Sun, Jan 21, 2001
Ezra 1-8 by Lee Tankersley

If the recent trend continues, this will be a dark day in our land from one perspective. For if history repeats itself, this year 1.6 million babies will die before they are ever born. They will die because they will be murdered in abortions performed across this land. And not only will these children be murdered, but they will be murdered while 2 million couples sit by awaiting their opportunity to adopt.

For many of you, the thought may come to your mind that we need to be dealing with issues that have generally been regarded as “conservative” issues in the church, such as sexual purity and moral character and forget about getting involved in what have generally been regarded as “liberal” issues such as homelessness, hunger, and abortion. However, I believe that both of these areas are the responsibility of the church, these labels have done little to help, and they are not derived from scripture.

For scripture makes no division in these. In fact, scripture commands us to focus on both. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul warns against sinning sexually, writing, “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” While at the same time, in Proverbs 24 we receive a command to fight against the death of the innocent as the author writes, “Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, O hold them back. If you say, ‘See we did not know this,’ does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:11-12) We are commanded to intervene when innocent men are being led away to death and we are commanded to remain sexually pure. Both these issues are dealt with in the scripture. Therefore, there is no reason that we should not be passionate about fighting against the sin of abortion when scripture specifically commands it. There is no reason why we should not see unborn babies as the ones “being taken away to death,” spoken of in Proberbs 24.

We are the salt of the earth, which means that the church is responsible for preserving righteousness in our land. We are the ones therefore who must stand against abortion.

We should stand against abortion as:

- 2 million couples are waiting and willing to adopt
- There are couples willing to adopt babies with Down Syndrome
- There are couples willing to adopt babies with Spina Bifida
- There are people willing to adopt any baby whose life depended on it.
- It is unlawful to crush the egg of a bald eagle but not to tear the brain out of an unborn baby or
fill his or her mother’s womb with a saline solution that burns the baby inside and out, while …
- In most (if not all) states, there is a fetal homicide law where it is murder to kill an embryo or
fetus intentionally, except in cases of abortion.
- Crisis Pregnancy Centers are all over this nation, willing to help women with unwanted
pregnancies—for free (ours in Jackson is called “Birth Choice”).
- Yet still, we arrive at the absurd conclusion that a woman’s right not to be pregnant is greater
than the baby’s right not to be killed as they are slaughtered in masses each year.

There is simply no justification for the lives of 1.6 million babies that are taken each year.

But the problem runs deeper than a decision here and a decision there, doesn’t it? The problem is with a humanist worldview where each individual in our world is tempted to think that he or she is the center of the universe and is entitled to what makes his or her life easier. And that worldview is so strong that the obvious answer to “Which is the greater right: a woman’s right not to be pregnant or a baby’s right to live?” is simply blinded from our hard, dead, sinful hearts that despise our Creator.

For the sake of the advancement of our Lord’s kingdom, and the spread of his glory, and because it is commanded in scripture, we must be involved in fighting this cause.

But what do we do?

It is a hard question isn’t it? But there are many options to which God might call us. Some of us he might call to contribute financially to crisis pregnancy centers. Roy and Donna Coats host a table every year if you would like to contribute through them. Doug Watson walks in their walk-a-thon each year if you would like to contribute through him. Or you can model their actions. Some God will lead to volunteer your time and energy to help them out. Some God will lead to adopt unwanted children, and some God already has. There are many things we can do.

However, to the big question of how do we have an impact on changing the worldview that has crept into the minds of our leaders, those governing our laws, those working in abortion clinics, and other men and women in this nation; I believe the answer is found in the book of Ezra.

In Ezra, we see the story of God responding to the cries of his people and changing the hearts of their rulers that his glory might be seen in the land.

Israel had been taken into Babylonian captivity, and the temple had been destroyed. Yet even if they were able to return to their land, how would they rebuild the temple? The answer is that God would have to move, and he did.

Ezra 1:1-2 tells us that in the first year of Cyrus’ reign, “the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying … ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is Judah.”

Therefore, he ordered that the Israelites could go up to Jerusalem and begin to rebuild the temple (1:3-4). This had occurred because the Lord has “stirred up” his spirit to do this. And in doing this Cyrus was fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah that said that God would bring his people back to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 29:10). This was God sovereignly working to fulfill this prophecy.

No one can thwart God or hold back his hand when he decides to act.

