Grace For The Journey
We are a series of messages in the Book of Nehemiah. The year is 444 BC and Nehemiah has completed one of the greatest rebuilding projects in the history of civil engineering. He has led the people to rebuild the broken-down walls around the city of Jerusalem. The walls had been lying in ruins over a hundred years since being knocked down by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity. You will remember God disciplined His children for their unfaithfulness and idolatry, allowing them to be carried off into captivity.
The time of discipline has ended and
God works through the events of history
To get His people back into Jerusalem.
He raises up several people to do this. One of them was a man named Ezra, the priest. He is a contemporary of Nehemiah’s which means he is right there in Jerusalem along with Nehemiah. Ezra leads the rebuilding of the temple and then God brings Nehemiah down from Susa, 1,000 miles away, bringing him to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.
A point I have made from the very first study in our series is that . . .
The Book of Nehemiah is not just about
The physical rebuilding of walls,
The spiritual rebuilding of people.
The fact that Nehemiah did not just finish the wall and then go back to the king’s palace in Susa indicates that he was concerned about more than a physical rebuilding project.
He was genuinely concerned about
The spiritual welfare of God’s people.
Physical structures are not,
In and of themselves,
The most important thing.
It is what the people
On the inside are doing.
I have often noted that the church is not a building, but a Body. Sometimes a visitor will come and look inside the sanctuary and say, “What a beautiful church!” and I will correct them by saying, “Yes, it is a beautiful sanctuary. The church is beautiful, too; a beautiful Body of brothers and sisters.”
From the opening study I have noted that the Book of Nehemiah can be divided into two main sections, two main divisions . . .
Two (2) Main Divisions of Nehemiah:
I. Reconstruction of the Walls [Chapters 1-7]
II. Reinstruction of the People [Chapters 8-13]
Rebuilding people takes more time. How many days did it take to rebuild the wall? Just 52 days to build the walls. But rebuilding people takes a long time. I am sure you are familiar with the song, “He’s Still Working On Me” . . .
He’s still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me
How do you go about rebuilding a people spiritually?
You bring out the Book.
That is the focus of the passage before us today.
From reconstruction of wall
To reinstruction of the people.
Re-instruction through the Word of God.
If there is one thing that stands out in this passage it is . . .
The centrality of the Word of God
Among the gathered people of God.
The Word of God, the Bible, must be central to the gathering together of the people of God. True revival has always followed the regular systematic teaching of the Word of God. True revival. Not revival that is scheduled or calendared. But true revival is not something that is scheduled.
True revival is when God shows up
When He pleases to awaken His people,
Reviving them to love Him and live for Him.
I saw a church banner outside a church that read, “Revival is Coming.” I thought to myself, “Boy, I sure hope so.” Because if revival comes to that church, revival will come to us, as well.
Martyn Lloyd Jones in his book entitled, Preachers and Preaching, notes that “the primary task of the church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.” And he makes this statement about revival: “The decadent periods and eras in the history of the Church have always been those periods when preaching had declined”… “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching”… “A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the Church.”
And by “true preaching,” Lloyd-Jones means the kind of preaching that is going on here in Nehemiah 8.
The reading of the Word,
The explaining of the Word,
And the people’s
Responding to the Word.
True preaching is that
Which demonstrates a confidence
Not in the speaker, but in
An absolute confidence
In the sufficiency
To change lives.
During the Protestant Reformation, for example, there was a renewed emphasis upon the teaching of the Bible. Going through Books of the Bible and explaining the meaning of the passages. The Reformers such as Luther and Calvin believed in the systematic exposition of Scripture. In fact, when Calvin was banished from the city of Geneva, he left on Easter Sunday in 1538, banished from Geneva by the city fathers. Three years later when he was allowed to return in September of 1541 he entered into the church and into the pulpit and on that first Sunday back he began to preach at the very place where he had left off three and a half years earlier! Such confidence in the power and sufficiency of the Word to teach the gathered people of God.
In our study this morning we will see what happens when God’s Word is central to the church . . .
1. God’s People Gather Eagerly.
Verse 1 tells us, “Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel.” There are tens of thousands of people now gathering together back in the city of Jerusalem. They have not as of yet been able to gather in this fashion because the walls were broken down. There was no defined city of Jerusalem until the walls were built back up. Now that they are up, the people of God gather together to hear the Word.
They gather together “in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate.” They are not gathering near the altar of the Temple. They are gathering in the open square because congregational worship is not about animal sacrifices, but about the Body coming together, gathering around the Word of God.
