Sermon Manuscript

The Word of God doing the Work of God

Neh 8:1-12

In 383ad a self admittedly soul sick and tormented African philosopher by the name of Aurelius Augustine went to hear the preaching of a bishop named St Ambrose. He went for the eloquent style but the bishop's preaching began to have an effect on him and his friend Alpius. Augustine was struggling with the effects of living an immoral life and was searching for answers. I m going to read from his autobiography of what happened next. He says,  

 

...I flung myself down under a fig tree… and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to you. “Oh Lord, how long? How long, Oh Lord? Will you be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former sins.” For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries…

 

I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or girl... coming from the neighboring house, chanting “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but i could not remember ever having heard the like, So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. ….

 

So I quickly turned to the bench where Alpius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Rom 13:3). I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

 

Closing the book, then and putting my finger or something else for a mark I began to tell it to Alpius. And he in turn disclosed to me what had been going on in himself, of which I knew nothing. He asked to see what I had read. I showed him, and he looked on even further than I had read. I had not known what followed. But indeed it was this , “Him that is weak in faith, receive.” This applied to himself and he told me so. By these words of warning he was strengthened, and by exercising his good resolution and purpose he joined me in full commitment without any restless hesitation.

 

Augustine and Alpius then begin to tell others of their trust and submission to Christ. This is the story of the conversion of one of the greatest theologians and church man, who we now refer to as St Augustine.

 

What is so fascinating of this story is not the prompting of the child’s voice to take and read, nor the troubled conscience that he had, nor the deep philosophy he studied or struggled with, but just how powerful it was for him and his friend to read the Bible together. Both were pierced by the word of God. They had been reading for a while, heard the teaching of others, but it was the word of God that ultimately convinced and converted them.

 

God moving in people is usually done by them hearing the word of God. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17, see also 2 Tim 3:15).

 

We are in our series of Nehemiah and we are at a place where revival comes in the people, and it comes by the simple reading of the word of God. This is what God’s people are to be about.

 

As Nehemiah is trying to restore the holy city so much has focused on his building of the wall. Walls were essential for cities because they kept the people safe from enemies. The first six chapters of the book focus on that but now there is a distinctive turn, and it is to the spiritual condition of the people. As the next chapters focus on that community chapter 8 sets the tone for the next chapters and it begins with the place that every revival in history has started with: A return to the word of God.

 

Text:

 

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. 2 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. 3 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. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 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. 6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and 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. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

 

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and 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 or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved." 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. (Nehemiah 8:1-12 ESV)

 

This passage shows us the basis of the church, the basis of revival, and therefore it helps us see what we need to be about.

 

 

  • The word of God

 

 

God created the world by his word. He redeems people by his word too. His word is the center of his activities. They bring the book of the law of Moses. Literally it is the Torah, the teaching of Moses. This probably refers to the first five books of the Bible that Moses wrote, and it is known as the Pentateuch.

 

Ezra the priest reads from a wooden platform (v4). They are simply reading the word of God. There is a sense here in which they are using ingenuity or technology to promote the hearing of it. We should look for ways to promote the hearing of the word but those things are always to be under the word and never overshadow it.  

 

They read or call the word. Reading is a practice of the gatherings in the OT but it is also the practice of the NT. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1Ti 4:13 ESV). I read the Scripture each Sunday. We are going to do that as a church. We want you to know God’s word. We want you to hear it. It is the only perfect part of the service.

 

So they read the law of God 'distinctly"' (KJV), or in some versions, "they read from the Law of God, 'translating', " i.e. from Hebrew to Aramaic. Conceivably the form of the verb in Hebrew here, m® pœr¹sh, is the equivalent of the Aramaic form in Ezr 4:18, "The document you sent to me has been 'translated', m® p¹rash, and read before me." (Ezr 4:6-6:18 are written in Aramaic, the rest in Hebrew.) They did this day by day (v18).

 

The basic meaning still remains, "to make/be made clear" (by revelation, explication, or translation). They put forth the meaning so that the people could clearly understand it. “Under stand” in verse 7 is to see (Gen: God saw). They saw it in the word of God. There are two parts to this. They read the word and tell what it means. It is that simple. We can over complicate.

