Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Scripture reading: Ezra 8:21-36
The people of Jerusalem have been freed from their Babylonian captivity and their exile has come to an end (ch. 1) in accordance with the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer. 30:3). Unlike the somewhat downtrodden conclusion to the books of the Kings, the book of Ezra brings us into the hope of the history of God’s people.
The Babylonians have fallen (6th cent. BCE/BC) and the Jews are given a second chance in Jerusalem. Over a number of years and obstacles the temple of the Lord is rebuilt (ch. 3-ff.). The priest Ezra is called to lead the people of God back to Jerusalem (ch. 7). This is a new season for the Jewish people. Exile is behind them and the promise of the Lord is before them.
Much like we are doing for Lent, the people fasted and prayed to the Lord (8:21:23). In this, the people of God remember their reverence for the Lord and forsake their idolatrous past. The people (even the king) give “freewill” offerings to the Lord (vv. 24-30). This is not free will (as in the doctrine that says we are able to choose salvation because that is impossible). This is a freewill giving, which occurs through the prompting of reconciliation. The Gospel calls this grace, but contextually, this may have been done out of fear or reverence of God.
According to God’s covenantal promise, the people of Jerusalem return to their land from their Babylonian exile (vv. 31-36). As usual, the people of God forget to do something right, afterwards (ch. 9-10). But, where the humans fail, God keeps the covenant, and grace is sufficient.
This is our story, too. Though we are sinners (with our will bound to the condition) the work of God alone, nullifies our sin nature and its predisposition. We are met with the covenant of God, known to Christians as the Gospel, and known to all as grace. The law has been fulfilled and the exiled are restored by God’s mercy and grace, according to the covenant of the Lord.
O Gracious God, how you deliver your people – whether Jew, Gentile, slave, free, Christian, or those who cannot see – by the universal grace you have given to all that will save as many as you please. Though it is a mystery how your grace justifies, you have given us the faith to believe that you are the one true God and that we receive your grace through the work of the cross of Christ (in death and resurrection). In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.