Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 8 February 2023:
Note: Here is a short video overview of Ezra — https://thebibleproject.com/explore/ezra-nehemiah/
Ezra 1:1, 5 — …that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia…. Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem.
The Lord stirs the spirit and directs the hearts of people as He desires in accordance with His will, plan and promises. In today’s readings, we see how God stirred the spirt of the king of Persia and spirits of select Israelites to rebuild the temple according to His promise proclaimed through the prophet Jeremiah that the exiles would one day return to Jerusalem. We see in Ezra 1 an amazing thing — unbelievers (along with believers) dedicating tremendous resources to honoring and glorifying God as a matter of national policy. We saw something similar occur when God delivered the Jews from the bondage of Egypt (see Exodus 12:35-36). Only God, not political action, can incite such a movement.
How God’s divine sovereignty over all things incorporates our responsibility to choose and our ultimate accountability to Him is beyond our complete understanding. However, we know that God is faithful, we are called to be faithful, and our ability to obey and choose well requires the revelation of God through His word, constant prayer, and the leading of the Holy Spirit – “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding,” (Proverbs 2:6) If you desire to be used by God, go to God. Don’t come up with your own ideas and trust in your own abilities. Also, if you are worried about the heart and decisions of other people (family members, friends, neighbors, employers, political leaders, etc.), go to God who controls the hearts and decisions of people – “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7) Additional verses for consideration —
- Proverbs 21:1 — The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
- John 6:44 — No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
- Ephesians 2:8 — For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God….
- 2 Timothy 1:7 — …for God gave us a spirit….
- 1 Corinthians 2:12, 13 — Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
- Romans 8:26 — Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
- Romans 8:14 — For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
- John 3:5-8 — Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
- Ezekiel 36:26 — And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
- Hebrews 10:16 — “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”
- 2 Thessalonians 3:5 — May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:13 — …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.
- Malachi 4:6: “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers….
- Romans 5:5 — God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
- Galatians 1:15 — But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace….
- Philippians 1:6 — And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:24 — He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
- Colossians 1:29 — For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
- 2 Timothy 1:9 — …who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began….
- 1 John 4:13 — By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
- 1 John 4:19 — We love because he first loved us.
Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Book of Matthew records very little after Jesus’ resurrection – the bribing of the guards and then the Great Commission, upon which the book concludes. I believe the abrupt ending at the Great Commission is intentional, leaving us with our marching orders – “Go.”
According to Barna Research Group, 51% of churchgoing Christians said they had never “heard of the Great Commission” term and among those who had, only 17% were familiar with the Biblical passage reference.
How important is the Great Commission to Jesus? Consider Jesus’ “Farewell Prayer” in John 17:18, 20 — “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Facing the cross, Jesus’ heart, thoughts and prayers were on His disciples, not only on the eleven, but on all those who would believe in Him throughout the age until His return.
What is your deepest prayer? How important is the Great Commission to you? Does your heart match Christ’s heart for the lost? Are you “one” with Christ as He prayed you would be?
- Matthew 18:12-14 — What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
- 2 Peter 3:9 — The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
- Acts 26:20 — …but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
- 2 Timothy 4:1-2 — I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:2 — For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
Some feel they don’t need to clearly communicate the Gospel to others but only love them with good deeds. But how can you love someone more than to share the Gospel with them? And if you do love someone, how could you not share the Gospel with them?
Who will you share the Gospel with this week? Where does sharing the Gospel sit on your priority list today?
- Romans 10:13-14 — For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? [Question: Is your pastor more likely to reach your family members, neighbors, co-workers, and friends preaching the Gospel, or are you more likely?]
- 1 Peter 3:15 — But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect….
- Mark 13:10 — And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.
- John 15:8 — By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
- Proverbs 11:30 — The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.
- 2 Corinthians 5:20 — Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
- Matthew 9:37 — Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few….
- 1 Chronicles 16:24 — Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
- 2 Timothy 4:5 — As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
“Our Master commands us to ‘go.’ We need permission to stay! The gospel is the account of Jesus’ leaving His Father’s right hand to go to Calvary. Jesus instructed those who wanted to be His disciples to leave their homes and their comforts and follow Him. Some insisted that they could not go yet because they still had to care for elderly parents (Luke 9:59-60). Others wanted to make sure everything was in order first (Luke 9:61-62). Still others expressed willingness to follow but wanted to know the details of what they would be doing (Luke 9:57-58). Jesus never excused those who struggled to follow Him. He made it clear that to follow Him meant He set the direction and they were to follow.
We can convince ourselves that Jesus does not really want us to adjust our lives, pointing to the success we are enjoying right where we are. Yet Jesus often told His disciples to go elsewhere in spite of the success they were experiencing. Peter had just pulled in the greatest catch of fish of his entire career when Jesus invited him to leave everything (Luke 5:1-11). Philip was enjoying astounding success as an evangelist when the Holy Spirit instructed him to go to the desert (Acts 8:25-40). Success where we are can be our greatest hindrance to going where Jesus wants us to be.
If you become too comfortable where you are, you may resist Christ’s invitation to go elsewhere. Don’t assume that God does not want you to go in service to Him. He may lead you across the street to share the gospel with your neighbor or to the other side of the world. Wherever He leads, be prepared to go.” (Henry T. Blackaby)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 8 February 2023: Abide in Jesus today, and receive His Spirit that you would naturally produce the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23). Don’t try to create your own fruit. Apart from Him and His Spirit, you can do nothing. Also, commit to sharing the Gospel message with at least one person today. Then, repeat every day.