Teaching Sunday School has possibly meant more to me than to the members of THAT class. Especially now… I am in uncharted territory. I have always wanted to read the bible from cover to cover. My mom has. Several times. So have her parents. But I always give up before I get past the Pentateuch. Until now.
Both the book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah are fairly short. As a matter of fact, in the original Hebrew they were one book. They take place during the same time. Having no idea how much my classmates will participate, I have decided to prepare my lesson on both.
The important thing THAT class looks for is how the bible can be applied today. That can be really hard in the old testament. But these books seemed to be a lot easier (with a little help from my friends).
Ezra takes place about 50 years after the Israelites were exiled from their homeland into Babylon. King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jewish Nation to return to Jerusalem and rebuild God’s temple. The book recounts the struggles they had in completing the temple and the rejoicing they felt when it was completed. They were not wanting to be cast out in exile again, so the Jewish people (under Ezra’s leadership) renewed their agreement with God… even going so far has divorcing their foreign wives to be closer to the Lord.
Nehemiah’s story is written more like a memoir. He is burdened for his people in Jerusalem when he hears how run down and vulnerable the walls of Jerusalem are. He gets a leave of absence from his job with the king and heads to the homeland to help rebuild. In a miraculous act that can only be ordained by God, Nehemiah and the Israelites complete the walls and their gates in just 52 days. This was not without its drama from outside antagonists… but knowing God was with them quickly sent the bad guys fleeing.
With this brief history lesson, let me now turn to how it can apply to us today.
God’s people had turned from Him. They had found themselves up to their necks in sin and were worshipping all sorts of idols. God had had enough. They were attacked and defeated by Babylon and sent into exile. Now, they were given a second chance. God was bringing them back home. Even after 50 years away, God was giving them a second chance. A chance to have a relationship with Him and to do it right this time. And, oh!, how they tried.
How often do we get separated from God? Sin acts a wedge… and we push farther and farther away. But no matter how far away we get, God is always there to offer forgiveness and second chances. Like the prodigal son from Luke 15, we sin and turn back to God with our tails between our legs. He takes us back into His open arms. We are redeemed through the blood of Christ and we are forgiven. Just like those old Israelites… who, quite frankly, had been given lots of second chances– hundreds of them (can they be called second chances after that many times??)… God invites us back into His arms, His love, His grace.
But beware! Once you become (or re-become) a child of God, you become a threat to the devil. He will try to keep you from the redemption and love that God offers. He will try to keep you in sin. That is what Nehemiah discovered. Once he took on the task of rebuilding the walls and protecting God’s people, he became a target of hate and betrayal. People were out to get him. Even his own people were unwittingly working against him (Neh. 6:10-13)! Nehemiah was living by God’s scripture and doing God’s good work… and he was a mighty foe to the devil. When you accept God’s call on your life, you will be attacked by the devil. You will be tempted. You will be betrayed. The devil will use every trick in his arsenal to get you to turn from God. But know that God is with you and. Here, I will let God tell you:
1 John 4:4 NCV My dear children, you belong to God and have defeated them; because God’s spirit, who is in you, is greater than the devil, who is in the world.
James 4:7 NCV So give yourselves completely to God. Stand against the devil, and the devil will run from you.
Romans 8:37 NCV But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed His love for us.
John 16:33 NIV I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
So, see? These books may have been written nearly 3,000 years ago… but God uses them to speak to us still today! God is good, all the time!