“People Of The Book” Nehemiah 8 1/13/02
SI: Going to skip the rest of chapter 7 which is a list of the exiles
who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon.
Nehemiah recorded this list because he wanted to encourage people to settle
in the city of Jerusalem and he used this list in an administrative way.
Chapter 8 marks a major shift in the book of Nehemiah.
Will explain briefly what this shift is an how it will affect our study.
Nehemiah did not come all the way from Persia to Jerusalem just to build a wall.
He came to restore the spiritual lives of the people.
But not just as individuals, he came to restore them as a body of believers.
He came to restore or revive the church.
The wall simply paved the way for this great spiritual work,.
Nehemiah knew there had to be some physical safety and order and freedom
in order to have a spiritual revival. That’s why he built the wall. Means to end.
So chapter 8 marks the beginning of this spiritual restoration, revival of the church.
Begins with an assembly of all the Jews, at which the Law of God is read.
What you might not notice at first, so I’m going to tell you, is that Nehemiah
almost entirely drops out of the picture. (He has one appearance in this chap)
He gives much of this work of revival to a man named Ezra who was a priest and
student of God’s Word.
In fact, the next 4 ½ chapters are not written in the 1st person.
Not Nehemiah saying, “I did this or that.”
But written in the 3rd person, as if Nehemiah is simply reporting this.
Nehemiah makes a very powerful comeback in the final chapters.
But what I want you to see is that there is a shift from rebuilding of walls
to the rebuilding of the church so that she loves God and lives by His law.
As far as study goes, shift from characteristics of an individual servant of Christ,
to the characteristics of us as a of people the Lord, called to be a church.
Going to apply this to ourselves at this church—where we are.
For what it’s worth, going to be changing the sermon titles.
Instead of the characteristics of a servant—who we are to be as the people of God.
We are to be people of the Book.
INTRO: In the Soviet Union there was a KGB agent named Sergei Kourdakov
who defected to Canada.
Wrote an autobiography, “The Persecutor”
Sergei was in a branch of the secret police that specialized in breaking
up illegal church meetings and arresting Christians.
Under the communists, Christians were considered enemies of the state,
and meeting together for worship was harshly punished.
His descriptions of the violent arrests of these believers is heartbreaking,
but I want to read a brief portion from his account of one arrest.
Had broken into a house church meeting, beating everyone with clubs,
Saw a man frantically grabbing and trying to hide a Bible
What possessed this man to hold on to the Bible?
You know the answer to that. The Word of God is precious to Christians.
More precious than physical life, the words of eternal life.
The heart of a Christian cries out, I must have the Word of God.
One more story. Marco Island, violinist, Bulgarian woman, East German orchestra
She also, years earlier had defected to the United States
She was a Christian. When left native Bulgaria to play in Germany.
Was in an illegal church meeting, brought out the Bible, cut out a page
That was all she had for years. From Genesis, included 15, God’s call to Abraham
Finally in freedom, United States, people helped her get apartment, job
Anything else we can get you? Can you get me a Bible?
American Bible Society store, Bible German on one side, English on other.
Christians are people of the Book. We don’t worship Bible, worship Lord.
Don’t believe the Bible saves, Jesus saves.
But, the living God speaks to us through His Word,
those words are more precious than gold, sometimes takes stories to see it.
Chapter 8 one of the great chapters in Old Testament.
Spiritual revival and restoration of the church starts with the Word of God.
Temptation in preaching a chapter like this, look for a shallow message,
“read your Bible more.” Not at all. Are we, as individuals and a body,
people of the Book? God’s word precious to us? Answer not, read 15 min.
Read through Bible in year. How do we approach the Word of God?
MP#1 People of the Book want to know God’s will.
The one question that believers ask over and over throughout life,
in every situation, never get tired of asking—“Lord, what do you want me to do?”
Verse 1 People assemble as one man in one of the squares in Jerusalem.
First day of the seventh month, assembly called according Law, Trumpets
“Then they told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses
which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”
Few details and then look at the meat of this verse.
