Last Sunday, I preached a sermon at Jubilee Church in our series on the book of Nehemiah. A video of it is now available to download. You can also download the mp3, listen to it right here, or read my notes below:
“Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God. I heard the words in my head just as clearly as when a memory of a conversation passes across your consciousness. The words were in English, but they had about them an absolutely self-authenticating ring of truth. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today.
I couldn’t sleep for some reason. I was at Shalom House in northern Minnesota on a staff couples’ retreat. It was about five-thirty in the morning. I lay there wondering if I should get up or wait till I got sleepy again. In his mercy, God moved me out of bed. It was mostly dark, but I managed to find my clothing, got dressed, grabbed my briefcase, and slipped out of the room without waking up Noël. In the main room below, it was totally quiet. No one else seemed to be up. So I sat down on a couch in the corner to pray.
As I prayed and mused, suddenly it happened. God said, ‘Come and see what I have done.’ There was not the slightest doubt in my mind that these were the very words of God. In this very moment. At this very place in the twenty-first century, 2007, God was speaking to me with absolute authority and self-evidencing reality. I paused to let this sink in. There was a sweetness about it. Time seemed to matter little. God was near. He had me in his sights. He had something to say to me. When God draws near, hurry ceases. Time slows down . . .”
GOD DOES SPEAK TODAY! THROUGH HIS WORD!
Read Nehemiah 8:1-12
Nehemiah has come, the wall has been built, and the opposition has been dealt with. It’s now time to begin to build the people. God not only rebuilds walls, but restores lives. Fixing the people—that was the real plan. God is less interested in walls and more interested in people. Building the people of God.
How do we go about building the people of God? Nehemiah knew that when it came to fixing lives, he wasn’t the man to do it. Even though he was the leader, he had a sense of teamwork, so he called for Ezra to bring the book, to open the book. Nehemiah realized that it wasn’t only the trowels that were needed; now the people needed to hear from the book of the Law. He made room for the preacher. He knew everyone had a role. He gathered a big group—50,000 people. And they came and listened to the Word of God for six hours! Why would they do that?
- THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WORD OF GOD 2 Timothy 3:15-17
“. . . from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
What does that mean? First, this Book is holy. It also means it’s possible for it to save us. And it means it can equip us for everything God has for us. In order to be saved, there are some things we need to understand.
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. . .So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
It’s not a man who will save us. Only Jesus can save us, and the way he saves us is through our understanding of what’s in this Book.
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Matthew 4:4 and Deuteronomy 8:3
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
It sustains spiritual life and shapes our everyday life. Without it we will starve, have no hope, no endurance, no instruction, no wisdom, not be equipped for what God wants us to do, have no faith, and ultimately be foolish and unsaved!
- HOW DO WE TAKE HOLD OF THE WORD OF GOD? People died in order that we can have this Book in our hands. People were killed just for owning this Book. The Reformation restored the Bible to the common people from the priests, who had maintained an exclusive right to it. And now, in our times, a generation is again emerging that is IGNORANT of this Book!How then do we take the Word of God in?
- TAKE IT IN CHUNKS
It’s good to have a system. Use a Bible-reading plan. Maybe have it read to you. Use the CD player in your car. I use Every Day in the Word. It provides OT reading, NT reading, Psalms, Proverbs—a varied diet. Not all meat for a month and no vegetables! Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything! Or use an iPOD (you can subscribe to it as a podcast). Take fifteen minutes a day and you will be able to read or listen to the entire Bible in one year. Don’t feel condemned if you miss a day.
- PRAY AND MEDITATE ON IT
Take a phrase and chew on it and pray it back to God. Mull it over. Let it emotionally impact you. Believe it. Ask God for the promises, believe the truths. Change in response to it.Psalm 119:15
“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.”
It’s not just academic; it’s experiential, faith arises. Nehemiah does this in chapter 1 by praying back to God a verse from Deuteronomy—“God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” The advantages of meditation gets us up close and personal with the Bible. We can remind God of his promises. Mould ourselves to the Word.
- STUDY IT
Get a study Bible, such as the new ESV Study Bible. Use notes, commentaries, books, word study, Grudem’s Biblical Doctrine, Bible software, etc. God wants us to be those who labor at his Word. We work hard at our jobs, why not work hard so you can do the job of life? Don’t be tossed to and fro. Ezra knew that it was his job as priest.2 Timothy 2:15
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
“They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
- SEEK HELP FROM OTHERS
We need to study this Book, understand it, meditate on it, such that we won’t be blown away. Do we always understand it all? Sometimes we need others to teach us—our church, small groups, someone to lead us individually. In addition, listening to sermons, some perhaps repeatedly, may help our understanding.The Bible is not like normal food in the sense that we can’t get too much of it! We won’t become obese eating too much spiritual food.
