18–24 September 2016.
Over the last few months we have read how the Israelites attacked each other, went to war against each other, and killed each other. This went on for centuries until outside empires finally came and stopped it all by destroying both Israel and Judah! As a result, many Israelites were then dragged away into exile. Now in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah we see these exiled Israelites finally coming home. They didn’t all return together. Instead they came back in different groups at different times. In today’s text we read about Ezra, who led the second group.
The story is like a miracle! One day the Israelites are trapped in exile. Then suddenly the Persian king gives them permission to go home! In Ezra’s story, king Artaxerxes even gives Ezra money, as well as food and provisions to help the Israelites go home and rebuild Jerusalem. What a good reminder for us today, to never lose hope in God’s power to suddenly change our lives!
But to rebuild a community doesn’t mean just rebuilding the city. The spirit of the people also needs to be rebuilt. That’s the task that Ezra works on. He is a priest, a scribe, and a believer in the laws of Moses. So he begins to rebuild the community into one with new faith. He stresses the importance of Moses’s laws, and uses those laws to guide the people in this new phase of their lives.
Like Ezra and the Israelites, we too are always looking for new chances to make good changes in our lives. But when we look for changes, it’s easy to focus just on external things. We search for a new job, move into a new home, or buy new clothes. It makes us feel fresh and new, like we are rebuilding our lives into something new. But we shouldn’t forget that the most important change is the one that happens inside us. We can rebuild a house, but it’s much more important to rebuild our hearts. Ezra did that by using the laws of Moses. For us, it’s the laws of Christ that are most important. Because by loving God and loving others (the way Jesus taught us), and by depending on the grace of Jesus, that’s how we transform our lives into something beautiful and new.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis