The rise of Cyrus and his conquering of Babylon created an opportunity for the previously conquered people of Judah. Contrary to Babylon’s policy of forcing captured peoples to relocate and adapt to Babylonian culture, the Persians pursued a policy of tolerance, allowing people to live by their own traditions and culture as long as they paid tribute and accepted Persian suzerainty. In keeping with this policy, Cyrus, king of Persia, issued a decree authorizing Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4).
The royal decree removed the barriers set up by Nebuchadnezzar in response to Judah’s resistance from his original incursion into the land around 605/6 B.C. to the destruction of the temple as punishment in 586/87 B.C. However, while the Persians stepped back and even encouraged Jewish efforts (from a polytheistic desire to have all gods on their side), the Jews had the responsibility—not only in Cyrus’ eyes but God’s eyes—to leave the modern conveniences available in Babylonia and return to the rubble that was their homeland. This was no easy task, and undertaking it would require a number of sacrifices. But family leaders, priests, and Levites stepped forward to volunteer to rebuild (Ezra 1:5), others gave to their efforts and encouraged them onward (Ezra 1:6), Cyrus returned items taken by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezra 1:7), and Sheshbazzar collected the offerings and guarded them to ensure they were used only in the project for which they were given (Ezra 1:8-11).
We rarely appreciate what it takes to get important efforts in the Lord’s work started. It takes leadership, both in the congregation and in individual families, so committed to the success of the work that they will sacrifice, work long hours, and fuel it with sleepless nights because they know its ultimate value in the kingdom. It takes ongoing encouragement from others, including financial assistance, volunteering to help whenever possible, and just regular words of assurance for all involved. It takes a mindset that seizes an opportunity when it presents itself instead of relying on good luck and outside help to create church growth and spiritual maturity. Finally, it takes acting with integrity, exhibiting a sense of responsibility to God that makes doing His work for His people and His cause the focus of life rather than a hobby of the moment. The Lord’s work does not go forward because we worship on Sunday; the Lord’s work goes forward when that is our focus between Sundays.