Ezra 3:8-13 – Building God’s Kingdom is a Team Effort

Today in our passage we are going to learn that building God’s kingdom is a group effort. It is not built by one or two exceptionally gifted people. Every single believer has a role to play. Every single believer is to be a worker in God’s kingdom.

Ezra 3:8-13 –

In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work. They appointed Levites twenty years old and older to supervise the building of the house of the Lord. Joshua and his sons and brothers and Kadmiel and his sons (descendants of Hodaviah) and the sons of Henadad and their sons and brothers—all Levites—joined together in supervising those working on the house of God.

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:

“He is good;
    his love toward Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

I. Building God’s kingdom requires good leaders (8-9)

In chapters 1-2 the people return to Jerusalem after a seventy year exile in Babylon. God stirs their hearts to return and over 42,000 people make the long journey. When they arrived back Jerusalem was in ruins, the wall and temple destroyed. Their own homesteads would surely have been in a similar state of ruin and disrepair. It could be easy for the people to become discouraged or to branch off their own ways and focus what they needed to do on their own farms and in their own homes. But this was not just a group of individuals each doing their own thing. This was a restored nation in need of working together if they were to survive.

The people needed leaders to help organize them and keep them moving forward in the right direction. Rebuilding the temple was a very important step for them. The temple was a visible reminder of their relationship with God. It reminded them to worship and follow God above all others. And it reminded them that God had chosen them as His own people and blessed them with His presence. The temple was also a place where they could practice corporate worship. God had instituted festivals requiring all Jews to go up to the temple multiple times each year. This ensured that people’s worship of God would remain pure and they could receive and give encouragement to each other. Without a temple there was the danger that the people would drift into away from God each going their own way and worshiping as was right in their own eyes.

Rebuilding the temple was an ambitious project and it needed visionary leaders to organize the people and carry it out.

Ezra lists out some of the leaders by name. We see Zerubabbel. He was grandson of King Jeconiah and had been appointed as governor of this region by the Persian king. Zerubabbel was the political leader. We also see Joshua, the priest, the religious leader. We also see the family of Kadmiel and the family of Henadad.

Amidst all of these long names we can learn two important lessons for good leadership.

A. Good leaders should be a plurality.

Zerubabbel is not leading by himself and neither is Joshua or the others. God has designed his kingdom to function best when there is a plurality of leaders.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 says that “two are better than one.”

This was how God worked with Israel in Old Testament times by appointing the offices of king, priest, and prophet. And it is also true for churches as well.

The New Testament consistently teaches that a church should have a plurality of elders, which is quite different than many churches practice of having one single pastor head.

Verses on elders:

Acts 11:30–elders at the church of Antioch
Acts 14:23–Paul and Barnabas appoint “elders in every church””
Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4–elders at the church in Jerusalem
Acts 20:17, 28–elders/bishops at the church of Ephesus (v. 17–“elders of the church”)
Acts 21:18–elders at the church in Jerusalem
Phil 1:1–the church at Philippi has bishops and deacons
1 Tim 5:17–elders at the church of Ephesus
Titus 1:5–Titus is to appoint elders in every town7
Jas 5:14–“the elders of the church”
1 Pet 5:1-2–“the elders among you”

Each of these texts makes it clear that God’s design is for a plurality of leaders in each church.

Here are a few of the benefits of plural leadership:

More strengths, fewer weaknesses
Healthier Teaching
Lightening the workload
Accountability
Safety in numbers
Encouragement in difficulty
Stability in transition
Reminder that there is one chief shepherd

II. Good leaders should get more people involved by delegating

Notice in the text that Zerubabbel and Joshua and the other leaders did not do all of the work themselves. In verse 8 we see that they together with the people “began the work.” They were part of it. The leaders were themselves working. But at the the same time they were supervising. In verse 8 we also see that they were appointing people to supervise. Even overseeing all 42,000+ people is too much so they delegated responsibility.

From this we learn a very important biblical lesson.

Good leaders delegate authority. Or we can say it another way. Good leaders equip and train up more workers.

Ephesians 4:11-13 – And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Look carefully at this text and note who is is doing the work of the ministry. The leaders are not doing it themselves. Rather the saints are doing the work. Everyone is helping. The leaders’ job is to equip the saints.

No matter how skillful Zerubabbel and Joshua were, trying to do this project on their own would have been impossible.

Application #1 – Leaders don’t try to do everything yourselves. One time I was talking with a young mother. I suggested to her that she help her child learn how to do housework so that she could have some help around the house. She responded that it was more work for her whenever her child helped because he didn’t do it the right way.

This is the same reason many leaders try to do everything themselves. Perhaps they think they can do this task better and it is more work to teach someone else how to do it. Short term that is probably true. But a parent or leader who tries to do everything himself will burn out in the long term. On the front side it takes more effort to train up someone else, but in the long term it is necessary.

Jesus was the most gifted preacher and evangelist ever. And yet He didn’t do everything Himself. He trained up His disciples and sent them out in pairs. He empowered them to do the work. His own ministry only lasted three years, but He did such a thorough job of equipping the saints it could go on even without His own physical presence.

