Helping 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.
Preparing for Revival
Nathan Jones: In Ezra chapters 1-6, we have Israel’s governor, Zerubbabel, rebuilding the Temple. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries and they dealt with the people who had become dejected in their mission to rebuild, having quickly become apathetic and lazy. These prophets came in and whipped the people into shape. In turn, the people then became penitent and turned to the Lord. They would ask for forgiveness, not only for their own sins, but for their national sins as well.
Bob, do you see this being a pattern in the Old Testament, where the Lord has to discipline the people, they repent, and then He reenergizes and blesses them, so they can move forward in their mission?
Bob Russell: It’s the same cycle that we go through today. Ezra came back after the Temple was basically rebuilt, and he came to preach and teach Scripture and to motivate the people to repent and to turn from their wicked ways. When he came into Jerusalem, kind of like when Jesus did, he saw the conditions of the culture and he wept. Ezra was appalled at what he saw, and so called the people to repentance.
We hear a lot of talk today about the need for revival in America, and I agree. If America is going to be spared, it is going to be the result of a spiritual awakening. A lot of people are praying intensely for a revival in America.
But, the need isn’t prayer, rather the need is repentance. The need is to say, “We have sinned. We have been absorbed by this culture. We are using the same language as the heathens. We have been adopting this world’s view. We are involved in divorce and the same kind of immoral behavior like pornography. Since we have become absorbed into this world, we therefore need to come to repentance. When Jesus came His first words were, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” Maybe we have been shouting “grace” but only whispering “repentance” in our churches? Rather, we need to call people back to repentance and a solid belief in the Gospel.
Nathan Jones: Repentance can be very painful. There’s this really strange story in the book of Ezra where Ezra tells the people who have married foreign wives basically: “Hey! What you are doing is in violation of God’s law. You are not allowed to marry pagan wives. You need to divorce your wives and send your children away.” Ezra’s level of repentance could be very painful, wouldn’t you say?
Bob Russell: John Stott once said that repentance is “prickly.” And so, preachers avoid talking about repentance because it disturbs people. But, Ezra was a preacher and a teacher, and he was tough. He called the people to an assembly and declared, “If you don’t come to the assembly you are going to lose your property rights.” Everybody showed up!
Ezra had discovered that a number of people had intermarried with foreign wives. The horrible thing about that is Israel’s history proved they would absorb their foreign wives’ beliefs in false gods and adopt their immoral practices. Why, there were hundreds of Jews who had intermarried with foreigners. You would expect Ezra to say, “Well, we can’t unscramble an egg, so you guys just repent.” No! Rather, Ezra commanded, “I want you to put aside your wives and your children and come back to God and be pure.” I certainly don’t believe that was a model that is supposed to be followed today for the Church to apply in telling people to forsake their wives that they have married who are not Christian, but what happened just shows you that repentance is a serious matter. God calls us to come out of darkness and into the light. He calls us to come out of exile and into freedom.
In my opinion, the Church of the future that is going to make the most impact is not going to be the Seeker-Friendly Church. One of the things that the pandemic has taught us is that the Church today has become weak and inept. We have lost a lot of people because there wasn’t enough spiritual depth. I think the Church of the future is going to be a distinctive church, a church that is a contrast to the world, and its people say, “If I’m going to be a part of that, I’ve got to come out of darkness and into the light.”
In my new ministry, I try to challenge young preachers to take a strong stand. Let’s be a distinctive people! Let’s be a people who are called out of exile so that the world can see the contrast.
Ezra as a Type of Christ
Nathan Jones: Ezra is a person who leads a remnant back to worship God. So, in this series “Jesus in the Old Testament,” we have been looking for Christophanies (preincarnate appearances of Jesus), as well as types and symbols that point to Jesus. Ezra is clearly a type of Jesus Christ because he leads the people to repentance. Do you see any other types or symbols that point to Jesus from the book of Ezra?
Bob Russell: True, Ezra calls God’s people to repentance. He bring them back to God, just like Jesus did. Also, Ezra weeps over Jerusalem. He sees the sin and the degradation and wants to call them back. So, yes, Ezra is a type of Christ.
The whole book of Ezra reminds us that God is true to His promises. God promised Abraham that He would bless those who blessed him, and he would become a blessing to the world. God promised through Moses that if the Hebrews obeyed, they would be blessed, but if they strayed, Deuteronomy tells us they would be taken into captivity. And, that’s exactly what happened! God still preserved a remnant, and Ezra worked with that remnant people.
Ezra, as one of the most telling types of Christ, shows us that the Lord still works with a remnant. Many are called but few are chosen. God blessed! Ezra brought back, if you do the counting, about 5,000 people who come out of the exile with him. They came back to Israel, but those people ended up straying. They built houses of luxury and they neglected the Temple of God, and so they had to be called back to the right priorities.
What a picture of the Church! The Church compromises with the world, but then they are called back to repentance. It’s our role to be modern-day Ezras — to be like Christ — calling God’s people to come out from among the fallen world and be separate and be distinctive.
Tim Moore: Bob, you captured so many truths today. Even when we grow disappointed with the world around us and by the shortcomings of our fellow believers or church, we can always rely on God because He keeps His promises.
Nathan Jones: Ezra records that in order to fulfill the word of God delivered through Isaiah, the Holy Spirit stirred up the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia. God’s Word is true, and His promises are “yes and amen,” even if they are accomplished through the actions of a pagan king.
Tim Moore: The assurance that truth offers us should make us sing out like the visionaries who returned to Israel with Zerubbabel. Praising and giving thanks to the Lord, they sang, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever” (Ezra 3:11). The promise that they would return from exile originated with God. The idea for a return was initiated by God. And, the provision and the protection and the perseverance to see the project completed was all to God’s credit. You might conclude then that Christ is indeed the author and perfecter of our faith.