Who is Ezra? Godly man, priest and scribe, student of the Law
led a group of Jews from Persia back to Jerusalem 13 years before Nehemiah.
Tried to rebuild the wall, stopped. Tried to bring spiritual revival, limited success
Man of the Word, Nehemiah turns this work over to him.
Book of the Law of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy (the heart of covenant)
Oftentimes, not always, but often, when there is a significant spiritual breakthrough
in an individual or in a church, the outward evidence is very small.
It’s just the tip of the iceberg, but a mountain of things deep in the soul.
But over time, the evidence of that spiritual turning point becomes evident.
That’s what we see in verse 1 when people call out for Ezra to read.
For generations most of Jews cared very little for God’s word,
didn’t want to know God’s will, knew what they wanted out of life, how to live.
Prophet after prophet warning, calling back, did not respond to gentleness,
disciplined them, used the Babylonians, crushed, took into captivity.
70 years, finally a return, many false starts at getting right with God.
At this assembly, out of a deep sense of spiritual poverty—
O God, show us Your will. Know it is in the Book. Ezra, read us the book.
Not unplanned. Platform built, assembly called. Hunger, read it now!
Most moving moments in my ministry, when read verse to someone,
they drink it up because hungry to know God’s will (when aware of poverty)
What does this mean for us as a body?
Not just obvious, seek God’s will for things like direction of church.
Before a congregational meeting like one going to have today.
As a church body, in all of our interactions and conversations with each other—
present this question. What does God want you to do?
What does the Book say? Have you searched it? Meditated on relevant parts?
What goes on at this assembly? Men, women, all able to understand.
Ezra read from daybreak till noon—six hours. (What exactly, look at details)
On platform, 13 men with him, 6 on right, seven on left—obvious, other readers.
13 Levites, instructed the people, making clear, giving the meaning.
Ezra and others would read, followed by exposition, teaching, preaching
Second day, vs. 13, heads of families gathered and heard more reading, preaching.
Seven days of feast of Booths, vs. 18, Ezra read from the book of the law.
This has been a pattern that the church has followed ever since.
Why sitting here this morning, men on a platform read Bible, give meaning?
Because Christian worship follows pattern of Jewish synagogue,
part of that, a platform, reading of Scripture and exposition.
Christians, from earliest days gathered to hear the Word of God preached.
Preaching has a bad name. Many liberal churches, scholars decades ago,
convinced it was going to die out, outdated form of communication,
has an authoritarian ring, Americans especially don’t like that, not democratic.
Thought that some sort of discussion group would take its place.
I fear that even in our evangelical circles preaching held in low regard.
This is the reason, want to be careful and not misunderstood.
Emphasized importance of private reading at the expense of public preaching.
If I have my devotional reading, that is what is most important, me and Jesus.
So, if I want to skip the weekly preaching of the Word, give less attention, that’s ok.
Certainly don’t want to pit devotional reading against preaching,
both important, both serve vital roles in life of the Christian.
But if asked, which is most important in the life of the church, preaching,
not because I am a preacher, because pattern and command of the apostles,
a mark of the true church.
Apostles, wherever they went would gather with God’s people and preach.
Apostles did not appoint new apostles, that office ended, ordinary office pastor
Paul gave this charge to Pastor Timothy, to all who followed preach the Word.
For all of the history of the church, people of the Book have attended the
preaching of the Word. Whenever revivals, emphasis on preaching.
Wherever persecution, threat of losing jobs, losing freedom, gather worship
listen to the Word of God preached
Commitment to the preaching of the word is humbling in a way private never.
You sit under the teaching of a man.
Man like you, better you know him, more know his faults,
Maybe he has some strange mannerisms, pastoral work goof ups, bad decisions.
Not just going to sit and think about roast in the oven at home, listen to God’s Word
Furthermore, preaching of the word inseparable from corporate worship.
You set your own schedule and chose own passages for private reading,
When word preached, you are subject to schedule set by leaders of church.
You sit with all of God’s people, know that Lord is present in assembly.
Why are you telling us this? We’re here! Telling to commend you.
