At the Independence Church we don’t do sermons on Sunday mornings, we simply study the Word of God. We also get into some very heavy discussions about Scripture and how it is impacting the world around us today. That is really what started me on this journey to get others looking at the warnings, etc., that are contained in the Old Testament.
That being said, this week we will take a look at what is going on in our world today and the warnings found in Ezra. You have probably heard of the “Babylonian Exile” wherein the Jewish people were taken prisoner by Babylon and forced to leave the Kingdom of Judah as captives. After that Babylon fell to the Persians and King Cyrus the Great in 538/539 B.C. permitted and directed the Judeans to return to Judah and rebuild their temple.
This was nothing unusual for the Persians since one of the notable features of the Persian empire was its integration of the people they conquered into a single administrative system while maintaining, at the same time, a tradition of respect for their local customs and beliefs. The “Cyrus Cylinder” gives Cyrus’ account of this reading, in part, “I return to these sacred cities …, the sanctuaries of which have been in ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations…May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask daily Bel and Nebo for a long life for me …; to Marduk, my lord, may they say this: ‘Cyrus, the king who worships you, and Cambyses, his son…”
From history we know that Persian kings paid close attention to prophecies, so maybe the Prophet Daniel had informed Cyrus of the prophecies of Jeremiah 25:8-13 and Jeremiah 29:10-14 which refer to the punishment of Babylon and the end of Israel’s exile. It is also possible that if he showed Cyrus those prophecies, he probably also included Isaiah 44:28-45:5 which mentions Cyrus by name some 150 years before Cyrus was even born. However it came to pass, Cyrus puts into writing “All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the House of God which is in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:2-4
So, the command of Cyrus was not only to allow the return of the exiled people to Jerusalem, but also to rebuild the destroyed temple. Sadly, only a small percentage decided to return from exile, but those who did needed the encouragement to know they were making a valuable contribution to God’s work. Mind you, however, that in passages such as Isaiah 10:22, God promised that a remnant would return from exile, so it was to be expected if you knew Scripture. We need to remember also that after the deportations of the Jewish people to Babylon, only the poor of the land – the vine-growers and farmers – were left in Judah. (2 Kings 25:12; Jeremiah 39:10; 40:7; 52:16). They occupied the vacant lands (Jeremiah 6:12). A few refugees who fled to different areas drifted back (Jeremiah 40:11-12). But for the next fifty years, after the Babylonians captured the land of Judah, those few peoples eked out a precarious existence under the Babylonians (Lamentations 5:2-5) subjected to ill treatment and forced labor (Lamentations 5:11-13)
This brings us to the central theme of the Book of Ezra – the rebuilding of the temple. The intention of the Jews returning to Judah was not merely to return and reoccupy Jerusalem, but also to rebuild the temple. The exiles were returning as a Church, and the one work they are to aim for is to further the worship of their God.
Do you see a correlation between the Jews returning to Jerusalem and our work as Christians today? We are charged with furthering the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a Church! As Christians today, we, just as the Jews of old, should be spirit-stirred and dedicated to the furtherance of the Church as established by our Lord and Savior. We see, through the study of Scripture, that the command of furthering the Gospel is oftentimes met with opposition. We should expect it!
One important difference between the deportations by the Babylonians is that the Babylonians did not replace the people being deported with pagan newcomers, so Judah, though devastated, was not contaminated with polytheism to the same degree as Israel. We will see though that from the start of Ezra 4 through to the end of Nehemiah there is conflict. This reminds us that nothing that is attempted for God will go unchallenged, and there is scarcely a tactic left unexplored by the opposition to the work of the Lord.
Anyway, let’s look at the offer made to the Jewish people when they came back to rebuild the Temple per the directions of King Cyrus. Ezra 4:1-2 sets out the offer of a dangerous alliance by the Samaritans and reads: Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the Lord God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.
As I said earlier, Judea was not completely empty of inhabitants during the two generations of captivity. These people were not happy that Judah and Benjamin had come back to Judea and, as such, they were their adversaries. These were the early Samaritans, those who were brought into the lands of the former Kingdom of Israel after its fall to the Assyrians, who intermarried with those left behind from the exile. The Samaritans continued as a people into New Testament times. Because the Samaritans had some historical connections to the people of Israel, their faith was a combination of law and ritual from the Law of Moses and various superstitions. Hopefully you realize that most of the Jews in Jesus’ time despised the Samaritans even more than Gentiles because they were, religiously speaking, “half-breeds” who had an eclectic, mongrel faith. This context is important in understanding the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. 2 Kings 17:24 tells the attitude of the Samaritans: They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods; according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away.
This leads us to imagine that these individuals wanted to become partners in the building work of the Temple to either ruin it or to influence it to their benefit. This could have been more of a political move for, in old-world ideas, cooperation in Temple building was a step toward national unity. How so? Because if the returning exiles could be united with the much more numerous Samaritans, they would soon be absorbed by them.
They claimed “we seek your God as you do” and probably actually believed that, but they also added, “and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria.” This would mean that they sacrificed without either a Temple or a priesthood, which was obviously against the commandments of God and, consequently, contradicted their claim, “we seek your God as you do.” To the Samaritans, God (Yahweh) was one of many powerful gods. Since Israel had been exiled for their idolatry, this represented a grave danger. Luckily, the returning exiles refused their offer of help.
