Nehemiah: Rebuild and Restore
Open your Bibles to the book of Nehemiah. Preaching through a series on every book of the Bible. I thought it was about time to do an overview of each book. So, each book gets one sermon. And then every so often, the first Sunday of the month, I'm also preaching through verse by verse through the book of Colossians. So today, we are at Nehemiah, it's one of my favorites. It's a little difficult to preach the whole thing. There's so many verses in here I want to share with you and preach about. But I'll do my best today, over the next couple of hours, to preach this message to you. Just making sure you're listening. It won't be a couple of hours.
If you have your Bible outline journal that'll kind of help you keep an idea of where we're at. It gives the themes, the chapter overview. And in this case, there's only 13 chapters, so I also give you a little overview of each chapter. So that'll help you follow along and take notes, if you're a note taker. The title of the message is, “Rebuild and Restore.”
I told this story before, but I just love it. A friend of mine, when I was in seminary, came over from Africa, it was one of the poorer parts of Africa. And I didn't really know a whole lot about him. But as it happened in Hebrew class, the professor said, hey, if anyone's driving through North Hollywood, maybe you could stop by and pick up Christopher Cazalla. He needs a ride to school. And I thought, well, I go through there – and the last thing you want to do when you're in seminary is add more to your plate – but I thought, you know, it would only take 10 minutes or so. So I started picking him up and taking him to school. And I came to learn a few things about Christopher that would really increase my own faith. First of all, Christopher, when he came here, he had $50, to his name, not for the week or the day, but to his name, $50. That's all he brought over, with the clothes that he brought as well. One time, the place where he was staying, the seminary had to provide everything for him: tuition, books, rent, food, transportation. So it was a monumental task, and very gracious of the seminary to pay for all that for him.
But one day, I heard a story about when they took him to the grocery store in the United States for the first time. They don't have food over there, like you and I have food. They don't have gigantic grocery stores where he lives, like you and I do. And they also don't eat the same kind of foods that we do. Over there, they kind of think it odd that you would kill an animal and eat it once that could provide you things for the rest of your life. So for instance, they put a higher value on chickens than they do cattle. You can you know, if you kill a cow, you can feed a lot of people for a long time. But if you kill a chicken, you just get you know one meal, and then you don't get eggs for a long time. So they took Christopher to the store and they went to the poultry aisle. And there is this vast section of chickens. Prepared of course, boneless chickens, organically grown chickens, right? Cage free chickens. Do you want the wings? Do you want the legs? You know, what do you want? And it all seemed just so overwhelming to him, that we would have such luxury. That not only do we love to eat chicken but they're in abundance here. And the guy that took him to the store just said, you know, “Pick out whatever you want.” That may be like somebody taking you to, you know a fine grocery store to the Wagyu beef aisle and just saying take home whatever you like. That could be, you know, hundreds of dollars per pound if you can get the right cut. To Christopher, he was just overwhelmed with the generosity of the seminary, and the person that he was staying with, that he could literally get whatever he wanted, at the grocery store. It really challenged his faith.
My faith was challenged because I had to pick him up on the way to school. I had to grow in my faith in ways that were just revealing to me. I didn't even know at times, the areas that I was lacking. And God had to slowly over and over again, reveal those to me. We thought we were having a really difficult time. And for an American family, I guess you could say we were. Seminary is not cheap. And living in LA with a full family and no job is not cheap, for three and a half years. But we had more than $50, to our name. I think at times, we need to be open to the fact that God is going to grow our faith in new ways. And what might be a difficult situation for us, might not even be a difficult situation for someone else. And what is a really overwhelming experience of just going to the grocery store for someone, might be normal for us. And I think that's the beauty of the body that God has brought together. That he brings us along with people and we're all at different places in our faith and what he's teaching us. And yet he brings us together as a body of Christ to grow, to sharpen one another, and to increase our faith. Which always points us to him.
As we come to the book of Nehemiah, the people were kind of all over the place. But Nehemiah was a man of great faith. He was a cupbearer, as you will see in chapter one. The first few verses, that describes who he is, he was a cupbearer to the king of Persia, who had a long time ago had allowed the exiles to begin to return. You see, when Babylon was conquered by king Cyrus in the Persian Empire, it allowed this wave of people to start returning to Jerusalem. Across, you know, 600 plus miles of desert. Nehemiah enters the story of the third wave of returns of those who are exiles coming back to Jerusalem. And about, you know, maybe 90 years or so has passed, and the people have been allowed to return. And yet the walls were still broken down around the city.
For us, that would be like having no police force, no military, just the Wild Wild West, everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. And the rule of law would just depend on who would have the greatest amount of you know, people carrying swords and supporting whatever agenda they wanted. This was by far not a civilized time, in the days of Nehemiah. And when he heard that the walls of Jerusalem, even after 90 years or so, had not been restored, that they were still in shambles and burned by fire. It totally broke his heart. See, he was a man of great faith. Nehemiah chapter one, verse three, look there with me. Nehemiah gets a report about the state of affairs that his people who are supposed to be a people of faith. Nehemiah 1:3, “And they said to me, ‘The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.’”
There are many times in seminary where I was overwhelmed at the things that my brothers had to go through. Christopher even as we're trying to prepare for tests, he learned that a sister of his died just suddenly back home and there's no way for him to go visit, there's no way for him to even contact her. That's crushing to hear. And I remember a couple of brothers, were the first to be sponsored by Burma to come over to a conservative Christian school in the United States. And as they're here, and they're preparing the city that they lived in, which was more like a little village, right outside the city, was under attack. And literally as this guy is trying to prepare for Hebrew finals, he's wondering what's happening to his family. And it just, it was crushing to hear those kinds of things. I think that's where Nehemiah was at, as he heard about his people. Even though he wasn't with them. And even though God had sent them back to their land, he just wept in response over the people. And he prayed to the Lord, and he asked the Lord for wisdom, and he asked the Lord to help him to speak in front of the king and to ask, “I want to do something about it.”
And just summarizing this for you, I think Nehemiah was in the place that you and I need to get to. Because when we pray, and we ask for things that are really huge. There's really two types of prayers that we ask for. One is the prayer, “Lord, do something about this.” Right? That's the prayer that we pray most of the time. When something is going on, we want fixed, “Lord, please do something about this situation.” But the other prayer, is what Nehemiah was going to pray. It was, “Lord, send me. Lord, I want to do something about this situation.” Nehemiah had one of those 24/7 jobs, where he was always on call, he was a cupbearer to the king, so he didn't have time off. So that really didn't fit. He needed to serve the king. And if you came in even with the sad face, you could be killed. So that didn't fit what he thought God wanted him to do. Yet Nehemiah was a leader, among leaders. And he wanted to do something personally about the situation that the exiles were in.
Look in Nehemiah 1:8-9, “Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses [Nehemiah is praying to God here]… ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’” See, what Nehemiah had going for him was that he knew the Word of God, and he knew his return would be in line with God's will. Well, there's only one way to find out if God would be faithful to send him and look in verse 11. [Nehemiah 1:11] “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.’ Now I was cupbearer to the king.”
Nehemiah had a plan. He didn't let the sin of the people get in his way. He worked within the system he was under. Right? There's the cry today, “Overthrow the system.” He worked within the system he was under. He waited till the time was right. And then Nehemiah put his life on the line and went before the king. Look in Nehemiah 2:2, “And the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.’ Then I was very much afraid.’” He was afraid because he was supposed to be joyful in the presence of the king. And being visibly sad was dangerous. So Nehemiah gave a very calculated response. If you don't know how to talk to your boss, who might not know God, Nehemiah’s response is very instructive for us. Look at verse three [Nehemiah 2:3], “I said to the king, ‘Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’”
Now, this might not seem like such a bold request to you, but let me let me translate this for you a little bit. Okay, here's the translation, “Dear King, your people have plundered the city in which my people live, because of your oppression, how you've decimated the Babylonians. And how you have not provided for us fully to go back, though you did a little bit for Ezra and a little bit, you know, since almost a century before for Zerubbabel, we are still in this condition because of you and your lack of support.” That's basically what he's saying. But notice this, he starts out with, “O king, live forever.” You see, this wasn't a plan for Nehemiah to go back and build a city that would revolt against the king. This was a plan for him to go back and worship God. So in verse five of chapter two [Nehemiah 2:5], “And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.’”