The Bible says in verse 1 that they “gathered together as one man.” That simply means, “there is unanimity in their interest in hearing the Word of God, they are united around the Word.” They are very eager to hear the Word!
This would have been a scroll. Codices or books as we know them today did not become in use until after the time of Christ in the early Christian centuries. Ezra likely pointed to various portions of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and read from them as he preached to the people.
It is the people themselves
Who are calling for Ezra
To come read the Word:
“They told Ezra the scribe
To bring the Book
Of the Law of Moses,
Which the Lord
Had commanded Israel.”
The people were eager to hear the Word. God’s people love God’s Word, amen? I heard about a little boy who asked his daddy, “Daddy, is this book God’s book?” And his dad said, “Well son, of course it is.” He said, “Well then we had better send it back to Him, because we never use it.” God’s people love God’s Word. The Word of God is food for our soul! I get up in the morning get the Word out and just pray . . .
Your Word to me
And open me
To Your Word,”
And He does!
I find myself often just pausing as I am reading and saying, “God, I love Your Word. Thank You!” Can you relate? Like the Psalmist in Psalm 19:10, The truths of Your Word are “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”
Verse 2 says, “So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.” Note that: “men and women and all who could hear with understanding,” that is children who were able to hear with understanding. Never underestimate the capacity of children’s ability to understand the Word preached. Sometimes children get more out of the preaching than adults! When God’s Word is central to the church, God’s people gather eagerly.
Secondly, when God’s Word is central . . .
2) God’s People Listen Attentively.
Verse 3 states, “Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” They were attentive. When the Word is central to worship, God’s people gather eagerly and listen attentively. Proof of their listening attentively is provided in the first part of verse 3. How long were they listening to the Word? From morning until midday. That is from the first light of day until noon. That is a five-hour, perhaps six-hour meeting. We will note in a moment that the people are standing the entire time the preaching is going on! No coffee breaks. Five to six hours of teaching the Word.
Adrian Rogers used to say to his congregation, “I came to preach; I trust you came to listen; and you ought not to get finished listening before I finish preaching!” Some preachers have capitulated to worldly standards of time, looking to the toastmaster speech model or little “sermonettes” of 10-20 minutes to keep people’s attention.
We have a much more
Important task here!
We are not giving talks,
We are presenting
The very Word of God.
To listen attentively is
To prepare diligently.
We come prepared to hear
The very Word of God.
We come believing God is going to speak to us in His life-giving, life-changing Word of God
James Hamilton notes there are three good reasons to listen attentively to the reading and teaching of the Bible . . .
- It honors God.
- It is good for your soul.
- It encourages the preacher.
That is so true. I look out as I preach, and I find myself more likely to look at the people who are engaged! Listening! Bible open! It encourages the person who is preaching.
Verse 4 and 5 say, “So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.”
That is what happens as our church family gathers every week! It is not mandatory to do this. The verse is descriptive, not prescriptive. It is merely describing what took place, not mandating the standing up, but it a way to honor the reading of the Word. It reminds us that we are in the presence of God Himself who will now speak to us from His very Word. It is an aid to our listening attentively.
Ezra is preaching the Word and he is accompanied by these 13 others with him on the platform, six on one side, seven on the other. Maybe they took turns reading from the Word. Ezra is the primary preacher as indicated in verse 6, “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
This is genuine worship of the One True and Living God . . .
As the man of God
Brings the Word of God
To the people of God
For the glory of God.
They are bowing their heads in contrition, worshiping at times with their faces to the ground. Other times they speak. They say things out loud! They say, “Amen, Amen!” They lift up their hands. It is biblical. Some of us do not know what to do when people say amen or lift their hands. Like the guy who visited one of those cold churches and sat in the back. And the preacher got up and preached and read from the Bible and the man said, “Amen!” And everybody turned around and looked at him. Later on, same thing, the man said, “Praise the Lord!’ And people raised their eyebrows. Finally, the man again said, “Amen!” And an usher went over to him and tapped him on the shoulder to quite him down. The usher said, “What’s wrong with you anyway?!” The man said, “Well, I’ve just got Jesus!” And the usher said, “Well, you didn’t get Jesus here! So tone it down a bit.”
Verse 7 states, “Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place.” These individuals are a different group of guys than the ones on the platform with Ezra. These are Levites who apparently are scattered among the people listening. The Levites are tasked with helping people understand the Word. You see that there in the latter part of verse 7, “the Levites helped the people understand the Law.” Most scholars believe that the way this worked was Ezra was preaching and teaching the Word of God from the platform, and the Levites among the tens of thousands of people made sure that everyone understood what they were hearing. There would be the reading and teaching of a text and then a pause as this further teaching would take place among the crowd as the Levites moved among the congregation. It may well be, too, that some of the folks needed a little help with the language being accustomed to the Babylonian language and maybe a little rusty on their Hebrew.
