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Nehemiah 8: The Word in Worship Print E-mail
Sunday, 22 May 2016

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The worship of Godís people is driven by Godís Word. Take your bulletins and look at the image on the front. We have a trinity symbol with the Word in the middle and the three marks of a disciple surrounding it: worship, work, and witness.  We define a disciple at the bottom: ďA disciple exalts God (worships), edifies the saints (works), and evangelizes the lost (witnesses), according to the Word of God. It is our goal as a Church, as a community of believers, to be disciples who make disciples that worship, work, and witness according to the Bible. After all, where would we be without the Word? How could we worship a God that we do not know? How could we serve one another without the truth of Godís Word? And if the Word did not tell us about the Word who became flesh and died on a cross for our sins, then what good news would we have for a lost and dying world? Godís people are desperate for His Word. And the worship of Godís people is driven by the Word.

We see this in action in Nehemiah 8. Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of the wall and that work has been completed (ch. 1-7). Now the attention shifts to the people themselves. They have been in exile in Persia and have now returned to Israel. The temple has been rebuilt and now the walls have been finished as well. As we saw in the book of Ezra, Ezra came back to teach the people the Law. In this chapter we see the fruit of that labor. And just so you know, so much of what we do on a Sunday morning is influenced by what we see in Nehemiah 8. Although this is a particular time in redemptive history and the people are still under a different covenant, much of Christian corporate worship has followed the lead of what we see here. So then, what principles for worship, particularly in regards to the Word, do we see here?

Read the Word (v. 1-5)

The passage begins with the people coming together to listen to Ezra read the Word. Look at verses 1-5. We should note several details from these verses. First, who is involved? We are told that Ezra read to both men and women and all who could understand what they heard (v. 2). Anybody who could be taught the Law was present. We follow this example in our own service. We do provide a nursery for those we feel cannot yet understand, but everyone else is here. We are all gathered together to hear and understand the Word. Second, what exactly is Ezra reading? He is reading the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel (v. 1). He is reading the Law, or the Pentateuch, or the first five books of our Bibles. They had received it through Moses but they knew it as the command of the Lord. It was Godís Word. He had spoken to Moses and given it to Israel. Godís people longed to hear from Godís Word. They were attentive to the Book of the Law.

Third, when did this reading take place? Verse 3 says that Ezra read from the Law from early morning until midday. Some of you are afraid of where I might be going with this! Isnít it interesting that the few occasions in the Bible when length of time is mentioned for a time of teaching it is usually several hours. Paulís sermon at Troas lasted all night! Of course, poor Eutychus fell asleep and died. But Paul raised him from the dead (Acts 20:7-12). I donít think we can make these examples our normal practice, but it does reveal the value of the Word and the fact that we must devote time to understanding it in our corporate gatherings. Finally, where did they have the reading? They did it in a public place where all could attend and they built a platform for Ezra to stand on so that they could all hear what was being said. These were simple practical concerns that they knew needed to be addressed while Ezra read the Word.

Worship according to the Word (v. 6)

Look at their initial response to the Word in verse 6. Why read the Word in this way? Why spend all morning standing and listening to the Law? They read the Law and listened attentively because it reveals God. It tells them of the One who created the world and breathed life into the first man. It tells them of His power and grace that rescued their forefathers out of slavery in Egypt. It tells them of His commands for how to live as His people and of His provision for mercy and atonement when they sin. They read the Law because they wanted to know their God. And they responded with worship. They did not worship the book or the scrolls as some have charged. No, they worshiped the One that it revealed. The Word of God fuels and directs our worship of God. We read and teach and preach and pray and sing the Word because it points us to the only One who is worthy of our worship. And oh how He is worthy! Page after page, story after story, grace upon grace, we see the glory of God in the Bible. And it drives us to our knees. We lift up our hands, we lift up our voices, we fall on our faces, before the great God of Scripture. We worship according to the Word.

