“Communicating the Scriptures” – Nehemiah 8 Sermon

  • Introduction:
    • Attention Step: “French author Victor Hugo said over a century ago, ‘England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare but the Bible made England’” (Wiersbe). My wife went to England almost four years ago and she would certainly attest that England is primarily a spiritually “dead” country that has forsaken the Bible. What happened? Was it a shift in morality? Was it merely a change in political leaders? Some of those things may have contributed; but most importantly, England has simply dismissed the Bible, and that in itself is tragic. I sincerely hope that America goes through a nationwide revival in my own lifetime. However, true revival, that is, lives being changed by a work of God, will not happen with catchy songs. It will not happen with charismatic public speaking. If the example in our text today, Nehemiah 8, serves as our example, revival can only occur by God’s grace through the preaching and receiving of His Scriptures.
    • Interest Step: Today we’re going to look at the great “revivalist” preacher, Ezra.
    • Subject Step: At this point of the book, Babylon had taken Judah into captivity for 70 years, but in 538 B.C. the Jewish people were permitted to return to their homelands. In history, we find that there were three “waves” of Jews that returned from captivity. First under Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple, second under Ezra for spiritual revival, and third under Nehemiah for rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. Since we’re in chapter 8 of Nehemiah, the main character is Ezra. He was sort of the “George Whitefield” of Israel. When Ezra and his fellow returning Jews arrived, to their dismay, they found their people to have already fallen into rebellion by intermarrying with pagan women, adopting their practices, and therefore turning away from God. As we come to our passage today, we will find that Ezra is fulfilling his ministry was his “teaching ministry” (BKC). In this passage, we will see how critical it is to communicate God’s Word.
  • Topic/Theme [Inductive]: The question we must ask ourselves is “do we trust God’s Word for changing lives?”
  1.  (1-8) The Importance of Understanding the Scriptures
    1. Explanation: (vs. 1-3) There was certainly a desire for the teaching of the Word, as well as “understanding.” When we gather for worship, people need to hear the Word taught. Notice how the “ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” – in contrast to having “itching ears.” Look at that carefully, what they were attentive to – Scripture – that’s a good sign. According to Keil-Delitzsch, this time of exposition and instruction took about 6 hours. (vs. 4) They people even took the time to design a platform [Heb. = “tower of wood”] for Ezra – another good sign that the people were eager for the Word to be taught. [Mattithiah…Meshullam] Not exactly sure who these men were, BKC proposes the possibility of them being priests. (vs. 5-6) Ezra preached the word and the people responded in worship. Additionally, there was a reverence for God’s Word shown in the action of standing [MacArthur]. They took God’s Word VERY seriously. (vs. 7-8) There were helpers with Ezra to understand the Law which was a great help. [Jeshua…Pelaiah, the Levites] *Illustration* How many of you know of a man named “Bob Merson?” Probably none of you, he was a man who served in the church I grew up in. Mr. Merson was a greeter, a deacon, preached at the Baltimore Rescue Mission periodically, and was a tremendous influence in our church – he fulfilled his ministry. Contrast him with C.J. Mahaney – another Christian man from Maryland. A good amount of you have probably heard of him. He’s a pretty well-known pastor, author, and leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Both men serve God and fulfill their given ministries. C.J. Mahaney is often put in the position like Ezra to hear him preach in front of large congregations. However, Mr. Merson would be like these “unknown” men. This whole passage describes the “understanding” of the Scriptures being taught and here we can see that Ezra needed these other men to be successful in preaching the Law. Whatever ministry you are given, God calls you to be faithful – whether you are an “Ezra” or a “Jozabad.” We need good Bible teachers, whether they are pastors or not, to communicate God’s Word effectively.
    2. Argumentation: Acts 17:11
    3.  (9-18) The Response to Biblical Preaching
      1. Explanation: (vs. 9-11) The leaders are reminding the people that they should move on from grieving over their sin. Conviction from the Scriptures can be a good thing, but we cannot just live in a state of mourning over our sin and conviction. Rather, since the Day of Atonement had been observed, and the Feast of Tabernacles was about to take place – this would bring great joy! They had just heard from the Law so it was basically a review of the things they were observing (Feast of Tabernacles). As Christians, we should be convicted and grieve over our sin. BUT, we need to rejoice in Christ, who atoned for our sins – not just for another year, but once and for all. That means when we sin, we confess it, we might even grieve over it, but we have an Advocate with the Father, so therefore, we can still rejoice in the LORD. (vs. 12-17) After hearing the exhortations by Nehemiah, the people listened and acted upon the things instructed. The spiritual leaders had gathered together and discovered that it was laid out in God’s Law to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. What is interesting is that these people were so compelled to follow the teachings of the law. This is a good sign that a “congregation” is listening to the message being taught- they are actively pursuing ministries without being “forced” into ministering. Following the OT Law was not legalism; it was a pleasure for these people. “Tabernacles had been celebrated since Joshua (2 Chron. 7:8–10; Ezra 3:4), but not with such joy” (MacArthur). (vs. 18) To conclude this passage, it is helpful to note that Ezra read from the Law “daily.” It reminds us of the importance of a daily intake of hearing from God.
