Ezra 1:1-5 (ESV)
Listen to the sermon here.
When have you ever been asked to rebuild what had been ruined? What was that like?
GOD TURNS THE HEART
So God calls us into the work of rebuilding what is ruined. If we believe that the LORD can overcome our spiritual deadness how can this help us make sense of God’s call when people are unwilling to obey and join into this work?
Read Ezra 1:1-5. What hints are there in this passage that God is sovereign in keeping His Word? Read Ephesians 1:3-5 & 11, & 2:1-5. How is God’s work to redeem sinners a work of turning the hearts of people toward His will? How is that a work of rebuilding what was ruined? How have you lived more defined by your weakness or disobedience than by Jesus’ love and grace? Confess your unbelief and lack of vision to Jesus, asking Him to forgive you and to open your eyes to His purposes for His world.
HE PROVIDES FOR HIS CALL
How can we understand God’s call to rebuild what is ruined when we have so little? He has all power and resources! Read Ezra 1:4, Exodus 12:33-36 & Proverbs 21:1. How deeply do you believe that God can move people to give what they possess to fund His work?
Being accountable but not resourced is exasperating! And our condition in the Fall is that we’re cut off by our own doing. But read 2 Corinthians 9:8 & 1 Thessalonians 5:24. If God provides all that is necessary for all of His work, then how does that make sense of God’s call that we rebuild what is ruined?
DO WHAT IS AUDACIOUS
Read Genesis 1:28 & Matthew 28:18-20. Clearly God calls us to a great work from the Creation Mandate to the Great Commission. So what kinds of barriers keep us from taking up a work that is so daunting? Read Ezekiel 36:33-36. God’s call for His people to go back to Jerusalem was to rebuild ruins. (Imagine God calling all Cubans now living in Miami – most of whom were born there – to return to Havana now in order to rebuild it! How do you think they would feel or respond?)
If it is anything, Jesus’ work to redeem IS a work of rebuilding what is ruined. What’s amazing is He did it by being ruined and restored Himself! Read John 2:19. How does Jesus’ power over the ultimate form of ruin – death itself – make sense of God’s call for His people to rebuild what is ruined? Where have you excused yourself from God’s call to a great work – from subduing the earth? From the Great Commission? Or from loving the unlovely? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you envision the greatness of what God intends to do in His mission to redeem sinners like us. Pray that the Spirit would give you hope in His work wherever or however sinners are broken.
- Worship the LORD for His commitment to establish all that is good and conquer all that is evil. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that He is the sovereign God – King of all existence.
- How have you lived more defined by your weakness or disobedience than by Jesus’ love and grace? Confess your unbelief and lack of vision to Jesus, asking Him to forgive you and to open your eyes to His purposes for His world.
- Give thanks to Jesus for His victory over evil. Thank Him for the beauty of His work to rebuild what is ruined in us by being ruined (His death on the Cross) and being restored Himself (His resurrection).
- Who do you know that takes no risks or attempts nothing of any worth? Pray for them, asking the Lord to open their eyes to the great work God has done in recovering ruined sinners like us and His heart to use even us to recover still others.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you envision the greatness of what God intends to do in His mission to redeem sinners like us. Pray that the Spirit would give you hope in His work wherever or however sinners are broken.
Esther 4:1-16 (ESV)
Listen to the sermon here.
Do you sometimes feel like God is silent or absent in your life and circumstances? Where are you looking and what are you looking for to find evidence that God is present? Are you missing what’s He’s doing right in front of you?
THE PROBLEM OF GOD’S SILENCE
Read the book of Esther. Considering it’s a book of the Bible, what stands out most as you read through the book? Notice God’s apparent absence or silence. Early in the book of Esther we see two problems: 1) Circumstances look very bad. All of the Jews are going to be killed. 2) God seems to be absent or silent. Can you relate to the feeling of life circumstances being bad with no way out and no one to rescue? How does that affect your relationship to God? Do you begin to question God’s goodness and whether he is actually in control? Do the things that have been brought into your life result in anger or despair towards God?