Explain the Word (v. 7-8)

In the next few verses we see a great example of exposition, or the explaining of the text. Look at verses 7-8. It could be that some of the people did not know Hebrew and so the language had to be explained. But these verses also indicate that Ezra and Levites were actually explaining what the text meant. They read a passage, explained the passage, and then repeated the process. They exposed the meaning of the text to the people. Why did they do this? They explained the text so that they could help the people understand the Law. Understanding is critical. Look at verse 2, 3, 7, 8, and 12. Reading the Bible is not a ritual. It is not an incantation. We read to understand. We preach to understand. I pray that my time behind the pulpit will follow this example. It is not my goal to be impressive or paid. It is not my charge to keep you entertained or to please the Ďamení crowd. I just want to explain the text in a way that leads you to faithfully worship the One it reveals. This is the goal of preaching. And it is what we see modeled in this passage.

Celebrate the Word (v. 9-12)

The people are broken by what they hear from the Law. They realize just how sinful they have been and it grieves them. We will see their confession of sin in chapter 9. But on this day, as they are beginning to celebrate the feast of booths, which was supposed to be a time of joy, Nehemiah and Ezra and the Levites encourage them to be filled with joy. Look at verses 9-12. As we will see, there will come a time for dealing with sin. But this is a day for rejoicing. This is a day for celebration. It is right to read the Word and be convicted over sin. It is right to be sobered by the coming Judgement. But it is just as right to read the Word and rejoice. It is right to make great rejoicing. Sometimes I fear that we have forgotten how to do this. The Jewish calendar was filled with seasons of feasting and rejoicing. They set aside times to simply celebrate the Lord, to eat and drink and be thankful for all that He has done and is doing and will do. Do we know how to do this?

Even today as we share a meal together this afternoon, let it be a time of rejoicing. Let it be a time of being thankful that we have heard the Word of the Lord and we have understood. Yes, it tells us that we are sinners. It opens our eyes to see the ugliness of our rebellion against God.  But it does not leave us there. It tells us of the God whose sovereign grace overcame our rebellion. It tells us of the Savior who came, lived a perfect life, and died on a cross to pay for our sins. And it tells us that if we repent and believe in Him then we are forgiven. Forgiven! And the One who has already given us more than we could ever deserve, is one Day returning to give us more than we could ever imagine. So rejoice, brothers and sisters. Celebrate around the Word because you understand the glorious truth that it reveals about our God.

Obey the Word (v. 13-18)

Our work in the Word is never complete until we apply it to our lives, which is what we see the people doing in this passage. Look at verses 13-18. I love this picture. The people are coming together to study the Word on the second day of the seventh month. And they are studying about the Feast of Booths, which was to take place in that month. They realize from the Word that they are to celebrate this Feast by building small tents or booths to dwell in to remind them of the time that Israel spent in the wilderness. They read it, understand it, and decide to obey it. And donít miss what is happening here. The Feast of Booths was a reminder of the original Exodus, when God saved His people from the Egyptians. The people in the days of Nehemiah had experienced their own exodus from captivity. Many of them had lived in Persia. Yet, the Lord had set them free and brought them home. They had rebuilt the temple and rebuilt the walls. And so these refugees obey the Word to celebrate what God has done for them. They build the booths, listen to the Law being read, and rejoice in the Lord. They read, they understand, and they obey.

So much of what we do on a Sunday morning in our corporate worship gatherings is based upon the principles that we see here in Nehemiah 8. We want to read the Word, worship according to the Word, explain the Word, celebrate the Word, and obey the Word. It is the Word that leads us to worship, work, and witness. For it is the Word that reveals the Word. The stories of Israelís salvation and restoration point us forward to the story of our Savior. The history of redemption found in the pages of the Bible is our history. Through faith in Christ, we are part of the story of Godís people. The Word is for us and it is about us. It is the story of how sinners like us have been reconciled to God through belief in the One He sent to pay for our sins. And so the question is not so much: Why would your worship be Word driven? No, the right question is this: Why would it not be Word driven? The book that tells me about Jesus and how my sins can be forgiven will never be irrelevant or old. It will never be boring or impractical. Our temptation to believe that it is these things simply reveals our own misunderstanding and doubt. The problem is not with the Word but with us. So then let us give it the place it deserves in our worship. May our praise of God, our work among each other, and our witness to the lost world, be driven by the Word of our God. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 08 June 2016 )

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