But also to challenge you, commit yourself to the weekly preaching of the Word.
Prepare yourself spiritually. Don’t fill mind with trash the night before.
Don’t stay up to the wee hours.
Do pray for yourself, church, preacher Holy Spirit come through word preached
blow through our church with a refreshing wind, burn us with sanctifying fire.
MP#3 People of the Book allow the Scripture to convict them.
By the time this first day of reading, preaching, teaching is over,
all the people are mourning and weeping.
Ezra had been reading the five books of Moses, Genesis – Deuteronomy
The constant theme—God’s covenant with Israel.
I will be your God, children’s God, you my people, walk and be blameless.
Lord promised to give them a blessed land and make a blessed people.
One condition—to love and obey Him
No doubt, the weeping came as they looked at their lives realized
what could have been. How much had been wasted by their rebellion.
True, back in Jerusalem, but not free, under thumb of the Persians.
Jerusalem not at all like it was in times of King David, man after God’s heart.
They wept. Weeping in and of itself means nothing. Judas wept.
Not talking about just an emotional moving, being moved in center of being.
Submission to Lord, true grief over sins because saw for what they were.
Why were they moved?
Opened themselves to the reading and teaching and preaching of the Law,
allowed those truths to search them, move them like parents never had.
What I see here is an absolutely essential quality of the people of the Book.
Being open to the searching, convicting work of the Holy Spirit
as He comes through Word.
Last week, mentioned conversation Allison and I had with two men in bookstore.
One born in Christian home, but basically rejected all Christianity. Other Jew.
Number of you, “What happened?” Allison and I shared the Gospel.
One thing the man said to me. Quoted a passage of Scripture.
“I don’t understand the Bible. Might as well try to read Nostradamus.”
“Why don’t you understand? My 9 year old daughter understands. Intelligent.”
He replied, with rare insight,
“I guess I don’t understand because don’t want to submit to what it says.”
The first step of submission is to be willing a accept God’s assessment of your
sinful condition without excusing yourself or blaming other people.
Must be a church people under conviction of word. Even, at times weeping.
Gospel means “Good News”
The good news is that God has provided forgiveness of our sins through Christ.
Where is the Gospel in this passage. It’s all over.
Fact that they were actually standing there, God had brought back, fresh start.
But to me, passage that most beautifully presents the Gospel,
people weeping, Levites tell them to stop—day of celebration before Lord.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some
to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord.
Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
There is a place for weeping in the Christian life. Times of deep repentance.
Will see that in the next chapter.
But the major theme of Scripture is the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
This festival, Feast of Trumpets, like all religious festivals of Israel
Pointed to God’s atoning grace through Christ. His grace.
You always have to come back to the Gospel this when your conscience is
convicted by the Word of God.
We all have a perverse tendency to reject God’s grace in Christ.
Do it in one of two ways.
Some of you believe that your feelings of guilt and self-flagellation that follows
is going to atone for your sin.
The Bible convicts you of sin, that’s well and good, it should.
But then you say, I feel so bad, I’m so low. I feel so terrible for what I’ve done.
Lord comes to you and says, don’t weep any more, celebrate, I’ve forgiven.
No, what I’ve done is just too bad. Denial of the Gospel.
Listen, your sin is terrible, but don’t give it more power than it has.
You must believe the Gospel. More love and accepted than dare to hope.
Second denial of God’s grace (not in this passage but want to mention).
Some of you believe that your guilt atoned for by determining to live a more
moral life. Convicted of sin and say, That’s it, no more. I’m going to change.
No more angry outbursts. No more lust. Start giving money to church.
Going to start reading my Bible more. Make some changes.
That’s not the Gospel. That’s just moral reform. Jesus isn’t needed for that.
Nothing to rejoice about, because there is no forgiveness.
Even if perfect in plans for personal transformation, wouldn’t deal with past.
You must believe the Gospel. More sinful and wicked than dare to admit,
but God’s grace is bigger.
Going to be a people of the Book, must be a church that believes the Gospel.
