Bring the Book!

Bring the Book!

“Bring the Book!”

(Nehemiah 8:1-12)

Series: REBUILD (Nehemiah)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

[Video Intro.]

REBUILD.  We are back in our series of messages in the Book of Nehemiah.  So go ahead and find your place in Nehemiah Chapter 8.  

The year is 444 BC and Nehemiah has completed one of the greatest rebuilding projects in the history of civil engineering.  He has led the people to rebuild the broken down walls around the city of Jerusalem.  The walls had been lying in ruins over a hundred years since being knocked down by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity.  You’ll remember God disciplined His children for their unfaithfulness and idolatry, allowing them to be carried off into captivity.  But the time of discipline is over and God works through the events of history to get His people back into Jerusalem.  He raises up several people to do this.  One of them was a man named Ezra, Ezra the priest.  You can read about him in the book just before Nehemiah.  He is a contemporary of Nehemiah’s which means he’s right there in Jerusalem along with Nehemiah.  Ezra leads the rebuilding of the temple and then God brings Nehemiah down from Susa, 1,000 miles away, brining him to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.

A point we made from the very first message in our series is that the Book of Nehemiah is not just about the physical rebuilding of walls, but about the spiritual rebuilding of people.

By the way, the fact that Nehemiah didn’t just finish the wall and then go back to the king’s palace in Susa indicates that he was concerned about more than a physical rebuilding project.  He was genuinely concerned about the spiritual welfare of God’s people.  

Physical structures are not, in and of themselves, the most important thing.  It is what the people on the inside are doing.  We have often noted that the church is not a building, but a body.  Sometimes a visitor will come and look inside the sanctuary and say, “What a beautiful church!” and I’ll want to correct and say, “Yes, it is a beautiful sanctuary.”  The church is beautiful, too; a beautiful body of brothers and sisters.

From our opening message we noted that the Book of Nehemiah can be divided into two main sections, two main divisions.  We’ll put this back on the wall for review since we’re now in the second division:

Two (2) Main Divisions of Nehemiah: 

I. Reconstruction of the Walls [Chapters 1-7]

      [Physical Rebuild]

II. Reinstruction of the People [Chapters 8-13]

      [Spiritual Rebuild]

Rebuilding people takes more time.  How many days did it take to rebuild the walls?  Just 52 days to build the walls, but rebuilding people…whoa! Amen?  You know the song: 

He’s still working on me

To make me what I need to be

It took him just a week to make the moon and stars

The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars

How loving and patient He must be

‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me

How do you go about rebuilding a people spiritually?  Well, you bring out the Book, “Bring the Book!”  From reconstruction of walls to reinstruction of the people.  re-instruction through the Word of God.  Let’s look at the Word of God now.  

  • Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

1 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.

2 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.

3 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.

  • Pray: “Father as we study Your Word, help us be attentive to the Book.  Open our eyes that we would see wonderful things in Your Word for Jesus’s sake, amen.”

If there is one thing that stands out in this passage it is the centrality of the Word of God among the gathered people of God.  The Word of God, the Bible, central to the gathering together of the people of God.

True revival has always followed the regular systematic teaching of the Word of God.  True revival.  Not revival that is scheduled or calendared.  Churches sometimes speak of scheduling revival services, you know: “Come to revival April 28th through May 5th.”  But true revival is not something that is scheduled.  True revival is when God shows up when He pleases to awaken His people, reviving them to love Him and live for Him.

I was going down South Green Street yesterday and saw a church banner outside the Solid Rock Tabernacle Church and it read: “Revival is Coming.”  And I thought to myself, “Boy, I sure hope so.”  Because if revival comes to Solid Rock Tabernacle, revival will come to us, as well.  True revival.  When God shows up and awakens His people, reviving them to love Him and live for Him.  

Martyn Lloyd Jones in his seminal preaching book, Preachers and Preaching notes that “the primary task of the church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.”  And he makes this statement about revival:

The decadent periods and eras in the history of the Church have always been those periods when preaching had declined…What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching… a revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the Church.