After this, there is a wave of individuals who return begin to rebuild the temple, and they complete its foundation with much celebration. However, things do not go fine and dandy from this point on. Soon (according to chapter 4) enemies of Judah begin to hear of what is occurring, and they want to stop it. Therefore, they write a letter to the new king, Artaxerxes. They remind him that Jerusalem has been powerful in the past, and they lead him to conclude that if the Jews rebuild the city, they will not pay taxes or tribute to him as their king.

Therefore, Artaxerxes immediately orders the rebuilding of the temple to cease. And it looks like God’s plans have been thwarted and evil is simply going to overcome the people of God. However, we see later, that God has meaning and purpose behind this king’s actions, and works it together for a greater good.

For what occurs is that though the people stop building for a while, God sends two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to tell the Israelites to start the rebuilding work again. The prophets’ words are that they should build for “The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former” (Haggai 2:9).

Therefore, Ezra 5:1-2 tells us, “When the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them, then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of the God which is in Jerusaelm; and the prophets of God were with them supporting them.”

But it was not long before the enemies of Judah come along once more and try to stop the rebuilding of the temple. They try the same tactic as before, writing the king and warning him of the dangers. This time, however, the king is Darius, and he decides to look into the historical documents before he makes a decision. There he reads of the decree of Cyrus and orders not only that the temple be rebuilt, but he orders that the king’s money be used and that anything needed to offer sacrifices be given to the Jews.

The reason God allowed the rebuilding to be stopped by Artaxerxes was not because God was powerless against him, it was because God had a greater work in mind. He planned for his glory to be shown through Darius and that not only would the enemies of Judah watch the temple being rebuilt, but it would be done with their tax dollars.

It was in God’s great plan. He was the one who had moved on Cyrus’s heart. He was the one would had hardened Artaxerxes’ heart to display his glory through Darius. But why did Darius find himself so willing to aid in the rebuilding of the temple? We find the answer in 6:22, for as the Jews were observing Passover, “The LORD caused them to rejoice, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” God had turned Darius’ heart.

In the midst of everything looking grim for the Jews and even the rebuilding of the temple being stopped, God was in control and working things together for good as he heard the cries of his people.

In fact, Ezra gives us one more glimpse of an event that happened back in the reign of Artaxerxes. Ezra had been given a decree from Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem, and the king ordered that everything needed for the trip be provided by the king himself.

Now, keep in mind, this was not the king who had ordered the rebuilding of the temple—either time. This was the king who had in fact ordered the rebuilding of the temple to stop. So why in the world would he order that Ezra be allowed to return and cover every need that Ezra would have along the way? The answer is much the same as the others. Ezra writes in 7:27, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to adorn the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.”

God had changed the king’s heart. He changed the heart of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes as he caused these kings fulfill his desire for his people. It is just as Proverbs 21:1, which states, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.”

God changes men’s hearts as he responds to the cries of his people. Ezra assures us of this in 8:23 as he records these events. He writes, “So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.”

Do you hear that today? God is able to change men’s hearts. Nothing is impossible with him. It does not matter how wicked a man’s heart might be; it is in the power of God to transform the hearts of those who hate him in order that they would fulfill his divine plan. And he changes men’s hearts as his people cry out to him.

Therefore, I urge you this morning, in our fight against abortion which is commanded in Scripture, fast and pray that God would change the hearts of those in power in order that his name might not be despised in the murder of millions of babies this year. Cry out to him. This battle might be bigger than any one of us, but it is not greater than our God.

He has changed the hearts of leaders before, and it is within his power to do it again. Therefore, I ask you as a body to take time this week and fast and pray against this great evil in our land. And cry out for God to vindicate his name among those who are despising him in their hearts and actions.

And finally, this morning, let me also remind you that God can change hearts another way as well. For it may be that some of you here this morning are of the mothers who have been involved in abortion, or some of you men were boyfriends or husbands who stood idly by or pressured your girlfriend or wife into abortion. God is into transforming the hearts of those who trust him by erasing your sin and remembering it no more.

Therefore, as we close, I want to invite you to prayer as the choir sings. For many, let me invite you to become active in the battle this morning. Will you join in prayer on behalf of those who have no voice? And for others, there is healing in our Lord. He can change, and has changed, the hearts of many as they lay their sin before him, for he dealt with the sins of those who believe on his name in dying on the cross nearly two-thousand years ago.

Allow him to transform your heart and fight in prayer that he might transform the hearts of others. We cannot say that we did not know how his name was being despised.

O God, show your great glory and move your hand. Amen.