So he tells him specifically that he wants to go back to Jerusalem. Let me again, translate, “I want to stop serving you, king, and go serve my ultimate King, God the Father. That's what I would like to do. And I would like to take my services away from you. And I would like to give them to the God that I serve and the people that I serve, in this destroyed city.” What was the king's response? Look in verse eight [Nehemiah 2:8]. “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” There's another man who had the good hand of God upon him, as we learned last week, and that was Ezra. Originally Ezra and Nehemiah were one book. This is just a continuation of God's blessing upon people who follow him.
Nehemiah then travels to Jerusalem and inspects the walls. At this point, no one knew of his plan. They just thought Nehemiah was just one of those exiles, albeit now, an important exile returning to Jerusalem. So, they didn't know what he was really up to, though. Look in Nehemiah 2:12, “Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode.” See this plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. What does the text say? Whose plan was it? It was God's plan. It was God's plan. God had put it into his heart.
And then in chapter two, verse 17 and 18, he kind of lets the cat out of the bag here. [Nehemiah 2:17-18] “I said to them [that is the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials], ‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.’ And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.’” Let me just point out here, that Nehemiah is calling the people to join together in unity to do the work of the Lord. He doesn't want them to just, you know, do his work. He wants them to come together. Notice there in the text, how it says, you see the trouble we are in. Let us rebuild that we may have no longer suffered derision. He was an incredibly important official. He had everything provided for him. He probably would have been staying in the king's palace back in Persia, modern day Iraq. But notice he says, “that we may no longer suffer derision.” You see Nehemiah identifies with the people of God.
Chapter three gives detail on who was rebuilding. And as you might already know, it wasn't smooth sailing, when they started to rebuild the walls. Look in Nehemiah 4:8, “And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.” See, Nehemiah was coming back to the territory where Ezra was. The temple was rebuilt, they were doing the sacrifices on the altar, but they were no threat to anyone. They had no force, no military force, to protect them. They had no wall, and all the people around Jerusalem they were fine with that, they didn't want Jerusalem to become a strong city again.
In Nehemiah 4:9-10, though, we see that all along the way Nehemiah continues to do something very important. He doesn't just go about his tasks. He encourages the people by praying to God for help. Even though they were being overwhelmed by the work, you see that in verses 9 and 10. This was strenuous work, rebuilding the walls. Imagine, if we had a project around here that needed done. We've got another one I'm going to propose to you soon as to turn the “garden,” that is the overgrown grass out there, into a real flower garden and with some picnic tables, and, you know, have a place where we can talk and pray and, and fellowship together as well. That's not that big of a project.
But imagine if I said, “Look, we need to take all the stones of this building apart. And we need to rebuild the building two stories tall.” You'd be looking at the beams and the pipes and saying, “We're gonna hire somebody, right?” I don't know if you've ever moved bricks or stones before. I used to work in concrete. And we used to carry steel forms, they were four by eight and set them together, and they get hot and sticky. And you have to spray them with oil so the concrete doesn't stick. And that's how we made basement footers. But to bring in the concrete, we just ordered the concrete. They'd bring a giant truck in with a 200-foot, crane and pump on it. And they would just fill it all up and we just had to watch. But imagine moving stone after stone after stone. I don't know it's kind of like if you've ever worked over your head, trying to fix something on the ceiling after about 30 seconds your arms are tired, right? If you're not used to that kind of work. The work that they were doing was truly overwhelming to them.
I remember in seminary, I guess it's seminary reference day, I guess in seminary one time, we must have looked more disheveled than usual. And so, my pastor at the time said, “Hey, Dave, I've got a job for you.” You know, I was trying to do side jobs and such. And I was like, “Oh, great. What is it?” He's like, “Well, I’m removing the chimney out of my house, and I need all the bricks loaded into a big dumpster.” I was like, “Sounds great. Do you need like your windows Windexed or anything? Or, you know, can I cut your grass.” So there he was inside his house with a sledge hammer, bringing the brick chimney down. And all I had to do was move it brick by brick by brick, there's a lot of bricks in a chimney, to the dumpster. And I thought about hiring out somebody else to do the work for me. But I was not in construction shape. I was in seminary studying shape. And it took a while.