 

In the book of Acts an Ethiopian is reading the book of Isaiah and pondering its meaning. The disciple Philip comes to him and asks the man if he understands and the Ethiopian replies, “How can I unless someone guides me” (Act 8:31 ESV). Phillip explains and the man trusts in Christ and is baptized. A great conversion. It comes by reading and having the meaning made plain. Need guides. Ephesians 4:11-13

 

This is great commission work. This is making disciples. This is the work of every Christian. Read the word; tell/discuss what it means.The point of teaching is not to come up with something no one has ever heard of before. If you are doing that you are not doing what God has called you to do. You make it plain. When you make a point everyone says, “Ahh, I got it. I see it!” We don’t want people saying, “Uhh, where does that come from?”

 

This is making known the word. Acts 2, they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching.

 

Its is similar to the reform king Josiah brought about when they found the word of God and read it, and the people realized they needed to follow it. There was a great reform in the people because of this. Because of the simple reading of God’s word.

 

“Down through the centuries, God’s people have gone through cycles where His Word has been neglected and the spiritual condition of His people deteriorates. In His grace, God sends renewal. Inevitably, one of the main marks of such renewal is a renewed emphasis on God’s Word.

  1. I. Packer (A Quest for Godliness {Crossway Books], p. 98.

 

This is one of the most needed things today for the church. Get with other people and read the word. Seek to understand. How are you doing that. Does this describe your life.

 

It must be clear. Granted, some texts are very difficult to understand (even Peter says such about some of Paul’s writings, 2 Pet. 3:15-16). Sometimes Jesus seemed to be deliberately obscure, especially in His parables, to hide the truth from scoffers. The normal job of a pastor or Bible teacher is to communicate the truth clearly and simply.

 

The Bible has a fundamental place in revival but it is not alone. It must be received by the people and you see that here. They were…

 

 

  • Attentive to the Word of God

 

 

If you are not attentive to something you will never hear it. Attentiveness stems from reverence. If you are not captivated by something you tune it out. Are you captivated by the word of God. Here they wanted to hear it. They elevate the word and what you see is what was going on in their heart.

 

They are united to hear it, as should all Christians be. We can differ on so many things but we ought not to differ on the primary place of God’s word in our services and in our lives.

 

Notice also there is not just an effort to have the men learn it, or just the adults, or to separate between the upper and lower class. The word of God is for all people. The NT calls it the priesthood of believers. In the church the goal is to teach and equip all believers for the work of ministry.

 

The ears of all the people were attentive to the word of God. They were listening to take it in. There is a difference between hearing and listening to it. There is a difference between saying thanks and being thankful. They are desirous to learn.

 

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isa 66:2 ESV)

 

How well do you listen to God’s word? Do you read and go do? How well do you listen to sermons? Do listen to object or do you listen to understand and apply? Are you being changed by your study of the word. How do you hear the reading and teaching of God’s word.

 

You will not remember everything from a sermon. But listen for the main point. If something sticks out to you write it down so you can remember it. Also, we live in a culture that is easy to get familiar with hearing the word and not changing any. You can’t do everything in a sermon. But consider how am I different because of this text? What is God calling me to do? What do i need to do this week/in the next 72 hrs because of this text. You can hear love your enemy as yourself and say that is a good point. Conclude Bible study.

 

We can easily harden our heart to the word of God. We hear love enemies but we never connect it to our lives and soon we hear commands like that and don’t even budge. How are you in living by word. We hear love your spouse but do you ever talk to them about what it means to love, what it looks like, are you doing something to show them love. A church unresponsive to the word it a dead church.

 

“To the Puritan the Bible was in truth the most precious possession that this world affords. His deepest conviction was that reverence for God means reverence for Scripture, and serving God means obeying Scripture. To his mind, therefore, no greater insult could be offered to the Creator than to neglect his written word; and conversely, there could be no truer act of homage to him than to prize it and pore over it, and then to live out and give out its teaching. Intense veneration for Scripture, as the living word of the living God, and a devoted concern to know and do all that it prescribes, was Puritanism’s hallmark.” JI Packer.

 

We ought to prize hearing the word. We ought to read it with humility. Listen to sermons not to hold fast to the teachers words but to have the Scriptures opened up, understood, and then applied. Does your life show an attentiveness to God’s word. Do you ever talk about where a message or study challenged you and you need to change.

