The Captives Came Home – Ezra 1 - 3
Our God keeps His promises, and He had promised His people that “these nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years” (Jer. 25:11). Don’t you think that the people were counting the days and years? Surely, they knew that the time was drawing near when they would be allowed to return home, but they must have wondered how God was going to make it happen.
These chapters demonstrate how can God bring His plans to fruition through anyone He chooses – either pagans or His own people. Almost overnight Cyrus rose to power, overthrowing the Babylonian Empire, and in his first year, he proclaimed that God had appointed him to build a temple for Him at Jerusalem. So, not only did he allow the Jews to return home, but he commanded people to provide the returning exiles with supplies and money! In addition, Cyrus let the exiles take with them thousands of items of gold and silver, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem.
So, God used Cyrus, a pagan ruler to advance His plans in a major way. But, God also used His own people. They were the ones who had to make the grueling trip to get back home. They donated their own money to fund the rebuilding of the temple. They rebuilt the altar and supervised the rebuilding of the foundation of the temple. They had to persevere in spite of their fears and discouragement.
These chapters provide a metaphor for the way we live the Christian life. God does all the heavy lifting; He provides redemption and makes us spiritually alive. In our daily lives, we sometimes see God act in incredible ways, working miracles we could never imagine. However, most of the time God works in ordinary ways through us. We believers yield ourselves to God’s plans; we choose to take the next step in obedience; by God’s grace, we face our fears and persevere through discouragement. We remind ourselves over and over again to cling to the truth revealed in God’s Word.
In chapter 3 especially, we see how God used thousands of individuals to accomplish His plans. They had different talents and gifts. Some were leaders; some were singers; some were priests; some were workers. They all had a role in the process of moving back home and reclaiming their homeland. They got to individually participate in God’s plan.
Rebuilding the temple was the first job on the Jews’ priority list because the temple was where God dwelt among them. How they must have missed that during their years of captivity! Today, God lives within us, His followers, and He promises to never leave us. Do we value His presence as we should? How quickly do we turn to God when we need help, or do we turn to other things? To food? To social media? To other people? Our natural drift is to forget that the King of the universe is with us. One of the blessings of coming together each week is that as we look at God’s Word together, it recalibrates our thinking and reminds us to focus on the truths we know about who God is.
Activity – Discovering God – tell kids to imagine that they have just met a friend who doesn’t know about God. How would they describe God to their friend? Take time to hear some of their responses. Explain that the Bible says we can start learning about God from looking at creation since God made the world, but the best place to learn about God is in the Bible because God is described throughout the book. Tell kids that they are going on a treasure hunt to discover who God is. Explain that you have hidden cards around the room, and when you say go, the kids should look for the cards. Once everyone has found a card, let kids read their cards aloud. (Write God phrases on one side and the Bible verse on the back. You can have kids read both sides or only one, depending on time and the reading ability of the child).
No wonder the Israelites wanted God to be near! Just look at what an incredible God we serve! The Jewish people wanted to know that God was near them, but now our God lives within those of us who have received Jesus as Savior.
Info for “God Cards”
God is light. John 1:5 “This is the message that we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.”
God is with us. Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
God is strong, and He makes me strong. 2 Samuel 22:32-34 “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.”
God is my helper. Psalms 54:4 “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.”
God is my refuge. Psalms 62:7-8 “My salvation and my honor depend on God ; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Selah.”
God is majestic and awesome. Exodus 15:11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
God is the king. 1 Timothy 1:17 “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
God is the creator; He is everlasting; He doesn’t get tired. Isaiah 40:28 “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
God is perfect. Psalm 18:30 “As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless he shields all who take refuge in him.”
God is just. Psalm 50:6 “And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for He is a God of justice.”
God is merciful. Deuteronomy 4:31 “For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.”
God is gracious and compassionate. 2 Chronicles 30:9 “If you return to the LORD, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.”
God is judge. Psalms 50:6 “And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is judge.”
God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Exodus 34:5-7 “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,
God bears our burdens and saves us. Psalms 68:19-20 “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Selah. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.”
God is patient and wants everyone to repent. 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
God owns the whole world. Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”