Text: Ezra 1
Proposition: The heart of a people for God begins by the stirring up or awakening of their awareness of His presence in and will for their lives.
Introduction: The Daily Mail newspaper recently ran an amazing story on the recipients of heart transplants. One of those was a 47 year old woman who received the lungs and heart of a young man killed in a motorcycle accident. Strangely, she began to realize that she had desires and even cravings that were completely different from what she ever had before. Since the transplant she now loves green peppers, snickers bars and Kentucky fried chicken, and perhaps most peculiar she had an unexplainable affection for beer. As she wondered about these new desires, the thought came to her, “Was it possible that my new heart had reached me with its own set of tastes and preferences?” As it turns out these were in fact the preferences of her donor and this is not an uncommon experience with other heart recipients. It seems that there is more to the heart than just an organ of circulation. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at this since Scripture ascribes many things to the heart, whether euphemistically or literally… a propensity to deceitfulness; an ability to harbour unbelief; a place where emotions are experienced such as hate, joy, hardness, love; a place of convictions and belief. The Scriptures even describe God’s heart as a place where He experiences emotion and decision (Gen 6:6; 8:21) and how God praised David for being a man who pursued the qualities of God’s heart. Perhaps we too should wonder about the heart we have received when we were born again in Christ. It’s a heart that hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Is it possible that our new heart in Christ has reached us with it’s own set of tastes and preferences? Let’s look at the book of Ezra as we examine this wonder of ‘The Beginning of Heart’.
I. Sovereign Hope is the Beginning of Heart. Sounds like a paradox doesn’t it, Sovereign Hope? To be sovereign is to have authority and control, divine sovereignty speaks to an absolute authority and control. So how can such sovereignty hope? Certainly there is the future tense of God’s promises and there is the volitional call to obedience that He lays before man. But greater than these is the certainty in God’s mind of what He will do in and through man despite man’s ignorance, objection or lack of complicity. Consider this first verse of Ezra. There’s promise or prophecy fulfilled, there’s the choosing of an unaware person, there’s the stirring up of a heart to action. Let’s look at these briefly:
1. Promise Fulfilled – when God makes a promise it defies the odds for completion, it challenges the impossible and in so doing it declares and partially defines God. It is impossible for a people who have been uprooted and displaced from their land to regain it, yet God has according to His promise done this for Israel… three times. When He promised a land to Abraham in Genesis 12, it was 430 years later (Gal.3: 16-18) before the people of Israel obtained that promise. When He promised Jeremiah that after the deportation to Babylon it would be 70 years and then the people would return, it was exactly that as king Cyrus set the people back their land. When Israel yet again lost their land after 70AD and were dispersed across Europe for over 1800 years they were again, impossibly, miraculously, returned to their land in 1948. This was always a certainty in God’s mind, it is, if you will, Sovereign Hope. It is from this Sovereign Hope that God begins to awaken or create the beginning of heart, the awareness of the tastes and preferences of the donor of life.
2. The Choosing of the Unaware – how long before you were born did God know of you and choose you even though you were in the deepest essence unaware? Consider the passage before us, God is choosing to stir up the spirit of this Persian king named Cyrus. Consider these verses from the book of Isaiah, written almost 200 years before Cyrus was born:
Isaiah 44: 24… “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone”
Isaiah 44: 28… “Who says of Cyrus, 'he is My shepherd’, and he shall perform all My pleasure. Saying to Jerusalem, "You shall be built, and to the temple, "Your foundation shall be laid."'
Isaiah 45: 1… “Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut”
Isaiah 45: 4… “For the sake of Jacob My servant and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me.” Ezra 1 records how king Cyrus had received a ‘heart transplant’ and was becoming aware of the preferences of it’s donor.
3. The Stirring Up of a Heart to Action – perhaps it was the recorded word of Jeremiah, perhaps it was a dream or maybe the words of a faithful servant that God used to stir up the spirit of Cyrus. Whatever the agency it moved this king to release 50,000 people from his control and to yield up considerable wealth to support them. When God stirs up the heart, people, possessions and perspective become His action plan. It created a desire in Cyrus to make a proclamation that went throughout all his kingdom, a call that would reach the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the peoples taken captive by Babylon, but also reaching the other 10 tribes now displaced in the regions to the east. I suppose God could stir our hearts in a similar way… ‘what are we just in ‘the first year‘ of that God would stir our hearts; is there some aspect of God’s word being fulfilled in us here this morning and what proclamation would we make, would we too put that in writing that lastingly proclaims and invites people to respond to God.’ What are the tastes and preferences of the Lord’s heart that we are recognizing as uniquely in us?
I. Sovereign Perspective is the Beginning of Heart. Can you see what God sees… in some limited way, this perspective of seeing from God’s point of view is the beginning of heart. Just consider the incredible task that lay ahead of these people, leaving their homes, trekking for months just to get to the starting line, nothing but rubble to build with, hostile forces around you. If there were not heart the task would fail. It is God who stirs the heart, look at how He does it. First He stirs the heart of the king – it’s Cyrus who says that all he has is because God has given it to him. That’s perspective, a sovereign’s perspective on sovereignty. Then the call is issued to all who would regard themselves as being God’s people (vs 3). These who had the perspective to know who they were in the eyes of God were now to use their God given resources and rise up to the task. Then the call went to those who also knew they were the people of God but lacked the resource to respond. The sovereign perspective now issued forth to those around the resource-less to support them and thus enable them to go. These too needed heart to give in support of those who were willing to go. Then there was the perspective to give not just for the peoples needs but also for the building of the Temple once they got there. The free will offerings of vs 4 and 6 and the articles looted long ago from the Temple, this too required the perspective of God. So what is heart, the beginning of heart, really all about?
1.The recognition in yourself that there is a desire there that is foreign to your flesh. It’s not what you’d normally prefer, it’s the preference of Jesus.
2. The passion not only stays it beckons you to step forward in obedience to the clear and revealed word of God. It is not mystery that you respond to, it is the alarm clock of a soldier being called to service.
3. The recognition that you are in way over your head, heart is not about you exhausting your resources for God, it is about the awareness that what we do is so far beyond us that if God were not in it, it would not even exist.
4. The willingness to obey because where you presently live is not your home. The beginning of heart, it’s the next step towards the New Jerusalem.