 

Many people are worried about the bible being taken from schools, or removed from courthouses. I’m disappointed by that. But I am far more concerned with the absence of the word of God in the lives of Christians. How can you give a compelling invitation to others to turn to Christ when Jesus words play little part in your life. Why are we not talking about. Reading it with others. Opening our doors. How can we be too busy for God’s word??

 

If you want to reach people and eagerness of God’s word is one of the best things you can give them. You will never convince anyone of their need to obey God’s word if your life doesn’t not demonstrate a hunger and attentiveness to it.

 

 

  • The Spirit Moves

 

 

Look at what you see as the effect of the people reading the word of God. There is not just one but many experiences at the same time.  This is the grace of God at work in his people!

 

Obedience. In verse 13 the people obey the commands to celebrate the feast of booths, a feast that recalled God’s protection and provision. They obey this command.

 

Joy (v10). when you hear something that is good, right and true, and that shows you the right way to live, that offers you hope, that reveals who your God is there is joy. Do you walk away from your time in the word with joy.

Weeping (v9). They read the word and they are convicted. In chapter 9 we will see that the people begin to confess their sin. This is a sign of being in the word.

 

Celebrate (v10) Eat and drink good food and share with others.

 

Worship v6: bowed, amen (it is ok to say something, let me know your alive), worshipped. Lifted their hands and bowed their heads to the ground, literally their nostrils to the ground.

Holy (v10). This day is declared holy. The ground before Moses was declared Holy because God was there. This day is declared holy because God was there. We encounter the presence of God through his word. Do you ever experience that, leaving a meeting knowing God was there. This is what we want and it is what happens when God’s people do the thing he calls us to do, which is to read his word and be attentive.

 

 

  • The Central Duty of the Church

 

 

This is what the people of God are to be about. This is a central Christian activity. This is the primary focus of the church. Reading the word of God with other people. preach the word (2Ti 4:2 ESV)

 

As we build a church here I hope that we are building a church on the foundation of the word of God. Not just in our sunday activities but in all that we do. This activity needs to be at the center of all we do as a church. Our center cannot be sports games, it cant be school or education. If those are the center we are going to fail. Those have their place in the church but they must come much later. I want us to be a church that is known for it commitment to the word of God. And that begins with each and every person growing in their love for the word.

 

We might not be good in some areas. We may not have a lot of programs. I am OK with that, as long as we are being faithful with God’s word. This is why I wanted to get Sundy’s right first and foremost for our church. I believe it’s the preaching of the word that is going to guide everything else we do. The way we study, the way we listen. It will drive smalls groups, and bible studies and youth events.

 

“The world may be entertained by our musical, theatrical, or oratorical skills, but they will never be converted by them. The only power that amazes the soul, the only wonder that silences the skeptic, the only vision that drives out our idols is the glory of the Christ revealed through preaching. When he is lifted up, he said, and only then, will he draw all men to himself.” JD Greear, Gaining By Losing, 91

 

We need to be lifting up Christ and lifting him up through the word of God, inviting people to study the word with us. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It is his commission. Bring people to hear his word, in our homes or churches.

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

 

The word of God does the work of God by the Spirit of God. This is what we need to be about as a church and as individuals. Some people refer to define Christians by what they do not do and they end up with a definition of a Christian that fits my dog. I look at Roscoe and he is a pretty good guy. He doesn’t drink, he does some or chew (and he doesn’t go with girls that do), he has be neutered to that takes care of his revelling. He might occasionally bark loud or run down the street but for the most part he is pretty good. And that is how most people feel about their Christianity, but there is no passion. We are not faithful Christians because of an absence of big sins in our life. That is of little account if there is not a passion for God, if we are not captivated by something else, if we do not love and treasure his word because through it we receive faith, hope, correction, guidance, knowledge of who our God is, and so much more.

 

Discussion Questions

 

  1. How does the Word of God feature prominently in this passage? How do the people show reverence for it? How do you approach God’s word?
  2. What are the effects of the people hearing the Word?
  3. Why should the reading and proclaiming of God’s word be the center of a church? What happens if that center is lost? Are these activities at the center of your life?