“Don’t Wait to Lift Your Hands” // Ezra 3:1-13
The following is a manuscript of the sermon presented by Dr. Roger Patterson on Sunday January 30, 2022 at our West U Baptist Church campus. To view the sermon in full, check out the link below.
What is the universal sign for victory? Raised hands. It’s interesting that no one has to teach this to anyone. It’s simply a natural response to victory or a celebration or a big moment.
When you are victorious, or you accomplish something, or even get some good news, what is it that we do? You raise your hands in the air in celebration.
Big Idea – Here’s the big idea today – right up front – when we find ourselves in a battle/fight/hardship/difficult situation, we need to lift our hands not only at the end, but in the midst of the battle. In other words, when we are in a fight it’s essential to prioritize worship.
Ezra 3 – Meet me in Ezra 3 in your Bible and all of this is there for you.
Here’s the backdrop of what’s happening / some of you know this already – God’s people have returned home after 70 years in captivity, in exile. Remember they have rejected and rebelled against God, so God disciplined them because he loved them, as a parent disciplines their children. But God is faithful to rescue his people and not forget about them and not leave them in captivity and exile. He always had in mind to rescue/restore them – because that’s God’s heart (for them and us).
God’s people are home now. And they find themselves in the midst of a difficult situation. A fight. A battle. The literal landscape they are surrounded by is wreckage.
Their land is demolished. The city has been decimated by enemies. The house of the Lord is gone!
They look around, fearful, frustrated, overwhelmed. It’s a real battle. It’s going to take so much effort, so much time, so many resources.
Can you imagine what that first ascent to the city of Jerusalem must have felt like? Traditionally, the road from Jericho to Jerusalem would have been the pathway. This road was a 17-mile switchback that went roughly from 800 feet below sea-level to about 2500 feet above sea-level.
I can imagine that first glimpse of the temple mount, where the people have journeyed through the shattered walls and gates of this once amazing, fortified city. I can see the tears streaming down their faces and hear the hush of the crowd as they inch nearer and nearer to the site of the once great temple that now lie in ruins.
Oh, the weight that must have been on the shoulders of those leaders! Can you imagine the people rumbling to one another, “Are we really going to rebuild the temple? Oh, it’s so much worse that I imagined!” Others may have said, “Why are we here? Should we really have left our homes in Babylon?”
They’re experiencing internal and external discouragement. And it’s exhausting just thinking about all that must be done to rebuild.
Some of you can resonate with that – the current struggle you are going through – man it’s just exhausting thinking about all that must be done in your situation…
- All the treatments,
- all the research,
- all the waiting,
- all the effort you have to put in
But here they are…in the city of God, Jerusalem, at the site of the temple…and I bet they are wondering, are we crazy? Is this really worth it?
Let me ask you a couple of questions:
- Why has God stirred in the heart of Cyrus to allow the temple to be rebuilt in the city of Jerusalem?
- Why, today, are we working so hard to re-gather and rebuild the church after this season of separation?
In a sentence, it’s all for the glory of God.
John Piper, in his classic work, Let the Nations Be Glad, opens this book with these words:
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.”
If you know anything about John Piper and his ministry, you may be familiar with the term “Christian Hedonism,” meaning the call of believers in Jesus Christ to delight in God and enjoy him forever. This call to be glad in God comes from a “white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory.”
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Throughout the Bible, the glory of God is front and center. The purpose of being created, chosen, and called is for the glory of God.
Let me show you what I am talking about. Look with me at Ezra 3:1-3 and notice what they do in the midst of the fight.
When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening.
Now, as we go through this portion, I want to share with you key principles I see that will help guide our lives. I’ll just point them out as we go, versus giving you a rigid outline today.
Principle #1 – The All In Prinicple
The All in Principle says, “To fight for the glory of God, you have to be All In.”
As the story of the temple rebuild begins, one of the things that we notice in Ezra 3 is that when the altar is rebuilt, it is put back in its original spot. Ezra 3:2b says:
“…and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.”
There are two things worthy of noting here that shows us they were ALL IN:
- First, Joshua, the High Priest, and the leaders with him were committed to the Word of God.
