“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss
The world, with all its issues, problems, brokenness and pain is a messy place and one finds it difficult to get through a day without hearing of yet another calamity. Bad news travels fast…if you want something to despair about, there’s a smorgasbord to choose from. People are destroying the world and each other through negligence, greed and devilish acts. Nature seems to be fighting back by shaking, burning and heaping one disaster upon another. Nation battles nation and the most bloody wars are fought inside what should be the safest places…bedrooms and mothers’ wombs. I for one, look around and often feel impotent. What can one person do?
If you feel remotely like this, let me introduce you to a man who made a difference by starting all by himself. Meet Ezra, the prophet whose calling converged with Nehemiah’s to restore the people of Israel after they have been decimated by the superpower Babylon.
Ezra started by restoring the temple of the Lord. He used worship and the written Word of the Lord to bring restoration to nation that had all but lost their identity. Under Ezra’s leadership the place of worship was restored. Priests, Levites and the worshippers were called on to restore the Altar and offer burnt offerings on it in the morning and in the evening, after which they started to lay the foundations of the temple. As the foundations were being laid, the priests stood dressed in their robes, trumpets in hand. The Levites carried cymbals and they praised the Lord as the foundation went down. What an incredible picture!
Of course, no story worth telling is without its villains and Ezra’s is no exception. Letters were written, gossip was spread and false accusations were flying around in an attempt to frustrate the work. Eventually the work is done and we can skip forward to chapter 9, where we read that the leaders came to tell Ezra that the people have not been obedient and haven’t kept themselves separate from the neighbouring people as the Lord had commanded. Even the priests and Levites were guilty of transgressing the Lord’s command. This was the charge brought to Ezra: “They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” (V2 NIV)
I will let Ezra pick up the story from here.
“3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.
5 Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God 6 and prayed:
“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. 7 From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.
8 “But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage.9 Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.
10 “But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands 11 you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other.”
Here I notice a key for our predicament. One man who is deeply grieved, mourns and weeps for the sin he identifies himself with. He prays in the first person, although he is not guilty. He repents vicariously and agrees with the Lord that they are guilty.
One man, one woman who gets gripped by Holy Spirit and starts to weep and mourn and repent for their city, for their nation can set in motion the greatest revival and restoration we have ever seen.
Let’s return to Ezra, for the whole story is not yet told.
Now while Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and laying himself face down before the house of God, a very large group from Israel, of men, women, and children, gathered to him, for the people wept bitterly. 2 Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. 3 Therefore let us now make a covenant with our God to send away all the [foreign] wives and their children, in accordance with the advice of my lord and of those who tremble [in reverent obedience] at the commandment of our God; and let it be done in accordance with the Law. 4 Stand up, for it is your duty, and we will be with you. Be brave and act.” 5 Then Ezra stood and made the leaders of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel, take an oath that they would act in accordance with this proposal; so they took the oath. 6 Then Ezra got up from before the house of God and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib [and spent the night there]. He did not eat bread nor drink water, for he was mourning over the [former] exiles’ faithlessness. (Chapter 10: 1-8 AMP)
Here’s the second key…one man’s grief over sin, his repentance and his prayer and fasting inspired a large group of people to be convicted of their sin and caused them to be restored. Not only do they come into agreement with Ezra but in the highlighted part of the quoted scripture we see that they encourage him to be brave and stand firm.
How does that apply to us? Dream with me for a moment. Imagine a man or woman gripped with the spirit of intercession, giving themselves to fasting and praying day and night on behalf of people who have all but forgotten the precepts of the Lord…
Imagine a church mourning over the brokenness of their city, travailing and seeking mercy for the souls in it…
Imagine a pastor who stands before the Lord on behalf of a church who has forgotten their covenant with Jesus…
“I am only one but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something”. Edward Everett