A New Beginning

Bible Book: Ezra  1 : 1-11
Subject: Spiritual Renewal; Revival; New Beginning
Series: Ezra - Lyle

One day, towards the close of the 18th century, a gentleman and a lady sat side by side in a stage coach as rumbled its way through the English countryside. The lady appeared to be occupied with the content of the book in her hand, at times reading, at times meditating on what she had read. She was enjoying the words of a lovely hymn,

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace

Steams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise

She turned to the gentleman and sought to interest him in what she was reading. She asked him if he knew the hymn. At first he appeared embarrassed, even a little agitated. Eventually with tears in his eyes he said,

“Madam, “I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago and I would give a thousand worlds if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” The man on the stage coach was Robert Robinson, the hymn was the product of his pen some thirty years previously. In the words of his own hymn he was “prone to wander,” but thank God he experienced the restoring grace of God. We are all “prone to wander,” and “prone to leave the God we love,” indeed when we catch up with the Jews in the book of Ezra, we discover that they are in captivity in Babylon. God has a way of giving us what we insist upon having. The Psalmist says, “And He gave them their request but sent leanness into their soul.”

(Psalm 106:15) God allowed Babylon to conquer his people because they were given over to idolatry. He sent them back to Babylon to the very center of idolatry, and there God cured them of idolatry forever. From that point on the children of Israel were monotheistic. They believed in only one Lord God. So I want you to take an imaginary journey with me, back in time to about 500 years before the Lord Jesus was born. That means, we are going back in time to about 2,500 years to this land that was known as Babylon. It is modern Iraq, but in those days it was Babylon. Babylon, the fountain head of all idolatry. Babylon, the origin of every germ of evil teaching. Babylon, where the children of God, the Jews were in the land of captivity.

Now there are six books in the Old Testament, which have to do with the Jews being in captivity in Babylon. Three of those books are in the historical section of your Bible, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. The other three books are in the prophetical section of your Bible. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Those six books have to do with this period of time known as the captivity and the return of the Jews back to the land of promise. Ezra is a book that emphasizes the ongoing work of God with His people to preserve, protect, and promote His redemptive purposes.

Now you might ask, “What in the world I am doing in taking you to an old dry, dusty book like Ezra?” I mean we are living in the year 2009. We are a modern people. We have daily needs. We have practical problems. Well, in an age of experienced centered, happy clappy worship, and entertainment evangelism, is it not refreshing to turn to a book that directs our mind to a God who is holy, who demands reverent worship, uncompromising loyalty, total obedience and wholehearted commitment? Now this opening (Ch 1) is all about “A New Beginning,” in fact its all about God. God’s providence, God’s people, and God’s provision.


Do you know what providence is? “ Providence is that work of God in which He preserves all His creatures, is active in all that happens in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.” Now we see here the providence of God in relation to,


Do you see the opening phrase? “ That the Word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled.” You see, Jeremiah had prophesied not only the fact of the Babylonian captivity but the duration of it. He said, “For thus saith the Lord, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you and perform my good word toward you in causing you to return to this place.” (Jer 29:10-11 25:11-12) The seventy year captivity began in 606 BC and in 536 BC Cyrus issues this amazing proclamation, allowing the Jews to go back to their homeland to rebuild the temple. The decree of Cyrus was the fulfillment of prophecy. No doubt during the long night of the exile God’s people must have wondered at times if they would ever see Jerusalem again.

Do you recall their lament? “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm137:1) But God was faithful to His Word and did not forget His people. Do you recall Joshua’s witness at the end of his life? “Not one good thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you, all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.” (Joshua 24:14) The Lord Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matt 24:35) This nation had broken the covenant but the Lord had remained faithful to His Word. One of the great proofs for the inspiration of the Bible is the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Someone has said that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about the first coming of Christ. All of those prophecies were fulfilled to the exact detail.