You know, you've been overwhelmed by work before. Whether it's your job where you've got, you know, three weeks’ worth of work and your boss says we need it by tomorrow. Or something that is just way too hard to do. And at this point, the people were starting to get discouraged. Not only that, but the people around them we're starting to plot how to attack them, how to dissuade them. And in verse 11, we see that they plotted to kill the people who are working on this wall. So not only are they already discouraged, their arms are failing, the work is overwhelming, but now people actually want to kill them. Nehemiah 4:12, ten different times they tried to scare the Jews and stop them from working. This was their Jewish brothers and sisters in verse 12, who are trying to dissuade their relatives from doing this work of God.
Have you ever thought the people who should be helping you are the actual people who are tearing you down? Who are keeping you from doing the work of the Lord? That's what's going on here, in Nehemiah at this point. So what did they do about it? Look in verse 15, of chapter four. And I think you'll start to see how the, the actions of these people relate to us today. [Nehemiah 4:15-18] “When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me.”
Who frustrated the enemy's plans? God. And guess what, even those who didn't follow God realized it. Isn’t that amazing? Sometimes we think when will the world ever wake up that God is at work? Well, we just need to trust God and let him do his work and he will reveal himself to people at times. Here's the application for us. As each person turned to do the work, they were forced to do one thing, either quit, or rely on God. I mean, who builds a wall with a sword on? If you've ever worked construction, even the hammer hanging off gets in the way, all the time. And if your pack is full, it really slows you down. So when they have the trowel in one hand, so to speak, and the sword in the other; this makes it even harder, and they're already stumbling. But what inspired them? God did. God did.
I brought up a book to just encourage you today. This is an 1875 copy of The Sword and the Trowel. It's an original, you can look at it later. But this became a publication of Charles Spurgeon. In London back around 1860s, this publication started. And the inspiration for this publication came from these verses. Spurgeon’s church, by 1875, by the time they actually put in a book form, his Church was over 3,000 people, lots of people were coming. Now that sounds like a good problem to have. But if you are Spurgeon, if you take the Word of God seriously, then you know, you need to disciple all of those people. How on earth can we disciple people if we're just giving them one sermon a week? See that's part of our question, something we need to think through in life is, “How can we be discipled and go and make disciples if all we're doing is just showing up at church? And this is the most important time, most of my efforts in the preaching. The study goes into the sermon, so you're gonna get the best teaching on Sundays. But Spurgeon was feeling this need to share more with the people. And so he created this magazine called, The Sword and the Trowel. And it wasn't just his writings, it was anyone who was unified with the work he was doing. They could write and he would publish it, at their own expense, and send it out to people.
Now, Spurgeon had a college, a seminary that needed funding. Spurgeon had an orphanage that was growing by buildings, that needed funding. But his biggest desire was to spread the truth of the Word of God. Not just to spread the truth, right? That's the trowel, but also to refute the error. That's the sword. You see, you need to do both in today's world. And in churches today… (Obviously, not all of them, I don't even know most of them. Neither do you) But there seems to be a trend, going on 20 years now or so, where we just kind of talk about the truth and the good part of it, right. But the prophets who were sent, that the text says they killed, weren't sent to just tell them how good they were doing. They were sent to call them to repentance, and to turn them back to God.
So they made The Sword and the Trowel. I was telling a few of the men earlier, as you may know, they also released Spurgeon’s sermons every week in print, and sent them all throughout the city. You could buy them for a penny. So they called it the Penny Pulpit. Right? So, if you didn't come and hear the message today, we just put them online and you can download those and watch them even. But then they would have people who would transcribe the sermon, about five people on the front row, who are writing down everything he said, they'd give that to Spurgeon. And then Monday morning, the first thing he would do every week, is go back through his sermon, repost it to these people after he edited it, and they would print it and send it all throughout the city.
We started Grace Equip in the mornings at 9:00am, for this reason: I was just feeling a burden that we need to share more. And you can be overwhelmed by finding resources and information online, right? I mean, it's a chasm of sermons. But those aren't your shepherds. And see, the other error that we have today is that pastors try and shepherd everybody. While neglecting their own, at times. So, when you get a message, it's tailor made for you. It's what we, the elders feel, is what you need. And when we come into your homes, which we do, a couple times a year and talk with you, it's what you need. To sharpen you, to encourage you, to listen to you, to give an account for those who are under our care. And so, the Grace Equip is meant to be an encouragement to you. And my prayer is that, you know, the first Sunday of every month, we gather just for prayer at that time, my prayer is that everybody will be there. You see, we must keep an eye on the truth, to build the truth, and to guard against error.
