Title: The Word of God at Work in the People of God
Text: Nehemiah 8.1-18
CIT: Ezra reads the Law of Moses and it greatly impacts the lives of God’s people.
CIS: if we believe the Word of God is power and effective, then we’ll demonstrate that truth with our actions by allowing it to dictate our existence.
Introduction: How does one really determine the importance of God’s Word in affecting one’s actions? Is God’s Word important? Is God’s Word important to you? If so, how important? Do you wake up on Sunday morning with an excitement about gathering together with God’s people to hear his Word and obey? For me, I’ve been blessed. Because of my position in the church, Lisa took it upon herself to get the kids ready and to let me worry about myself. Oh, sure, there were Saturday nights when I would be a part of getting things ready – but that was more rare than regular. I didn’t worry about kids eating or what they’d wear. Mom took care of that. She did everything so that I could focus upon my task as a pastor or staff member. For the most part, we didn’t even travel together. That’s what a 2nd car was for. But that isn’t the way it is with most families.
Tony Payne in his book, How to Walk into Church, writes:
I exit the car, usually with a wife and various kids in tow, an amble in the front door, tossing off a quick greeting to whomever is handing out the folded sheets of paper that in church-speak are called ‘bulletins.’
After a quick scan of the seating situation – who has already parked themselves where, who I might want to avoid and so on – I chose a spot not too near the front and sidle into the chosen row, smiling feebly at the person sitting on the other side of the seat that I’ve politely left vacant between us.
I wonder what it is like for most families. Is it like the experience Payne writes about when he and his wife had 5 kids – all under the age of 12: After a week of long days and short sleeps, followed by the chaos of getting everyone out the door on a Sunday morning, and culminating in a circus of noise and infighting in the car, I didn’t really walk into church. It was more of a stagger, followed by a semi-collapse into a seat, followed by lengthy periods of zoning out.
Maybe it isn’t like that at all for you. Maybe you’re more of a strategist. This is what you do. 1, 2, 3, 4 – checked it off my list. Now, to my next task on the agenda. Again, that wasn’t and isn’t me. I’ve been truly blessed. But, I digress. Let’s get back to the question at hand: How does one really determine the importance of God’s Word in affecting one’s actions? Is God’s Word important? If so, how important? How does it impact your day – your Sunday? Does it touch even the way you walk into church?
Today’s passage is all about a people who wanted to hear and learn of God’s Word. We’re in Nehemiah 8. Thank you, Clay, for reading this passage for us this morning. I would say there are three main sections to this chapter:
- Ezra, while being flanked by other leaders, reads the Law of God at the request of the people who’ve gathered in the city. These people give their full attention to its reading. Ezra has the help of certain Levites who give the sense of God’s law so that the people clearly understand this teaching.
- The people of God then demonstrate their understanding of the Law of God when they begin to weep at hearing the words of the Law. The leaders then command them to stop their weeping and to rejoice, for this is a day set apart for the Lord. Furthermore, the people of God “went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.”
- This understanding is further demonstrated as they celebrate the Feast of Booths according to the commandment of Moses. Nehemiah even references those Scriptures.
I’ve outlined it into two main points:
- The Request of the People of God Concerning the Law of God (1-8)
- The Response of the People of God to the Law of God (9-18)
- Obedience – their actions fall into line with what they’ve learned.
- Observance – practicing the holy day as it has been designed in Scripture.
Transition: let’s begin with the 1st main point in v1-8…
1. The Request of the People of God Concerning the Law of God (1-8)
exp.: rd v 1; this, I find interesting. Let’s look at the actions of these people.
- All the people gathered as one man… that’s a picture of the church; synagogue means to gather together with. I love the intentionality of this action. I’ve never seen this in the American church. I think this would describe the churches I’ve experienced overseas. You could argue that these are missionaries I’m talking about. They’re working overseas. They’re holier than most of us – maybe so. But should we expect less of ourselves?
- They told Ezra to bring the Book of the Law of Moses. The Leaders aren’t organizing this from what we can gather. So, Ezra agrees – this is a good thing. And he reads. Look at v 3;
- They are attentive. They’re giving their full attention to what God has to say. Rd v 4a
- And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. This is important to them. Let’s set this up so we can all hear. Build a platform! Notice, this isn’t in the Temple. You might think that the Temple would be a better place. Not if you understood how the Temple works. The men and the women and the children can’t stand together. It’s just different. They do not want to sacrifice animals here. That happens at the Temple. They just want to hear God’s Word – so, they construct a platform for this occasion. The rest of v. 4 tells us who was on his right and who was on his left. Look at what the people do next. Rd v 5;
- All the people stood as the book is opened. I love that. You’ve experienced it before I’m sure. Ezra steps up onto the platform. The people are murmuring, but it dies down. He opens the book, a scroll, I’m sure. The people are standing. Wow… rd v 6;
- All the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. What an incredible moment for these people!
