Ezra / Nehemiah

Faith in Action (Nehemiah 3-4)

Sermon Recap

Sometimes we think that God only works through miracles. But he works through all kinds of normal, everyday things. Faith doesn’t mean waiting for the miraculous. It means trusting God enough to take action. Faith isn’t faith unless it’s faith in action.

1. Faith with a Body

Walking by faith in Christ requires we take steps, not in our minds, but with our bodies. Faith in action means doing real things in the world in obedience to God. If we believe Psalm 24:1, we will glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

2. Prayer Reveals Hope

In the face of opposition, Nehemiah didn’t fight fire with fire. He prayed and set a guard (Neh. 4:4, 9). His hope wasn’t in circumstance or power, but in God.

3. Obedience Brings Opposition

Israel’s obedience to God brought opposition (Neh. 4:7-9), just like it did for Noah, Gideon, Joshua and Caleb, and, above all, Christ as he hung on the cross.

4. Christianity Is Both/And

We think the life of faith is either faith or action. But this is wrong. Nehemiah (4:15-20) both trusts God AND takes the necessary precautions to protect his people. Just as Philippians 2:12-13 teaches, Christianity is both/and.

5. Faith Fuels Obedience

Faced with threats of violence, Nehemiah calls the people to “Remember the Lord” (Neh. 4:14). Trusting God gives us the power and motivation to obey him.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Do you believe that God owns you (Psalm 24:1; 1 Cor. 6:19-20)? How does Nehemiah demonstrate belief in God’s authority in his life?

  2. How should God’s ownership of you change the way you think and live?

  3. What does Nehemiah’s prayer reveal about where his hope is? What does your prayer life reveal about your hope?

  4. Have you experienced opposition due to obedience to God? When? What was your response to this? Why should we expect opposition in our lives as Christians?

  5. Why is it easier to think of Christianity as either/or rather than both/and (Phil. 2:12-13)? Why is it important to recognize it is both/and?

  6. How did faith fuel Jesus’s obedience?

  7. Why is it so important to let our faith rule our emotions and imagination? How can we learn to do this?

     

Skin in the Game (Nehemiah 2)

Sermon Recap

In spite of their suffering, our brothers and sisters in China show us a faith that is often far different from the safe, sanitized version of Western Christianity that seldom needs to risk anything. They worship with the constant possibility of persecution, following Jesus with skin in the game.

1. Engage the Impossible

Nehemiah’s desire to help Jerusalem seemed like an impossible task. He needed to get out of his duties as cupbearer to the Persian king, gather up resources and manpower, and reverse a royal decree. Despite the odds, Nehemiah still asks. We should consider how difficult the task is of being a church in the Bay Area. We worship and remain here because our ultimate call and final responsibility is to  Jesus alone. We continue on because God wants us here.

2. Take a Risk

Nehemiah risked a lot in going to the king with his request. He put his life on the line and asked boldly, knowing there was no guarantee that things were going to work out. For the church in the Bay Area to thrive, we must be willing to take risks and consider a sacrifice of security, comfort, or convenience to testify of God’s glory here. Jesus didn’t ask us for small donations. He told us to deny ourselves and follow him. That’s the kind of risk we’re called to.

3. Remember Who’s Boss

This is a difficult task but it’s made possible because who is ultimately in control. Nehemiah trusted his God in prayer, knowing who his ultimate authority was, and where any blessing came from. We can take on an impossible task and risk our well-being because Jesus has already taken all the risk for us. He’s already accomplished the impossible for us in be raised from death to life. What more assurance do we truly need?

Reflection and Application

  1. What in your life right now feels like an impossible task or person to address? Why?

  2. Why do you think it’s so hard to be a church in the Bay Area? What makes it so difficult to be a Christian here?

  3. To what degree do you feel like you’ve been called to live here? Why? How do you think this affects how you live and interact with others?

  4. When you look back on your spiritual life, have you had to take any risks to follow Jesus? Have you had to make any big sacrifices or difficult decisions? What were they?

  5. How does the gospel encourage us to take risks and attempt the impossible?

Consider reading the full letter from Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church and please be in prayer for the persecution of our Chinese brothers and sisters.

