Nehemiah 8 - The Spirit of God, Working through the Word of God, Brings Revival
J. Edwin Orr defined revival as: "The Spirit of God working through the Word of God, in the lives of the people of God." This chapter is a great example of this!
A. Hearing God's Word sparks revival
1. (1-3) The people gather and ask Ezra to read God's Word
a. The Spirit of God was at work even before the reading of God's Word; men do not gather together as one man for the things of God unless the Spirit of God has moved them, and they do not desire God's Word (they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law) unless the Spirit of God has moved them
i. If you are here, listening to the Word of God, it is evidence the Spirit of God is working with you. But are you cooperating with that work, or are you resisting it?
ii. We need to cooperate and flow with the work of God's Spirit if the Word of God is going to do its full work in us. Have you asked God to teach you by the Holy Spirit today?
b. The book of the Law of Moses refers to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This was Israel's "instruction" manual for how to walk before God
c. Ezra the scribe . . . Ezra the priest: Ezra was the man responsible for having the temple rebuilt, and returning God's people to worship. Nehemiah, in all his work of rebuilding the walls, was just carrying on the work Ezra had begun
i. We know Ezra cared about God's Word, because he was a scribe - someone who copied the Bible by hand. We know he was a man devoted to God Himself, because he was a godly priest
d. Who needed to hear the Word of God? Every man, every woman - all who could hear with understanding. If you can understand God's Word, you need to hear it!
e. Ezra read God's Word from daylight to mid-day; for some six hours he read God's Word and the people listened
i. This was a move of the Spirit of God; people who will be attentive to the Book of the Law for some six hours are people touched by the Spirit of God!
ii. From morning is literally, "from the light." These people gathered from dawn to hear God's Word. They were willing to sacrifice something to hear it - they wanted it, and like Jacob would not let go until they had their blessing
2. (4-6) How God's Word was received
a. So Ezra . . . stood on a platform: they had taken the time to build a wooden platform so the Word of God could be heard. They did practical things so God's Word would have the greatest effect
i. There are practical things we can do also to help God's Word have the greatest effect; when a room is comfortable, low in distractions, and the preacher is clearly heard, it helps God's Word have the greatest effect
ii. But by far, the greatest preparation must happen in the heart. We must come, willing to forget about ourselves and our own agenda, and submit ourselves to God's Word - not the preacher's word, but God's Word
b. On the right hand and left hand of Ezra were men who were supporting him in his ministry of teaching God's Word. The ministry of God's Word has the greatest effect when people can see men who are in support of it and obedience to it
c. When he opened it, all the people stood up: they had a respect for God's Word. They recognized it for what it was - the Word of God, not the word of man. They honored it!
i. This is evidence of two things: the Spirit of God is at work, and something good is going to happen!
d. This work of the Word of God and the Spirit of God had three immediate results: the people thanked God (by saying Amen when Ezra blessed the Lord), they prayed (by lifting up their hands), and they worshipped (by bowing down before Him)
i. Thanksgiving, prayer, and praise are all good measures of how the Spirit of God and Word of God are working in us
3. (7-8) God's Word is presented so the people may understand
a. Special men were appointed, who helped the people to understand the Law. After the reading, they needed to understand it, because if they did not understand it, it would do little good
i. Understanding needs to be the first goal of any preacher or teacher. If you leave knowing five helpful hints to a better life, but do not have a greater understanding of God's Word, I have failed. If you leave having been amused by humor, entertained by anecdotes, or captivated by dramatic stories, but do not have a greater understanding of God's Word, I have failed. If you leave motivated to action, or praying a prayer, but it is not based on a greater understanding of God's Word, I have failed. If you leave admiring me, but do not have a greater understanding of God's Word, I have failed - and will be accountable before God for my failure!
b. Why do we need special help in understanding God's Word?
i. First, because the things of God are spiritually discerned, not intellectually discerned. The Holy Spirit uses gifted teachers to bring spiritual discernment to us, helping us to understand what God's Word says
ii. Second, because it was first written in a different language, in a different culture, in a different place, and at a far distant time. Teachers help us understand it all in our own day
iii. Third, because our minds are often slow to understand things that will convict our hearts. We often need it spelled right out to us!
c. Understanding isn't only necessary for those who haven't become familiar with the Bible. Sometimes if we have heard it ten times before, we really don't understand it for right now. When an art restorer cleans a painting, he reveals things that were always there, but the colors weren't as bright and the details weren't as clear, because they were obscured - then the real impact of the painter's work can be seen
d. They read distinctly: the preacher must speak in a clear, easy-to-understand way. His goal is to make the people understand, not to impress or entertain them
e. They gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading: the preacher must communicate the sense of the passage of Scripture, and not his own agenda or hobby-horse. The people must go away understanding God's Word better, not understanding the preacher's opinions better!
B. Response to God's Word makes revival flow
1. (9-11) The people respond with weeping
a. All the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law: the Word of God was doing its intended work. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us two things the Word of God is profitable for: reproof and correction. Sometimes it hurts to be reproved and corrected!
b. Why didn't Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites want the people to mourn? Wasn't it good to be sad under the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God? Not if the sense of conviction is greater than the sense that God is doing a holy, good, work
i. Our knowledge of our sin should never be bigger than our knowledge of Jesus as our savior; we are great sinners, but He is a greater savior!
ii. Therefore, the joy of the Lord is your strength - even when you are being convicted of sin. God is doing a work in you! Be glad, take joy!
c. The people felt sad, because they were aware of their own sin; but they could walk in joy, because God was doing a great work. Our emotions are not beyond our control; we can do God's will even when we don't feel like it
2. (12) The people choose to rejoice
a. They go away praising God, because they understood the words that were declared to them. Understanding God's Word brings such a sweet sense of joy!
3. (13) The leaders gather for more study of God's Word
a. Leaders have a special need to understand and walk in God's Word; their ignorance or disobedience affects far more than themselves - it affects everyone they have and influence on
4. (14-18) The people keep the Feast of Tabernacles
a. This is beautiful, simple obedience - God says it, so we will do it! Even though tradition did not tell them to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (it had not been done since the days of Joshua), but they relied on God's Word, not tradition
b. The Feast of Tabernacles was all about remembering how God had blessed and provided for Israel in the wilderness during the Exodus; they could see God's blessing and provision for them right then, and it made something old brand new to them
c. Because of their great obedience to God's Word, there was very great gladness. We often are deceived into thinking the path of gladness is in doing our own thing; but gladness and freedom come only through obedience
d. Day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God: this revival began by the Spirit of God working through the Word of God; that is how it continued as well!