Yet we must, for God's glory, not fade back when the work is tough. See, I think sometimes we're so consumed at times with just trying to survive ourselves, that we feel like we're no help to anyone. But listen, if you're a believer, you are a help to someone. Just talked with another brother earlier this week and just let him know how much of an encouragement to me he is as we talk. And I'm there trying to, you know, disciple him and help him but as he thinks through what we're talking about, he'll mention things that I go, “Oh, I need to do that too. I need to be more attentive to what's going on. I need to be engaged at home and not just kind of there.” Right? Right, fathers? We need to do that and to engage. So, if you are a believer, God can use you for his work right now, today. And it doesn't matter how old you are, or how young you are.
The people who came to rebuild the wall. They were jewelers. They were blacksmiths. Right? They were farmers. They weren't engineers. They weren't skilled in doing those things. But they built a wall that lasted a very long time. Because God was working through them to do the work.
In chapter six, the enemies figured out, they couldn't dissuade the people because they worked to finish the wall. So they tried to smear the name of Nehemiah. They tried to kill him, they invited him out into the country to meet with him many times, and he would say no. So, they couldn't kill him because they couldn't get close enough to him. And so they thought, well, let's hire someone to go and prophesy that he needs to go in the temple and cling to the temple and just be scared for his life. That's an attempt to smear his name. Nehemiah says, “No, I'm not doing that either. I'm not here to run. I'm here to work for God.”
So, the wall got completed and finished. Look in Nehemiah 6:15-16, “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” We may think that people don't see God at work in us. But I'm here to tell you, that they do. They see something different about you as you put your hand to the plow, as you pick up the sword and refute error. As you pick up the trowel and build for the work of the Lord. As you make disciples, as you pray with your children, as you don't talk like other people talk at work. As your children have a different focus in life than other children. People will see and notice and our job is to continue.
In chapter six and following, the problems didn't go away. A steady stream of gossip was going back and forth between Tobiah and all of the people. They had ignored the laws and commands not to intermarry with people who didn't worship God. And so Tobiah, the main enemy of Nehemiah, had relatives all throughout the land. And so they would speak good of Tobiah in Nehemiah’s presence. And whatever Nehemiah would say would get back to Tobiah. It was gossip, unhinged. But friends, gossip can only destroy, if we let it. Convictions grow stronger with opposition. But we do need to have convictions. That's when we really see what we're made of is when opposition arises. Opposition has arisen, the church was told to shut down. A friend of mine in Canada was put in jail because he wouldn't shut down. So they built two layers of fences around his church.
Opposition to the Word has only made true Christians stronger throughout history. And I want to just ask you, how strong are your convictions? Does it just take a little wave to knock you off your feet? See, we need deep biblical convictions like what Nehemiah had, and what these people had, to do the work. Even though death, threatened them, threatened their families. You can't be taking care of the field and farming if you're building a wall. And the Jews who didn't want them to build the wall were basically taking their money from them. And saying, “Look, you need to pay us exorbitant amounts at interest and we'll give you a little bit of food.” So they had to be all in with God's plan.
Convictions make the path clear. Convictions like knowing Jesus is Lord. But is he our Lord? Those kinds of convictions. Knowing that Jesus is the only Savior of the world. Not Buddha, not Mohammed. Not getting weak knees when we see you know, people coming to knock on our doors, sharing a false gospel. But being bold with the gospel, having the conviction that if we share the gospel with somebody, they might actually get saved. Do we have those convictions? It's the same conviction that drove you, if you're a believer, to give your life to Jesus Christ. It's that conviction that when Jesus says, “I will forgive your sins,” that he means what he says. That's the conviction that we need in all areas of life. If you don't know Jesus Christ, I beg you, to give your life to Jesus. To receive salvation by grace through faith, to just confess your sins to God.
