Rebuilding Requires Doing God’s Word
Series: Nehemiah: Rebuilding Together
How can we be doers of the word? Our passage provides three ways: 1. Study it carefully 2. Obey it immediately 3. Celebrate it joyfully.
ESV Study Bible
All Truth is God’s Truth by Keith Mathison
At what point can you say you have learned something? by David Wilkinson
NICOT, Ezra-Nehemiah, Charles Fensham
Ezra & Nehemiah, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Derek Kidner
Peter O’brien, Ephesians, PNTC
Finding Jesus in the Feast of Tabernacles by David Brickner
From time to time, I like to read organizational leadership journals like Harvard Business Review or The Oxford Review because, as John Calvin once wrote, “all truth is from God ,” and because it helps me understand the world where many of you spend your working hours. Recently, I read a short blog from The Oxford Review about how people learn new information in an organization or company. Specifically, the article focused on the question, “at what point can a supervisor be confident that an employee has really learned something?” According to the Oxford Review you can really say that you’ve learned something when you can repeat it, understand it, teach it to others, and, ultimately, when you can do something with it. You’ve really learned something when you can do something with it. And that’s the message of our passage in Nehemiah 8:13-18. Up to this point in Nehemiah 8:13-18, God’s people have been gathering around God’s word and rejoicing in the God of the word, but in our passage this morning we see them “do” God’s word. And that brings us to the big idea of our passage today: rebuilding requires doing God’s word. In other words, doing God’s word, and not merely hearing it, is central characteristic of the kind of gospel culture that we want to strengthen in Citylight Church so that the world can see in us the difference that resting in and following Jesus really makes. Like The Oxford Review says, it’s when we “do” the word that we can say we’ve really learned it. How can we be doers of the word? Our passage provides three ways: 1. Study it carefully 2. Obey it immediately 3. Celebrate it joyfully.
STUDY IT CAREFULY
Over the last two weeks we’ve watched God’s people gather around God’s word and rejoice in the God of the word all on the same day. Nehemiah 8:13 describes the scene the very next day after this massive gathering of thousands: On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. This is a more select group than the previous day. The priests and the Levites were those set apart among God’s people to devote nearly all of their time to studying God’s word, teaching it to God’s people and leading them in worship. But all the teaching of God’s word could not be left to the priests and Levites because the priest and Levites were too few and the people of Israel were too many. Therefore, the priests and the Levites bring together the heads of fathers’ houses to study God’s word carefully. These would have been the men who had primary responsibility to study God’s word carefully so that they could spread the knowledge of God’s Word throughout their families, clans, and the next generation so that they too could be doers of the word. Rebuilding requires doing the word, and that begins with studying God’s word carefully.
Since Nehemiah 8:13 specifically describes the heads of the fathers’ families studying God’s word carefully, I want to first speak specifically to us dads and you men who aspire to be dads (Everyone welcome to listen in, but we’ll talk about how this applies to all of us in just a moment). Dads, the Bible teaches in Ephesians 5:23, and Ephesians 6:4, that the Lord has made you heads of your families. And that means that dads have the awesome privilege and responsibility to study God’s word carefully so that we can teach our children to be doers of God’s word, just as the heads of fathers’ families did thousands of years ago. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” We dads teach our children to be doers of God’s word both through what we do not do and what we do. Christian dads aren’t to be harsh, insensitive, inconsistent in discipline, or nagging toward our children, because such behavior lies to them about what God is like and what it means to do his word. Of course, we all fail in many ways as dad’s, therefore, repentance to our kids when we fail, rather than perfection, is one of the most significant ways we teach them to be doers of the word. Positively, we dads have the privilege of taking primary joy in instructing our children in the Lord. And Nehemiah 8 teaches us how; we must be careful students of God’s word ourselves so that we can teach our children to be doers of the word. Very practically, dads and aspiring dads, make every effort and take every opportunity you can to study God’s word carefully. Do that Bible reading plan, participate in the 40 days of prayer, accept the invitation to join that discipleship group, or start one yourself, say yes to signing up for that theology class, be a regular at Citygroup, bring your family to church on Sunday, and ask one of the pastors to recommend some solid theological reading for you and age-appropriate resources to teach the word to your kids in the morning before work, in the evening over dinner, or at night before bed. Dads, I know that some of you feel inadequate for this and others too busy for this. Your family needs your careful study and teaching even more than they need your income and Jesus loves to show his perfect strength through weak dads like us who go to him, hang on, and imperfectly teach his perfect word to our families. Dad’s, let’s study God’s word carefully so that we can be doers of the word and encourages to our families to do the same.
