“What does the Book of Ezra have to do with world missions?” I found myself thinking as a young, Romanian woman – and a new believer to boot – began reading from Ezra at a missions meeting. Boy! was I in for a surprise!
The book of Ezra recounts the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon in the sixth century BC. Chapter one begins when the Persian King Cyrus, having just conquered the Babylonians, issues a decree for the exiles to return and rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. Cyrus also decreed that those who were willing and able to return should be supported by the community “with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a free will offering for the house of God” (Ezra 1:4 NASB). The fact that Cyrus would issue this decree was foretold by Isaiah centuries prior (Isaiah 44:28-45:13), an indication that what was unfolding was a part of God’s plan, determined long ago.
Next we see that the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, as well as the priests and Levites, prepare to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. A beautiful parenthetical comment, “everyone whose heart God had moved“ (Ezra 1:5 NV), indicates that God was also at work in the lives of those who volunteered to go.
Finally, we see that those who were not able to return to Jerusalem were also involved as “all those about them encouraged them with articles of silver, with gold, with goods, with cattle and with valuables, aside from all that was given as a freewill offering” (Ezra 1:6 NASB). Though they themselves were not able to go, they financially supported and encouraged those who could, recognizing that returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple were God’s will.
Our young discussion leader proceeded to draw this contemporary application.
There are two groups of people involved in mission work: there are those who are able to go, and there are those who financially support and encourage those who do go.
She followed up these observations with two reflection questions:
To which group do you belong?
What will you do to fulfill your part in God’s plan?
The rest of the evening we engaged in profitable conversation as each person responded to both questions. And I have continued to ponder them ever since.
“So what does the Book of Ezra have to do with world missions?”
Plenty. It provides us with a biblical example of how those who go and those who send must work together to accomplish God’s will. Romans 10:14-15 explicitly teaches the same point.
For Your Consideration
To which group do you belong? Are you a goer or a sender? What will you do to fulfill your part in God’s plan?