And by true preaching, Lloyd-Jones means the kind of preaching that is going on here in Nehemiah 8.  The reading of the Word, the explaining of the Word, and the people’s responding to the Word.  True preaching is that which demonstrates a confidence not in the speaker, but in the Scripture; an absolute confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture to change lives.

So during the Protestant Reformation, for example, there was a renewed emphasis upon the teaching of the Bible.  Going through Books of the Bible and explaining the meaning of the passages.  The Reformers such as Luther and Calvin believed in the systematic exposition of Scripture.

In fact when Calvin was banished from the city of Geneva, he left on Easter Sunday in 1538, banished from Geneva by the city fathers.  Three years later when he was allowed to return in September of 1541 he entered into the church and into the pulpit and on that first Sunday back he began to preach at the very place where he had left off three and a half years earlier!  Such confidence in the power and sufficiency of the Word to teach the gathered people of God.

So this morning let’s talk about what happens when God’s Word is central to the church.  

**When God’s Word is Central, God’s People

I want you to see with me three actions of God’s people from this passage.  First, when God’s Word is central to the community of faith, God’s people:

1) Gather Eagerly (1-2)

They gather eagerly to hear the Word of God.  Look again at verse 1:

1 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.

There are tens of thousands of people now gathering together back in the city of Jerusalem.  They have not as of yet been able to gather in this fashion because the walls were broken down.  There was no defined city of Jerusalem until the walls were built back up.  Now that they are up, the people of God gather together to hear the Word.

So they gather together “in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate.”  They’re not gathering near the altar of the temple.  They’re gathering in the open square because congregational worship is not about animal sacrifices, but about the body coming together, grouped around the Word of God.

The Bible says in verse 1 that they “gathered together as one man.”  That is, there is unanimity in their interest in hearing the Word of God, they are united around the Word.  They are very eager to hear the Word!  It is the people themselves who are calling for Ezra to come read the Word: “they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book,” bring the “Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel.”

This would have been a scroll.  Codices (KOH duh seez) or books as we know them today didn’t become a thing until after the time of Christ in the early Christian centuries.  Ezra likely pointed to various portions of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and read from them as he preached to the people.  

The people were eager to hear the Word.  God’s people love God’s Word, amen?  I heard about a little boy who asked his daddy, “Daddy, is this book God’s book?”  And his dad said, “Well son, of course it is.” He said, “Well then we’d better send it back to Him, because we never use it.” 

God’s people love God’s Word.  The Word of God is food for our soul!  I get up in the morning get the Word out and just pray, “God, open Your Word to me and open me to Your Word,” and He does!  I find myself often just pausing as I’m reading and saying, “God, I love Your Word.  Thank You!”  Can you relate?  Like the Psalmist in Psalm 19:10, The truths of Your Word are “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”

2 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.

Note that: “men and women and all who could hear with understanding,” so that’s children who were able to hear with understanding.  Never underestimate the capacity of children’s ability to understand the Word preached.  Sometimes children get more out of the preaching than adults!  

When God’s Word is central to the church, God’s people gather eagerly.  Secondly, when God’s Word is central, God’s people:

2) Listen Attentively (3-8)

Are you listening?!  Wake up the person next to you and say, “He’s talking about you.”  Verse 3:

3 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.

They were attentive.  When the Word is central to worship, God’s people gather eagerly and listen attentively.  Proof of their listening attentively is provided in the first part of verse 3.  How long were they listening to the Word?  

Morning until midday.  That is from the first light of day until noon.  That’s a five-hour, perhaps six-hour meeting.  And we’ll note in a moment that the people are standing the entire time the preaching is going on!  No coffee breaks.  Five to six hours of teaching the Word.

Some people can’t stay awake for more than 10 minutes.  They’ll wake up if there’s a video, or a skit, or a story, or a joke, but pure exposition of the Word of God?  No hunger.  Just done listening after 10 maybe 20 minutes.

Adrian Rogers used to say to his congregation, “I came to preach; I trust you came to listen; and you ought not to get finished listening before I finish preaching!”

Some preachers have capitulated to worldly standards of time, looking to the toastmaster speech model or little “sermonettes” of 10-20 minutes; preaching “sermonettes” that produce little “Christianettes.”  