Now, the vast majority of you are not heads of families, but this part of our passage is most certainly for you and we know that’s the case because of what the Apostle Paul writes to everyone in the church at Rome. Romans 15:14: “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” In the church family, we all, not just dads, have the awesome joy of instructing one another, but faithful encouraging of others in the word begins with careful study of the word. We all have the privilege of studying God’s word carefully because we all have the privilege of encouraging and instructing one another to be doers of the word, both in formal and informal ways. So, just like the dads, jump into that Bible reading plan, do the 40 Days of Prayer, start that discipleship-group, take the class, be consistent at Citygroup, ask the pastors for good books to help you study the word, all so that you can be a doer of the word and an encourager for others to do the same. And for all you non-dads, go out of your way to encourage and even do what you can to free the dads up to especially give themselves to being careful students of God’s word. Be an advocate for dads and aspiring dads to study God’s word carefully. Last word to all of us on this point: I love my dad. He was a wonderful provider, tireless supporter and has always been there when I’ve needed him. I respect my dad. But my dad isn’t a Christian. For me to learn to be a doer of God’s word required other men and women to be spiritual dads and moms to me. Discipling is spiritual parenting, or big brother-ing; it’s doing intentional spiritual good to another Christian so that they become more like Christ. Friends, study God’s word carefully so that you can be a spiritual father, mother, or older sibling to other members of our church. We study carefully not just for ourselves, but for everyone we’ll have the privilege of influencing to be a doer of God’s word. Rebuilding requires being doers of God’s word, which begins with studying God’s word carefully. The word is spiritual food, let’s all feast! The second way our passage teaches us to be doers of the word is to…
OBEY IT IMMEDIATELY
As the priests, Levites, and heads of families are studying God’s word carefully, they make a surprising discovery. Nehemiah 8:14: “And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month…” Here is the scene, the priests, Levites, and heads of families are studying the law of Moses and eventually they come to Leviticus 23:42-43 and they read that God commanded Israel to celebrate the feast of booths in the seventh month, during which time God’s people were to leave their homes and live for a week in temporary shelters, or booths, in order to remember God’s faithfulness in bringing his people out of slavery in Egypt, preserving them as they journeyed for 40 years in the wilderness, all the while they lived in booths or temporary shelters, and then he graciously brought them into the land that was promised to their father Abraham. Then they look at their calendars and realize that the feast of booths is supposed to start in about two weeks. What would you do? If we’re honest, most of us would probably delay obedience. “Ok, good to know, but we don’t have enough time to prepare and we’ve neglected our farms for months to rebuild this wall, we’ll do the feast of booths next year.” How many times have we said to ourselves, “ok, I’ll get to following God in this or that area of life when things slow down or I’m out of this current season?” Watch how they respond. Nehemiah 8:16: So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves… They drop everything, set aside every other responsibility, and they obey God’s word immediately. Rebuilding requires doing the word by obeying it immediately. A gospel culture growing strong, that shows off to the world the difference that Jesus really makes, is a culture full of people who love and trust God so much that we obey immediately. As momma says, “delayed obedience is disobedience.”
Two weeks after Andrea and I got married we moved to Louisville, Kentucky for seminary. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment. It was small and had very little closet space, so Andrea and I kept all of our toiletries in a plastic bin in under the bathroom sink. The sink had no vanity, it was just attached to the wall. One night while we were asleep, the entire sink fell off the wall, landed on the plastic bin, sent everything flying, and made one of the loudest sounds I have ever heard. I went from completely asleep to leaping out of bed and into the bathroom in less than a second to see what happened. That’s what God’s people are like in Nehemiah 8:16, and how we should be when it comes to God’s word. We should be leaping to obey God’s word immediately. Where have you been delaying obedience to God’s word? Perhaps some categories to consider are worship, community, and mission. Is there a way that you’re delaying obedience in your love for God? Your love and commitment to others in our church? Love for you non-Christian friends and neighbors. The next time you feel a little pang that you haven’t been obeying the Lord in some area, here’s a suggestion: just do it, and do it quickly. Let’s look to the final way to be doers of God’s word and so rebuild and build-up the church…
CELBRATE IT JOYFULLY
The feast of booths was an especially joyous festival. In Nehemiah 8:17 we read, “And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.” As the Levites, priests, and heads of family’s study God’s word carefully, lead God’s people to celebrate joyfully as they partake in the feast of booths. Doing the word includes rejoicing in obeying it.
Remember that the feast of booths was all about remembering how God faithfully provided for his people in the wilderness for forty years, during which they had to live in booths, or temporary shelters, before bringing them into the Promised Land. At the heart of the feast of booths was a water drawing ceremony. Water drawing. During the water drawing ceremony, one priest (Cohen!) would lead a parade of God’s people to the temple, holding two golden pitchers, one full of wine and one full of water. When they arrive at the temple, the priest approaches two large, empty bowls on the altar. He pours the golden pitcher of wine into one of the bowls as a drink offering to the Lord and the golden pitcher of water into the other. You may be wondering, “why water? What’s the big deal with water?” Well, water was scarce in the wilderness when God miraculously provided it for his people in the wilderness, for one thing. But there’s a deeper reason. Listen to the way the prophet Ezekiel uses water as a symbol of salvation and cleansing from sins. Ezekiel 36:25-26: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel is promising that coming is the day when the Lord himself will pour out the water of the Holy Spirit, cleanse his people from their sins, and put his law in our hearts so that we never have to thirst again. That’s what the feast of booths is all about. Did you know that Jesus celebrated the feast of booths? He did, in John 7. And here’s what he said… On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39). What is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying that He is the Lord who has come to fulfill what Ezekiel promised. All who come to him with the burden of their sin and the yoke of God’s law that they cannot keep and receive and rest in him will be washed clean and have the springs of eternal life flowing in their heart through the Holy Spirit that Jesus pours out on all who believe now that he has ascended to the Father. Citylight, rebuilding requires doing God’s word, but we have all failed to do and be what God requires in his word. Our souls are a parched desert, and we are dead in our trespasses and sins. But God in his mercy sent His Son who lived, died, and rose to deliver to pour out the water of God’s Spirit to forgive your sins, refresh you forever, quench your parched soul, and strengthen you to do God’s word always and only out of the “done” of Jesus pouring the living water into your heart. Receive Him. Rest in Him. Revel in the eternal life that is yours by grace. Do his word with joy.