BUT, there is one danger, and that is the danger that we only read it, maybe even study it, maybe even become an academic expert on it, but somehow the vibrancy and the life of God’s Word doesn’t touch us, doesn’t impact us. If we are left untouched by God’s Word, there will be two main consequences in the life of the believer—we will be hearers of the Word, but not doers of the Word. The Word is about action, in our lives and in sharing the gospel. It’s about living in response to it. The second is that we wil become proud of our knowledge and be academic and dry, devoid of the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 8:1-2
“Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
- SEEK HELP FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT
The goal is to KNOW GOD—not just to “know about” the Bible.Hebrews 4:13
“For the word of God is living and active.”
The Word has a power of its own, breathed into it by the Spirit who inspired it! We must read it, meditate on it, pray, study it, marinate it with the Spirit That’s the key. If we do that, the Word of God will make sense to us. THERE IS NO CONFLICT BETWEEN THE WORD AND THE SPIRIT!
1 Corinthians 2:14
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
We need the help of the Spirit to make it clear to us. It’s tragic that some Christians emphasize the Word, but don’t want to know about the Spirit, and other Christians emphasize the Spirit, but don’t want to know about the Word. It’s time to bring the Word and the Spirit back together. There’s never been a battle between them!
- MEMORIZE IT and VALUE IT APPROPRIATELYPsalm 119:11
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
- TAKE IT IN CHUNKS
- WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF THE WORD OF GOD?
- THAT WE MIGHT NOT SIN
That we will repent. That we will turn our backs on sin and obey God.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
The Word adjusts conduct, character, and the course of our lives. Because we are on our way to heaven, we live in a way that is worthy of that calling.
- TO DEFEAT THE DEVIL
It’s like a sword in our hands. Ephesians 6 says, “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” When Nehemiah built the wall, the workers had a sword and trowel in their hands.
- TO BE THE ANSWER FOR ALL OF OUR PROBLEMS
The Bible says to ask God for wisdom and he will give it to you—in marriage, relationships, sex, parenting, work, success, money, suffering, etc. We live in a lost world and the world doesn’t know where to go for guidance. But this Book has all the answers.
- THAT WE MIGHT NOT SIN
BUT sadly many Christians read all this and feel “I can’t do it.” MANY CHRISTIANS REMAIN IN THE PLACE OF CONDEMNATION. Many of us came to the same place that the people did when they heard Ezra reading the Law. They come to the place of sorrow and guilt. There was weeping. The Word shows us our sin. Pricks our deadened conscience back to life. Convicts us.
2 Corinthians 7:10
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation.”
The Word exists to bring us to the one who is called “The Word.”
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”
Jesus is the hero of every passage in the Bible, even if you can’t see it at first. Every Scripture takes us to Jesus. Because of him, the Word can wash us clean. With the Word marinated by the Spirit we are converted. It’s the gospel that is the power of God to save us. Faith comes. We are born again.
It is so right when we listen to the words of this Book that sometimes we want to weep, we feel helpless, guilty, like we’ve messed up. May I suggest it’s because we have messed up? But God doesn’t want to leave us there. So many people go through life starting each day with “Oh God, I’m sorry for all the things I’ve done. Thank you for forgiving me, but I feel guilty.” And they go through all the sins they’ve committed. Not to say there is no place for confession, there is. But it’s interesting that the Lord’s prayer begins with “OUR FATHER . . .”
The Lord’s prayer doesn’t start with sin—it begins with the fatherhood of GOD. We need to relate to God as a father who has loved us, who has forgiven us, who sent his Son to take our place, to bear our punishment in order that we can be forgiven. He sees us as holy, as if we’ve obeyed every command in this Book. He sees us as if we never did anything wrong. When we understand that, a great joy should well up inside of us!
JOY TO KNOW WE ARE FORGIVEN!
JOY IN JESUS, NOT WORLDLY THINGS—He is the goal of the gospel.
JOY IN JESUS MAKES SIN LESS APPEALING.
SANDWICH MEAT versus SIZZLING STEAK!
JOY OF THE LORD.
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.”
The Word of God brings us through conviction to repentance, and through repentace to joy. Joy is not that everything is perfect, but rather it is a joy the world cannot take away since we know that in the end we will be with Jesus.