Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

10/11/15 Sermon - They Did What They Read

“They Did What They Read”

Nehemiah 8


We started our service today in about the same way things started in Chapter 8 of Nehemiah. I’d like to read verse 1 again,

“And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel.”

Remember, we are actually reading Nehemiah’s diary of what occurred while he was in Jerusalem. And today’s reading begins with the people asking Ezra, the scribe and priest, to bring out the Law. Did you catch that? The people were asking and not only did they want Ezra to read the Bible, they were gathered together, “as one” it said, from daybreak till noon, that’s about 6 hours! And they listened, attentively.

If you ask me? That was a demonstration of the Spirit of God at work. For a group of people to be willing to listen attentively for six hours to someone read God’s Word, in a place where they had to build a platform so he could be seen by everyone, again demonstrates to me, the Holy Spirit working in their lives. We also read that those who were there were men and women who could understand.

When we bring that thought into today’s context, it is my belief that the Holy Spirit has been moving in each of you that are sitting here today. Because in our culture, sitting in a church pew at 10:30am on Pumpkinfest Sunday morning, is not what the majority of people in Damariscotta are doing today. In fact, the majority of Americans today, are not at church, they are finding other things to participate in and making other choices to “enjoy” their weekend.

As we continue reading, we find that Ezra had men on his right and on his left who were supporting him in his ministry of teaching God’s Word. It wasn’t a one man show, there were many who stood with Ezra, who understood God’s Word and had the ability to share its meaning with others.

Notice what happened when Ezra opened the Book, in verse 5 it reads, “and as he opened it, the people stood up.” Then Ezra began praising God and all the people started raising their hands and responding with “Amen! Amen!” Then it reads they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

This is sounding more Pentecostal by the moment. Hands raising! Amen’s being shouted! People dropping down with their faces to the ground! Again, The Holy Spirit was certainly at work! And all these physical and emotional responses were happening and Ezra hasn’t even said a word yet, he has simply opened the Book!

We read that Ezra and his leaders had things in control. The leaders and the Levites began reading from the Book and they also took time to give meaning to what they were reading, so that the people who were standing there, could understand what was being read.

The number one rule for any preacher or teacher of God’s Word! Whatever you say, whatever you do, make sure those who are in front of you, understand God’s Word. If they don’t understand it, it is not going to do them any good. That is the seriousness of being a preacher or teacher. I am accountable to making sure each of you is given the opportunity to understand God’s Word. If you leave church with a “good” feeling, or having been amused and you haven’t gained a greater understanding of God’s Word, I am not doing my job well.

It is also important to see the reasons why God’s people would need special help in understanding His Word.

First thing to recognize is that understanding God’s Word is not solely an intellectual experience, it is primarily a spiritual experience. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us discernment in understanding God’s Word.

1 Corinthians 2:14

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

We often try to intellectualize how the Spirit moves. Why do some people seem more in tuned with the Spirit than others?

This is where faith comes in, and again, it is a spiritual thing, not an intellectual thing, and often this is difficult to accept.

We also need help in understanding God’s Word because, just like those living in Jerusalem with Ezra, the Word was first written in a different language, in a different culture, in a different place and in a different time. Teachers help us understand how God’s Word works in our own day.

Third, let’s face it, our minds are often slow when we are asked to understand anything that will convict us. We need others to put it into words, and with help we are able to see where we are in need of help. And if we are truly honest, we often need to hear God’s Word ten times or more before it sinks in and makes a difference. The reality is that our lives are clouded with so many things that it takes repetition to cut through the fog before we see the details and can use God’s Word to make sense of our situations.

David Guzik has an excellent illustration for this. He compares the cleaning up of our lives to when an art restorer cleans a painting. The restorer uses techniques and tools to reveal the picture that was always there, but the colors weren’t as bright and the details weren’t as clear, because they were obscured – when the art is restored, then the real impact of the painter’s work can be seen.

Spiritual leaders and teachers have the gift of cleaning the art of our lives. They discern through God’s word and which helps to restore God’s purpose for our lives.

