February 22, 2024

Ezra: Weeping and Prayer Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: Ezra: Weeping and Prayer
‌TEXT:  Ezra 9:1-15 (ESV)
‌SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
‌DATE: 2-25-24

Watch the sermon here
Take notes here


‌As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.


We’re returning to our Finding Jesus series this weekend. If you’re new to Gateway Church, this is a series we’ve been working our way through since 2018. In this series, I introduce you to a book of the Bible that you may or may not be familiar with. I’ll give you an overview of the book — followed by a closer look at a particular section of it. And then — and this is what I hope will be most helpful — in each sermon I show you how to find Jesus. I show you how to find the one story the whole Bible is telling — the story of Jesus. Because the whole Bible is ultimately pointing us to him.

And — we’re actually finishing up a section of the Old Testament that we started last year — but we had three books left to go once Christmas came around. And these three books are the final books in the Old Testament for us to review. So — in just a few weeks — we’ll have completed our journey through the entire Old Testament. And — on our website — you can search for our Finding Jesus series where you’ll find one sermon on every book in the Old Testament. And I hope that you’ll grow to know and love these Old Testament books and spend time in them — finding Jesus — and the joy that’s found only in him.

Our final three books are part of a larger group in the Old Testament that are referred to as the books of history. You see, what these books have in common is that they cover historical events in the life of God’s people. Some of the books cover hundreds of years while others cover a brief period of time — but — together — they tell the historical account of God’s people. And — today — we’ll be looking at the book of Ezra. So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to Ezra chapter nine. And — as you’re finding Ezra chapter nine — let’s take some time to get our bearings in the book — and I hope you’ll see that Ezra is a book you’ll want to go read for yourself.


‌Something you should know about Ezra — the book — is that it and Nehemiah are considered one book by many biblical scholars. The first time in history where Ezra and Nehemiah are considered two separate books is found in the writings of Origen who lived between 185-253 AD. Scholars aren’t certain if Origen originated the idea — or if he was taught it by someone else — but Origen is the first person who suggests separating the books. For the purposes of our Finding Jesus series, we’re considering them as separate books — looking at Ezra today and Nehemiah next week.

Now — before we look at the man who this book is named after — we need to understand where we are in the history of God’s people. The books of history pick up where the books of Moses end. Having been rescued out of Egypt — the Israelites are led by Moses to the outskirts of the Promised Land. They send spies into the land to scope out their new home — only to be given a discouraging report from the majority of the spies which caused the people to distrust God’s promise to them. This results in them wandering in the wilderness for forty years until an entire generation dies. 

Moses — along with Joshua and Caleb — the two spies who did believe God’s promise — once again arrive at the outskirts of the Promised Land with the next generation of Israelites. However Moses’ time on earth had come to an end. This is when God appoints Joshua to be the leader of the Israelites — and under Joshua’s leadership — the Israelites enter and conquer the Promised Land. 

After Joshua — there’s a brief period when the people faithfully serve and worship God. But then we come to the book of Judges which contains the history of the people turning their backs on God — the theological term is apostasy — which they commit again and again. Yet God — in a demonstration of his love and faithfulness to his people — even when they don’t deserve it — God raises up judges who act as saviors for his people — delivering them from the consequences of their rebellion. 

And — it’s during the time of the judges — that the story of Ruth takes place. A love story of an outsider welcomed into the family of God. And the book of Ruth ends by telling us that the son born to her — would have a descendant who would be king of God’s people.

Back in the book of Judges there’s a repeated phrase — “in those days there was no king in Israel” — foreshadowing that a kingship was to come. And the books of Samuel begin by recording the transition between the time of the judges to the time of the monarchy. Samuel is a prophet who’s called by God to anoint the first king of Israel — his name is Saul. Things don’t go well for Saul — he’s a proud man who refuses to repent of his rebellion and sin — so God removes his anointing from Saul and tells Samuel to go to the house of Jesse to anoint Israel’s next king — whose name is David. And the remainder of the books of Samuel record the lives of these first two kings of Israel.

Leading us to the book of First Kings which begins by covering the end of David’s life and then records the history of David’s son — Solomon’s — reign as king of Israel. Solomon is the last king to reign over a unified nation because — his son Rehoboam — will make a foolish decision which results in a divided nation. The nation of Judah is formed with Jerusalem as its capital and has the descendants of David as its king. And the nation of Israel goes its separate way — with Samaria as its capital.

And — it’s during this time period — that the role of the prophet becomes important. The main job of the prophet was…1) to speak on God’s behalf, 2) to make sure the king and the people remember the covenants, 3) to call out idolatry and injustice, and 4) to call the king and the people to repentance. And the prophets had the Law of God — the writings of Moses — in mind as they fulfilled their role.