Whether you are a parent, a life group leader, an evangelist, a disciple maker, or a leader in your ministry, you should seek to equip those around you for the work. Through this way God’s kingdom can multiply.

Application #2 – Help your leaders by joining the work.

Building God’s kingdom requires willing workers (8-9)

A. Each person has a unique role as a worker.

We can see this in verse 8. It says that “all who came form captivity to Jerusalem, began the work.” This was a group effort. More than 40,000 people are recorded as returning in Ezra 2. And they all pitched in. Rebuilding the temple was a major project and they wanted to do it right. When we think of all of the people who helped with this project, many of them certainly didn’t have a background in construction. There must have been a wide range of people with a wide range of skills. Bakers. Shepherds. Butchers. In Nehemiah 3:8 it tells us of a group of perfumers who worked on the wall. We can assume since Ezra tells us everyone joined in, that the perfumers also worked on the temple.

These are people that are not accustomed to using their hands to build things. Most likely their hands were soft and smooth. What could all of these people without any building experience do?

God wants bakers, ,shepherds, butchers, and perfumers to build his kingdom. Not everyone was doing the same task. In a job like this there are many jobs to do. Some people are directly building. But you know what the bakers were likely doing? Probably they were baking bread to feed all of these people who were coming to Jerusalem to help. You know what the shepherds were likely doing? They were probably helping to watch or clean up after the animals of all of these workers and of all the animals which were being used for dragging materials. You know what the butchers were likely doing? They were probably helping to butcher meat to feed the hungry workers.

You know what the perfumers were probably doing? I don’t know either. But I am sure they were using those soft hands of theirs somehow to help.

B. Each person uses their own gifts

God does not need or want a group of clones where everyone has the same skills and is doing the same thing. On God’s team, He has needs for all different kinds of people with their own gifts and abilities. And He wants these people to use their own gifts for a common purpose, to build His kingdom. There were hundreds of different tasks to do performed by thousands of different people. And all of these thousands of people were working toward one goal, to build a temple to worship God. And all of these thousands of people had something in common. They were willing workers. No one forced them to do it. They willingly left their crops and homes to come and build God’s temple. They used their own time and energy and worked for free.

Building the temple is a lot like building God’s church. God seeks willing workers, using their own gifting, and working toward a common goal.

Illustration: Football team. Different roles. One common goal. How many of you have heard of Lionel Messi? How many of you have heard of (Jasper Cillessen)? Messi is one of the most famous players in the world, but Jasper is the goalie on his team. Both have an important role, but you have probably never heard of Jasper at all.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

In the body we have different gifts. This passage goes on to compare the body of Christ to the human body. Just as the eyes and hands and feet work together for a common purpose so we work together for a common purpose. Our goal is to glorify God and to fulfill the Great Commission.

The person serving in the background is just as important as the people up on the stage. It is not about us or our glory. We are a team. There are so many people serving that we might not even know or see. But God knows. God knows and appreciates each one. Whatever you do for Him counts and even if know one else sees, God sees.

Whatever your gifting is, if you are using it to build God’s kingdom, know that it is not in vain.

And if you are not actively building God’s kingdom, I want to encourage you to join the roster of kingdom workers today.

Some of you might be thinking “it is all well and good to talk about using your gift for building God’s kingdom, but I don’t know what my gifting is.” Or, “I don’t even now if I have a spiritual gift.” I am going to tell you the secret of finding out what your spiritual gift is. Are you ready? Good, but before I tell you the secret, I am going to tell you what is not the best way. The best way is not to attend conferences on finding out your gift, read books on finding out your gift, or complete surveys on finding out your gift. These could be helpful at times, but they are not the best way.

The secret of finding out your gifting is simple. Start working on God’s kingdom.

As you work in His kingdom, you will naturally be led into the area that you are gifted. This might be a process. Imagine a very zealous young worker coming to help with the temple. He says, “Let me help cut the wood” but then proceeds to mangle everything he tries to build. His gifting is not carpentry. So he says, “Let me help cook” but then proceeds to burn all the food. His gifting is not cooking. But then he sees a horse acting up and no one can calm it down. He walks over and immediately calms down the horse and gets it back to work. What do you think the overseer will do when he sees that? He will assign that man to help with the animals.

With spiritual giftings it is the same. If a person is not working no one can possibly tell what they would be good at working at.

Application: Are you using your spiritual gifting for building God’s kingdom? There is a simple way to start. Pray about where you can help in your church and community. If you have no idea, ask a friend. It might be that the first place you volunteer to help doesn’t fit your gifting. That’s ok. That is successful as well because you are one step closer to knowing what your gifting is. It could also be that as you start to serve someone comes up to you and says they have noticed something in you and would like you to help with a certain ministry or area. This could be God’s way of leading you into the area He has prepared you for. A willing worker must also be humble to listen to others.

If you don’t know how to build God’s kingdom serving in your church is a good place to start. However, God’s kingdom is not limited to the church building. God’s kingdom is huge. And there are opportunities everywhere, if you are willing.

