Text: Ezra 2
Proposition: A godly remnant is what remains after the wear and tear of any captivity is complete, be that a historical, financial, moral or spiritual captivity. That there is something that remains is an act of grace and design.
Introduction: Have you ever been driving down the highway on a nice summer day when all of a sudden a motorcycle goes whizzing past you. You can’t help but notice that the guy and girl on the bike are dressed in denim shorts and flowery short sleeve shirts. On their feet are the flip flops people wear to the beach. Whenever I see that I do a quick assessment of the toll that raw pavement demands from such exposed flesh at any speed, much less highway speed. The youthful abandon seems to not only overlook the risk but to dismiss it as being of such a low probability as to not exist. The demands of the moment are comfort, consensus and cost and these are used to overrule truth, wisdom and obedience. I don’t really have all that going through my mind as they disappear ahead of me, but I do wince at the thought of what might be. Today I want to look at a recurring theme in Scripture known as the godly remnant. It refers to the risks that nations take and the toll that such mistakes demand. What is left of a nation when the bulk of what was has been is torn away leaving only a remnant of what was? When Moses led Israel out of Egypt they were 600,00 strong. Over the next 800 years as they occupied the Promised Land that number increased until the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities occurred around 620 BC. 70 years of captivity later, God opened the door through a Persian king named Cyrus and allowed ‘whomsoever will’ to return to Israel. Not quite 50,000 respond. This is the godly remnant of Israel, the bulk of what was has been torn away. It was this remnant that went back again to a ruined land and began the rebuilding of the Second Temple. There’s two observations:1. God always has a remnant, we see it in Noah’s ark, in Gideon’s 300, in the days of Elijah when he was assured he was not alone. We see it in the book of Ezra, the providential hand of God keeping a people to Himself and fulfilling His promises to them. 2. Out of over a half million people, how is it that only 50,000 were willing to stand up and respond to the offer of restoration and rebuilding? If the Temple and the city of Jerusalem were to be so strategic to the coming of Jesus Christ how is it that so many missed their hour to shine? Perhaps even in terms of our nation today the concept of a remnant might also apply, are the contributing factors the same, will the outcome be of similar proportions? Turn with me to Ezra 2.
I. Moving From Underdog ‘Sportsology’ to Remnant Theology. Whether it’s hockey night in Canada or NFL Monday, we live In an era of vicarious victories. We often cheer for the team that seems less able. We project our own hopes onto the playing field. Perhaps this arises out of a David and Goliath type of view where the giants are government, career and lifestyle. Maybe the intense passion of sports is really the passion of a nation at odds with such giants as it hopes for a winner against all odds, for in that place we actually hope for ourselves. Remnant theology shifts the hope from self gain to God gain, it looks not at the impossibility of odds but at the certainty of design. ‘Thy kingdom come…’ has been taught to us since childhood but the core truth of it is that it is not an uncertain hope but rather an appointed event. Remnant theology sees the design of God in all things but greater still it sees the heart of God, the faithful, longsuffering, loving heart of God for a people that will agree with Him that ‘the just shall live by faith’. It is a faith in the embodied person of God, Jesus Christ, it is a faith in the revealed word of God that has promise at it’s depths and it is a faith that stirs the feet and heart to obedience. These words describe our nation here today, they also describe the nation of Israel in the days of Ezra. Let’s turn our eyes from looking at what led to such captivity and look at the contributing issues that pulled against a nation to leave the captivity and return to their land, to rebuild a destroyed Temple, restore a ruined city and a hopeless land.
II. Learning to Stand on a Shattered Leg. I suppose its one thing to recover from a broken leg where the break is clean and the mending is in one location but when a leg is shattered the mending is at a multiple of locations. From verses 3– 35 we have a list of the people and the areas they came from. Most of the known locations are in around Jerusalem, one or two are east side of the Jordan but most are the towns of Judah and Benjamin. Some names you recognize, vs 21 the people of Bethlehem 123; vs 28 the people of Bethel and Ai 223; vs 34 the people of Jericho 345. These were great cities, now there is but a remnant. Perhaps most conspicuous by it’s absence in this list of cities is the city of Jerusalem. Had it suffered the most in casualty, were the priests, the gatekeepers and the servants the only people left from Jerusalem? We know that even these groups lived in towns other than just Jerusalem. It is a picture of a badly fractured nation, healing on many fronts at once and trying to stand on a shattered leg. If we were to extend the metaphor just a little, what is it we know about a broken leg?
1. Sometimes it is what a shepherd would do to a stubborn sheep in order to focus it’s dependence. The worse the break the greater the need to lean on God. The attention of this remnant is upon God.
2. The difficulty of getting off the couch. Babylon had become a place of relative comfort for displaced Israel, just look at the wealth that was offered in support. To leave the couch is to invite suffering and risk into your life. I would say that 9/10 of Israel said ‘No’ to that invitation.
3. The lack of godly leadership. In verses 36-39is a list of the priests. Interestingly the proportion of this group to the total remnant was 1/10. Sadly there are only 4 families of priests named, originally there were 24 families. What happened in just 70 years, had they all been killed or was their attrition from other causes? In verses 61-63 it describes a group that had fallen into the desire of a good name, Barzillai. Because of intermarriage their lineage could not be traced to the priesthood. They became ‘persona non grata’, in fact they were excluded from the priesthood and considered as defiled. When godly leadership suffers compromise the nation suffers their absence.
4. The degree of difficulty invites a faithless logic. One of the most difficult things to overcome is surface tension. In water it is what makes a suction that holds a vessel to immersion. There will also be a surface tension from those around you that pulls you back down and is resistant to change. We’ll see that more in the Nehemiah’s story.
5. Joy, praise and thanksgiving in worship are a steady arm to lean upon when your leg is broken. The importance of encouragement and joy and ‘looking up to the hills where my hope comes from’, these are of incredible importance to the well being of any godly remnant. Look at vs 65, listed among the assets of Israel are 200 men and women singers. Every army worth it’s salt knows the power of music, personally and corporately. It drives the enemy nuts to hear you sing.
6. The journey disappears as the destination is realized. Somewhere between vs 67 and 68 there four months of difficult travel, 50,000 people, hundreds of mules, horses and camels loaded with everything owned and loaned. The journey isn’t even mentioned, it’s all about the destination.
7. The wonder of sacrificial giving is that it sees far past the present ruins of a nation, it sees what will be and what God wills to be. The first act of some of the leadership was to declare submission and dependence upon the Lord by being visionary givers. Resource that they would need to survive was willingly surrendered to the vision of the restoration of the Temple. The DNA of selflessness and godliness had begun to be restored and it glorified God.
We are living in the times of a godly remnant, the height of which is the Lamb's Book of Life, the very remnant of humanity saved. The rebuilding of family, community and nation are now our call. It is our time to shine, to shine the light of the gospel of Christ.