Believes in the depth of sin and the greatness of God’s mercy.
MP#5 People of the Book proclaim the Word of God
We must be a church that proclaims the Word to the world.
I’m not talking about instituting some kind of evangelistic visitation program.
What we see here is something much more holistic.
Through us God’s Word is not only declared orally but it is enacted visually.
Vs. 14-15 “They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded
through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the
seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout
their towns and in Jerusalem . . .”
So the people revive an ancient feast commanded in Law.
Called the feast of Booths or Tabernacles. The most festive of the Jewish feasts.
Every family was to build a hut out of tree branches, palm fronds,
Then live in the hut for a week, cooking out and eating with neighbors.
Everybody shared food, since at harvest time. The best available.
Feast of Booths significant for three reasons:
First, it was a reminder of God’s protection and provision centuries earlier
for forefathers as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land.
During those long years they lived in booths, simple huts made of branches,
as made way through a dangerous wilderness.
Wild animals, marauders a constant threat to their safety, but through it all,
the Lord had brought them safely to the land He promised.
He had sovereignly guided them, generously fed them, powerfully protected them
Feast of Booths was an annual reminder of their immense indebtedness to God.
How easy it is for us to forget how much the Lord has done for us.
Often obsessed with what we need and what want God to do for us,
forget what He has already done. Must be thankful people
Second, the Feast of Booths gave the Israelites a perspective on life and
a pattern for living.
Booths a reminder that they were a pilgrim people.
Here were these new walls around Jerusalem, but the feast a reminder
that they could not trust these walls, that these walls would fall, passing through.
Looking forward to the Lord’s eternal kingdom.
Longing for a better country. Not tied too much to this world.
As Christians we know that however enriching or disappointing our present
experience, ultimate satisfaction is reserved for the future.
That is where we place our hope. Hold loosely to things of this world.
Doesn’t make Christians careless or detached, more intense, urgency.
Third, this feast was a testimony to all who visited Jerusalem.
here we come to the matter of the proclamation of the Word of God.
Imagine this feast taking place in Cullman.
Person driving through from out of town. Not a single person inside house.
In yards, in parking lots of churches, Wal-Mart, sidewalks down town,
every single family has built huts out of branches, cooking out, eating, drinking
What is going on here? Let us tell you about what God has done.
We don’t literally celebrate the feast of booths (would be fun).
We don’t proclaim the Word as the ancient Israelites did.
But we must proclaim it just as visibly through our lives. We are to live out Word
Don’t want to over spiritualize this, but booths built everywhere,
housetops, market squares, courtyards of the Temple
as the people of God, proclaim the Word in every part of life.
homes, marriages, schools, marketplace, the church.
As people see our thankfulness, deep peace and joy that brings,
as they see that our hope isn’t set on the things of this world,
but that we don’t get too excited when things go well,
don’t fall apart when things go badly
As people see that, we will have many opportunities to declare the word.
Especially important in a place like Cullman, so many have heard the Gospel,
or at least think they have, proclamation through lives, then words most powerful
That is the kind of church we must be, one full of people living the word,
so that people see us, and ask, what is going on here?
CONC: Are we people of the Book? Are you a person of the Book?
Not asking, how much do you read, have 15 minute devotions,
what is your attitude toward it?
My youth pastor growing up was a man named Verne Marshall,
now a missionary and church planter in Santiago, Chile—we support.
Verne grew up in the mountains of Peru, father missionary to Quechiwa Indians
Remember Verne used to say in youth group meetings:
Wish I could take you all to Peru, to these Quechiwa churches, hunger for Word
You can read Bible stories for hours to these people, sit and drink it up.
We are more educated, sophisticated and busy than our Quechiwa brothers
We can’t sit for hours and listen to God’s Word.
But what is your attitude toward it?
want to know God’s will?
are committed to the preaching of the Word?
allow the Scripture to convict you?
believe the Gospel?
proclaim the Word of God?
All true spiritual revival and growth, individually and corporately
begins with the Word of God.
Let us commit ourselves, as a church, to be people of the Book.