Well we’ve got a much more important task here!  We’re not giving talks, we’re presenting the very Word of God.  To listen attentively is to prepare diligently.  We come prepared to hear the very Word of God.  We come believing God is going to speak to us in His Word.  Life-changing Word of God, life-giving Word of God.

James Hamilton notes there are three good reasons to listen attentively to the reading and teaching of the Bible.  He says, listening attentively 1) Honors God, 2) is good for your soul, and 3) it encourages the preacher.

That is so true.  I look out as I preach and I find myself more likely to look at the people who are engaged!  Listening!  Bible open!  It encourages the person who is preaching. 

4 So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.

So Ezra is preaching from a platform elevated so the congregation can see him.  This is familiar to us, isn’t it?  In fact this model likely influenced future synagogue worship.  and it makes sense.   Sometimes preachers like to get down and walk among the people in order to show that they are “one of them.”  I struggle with that because what happens when I walk down these steps?  Many of you can no longer see me.  And I can’t see you!  And it’s frustrating when we can’t see one another.  

5 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.

Sounds like what we do every week!  It’s not mandatory to do this.  The verse is descriptive, not prescriptive.  It’s merely describing what took place, not mandating the standing up, but it does honor the reading of the Word, doesn’t it?  Does it not remind us that we are in the presence of God Himself who will now speak to us from His very Word?  Does it not aid in our listening attentively?  

So Ezra is preaching the Word and he is accompanied by these 13 others with him on the platform, six on one side, seven on the other.  Maybe they took turns reading from the Word.  But Ezra is the primary preacher as indicated in the text.  Verse 6:

6 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.

This is genuine worship of the One True and Living God as the man of God brings the Word of God to the people of God for the glory of God.  They are bowing their heads in contrition, worshiping at times with their faces to the ground.  Other times they speak.

They say things out loud!  They say, “Amen, Amen!”  They lift up their hands.  Like this (hands up high in praise) or like this (palms open to receive).  It’s okay to do that!  It’s biblical.  Some of us don’t know what to do when people say amen or lift their hands.  

Like the fella who visited one of those cold churches and sat in the back.  And the preacher got up and preached and read from the Bible and the man said, “Amen!”  And everybody turned around and looked at him.  Later on, same thing, the man said, “Praise the Lord!’  And people raised their eyebrows and kind of “Harumphed.”  Finally, the man again said, “Amen!”  And an usher went over to him and tapped him on the shoulder to quite him down.  The usher said, “What’s wrong with you anyway?!”  The man said, “Well, I’ve just got Jesus!”   And the usher said, “Well, you didn’t get Jesus here!”

7 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.

Now these guys in verse 7 are a different group of guys than the ones on the platform with Ezra.  These are Levites who apparently are scattered among the people listening.  The Levites are tasked with helping people understand the Word.  

You see that there in verse 7.  “the Levites helped the people understand the Law.”  So most scholars believe that the way this worked was Ezra was preaching, teaching the Word of God from the platform, and the Levites among the tens of thousands of people made sure that everyone understood what they were hearing.  So there would be the reading and teaching of a text and then a pause as this further teaching would take place among the crowd as the Levites moved among the congregation.  It may well be, too, that some of the folks needed a little help with the language being acculturated to the Babylonian language and maybe a little rusty on their Hebrew.  

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

Here is the preacher’s task week after week.  To “read distinctly from the book,” to “give the sense,” the meaning, teaching the Word, “helping” folks “to understand the reading.”  Biblical preaching is teaching.

William Still, a preacher from Aberdeen, Scotland.  A man visiting his congregation met him at the door after his sermon.  And the man said, “You don’t preach.”  And William Still said, “What do you mean?”  He said, “Well, you just read the Bible and explain it.”  And Still said to him, “Sir, that is preaching.”  And that’s precisely what’s going on here.  The teaching and explaining of the Word of God.

Notice the stress on understanding in this passage: verse 2, verse 3, verse 7, verse 8, and we’ll see in a moment, verse 12.

