Date: 11 March, 2012
Text: Ezra 8:21-23
Title: Proclaim a fast!
Theme: Ezra's complete dependence upon God and desire to prove Him faithful.
Proposition: God's people need to fast.
Rhetorical: What have you set aside to seek God? Have you proven your dependence upon God is well founded?
Ezra 1: 1 ¶ Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
2 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
3 Who is there among you of all his people? 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 the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
4 And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.
5 ¶ Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.
6 And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.
exp. The rebuilding of the temple was begun. However, enemies would make it difficult and the work would cease. Ezra 4:24 "Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia." (4 years later it was completed.
Ezar 6:15 And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
(58 years after that a Scribe by the name of Ezra arrives on the scene to lead Israel out of captivity and back to Jerusalem.)
Ezra 7:6 This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.
25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.
26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.
27 ¶ Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem:
28 And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.
exp. This great man who obviously is being led of God in this great endeavour finds himself at a crossroads in our text. Ezra 8:21-23 He can either lean hard upon man/or he can fast and lean hard upon God. He choses to fast and lean upon God.
The message this morning, "God's people need to fast!" What have you set aside to seek God? Have you proven your dependence upon God is well founded?
I. Fast in submission to God's authority.
v.21 "Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava..."
exp. God's leader to those returning Israelits said, "It is time to fast and seek our God." The people had a choice. They could submit to God's call to fast or not. Ezra the Scribe could order a fast by the Divine leading of God.
ill. As a pastor I can't "proclaim a fast." But I can encourage one. And I can say according to the authority of God, you ought to fast.
Mt 6:16- 17 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
question: Why would Jesus give proper fasting instruction and say, "When ye fast...." if He does not expect us to fast?
ill. Monroe Parker's message - 30 years ago - "Sunday has become a day of entertainment. You are waiting for the benediction so that you can get home to your football game."
app. Do you love your sports more than Jesus? Do you love your food more than Jesus? Do you love your hobbies more than Jesus? Are you willing to set aside things you love for Jesus? (He set aside Heaven for us!)
II. Fast to deal with your heart before God.
v.21 "...that we might afflict ourselves before our God,"
exp. Afflict has the idea of humble, to bow down.
Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
ill. Remember the wise men who came to Jesus. One of the gifts they brough was Myrrh. Isobel Kuhn was a missionary to the Lissu people of China has this to say about the Myrrh. "That bitter thing. Surely that can only have one meaning...the things we are willing to suffer for His sake....'Lord, I bring Thee my myrhh.' That was teh silent heartcry that had taken the hurt and fear out of my missionary journey to Lisu-land. I had seldom before been able to offer Him that gift, and I have never forgotten the joy of it. There are those who think they are willing to suffer and die for Christs sake, but who are unwilling to spend half an hour daily in prayer for His work and workers. It is 'myrrh' when we say quietly to friends: 'No, I cannot accept your inviations, I have something I must do,' and then to spend that time in intercession for His work and workers or in some other self effacing work or drudgery that makes possible the giving of the Gospel to every creature."
app. God help us if we are too proud to humble our heart and bow the knee to God. How we need to afflict our hearts before the Almighty! Fasting allows us to deal with our heart before God.
III. Fast to seek God.
exp. Do you feel like you are godly and therefore do not need to fast? It tells us plainly that God's hand was on Ezekiel, and yet Ezekiel was burdened to have more of God. He fasted....
A. For God's direction.
v.21 "...to seek of him a right way for us,"
exp. Every decision we make has a right way and a wrong way. Ezekiel didn't want to miss the right way. The wrong way would mean absolute destruction. His seeking of God's direction was vital.
ill. A fleet of ships was destroyed in Eyemouth harbor in a terrible storm. The fishing fleet had just gone out. They were destroyed as they returned. One boat captained by a Christian went into the storm rather than returning because the man believed that was what God wanted them to do. That decision spared the ship and those on board. They alone were saved.
app. Do you look to a harbor for safety? God may know that safetly lies in the storm. Only the conviction of what God wants you to do is going to keep you from returning to the harbor during the storm.
Pr 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding....
B. For God's protection.
v.21 "...and for our little ones,"
exp. There is no greater concern that a parent has than of God's protection of their children.
ill. I saw an video on fox new of Stephanie Decker, wrapped her kids in a mattress and then laid on top to save them from a tornado. She lost leg below the ankle and one just below the knee. The kids didn't even have a scratch even though the home completely collapsed on them.
exp. Ezra and the people fasted for the sake of the their children.
ill. Remember Job - Job 1: 5 And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.
app. We need to pray more for the protection of our kids. 1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
C. For God's provision.
v.21 "...and for all our substance."
exp. Without the protection of their resources they would have suffered lack of provision. Much of what they possessed was dedicated to God for the temple or temple sacrifices. (Ezra 7:16-17) And so, they pleaded for God to protect their provision.
ill. If they were unwilling to use what they had for God they would not have been able to plead that He would protect it.
Haggai 1:4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?
5 Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
8 Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.
9 Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.
10 Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit.
11 And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.
app. Are you concerned about protecting your resources? Does it seem like you are putting money into a bag with wholes? Are you using your resources for the Lord? When you have dedicated those things to the Lord, you can plead His protection of your provision.
IV. Fast rather than trust in temporal means.
v.22 "For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying,..."
exp. Ezra had rightly declared God's power. Now He was going to prove it and not shame himself in his lack of trust in His God.
ill. Nearly running out of money our first year of marriage as we worked our way through the last year of university and grad school. We went to the loan office but the man wasn't there. I was ashamed on the way out and told Katie, "We just need to trust the Lord." God provided exactly what we needed that year.
app. Are you shaming God with dependence upon credit cards or earthly means? It's easier work it out on your own but what about God's power being seen in providing for your needs? Are you shaming Him before the world?
V. Fast to prove dependence upon God alone.
v.22 "The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him."
exp. Here we have the sure declaration that Ezra made unto the King. This promise is now to be proved or they would die/be destroyed trying.
exp. "Faith is not declaring God's ability to do it. Faith is proving God's ability to do it."
ill. Monroe Parker: Looking at the holes in his shoes and at the promise in His Bible, "But my God shall supply all your needs." He asked the Lord for 40 dollars. He visited a friend who invited him to preach that night. He put cardboard in the shoes and kept his feet on the floor. After the message that night a deacon came up and said, "I hope you don't mind. We took a collection." They gave him 45 dollars.
app. Are you willing to show God that you are depending upon Him alone?
VI. Fast because God responds to fasting.
v.23 "So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us."
Matthew 6:17-18 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
exp. When a sinner bows his head and calls on Jesus to save His soul - He is on praying ground! God has said, " Acts 2:21 "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
app. When you fast and pray - YOU ARE ON PRAYING GROUND! God has given us a promise that if we fast in private - He will reward us in public? Is God going to let His Word prove faulty? He must, I say it again, he must, respond to a proper private fast.
conclusion: Ezra was going returning with the captives to Jerusalem. The captivity was over but they were a weak people. They were vulnerable. They had to get accross a dangerous way before reaching the security of the city. We are crossing a difficult way before we reach the eternal security of Heaven. Dare we cross this world without fasting and seeking God?
I. Fast in Submission to God's authority. He has commanded a fast. II. Fast to deal with your heart before God. Humble your heart. III. Fast to seek God. His direction, protection, provision. IV. Fast rather than trust in temporal means. V. Fast to prove dependence upon God alone. VI. Fast because God responds to fasting.