Rebuilding God's People

Rebuilding God’s People

Nehemiah 8

The first 6 chapters of Nehemiah focus on rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. Chapters 7-13 focus on rebuilding God’s people. After a census tally in chapter 7, chapter 8 chronicles the public reading of the Word of God and the revival that resulted from that reading.

What is a revival? Is it a series of meetings when we invite the community to hear a visiting evangelist and some gospel singing?

It is possible a revival might occur during such an event. However, most of the time, people leave these events feeling happy from the wholesome entertainment of music and preaching, and from the fellowship of like-minded people, but they are seldom changed.

A revival is “The Spirit of God, working through the Word of God, in the lives of the people of God.” (J. Edwin Orr) This definition infers a lasting and continuing effect that changes people’s lives.

Nehemiah 8:1-3 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. 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. 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.

Now that the walls were rebuilt, Ezra, the priest, who was responsible for the rebuilding of the temple and helping the people get back to worshiping God, brought out the Word of God and began to read from it.

Nehemiah 8:5-6 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. 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.

Notice the respect people showed for the Word of God. They stood up and began worshipping the Author of the Word. That is why we stand at the beginning of our worship service when the Word is read. It is time to begin worshipping God.

We must not be flippant nor indifferent to the Word of God. The Bible is not a book that is to be forgotten nor neglected, but a Book to be read and studied and applied it to our lives. When we read the Bible, God reveals His will for our lives and brings us into a closer relationship with Himself. Whereas, neglect and lack of respect for the Word and its Author will always lead to decay and deterioration in our spiritual lives.

Verse 3 says “the ears of all the people were attentive.” They realized the importance of what was being read to them. Their minds weren’t wandering. They weren’t having a conversation with the person next to them. They weren’t checking their watches or slipping a glance at Facebook or Instagram.

These were the words of life being read to them. These were words of hope. These were words that could give them direction and give them purpose.

Do we truly realize the importance of the words of this Book?

Be careful how you answer that question, for the amount of time we spend in it each day shows how important it is to our life. The Bible has God as its author, salvation as its message, and Jesus Christ as its focus. That in itself is worthy of respect. However, our obedience to this Word indicates whether or not we believe the Author this Book.

You have to believe that God can and will speak to you through His Word. If you are having trouble understanding what you read, ask God, the Holy Spirit, to reveal its message. And when He does, conviction and hope will come, your hands will go up, your voice will cry out, your knees will go down, your mind and life will be transformed!

Nehemiah 8:7-8 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. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

At this time, there were no sound systems enabling everyone to hear Ezra clearly. When Ezra read the Word, he allowed time for other priests (whose names I didn’t try to pronounce) and Levites among the people to reiterate and explain what was read. They brought insights and gave meaning to the Scriptures so that the hearers could understand it, comprehend it, and apply it to their lives in obedience.

Nehemiah 8:9-12 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. Then he 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." So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, "Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved." 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.

Notice what happened in response to hearing the Word. They saw their sin and were convicted. They responded in brokenness, godly sorrow, confession, and repentance. When this happens, it is a momentous occasion in our life, because only then are we  in the condition necessary to be forgiven and to receive a new life born of the Holy Spirit. That new birth and new life is a reason to rejoice and celebrate!

Unfortunately, there’s not much brokenness in the Church these days. There’s a lot of other stuff: fear of what others will think, skepticism, unbelief, self-centeredness, entertainment, and pride. We need brokenness that leads to confession, repentance, forgiveness, restoration, renewal, and revival. When that happens, our lives will be different. We will be joyful, peaceful, and blessed!

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

A. W. Tozer said, "I did not go through the Book. The Book went through me."

The point is this: if we read, believe, and heed the Bible as the Word of God, it will change our life. If we don’t, if we approach it with cynicism, indifference, skepticism, thinking that it may not be true, that it’s not important to us, or that it is not meant to be obeyed today, then it will have little or no effect in our lives. Not that God’s Word is powerless, but that we have “rejected” it in our minds and hardened our hearts. Unbelief prevents us from hearing God and receiving His blessings.

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Earnestly means seriously, intensely, and deeply. That is how we are to seek God in His Word.

Similar to the Levites, who explained the Word of God while Ezra read it, the Lord has given pastors and teachers to the Church. They are to proclaim, preach, and teach the Word so that those who hear the Word can understand it and apply it to their lives.

Ephesians 4:11-13 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Pastors and teachers are to preach the whole Word of God and make cross-references to show how the Word of God explains the Word of God. Nothing less and nothing more. They are not to change the Word or twist it to please themselves or to please the people. They are not to change the Word to make it politically correct. The Word is to change our politics and make it correct!

Only God’s Word has the power to bring conviction and change lives, to transform us into the image and fullness of Christ. That is the purpose of God’s Word.

Isaiah 55:10-11 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

At the end of a sermon, I hope you won’t tell others, “This is what the preacher says.” I hope you will be able to say, “This is what God says.” Then you will have understood God’s Word and His will. Then you can live it and share the Truth with others.

Psalm 1:1-3 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Meditating upon God’s Word renews our mind and gives us victory over temptations. God’s Word is the truth and that is essential in this time of fake news, false accusations, and doublespeak (good is evil and evil is good; a boy can be a girl or a girl can be a boy). To avoid confusion, we need to read the Bible every day and do what it says!

When we obey God’s Word, the Holy Spirit teaches us and transforms us. So, read the Word of God carefully, think about it throughout the day, consider what God says, and do what He says. Our obedience to the Word brings about the blessings of the Word. That is why a person prospers in all he does. (I didn’t say “gets rich”. It means succeeds, thrives, does well.)

We must make reading God’s Word a priority every day. If there is no time for the Word in our life, there is no time for God. God wants us to place His Word at the center of our individual lives, our families, and this congregation. It is His Word that brings life into our soul (mind, will, emotions).

We can feed our body food, but physical food will only satisfy for a short time. The Word of God is the Bread of Life that satisfies eternally. It is no coincidence that Jesus is called the Word of God and the Bread of Life.

John 1:1-3 & 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus said in John 6:27 & 35 “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

As Ezra read the Word, conviction came upon the hearers because their sin was exposed. They understood their guilt. They realized they had not only broken God’s laws, they had broken God’s heart. Consequently, they wept sorrowfully.

We try to avoid sorrow. So we avoid God’s Word. However, true joy is not found in avoiding our sin. It’s found in confronting it. The Joy of the Lord is found after we confess our sin, repent, and are filled with the Holy Spirit. (All three) Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that is produced after we have experienced godly sorrow and repented of our sin.

When the Word of God convicts you, don’t ignore what it says. Don’t avoid God. Run to His throne to receive mercy and grace to repent.

Psalm 30:8-12 To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper!” [Listen to what happens as a result of godly sorrow and this plea for mercy.]

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Psalm 126:1-3 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

If you want to leave this place today, rejoicing and praising God, come first to Him in confession, godly sorrow, and repentance. He will forgive you and fill you with His joy.