There is a sense in which we may identify a precedent here for the importance of both big groups and small groups.  We have big group like this, the gathered body for the corporate teaching of the Word, and then small group, we do that in Sunday school, the smaller more intimate gathering for the teaching of the Word, making sure everyone understands.

So the best Sunday school classes are those that both edify and multiply, edifying those who gather through careful instruction of the Word, and multiply, starting new groups of classes so that more people can learn in a more intimate setting.  Edify and Multiply.  When was the last time your class started a new group?

When the Word is central to worship, God’s people gather eagerly, listen attentively, and thirdly:

3) Respond Accordingly (9-12)

We have a Response Room located over here because every time God’s Word is proclaimed, it calls for response.  When the people understand the Word, they respond accordingly.  Note that here in the following verses:

9 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.

They understood the Word and it caused them to weep.  There was brokenness which suggests repentance.  And it is this brokenness then, that opens the door to rejoicing.  Verse 10:

10 Then he (Nehemiah) 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.”

That phrase, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” is best translated as “The Lord’s joy,” or “the joy that belongs to Yahweh.”  It is God’s joy that is your strength.  It is God’s joy in disciplining His children, forgiving His children, moving the hearts of kings to get His children back to Jerusalem.  It is God’s joy in doing all of this—and their understanding that truth—that serves to strengthen them.

God has given His children favor in their being brought back to the land, their sin forgiven, they have been restored.  Yes, it is good that they understand their past sin and the hearing of God’s Word has reminded them of the guilt of their sin, but it has been forgiven.  It is the joy of the Lord to do what He has done to get them back to their homeland.  This is a day of rejoicing.

11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”

God loves His people!  He delights in His people.  If you are a Christian, you are among His people!  You are loved perfectly in Christ and God delights in you!  Like God’s children in Nehemiah, you have sinned and you feel the weight of guilt and the burden of sin, but in Christ Jesus, you are forgiven.  It brings God joy to forgive you of your sin.  The joy of the Lord is your strength!

12 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.

The people “went their way to eat and drink.”  They must have been Baptists at heart!  We do the same thing, don’t we?  

They rejoiced.  They rejoiced “greatly” because “they understood the words that were declared to them.”

If you are not a Christian, God wants you to know Him.  And He is has chosen to reveal Himself to you through His Word.  It was His Word that spoke creation into existence.  It was His Word that became flesh in the God-Man Jesus Christ.  The inscripturated Word points to the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.  The most important response you can make today is to respond to God’s Word by receiving the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, as your Lord and Savior.  Turn from your sin and turn to God and be saved from the wrath to come.  Trust Jesus today as Lord and Savior.

If you are a Christian, know that you have far more cause for rejoicing than the people of God in the Book of Nehemiah!  You have far more of God’s Word than did they.  Do you gather eagerly to hear the Word?  Do you delight to hear it in your DQ, Daily Quiet, and do you delight to hear it Sunday mornings?  Sunday school?  Do you gather eagerly, listen attentively—intentional preparation to hear from God.  

One writer (Mark Dever) asks, “If you are bored by God’s Words, then whose words excite you? The words of your friends or family members, your teacher or coach? What would need to change in order for God’s Word to stir your heart in the same way the words of other people can?”

The hymn-writer says:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Then the hymn goes on to extoll all the wonderful truths of God’s Word.  Like, “Fear not, I am with thee,” I’ll strengthen and help thee, and so on. 

We’ll respond by singing that very song in a moment.  Before we do, I want to tell you about my friend Randall Martin who is now with the Lord.  He was a member of the church where I served in Louisville before coming here.  Randall was called to ministry and had been to Bible college, but his wife never supported his ministry.  So he served in the church playing piano and he and I would go out and visit together.  But Randall had this saying that he used to say nearly every week.  At the conclusion of a sermon he would always make this statement that it was his desire when he preached that people not say “what a wonderful sermon,” but, “what a wonderful Savior.”  I agree with Randall.  Preachers are not here to impress, to entertain, to desire that you remember only how skilled they were in speaking, or in telling memorable jokes or stories.  At the end of the sermon, may it always be, “What a wonderful Savior.”

  • Let’s pray.

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