When is it God’s turn? (Part 2, the message to the leaders)

This is the continuation of the series on the return from the exile that I did at Durango Jail and started posting last week. Last time the message was about the danger that we all face when we finally get out of the exile, out of the crisis, whatever it is. At such times, God is expressly giving us the chance to rebuild our relationship with him but instead we get tangled in the cares of the world, our own agendas, our own desires, and we forget about the God that set us free.

The bulk of the message, last time, was to the people. However, it came through the leaders, from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to Zerubbabel, the civic leader of the people, and Joshua, the spiritual leader of the people. It came that way to remind us that we have been put in positions of leadership for a purpose.

Remember Jesus’ words to Peter: (All scripture quotes are from the NIV)

John 21:15-17 “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

We are here to lead our families and those we touch to God’s way. As persons in authority, with the power to affect other peoples’ lives, we face special challenges:

Probably the toughest is fear of inadequacy

Haggai 2:20-23 The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

 “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

man inside deep caveWhat was Zerubbabel’s special challenge? I think he was afraid. He was afraid he was not good enough to do the job he had been called to.

He had been called by God for this mission but in his heart he didn’t really believe he could carry it out. Why? Maybe he was too young. Maybe he had never been a leader of men and he thought he couldn’t lead or he didn’t know how to lead…

Yes he was a descendant of King David but he wasn’t the guy that led all these people out of Babylon. Cyrus gave that job to another descendant of David, perhaps an older relative of Zerubbabel called Sheshbazzar. He was the original leader, he came and started the work on the foundation of the temple in the first couple of chapters of the book of Ezra. But then when we get to Chapter 3 of that book we see Zerubbabel leading the rebuilding of the altar so that the people can worship God at the feasts.

Then they get back to working on the foundation of the temple, finish it, and there is a huge party… But in that party as many people are crying as there are rejoicing:

Ezra 3:12 Because But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid.

What they could afford to build was tiny in comparison to the glory of the former temple (the temple of Solomon). Zerubbabel saw this, saw them weeping and he knew, in their eyes, he didn’t measure up.

And then comes the devil to drive that point home:

Ezra 4: 1-5 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.

(There’s another sermon here on the wisdom of Zerubbabel’s reply in light of the danger of being unequally yoked. But if you had any doubt about where the hearts of these guys were, look at their response to rejection. They certainly were not worshiping the same God. But, as I said, that’s another sermon.)

Back to the story: Have you ever been there?

God has called me to do the job, to lead, to teach… maybe my kids, my family, my friends, people at work… But why should any of them listen to me? Who am I to tell them what to do and how to live? Who says I know better?

We all have our limitations, our insecurities, our fears; and the devil can sense them like a shark smells blood in the water. If you read the rest of the book of Ezra you realize that after that challenge, not much happened in the rebuilding program. The opposition was too great and eventually the people gave up and went off to mind their own families and their own homes.

So, really, if you were Zerubbabel how would you feel? You knew you were going to fail and see? There it is, you failed.

Nothing happens until God calls the prophet Haggai into the scene again. He takes Joshua and Zerubbabel to task for not doing their job, and guess what? They listen; and they gather the people together and tell them what needs to be done.

And then God speaks again:

Haggai 1:13-15 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.

What does God do? He encourages Zerubbabel. He tells him one of the most important truths that we can never forget as leaders: The One who called us to do the job is God! And it is not our job it is His job. And He is going to be there right beside us through it all, if we obey. He is the One that gives us the strength, the power, the words. Plus, notice that God, supernaturally, also moved the people into following their lead.

We can’t look at ourselves and think we are worthless, that we can’t do anything.

If you don’t think you are up to the task God has given you, good! It’s not your task, it is His. And He will encourage and strengthen and work through you if all you do is obey.

All of us face this challenge

Do you remember why the Israelites ended up wandering 40 years in the wilderness? It was originally meant to be a 2-year trip with Moses to get that million plus people safely into the land. But what happened? When Moses sent the 12 spies into the land in a reconnaissance mission, do you remember the story? Ten of them said, Oh yes, it is a land flowing with milk and honey, wonderful and all that, but there are giants in the land.

looking up at ancient wallNumbers 13:31-33 “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Only Joshua and Caleb said

Numbers 14: 8-9 “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

The people didn’t listen to them; and God condemned that whole generation of cowards to die in the wilderness. Yes, cowards. May sound harsh but that was their problem.

