Finding Jesus in the Book of Ezra – Part 1


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Finding Jesus in the Book of Ezra – Part 1
By Nathan Jones

Nathan Jones: In the latest episode of our Christ in Prophecy series titled Jesus in the Old Testament, we have moved into a trilogy of biblical books that deal with the Jewish exiles in Babylon returning to the Promised Land – Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.

Tim Moore: After Assyria conquered Israel and Babylon decimated Judah, Babylon was in turn defeated by the Medes and Persians. Seventy years later, Cyrus was the king of the Persians. Ezra, a Jewish scribe and priest, recorded in the first verse of his book that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.” The great king made a decree, saying, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”

Nathan Jones: We know that Cyrus lived in the fifth century BC, so this book can be dated around 440 BC. Ezra’s recognition that the Lord had orchestrated all of the events that led to the sons of Israel returning to the Land is summarized in this key verse from Ezra 6:21-22 –

“Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the Lord God of Israel. And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”

Tim Moore: The book of Ezra documents the challenges and victories realized by the Jews who returned from exile. More important than all of that, it documents that God keeps His promises.

To help us mine the wisdom of the book of Ezra, we are joined by our special guest teacher, Bob Russell. Bob served for decades as the lead pastor of one of the largest churches in Kentucky. Under his leadership, and with the clear guidance of the Holy Spirit, Southeast Christian Church grew into a Christ-centered mega-church. Bob also served as a mentor to David Reagan and me as we worked through our own leadership transition process here at Lamb & Lion Ministries. His wisdom and discernment have been a great blessing to me, personally.

Recognizing Pagan Instruments of God​

Tim Moore: Let’s turn our attention to the book of Ezra. Ezra served as a scribe and priest of Israel. We learn that Cyrus was the king of Persia who came to an awareness of God’s providence. The Holy Spirit motivated Cyrus to issue a decree that allowed the Jews to return to Israel for the purpose of rebuilding their temple.

Bob Russell: What we have here is an amazing story about how God can use even pagan kings to accomplish His will. The Jews had been taken captive by the Babylonians and settled there, even becoming a blessing to the Babylonian culture. Then Cyrus and the Persians conquered Babylon. Cyrus starts looking around and he cannot understand why the Jews have been so persecuted. He feels moved to release them to go back to Jerusalem, should they want to.

The Bible says that the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord (Proverbs 21:1). He directs its course like water to wherever He wants it to go. That’s an example of how God can use pagan rulers to accomplish His will.

All the more reason why we ought to be praying for those in authority. We can look back on Israel’s more recent history and see that God used President Truman to endorse Israel as they were becoming a nation in 1948. Even today, I think as hedonistic and pagan as Donald Trump has been, God used him to appoint some conservative judges and restrict abortion. So, as Christians, we ought to be really praying that God continues to use people in authority, even though these rulers may not align with our biblical values.

Standing in the Face of Adversity​

Nathan Jones: In Ezra chapters 1-6, we have Israel’s governor, Zerubbabel, returning to rebuild the Temple. Then in chapters 7-10, we get into Ezra’s ministry. Ezra may have also even written the book of Nehemiah. Whereas Zerubbabel rebuilt the Temple, Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls.

Each time these men came back leading a remnant of Israel, and the tribe of Judah specifically, they were under royal protection. The Jewish leaders had been given a royal Persian decree, along with some building funds from the government, to begin their construction projects. And yet, again and again, the people who had remained in the Holy Land during the exile continued to fight against them and tried many times to stop their work. The returned exiles had adversaries all over the place.

Bob, what lessons do you think we can learn from these men concerning continuing to do the Lord’s work in the face of adversity?

Bob Russell: Sometimes people think if they are doing God’s will then everything is going to go smoothly, but that’s not true. Ezra was obviously doing God’s will. The people who went back to rebuild the Temple were doing God’s will. And yet, they suffered a number of setbacks, and many times people opposed them.

I knew that was true in my own pastoral ministry. Our church took a strong stand for biblical values, but the local newspaper was liberal, so we became a pretty high-profile church in our area. As a result, we were often attacked by the local media and criticized, and sometimes there were demonstrations held outside of our building. But, if we allowed those kinds of things to stop us, the work of God wasn’t going to continue.

Opposition doesn’t just come from without; sometimes opposition comes from within. People disagree with the stance that we take inside our churches. There are going to be times when we have to continue to stand firm on God’s Word, even though it may alienate some people within the body of Christ.

In the second part of this series on Finding Jesus in the book of Ezra, Bob Russell will provide some solutions for Christians to resist falling into the pagan culture.