Building God’s kingdom results in joyfully praising Him (10-13)

Ezra is a book about restoration. For generations the Israelites had lived in rebellion toward God worshiping idols and ignoring the prophets. The warnings of Jeremiah and Isaiah fell on deaf ears. In the pre-exile days the people were not focused on God’s temple. They were not building his kingdom. They were building their own.

We can see this clearly in Isaiah 5:8-13

“Woe to you who add house to house
and join field to field
till no space is left
and you live alone in the land.
9 The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing:
“Surely the great houses will become desolate,
the fine mansions left without occupants.
10 A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine;
a homer of seed will yield only an ephah of grain.”
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning
to run after their drinks,
who stay up late at night
till they are inflamed with wine.
12 They have harps and lyres at their banquets,
pipes and timbrels and wine,
but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord,
no respect for the work of his hands.
13 Therefore my people will go into exile
for lack of understanding;
those of high rank will die of hunger
and the common people will be parched with thirst.”

In the pre-exile days the Jews were expanding their houses. They were expanding their fields. They were building mansions. Their days were spent running after drinks and pleasure. But they had no regard for God. They had no desire to build His kingdom. So God sent them into exile to teach them the futility and emptiness of pursuing pleasure and wealth, but forgetting about their Creator.

Now they are back in the land. And at least for a while they learned their lesson. The walls of the city were in ruins. They hadn’t had time to finish fixing up their own houses and tending to their own affairs. And yet this time things are different. Now God is the priority. Their time and energy is spent on His house.

And look at the results. The people are truly joyful. There are no grand speeches to honor people like Zerubabbel or Joshua. No one steps up to take credit for the restoration. Instead they rightly recognize it is God’ grace which has spared them.

All the glory, all the praise, all the thanksgiving go to God.

From this we learn two principles:

A. God is merciful to forgive and restore those who have sinned against him.

The exile teaches us of God’s justice. But the return teaches us of God’s mercy. God’s discipline toward believers is always for the purpose of ultimate restoration. In this passage though we also see that what He restores us to may not be exactly the same as what we had before we sin.

While most of the people were full of joy at the sight of the foundation some of the elders who had seen the previous temple wept. While they were grateful for God’s goodness, they also remembered what they had lost. The new temple was not the same as the one before. Jerusalem was not the same. And many of the people were were forced to leave the land could never come back.

Application: This passage is at the same time both a warning and a comfort for us. The warning is that sin is costly. Sin could cost you your marriage, your relationship with your children, your job, your reputation and much more. It is always better to obey God the first time around.

At the same time, God is good and His steadfast love endures forever. If today you feel like you are far from God, He is waiting with arms wide open to receive you. All you need to do is to come back to Him and He will restore you. I would like to have a moment of silence. If you feel like you are far from God, just pray in your heart right now and tell Him “I want to come back to you.” He will welcome you.

B. When you do well your countenance will be lifted up!

The people are joyful I believe for two reasons. One reason is that God had restored them. But the other is that they were building His kingdom. They were obeying God and fulfilling His plan for their life. Back in Genesis God encountered Cain and Cain was downcast and unhappy. God told him “when you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?”

A lot of people think that the way to get happy is to look out for number one. Pursue what makes you happy. Does looking out for ourselves make us happy?

Illustration: In Guangzhou will often find yourself on the metro or a bus after long, hard day. Almost by a miracle a seat is available. Your heart sings as you slump down and take a deep breath and get ready to pull out a book you have been waiting to read. Then out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of an elderly lady getting on the bus. You hope against hope that someone will give her a seat, but no one does. Let me ask you a question. If you close your eyes and pretend to sleep you can enjoy the seat the rest of the way home. When you get home are you happy? On the other hand if you get up and offer your seat and stand the rest of the way back, are you happy?

Happiness is not about self enjoyment. Happiness comes when we obey God. God designed us to serve Him and others. When we do that, we are filled with joy from the inside out.

Application: JOY (Jesus, Others, Yourself)

Conclusion: Are you building God’s kingdom or your own?

Charles Studd was a British missionary to China in the early 1900s. He wrote a poem, which is now famous, called “Only One Life.”

In the concluding verse, this is what he says,

“Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”

Think about your activities for the past week. How many of those activities have eternal value? How much time did you spend building God’s kingdom?

I once attended a time management class. The speaker discussed the need to distinguish between important things and urgent things. Often our time gets sucked up on urgent things and important things are continually pushed back. Modern technology and social media have only worsened this situation.

But many of the most important things in life do not feel urgent. We think we can do them later:

Family time
Date night with your spouse
Studying the Bible
Reading Christian books
Sharing the gospel with your uncle
Starting a Bible reading journal
Rebuilding the temple (Getting their own farms in order probably seemed more urgent)

This past week I was working on some stuff and there were a few times my kids came to me and were telling me a story or talking with me and I responded something vague without really paying attention “Mmm, that’s interesting.” While preparing this sermon, I realized that I was spending time on temporal things instead focusing on the important. Spending time with my family to shepherd them, play with them, and encourage them in the Lord is building God’s kingdom.

How can you build God’s kingdom this week? How can you build God’s kingdom today?

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