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The Return

First Baptist Church https://fbcbartow.org

“The Return”

Series: A Journey through the Old Testament [on screen]

Rev. Matthew C. McCraw, EdD

First Baptist Church, Bartow, Florida

August 15, 2021

Introductory Comments:

What a journey this has been in the Old Testament! We’ve talked about Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the Patriarchs, Joseph, the Exodus, the Law, the Promised Land, the Judges, the Kings, the Prophets, Exile, and now we are here to talk about the Return. [on screen]

I don’t know about you, but I love when I get to return to a place that is special to me. Every time I go out of town, I’m always glad when I return home. When I’ve been away from the church building for a few days, I’m always glad when I get back on the property. To this day, when I go back to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, it’s always special to be back on campus because I spent eight years of my life there. There’s something special about the return. 

Today, we’re going to learn about the return of God’s people to the city of Jerusalem. After seventy years of exile, they were allowed to come home. 

Before we go any further, let’s go to God in prayer and ask Him to speak to us. 


As we journey through this sermon today, we’re going to look at seven major elements, three major truths, and two ways that the Gospel speaks to us through the message of the return. This is our last sermon in this series, so soak it up!

Let’s start by looking at the . . .

I. Major elements[on screen]

First, . . .

1.  King Cyrus of Persia permits the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4). [on screen]

Remember, the people of Judah are under Babylonian captivity at this point. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied that they would be in captivity for seventy years, and indeed they were. 

Babylon conquered Jerusalem and the people of Judah were taken captive. 

Then, the Babylonian empire was conquered by Persia. This happened around 539 BC.

Cyrus the Great, king of the Persian empire, wanted to keep his subjects relatively happy, as well as the gods of the lands of his subjects, so he thought that it might be nice to allow the people of Judah to go back to Jerusalem. 

We learn about this in Ezra 1:1-4 (read in paper Bible)

So, Cyrus permits the exiles from Judah to return. 

Next, we discover that . . .

2. The Jewish exiles would progressively return over the next century. [on screen]

The exiles didn’t all return at once. They would return in four different groups. 

Group 1 – Sheshbazzar led a group to Jerusalem around 537 BC (Ezra 1:11).  [on screen]

Sheshbazzar was a man who was allowed to be a leader to the Jewish people while in Babylon. So, he was also allowed to lead some of the people back to Jerusalem. 

Group 2 – Zerubbabel and Jeshua led a second group to Jerusalem in 525 BC (Ezra 2:1-2). [on screen]

Zerubbabel was a descendant of King Jehoiachin, one of the last kings of Judah. Jeshua was one of the leading priests of the day. These men would lead a second group to Jerusalem, from Babylon. 

Group 3 – Ezra led a group from Babylon in 458 BC (Ezra 7:1-10). [on screen]

Ezra was a priest and a scribe who was serving among God’s people in Babylon and he would lead a third group to Jerusalem. 

Group 4 – Nehemiah led a fourth group to Jerusalem in 445 BC (Nehemiah 2:1-10). [on screen]

Nehemiah was the cup-bearer of the Persian king, Artaxerxes. Later, Nehemiah would become governor of Judah. He led the fourth group back to Jerusalem. 

Next, we learn that . . . 

3. There would be much opposition to their return. [on screen]

The enemies of God would oppose them returning and rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. 

Perhaps the most famous of those who opposed the Jews’ return and their rebuilding of the city was a man named, Sanballat (that’s quite the name, isn’t it?). 

Even though there was a lot of opposition from many people, don’t you know church, that no one can stop God’s plans? It wasn’t easy, but God would see through. 

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that some of the Jews didn’t even want to return. This was for several different reasons, including . . .

. . . the fact that they were comfortable where they were in Babylon (life wasn’t too bad for some of them)

. . . the inability for some to make the journey physically 

. . . fear of failure among some

. . . and downright apathy regarding Jerusalem (some didn’t care about Jerusalem because they never even lived there; Babylon was home for them). 

So, there was reluctance from some Jews and resistance from some others living in the area, but this was God’s plan, so you better believe that it was going to happen. 

So, . . .

4. The Jews would rebuild the temple and the wall and dedicate it to the Lord (Ezra 6:16, Nehemiah 2-6). [on screen]

God continued to work in and through His people and they would settle back in Jerusalem and rebuild the wall and the temple. 

Zerubbabel would lead in the rebuilding of the temple. This temple is what we call the Second Temple. We can learn about the rebuilding of the temple in the book of Ezra. 

Nehemiah would lead the people in rebuilding the walls of the city. We can learn about the rebuilding of the walls in the book of Nehemiah. 

So, God was working and good things were starting to happen among God’s people. 

Things were not quite what they once were, but God was working. By the way, church: do we know anything about that? Do we know anything about things not being what they once were, but God is still working? You better believe it!

Fifth, . . .

5. The Jews confessed their sin and recommitted to the Lord (Ezra 10, Nehemiah 9-12). [on screen]

As the people opened the law of God, they realized that they were far from God’s ways and they confessed their sins and recommitted themselves to the Lord. 

Listen to what Nehemiah 9:1-5 says. (read in paper Bible)

So, the people rededicated themselves to the Lord. 

Then, . . .