The absence of God in the book is actually a literary device used by the author. He is tell us: In spite of the way things look, God is not absent or silent. He is right in front of us, in control, and working all things out to accomplish his purposes.
THE ASSURANCE OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE
A number of things in Esther seem to just “happen”, along with many reversals of events. The reality is that although God is not mentioned in the book, the author is trying to get us to see that God is behind every move! The book of Esther teaches us that even when God seems most hidden and silent, He is still present and working for His people in all things. It also teaches us that God works in the ordinary. Do you see God in the things of everyday life or are you looking elsewhere?
Read Ephesians 1:11. What does this teach us about the doctrine of God’s providence? It’s one thing for God to be in control of everything, governing all things, and have the power to do that. But we need more than a God who is powerful; we need a God who means to do us good in all things. Where do we find that promise?
THE GUARANTEE OF GOD’S GOODNESS
Read Esther 4:14-16. Esther was raised up “for such a time as this” and saved her people. The Bible tells us that, like the Jews in the story of Esther, we too are under a decree of judgment and in need of a Savior. But we need a Savior who can approach God, not a sinful, earthly king. Apart from the Savior that God provides, we, as his enemies, have every reason to worry about life, death, and judgment.
But the good news of the gospel is that God has provided a Savior in his Son, Jesus, who was raised up at the right time (See Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4) and underwent the ultimate silence from God on the cross in order to save sinners. By repenting of our sin and putting our faith in Jesus, we are reconciled to God and receive his promises.
Read Romans 8:28. This is the promise that because of the gospel, God is working all things out for the good of His children, even if we can’t understand them yet. We can trust him in all things because He gave his only Son for us (Romans 8:32). How does this promise change the way you view your life circumstances?
Spend some time in prayer reflecting on what God providentially has done in the past, and apply the truths of his good character and promises guaranteed in the gospel to your present circumstances.
- Worship the LORD for His power, goodness, and wisdom in governing and preserving all things. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for working all things for the good of his children.
- Where have you overlooked God’s hand in your life? Do you struggle with anger and bitterness towards God over things He’s brought into your life? Ask God to forgive you for your pride.
- Give thanks to Jesus that He died on the cross to atone for all your sins and that God’s smile now shines upon you. Praise Him for all things that He’s brought into your life, the good and the bad, and trust Him with them, including the things you can’t understand. (see Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:28).
- Who do you know that holds a worldview that doesn’t truly satisfy or bring peace to them? Ask God to open their eyes to their need for God’s power and goodness that can only be found in the work of Jesus.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to develop in you the ability to see God in the ordinary things of life, and to come alongside others to point them to what God is doing in their lives. Repent for consistently overlooking His grace towards you in the things you take for granted.
Daniel 7:9-14 (ESV)
Listen to the sermon here.
What are some of the most outrageous interpretations of Bible prophecy that you’ve ever heard? Why do you think it’s so easy to misapply biblical prophecies?
THE SON OF MAN
Read the sermon passage, Daniel 7:9-14. If the LORD is the exalted King how does that establish that the rights of judgment belong to Him alone? What are some markers or details in this passage that show it is a scene of divine judgment? At the end of God’s work to judge, what will be the end results for God and for all who oppose Him?
Knowing what you do of the rest of the Bible, what are some of the most basic causes for judgment? How is pride or unbelief a form of self-enthronement? The sting of adultery for the spouse who is betrayed is in being found insufficient by the spouse who cheats. The adulterer says in effect, “You are not enough for me! I need another lover.” How have you defied the LORD’s rule over you or doubted His sufficiency as if you really need something or someone else to make your life whole? Confess your pride and unbelief to Jesus, asking Him to forgive and heal you.
DYING & COMING AGAIN
Read the sermon passage again thinking of the Son of Man as Jesus. Read also Luke 9:18-27. What really was so astounding – given that the Son of Man was exalted as Divine Judge – was that Jesus associated the title “Son of Man” with His crucifixion and resurrection. Why is it significant that Jesus said that He had to die? How does “what has to be done” reveal the depth of damage?
