TODAY’S READING: EZRA 1-4
Ezra 3:1-2 says, “When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.”
The seventh month is the month of the harvest. Also, in the seventh month, Israel celebrates three feasts – trumpets, atonement, and tabernacles. The seventh month, the harvest, and these feasts all related to the second coming of Jesus.
So, it was in this seventh month that “the people gathered as one man in Jerusalem.” The Hebrew word for gathered is asaph. It means to gather, to bring in, to receive, to retract, to destroy, to pull back. Asaph can mean to gather as in a harvest. But, asaph is often used throughout the Bible to euphemistically refer to dying. It is used in the phrases “to be gathered to one’s people” and “gathered to one’s fathers.” It’s also used in regard to gathering a body and its bones for burial.
Now, there seem to be two groups of people. There were those with Jeshua the son of Jozadak and those with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel. When we examine those names, it is quite clear the Jeshua and Jozadak are Hebrew names. However, the names Zerubbabel and Shealtiel seem to be Canaanite or Babylonian names. I see here Jew and Gentile.
So, the people gathered in the sense of being harvested for the Lord or dying to themselves. The people gathered or came together as one. Instead of two men , Jew and Gentile, the people died to themselves and became one man.
Ephesians 2:13-16 says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
Galatians 3:26-28 says, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized in Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The people were gathered into one, or made into one new man, by there dying. Notice that this happened through the cross and their being baptized in Christ – Jesus’ death and their own symbolic death with Christ in his crucifixion through baptism.
Why were the people gathered together? Why did they die with Christ to become one new man.
“They built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it.”
This immediately brings to my mind Romans 12:1-2.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Notice that Paul pleads with the Roman church – made of both Jews and Gentiles – to present their bodies – that’s plural, as in two, Jew and Gentile – as a living sacrifice – that’s singular, as in one new man, neither Jew nor Greek. They were to be gathered together into one sacrifice, or burnt offering, a living sacrifice for spiritual worship. It was by building this altar and offering themselves on it together as one man that they would show God’s goodness, his perfect and acceptable will.
By coming together as one man through the cross of Christ, Jew and Gentile would be reconciled together. And, this coming together as one in reconciliation through their willingness to die to themselves, as a living sacrifice, would be a continual visible witness to the rest of the world that God is reconciling the world to himself through Christ. This is God’s goodness. This is God’s will that is good, perfect, and acceptable.
What exactly does a living sacrifice look like?
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
In this way, we participate in the ministry of reconciliation. For, God was reconciling the world in Christ from the cross, from his sacrifice. So, as living sacrifices we become ministers of reconciliation, our own burnt offering.
Of course, burnt offerings emit quite the aroma. So, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”