January 9: Matthew 9 & Ezra 9
Genesis 9; Matthew 9; Ezra 9; Acts 9
Two chapters in today’s readings have more than a casual connection to each other.
In Matthew 9, Jesus heals person after person. But then at the end of the chapter, Jesus continues to observe the people, how
. . . they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (36)
They are afflicted by so many enemies. And so Jesus has compassion on them, and then he instructs his disciples:
Matthew 9:37–38 (ESV): “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
When we too see the ugliness of sin in our world, we are to pray against it, by asking God to send more workers, to deliver people from sin and its ugly consequences. When we see our world in the news, and all its hate and pain and abuse, among other verses, Matthew 9:37-38 should come to mind.
And what will these workers look like? They will, in part, look like Ezra, in Ezra 9. Ezra was a prophet among the Jewish refugees who returned from Babylon. And Ezra was truly a worker in the Lord’s harvest. He was a man who had set his heart to study the law of God, but more than that, to do it, and then to teach it to the people (Ezra 7:10). And thus God’s hand was upon him (Ezra 7:28).
But by chapter 9 of Ezra, the refugees had already begun to forget the lessons of the past, and they began intermarrying with the peoples of neighboring lands (Ezra 9:1). The danger was not intermarriage itself; it was that these foreign wives would lead their husbands away from the living God. And worst of all, the leading families were most guilty (Ezra 9:2).
When Ezra hears this, he is grieved to his core, tearing his garments and pulling out his hair. He then sits “appalled” among the people until sunset (9:3). It’s this reaction that grabs the attention of those who feared God (9:4). This is the reaction of a man after God’s own heart, who sees clearly how sin harasses and oppresses. It’s his reaction that shocks those around him into sane clarity.
This is the same kind of reaction that Paul had in Acts 17:16, when he noticed the idolatry of Athens. His reaction led him to speak, and in the end, to save some at the Aeropagus. The kind of worker Jesus wants us to pray for is one who sees sin for what it is, is appalled by it, and yet responds to it with the constructive love of the gospel.