Two prophets are highlighted in the books of kings — Elijah and Elisha — they both serve in the northern kingdom — Israel. You may be familiar with Elijah because of his encounter with the evil king Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. The king and his wife had led the people into gross idolatry — particularly the worship of Baal. And — there’s an amazing encounter between Elijah and the prophets of Baal — where God rains down fire to prove that he is the only true God and that Elijah is his prophet.

As Elijah’s time on earth comes to an end — he hands off his responsibilities to Elisha. And Elisha asks to have a double anointing of what Elijah had as God’s prophet. And — as if to make this clear — the author of the books of kings — records seven miraculous acts performed at the hands of Elijah and fourteen performed by Elisha.

Now — as far as the two nations go — you’ll read of king after king, and conspiracy after conspiracy, and betrayal after betrayal in Israel — and Israel never recovers — leading to its eventual defeat by the Assyrians and the people being sent into exile — resulting in the northern kingdom being no more. You may wonder, “Why did God allow the nation of Israel to be destroyed?” Israel is destroyed because of its 1) idolatry, 2) injustice, and 3) its covenant unfaithfulness. The kings and the people would not listen to the prophets God had sent to call them to repentance and to turn back to him — resulting in their destruction.

And — now — our attention turns to the nation of Judah — the southern kingdom — and its eventual demise. Judah does have some good kings — like Hezekiah and Josiah — but it also has some horrific kings — like Manasseh — who introduce idolatry and even child sacrifice. We meet other prophets during this time period who call the kings of Judah to repent and turn back to God. And — though there were a few good kings — the evil kings eventually lead the nation so far from God that Judah too is conquered. And the books of the kings end with the people of God being led to go live in exile in Babylon. And this leads us — the readers — to wonder if this is it for God’s people. Have they finally gone so far that God is done with them? And — now — we turn to our book — Ezra. The people have been living in exile for fifty years. 


The book of Ezra is easily divided into two parts because it highlights the leadership of two individuals: Zerubbabel — in chapters one through six — and Ezra — in chapters seven through ten. Zerubbabel’s section begins this way.

Ezra 1:1–4 (NLT)
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom: 2 “This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! 4 Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.”

The opening verses mentions a prophecy given by Jeremiah. Here’s what was being referred to.

Jeremiah 25:1–14 (NLT)
This message for all the people of Judah came to Jeremiah from the Lord during the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign over Judah. This was the year when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon began his reign. 2 Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people in Judah and Jerusalem, 3 “For the past twenty-three years — from the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah, until now — the Lord has been giving me his messages. I have faithfully passed them on to you, but you have not listened. 4 “Again and again the Lord has sent you his servants, the prophets, but you have not listened or even paid attention. 5 Each time the message was this: ‘Turn from the evil road you are traveling and from the evil things you are doing. Only then will I let you live in this land that the Lord gave to you and your ancestors forever. 6 Do not provoke my anger by worshiping idols you made with your own hands. Then I will not harm you.’ 7 “But you would not listen to me,” says the Lord. “You made me furious by worshiping idols you made with your own hands, bringing on yourselves all the disasters you now suffer. 8 And now the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Because you have not listened to me, 9 I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever. 10 I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out. 11 This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years. 12Then, after the seventy years of captivity are over, I will punish the king of Babylon and his people for their sins,” says the Lord. “I will make the country of the Babylonians a wasteland forever. 13 I will bring upon them all the terrors I have promised in this book — all the penalties announced by Jeremiah against the nations. 14 Many nations and great kings will enslave the Babylonians, just as they enslaved my people. I will punish them in proportion to the suffering they cause my people.”

Now — what I’m about to say may surprise you: God’s people didn’t deserve exile. We tend to think of this time of exile as an overly severe punishment from God — as if the punishment doesn’t fit the crime because the punishment is too harsh or something. I’d like to suggest something else. They didn’t deserve exile because — instead of the punishment fitting their crimes of rebellion and idolatry — exile was actually God being merciful towards his people. You see, even though they’re punished — the people don’t get what they deserve — what they deserve is death — what they got was exile. Exile was God’s mercy. And — now — even though they don’t deserve it — but simply because God had promised it to them — the people are beginning to return to the Promised Land — they’re time of exile is coming to an end.

So what’s the lesson for them? God keeps his Word. He clearly told them what the consequences would be if they rebelled against him — yet they went on living in rebellion anyway. And God had told them that their exile would eventually come to an end — not because they deserve it to end — but because God is faithful, loving, kind, and merciful towards his people. Seeing his faithfulness in keeping Word would give them confidence to know that God will keep all of his promises to them.

