RETURN & RECLAIM
Week 1: Turning a set back into a comback
This five-week series addresses what God did for the Jewish people throughout the events recorded in the book of Ezra. Through failure, forgetting what is important, and sin, we may become exiles attempting to return to God. However, just as in the book of Ezra God reclaimed his people according to his promises, he also reclaims and redeems our lives for his purpose in this world.
Return & Reclaim
Turning a set back into a comeback
“You must learn, you must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. God will waste nothing.” Phillips Brooks
There is something about the first of the year that inspires people to reflect on themselves and readjust their priorities in order to see desired results. For some, the first month of the year is a great time to start over and put first things first, especially if one feels like they’ve lost their way at the conclusion of the previous year. In the same way, if we look at the story of Ezra and God’s people, we will be able to gain great insight for our lives that will help us to do to just that and get back on track.
The nation of Israel failed to remain faithful to God which eventually caused them to forget His ways and lose more than just their way. They lost their homeland. But we know that the story doesn’t end there. These exiles were able to return home because a faithful God reclaimed His unfaithful people according to His promises. I am where I am today because of God’s goodness. There was a time that I got lost thinking I could live for God and myself. I had turned my back on Him, yet He still wanted me back. His relentless love won me over. If God was able to do it with a nation and with me, He can most definitely do the same with you. We can look at the book of Ezra to learn just how.
Ezra was a priest and a scribe of Israel during their exile around 500 BC. The nation of Israel had been slaves and exiles for decades because they chose to abandon the God who had sustained them. Much like if you refused to breath anymore, Israel began to suffocate spiritually and morally until the consequences of their decisions and sins finally caught up to them. The prophet Jeremiah tried to call the nation back to God, but they refused. While in exile, Jeremiah gave them a Word from the Lord, telling them that despite their unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful. He even promised to bring them back home after 70 years. Much like how Americans countdown the final seconds of the year as they watch the ball drop in Times Square, God was counting down until the allotted time had been complete. At the 70 year mark of their exile, we see God begin to move.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”
5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. 6 And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. 7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.” Ezra 1:1-8 (ESV)
God had not forgotten His people or His promises! He made a way where there once was none, and now Israel began to return to their land and to their Lord. During this time, Ezra was committed to help the people return home and rebuild the Temple and themselves from the inside out. Before Nehemiah could rebuild the walls, God had to first rebuild His people and reestablish their relationship with Him.
It is clear that God was 100% responsible for this work! He is the one who stirred the hearts of those who needed to be in order to accomplish His will. Also in this account we see an amazing revelation. God’s promises also come with God’s provisions. He made sure every need was met. All they had to do was return home and take advantage of all that God had provided!
The name Ezra means “God has helped”. God helped a people who could not help themselves out of His love for them and for His glory. In the same way, God desires to help you in whichever way you need. He can help you return to a proper relationship with Himself. He can help you rebuild. He can help you restart your life. He can also help you restore what was lost like He restored the lost treasures and artifacts from the Temple.
In order for God to help you redeem your past and reclaim your future you must do one thing first. Put God first and return to the Lord. You will experience God’s best when you put Him first. This doesn’t mean that you will never go through the worst the world has to offer when you put God first. But it does mean that you will never be left without what you need to live and persevere. It means that God has final say over your circumstances. When we put God first in our time and treasure, we will experience His blessings as we watch Him do more with less then what we could do with everything. The same applies in every area of life. You will experience God’s best when you put Him first in your day, first in your decisions, first in your relationships, and first in your heart.
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you! Genesis 28:15 ESV
In the same way that God was 100% responsible for restoring the nation of Israel, so is He responsible for completing the work of sanctification in us the more we remain in Him. Friends, let us put God first so that we may experience God’s best for us and those around us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2) knowing that He who started a good work in you will finish it and see you through until the end! Since He has done it once, He can do it again. What a faithful God we have to look to and hold on to.