Man of Action, Man of Prayer (Nehemiah 1)

Sermon Recap

Nehemiah was a man of action! He worked at the highest levels of Persian government, and was an extremely effective leader. He took on the monumental task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and accomplished his goals. But the biblical account of his life does not start with his actions. It starts with his prayer. Nehemiah 1 teaches us that to be a wo/man of action in God’s kingdom, you must first be a wo/man of prayer.

1. Prayer is not mindfulness. It is communion with God.

While mindfulness may be popular, we should not confuse it with prayer. Prayer is not about breathing or health; it is about relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit.

2. Prayer is submission to God.

Nehemiah works under the king of Persia, but he is submitted to the King of heaven.

3. Knowing God in prayer leads us to know ourselves. 

Nehemiah was no John Wayne. He knew himself and knew when it was ok to be emotional (Neh. 1:4, 6-7). He knew himself because he knew his God.. He knew himself because he knew his God.

4. Prayer is action.

We think of prayer as passive. It is in a sense. But it is also highly active! (Isa. 55:11)

5. Adoration praises God. (Neh. 1:5)

We praise God because it is what he deserves and why we exist! (Rev. 5:9-11)

6. Confession is for everyday. (Neh. 1:6-7)

The closer you are to someone, the more you need their forgiveness. Paul says we live and move and have our being in God (Acts 17:28). We should confess everyday.

7. Supplication belongs in the story. (Neh. 1:8-11)

Nehemiah prays in light of Israel’s story. We pray in light of the gospel (Jn. 14:13-14).

8. Confidence in prayer comes in Christ.

In the gospel story, I can know who I am. And I can pray with confidence humility because I know the Father hears me in Christ.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Do you have more time for mindfulness or prayer?

  2. Are you joyfully submitted to God? Does your prayer life show this?

  3. Do you believe the way to know yourself is to know your God? Why/not?

  4. Why does Nehemiah start with adoration? Why is that important?

  5. Do you confess your sin everyday? How can you grow in this practice?

  6. Do you make requests to God in light of the gospel story? Why does the gospel give us confidence to make requests of the Father?

  7. How does the gospel give us confident humility? How can you grow in this?

    Bridging the Gap (Ezra 10)

    Sermon Recap

    The first of Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses strikes at the heart of Christianity: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” If being a Christian means walking always in repentance, then Ezra 10 has a lot to teach us about following Christ. If confession is about acknowledging to God the gap between what his Word says and how we actually live, then repentance is about bridging that gap by turning from our sin, to Christ, by the power of the Spirit.

    1. Repentance is a mark of Christian leadership. (Ezra 10:1)

    Leaders can’t lead you to Christ if they don’t repent. Ezra demonstrates what it takes.

    2. Repentance is not an abstract idea. It’s concrete action. (Ezra 10:1-5)

    Turning from sin is not a theory; it’s an action. Ezra leads Israel to active repentance.

    3. Repentance is communal. (Ezra 10:1-5, 12)

    To live in Christian community is to get messy together, even when it comes to sin.

    4. Repentance is uncomfortable. (Ezra 10:6-9)

    In order to repent, Israel has to get uncomfortable (in the rain and cold!).

    5. Repentance needs help. (Ezra 10:9-11)

    You can’t turn from sin on your own. We need each other’s help to follow Christ.

    6. Repentance gets practical. (Ezra 10:12-17)

    Ezra led repentance, but couldn’t do it all. It took others with a practical eye to do so.

    7. Repentance hurts. (Ezra 10:44)

    Israel’s repentance was costly. It hurt to end ungodly marriages. Repentance hurts.

    8. Repent through the cross.

    We can’t bridge the gap. But Christ bridged it for us. Now we can repent and believe in him. (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Rom. 12:1)

    Reflection & Application Questions

    1. Why is it important to remember repentance is concrete action?

    2. What is one way repentance should be communal in our church?

    3. Why are we hesitant to ask for and receive help in repentance?

    4. What is one practical step you need to take toward repentance?

    5. How might that practical step toward repentance be painful for you?

    6. Why can we only repent through the cross? Why is the ability to repent in Christ such good news?

    Mind the Gap (Ezra 9)

    (Please note that the Scripture reading begins in the audio at 1:02; some of the announcements were added to the beginning of the recording by accident.)