In the Grace Equip this morning, we were going over chapters 9 and 10, where the people confess their sins to God. And they confess the sins of their fathers. But they also confessed how steadfast God was in his love and mercy towards them. God has more grace than your sin. Practically, we must know that and live that out. We must submit to Scripture. Not try and make Scripture fit our lives, but make our lives fit to Scripture. We must know that salvation is a work of God's grace in our lives. Otherwise, you're going to try and earn your salvation over and over again. And after salvation, you're going to try and earn his rewards, you're going to try and earn his favor. We need to know that salvation is by grace through faith. We also need to know that real faith follows God. Friends, you have many people who are in this building today, who are trying to follow God just like you are. That's why God put us here as a body. Like Ephesians 4:11-16 says, the body grows when each part is working properly. And when each part is working properly, it builds itself up in love. You may feel like you're not valuable or needed. Like nobody would miss it if you were gone, but the body would miss it. These are the types of convictions that drive our lives.
Well the people in Nehemiah’s day, as you know, they would continue to go through the cycle of sin and repentance. Here in these chapters, they have just great fortitude, and they're growing. And they're confessing their sin. And they reestablished the feasts. And they're gathering to hear the Word of the Lord. And that's really what we need today. Do we gather to not just hear the Word, but to be changed by the Word? Nehemiah knew this and it drove his life. Ezra knew this and it drove his life. And the Israelites were now primed to hear the Word. They were totally committed to God at this point. So what did Ezra, who's the scribe, and Nehemiah, who's the governor, what did they do when the people were ready?
Look in Nehemiah 8:2-3, “So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Many things about this get preachers fired up. We love chapter eight. It is Old Testament expository preaching extraordinaire. It is fantastic. There are so many elements here that inspire preachers and inspire people who know the Word, to attentively listen. And so, I just want to go through a few of these things so that maybe you'll be inspired too. Because what we do here is expository preaching, which means to fillet open the text, to expose the meaning of the text, so that you can be changed by it.
So, what made Ezra’s preaching successful? Well, the first thing is that he was, he was trained. He was a priest, skilled in the law. He wasn't just winging it, he was deliberate. He spent time understanding it, which allowed him to better teach it. The second thing, you'll see in verse five, that the people respected the Word. Look in Nehemiah 8:5, “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood.”
I think when I preached this before, I can't remember if I actually did this, or I was just thinking I should have done this. But just you know, opening the Bible just to see as you read that, would people stand up? And then close it, sit down, open it, stand up? But the people respected and revered the Word of God. They respected and revered the Word of God. When we read the Word this morning, were you guys standing or sitting? Right, standing. Not a trick question this time. Right? We were standing. That's why we stand. We stand when we do things that we want to show an extra amount of respect. When you greet somebody, if you're sitting down and they come into the room, what do you do you? You stand up to greet them. And we stand to sing the national anthem. Right? If you're a military guy, just try and keep your seat when a superior officer comes into the room. Right? Won't go over so well. You stand and you stand at attention. You don't sit at attention. You stand at attention. So I think you get the point. The people here were standing because they revered the Word of God.
Verse six, look what else they did. The people were participating. This also gets preachers fired up. [Ezra 8:6] “And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands.” Amen. That's right. Amen. Yeah, you got it. Right. Yeah. And we'll skip the next part. [Ezra 8:6] “And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” I have done that before. It throws everybody off. And that's all they can think about. So we won't do that. They just go home thinking, I put my face on the ground and they forget the sermon. But the idea here is that the people were participating. They were saying, “Amen.” At Hope Bible Church, one of my favorite other places to preach at. There's this little old lady who sits in the back and she goes, “Amen, Amen, brother, preach the Word!” You’re just like thinking, “Wow, you know, she's pretty inspired by the Word of God, I guess I should be too,” you know. It's inspiring. It's engaging to do those things. So if you shout “Amen!,” or lift up your hands, I'm just gonna think you're doing Nehemiah 8:6. They were listening. They were lifting up their hands. If you know why you're lifting up your hands, it's okay. You can do that. We see that. I've told you before, we're good at being the frozen chosen, but if you want to lift up your hands, a deacon is not going to smack your hand. The reason for that is when you get the Word right, it provides freedom. But if you don't have the Word right. If you've got to cover it up with all kinds of other things and tricks, and other things. Then yeah, you're probably just on an emotional roller coaster. Following the emotional rhythm of the music. You know, your sway might be engaged, but is your mind?