So, what does this show us in this day and time? Well let’s look at what has been happening in our own world. I am sure you have probably heard of Chrislam – an unholy union of Islam and Christianity. Take your pick of who started this alliance, be it Tela Tella who started his religion in the 1980’s and claims that an angel of God told him to create this mixed religion and that it would bring peace between Muslims and Christians. Or maybe Samson Saka, who claims the title of prophet and went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, then in 1999 founded his religion by mixing Islam and Christianity in the hope that it would create peace in the world.
To simplify the doctrine of Chrislam, it says that the Bible and the Koran are viewed as equal and in a service reading is done from both of them. People are free to call on Allah or God when they pray and Moses, Muhammad and Jesus were all prophets of equal status and are to be loved. During worship, Christian and Islamic hymns are sung. Holidays, like Christmas, Easter, Ramadan and other Christian and Islamic holidays are equally observed. In their place of worship, there is an altar built after the model that Abraham used and worshippers can come before this altar and seek God in prayer. Members are trained in evangelism and are working to convert outsiders to their faith.
The American version of Chrislam comes from a number of religious leaders who have founded a movement known as “Faith Shared.” This is actually a branch of the “Interfaith Alliance and Human Rights First.” The Interfaith Alliance was founded in 1994 and was later joined with the Human Rights First organization. Human Rights First came into existence in the mid 1970’s and were initially called “Lawyers’ Alliance for New York.” In 1978 the name changed to “Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights” and in 2003 the name changed to “Human Rights First.” Unfortunately, some 300 American theologians, ministry leaders and prominent pastors have chosen to pursue this abomination of Christianity and Islam. I won’t name names in this piece but on July 4, 2009, at the 46th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, with some 8000 Muslims at the convention, one such preacher, instead of telling them that there is no other name under heaven whereby men can be saved (Acts 4:10-12) he said, “Muslims and Christians must work together to combat stereotypes, promote peace and freedom and solve global problems.” This preacher believes that Christians and Muslims are faith mates, soul mates and work mates, and in a previous meeting with Muslims said, “…before we shake your hand, we, Christians, ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.” Unfortunately, while this particular preacher is able to open doors to many Christian churches around the world to converted Muslims to spread this poison, there has been no outrage from any leading pastor in the United States despite the fact that they are destroying the Church of Jesus Christ without any resistance.
I would also question a Christian-Buddhist, a Christian-Hindu, Baptist or Presbyterian-Christian, Republican or Democrat-Christian, White or African-American Christians and Male or Female-Christians, or now LBGT-Christians. In my opinion, a few other terms describe the current hyphenated-Christians hysteria: Crossless-Christians, Bibleless-Christians, and Christless-Christians.
Many today are Crossless-Christians. Consider Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” Using a hyphen to identify your “brand” of Christianity works directly against dying to self.
The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Paul’s faith was marked by the absence of cultural identity other than the Cross of Christ. The only time he used his Jewish heritage was to proclaim the Gospel.
Paul, also, in writing to the church in Rome states, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same lord is lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on him” (Romans 10:12). In other words, no one group gets to have their own version of the Gospel!
So no ethnicity, sexual preference, religious or political affiliation allows for any other truth than Biblical truth. The Bible is the microscope under which we examine culture and character; determining whether or not they align with truth. When we invert this process and scrutinize the Bible through the lens of culture, it demonstrates ignorance of God. It is humanity seeking to establish righteousness without Jesus Christ.
It is a disheartening truth, many, if not most of the people who call themselves Christians are not followers of Jesus but followers of a religious discipline that carries with it the name Christian. To call yourself a Christian and even devote yourself to religious activities does not make you a true follower of Jesus.
Let’s step back to Ezra 4:3 – But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Let’s notice first that the response of Zerubbabel and Jeshua was unified. All the returned exiles were in agreement with this answer to the Samaritans. They refused the help of the Samaritans. They did this knowing they had the permission of King Cyrus and also knowing they lacked both human and financial resources for the work they were charged with. Zerubbabel and Jeshua knew that to divide His dominion with others was dethroning Him altogether. It was an act of faithfulness to Jehovah to reject entangling alliances.
The remainder of the chapter outlines various ways that the Samaritans bothered the Jews and even stopped the rebuilding of the Temple for a number of years; but, remember, the God we serve did not let this stop the rebuilding altogether. It was the house of the Lord, and nothing could be done to stop what the Lord wanted.
So, what does that mean for us today? What does that mean when you look at the Faith Shared individuals who promote Chrislam in our world? What does this say to the churches who have covered their religious arts and crosses to accommodate other religions that do not acknowledge the saving power of Jesus Christ? What does the current hyphenated-Christianity say about you and whether you are a true Christ follower?
Well, as we approach the time of the Antichrist, we would do well to investigate what the Apostle Paul told us about the time. The Holy Spirit is holding the man of sin back! But how does the Holy Spirit hold him back? Through the Church, the body of Christ. For centuries men and women have been saved and through their lives evil has been pushed back and unable to enslave the world. Sure, parts of the world have been enslaved from time to time, but each evil empire crumbled at the feet of Jesus and His church. However, when the Church is polluted and its message destroyed, it cannot be used by the Holy Spirit to hold back the hordes of the Antichrist. The call is getting louder and louder for a merge with other religions. The Body of Christ is infested with a deadly cancer, but few pastors and members are interested in fighting it!
Stand strong in the Lord and avoid the perversion that is becoming more rampant in the church today. Look into the Old Testament and see the warnings!
We will next look into the book of Deuteronomy and the warnings contained there. In the meantime, I ask you to pray for the eyes of all those who declare Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior that they not be deceived by those who want to pervert the church by joining with other religions.