Isn’t it an amazing book we hold in our hands? In spite of their sins, these exiles were God’s chosen people and children of the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Gen 12:1-3) God was faithful to His promises and He did not forget His people. But then He never does. Are you finding that difficult to believe? Are you going through some kind of personal exile? Is your situation dark and gloomy? Is Satan whispering in your ear that God has forgotten you? Is he tempting you to look at your circumstances rather than God? My …. the truth is, that at such a time, when everything else has failed, the only thing left we have left to rely on is the faithfulness of God and His Word. (a)


God is in control of the nations. God is governing global affairs in accordance with his blueprint for mankind. God is still on the throne. My …. it was the Lord who raised up Nebuchadnezzar “My servant,” (Jer 25:9 27:6 43:10) to chasten the people of Judah, and then He raised up Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and establish the Persian Empire. The Lord called Cyrus “My shepherd,”

(Is 44:28) and “My anointed,” (45:1) The Lord said,

“He shall build my city and he shall let go my captives.”

(Is 445:13) Now when we consider the fact that these words preceded Cyrus’ decree by about two hundred years it is really astonishing. Here we see the sovereign hand of God working through the processes of history. This is all the more remarkable when we realize that Cyrus did not know God. (Is 45:5) But God knew Cyrus. Matthew Henry reminds us “that the hearts of kings are in the hands of the Lord.” Whatever political motives lay behind Cyrus’ decree, God was working out His own plans. My …. what a Bible we have, but what a God we have.

For “the kings heart is in the hand of the Lord as the rivers of water He turneth it whithersoever He will.”

(Prov 21:1) People don’t have to be Christian believers for God to use them. It does not matter whether it’s a president, or a prime minister, or a mayor, or a governor, God can exercise His sovereign power to accomplish His purposes for His people. This is one reason why Paul exhorts believers to pray for those in authority, not that our political agenda might be fulfilled, but that God’s will might be accomplished on this earth. (1 Tim 2:1-8) Puritan John Watson said, “God can make a straight stroke with a crooked stick,” and that’s what He did with Cyrus. My …. if we could lay hold of this great truth that God is control would we not be freed from anxiety? As we watch the news programs on television, and see the world scene with its rebelliousness, perverseness, political unrest, shaky foundations we might become fearful for the future. But then “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever He will.” (Dan 4:17)

But there is another thread here, not appearing in this chapter that God used in the fulfilling of His purposes. For we see here God’s providence in relation to,


For in the 9th chapter of Daniel we find Daniel reading His Bible. Do you know where he was reading? He was reading Jeremiah’s prophecy. (25:8-11) Do you know what he was reading about? The end of the captivity after seventy years. (Dan 9:2) My …. would that not have grabbed his heart? Daniel knows that the captivity has lasted nearly seventy years. It’s almost time for God to take the Jews back to their own land, and that drives him to his knees in prayer and to cry, “Lord do as you have said.” Actually, some believe that Daniel, prime minister in the administration of Cyrus, showed his monarch, these prophecies about the duration of the captivity, and that under God Daniel’s influence had the effect of disposing the king to be favorable to the exiles. It’s possible that Daniel’s last official act was to prepare the papers releasing his people from Babylonian bondage. Isn’t it wonderful to stand back and see the heart of God planning and the hand of God shaping. I heard about a ship that was caught in a storm. The passengers were fearful that the vessel might sink. A group of them huddled together, in a state of distress. Then someone suggested that one of the party should go and talk to the captain. The chosen person made his way to the helm of the ship, where he saw the captain from a distance. He moved toward him and as he did so, he caught a glimpse of the captain’s face. Immediately his fears were quelled, because he had seen on the captain’s face the serenity of man who had nothing to fear. It was obvious that everything was under his control. Are you filled with fear this ….? Do you need to get a glimpse of the face of the Captain of your salvation? The One who has everything under His control. (1)


Look if you will at (1:3) I mean what a challenge this was. For those who would return home it would involve considerable sacrifice and hardship. They were not going on a holiday, but were faced with a dangerous journey of some 900 to a 1000 miles and the land waiting for them had been devastated, and its temple had been razed to the ground.

