“Listen to Him”

Ezra-Nehemiah 1

Prepare for God’s Arrival

Isaiah 40:1-3

“Comfort, oh comfort my people,” says your God.

“Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear 

That she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of—forgiven!

She’s been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.”

Thunder in the desert!

”Prepare for God’s arrival!

Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.


No, we are not returning to the book of Isaiah, at least not directly. We are going to start the new year off by reading through Ezra-Nehemiah. The story of when the Israelites return from their exile from Babylon, which Isaiah prophesied. Oh that it was a prophecy for us today. Although I feel we are still in exile as we wait out life through this pandemic, I am reminded of God’s grace, “that our sin is taken care of – forgiven.” 

We will begin 2021 by returning to the Old Testament and studying the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah. Ezra-Nehemiah was originally written together as one book in the Jewish Scriptures. It was the documentation of the fulfillment of God’s promise in Isaiah, that Israel would return home from exile after 70 years in Babylon. 

Ezra, Chapter 1

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—this fulfilled the Message of God preached by Jeremiah—God prodded Cyrus king of Persia to make an official announcement throughout his kingdom. He wrote it out as follows: 

From Cyrus king of Persia, a Proclamation: God, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has also assigned me to build him a Temple of worship in Jerusalem, Judah. Who among you belongs to his people? God be with you! Go to Jerusalem which is in Judah and build The Temple of God, the God of Israel, Jerusalem’s God. Those who stay behind, wherever they happen to live, will support them with silver, gold, tools, and pack animals, along with Freewill-Offerings for The Temple of God in Jerusalem.

The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites—everyone, in fact, God prodded—set out to build The Temple of God in Jerusalem. Their neighbors rallied behind them enthusiastically with silver, gold, tools, pack animals, expensive gifts, and, over and above these, Freewill-Offerings.

Also, King Cyrus turned over to them all the vessels and utensils from The Temple of God that Nebuchadnezzar had hauled from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia put Mithredath the treasurer in charge of the transfer; he provided a full inventory for Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah, including the following:

30 gold dishes 1,000 silver dishes

29 silver pans

30 gold bowls

410 duplicate silver bowls

1,000 miscellaneous items.

All told, there were 5,400 gold and silver articles that Sheshbazzar took with him when he brought the exiles back from Babylon to Jerusalem.

The return of God’s chosen people from exile began with a pagan king. However, it is believed that this pagan king, Cyrus, had many Jewish exiles living and working for him. One of those men was the prophet Daniel who may have shown the king prophecies written in Jeremiah 25 & 29, which refer to the punishment of Babylon and the end of Israel’s exile. Then there was the prophecy from Isaiah 44 & 45 that had been written some 150 years earlier that actually mentioned Cyrus by name. 

At any rate, Cyrus made a point to encourage all of his inhabitants to worship their own gods and allowed them to return to their prior homes. The decree Cyrus wrote for the Jews began with his recognition of God’s hand upon his life. Again, this is a direct connection to Isaiah 44 & 45. Cyrus sent those who felt directed by God to listen to God and return to Jerusalem. He ends his proclamation with, Emmanuel, God be with you. Not only did he encourage them to return to their home land, but he also encouraged them to rebuild their temple. 

Cyrus also directed those Jews who did not feel directed by God to return, to support those who were leaving with their silver, gold, tools, pack animals, and money. Regardless of whether you were leaving or not, Cyrus wrote a decree that all Jews needed to get involved. 

It may have sounded exciting to have the head of the country to encourage you to be part of the fulfillment of a prophecy, but sadly, only a few of the Jews in Babylon chose to return. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If we were to receive a decree from Trump saying Christians could go anywhere in the world to share the gospel, and all the other Christians, who did not feel called, should support them, Oh wait! Our President didn’t give a decree, but our reality is just that. Jesus did so with His last command, 


Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” 


Same format as Cyrus, Go…. and God will be with you.

Just like in Babylon, not many follow the “Go” instruction and today, even less follow the support those going. Only a small percentage decide to go, and even a less percentage of those not going, are supporting. Surprising to us perhaps, but not to God. Back in Isaiah 10, it was prophesied that a remnant would return from exile, and only a remnant. 

We are told that that remnant was prodded by God. They had a conviction from God’s Spirit that allowed them to return regardless of the difficulties they were sure to face. 

– The journey itself was long, dangerous, and expensive.

– They returned to a city in ruins with no proper homes, roads, or city institutions.

– They didn’t have all the material resources they needed.

– They didn’t all return to Jerusalem but spread out over the province of Judea.

– They had many enemies.

– Their land was actually the possession of another empire.

But God did not send them back empty handed. Cyrus was moved to go into the temples of the gods and return the items Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem. There was quite a list, although did you manage to notice what was missing? Like the altar of incense, the golden lampstand, and where was the ark of the covenant? 

Time to stop and check in – we are beginning a year of hope. Each of us is hoping and praying to be done with this pandemic. I can imagine the Jewish families in Babylon, who met for worship on their Sabbath, had a similar prayer, instead of a pandemic their prayer was for a relief from exile. When would they be allowed to return to Jerusalem? They had the promises of the prophets that it would happen. We have the promise of Jesus himself. 

The Israelites who heard the decree from Cyrus also heard God prodding them, either to go or to support. Jesus had a similar teaching about God’s Kingdom, he often repeated this phrase, “He who has an ear, let them hear..” 

Whether it’s ancient Israel or our worship today, there is no time like the present to receive a message from God and listen to Him. 

As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, I encourage you to do just that. Stop, take a moment, recognize the promises you have heard from God and the hope He gives through the sacrifice of His Son. This New Year, request a new heart for God, one that will recognize God’s voice, and then do what He says. God never promised “easy street.” His story of becoming human demonstrates just how difficult life can get. We are called to “go.” For some of us that means physically get up and go, for others the call will be to support those who are going. The Message is that of hope in a world of uncertainty. The Messiah came to change people’s hearts, to bring them to salvation. The Message doesn’t save us from a pandemic, just like the hope of the Messiah didn’t save the Israelites from exile. The Message does provide a personal relationship with the One who saves us from our sin. 

“He who has an ear, let them hear..” then may we respond as Mary did to the angel who told her she would be Jesus’ mom, “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.”

Let’s pray.