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God’s Call to Revival
Book of Ezra
** Watch: https://youtu.be/GTBwPs7diNk
Yesterday we joined with churches around the world for “The Return” simulcast from Washington D.C. This was not only a movement for America, but it was one that went throughout the world, as the church gathered on this day to seek the Lord in prayer for God’s mercy, salvation, healing, revival, renewal, and restoration.
To follow up on this special day, I’d like to look at the Old Testament book of Ezra and God’s call to revival that is found written within. This was a time when the Jews returned from their 70 years of captivity to the Babylonians as God placed a call upon Ezra and the children of Israel to return to the Promised Land, and to once again have an encounter with Him.
You see, 70 years prior to this event, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came against Judah and Jerusalem and in the aftermath left the area practically vacant. But under the reign of Cyrus, King of Persia, who along with the Medes conquered Babylon, issued a decree that allow the Jews to return, and to rebuild the temple of God.
However, before we begin looking at what Ezra says about God’s call upon the people that brought about this great revival, I’d like to look at what the Lord told to Jeremiah prior to their initial captivity.
“If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me.” (Jeremiah 15:19a NLT)
Even before this captivity, God was calling for the people to return to Him. The Lord was still reaching out, still trying through His grace and mercy to get the people’s attention. And He is still trying today to get our attention, not in judgment, although that is never out of the question, but in grace and mercy.
But still the people refused to return to the will and way of God, and so God delivered them into the hands of the Babylonians. In other words, he delivered them into the hand of judgment. But now, 70 years have passed, and they are now returning. Therefore, I would like to share some interesting insights found in the Book of Ezra about this whole topic of God’s call to revival.
The first thing we see in God’s call to revival is
1. A Call to Leave the Familiar
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. and He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.” (Ezra 1:2)
“Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:3 NKJV)
The first step in this return was for them to leave the familiar ground of Babylon, the place where they grew up. Few who were taken in captivity 70 years prior would have been alive at this time. Babylon was essentially their home, and they had no real memory of Israel.
So they had to leave their familiar surroundings of Babylon and take a 700-mile trek to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s prophecy and calling. And remember, they had little recognition of Jerusalem, which at this time was completely torn down, its walls, homes, and the temple.
God’s call to revival tells us to do the same. We need to leave the familiar and whatever is holding us back from moving into the fullness of God and His calling upon our lives. And sometimes this means that we are moving into an area we have little or no knowledge about.
God’s call is for us to step out of the familiar and begin to stretch our faith. If we want to experience revival then we must be willing to step away from the familiar and into a deeper service and commitment to God.
We need to move out of our comfort zones and move by faith into the unknown to accomplish what the Spirit of God desires. But this can only happen when the Holy Spirit moves upon our hearts.
“Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:5 NKJV)
Notice it says God moved their spirits. Their spirits got all stirred up inside them. They received a stirring of the Holy Spirit to leave their familiar ground and begin to do what God had called them to do.
This is the same thing that we need if we’re ever going to move by faith from the familiar and into a new level of spiritual maturity and activity.
After ten years, God called me out of pastoring the church in Las Vegas, a church I helped start some 50 years ago, a church that had been my home and where I grew up spiritually. He placed a stirring in my heart to leave telling me that I could go back and still pastor the church, but His Spirit wouldn’t be there for me any longer, and that once I put my hand to the plow and looked back, I would never draw a straight line for Him again.
The Holy Spirit was preparing both Michaela and myself to move from our familiar ground of Las Vegas and Hallelujah Christian Fellowship to Mesquite and a whole new calling.
What we need to do is ask God to stir up our spirits and arouse our sleepy lethargic hearts to do what He has called for us to do, which just may be to leave the familiar behind and join in with the Holy Spirit and experience the ride of our lives as He takes us places we’ve never been before, and shows us things we’ve never seen before.
The second thing we see in God’s call to revival is
2. A Call to Identify Our Priorities
“And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.” (Ezra 3:1-2 NKJV)
This was in the time of the fall feasts of Israel, the very feasts that we are in right now, with the Feast of Trumpets, last Saturday, the Day of Atonement this Monday, and then the Feast of Tabernacles this coming Saturday. And at this time God had called the people to gather together.
Like the children of Israel, we need to start identifying and setting priorities to follow God’s will and way for our lives. Most of us, however, wonder how we’ll even know what is the will and way of God. But this is something that Ezra knew well, and that’s because as a scribe, he knew God’s law. Look at what Ezra said, “as it is written in the Law of Moses.”
Donald Whitney in his book, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life,” said,
“No spiritual discipline is more important than the intake of God’s word. Nothing can substitute for it. There is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of milk and meat of Scriptures.” (Donald Whitney)
To determine what’s important and to see if we’re doing God’s will, we need to go to and get into God’s word, and let God’s word get into us.
For those returning to Jerusalem the priority was to build an altar. The altar was where they offered their sacrifices to God. This was the place where their sins were forgiven and where they got themselves right with God.
Today, the altar is that place within our hearts that’s built through confession and repentance. We see this in David’s cry after his sin with Bathsheba.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NKJV)
Such a heart and altar can only be constructed through the type of sacrifices David says God is looking for within our hearts and spirits.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, these, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17 NKJV)
We build God’s altar inside our hearts through godly repentance, that is, through accepting Jesus as our Savior and Lord, and then turning away from our sin and towards God.