    Sermon Recap

    Every time a train pulls into a station in London’s subway system—the Underground—a voice over the loudspeaker tells riders to “mind the gap,” acknowledging that riders could stumble and fall as they step on or off the train. In Ezra 9, Ezra is informed of Israel’s sin and “minds the gap.” He confesses his nation’s sin, acknowledging to God the gap between what his Word says and what they actually do. This passage teaches us about the nature of confession of our sin.

    1. Broken by Sin

    How does Ezra become so broken by his sin? First, the Word of God broke in (Heb. 4:12); that Word declared the people’s sin clearly; and this led to Ezra’s brokenness and humility before God (Ezra 9:3-5).

    2. Humbled in Prayer

    Ezra’s humility in prayer reveals how much he has been broken by his sin. He is honest about his people’s sin. Most striking is the way he prays the character of God, especially his justice and mercy (Ezra 9:13-15).

    3. Life in the Word

    As much of a model for confession of sin as Ezra is in this passage, he is not an end in himself. We need to see the Priest to whom Ezra points, Jesus Christ. A priest who became sin for us (1 Pet. 2:24). A priest who, on the cross, united the justice and mercy of God in his sacrifice of love for us (Ps. 85:10-11). Our response to Christ should be to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And that begins with confessing our sin.

    Reflection & Application Questions

    1. Do you feel that Ezra is overdoing it in his confession? Why? Is he overdoing it, or are our hearts callous to the gravity of our sin before a holy God?

    2. When was the last time you confessed your sin to God? What did it sound like? How specific are you able and willing to get in your confession of sin?

    3. Do you tend to emphasize the justice or the mercy of God? Why?

    4. Do you see yourself in light of God’s reality? Do you see the gap between his Word and your life? What keeps you from seeing? Are you distracted? Busy? Unwilling? Proud?

    5. How does a failure to be specific in our confession of sin cheapen the grace of God?

    6. Take time this week to identify one area of sin to specifically confess to God. Ask his forgiveness. Seek practical ways to walk in repentance.

    Coming Home to Worship (Ezra 8)

    Sermon Recap

    If you’ve lived in a foreign country for a long time, coming home would seem like a welcome respite. You would value being rooted and having a sense of belonging that you may never really have in a different land. That’s what Ezra and Israelites sought in returning home and what we find in our worship every single week.

    1. Worship Remembers God’s Promise

    Genealogies can be boring but they often have important details that shed light on what God is doing. In our passage, the genealogy shows us that Ezra took serious God’s promise to gather His people together in Jerusalem again to worship Him rightly. Everyone was to be properly represented and part of the journey. He holds a greater promise for His church, a vision that we have a foretaste of in our worship.

    2. Worship Trusts God’s Provision

    In calling for fasting and prayer, one would think Ezra felt desperate after turning down help from the Persian king. Yet our attitude toward this call to trust in God may reveal our own heart postures toward dependence on God. Do we allow our circumstances to dictate when it’s proper to fast and pray or do we understand that we’re always dependent on God, no matter how much we plan and think we have control over?

    3. Worship Praises God’s Power

    Ezra counts the valuables before and after the journey because it highlights a phrase we see three times in this passage: “The good hand of God was with us.” All these valuables went toward the temple and served to highlight the complete worship service they all celebrated when this second group of refugees returned. It was evidence of God’s power coming through for His people.

    Reflection and Application

    1. How do you feel when you finally return home after traveling in a foreign country for awhile? What makes it so relieving to be home?

    2. What are the promises that God has made to His church that we take hold of in our worship? Are these promises foundational to why you worship?

    3. What type of situations typically force you to fast and pray? Does any change in those circumstances make you less dependent on prayer? Why?

    4. What would it look like to regularly trust in God in every moment?

    5. In what ways have you seen God’s good hand upon you? How has it driven you to worship?

    Holistic Joy (Ezra 7)

    Sermon Recap

    The sovereignty of God stands behind everything that takes place in Ezra 7. Ezra tells us explicitly that God is in control of his circumstances when he says “the hand of God” was upon him, advancing his purposes for Israel (Ezra 7:6, 9, 28). God’s sovereign rule in his life does not cause Ezra pain or angst. Rather, we learn in this story that living under God’s sovereignty gives us holistic joy.