As they rebuilt the altar, they were doing so as prescribed in the Law of Moses. This is so vital, if we are going to fight for the glory of God. God’s word is eternal and powerful and is given to accomplish God’s work. Churches that move away from the Word of God because of liberal theology deteriorate over time.
- The second thing is that as they set the altar in its place, they were fearful because of the peoples of the lands.
So, even though they were scared, they gathered any way.
Now, who were these people they were afraid of?
These were people from Ashdod, Samaria, Ammon, Moab, and Edom, who created all sorts of challenges along the way. M. Brenamen notes:
The Jewish community determined to worship God according to the ancient specifications, and the emphasis on continuity persisted. They built the altar “on its foundation,” which no doubt means on its exact preexilic location.
In the Old Testament, building an altar was a significant act. In the life of the patriarchs, it marked a new dedication to God or a new experience of God’s presence and leading… “Burnt offerings” also emphasized dedication, consecration, and commitment; in the burnt offerings the whole animal was burned as a symbol of total consecration to God.
This is such an important point to make. Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the entire team are fully committed to this plan. There is a total consecration to God! They are ALL IN!
I can only imagine that when they and the 50,000 Jews with them rolled back into town, the pressures began to mount. These pressures were expressed in intimidation, in threats, and in the temptation to shift beliefs to better fit into their culture.
Friends, this is not unlike the pressure that the culture is putting on us today – pressure to conform to their views of sexuality and gender. It’s called syncretism.
Isn’t it fascinating that thousands of years later, the prince of this world is still running the same old plays of intimidation and fear? Or, if he senses a weakness, he tempts with the allurement of better, more relevant tomorrows if you just compromise what you believe today.
The presence of the people of these lands created fear in the hearts of the Jews, but the Jews courageously moved forward to build back the altar and offer sacrifices. It was a new beginning!
There is something else I want you to see here as well.
Principle #2 – Find Strength in Numbers
Notice how courage comes when, “…the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem” (Ezra 3:1).
This was one of the ways they battled their fears. And this gave them a faith to move forward.
Gathering for worship demonstrates a strong sense of community and common bond of faith in God.
Notice, verses 4 & 5.
And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, 5 and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord.
In celebrating the Feast of Booths, despite the opposition and danger, they showed faith to move ahead. They choose to live in tents for seven days to commemorate the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and that God would protect them and provide for them.
The fear was palpable. But gathering in worship helps us deal with difficult and even dangerous situations.
I remember the first Sunday back amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, when we opened back up for on-campus worship. We made the conscious decision to provide both on-campus and on-line worship, enabling the attenders, in a spirit of liberty, to decide how they would gather corporately with us.
On May 31, 2021, in a socially distanced sanctuary with no more than 60 people as we sang songs of praise, I felt like I was getting to take a drink of water for the first time in a long time. Gathering with others and singing out to the Lord refreshed my soul. I left thinking, “Okay, we can do this.”
Corporate worship is vital to our lives, to our homes and to our communities. When we gather where the Bible is preached, and the songs of the faith are sung, we hear of the majesty, glory, and holiness of God.
We read the Word and hear it proclaimed to us. We hear of mankind’s rebellion, the love of God to give us a Savior, and the need for us to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ. We hear the truth that we are to be his ambassadors. We are to take the gospel across the street and around the world. We need this revelation into our lives on a weekly basis.
And why is that?
Notice what Proverbs 29:18a proclaims:
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”
So, in the middle of their fight, they worship. Fearful, overwhelmed, lots of questions and unknowns…but they build an altar and offered sacrifices.
Let’s talk about altar. In OT, altar is about forgiveness and Obedience. Don’t have time, but read Leviticus 1-5 for detail here. For forgiveness to be realized, God instructed his people that forgiveness and restoration was possible by bringing an unblemished sacrifice to the priest, and the blood of the sacrifice would serve as a symbolic act of forgiveness for their sins.
As they celebrate the Feast of Booths, they are celebrating how God provided for them in the 40 years in the wilderness.
Notice what Deuteronomy 16:16 says,
“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.”
