How God Stirs a Vision Among His People
Rebuilding God’s People Part 1
As this church begins a new calendar year, I usually give a sermon that casts a vision for the year. However, this time I decided to go through the book of Ezra. As I was studying to prepare for this series, two clear points came to me. First, the theme of the book is the same theme that this church is experiencing, rebuilding. Second, this first chapter of Ezra deals with a vision that God gave other prophets years before in which God is now accomplishing in His people.
I wanted to address how that happens. We tend to have an American cultural view about vision, and we quote a verse that says is important. “Without vision people perish.” But the reality is that when you preachers talk about that, they are taking a business model and applying it to the church. John Maxwell, a famous pastor and motivational speaker says this about vision:
Good leaders cast vision and invite you to embrace it; great leaders cast vision, invite you to embrace it, and then create a pathway for you to take action to bring it about. A vision is only as good as the practical steps you and I can take to see it come true.
A pastor friend of mine has a more Biblical definition of vision: “Seeing what God sees.” I think that is a great phrase that summarizes vision. Because God’s general vision is the same, but God also has specific vision. He has a specific vision for you, for me, for this church. Just as He showed a specific vision to the people of Israel at the time of the exile. He was now casting a vision to His people that He would accomplish now. God shows a specific with a specific people at a specific time and fulfills it. He does the same today. I want us to look at that process. Ask yourself as you participate with me in this sermon: what vision does God have for me for this season of my life? What is He rebuilding in my life?
THE PROCESS OF HOW GOD CASTS A VISION
God shares His promise through specific words that He will accomplish.
“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing:” (Ezra 1:1, CSB)
The first way that God keeps His promise is through the utterance of prophecy that He fulfills.
This mentions a word that God told Jeremiah. What was this word that God spoke to Jeremiah? God told Jeremiah seventy years before that He would send His people away and then return them to Jerusalem.
“When the seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation’—this is the Lord’s declaration—‘the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, and I will make it a ruin forever.” (Jeremiah 25:12, CSB)
We see with this prophecy that the purpose is not just to bring God’s people back. The purpose is to punish Babylon. There are multiple reasons why God what He does with His people. He has a vision that He is casting for His people. This vision serves many purposes.
“For this is what the Lord says: “When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place. For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:10–11, CSB)
The context of this promise that many people quote is one of exile. The people of God were driven away to Babylon, miles from their homeland. Here they were prisoners as citizens of Babylon. They didn’t have the freedom they once had. The way of life that existed before didn’t exist the same way in Babylon.
A close inspection of Jeremiah 29:10 shows, however, that the seventy years refers to Babylonian domination and might be counted either from 612 BC (the fall of Nineveh) to 539 BC or from 605 BC (Nebuchadnezzar’s accession) to 539 BC. In either case it is approximately seventy years. In terms of a prophetic vision, it is remarkably exact.
There was a purpose to the exile.
The purpose of the exile is to pay for the sins of the people of Israel for violating the Sabbaths.
“This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah, and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until seventy years were fulfilled.” (2 Chronicles 36:21, CSB)
We see here that the writer of Chronicles, which would have been written after the return from exile tells us one of the reasons for the exile was to fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah. But the other reason is because the people of God didn’t give the land a Sabbath rest like they should. So for every year they didn’t give the land rest, they were sent into exile. Moses warned the people of God about this:
““Then the land will make up for its Sabbath years during the time it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies. At that time the land will rest and make up for its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate, it will have the rest it did not have during your Sabbaths when you lived there.” (Leviticus 26:34–35, CSB)
There was a purpose for the return.
God promised to Jeremiah that this exile would not last forever. The exile was to last one generation. Though the people of God were frightened about this exile, God knew what would happen to them. God knew the future then and He knows the future now. God is getting ready to fulfill a promise with His people. He will do the same with His people today.
God told Isaiah how He would bring His people back home.
“who says to Cyrus, “My shepherd, he will fulfill all my pleasure” and says to Jerusalem, “She will be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Its foundation will be laid.”” (Isaiah 44:28, CSB)
Jeremiah said the time period in which the prophecy would be fulfilled. Amazingly, long before he would be born, Isaiah prophesied who that person will be who will make this return happen.
I spend all this time of details of prophecy to let you know that when God wants to accomplish something, He will. When He makes a promise to His people, He will keep it. When He shows you something that He will do in your life, you can trust Him.
God moves the heart of a leader to accomplish God’s desires.
“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. Let every survivor, wherever he resides, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.”” (Ezra 1:2–4, CSB)
“Thus says Cyrus the king of Persia”
God gives Isaiah a prophecy about Cyrus and how he will operate.
“The Lord says this to Cyrus, his anointed, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and disarm kings, to open doors before him, and even city gates will not be shut:” (Isaiah 45:1, CSB)
You can read more about the description of this leader in Isaiah 45, which was written before the exile. In this section, written at least 140 years before it was fulfilled, God speaks to Cyrus and announces how he intends to use him as his agent. The passage divinely commissions Cyrus. There is no reason to believe that Cyrus was conscious of his role as God’s agent of redemption any more than Assyria or Babylon were conscious that they were used as the tool of God’s anger.
In Ezra, we see that this is being fulfilled. God moved the heart of Cyrus to lead God’s people back to their homeland. Was it a leader that they expected, or even liked? No. But God can use any leader He wishes to lead His people.
God stirs the spirits of His people to rebuild.
“So the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites—everyone whose spirit God had roused—prepared to go up and rebuild the Lord’s house in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:5, CSB)
Here we see that God stirs the spirits of people within the group to accomplish the vision. We see that God will use multiple people. There may be a leader to cast the vision, and supply much of the energy of that vision. However, vision gets accomplished when people stir up within their spirit and choose to accomplish.
God’s people release the resources to accomplish the vision.
“All their neighbors supported them with silver articles, gold, goods, livestock, and valuables, in addition to all that was given as a freewill offering. King Cyrus also brought out the articles of the Lord’s house that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and had placed in the house of his gods. King Cyrus of Persia had them brought out under the supervision of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. This was the inventory: 30 gold basins, 1,000 silver basins, 29 silver knives, 30 gold bowls, 410 various silver bowls, and 1,000 other articles. The gold and silver articles totaled 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought all of them when the exiles went up from Babylon to Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:6–11, CSB)
Finally, for a vision to be accomplished, resources need to be released. Ezra casted a vision and God’s people opened their resources. Neighbors gave their valuables. But the one who gave a significant number of resources was King Cyrus. There are always people who can some and some who can give more.
Rebuilding takes time. It takes resources, people, willingness, and a desire to follow God’s direction. Together.