Next we read about how the people responded to the reading and teaching of God’s Word.

In verse 9, we read that Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites had to tell the people to stop weeping. As they listened to the words of the Law the people were weeping.

This reminds me of the scene in “The Sound of Music” when Maria comes to dinner late, and sits on a pine cone, and instead of blaming the children for all the horrible things they had done to her upon her arrival, she responds with describing how they should have known how important it was to make sure she felt welcome and what behaviors were necessary to make certain that happened, and during her monologue all the children begin to weep because they are convicted due to their bad behavior.

While Ezra was reading, the Word of God was doing this very  thing. In 2 Timothy 3:16 it reads,  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

Many times it hurts to be rebuked and corrected and tears are evidence of some of that pain.

The response from Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites is curious. They tell the people to stop weeping, to go and enjoy, choice food and sweet drinks, for this day is sacred to the Lord.

They tell them not to grieve, for the “joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Being convicted was enough.

Remaining in that conviction meant the sin was still in control.

Nehemiah and Ezra wanted the people to know, that God was doing a good and holy work and that work was what they were to celebrate.

True conviction should bring joy, the joy of being free from the sin that was gripping them.

It is the same for us today.

Our knowledge of our sin, should never be greater than our knowledge that Jesus has conquered sin forever, and as our Savior He is greater than our sin.

That statement bears repeating –

Our knowledge of our sin, should never be greater than our knowledge that Jesus has conquered sin forever, and as our Savior He is greater than our sin.

It is also important to notice Nehemiah and Ezra were teaching the people that there may be times when we are called to do God’s will even when we may not “feel” like it. The people were sad, because they were convicted by their sin, but they were being asked by God to walk in the joy of the LORD, because God was doing a great work in His people, and God’s joy was to be their strength.

In verse 12, we read the people did what they were told, they went away to eat and drink and to celebrate with great joy, because they understood the words that had been made known to them.

The next day, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra for more Bible study. They comprehended as heads of their families and spiritual leaders they needed more guidance and instruction. And while doing so they discovered, a commandment the LORD had given Moses, and they decided they needed to do it.

They were currently in the feast of the seventh month, or what  was known as the Feast of Tabernacles, and as Ezra was reading, he read how God commanded the people to live in booths. So, without hesitation, the leaders instructed the people to go out and cut the correct branches and build booths and live in them during the feast.

Their tradition did not tell them to keep the Feast, because for those living in Jerusalem, the Feast of Tabernacles had not been observed since the days of Joshua. This time, the Israelites relied on God’s Word, not on their tradition.

Now the Feast of Tabernacles was established to remind the Israelites how God had blessed them and provided for them while they were wondering in the wilderness during their Exodus. That story resonated with those who had returned to Jerusalem after 70 years of captivity and a light bulb had gone off in their minds and revealed to them that God had again, blessed them and provided for them, and they didn’t even think twice. God said it, they did it.

The results of their obedience can be read at the end of verse 17, “And their joy was very great.”

How often do we think that when we are obedient, we will feel squelched because we are not allowed to do our own thing. We are often deceived into thinking that unless I am doing what I want to do, I will not be happy. Yet, gladness and freedom come only through obedience to what God plans. And when you really think about it, God loves us and his plans are only going to be for our good.

The chapter ends by telling us that day by day, from the first to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law. The feast began with the Spirit of God working and it continued working through God’s Word.

As we leave today, after hearing God’s Word, may it resonate with us just as it did with those who were listening to Ezra and his fellow leaders, and may we respond in the same way.

In verse 5 we were told the people

1st - Thanked God by saying, “AMEN”

2nd - They prayed by lifting up their hands and

3rd - They worshipped by bowing down.

And finally, may we respond with the Joy of the Lord, as our strength.

Let’s pray.

God, may your Spirit lead us today to thank you more, to pray to you more, and to worship you more.

Help us to remember your love for us and may we demonstrate our love for you by following what you have told us in your Word.