“They bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD,” they were engaged fully with the teaching of God's Word. See, true preaching promotes worship. True preaching promotes worship. It promoted humility. It promoted an agreement that God is great. “Amen” means, “and so be it.” Right? We agree with this truth that is coming. That's why they shouted, “Amen!” Not just because they were excited, it's an agreement with what's going on. When the Word of God is taught, it causes God's people to worship. It's one of the reasons why we close our service with music to provide another opportunity, another element of response to God in worship, after you've heard the Word preached.
Another thing, look in Nehemiah 8:7-8. And this is the most engaging for me. There's 13 men there, I won't read their names, and the Levites. They “helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places.” So not getting out running around, dancing in the aisles, that kind of thing. [Nehemiah 8:8] “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” That is the purpose of godly preaching, right there, “so that the people understood.” If you go away from a message, my message or anyone else's, and you go, “Wow, that was amazing. I have no idea how he got that.” Then you have just heard an unbiblical sermon (you might have been checked out, we'll leave that out there). But you might have just heard an unbiblical sermon. He's reading from the law of God, clearly. And they gave the sense, that's they exposed the meaning. This is Old Testament expository preaching, on a stage.
I remember when I first came to Grace Bible Church about nine years ago, we were meeting in a middle school and the question was, “Should we put the pulpit on the floor or on the school stage?” And somebody said, “Well, I think if you put it on the stage, it looks like it's a performance.” I said, “Have you ever read Nehemiah chapter eight, they built a wooden platform just for the occasion, so that he was above the people. So you could see there's a practicality there.” See, the goal of church is to transform you into true worshipers of God. That cannot happen if we don't understand the Word. So the goal of the sermon is to help you understand the Word, live the Word, and share the Word.
Time and again, we've already seen in the books that we've covered so far in the Old Testament, that when the parents, when the adults, did not share the truth of God's Word with people, the people went astray. If we understand the Word, but don't live it, then we fool ourselves. If we live the Word, but don't share the Word, we devalue the Word. But when we understand, live, and share it, we bring glory to God in all aspects of life. The power is in the Word because it is the very Word of God. Nehemiah knew that, Ezra knew that, and the Israelites were learning that once again. Don't worry, we're not going to go through every single chapter this morning. I know you're calculating in your mind.
Here's the last thing that I want to share with you this morning. And this is really important. Chapter eight, Look there with me in verse nine. See the last thing that Ezra and Nehemiah knew, was that the people needed to be taught how to be joyful. Verse nine, they were weeping as they heard the words of the Law. Now why were they weeping? They were weeping because it exposed their sin. So what some churches do, and what sometimes happens, is we just kind of skip over that part and we just get to the joyful part. Yeah, but my life's a mess. Well, let's just focus on the good part. But they had to be taught how to be joyful. Look in verse 10, “do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Believer, you may be in a place where you don't think it's possible to be joyful in the Lord. And the response from the Word of God is that you can be taught. You can be taught. Once they understood the Word of God, and God's graciousness, and mercy, which is all throughout Nehemiah. Their response was joy.
Look in verse 12, Nehemiah 8:12, “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” My goal for you, is the goal of every true preacher. It's to clearly explain the Word. To then apply the Word to our lives. And then to live joyfully because we know God. Friends, true Expository Preaching is fuel for a godly, joyful life. I pray the Word of God brings joyful reform to you and me as well. Let's pray.
Father God, we just thank you for the Word. We thank you for sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. That all who would repent and believe, Lord God, will be saved by your grace. Remind us of that most wonderful, glorious truth, Lord God, that we might live joyful lives.
Father, I also pray that you would help to remind us that we can be taught to be joyful through the preaching of your Word. Lord God, we ask that you would do a work in our lives.
And right now let's just take a moment, right here even right now, in this place. And let's just ask God to help us to understand the Word, that we might live joyfully for his glory.
Lord God, we're so thankful for you. We’re so thankful for how you watch over us, and guide us, and protect us, and gently bring us back into right relationship with you. Help us to understand your word. So we might live for you dear God. In your precious, Holy Name. Amen.
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