And the point is: they didn’t have to believe in their own strength. I mean what man in his right mind would choose to fight hand to hand against a giant 9 feet tall? You’d have to be crazy to think you can do that… in your strength. But who called you there? Who Promised you the Land? Wasn’t it God, the maker of Heaven and Earth? How do you think that 9 foot giant measures up against the GOD who made the whole universe?

And this is then the message to Zerubbabel, called by God to be the leader of the people.

Remember who is in control

Haggai 2:20-23 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

 “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Look at all the I’s in that promise! God has a plan and no one can stand in His way. He is telling him, “Zerubbabel I called you here for a purpose, a purpose you can’t even understand now because it hasn’t happened and it’s not going to happen for another 4 and a half centuries! But I am going to shake up all these kingdoms that everybody thinks are so powerful and bring in MY Kingdom.

The reason Zerubbabel is the signet ring, the ring that proves this is the will of the King,  is because when the time comes it’s going to be obvious that God had this planned all along. You see, when you look at the genealogies of Mary and Joseph in the gospels you realize that they both were descended from David. Joseph’s line after David follows the line of the kings of Judah. Mary’s line follows from Nathan one of the youngest sons of David.

Those two family lines separated and spread throughout the history of the kingdom; and when the kingdom fell, many families died. But those were kept safe; and then they came back together, at Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel’s father is a descendant of David from the line of the kings AND his mother is also a descendant of David from the line of Nathan. Zerubbabel is the son of those two lines, called to rebuild the temple.

Then it gets interesting again because the lines again separate from that point until they come back together again: in Joseph and Mary. And the son they raised, the Son of God, came to rebuild the true temple of God, the one of which even Solomon’s temple was a shadow, the Kingdom of God among men.

His name shall be called Emmanuel which means God with us.

“Zerubbabel, what you do here today, even your very life is a sign to them that I, the Living God, keep my Promises. I have a plan. I made you for my purpose, to pour my blessings into the world you touch.”

And so Zechariah, also a young man, finishes the message to Zerubbabel.

Zechariah 4:6-9 So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.

This is God’s message to us today. He called us to do His work. It doesn’t matter how small we are in our own eyes; it’s not the qualifications we think we have or not have that matter. What He is looking for is our Obedience. We can do it. Because it is He that does it through us.

How do we do it? How do we get started?

Public domain painting of Saint Paul writing his epistlesThe last letters Paul wrote were to another young man, one he knew well… Timothy. And this is what he told him:

1 Timothy 1: 18-19 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well,  holding on to faith and a good conscience…

The first step is always obedience: Hold on to the faith sincerely, in good conscience.

If you have never given your life to the Lord, then today is the day of salvation. All it takes is to call on the Name of the Lord and mean it… To look at my life and accept the fact that I have messed up more times than I care to remember. To look at my life and accept that there has to be a better choice, that there was always a better choice, and even if I did not make it, someone loved me so much that He chose to die so that I could make that choice. He loved me before I ever knew Him. That is the message of the cross. And because of what He did on that cross, even now I have the power to make the right choice.

To Hear and Obey is the first step. That is the first step of faith, to choose to do things His way. And when we take that step, he promises to come near us, right next to us, and walk the rest of the way with us. That is what the promise of the Holy Spirit holds for us.  And if we listen to Him we will hear the truth that He had a plan for us all along, a plan that is still there.

That’s what Paul just told Timothy. This command is simple… follow the plan He made for you, hold on to faith and follow him in good conscience.

1 Timothy 4:11-12 Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity

The second step is: do the work prepared for you before you were born and don’t worry about what people say or do.

Teach and Live the gospel. Be an example in everything you do. When you read the Bible, believe it and do what it says; let the word of God change your life and the world will see its fruit: Love, Faith , Purity. It doesn’t matter what any man thinks of you.

2 Timothy 1:6-10 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.

(He put a gift inside each one of us. Live that gift. He gives us the power to do the work, the power to love like he Loves, the power to say no to sin. Is it going to be easy? No, I wouldn’t expect it to be easy.)

Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

And never forget the bottom line: We know who wins in the end.

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