HUMBLES & SECURES HIS PEOPLE
Search through the sermon passage for indicators of how the people in the passage (the thousands and thousands) act – what are they said to do? How does trusting Jesus, the Son of Man who saves, lead you to be full of awe (humble worship)? And how does trusting Jesus lead you to be secure (able to approach the Ancient of Days in Christ)?
Read Daniel 7:18 & Ephesians 1:3-7, 13-14. While the world refuses to serve Jesus, how do they still crave the security that only He can offer? In Christ we possess nothing less than Him, both now & forever! Read Luke 12:31-32. Because it is the Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom what did Jesus imply about our security? Because it is nothing you can earn or achieve, how does this breed humility? Read Hebrews 4:16. Now, obey it! Approach the Lord’s throne with boldness and confidence as you pray for one another.
- Worship the LORD that He is exalted above all others and that as the King of all existence, He has all ultimate authority. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that He is good and just.
- How have you defied His rule over you or doubted His sufficiency as if you really need something or someone else to make your life whole? Confess your pride and unbelief to Jesus, asking Him to forgive and heal you.
- Give thanks to Jesus for His compassion to leave the place of ultimate authority and privilege to take the place of deepest shame and misery on the Cross to save sinners! Thank Him for all that He willingly did.
- Who do you know that (along with you) struggles with pride or insecurity? Pray for them, asking the Lord to work His Gospel deep into their heart to humble them and also to secure them.
- Read Luke 12:31-32. Ask the Holy Spirit to calm your insecurities by His rule over all things and circumstances; and to humble your arrogance by the truth that His Kingdom is not anything we have done or earned, but that it is only a gift.
Listen to the sermon here.
What is the closest you’ve come to a conflict with a teacher, boss, or official over your faith? How do we wisely understand and respond to earthly kings when their desires clash with God’s Word?
THE COSTS OF FAITHFULNESS
Read Daniel 6:3-7. God is worthy of our faithfulness even when, in a fallen world, forces of evil conspire against us. So how do you determine when you can disobey earthly authorities? When must you disobey them? Clearly Daniel’s faithfulness affected the other satraps and governors. How can you imagine that someone’s faithfulness has undesirable affects on others?
How can your refusal to let go of something be your undoing (e.g. Darius’ inability to let go of a silly, even malicious law was his; holding onto your material goods or a pleasurable experience may be yours, etc.). When have you given ultimate loyalty to creaturely causes? Where have you been confounded by the opposition of evil?
THE POWER OF SPIRITUAL DARKNESS
Read Daniel 6:4-20. How are forces of spiritual darkness often menacing? And how are they undeniably more powerful than you are? Consider the schemes Daniel faced – he was trapped by very real plots by very powerful people. And then there were also the lions…
Nevertheless, by vv. 10, 16 & 20, what did Daniel do (which was an established habit or how else would they have been able to conspire against him)? How have you lived (unlike Daniel) with ultimate loyalties to things and people other than Jesus? Confess your rebellion and lack of integrity to Jesus, asking Him to forgive you but also to work His loyalty into your heart by His Spirit.
THE REDEEMING VICTORY OF GOD
What would swallow us up in death and condemnation the LORD conquers – what is insurmountable to us is no obstacle to Jesus. Read Daniel 6:19-27. In Daniel’s deliverance what did King Darius expect? Yet what actually did God do? And by contrast, what happened to Daniel’s opponents?
If being unharmed is tied to being blameless, how can you hope to be unharmed before God’s holy judgment? Only by trusting Jesus… Jesus was blameless, v. 22 but condemned in our place. He trusted the Father yet suffered to save us, v. 23. Jesus will be praised by all nations, v. 25, as THE Living God whose kingdom shall never be destroyed, v. 26. And working the ultimate wonder, enclosed in a stone covered chamber of death, sealed at the King’s command… who expects anyone to come out alive?! Crucified and raised from the dead, Jesus rescues, working wonders, ultimately delivering His people from all threats.
