Nehemiah 8

A 7-day worship service!

When I stand back from this chapter and what it represents, I’ve pondered: what does it take – despite our sinfulness, our flaws, our predisposition to please self…for our identity to be fully vested in the person Jesus Christ.

Nowhere in the Word does God expect us to dismiss or be ignorant of our humanity. Psalm 139 tells a different story, doesn’t it? But there is in Jesus a crucified, resurrected, exchanged-our-sin for his life, Lord, who, out of our humanity wants us to choose him…to say I put you first!

We heard in the testimonies last week how the word of God, being grounded in the word, how identity in God have the power to correctly orientate our focus and future. Without these…where are we headed?!  

What did Paul say to the church at Corinth….“we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4)

The first 6 chapters of Nehemiah were about a physical rebuild of the wall (reconstruction), the second part of the book that we start today is all about spiritual reformation and re-instruction in the word and what obedience to the Lord meant: re-establishing lost identity in who they were meant to be as a people of God, who in fact there God was/is.

Because at this point despite being at the end of a significant project they’re still in a spiritual vacuum.

What we read of in this chapter is a 7-day worship service, actually a revival

Why a revival? Only something that was there, to begin with, can be revived. These people were revived…people lifted their hands…they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. How?

Ezra’s prayer of praise had awakened the people’s anticipation of what God might do among them and the preaching of God’s word led to the people responding in worship.

Seem to recall something like this occurring in Acts?! The power and authority of the word, notwithstanding of course the work of the Holy Spirit…

There are many great salvation stories as you’re aware in history, let me quickly mention one to add to the point: George Whitfield – one of the greatest (evangelists) of the 18th century, a contemporary of John and Charles Wesley – preached 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million listeners. In his journals, Whitfield records his own relationship to the Scriptures in his journals.

He said: “I began to read the Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over – if possible – every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul, and I daily received fresh light and power from above. I got more true knowledge from reading the book of God in one month than I could ever have acquired from all the writings of men”.

George Whitfield was an intelligent, learned man who realised the importance of the bible. Because of that, he saw thousands brought into the kingdom of Christ through his preaching.

Add to Whitfield men like Wycliffe, Wesley, the Spurgeons, Jonathan Edwards, all men of God, who believed in the Bible, and the inherent power of the scriptures.

The people needed to be spiritually revived, and this passage shows that was sparked off by returning the law, to the truth and power of the scriptures to correctly orientate them to right relationship with the Lord, again.

I want to make a quick point of application here: we can have all the appearances and trappings of spirituality, we can have all our buildings and leadership and strategies, even using the right language in our prayers, we can have all the biblical intelligence…we can have our walls up…but have little spiritual vibrancy…be in a spiritual vacuum

To know the presence and the power of God is to be full of Jesus again, is to love him with all we are, again…is to live obediently in Him. The fruit of a Christian living obediently in Christ, is being attentive to the Holy Spirit, engaged in the word (hearing and applying…), is being in prayer and in regular fellowship, is growth in Christ

Here are 4 aspects I believe will encourage us from today’s passage…

  1. Unity in worship

God’s people were unified…

(8:1)…”all the people came together as one in the square”

Christians having unity is answering Jesus’ prayer in John… “may they be one, may they be brought to complete unity” (John 17)

Also: How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalm 133)

The Lord commands his blessing where there is unity. Commanding his blessing means he pronounces his favour on the assembled church. Why? Unity pleases God, unity honours God. When God’s people live in unity, there is agreement, harmony, accord, union, integrity, oneness, solidarity…that is the place and the occasion where God bestows (sends, commands) his blessing.

That Jesus would pray such a prayer as in John 17 suggests he doesn’t want his church, fractured, or in disarray, he wants his church working in the same direction toward the same goal. God has purposed it; Jesus prayed for it, we can be the answer to that prayer.

So what is in our thinking, in our believing and our relating with each other that needs to come into alignment with unity…Jesus’ prayer?

Coming together as one is not just being in the same room as we are here, it is our hearts, minds and purpose and prayers singularly focussed on the person of Christ.

Our unity also plays a vital part in God’s mission.  The premise is the same as, “by this, all men will know that you are my disciples, because of your love for one another”. Unity and oneness in the church are critical to our message being consistent with our practice and conduct. The mission of God for us is affected if our witness is one of disagreement, disarray, and fracturing.  The world is watching on and as they do we need them to see a community of people, though imperfect endears them to Jesus.

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must be individually set. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking…to Christ, are in heart and spirit nearer to each other than they could possibly be.

Jesus is our reference for unity, not each other. Our unity comes from eyes fixed on him. God’s people have unity! All the people of FBC come together as one!

  1. Word in worship

Imagine reading the Bible, every day, loving to the read the word, and God speaking to you through his word because we’ve taken the steps to spend time in it. How do we know God, read his word

…They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses (8:1)

…And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. (8:3)

How important to the people was the word?

‘Bring out the book! Ezra, we want to be revived, we want to be refreshed and reminded of who God is…When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up (normal practice…), God’s people were attentive to the word…they listened attentively

Why would they respond this way?  Because what was being read aloud was what the Lord God Almighty had commanded Israel, that made it worth (worth as in worship, not worship the word but worship the God who had spoken and given the word), it was worth listening to!