ill.: I’m sure they’ve dreamed of this day for their entire lives. And, as God has answered their prayers and kept His promises, they are eyewitness to this moment. It’s humbling and awe-inspiring all at the same moment.
app.: the people are active in this whole process.
t.s.: And it doesn’t change once they hear what God has instructed them to do… which brings us to the 2nd part of this passage;
2. The Response of the People of God to the Law of God (9-18)
exp.: rd v 8-9; here we see a 7th action from the people;
- All the people wept as they heard the words of the Law; I’m sure the weeping is varied. Thousands of people are there and each one encountering the Words of God for the 1st There is shame; there is conviction; there is awe; this is an incredible moment – a moment which has culminated over decades of separation. A torn down, burnt up city and Temple – now restored. A wall, and gates and doors in place. But the leadership is telling them not to weep and mourn. This isn’t that time! No, this is a holy day to the Lord. Eat, drink and be merry! Rd v 12
- And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. They’re being obedient to what they’ve heard.
- They Obey the Word of the Lord: there are some famous verses in this chapter; v 8; v 10; but v 12 moves me; They hear; They understand; They obey.
Now, that must have been a joyous day and even into the evening. I picture God’s pleasure at his people in celebration. That’s what our time of worship should be. That is what our times of fellowship should be – something that brings our Father pleasure. But the day ends and the heads of the households want to know more; so they come together to learn from God’s Word in v 13-14, and they find that this timing is perfect for a time set apart for celebration: The Festival of Booths. The passage is referenced in v 15; rd v 15b; “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” They get this from Leviticus 23 & Deuteronomy 16.
This is how I picture this happening. You see Neh 8.2: on the first day of the seventh month. It is now day two and they’re learning about what God requires of them to be and do. In their studies they read about the three yearly requirements and come across Lev. 23.39ff: 39 “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. 40 And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Someone notes that this is the 2nd day of the 7th month (v13) and says: Hey, that’s only two weeks away. Can we pull this off? Ah, yeah! Let’s do this! They see the requirement. They note the day and realize that they can do this.
V 16-18 tells us they did just that…
- They Observe the Festival of Booths as prescribed in the Law.
Conclusion: So, what can we learn from this?
Q.: Is this passage a prescription for us or a description for us? Should we require all people to stand when the Word of God is read? In short, no. It would be nice. We could begin the practice. But not because it is prescribe in Scripture this way. This isn’t a commandment for us. But it would be nice. I do believe that there is a principle here: The author wants his readers to identify the Word of God as the authority by which we must live our lives.
In light of this truth and in light of our comprehension of this truth (God’s Word is the authority for our lives) then what must we do about this?
- If God’s word is to accomplish its primary purpose in our lives,
- A sense of expectancy should mark our approach to reading and studying it, and
- A positive response to apply it to our daily lives must be required.
Let’s expound on these two truths. If these two statements are indeed true, then how should it affect the way you walk into these facilities on Sunday morning?
- How to enter the church facilities on Sunday morning: Re-phrase: how do YOU enter?
- Pray about where to sit. That’s right. Some of you might think there is assigned seating. That’s a joke. May I press you on this?
- If God is Sovereign, and you’re totally surrendered to Him, then you must believe He has a message for you. Where is the absolute best place for you to sit and be free from distractions and be able to hear? Is sitting next to your friends really the best place or the most comfortable? What about taking notes?
- If God is Sovereign, and you’re totally surrendered to him, then you must believe that he has brought others here for that same reason. If that is true, might God want you to sit near someone who needs encouragement? A guest who needs to be shown the ropes (where are the restrooms, where is the nursery, to share your Bible if they don’t have one, maybe you bring two Bibles – your big one and a tiny one in your purse or pocket); A mother who needs help with her child(ren); She’s here to hear and do God’s Word – so are her children. What is God doing there in her little family?
- If God is the one and only true God, then you must believe there is nothing more important in this week than gathering together with others who believe the same thing – who’ve come to hear a Word from Him. You’re an encouragement to them when you’re here – in the way you worship, when you sing robustly (I’m not saying sing so loud you disrupt others – this isn’t the place to show off your singing lessons – or your lack of them!) but when you pour yourself – body, mind and spirit – into worship, you encourage others. Your note taking encourages others. Using your Bible encourages other people.
- Pray about where to sit. That’s right. Some of you might think there is assigned seating. That’s a joke. May I press you on this?
2. Pray for those who are sitting by you.
- This Body has been assembled by God. He has called us out of the world to gather together. It is important to him. Tony Payne, in his book How to Walk into Church writes: “We’re walking into a gathering that God himself has called together, as part of his majestic plan to save and gather his people around the Lord Jesus Christ.”
- The picture we see in this text is Men, Women, and others who are old enough to understand gathered to a place to hear God’s Word. We see leaders, gathered around the reading of God’s Word. We see teachers expounding on what has been read so that those gathered can get the sense of the reading. This is the Body at work.
16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.