So how do you need to repent of your pride and unbelief? How have you assumed you can conquer opponents in your own power? Or how have the powers of spiritual darkness locked you up in fear? What hope does Jesus offer you as He alone conquers what no one else can?
- Worship the LORD that He is God Most High. Praise Him Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that no one and no thing is greater than He is and that He is faithful to defend His people.
- How have you lived (unlike Daniel) with ultimate loyalties to things and people other than Jesus? Confess your rebellion and lack of integrity to Jesus, asking Him to forgive you but also to work His loyalty into your heart by His Spirit.
- Give thanks to Jesus for the glory of His work to redeem all who trust in Him. Read Daniel 6:22-27 and thank Him for being blameless, v. 22 but condemned in our place; for trusting the Father yet suffering to save us, v. 23.
- Who do you know that lives with great faithfulness to Jesus but faces opposition? Pray for them, asking the Lord to strengthen and sustain them in their loyalty, and to give them influence with others.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to work within you the fruit of love and faithfulness. Pray for God’s surpassing worth and power to have greater sway in your life than the fleeting powers or kingdoms of this world.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (ESV)
Listen to the sermon here.
What circumstance or relationship leaves you with the least hope? What about it seems to be the most perplexing?
DIAGNOSING THE TRUE PROBLEM
The LORD sees what we are and He does not shrink from showing us what we are in the deadness of our attempts to live without Him. So why can we trust that this is loving on His part? Read Ezekiel 37:1-3 & 11. What does it mean for something to be beyond bleak – to be dry, hopeless or cut off? In v. 3, what does God’s question of Ezekiel force him to consider?
Dried bones in a valley could have easily been the leftovers from slaughter and humiliation in battle. Spiritually speaking God was equating those bones with Israel’s exile. Read Ephesians 2:1-3. How deeply do you agree that without Christ you’re dead? How have you thought of yourself as “an easy fix” or are you “dry bones resurrected”? How have you been defeated, humiliated, or even dead without Christ but you have tried to deny it? Confess your pride and unbelief to Jesus, asking Him to forgive and to raise you up to newness of life.
GOD’S WAY OF WORKING (the means of grace)
John’s Gospel begins by speaking of Jesus as full of grace and truth. How does God work to bring life to the dead? Read Ezekiel 37:4-10. Consistent with all of Scripture, in this passage God did two things: 1) He used His Word, vv. 4-6, calling Ezekiel to proclaim His Word to the dead. And 2) by commanding Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind, breath, or Spirit (all the same word in Hebrew) God was calling Ezekiel to call upon the Holy Spirit. God works by His Spirit.
A vehicle needs 2 critical features: propulsion and the ability to steer… God’s Grace accounts for a complete transformation: He gives us external truth with internal motivation, objective reality with subjective interest, knowledge with loyalty. So are you more Word oriented? Or are you more experiential? This is a combination that many in the Church find hard to maintain. Some want merely words; others want ecstatic experience. Both matter!
HOPE TO THE HOPELESS
Believing the Gospel, how has the LORD positioned you to become a messenger of hope? Read Ezekiel 37:11-14 & Ephesians 2:4-9. If the Gospel is a story of God’s work to rescue people like us who were hopeless, why does it make sense that He calls His people to announce His Word to and pray for even the most broken, hopeless, and lifeless?
Clearly, God’s work to raise the dead reveals that He can truly change lives! And who denies the power of death being reversed (e.g. consider popular stories like E.T., Beauty & the Beast, Harry Potter, Anna in Frozen & especially Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe)? So do you believe you’re part of an exceedingly great army? Or do you feel ridiculous speaking to dead bones? What characterizes your prayer-life? Is it pleading for ease, comfort or circumstances, or is it pleading for breath for the dead?
- Worship the LORD that is sovereign even over death and hell. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that there is no person, thing or experience better or greater than He is!
