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The People's Sanctified Resolve
Pastor Caleb Delzell - February 10, 2018

Ezra 4 is an interesting section of Scripture. If you've followed in the book up to this point, then you'll know that the formerly-exiled, recently-returned Jewish nation has begun the process of rebuilding the temple of God in Jerusalem. After spending 70 years as captives in Babylon for their idolatrous disobedience, they've learned their lesson. The nation of Israel never really falls back into that pagan idolatry ever again; in fact the opposite is true. They learned their lesson so well that they swung to the extreme opposite, birthing the hyper-legalistic movements we see in Jesus' day, such as the Pharisees and Essenes.

Well, in Ezra 4 we actually see the first opportunity for these recently released Jews to test their resolve to remain separate and holy from the peoples around them. You'll remember that this separateness, holiness, this sanctification (the process of being set apart, by God, for a distinct and special purpose) has been the call from the beginning.

- Abram was called to leave his father's household, to separate himself from them, and move into the promised land (Genesis 12:1-5).

- The young nation of Israel, recently freed from the bonds of slavery in Egypt, was specifically chosen and called out to be set apart from the surrounding nations of the land which they were going to possess (Leviticus 20:22-26; Deuteronomy 7:1-6).

- After the time of Moses, when Joshua had entered the land and conquered portions of it, the people's drive began to slow and their zeal to remove the pagan influences lagged. Joshua has a stern warning for them, reminding them to not associate with those who would corrupt them (Joshua 23:6-8).

- Up until the very last moments before their captivity, God, through Jeremiah, was trying to get His people to see the benefits of turning away from the false hope of the people around them, even promising to be His people's restoration and protection (Jeremiah 15:19-21).

Well, Ezra 4 rolls around, and the people have returned, the foundation for the temple has been laid, and there's this feeling of all-around unity and purpose that is present in the hearts of the people. Then the trouble starts.

1Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel, 2they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers' households, and said to them, "Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here."

The enemies of God's people hear about what's taking place with the temple, and they try to get in on the action. The come to the leaders of Israel and ask if they can participate, if they can integrate, and join in the work of the Lord, falsely claiming that they've been worshiping and sacrificing to Him all along anyways. Now comes Israel's test: Will they give in to the pagan influences? Or will they remain steadfast in their sanctification?

3But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers' households of Israel said to them, "You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us."

They hold fast their resolve, the pass the test. With the punishment of Babylon fresh on their minds, they remain steadfast in their calling to be sanctified. What a refreshing change of pace for Israel! They find that, when properly motived by God's loving discipline, they were able to defeat that very thing that led them to need His discipline in the first place.

Well, just as it was in Old Testament Israel, so it is now with the New Testament Church. We too are called to live separate, holy, sanctified for the purpose of Christ in a world that hates Him. Paul makes this abundantly clear in his writings. He reminds us that we cannot live in both the light and the darkness simultaneously, we cannot bind together righteousness and lawlessness (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), can we? Of course not! We, like ancient Israel, need be separate. We can't partake of the same fleshly lusts they do, we don't participate in the same unfruitful deeds of darkness they do (Ephesians 5:3-12).

But perhaps the strongest call is that of Christ Himself in the Gospel of John.

18"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

Why do we try so hard to get the world to love us, when it hates our Master? No, friends, we've been chosen out of the world, so we ought to live like it. Different, set apart, sanctified. How does that sanctification take place? Again, we turn to our Lord's Word as He prayed for His followers the night of His betrayal.

13"But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:13-19)

Christ prays that His followers would be sanctified in truth. What is truth? God's Word is truth. The Word of God is the best place to start if you're seeking a life that is set apart and sanctified. Dedicate yourself to studying it, discipline yourself to meditate upon it, it is the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct. So love the Word, learn the Word, live the Word. Be set apart, sanctified, by the Word.

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THE DWELLING PLACE - March 17, 2018