Verse 8 says, “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.” Here is the preacher’s task week after week.
- To “read distinctly from the book,”
- To “give the sense,” the meaning, teaching the Word,
- To “help them to understand the reading.”
Biblical preaching is teaching.
I read about a time when William Still, a preacher from Aberdeen, Scotland had a man visit his congregation. He met him at the door after his sermon. The man said, “You don’t preach.” William Still said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, you just read the Bible and explain it.” And Still said to him, “Sir, that is preaching.” And that is precisely what is going on here. The teaching and explaining of the Word of God. Notice the stress on understanding in this passage: It is mentioned in verse 2, verse 3, verse 7, verse 8, and we will see in verse 12.
There is a sense in which we may identify a precedent here for the importance of both big groups and small groups. We have big group like this, the gathered body for the corporate teaching of the Word, and then small Bible Study groups that we provide on Sunday morning and evenings. The smaller more intimate gathering for the teaching of the Word, making sure everyone understands.
The best Bible Study classes are those that both edify and multiply, edifying those who gather through careful instruction of the Word, and starting new groups of classes so that more people can learn in a more intimate setting. Edify and Multiply. When was the last time your class started a new group?
When the Word is central to worship, God’s people gather eagerly, listen attentively, and thirdly . . .
3) Respond Accordingly.
Every time God’s Word is proclaimed, it calls for response. When the people understand the Word, they respond accordingly. We see that here in the following verses:
Verse 9, “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.” They understood the Word and it caused them to weep. There was brokenness which suggests repentance. And it is this brokenness then, that opens the door to rejoicing. Verse 10:
Verse 10, “Then he (Nehemiah)said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” That phrase, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” is best translated as “The Lord’s joy,” or “the joy that belongs to Yahweh.” It is God’s joy that is your strength. It is God’s joy in disciplining His children, forgiving His children, moving the hearts of kings to get His children back to Jerusalem. Jerusalem. It is God’s joy in doing all of this – and giving them understanding of that truth – that serves to strengthen them.
God has given His children favor in their being brought back to the land, their sin forgiven, and their being restored. It is good that they understand their past sin and the hearing of God’s Word has reminded them of the guilt of their sin which it has been forgiven. It is the joy of the Lord to do what He has done to get them back to their homeland. This is a day of rejoicing.
Verse 11 says, “So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.’” God loves His people! He delights in His people. If you are a Christian, you are among His people! You are loved perfectly in Christ and God delights in you! Like God’s children in Nehemiah, you have sinned and you feel the weight of guilt and the burden of sin, but in Christ Jesus, you are forgiven. It brings God joy to forgive you of your sin. The joy of the Lord is your strength!
Verse 12 states, “And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.” The people rejoiced. They rejoiced “greatly” because “they understood the words that were declared to them.”
If you are not a Christian, God wants you to know Him. He is has chosen to reveal Himself to you through His Word. It was His Word that spoke creation into existence. It was His Word that became flesh in the God-Man Jesus Christ. His Word points to the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. The most important response you can make today is to respond to God’s Word by receiving the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, as your Lord and Savior. Turn from your sin and turn to God and be saved from the wrath to come. Trust Jesus today as Lord and Savior.
If you are a Christian, know that you have far more cause for rejoicing than the people of God in the Book of Nehemiah! You have far more of God’s Word than did they. Do you gather eagerly to hear the Word? Do you delight to hear it in your Daily Quiet Time, and do you delight to hear it Sunday mornings worship and in Sunday Bible Study groups? Do you gather eagerly, listen attentively, and make intentional preparation to hear from God? One writer asks, “If you are bored by God’s Words, then whose words excite you? The words of your friends or family members, your teacher or coach? What would need to change in order for God’s Word to stir your heart in the same way the words of other people can?”
The hymn-writer says . . .
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
The hymn goes on to extoll all the wonderful truths of God’s Word. Like, “Fear not, I am with thee,” I’ll strengthen and help thee, and so on.
I heard about a preacher who used to say nearly every week, at the conclusion of the sermon, that it was his desire when he preached that people not say, “What a wonderful sermon,” but, “What a wonderful Savior.” I agree with that sentiment. Preachers are not here to impress, to entertain, to desire that you remember only how skilled they were in speaking, or in telling memorable jokes or stories. At the end of the sermon, may it always be, “What a wonderful Savior.”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”