Sunday we continued our study in Nehemiah, with an appearance again by our old friend Ezra, who led the Israelites in a reading of God's Word!
*** What do you hunger for?
--- So this past Super Bowl Sunday, what did everyone crave and enjoy?
--- Think about our favorite foods - how much we enjoy getting to eat those foods, and how we are hungry and eager for those favorite foods if we haven’t had them for a while.
*** With the physical walls secured, Nehemiah turned his attention to rebuilding the people’s spiritual lives. The Israelites in Nehemiah and Ezra's time had a spiritual hunger for God's Word.
--- “For the Bible to become a living, breathing, life-giving reality for you, you must assimilate it. You don't just read a cookbook, you eat the meal. If you don't assimilate it, no matter how much you appreciate it, what good is it? And with the Bible, it means that you are to take it into your mind, to thoroughly comprehend it, to use it as nourishment for your mind and heart. How do you do that?” – Adrian Rogers
--- QUESTION - What would change in our community if everyone took the time to read and understand the Bible? What changes do you think you would see in your workplace?
DESIRE THE WORD (Neh. 8:1-3)
1 All the people gathered together at the square in front of the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses that the Lord had given Israel. 2 On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. 3 While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law.
*** What books get your kids excited about reading?
--- Ezra spent 13 years in Jerusalem laying the spiritual foundation before Nehemiah came to rebuild the walls. Now that the work was done, it was time to celebrate and thank God by reading His Word.
--- The gathering took place on the Jewish equivalent of New Year's Day.
*** Revival starts with a deep hunger for God's Word.
--- The people gathered to hear Ezra – a teacher of the Word – and they listened to the book of the law of Moses.
--- It must have been quite a group of men, women and even children old enough to listen, sitting for six hours (daybreak to noon) listening to the scriptures.
--- Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” You may have 20/20 vision, but God has to open your eyes for you to behold the wondrous things in His Word.
*** QUESTION - What creates a hunger for God’s Word? What circumstances could draw people together to seek the Lord today?
PREPARE TO HEAR (Neh. 8:4-8)
4 Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform made for this purpose. Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah stood beside him on his right; to his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5 Ezra opened the book in full view of all the people, since he was elevated above everyone. As he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and with their hands uplifted all the people said, “Amen, Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah, who were Levites, explained the law to the people as they stood in their places. 8 They read out of the book of the law of God, translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read.
*** Say it loud, say it proud!
--- Ezra stood on a raised platform constructed so that everyone could see and hear him. Thirteen community leaders are named as standing beside him, lending support to the importance of this gathering.
--- Ezra praised God as he opened the scrolls and the people raised their hands, saying “Amen!,” then bowing and worshiping with their faces on the ground.
--- The Levites joined Ezra in reading and teaching the people, taking time to try to get the average person to understand the Scriptures. Those that grew up in exile may not even have spoken Hebrew and needed the scrolls translated.
--- QUESTION - The Israelites paused in their daily lives to hear the Word. What are some ways our “busyness” gets in the way of our Bible reading/Bible study time? Name some strategies for making Bible reading/study a priority in our lives.
MOVE BEYOND LISTENING (Neh. 8:9-12)
9 Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all of them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go and eat what is rich, drink what is sweet, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared, since today is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your stronghold. 11 And the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, since today is holy. Do not grieve.” 12 Then all the people began to eat and drink, send portions, and have a great celebration, because they had understood the words that were explained to them.
*** Hearing and especially understanding God's Word can have an awesome effect.
--- John Wycliffe - you might have heard of because Wycliffe Bible Translators is named after him. It's dedicated to translating the Bible into every language. Wycliffe lived in the mid 1300s in England, back when the Roman Catholic Church was everything. Wycliffe was part of a group that was a precursor to the Protestant Reformation 150 years later and he translated the Bible so that the normal folks could read it for themselves and finally hear it in their own language. The Roman Catholic Church hated, hated, hated it because their Latin translation was supposed to be authoritative, and only church leaders could read it and interpret it for the people. The church bitterly opposed it: "By this translation, the Scriptures have become vulgar, and they are more available to lay, and even to women who can read, than they were to learned scholars, who have a high intelligence. So the pearl of the gospel is scattered and trodden underfoot by swine." Wycliffe replied, "Englishmen learn Christ's law best in English. Moses heard God's law in his own tongue; so did Christ's apostles." John Wycliffe left quite an impression on the church: 43 years after his death, officials dug up his body, burned his remains, and threw the ashes into the river Swift.
--- This isn't the first time the Israelites have had to get schooled in the law of Moses. About 200 years before, King Josiah had the temple repaired and the scrolls of scriptures were discovered. They were dusted off and read to Josiah, who realized the people had been seriously delinquent in their duties. 2 Kings 22:13 - Josiah says to the high priest to "'Go and inquire of the Lord for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us.'"
--- In Acts chapter 8, when Philip is led by God to an Ethiopian eunuch and high official on his way home, the eunuch asked for guidance in understanding the Word. So Philip told the eunuch the good news about Jesus, and the eunuch was able to go back to Ethiopia and share the Gospel there.
*** Understanding can be overwhelming.
--- As the people understood God's Word, they started weeping. (Why? Some could have felt convicted, others felt a strong emotion of love for God.)
--- Nehemiah and Ezra urged the people to see this as a holy day and a time of joy and celebration.It was a special time of renewal and re-commitment to the Word of God.
*** Gratitude for God's Word.
--- The people celebrated the scriptures with a party! They had a potluck, they had big bowls of punch, and they had enough left over to feed their neighbors in need.
--- We spend so much time wondering what's going on with the world and how we can fix it, but we should be celebrating what God's doing today. You are forgiven. You are blessed. Let your joy shine through!
When the weather calls for ice or snow - of even just a chance of it - shoppers scurry to the store for milk and bread. You’d think it was the end of the world the way people empty the shelves. Of course, in reality milk will sour if the fridge loses power, and bread gets moldy five minutes past its expiration date.
Why do you think people make a run for bread and milk when facing a storm? What items might a person purchase in preparation for a storm?
In today’s lesson we saw how the people eagerly gathered in preparation of hearing God’s Word. They wanted to understand it more fully.
Now, what would happen if we approached the study of the Word of God like we approach the purchase of milk and bread with a storm approaching? How does seeking the truth in Scripture help deepen our faith?
*** What are you doing to regularly hear or read God's Word?
*** Thank someone who brought you God's Word and made an impact in your life.
*** Celebrate what God is doing today.