So before they begin construction on the House of the Lord, they build an altar and they remember the Lord through feasts. On one hand they mourn their sin, and on the other hand they praise God for his salvation! That’s really the pattern of worship, right? Remember the bad news so that I can rejoice in the good news!
But, listen, they don’t stop there with their worship. They keep going…Notice Principle #3…
Principle #3: They Worked Together to Build God’s House
Notice how it took everyone doing their part.
From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. 7 So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
8 Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the Lord. 9 And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers.
I love how it says that they, “made a beginning…” There was a decisive moment when they started the work. They got it going and got everyone involved.
Application: Just after Easter, we will be bringing to you plans we have for the house of the Lord. We will ask you to join the work with us, as we are fighting for the glory of God in our generation and for the coming generations. Please begin to pray about how you will join the fight with us.
Notice now, Principle #4.
Principle #4: Don’t Wait to Lift Your Hands
Don’t wait until the fight is over. Don’t wait to see if you have lost or won to decide to praise God. In the midst of the fight, praise Him for His goodness. Praise Him for His leadership. Praise Him for His faithfulness!
Look at verses 10-11.
10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel.
11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
Do you see what happens?
They build the foundation of the house of the Lord and and plug in their guitars and amps, set up the percussion, get the mics ready and throw down! They worship loudly (vs. 13). They worship responsively (vs. 11) (Psalm 118, Psalm 136). They are bragging on God here – he is good. Not only is he good, his steadfast love endures forever. He never gave up on us, and he’ll never give up on us!
Here are God’s people worshiping the midst of a fight, a battle. They remembered God. They remembered what God had done for them, who God was, and how he was for them and loved them with steadfast love.
What does Worship Do? Why is it so critical in the midst of your fight?
Your battle may be health related, a diagnosis. It could be something with a child, a parent, a spouse. An internal fight of some kind – shame, regret, trying to shred some baggage of some sort (we all have it). Maybe it’s a loss of some kind, or a job situation, or some unexpected news or a situation you just need some direction on…or you’re waiting on God for something. Whatever your battle/fight…Worship. The Question that’s helpful is this: What does worship do?
Let me give you a few things worship does.
- Fuels your hope. Here they are in utter ruins/wreckage. They take their eyes off the wreckage and put their eyes on the God who restores and rebuilds in the midst of wreckage. They remember God did this for His people when they came out of Egypt, and that’s who He is. And they shout so loudly that they are heard from far away (vs. 13).Worship gave them hope. Gave them perspective in the middle of their pain. He is good. He is steadfast in love forever!Some of you may identify with the wreckage metaphor. You feel this. Your family. Your situation. Your kid. Job. Health. Something. You can have hope. Look up. Worship.
- Helps us take a next step. Notice they build the altar and recommit themselves to the feasts to celebrate and worship the Lord. They are still in ruins. They are still in the rubble with out any progress on the house of the Lord. No construction yet. But then they begin to give money and get supplies to begin the build. What are they doing? Their worship is helping them to take a next step.Some of you, a win is just taking a next step. You’re in a tough deal. Fighting for something. The next step seems daunting, hard, insurmountable, impossible. Here’s the deal – when you worship, you not only get perspective and hope, but you get the ability to just take a next step. Hope helps you take this next step. Just get up out of bed. It helps you make that phone call. It helps you to wait on the Lord another day. It helps you to keep going though the tears fall. Next steps are also fueled by worship.
- Communicates to the world that Jesus is Ultimate. When we worship in the midst of fights/battles we show a watching world that Jesus is better/ultimate in my life. Yes, death is hard and it’s incredibly painful. Yes, parenting is maybe the toughest task on the planet, work is so difficult, I have people in my life that are hard to deal with – but Jesus is ultimate. What I’ve found in Jesus is so much better than the hardships that I am walking in.And the platform for showing the Jesus is ultimate, oftentimes is when we’re in a fight.
My question – what could happen if you “Don’t wait to lift your hands?” What could happen if you established the rhythms of worship in your life?
 John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids), 2010, p.30.
 Ibid., p. 81.