  • Argumentation: II Timothy 3:16-17
  • Proposition: We must rest assured that God’s Word changes people’s lives – (1) through preaching God’s Word and (2) man’s response
  • Illustration/Application
    • Illustration: Back in high school, I had just started my sophomore year, and I simultaneously began learning two instruments: guitar and piano. I was pretty excited; I had finally gotten a nice, Yamaha, classical guitar from my cousin, though it originally was my mom’s. Now, I couldn’t really afford lessons, so I bought the DVD, “Learning Guitar for Dummies.” You might laugh, but that is really helpful. However, if you’ve never been in any kind of music training before, learning how to tune instruments doesn’t come too naturally. So I was listening to the DVD and trying to match up with my guitar, but it honestly wasn’t working too well. Eventually, I just gave up on the DVD and started messing around with the tuning and my strings until I…broke one of my strings. Talk about a rough start to a music career! So I took it to a guitar shop to get it tuned, paid an insane amount of money too. However, when I was picking up my guitar at the shop, a really helpful worker carefully instructed me how to tune it, step-by-step. That’s all I really needed, was someone to explain right beside me how to do that. It wasn’t that I was just not smart enough – it takes just a minute to tune now.
    • Application: It’s similar with teaching Scripture. People don’t need instruction because they lack intelligence; it’s that they need someone to come alongside of them to carefully explain the precious Word of God to them. That makes a huge difference! For all of us, we’re going to have a fairly large influence in explaining the Scriptures. That means, we have to be students of the Scriptures like Ezra (see Ezra 7:10) even before we teach them to others. And when we get the opportunities to teach, let’s keep the focus on the Scriptures. Particularly, we need to understand the impact of preaching the Gospel. The people responded in Nehemiah with heartache to their conviction of sin, but were transformed after understanding the implications of Scripture. However, week-long they celebrated with the Feast of Tabernacles. Now that Christ has come, the message of the Gospel is even better than what the people heard – for Christ’s sacrifice was an even greater sacrifice! Therefore, preach the Gospel to the saved and unsaved – this is life-changing news for everyone to hear.
  • Conclusion:
    • I was helping at a youth event a couple of years ago, which was a night of music and then a message. I still remember all of the leaders in the group giving the “game plan” of what would happen that night. What was “supposed” to happen was that the music would emotionally stir up the youth to where they would then be “receptive” to the message; finally, at the end of the night they would pounce on the youth with a message to be saved. The question I want to ask is, are we so naïve to think that God’s Word isn’t powerful enough to lead people to Christ? That we HAVE to cause their emotions to run high in order for them to be saved? I’m all for having music that is emotional. But what irks me is the philosophy that God NEEDS us to give Him an extra hand in getting people saved, when all we’re told to do is deliver the message! A lot of times we can worry so much about the response of people that we forget that we have the “God-breathed” book and we can rest assured that the “Holy Spirit” will work in the lives of the listeners (John 16). That’s a seriously powerful combination! When we have the God of the Universe’s perfectly written book along with the Spirit of God who works in the hearts of people, something incredible is bound to happen.
  • Restate Proposition: We must rest assured that God’s Word changes people’s lives – (1) through preaching God’s Word and (2) man’s response
  • Sources:
    • Bible Knowledge Commentary
    • MacArthur Bible Studies: Nehemiah by John MacArthur
    • Be Determined by Warren Wiersbe
    • Ryrie Study Bible Notes
    • ESV Study Bible Notes
    • “Learning Guitar for Dummies” DVD by Jon Chappell. (2001)
    • Barnes Notes on the Bible
    • Keil-Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament
    • Wesley’s Notes on the Bible
    • Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
    • “The Pattern of Biblical Preaching: An Expository Study of Ezra 7:10 And Nehemiah 8:1-18” by Steven Lawson in Bibliotecha Sacra (Oct-Dec 2001)
    • “Air War and Ground War” sermon by Mark Driscoll (June 3, 2007)
    • “Lord, Send a Re-Bible” sermon by Stephen Davey
    • Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby
    • Scofield Study Bible Notes
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