    1. Under God’s sovereignty, we live whole.

    Ezra is not ashamed of his past; rather, his past makes him fully qualified to serve God and his people as a priest (Ezra 7:1-6). He took who God made him to be and gave himself wholly to service. The testimony of Ezra’s whole life spoke to the goodness and sovereignty of his God (Ezra 7:10). “You do you” was Ezra’s motto, but it wasn’t about self-realization or self-aggrandizement. “You do you” meant that Ezra was free to serve God and his people with all that he had and all that he was.

    2. Courageous obedience under God’s sovereignty leads to joy.

    Ezra’s embrace of God’s sovereignty was not an abstract principle. Instead, it led him to courageously risk his own well being for the sake of God’s glory (Ezra 7:6). And in courageously obeying God—and seeing God answer his obedience with blessing and faithfulness—Ezra rejoiced in the Lord (Ezra 7:27-28). We can courageously obey God under his sovereign hand because we know Jesus sits at his right hand (Heb. 12:2).

    Reflection & Application Questions

    1. Do you believe that God sovereignty rules over all things? Where else does the Bible teach this?

    2. How does the Bible hold God’s goodness and his greatness together? Where do we see these two attributes of God in Ezra 7?

    3. How does Ezra follow “You do you”? How is this advice redeemed in his life?

    4. What areas of your life do you tend to hold back from God? How do you fall short of living “whole” before God, under his sovereignty?

    5. Why should the sovereignty of God give us courage to obey? How does disobedience reveal lack of faith in God’s sovereignty?

    6. Why does Ezra rejoice at the end of the passage? When should we expect to see the same kind of joy in our own lives?

    Worship Renews Our Joy (Ezra 6)

    Sermon Recap

    Ezra 6 is the climax of Israel’s return. They were sent home to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem; now it is complete. And with the restart of worship comes its natural outflow: joy. In Ezra 6 we learn that worship renews our joy.

    1. Our Joy Is God’s Agenda

    In this story, God reveals what he is most interested in. He uses the most powerful empire in the world to decree and finance the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Politics, economics, wars and civilizations are not ends in themselves. God bends them all in the direction of the worship and joy of his people (see James 1:2-3 and Romans 8:28).

    2. Our Joy Is Word-Produced and God-Directed

    No building methods are discussed in this chapter. We don’t know how many people it took to build the temple or what they built it with. But Ezra 6:14 says that “the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai… and Zechariah.” God’s Word is what built his house of worship and gave such joy to his people (Ezra 6:16). And when the Word came centuries later, He gave abundant joy to his people (John 10:10, 15:11).

    3. Our Joy Comes From Obedience

    God’s people had great joy when they obeyed God’s commands and celebrated the Passover (Ezra 6:17-22). Obeying God meant they had to have a party! Our joy comes from our obedience to Him in Christ.

    Reflection & Application Questions

    1. What do you think God is most interested in the world? Why?

    2. Why is God’s agenda our joy? What does that tell you about the kind of God he is?

    3. How does God’s agenda give us hope in the midst of trial?

    4. Where do we tend to look for joy? Why are worldly sources of joy bound to fail us?

    5. How does this passage show us that God is our source of joy?

    6. We can’t control our circumstances, but we can control our obedience to God. How does God use our obedience to give us joy?

    Worship is the Only Option (Ezra 4-5)

    Sermon Recap

    Not long after the Israelites put down the foundation for the new temple, they were opposed and forced to stop. The foundation remained untouched for almost 100 years before they began rebuilding. What does it take for God’s people to worship again and why is it necessary for their life?

    1. Worship Defines Our Opposition

    God’s church has always faced opposition to worship yet only in America do we not really sense this. We’re much closer to the apathy of Israel living around temple ruins, forgetting why worship matters in the first place. How much of our lack of opposition toward our worship reveals how careless our attitudes are toward honoring and glorifying God?

    2. Worship Demands Our Repentance

    If we desire the presence of God, we must worship. That often means learning to repent from our prevailing postures. This is not simply grieving over our disobedience but also entrusting ourselves to God again in worship, knowing He is good. Very often, worship and repentance go hand-in-hand with one leading to the other.

    3. Worship Displays God’s Victory

    The prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah immediately play out as the Babylonians help supply the building of the temple in the reconstruction. It’s God’s Word immediately bearing fruit. Yet the beauty is that the greater victory promised in their promises would fully bloom in Jesus Christ, our true temple where we encounter God’s gracious presence and receive His peace.