What a challenge. Now we need to put this challenge in its context. You see,

(a) Nationally: The Glory of God had Departed:

Do you see that phrase in (1:2)? “The Lord God of heaven.” This lovely expression is peculiar to the books of the captivity. You see, during the captivity God was known as the “God of heaven.” Why? Well, Judah turned away from the Lord and Jerusalem was burned, and the temple was destroyed. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the glory of God departing from the earth.

(Ezekiel 9:3, 10:4 11:22-23) That Shekinah glory cloud that had rested on the mercy seat lifted from the Holy of Holies and then moved over to the threshold of the temple door. Then it moved from the temple to the Mount of Olives on the east of the city. Finally, it departed back to heaven and for a period of time, until, Christ came, there was no glory of God on earth. God was the “God of heaven.” My …. do you see where Judah was a nation?

“Ichabod,” could be written over the nation, the glory had departed. (a)

(b) Spiritually: A Passion for God had Declined:

The people of God found that the geographical distance between Babylon and Jerusalem reflected something of the spiritual distance between themselves and God. They were estranged from the Lord, removed from the blessing, and under His discipline. Spiritually, life in these two centers Jerusalem or Babylon, speak to us of two different kinds or levels of life that may be experienced by the people of God. It was always up to Jerusalem and down to Babylon. Paul identified the spiritual significance of these places when he charged the Corinthian believers, “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual but as unto carnal.” (1 Cor 3:1) Here we have the New Testament counterparts of Zion and Babylon. Do you recall that Corinth was the carnal church of Paul’s day? They were marked by strife, division, immaturity. They were man centered when they should have been Christ centered, they were feeding on milk, when they should have been feeding on meat. Spiritually, they were like these people of old by the rivers of Babylon. How did Judah ever land in captivity in the first place? Their passion for God declined.

1. There was a Departure from the Worship of God:

Love for the Lord had grown cold and idolatry usurped the place that should have been the Lord’s in the hearts of His people. They had heard the Law, “Thou shalt have no others gods before me,” (Ex 20:3) but they treated it with contempt. I wonder do the words of Robert Robinson’s hymn summarize your spiritual condition this ….? “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Could it be that you have fallen out of love with Christ?

2. There was a Departure from the Word of God:

Every seven years the land was to enjoy a Sabbath. For that whole year the land was to be rested. (Lev 25:1-4

26:32-35) But for 490 years the land had no rest. Think of it …. 490 years and no sabbatic years, that is 70 sabbatic years ignored. So what did God do? He sent them into captivity for 70 years. Some years ago a prison chaplain noticed one of the prisoners sewing a covering on a pair of overalls. Greeting the man cheerfully, he said, “Good morning, friend, sewing?” “No sir,” replied the prisoner with a grim smile “reaping.” The Bible says, “the way of transgressors is hard.” (Prov 13:15) My …. these causes have their spiritual counterpart to day. Could it be that the decline of these things, a love for the Lord and obedience to His Word has led you spiritually down to Babylon?

(c) Personally: The Hour of God had Dawned:

You see, the Lord not only moved the heart of a heathen ruler, He motivated the hearts of a Hebrew people. These were days of great stirrings. “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia,” (1:1) and then the prophet Haggai tells us “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel …. and the spirit of Joshua …. and the spirit of all the remnant of the people, and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts their God.” (1:14)

It was Zurubbabel who led the first return from Babylonian captivity and he did so because the God of heaven “stirred up,” his spirit. Do you recall what we read of Paul in Athens where he waited for Silas and Timothy. Luke says, “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” (Acts 17:16) Indeed Paul’s spirit was so grieved by the idolatry of the city that he was moved to preach the gospel. My …. are our hearts ever stirred when we contemplate the idolatry, the blasphemy,

the depravity, the anarchy, of our nation?