So what’s the lesson for us? It’s the same lesson: God keeps his Word. And he’s clearly told us what the consequences are if we rebel against him. Yet many people — Christian and not — live in rebellion anyway. Sometimes we experience the consequences of our sin and rebellion immediately — we’re the people who experience our lives being uprooted like we’re living in exile. What I find more frightening — though — is how often we’re like the generations who kept living in their rebellion and didn’t experience the consequences — instead a future generation would suffer for the rebellion of the generations who came before them. Yet we all — no matter who you are — experience the faithfulness, love, kindness, and mercy of God — all of which are undeserved. And we know that we experience these gracious gifts from God for there’s still breath in our lungs which means there’s still time for us to repent — to listen and respond to his Word — as we trust him to keep his Word of forgiving those who come to him in faith.

Continuing in the book of Ezra, Zerubabbel leads a group of Israelites back to Jerusalem — this is what we read about in chapters three through six. Under his leadership, the altar is rebuilt — this is where the sacrifices are to be made — and eventually the Temple is rebuilt — which is a cause for much celebration. In fact, this is meant to make us think of a passage that we looked at in the book of First Kings.

When the Temple was first built — and the ark of the covenant had just been placed inside the Most Holy Place in the Temple — then…

1 Kings 8:10–11 (NLT)
10 When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. 11 The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of the Lord.

The cloud was the presence of God with his people — it was a joyous occasion. But look at what happens when the Temple is rebuilt by those who returned from exile.

Ezra 3:10–13 (NLT)
When the builders completed the foundation of the Lord’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets. And the Levites, descendants of Asaph, clashed their cymbals to praise the Lord, just as King David had prescribed. 11 With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord: “He is so good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!” Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid. 12 But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. 13 The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.

While the younger generation was shouting for joy the older generation was weeping. Do you know why? What didn’t happen this time and — in case you’re wondering — it didn't happen at any stage during the rebuilding of the Temple. There’s no cloud of God’s presence. The Lord doesn’t reside in this rebuilt Temple. He’s absent — and yet — many of the returning exiles are rejoicing. What a sad situation — they’re rejoicing without realizing that God’s presence is completely absent.

What does this result in? Well — when Ezra arrives on the scene — he finds that those who had returned from exile have once again abandoned God’s Word. And this is a concern for him — because — Ezra is a priest, and a scribe — someone who studied and understood the Law of Moses — and he was a teacher of God’s Word.


And this leads us to the passage we’re going to look at more closely. We’re in Ezra chapter nine — beginning in verse one.

Ezra 9:1–15 (ESV)
After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.”

So the Israelites have intermarried with people from the surrounding areas. This was something God’s Word prohibited as he knew that these foreigners would lead the people to worship false gods. This isn’t about race or ethnicity — this is about worship — for the One true God will not tolerate his people worshiping anyone or anything but him. And — what’s worse — is that the very people called to lead — the officials and chief men — have been the worst offenders. Now look at Ezra’s response to the sin of the people.

3 As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.

Ezra wasn’t alone — there were others who trembled at God’s Word — and they sat with Ezra until the evening sacrifice. They’re rightfully appalled at the sin and faithlessness they’ve witnessed. What do we do when we’re appalled at the behavior of others? We let them have it, don’t we? We cancel them — that’s what we do. But look at what Ezra does.

5 And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God, 6 saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. 8 But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. 9 For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.

Ezra prays. He acknowledges their guilt before God — their deserving of punishment — he uses the word “our” throughout his prayer — “our iniquities, our guilt.” And he acknowledges God’s steadfast love throughout their exile. He continues his prayer with…

10 “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 11 which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. 12 Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’

God had warned his people. They rebelled. He punished them. And then — even after their rescue from exile — the people return to their disobedience — they quickly rebel against God’s Word.

13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, 14 shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? 15 O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.”

Notice how Ezra continues to use “our” and “we” instead of “you” and “them.” “Our iniquities. Our guilt. We’ve forsaken your commandments. Our evil deeds. Our great guilt.” 

He doesn’t separate himself from the people — he is one of them. Their sin is his sin. Their guilt is his guilt. Their disobedience to God’s Word is his disobedience to God’s Word. I know this is hard for us to fathom is such an individualistic society — but this is what it means to be the people of God. In the US, we’ve done well at teaching that God saves us from sin — as individuals — but we haven’t done a good job of teaching how he then unites us to our Savior as a people. What has this resulted in? The prevalence of Long Ranger Christianity in our country. What do I mean?

