies to my preaching. I can’t skip over passages because they are “icky” as in the words from the young pastor I quoted last week. I cannot ignore preaching on a subject that may upset some people or government officials if that is what a plain reading of the text requires for me to teach. I have to constantly check my personal biases against what the text says each time I prepare a message.

            The last time our young adult Bible study met in our home, we spent the entire two hours looking for and discussing the personal biases that each of us have before we are about to dive into the end-times teachings of Jesus in Mark chapter 13. I wanted all of us in that group to examine what thinking we are bringing to the text as we read it and to be aware of how that mindset that we bring to the Bible can interfere with us receiving what the Bible is trying to teach us.

            The same thought process can be applied to our order of worship. Just because we have a laid-back attitude towards what the Bible teaches, does not give us the freedom to worship God in a disrespectful manner. Or, for that matter, to ignore worshipping God altogether.

            Hebrews 10:24 to 25 offer us words of encouragement. These words should be taken even more to heart for us today, as the author of Hebrews was using them in the context of the return of Jesus. “24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

            We are certainly closer to His return than they were when this passage was written. Notice what the author of Hebrews is saying here, we gather not just for ourselves so that we may take something from the worship, we are called to gather together so that we may spur each other on toward love and good deeds. We gather as a body to lift each other up, to share meals as we will be doing after the service. We meet as a body, to give and draw strength and encouragement from each other. The gathering of the body is important in the maintenance of our walk with Christ.

            That is why genuineness and authenticity is important when we come together as a body. We have been seeing time and time again in our study of the Bible over the last few months how important our heart attitude is to the Lord. That is why He encourages us to treat each other with gentleness and respect so that we can be vulnerable enough, and genuine enough to be useful to each other in our gatherings and in our daily walk with Christ.

            This is why when we hurt someone, we should go to them and reconcile ourselves with them. We should make amends to them where possible. When someone hurts us, we should gently talk with them and let them know, so that we can stay involved and be supportive of each other. Isolating ourselves or withdrawing from the body is not how a mature Christian acts. We have enough enemies outside the church we do not need to attack or cause division within the church. That is why the Lord hates lying and gossip. If you have a problem with a brother or sister, go to them directly and address the problem. Do not go to someone else and complain about them, that is gossip and it is not godly behavior.

            When someone comes to you with an issue, listen to them with love and gentleness and address their concerns in a brotherly or sisterly fashion. Do not become defensive and dismiss their concerns, it may just be a simple misunderstanding that can be straightened out over a cup of coffee. Harbouring ill thoughts towards another in Christ is not healthy and it is not good for the body. Let me challenge you with this, what are you doing to ensure unity within this body of Believers?

            Let’s turn back to today’s passage and look more closely at verse 4. As usual, we are running out of time, so we will have to wait until we get to Nehemiah for us to go into detail about the various festivals and sacrifices that they were observing, but the point that I want you to take away from this passage was how they were observing what was written so that they could ensure that they were establishing proper worship of Yahweh.

            Verse 4 says, “Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day.” Notice that is says, “the required number of burnt offerings”. It doesn’t say, “what our committee determined was the best number of offerings”, nor does it say, “what our budget says we can afford to offer”. It doesn’t say that “according to the Chaldeans, we should only do the offerings in the morning and not at any other time of day”. No, these men turned to the Law of Moses that was handed down to Moses directly from Yahweh as to how they were to worship and offer up sacrifices to Yahweh.

            Now, you may ask, then why aren’t we doing our worship in the manner that they were re-establishing here in the time of Ezra? We no longer worship this way for a few reasons. First, there is no longer a temple, nor is there an altar on the site of the previous temples. Second, and more importantly, because of the once-for-all sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, we no longer are required to offer up burnt sacrifices to appease our God or to atone for our sins.

                Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.

CONCLUSION

            In all the feasts and festivals, the nation of Israel remembered its past and renewed its faith in the Lord who created and sustained His people.

            The feasts and festivals of Israel were community observances. The poor, the widow, the orphan, the Levite, and the foreigner were invited to most of the feasts. The accounts of these feasts suggest a potluck type of meal, with some parts of the meal reserved for the priests and the rest given to those who gathered at the Temple or the altar for worship. One of the feasts, Passover, originated in the home and later was transferred to the Temple. The rest were observed at specific times during the year and in designated places.

            The thing that most interests me is that they searched the Scriptures and they found what was written in the Law of Moses. When they found what was written, there was no controversy or difference of opinion. They not only returned to the land, but they also returned to the Law of Moses. The Bible was their authority; therefore, neither the ideas nor the opinions of individuals entered into their decisions. Things were not done for the sake of expediency.

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