Greetings! Welcome to the show today. I don’t know how all of you are faring during this unusual crisis in our nation (and really the whole world). It is not an easy time economically. I am sure many of you have been laid off, as my wife (who is a dental assistant) has been laid off from her job. Many of you are probably wondering what the future might hold for you and your family and may even be wondering if you are going to make it financially. I mean these are uncertain times. And who would have thought that we would go through something like this.
Recently I was reading an author in my studies of the book of Esther and he made the remark about how ordinary and regular it is for people to go through trials and difficulties. And I remember thinking, “actually, I am doing okay. Not really going through anything difficult right now.” But then he said, “And if you think you are doing okay right now, watch out, because there’s a trial just around the corner.” And I thought something like, “Well, aren’t you just a bright little ray of sunshine.” But he was right. It was not long after that that all of this began to unravel. And his point was not to discourage, but to encourage. He was making the point (in his commentary) that the story of the book of Esther is not a light and airy fairytale, but a powerful story born out of pain and uncertainty. Persia (as we will see) was not the place to be, particularly if you were a Jew. Everyone in this book is afraid. And yet God uses those dark circumstances for some incredibly good things and Israel comes out of these trials far stronger than it had been before this time of intense darkness.
And the same is true of us. I believe that on the other side of this the United States is going to be stronger and better. I believe God’s Church is going to be stronger and better. We are being forced to think creatively in how we interact with one another, how we do Church. And many Churches are being forced to catch up in a lot of ways. Has this been difficult? Yes. But I’m telling you, these past few Sundays have probably yielded more livestreams of the Gospel than at any other time in history. And I know in my Church (Renton Park Chapel) we are having many people view our service online whom I know would probably not darken the door of my Church (or maybe any Church). And that is only one small refraction of how God is using these circumstances for good.
But all of this is still hard. And I think about how my family (and many of you) are affected by this. But you know, it gives us a chance to ask ourselves, “Do we really believe many of the things we talk about on a regular basis regarding God and His faithfulness; His love for us and therefore His provision for us?”
Pilots-- You know in my church we have two pilots, both of whom own airplanes and both of whom have built or did major rebuilding on their airplanes. Now I don’t know too much about airplanes, other than what I have gleaned from conversations with guys who do. But I do know that building an airplane can be a long project and requires a lot of time and care. And I (who live about ten minutes from Boeing) am very thankful to those who know how to build airplanes. But there comes a point when the building stops and you have to actually get into the airplane and fly it. One of these men in our church finished his little red plane and eventually took it for a test-fly. Now that kind of takes faith to the next level, doesn’t it. I mean yeah you can brag about whatever parts you put into it (how shiny you got the wings) and how well it has been put together. But then come a moment when you climb into that cockpit, turn the ignition, and begin rolling down the runway. And if it was me, a thousand different questions would probably be going through my mind. Did I remember to do this, that, or whatever? Or, if it’s like any of the pieces of furniture I have put together over the years, why are there extra pieces afterwards? Now when it comes to a dresser, I might be able to get by. But an airplane. Ummmmm……..maybe not so much.
But for these men, their faith in their planes was probably more real afterwards than before. Their talk of trust became an active faith.
And so it is during these trying times. It is easy to have faith in the good times. But what about now when uncertainty clouds so much of our future? Now is the time to ask when we sing about God being our rock, our deliverer, our foundation, the One in whom we place our faith and trust, do we really believe that? All of this gives us the opportunity to demonstrate (not just talk, but demonstrate) our faith in God. Do we really believe Jesus is who He says He, that He can do what He says He can do, and that He can be for us who He says He can be for us?
The is the question Israel was forced to ask themselves about God over and over again; and never more so than in the book of Esther, which we began studying during out time together last week.
The State of Exile— Now you will remember that we have begun exploring the state of exile Israel had experienced during that time; the judgment of God; but also the nature of God’s judgment. Remember we said that whenever God judges, His judgment is alway redemptive; it is to bring healing through repentance; which manifests itself in a change of heart (the inner person) and also a change of direction in how we outwardly act. God judges sin not to destroy or hurt us, but to move His people to turn from those sinful behaviors that are by nature destructive. Secondly, whenever God judges, He always leaves His people with hope; hope that His judgment will not last forever; but that at the right time He will restore them when they turn back to Him with all their hearts. And just prior to the book of Esther we see this restoration begin to take place. Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia, allows the Jews to return to their homeland to rebuild the temple; and on top of that, he has Persia finance it. His proclamation, recorded in Ezra 1:4, says this…
Ezra 1:4 (ESV)-- 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.”
The Persians Paid For It-- How amazing it is that God not only sets them free; not only has the king that ruled over them given them permission to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple, but even has their enemies (the Persians) pay for it.
Does God’s Covenant Still Stand?-- Now during this time one of the chief concerns of the Jews was (because their was no more temple, no more priesthood, no more sacrifices, and no monarchy); where they stood in relationship to God and His covenant.
“Is God going to back our efforts?”-- I was reading an author who said that even though they were set free to go home and even rebuild the temple, this question still remained in their minds because the command to rebuild the temple didn’t come from God, but from a pagan king; and not out of love for God, but in order to further his own political agenda. So the question becomes, “Is God going to back our efforts?” Because they could rebuild the temple, but that doesn’t automatically mean God is going to restore His presence; that He will reestablish His covenant with them. Would God respond to them and move in their midst once again? That was the soul-cry of their hearts.
Not the First Plundering-- But this bit of history about those in the Persian empire being commanded to give to the Jews of their resources intrigues me, because it is not the first time their enemies have financed their undertakings. Remember when Israel first left their bondage in Egypt it says...
Exodus 12:35-36 (ESV)-- 35 The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. 36 And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
Remember What God Did Before-- And this made we wonder if God isn’t almost beginning to answer their ultimate question even as they are asking it. God not only sets them free from Egypt but grants them favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, causing them to give silver and gold to them. And in this way God shows that He is with them. And I wonder if here, at this point in Israel’s history, it may be that God, through the plundering of the Persians, is saying to them, “Remember what I did for you before when I called you out of Egypt? Look; I’m doing it again. I’m still with you; yes, my covenant still stands.”
The Prodigal’s Surprise-- How like God this is; to as we look up from the slop we are eating and ask if He will receive us again (like the Prodigal son wondered as he moved from the slop back towards His father’s house), we find Him already moving towards us; already making way for our restoration. If you remember nothing else today from God’s message this morning, remember this: If you find yourself beginning to want to return to Jesus, you will find He has already begun moving towards you. Our God is the God who forgave us while still on the cross (that blessed cross we sing about in so many of our songs); our God is the God who begins to restore us before we have sense enough to even seek restoration. Perhaps the most powerful verse on prayer in all of scripture comes from the book of Isaiah…
Isaiah 65:24 (ESV)— 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.
Already Making Way For Your Restoration-- If you find yourself desiring restoration to God, it is because God has already begun to make way for your restoration. And this is what we see here. Israel is wondering if God will restore them; but through Cyrus and this incredible decree Cyrus gives, God is showing them that yes, He is still with them and has indeed already begun to restore them.
And that is his message for you and for me today. It doesn’t matter what we have done, or how lost we feel. God has given us His Son as a real and tangible sign that He still loves us; that He still wants to have a relationship with us; and He will redeem us if only we put our trust in Christ. Put your trust in Him today. Even if you have believed for many many years, choose to get in the cockpit and allow that cognitive trust to become a living and breathing (actively trusting) faith. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.