- How have you been defeated, humiliated, or even dead without Christ but you have tried to deny it? Confess your pride and unbelief to Jesus, asking Him to forgive and to raise you up to newness of life.
- Give thanks to Jesus for His work to save us from being lost and dead. Thank Him for His victory over death – that He gives us both direction (by His Truth) and motivation (by His Spirit).
- Whose life would you love to see transformed, especially since it seems so hopeless (and is it your life)? Boldly ask the risen Lord Jesus to breathe life into you and them just as He raised the valley of bones to life.
- Pray for God to lift your gaze for hope in the face of this world’s brokenness. Ask the Holy Spirit to persuade you that Jesus’ work on the cross and His Spirit are what we truly need instead of any earthly circumstance (i.e. money, comfort, status, etc.).
Listen to the sermon here.
Imagine yourself in the position of an exile. How would you describe your situation? What would be your emotions? Your fears? Your hopes?
Ezekiel was called to deliver God’s message to the first wave of exiles brought from Judah to Babylon in 597 B.C. These exiles were the prominent citizens of the land—the king and his family, the soldiers, the priests, and the skilled craftsmen—and so the exile would have been a particularly humiliating experience for them. But a humiliating experience does not necessarily lead to humility. God’s call to Ezekiel was to deliver His Word so that the people would truly humble themselves before Him for their sins. Why do you think God is concerned that we are truly sorrowful for our sins?
Read Ezekiel 16:1-22. Based on verses 1-2, how would you summarize the message that Ezekiel is sent to proclaim? The people of Judah, like us, had the tendency to downplay their true condition in sin—they boasted when they should have been ashamed. Therefore, the prophet is sent to reveal to them the true state of their hearts. In what ways is the allegory in these verses shocking? How does verse 15 help us understand what sin is really like?
At the end of all their wickedness, the people of Judah were brazenly arrogant, ignoring the humiliating beginnings from which God had raised and enriched them (see verse 22). Why are we so inclined to forget or downplay our sinfulness? How are you tempted to forget your true condition as a sinner in need of God’s grace?
God calls us to bear the shame and disgrace of our sin (see Ezekiel 16:52, 54). If we do not humble ourselves by sorrowing over sin, then we will never know the sweetness of His grace (see Matthew 5:2-6). Read Ezekiel 16:59-60. In these verses, God says that He is committed to dealing with us in ways that will lead us to feel the misery of our sins. What is surprising about these verses?
God is committed to remembering His covenant with His people even though they had despised it. This is the very definition of grace: God treating us far better than we deserve. Grace is always surprising, and, when we hear of it, it motivates us to turn from anything that keeps us from experiencing it. How can you daily keep your heart amazed by grace? How would this help you in your struggle against sin?
After He announces His faithful remembrance of the covenant, God describes what the experience of repentance will be like for His people. Read Ezekiel 16:61-63. Seeing our sinfulness and God’s surprising grace leads them to ongoing, deep humility. How does Ezekiel describe this humility in these verses? Although the people will be silent because of the shame of their sins (v. 63), God will provide a reason for them to boast again. Now they will boast in Him and not in themselves. God announces atonement—complete covering—of all their sins, a promise He fulfills at the cross of Christ. What’s the result of this rich gift? Instead of proudly trusting in my righteousness, possessions, status, position, etc., I can forever boast in His righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption—all of which are mine in Christ (read 1 Corinthians 1:28-31)! Can you see why it’s necessary for us to remain humble and appropriately grieved by our sin throughout our lives? Why is it equally important to boast in the cross of Christ (see Galatians 6:14)?
- Worship the LORD for His holiness, faithfulness, and mercy. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for consistently acting towards us in keeping with these marvelous attributes.
- How do you struggle with forgetting your need for God’s grace? Ask God to forgive you for your pride and restore in you a healthy grief over your sinfulness.