In the complete bible obviously we have the whole counsel of the scriptures; they just had the first 5 books. They didn’t have what we have, they didn’t know what we’re able to know, they didn’t have the gospels, and the epistles, etc…. but clearly they had a reverence and a respect for God’s holy word.

Are we to view this as worshipping the word, of elevating or deifying the place of the word above God? NO! …that is not what’s happening here. We are to view what they did as an act of worship. The word (the law in their case) instructed them and instigated worship. The word pointed (orientated) them toward God.

Reading the scriptures is not intended to be a religious experience but one in which we combine our reading with fellowship with God.

Reading the scriptures for some can just be an intellectual ascent. However, reading, meditating and studying the scriptures is a spiritual discipline, it is to grow in Christ, grow closer to Christ

William McKinley (i843-lg01), 25th president of the United States, declared,”(the) more profoundly we study this wonderful Book, and the more closely we observe its precepts, the better citizens we will become and the higher will be the destiny of our nation”

The place, the purpose and the presence of the word……is understatedly vital to the strength and health of the church.

(Begs the question what place the scriptures have not only personally but corporately, how much time we give to other pursuits at the cost of being in the word?)

Like new-born babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:2)

Peter says here, long for, crave (NIV) = strain after, desire…

Most of us are probably pretty familiar with the 3 things a new-born baby does, eats, sleeps and well (you know!)…we’ve had 6 new-born babies in our home over the years, so I’ve seen first-hand how hungry they can be, when they want food, they want it now. The baby needs that milk for nourishment, to grow, and keep good health…

What Peter is teaching here is that we need the word for nourishment and spiritual growth. As it nourishes you, it will change you by changing the way you see yourself and the way you see others.

But Jesus answered and said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4)

Matthew 4:4 shows us what God’s Word does in the spiritual, bread does in the physical. But we need more than physical food to enjoy life as God intended. God’s Word is our spiritual food which will enrich our lives.

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty. (Jer. 15)

It was Spurgeon who said: ‘A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t’.

Imagine, having to ask Christians: do you read your Bible?!

Let’s continue on and grow and perhaps for some bring back to life daily Bible reading…

  1. Understanding in worship

(v.8) They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

They (the Levites at this point) were explaining and instructing the people gathered in the law, the scriptures. OT equivalent of discipleship! Implicit in their teaching was this is the truth, it is God’s truth, that he is the source of your and of all wisdom…making it clear by giving the meaning that any deviation from this truth, is in fact not true, so that they understood any deviation from God’s law and commandments, is inconsistent with the truth and of God himself.

What made this task difficult yet vital at the same time was that Ezra will have been reading in Hebrew and most if not all gathered (due to their years in Babylon) only understood Aramaic…

…but the scriptures were explained to them in a way they could understand

Other biblical examples of understanding:

…Deut. 4:6 “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

…Deut. 4:9 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Why is understanding important?

Biblically, understanding here means: to discern, become separated, be distinct. Understanding leads to obedience, understanding is required for obedience. It was through God’s requirement to understand the law, for which he put all the necessary steps and measures and people in place.

To hear and to understand and to obey the law meant they were able to relate to him as the Holy God, he IS!

Understanding God’s requirements were part of the distinction that God wanted for his people; it is what was supposed to set them apart from any other group or nation of people

i.e…a failure of understanding or a lack of understanding was, in the end, the cause of Israel’s downfall (…Isa. 44:18) They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.

Understanding was/ is…not like “Oh yes I get it”, and then do nothing with that, it is not just knowledge, understanding is receiving the requirement and responding to that in obedience. Hearers and doers of the word

  1. Posture in worship

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (8:9)

Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground (8:6)

They read the word, they recognised the meaning of the word, and they responded in obedience to the word and to God.

What led to such a response of being prostrate before God in worship, then weeping and mourning? ….They realised how far away from God they were…so many years of darkness, of being spiritually dry, with little spiritual input…they were conscious of how absent of and from God they were

The word of God, being grounded in the word & identity in Christ has the power to correctly orientate our focus & future. Listen: when we (Genuinely) offer our dryness, our weakness and our emptiness to God, what happens…?

He is my shepherd, he leads me beside still waters, he refreshes my soul, in him my cup overflows (Ps. 23)

When was the last time we wept when confronted with a truth from the scriptures, when the Holy Spirit showed us something and we realised at that moment how distant we are? How often does a word from God, a verse capture us, that we grip a hold of it and it’s truth carries us through a difficult situation…has power in it!

When was the last time we allowed the enormity of the unimaginable cost of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and how that ought to impact our lives, today?

It’s our answer to such as these, which is our response in worship…

The word of God was being preached by Ezra and people fell down in worship…oh how we need the Holy Spirit to break us free of ourselves, to be revived, to capture again the wonder, the majesty and the beauty of all our Lord is, and worship him!

Bible says those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be filled. Filling is on the other side being hungry and wanting more of God, and being right with God.

Today and under very different circumstances any one of us may have found ourselves distant from God, struggling to read the word let alone understand and apply the word to your life, we simply are in a barren place as far as our relationship with God is concerned. Today is your day to set that right. God is right here. And he is calling you, beckoning you….

TAKEAWAYS

  • Be in the word of God
  • Be grounded in the word
  • Orientate your focus & future on Christ
  • Develop a daily posture of worship