6. Nehemiah was appointed governor of Judah by Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 5:14). [on screen]

In Nehemiah 5:14 we read about Nehemiah being appointed as governor. (read in paper Bible)

God is continuing to bless. Not only is Nehemiah able to lead the people back to the land, but he is able to lead them while they are in Jerusalem. 

Finally, . . .

7. The people cast lots to see who would live inside the city of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11-12). [on screen]

Not everyone could fit inside the city of Jerusalem, so they essentially drew straws, or cast lots, to see who could live in the city. 

Can you imagine how exciting that would have been to be a part of the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and then be able to live inside the city walls?

There wasn’t room for everyone, and I think that this is worth noting here, church: There will be plenty of room for everyone in the New Jerusalem! There will be plenty of room in heaven! When the Jews returned to Jerusalem, there was limited room. When Jesus returns, He’ll have plenty of room and plenty of blessings for all of His people. 

So, let us now look at the . . .

II. Major truths[on screen]

1. Sometimes the sting of sin remains . . . for a while. [on screen]

To be clear, the reason that the Jews were in exile and the city of Jerusalem was destroyed was because of their own sin. Remember, God brought this on them as a sign of judgment. 

Now, some of the blessings of God were restored to the people and to the city, but it was not like it once was. The temple was not as great, the city was not as prosperous, and they were left without an earthly king. 

So, although God showed His grace to them, they still had to live with the lasting effects of their sin. 

Isn’t that the same with us, church? You can probably think back to things in your life, or the lives of those you love, that were long ago forgiven by God and perhaps forgiven by others, but there are still lasting consequences. 

Sin leaves a residue sometimes. The sting of sin remains . . . for a while. 

Here’s the reality, the sting of sin won’t last forever. Don’t you know that one day God will totally eliminate sin? He will totally eliminate the residue of sin! He will totally eliminate the sting of sin!

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” [on screen]

There will come a day when Jesus makes all things new!

The sting of sin remains, but not forever. 

Second, . . .

2. God does not forget His people. [on screen]

Even though God brought judgment on His people, He didn’t forget them. He still showed grace to those who repented. He still brought them blessings again. 

The truth is, they would once again reject Him and they would go back and forth between sin/judgment and repentance/blessing. 

However, God still did not forget them. He would one day send His Son, Jesus the Messiah, to truly rescue them. His grace and blessings are always there for His people. He will not forget His people. 

The same is true for His people today. God does not forget His people. God sees you and what you’re going through. God sees our church and what we are going through. When families hurt, God sees them. When you are abused or wronged, God sees you. When churches suffer heart-breaking splits, God sees them. When churches face devastating pandemics, God sees them. 

Listen, God never forgets His people. 

3. God will always bring His people home. [on screen]

God has a home prepared for you and He will always bring you home. 

That takes us quickly to our last section:

III. The Gospelspeaks[on screen]

1. Jesus is preparing a home for our return. [on screen]

Adam and Eve were at home with God in the Garden of Eden, but their sin exiled them. They lost their home. They were exiled. 

Folks, we are meant to be at home with God. However, we are exiled because of our sin. Now, Jesus wants us to come home and He is preparing a home for us. 

John 14:1-3 says, “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. [on screen]

God has a home prepared for you and millions of other people to come to Him!

There will also be a great number of Jewish people who return home to God and to their Messiah. 

Paul says in Romans 11:25-27,“I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you will not be conceited: A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’” [on screen]

We don’t know how all of this will play out, but we know that God will bring many of the Jewish people back to Himself. Praise God for that!

The second way that the Gospel speaks is . . .

2. Jesus will powerfully return to take us home. [on screen]

The Jewish people weren’t the only ones to return. Jesus will return also, and He will do so powerfully!

There will be plenty of room for everyone in the New Jerusalem and it will not be a let-down in any way! It will be beautiful and bountiful! It will be the home we always needed and the home for which we were designed!

Doesn’t that encourage you, church? It should! The promise has already been made! Jesus will return! Be filled with hope and live for your heavenly home, not your earthly home!

Concluding Thoughts:

Let’s summarize everything with this bottom line:

Bottom Line: God wants us to be at home. Sin takes us from home. God brings us back home. [on screen]


That’s the message of the Return of the Jewish people, and that’s the message of the entire Bible!

Challenge yourself this week to live this out in the following ways:

Weekly Challenge: [on screen]

1. Ask yourself what you’ve learned from the OldTestament. [on screen]

Take some time and reflect upon all that God has taught you.

Perhaps you need to review the audio or video recordings of these fourteen sermons. Maybe you need to read over them as a matter of personal study. All of the material from this sermon series is on our website at bartow.church. 

Take some this week and ask yourself what God has taught you and reflect upon what you’ve learned. 

2. Comehome. [on screen]

Are you away from God? Come home! Are you lost in your sin? Come home! Have you left the intimacy that comes from being at home? Come home!

Don’t let this week pass, don’t let this day pass, don’t let the next five minutes pass without coming home to Jesus!

Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling: calling, “O Sinner, come home!”


If you’ve wandered away, come home to Jesus! If you’ve not yet discovered the home that God has for you, come home to Jesus! Come home!

(Gospel presentation)

(closing prayer)

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.