- Give thanks to Jesus that He died on the cross to atone for all your sins. Praise Him for His sinless life and willingness to identify Himself with your repulsive state—even when it meant bearing the full weight of God’s wrath that you deserved.
- Who do you know that doesn’t regard themselves as a sinner in need of grace? Ask God to open their eyes so that, seeing the shame of their tragic and irrational rebellion and self-exaltation, they would turn to God’s mercy in Christ.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to develop in you a godly sense of sorrow for your sin. Pray that He would help you feel your “poverty of Spirit,” “mourn” over your sin, and “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (see Matthew 5:2-12).
Listen to the sermon here.
When have you suffered and it was your own fault? What happened, and why is it significant to move toward God in your grief?
BOUND BEFORE THE LORD
Fallen we want to preserve our autonomy and evade accountability. We might try to avoid failure or deny guilt, but what do you do when they become undeniable? Read Lamentations 1:14-18a. What are some of the expressions that the author uses to express being bound, pinned down or stuck? When have you faced an adversary who was clearly more powerful than you are?
Read Jeremiah 33:2-5, James 4:6, and Luke 18:14. What themes do these passages share? What had Jeremiah warned Jerusalem about? The LORD is just and insurmountable in His holiness. He exposes our autonomy for the sham it is, arresting us in our guilt.
BROKEN IN OUR GUILT
The Bible clearly teaches us that we are helpless and lost because of sin’s curse. We’re helpless to remedy our condition. Neither our guilt nor our brokenness is something that we can remove or repair. Read Lamentations 3:19-20. Wormwood and gall speak of something extremely bitter. How is being humbled in your guilt and wreckage bitter?
To wander is the same as being lost. When have you either been lost or known of someone dear to you who was? Why is being lost such a troubling experience? In v. 20 the expression the author uses can also be thought of as being weighed down. Read Galatians 3:10. How is sin’s curse something that weighs us down? Confronted with your own failures, how have you lived as if either 1) you’re not that bad (living in denial), or 2) you can’t be saved (unbelief)? Confess your guilt and ruin to Jesus, asking Him to change what only He can.
MERCIFUL, FAITHFUL, SUFFICIENT
Read Luke 19:10 & Lamentations 3:21-27. What has the LORD promised to all who trust Him? In vv. 21-23 how did Jeremiah cling to God’s grace and mercy? In vv. 24-27 how do you see God’s sufficiency and His kindness to the humble and contrite? Read Jeremiah 33:6-11 & 14-16. Jeremiah (the author of Lamentations) had to have recalled the LORD’s promises to save. Notice the promise that the LORD will save His people by a descendent of King David (a righteous Branch) and that His name will be “The LORD is our righteousness!”
Read Galatians 3:13 and 2 Cor. 5:21. How do these passages help us see Jeremiah’s prophecies fulfilled in Jesus? Imagine no relief from the torment of your guilt or ruin… and then consider the promise of Jesus’ saving grace! If you trust Him, what difference does it make to realize that ALL of your guilt is covered by Jesus’ death in your place? And how does it secure you to know that ALL of Jesus’ righteous record is credited to you in the Father’s eyes? Jesus saves all who trust in Him!
- Worship the LORD for His justice and His mercy. Praise Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that no evil will escape His judgment and yet all who trust Him in Christ will be covered by His grace.
- Confronted with your own failures, how have you lived as if either 1) you’re not that bad (denial), or 2) you can’t be saved (unbelief)? Confess your guilt and ruin to Jesus, asking Him to change what only He can.
- Give thanks to Jesus for His love and power to seek and save the lost! Thank Him for His death as our substitute to cancel out our guilt and for His obedient life to replace our ruin with His righteousness.
- Who do you know that is bitter and lost? Pray for them, asking the Lord to work in their life to move them to turn from their self-will and to genuinely trust Jesus as their God and Savior.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to own your own guilt and brokenness and to trust Jesus for the fullness of His promises. Read Galatians 3:10-14 and pray for the Spirit’s assurance of Jesus’ sufficiency vs. sin’s curse.