This is what happened at the time of the recovery from Babylon. God’s hour had come. God was moving towards the bringing in of the promised Messiah, and this required that the chosen people should be present in the promised land. This is what gave urgency to the leaders and to the people. They gathered that the Lord was in this thing and so they rose up to go. My …. is this not what revival is all about? God stirring the hearts of His people. Revival is not something on the outside that works in. Revival is something that God does on the inside and works out. Revival is a heart matter. It is something that begins to take place in the human heart. There is Divine Sovereignty in revival as God stirs the heart, but there is Human Responsibility in revival as we meet the challenge. “Who is there among you of all his people? let him go up and build.” (1:3) My …. we cannot create the wind, but we can set the sails. Is your cry this ….?

Oh for the floods on a thirsty land

Oh for a mighty revival

Oh for a sanctified fearless band

Ready to hail its arrival


You see, the Lord not only delivered His people from Babylon, but He also provided all the costs for the journey, and for the settlement in Jerusalem as well. Think for a moment about,


You see, all were not ready to leave Babylon. Jerusalem and its temple lay in ruins but that did not matter too many. No doubt a great number had grown comfortable in Babylon and preferred to remain there. But one thing that can be said in their favor is this. There was no spirit of enmity or judgment between those who remained and those who returned. Indeed those who remained helped their brethren who went up. They provided the things that they needed. Look if you will at (1:6) You know, I do not believe that everyone is called to go to the mission field. I thank God for those who are called to be missionaries and I have an exercise in prayer for them. But God does not want everybody to be a missionary. We can’t all go. Sometimes those who do go get the idea that they are the only ones serving the Lord. I have sat, as you have, and been ripped apart by some who have gone and come back and give the impression they are the only ones totally serving the Lord because they’re on the mission field. But you have to those who stay as well as those who go. We need to support those who are laboring faithfully for the Lord. We need to encourage them with our prayers, our gifts, and our words. This goes for all those who are out on the front lines in this country giving out the Word of God.

Did you know that in warfare it is estimated that for every soldier out there on the front line there has to be ten people behind him? Ten people getting supplies to him, food, clothing, medical care, and ammunition. My …. is the same not true in the army of God? That’s why its important to keep a strong home base. You see, the stronger we are at home, the more we can do abroad. (a)


In God’s Hall of Heroes are the names of nearly 50,000 Jews who left Babylon for responsibility in Jerusalem.

The Lord had called them back to do a difficult job, to rebuild the temple, to restore the city, to reform the people. It involved a four month journey, a distance of almost 1000 miles, a great deal of faith, courage and sacrifice. Who would meet the need? God. Who would provide the materials? Who would gave the manpower? God. Do you know what one of the great names for God in the Bible is? Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide. (Gen 22:14) You see, those whom God calls He equips. Take the case of Hudson Taylor walking on Brighton beach on the 25th June 1865. He came to the decision to begin a mission work in central China and wrote these words in his Bible, “prayed for twenty four willing skilful laborers.” Two days later in faith he opened an account in the name of the China Inland Mission with the sum of ten pounds. In the years that followed God provided all that was needed so that it became one of the great faith missions of the Christian world, with hundreds of workers in the field.

What about godly George Muller of Bristol? On the night he had made known his intention at a public meeting to start an orphanage, he made it clear that no one would ever be asked for money or materials, there would be charge for admission and no restriction on entry because of class or creed. All those employed as masters, matrons and assistants would be unpaid and had to be believers. At the end of the meeting no collection was made but a lady gave him ten shillings and volunteered for the work. The next day, a husband and wife volunteered their help, and also promised to give all their furniture for use in the orphanage. From that point on Muller never looked back and never lacked support for the work. For God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.

I wonder is God challenging you specifically? Is He exercising your heart about ministry? Is He calling you to

“go up …. and build?” (1:3) Is the Lord challenging you generally? Is He stirring your heart to get involved in this assembly? To build up the work of God in this

place? Are you available to Him? To say,

Mine are the hands to do the work

My feet shall run for Thee

My lips shall sound the glorious news

Lord, here I am send me