    Reflection and Application

    1. What does opposition to worship look like to you today? What are the “options” you have in life that often tempt you from wanting to worship?

    2. Do you feel like you’re building on the foundation of faith in your life or has it remained untouched for quite awhile now? What is worship necessary to change that?

    3. What is the relationship between repentance and worship? Why do they need one another?

    4. Why is worship not an option for the discouraged and the broken?

    5. How is Christ the true fulfillment of Haggai’s and Zechariah’s prophecies to re-establish the temple of God?

    6. What does it mean in Heb. 12:28 to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken? How should this affect how we worship?


    Living Sacrifice (Ezra 2)

    Sermon Recap

    Ezra is about the renewal of God’s people in worship. But in order to bring them to renewal, he brings them through deep sacrifice. The Christian life is one of sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2), because worship requires sacrifice.

    1. They sacrificed their homes to worship God

    God’s people had to leave the home they knew (Jer. 29:5-7) for one they did not for the sake of God’s worship (Ezra 1:5).

    2. They sacrificed their comfort to worship God

    Ezra 2:64 tells us 42,360 people made a 1678 mile journey from Babylon to Jerusalem on foot in order to give themselves in worship to their God.

    3. They sacrificed their wealth to worship God

    Israel gave extravagantly in order to give God the worship he deserved (Ezra 2:68-69)

    4. They sacrificed their individualism to worship God

    They gathered as one man (Ezra 3:1) in order to worship God around his altar and promote the unity of his church.

    5. They sacrificed their security to worship God

    Jerusalem was not a safe place for God’s people (Ezra 3:3). They gave up safe neighborhoods for a ruined city surrounded by enemies—all so they could worship God!

    6. They sacrificed their dignity to worship God

    They let their emotions out in a lavish display of worship (Ezra 3:11-13). We can sacrifice in these and countless other ways because “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). Christ died as a sacrifice so we could live as one.

    Reflection & Application Questions

    1. Why did God require Israel to sacrifice so much in order to worship him?

    2. Why does he call us to live lives of sacrificial love to him?

    3. What have you sacrificed in worship to God in the past? What are you sacrificing in your life right now?

    4. What has God perhaps called you to sacrifice but that you have not wanted to? What is stopping you from sacrificing? Why?

    5. Which of the things that Israel sacrificed in our passage would be the hardest for your to give up? Ask God to give you the faith required to be able to sacrifice in worship!

    6. Why must Christ’s sacrifice precede our own? Why should our worship begin with what Christ gave up for our sake?

    Worship Is… (Ezra 1)

    Sermon Recap

    Ezra is about the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem after it had been destroyed by Babylon in 587 B.C. The temple was where God met with his people, and where they gathered to worship him. We can get a compelling definition of worship from Ezra 1.

    1. Worship is the only right response to the presence of God

    From Moses to Isaiah to Ezekiel to Peter with Jesus, when people discovered they were with God, they fell down and worshiped.

    2. Worship shapes the universe

    God raised up one empire and destroyed another (as he said he would in Jer. 25:12-13) so that his worship could continue in Israel!

    3. The Word invokes worship

    God spoke the universe into being, and calls us in his Word to worship him.

    4. Worship is love freely given to God

    That was the response of Israel (Ezra 1:5-6). That should be the response of all who worship.

    5. Worship is costly and sacrificial

    God gave his best for us (Rom. 8:32). We should do the same (Ezra 1:4, 7ff).

    6. Worship is by God’s people in God’s place

    Worship requires people and place (Ezra 1:3; Heb. 10:25), because we are embodied creatures.

    7. Worship gives purpose and meaning to human existence

    We are God’s temple now (1 Peter 2:4-5). It is by God’s grace that we are caught up into his purpose for the whole universe, the praise of his glorious grace.

    Reflection & Application Questions

    1. What did you learn about biblical worship that was new or surprising?

    2. Are you conscious of God’s presence in your life? Why or why not? Does this lead to worship?

    3. Why must worship be love freely given to God? What would it be if it were coerced?

    4. Why should worship be costly and sacrificial? Does your worship meet this criteria? How is God calling you to change?

    5. Why is people and place so important to God? To us? Do you view yourself and worship like this?

    6. Does worship give meaning and purpose to your life? What competes with worship for meaning and purpose? How can you repent of this and redirect your heart toward worshiping Christ?