Hello everybody, and welcome in to episode 104 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading Ezra 1 today and our focus is on how God uses unbelievers to further His Kingdom. We are a daily 10 minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in New South Wales, Australia, Odisha, India, Maharashtra, India, Ontario, Canada, Salinas, California, Houston, Texas and Peoria, Illinois. Thanks for listening! Our goal is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast Don’t forget about our web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more– Click here for our Bible 2021 reading plan\
As I’ve mentioned before, we read 5 New Testament and 2 Old Testament chapters per day, which lets us read about 104 Old Testament chapters for the year. For the most part, I’ve tried to choose Old Testament chapters that either teach a deep and important truth, or chapters that outline a significant historical event. Today’s chapter has both, but it won’t be immediately obvious. Our family tries to read one chapter of the Bible every night, and we usually follow along with the Bible 2021 reading plan. Tonight, after reading Ezra 1, I got a few blank stares and eyebrow raises that seemed to be saying, “why did you read that passage? What’s the spiritual significance?”
Those are good questions. In Ezra 1, we see how God is bringing his people out of decades of exile and returning them to the promised land – a massively important historical event in the history of Israel. Spiritually speaking, we see how God orchestrates that return by first stirring up the spirit of a pagan – a non-believer. Let’s read the chapter, and then discuss the very deep truths that are hiding beneath its surface.
The verse of the day is the very first verse:
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing: Ezra 1:1
God made a promise to and through the prophet Jeremiah, and in order to fulfil that promise, God moved providentially and sovereignly on the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, and likely worshipper of Ahura Mazda, the Persian chief deity. What we see here is an example of God’s sovereignty and His providence – two massive and deep aspects of God and theological truths that are core to how the Bible describes the actions of the God of the Bible. Sovereignty is defined as “supreme power or authority.” and Providence can be defined as, “The foreknowing and beneficent care and government of God ; divine direction, control, or guidance.” John Piper, having just written a 500 page book on the providence of God, recently gave a fairly succinct understanding of providence and sovereignty on his podcast Ask Pastor John:
So first, by providence I mean God’s purposeful sovereignty — purposeful sovereignty. In other words, the difference between God’s sovereignty and God’s providence is that his sovereignty is his right and power to do all that he pleases; his providence is the exercise of that right and power purposefully. Providence is God’s use of his power and his authority to bring about an ultimate purpose for the universe that cannot fail.
I find Philippians 2:13, Ephesians 1:11-12 and Romans 8:28 to be very powerful summaries of this kind of providence working in our lives:
13 For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Phil 2:13
11 In him we have also received an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of the one who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will, 12 so that we who had already put our hope in Christ might bring praise to his glory. Ephesians 1:11-12
28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
God has a good purpose and He is working in His people (and those who don’t follow Him) to work that purpose out.
In commenting on the providence of Ephesians 1:11-12, pastor Tim Keller tells us a story that is a great illustration of God’s providence, and here it is:
God controls history. He’s trying to get us to the place where Jesus is King of all, but how does he control history? The version we have here says he “… works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” I would like to meditate with you a minute on that to show you how this … Now this doctrine historically has been called the doctrine of God’s providence.
Where the word providence comes from is from the word provide, which means that everything that happens is God’s provision. This doctrine is unique. It’s different than humanism. It’s different than secularism. It’s different than Islam. It’s different than Buddhism and Eastern religions. It’s unique, and it all is tied up in this word everything. I tell you, if you understand this word everything it’ll change your life. It’ll change your attitude. It’ll change the way in which you handle life tomorrow. If you understand how he’s exercising his kingship through providence, if you understand that everything works together according to the counsel of his will, the purpose of his will, it will change the way you live. Let me show you. First of all, what does the word everything mean? It means three things. First, God’s plan includes little things. It has to. Most of us don’t think of it this way. Everything. It says in Proverbs 16, “The lot is cast in the lap, but the disposal is the Lord’s.” That means even when you flip a coin, if it comes down heads or it comes down tails, it was part of his plan. Nothing is left out of his plan. Okay, that’s the first thing I want stress. Let me push it a little bit.
People say, “Come on, nothing? Are you telling me the tie Tim Keller is wearing today was part of God’s plan from all eternity? Are you trying to tell me the shoes I decided to wear today were part of God’s plan? Little things like that?” Well they’re only little things to you and me because we’re so unwise. There are no little things. In 1912 somebody tried to shoot Teddy Roosevelt, and they did. They shot him in the chest. Do you know why he lived? He happened to have his glasses case on this side instead of this side.
Your marriages (in many cases), your careers, what school you go to, very often are based on so-called little things. Let me give you a quick example. I didn’t do it this morning, but my wife told me I must tell the four o’clock service, even if you heard this story before, because it’s a perfect example. The reason I’m a Presbyterian minister was because of a particular faculty member that came to my seminary my last semester and pushed me over the edge when it came to my theological understanding. I decided, “I think I need to be a Presbyterian.” That’s the reason I’m here today.
Why did he come? The only reason he came that year was he was British and he was having a lot of trouble getting a passport to come and teach at my seminary in Massachusetts, but somebody pulled strings for him from real high up…One day, somebody came out looking for him, calling his name out. Somebody came out when he was standing in this long line and called him in and said, “You’re going to be in America within a week. We got word from real high up.” Well do you know who that was? It was a guy named Mike Ford. Mike Ford was the son of the president at the time. Mike Ford was the son of Gerald Ford. He was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where I was. He found a way to get this particular faculty member to Gordon-Conwell because his father was the president.
Do you know why his father was president? Because of the Watergate scandal, Nixon had resigned and Gerald Ford was the president. That’s the reason Mike Ford had the clout to get this guy over there. That’s the reason why he was there. That’s the reason I became a Presbyterian. That’s the reason I’m talking to you right now. Why did Nixon fall? Because some stupid Watergate burglar left the door open one night, and some guard noticed the door was open. Now what if that guard hadn’t gone by that day? Maybe he went by that day because that morning he didn’t eat breakfast, and he got in a little bit early. Do you see? I wouldn’t be here if that guard hadn’t seen that door open. That’s the way everything in your life is.
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
End of the Show: Bible memory verse for April James 4:6 “But he gives greater grace. Therefore he says: God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
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