And so this second step in God’s call to revival is to identify God’s priorities and get our hearts right before Him through confession and repentance.
The third thing we see in God’s call to revival is
3. A Call to Greater Faith
“They also kept the Feast of Tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings in the number required by ordinance for each day … From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, although the foundation of the temple of the Lord had not been laid.” (Ezra 3:4, 6 NKJV)
The feast of Tabernacles, which is being celebrated this coming Saturday, is a two-fold feast. First it is a memorial to commemorate how God kept the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness. The second part was to celebrate the harvest in the land God had given to them.
It’s this second part I’d like to focus on, because they celebrated what had not yet occurred. There was no harvest to celebrate, instead they had a vision for the future, and by faith they celebrated what had not yet occurred.
Further, the temple’s foundation had not yet been laid, but here they are celebrating by faith its completion. This is the type of faith that God requires from us.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV)
We must believe that God will do exactly what He says and in full accordance with His word, even though at the present time nothing seems to indicate that we should. By faith we must visualize Gods’ promise if we ever want to move into a new and greater vision and level of faith.
And so the third thing we see in God’s call to revival is a call to greater faith.
The fourth thing we see is
4. A Call to Lay a Foundation
“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: ‘For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” (Ezra 3:10-11 NKJV)
Foundation building isn’t glamorous, whether it is in the natural world, such as laying the foundation for a house, or in the spiritual realm, which is what I like to think of as our pillar of discipleship, that is, building up the house of God within each person. And while it might not be glamorous, it’s absolutely necessary if we want to stand when the storms of life hit.
“He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.” (Luke 6:48 NKJV)
To lay this foundation we first need to come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, making Him both our Savior and Lord. It also involves building our lives upon that foundation through God’s word and being empowered through the Holy Spirit.
Without a solid foundation there’s no spiritual growth or revival. And if we’ll start laying this foundation now, then when the problems and trials come, and they will come, we’ll not be blown away, or come crashing down.
The fifth thing involved in God’s call to revival is
5. A Call to Spiritual Warfare
“Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the Lord God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses.” (Ezra 4:1-2a NKJV)
When God begins to move, Satan intensifies his efforts against us in different ways.
The first way we see is that they tried to join in.
They said, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” (Ezra 4:2b)
But Zerubbabel was having nothing to do with them and said, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel.” (Ezra 4:3)
Satan first tries to join in by bringing in non-biblical practices and teachings to dilute our worship of God, and like Zerubbabel we need to have nothing to do with these practices and teachings. If they’re not clearly taught in God’s word, then we must discard them.
Next Satan will attack us by doing and saying things against us to dissuade and discourage us in our walk of faith.
“Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose.” (Ezra 4:4-5a)
Satan’s aim is to destroy God’s work in us and through us any way he possibly can, but when we reject his advances and turn to Jesus, then we’ll have an abundant life. Jesus even said so.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 NKJV)
And so in this call to revival there will be spiritual warfare, as Satan will do everything and anything he can to prevent a revival from beginning, first in our hearts, and then in the church. And we see this in this current pandemic.
The sixth thing we see, now that spiritual warfare is involved, is that God’s call to revival is
6. A Call to Perseverance
“Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:24 NKJV)
They had just finished laying the foundation when the enemy succeeded in stopping the work for 16 years.
Now, for most of us this would make us lose hope. In fact, it doesn’t have to be years. We see this loss of hope over these past 7 months of this COVID-19 pandemic. And why is this important? It’s because when hope is lost or deferred it makes us spiritually sick inside. But when we can restore hope it will become like a tree in full bloom.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12 NKJV)
It’s during these down times that our faith is tested. God is testing our hearts to see if we’ll believe more in Him and His promises than in our present circumstances.
We have the tendency to become easily dissuaded and discouraged when things don’t go our way. And so our natural response to times like these is to try harder, to make plans and develop programs to get something moving. And what we forget is that its not about our ability or capability, but rather it’s all about God’s grace, mercy, and power.
It’s where we realize it’s not by our might or power, but by and through the Holy Spirit.
“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6 NKJV)
And so we’re called to persevere and to endure through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, God’s call to revival is
7. A Call to Prophetic Insight
“Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them.” (Ezra 5:1-2 NKJV)
The prophetic insight they received was not to pay attention to what others were saying, or the threats they were uttering, but rather to what the Lord said, which was to build His temple.
We’re no different. We have to stop worrying about what others may say or think, and move forward with God’s calling upon our lives and upon the church.
Continuing in what the Lord told to Jeremiah that we looked at in the beginning of our time, the Lord said in the first part of Jeremiah 15:19, “If you return to Me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve Me.”
And then the Lord said something profound and for all of us today.
“You must influence them; do not let them influence you!” (Jeremiah 15:19b NLT)
What the Lord tells us is that we are to have a holy influence over the society. And what we need to realize is that it’s the Holy Spirit who will draw the people to us, but we’re not to return to their ways, or the old ways.
And so let’s move forward by faith and expect God to do a miracle, expect God to revive us again. Now I know that while there has been talk about a great falling away, an apostasy, in the end times, I am still praying and desiring for God to do a new and great work still.
You see, I believe that it’s God’s desire to pour out His Spirit and to fill us. We just need to believe and ask God to do just that.
Jesus said that if we as sinful people know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father give to those who ask the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).
And so today, ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit and to send a Holy Spirit inspired revival into your heart and life, and then into the heart and life of the church.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study