After a quick Google search, I found two numbers. The first is how many people claim to be Christian in our nation. The number? Two hundred and ten million. That’s incredible. Now that’s self-reporting, but even if half of this total is true that would be an incredible number to me. 

Here’s the other number. Twenty-five million. That’s the average number of people worshiping Jesus in a church on any given Sunday. Now people travel. Others are shut-ins due to age or medical conditions and can’t gather with a local church — I understand that there are exceptions as to why some Christians can’t gather with other Christians to worship Jesus. But the gap between “self-professed Christians” and “worshiping in a local church Christians” is quite appalling. It’s shocking. How dare we point the finger at anyone else — when it comes to the moral state of our nation — when the people of God aren’t doing what the people of God were saved to do: to gather together to worship their Savior. Instead of blaming them — politicians, woke folk, racists, or whoever — maybe we should learn from Ezra — and those with him who trembled at the Word of God — and weep and pray for our nation.

It’s easy to blame. It’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to speak ill of those who we think are responsible for the state of our country — and we can stick it to them with our words and feel like we’ve won or something. Yet I found a note in one of my study Bibles to be quite helpful in this regard. The note states, “Ezra knew that these sinful people would not be moved by a sternly worded sermon condemning them. Instead, he tore his clothes, wept, and mourned over the sinfulness of the nation.” Maybe what our nation needs most is for the people of God to weep and mourn over the sinfulness of our nation as we pray for God’s Spirit to help us to be faithful disciples of Jesus who take him at his Word.


Speaking of Jesus — and taking him at his Word — in Luke’s gospel — there’s an interesting connection to all of this in the life of Jesus. We’re in the final week of Jesus’ life…

Luke 19:41–44 (ESV)
And when he drew near and saw the city (that’s Jerusalem), he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Jesus knows the judgment that’s going to come upon both the people and the city of Jerusalem because of their rejection and murder of him. And he weeps. 

Jesus doesn’t find it delightful to know that they’re all going to get what they deserve — he weeps. Do you know why? Because he’s kind, loving, compassionate, and good. He won’t withhold the justice they deserve — but the punishment of the unrepentant brings him no delight. What brings him delight is the repentance of his enemies. 

What brings you delight? Knowing that they — whoever they are — will get what they deserve? Or the thought of them repenting and turning to Jesus for their salvation? Like Jesus, do you ever weep for those you view as the enemy?

In the very next verses we read…

Luke 19:45–48 (ESV)
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” 47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.

Jesus wept for his enemies before he threw them out of the temple. Did he get angry? Yes, but after he wept for them. Do you weep before you get angry or is anger your only response?

Something else we just saw — though — was God’s presence returning to the temple. This time — not in the form of a cloud — but in the form of a man. And he drove out those who were demonstrating faithlessness — turning God’s house into a place for robbers instead of a place of prayer. And — Jesus returned to the temple — during the final days of his life — to teach the Word of God. And — while his opponents were plotting to kill him — many in the crowd were hanging on to his every word.

Are you hanging on to Jesus’ words — or are you hanging on to the words of someone else? Jesus has given you words of life and hope and joy and peace — so that you might experience an eternal day when weeping will be no more. But — for those who reject Jesus and his words — that eternal day will be one of weeping that never ends. 

The people of God weep today. We weep because of sin — our sin and the sins of others — and the destruction it causes. We weep because of our nation and the moral decay we see in us and all around us. We weep because of our world. We weep and we pray — confessing our sins as we confess our trust in our God and Savior who came to save and redeem the world — and who always keeps his Word. Let’s pray.


Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word. You are a speaking God — the One who speaks to your people. You tell us how to live so that we honor you and experience life at its very best — for you are the designer of how we’re to live.

Spirit, you guided the human authors of Scripture so that your Word was kept pure and undefiled. You preserved your Word — giving us confidence in it. Thank you for this gift — help us to grow in our trust in your Word to us so that we live according to it. And — when we fail — which we all will — may we weep over our sin and the sins of others — repent — and begin living faithfully once again.

And — Jesus — thank you for showing us how to respond to the sin in us and in our world. Help us — for we need it — help us so that our first response to sin is weeping and prayer. And thank you for sacrificing yourself to break the power of sin in us and in our world. May we — your people — be humbled by your love and sacrifice. And may we faithfully follow you so the world sees the love you have for them. And we pray this in your name. Amen.


As you go — may you take God at his Word. And may your response to sin be weeping and prayer as you trust in Christ for your hope and salvation. Amen.

God loves you. I love you. You are sent.