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Committed to the Task

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Committed to the Task
Nehemiah 7-8
Open with Prayer.
Open your Bible to Nehemiah chapter7.
How many of you have read through Nehemiah chapter 7? Be honest, did you read every word or just sort of skim through it?
I’m going to be honest; I was originally just going to skip over chapter 7 entirely but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t just bring myself to basically say that there was an entire chapter of the Bible that wasn’t useful and didn’t need to be taught.
So, I’m going to actually pick out a few points from chapter 7 and from chapter 8. There is a lot of material that we’re going to cover today so we’re just going to go ahead and jump into the Word this morning.
As we come to Nehemiah 7-8 the emphasis shifts from reconstruction to reinstruction. The walls were finished in 52 days, but the people inside sure weren’t – they still had some significant sin problems!
We move from restoring the wall to restoring the people; from building walls to building worshippers.
We see this in verse 1:
Nehemiah 7:1 ESV
Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed,
The rebuilt walls of Jerusalem enabled God’s people to rejoice in worship with the singers leading in praise and the Levites handling the preaching.
Let’s dive in and discover at least four things that matter to God.

God wants us to guard what’s important

Nehemiah 7:2 ESV
I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many.
Nehemiah was looking for two key qualities in his leaders – faithfulness and the fear of God.
Nehemiah 7:3 ESV
And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.”
It was customary to open city gates at sunrise but he wanted them closed until later in the day to prevent attacks.
It reminds us that we must always be on guard because 1 Peter 5:8 says, “…Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

God wants His people to be together

A large chunk of this chapter, from verse 5 through verse 69, reads like a Hebrew phone book! While these names don’t mean anything to us, they mean a lot to the Lord because God’s people are not nameless or unknown to Him.
God wants to make sure they are not forgotten so He lists their names twice – here and in Ezra 2.
The truth is that you can’t be a Christian in isolation. We are meant to be together. We aren’t meant to live without each other. God desires for His people to be together.
The next time you think you might sleep in or not come back for Sunday evening or Wednesday night, remember what the author of Hebrews wrote:
Hebrews 10:24–25 ESV
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
We all need encouragement. We all need each other.

God wants His people to be givers

We see in verses 70-72 how God uses the giving of His people to accomplish His purposes:
Nehemiah 7:70–72 ESV
Now some of the heads of fathers’ houses gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 darics of gold, 50 basins, 30 priests’ garments and 500 minas of silver. And some of the heads of fathers’ houses gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 darics of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. And what the rest of the people gave was 20,000 darics of gold, 2,000 minas of silver, and 67 priests’ garments.
One estimate is that all the gold and silver given totaled about $15 million in today’s dollars. We know from the census there were 42,360 people, which would come to an average gift of $350. This might not seem like much but remember money went a lot further then. Another commentator estimates the value in today’s dollars at $100 million!
Whatever the exact amount, the people gave over and above what was expected of them. When you think about it, they had plenty of reasons not to give…
· They had just returned from Babylon and still needed to get settled
· They didn’t have stable jobs and the economy was uncertain
· There was no guarantee the walls were even going to work
· Many of them didn’t live in Jerusalem and could have thought, “This won’t help us.”
· Some may have thought since they had worked on the wall they didn’t need to give any
But instead of giving excuses, they gave what they could with what they had. Everyone gave something because it is natural for God’s people to give. They gave generously. They gave sacrificially. And no one gave out of guilt.
2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
There is great joy in generous giving.

God’s goal is to get His Word into people

Let’s move now to Nehemiah 8 where we will see how God’s people responded to God’s Word. We’ll spend the rest of our time on this idea because it’s so important. This chapter addresses three misconceptions about the Bible.
The first is:

The Bible is too confusing to read

Nehemiah 8:1 ESV
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.
They came together as “one man,” eager to understand God’s Word. A sense of unity and renewed purpose replaced the disunity and disagreements from the “great outcry” of chapter 5.
Ezra was the perfect man to lead this outdoor Bible conference. He had come to Jerusalem 14 years before Nehemiah and was a scribe, priest, scholar, and teacher of the Law.
Ezra 7:10 gives us an idea of what kind of man he was:
Ezra 7:10 ESV
For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
He was committed to personal study of the Word, he looked for ways to apply the Bible to his own life, and only after that, did he teach it to others. This verse is a personal challenge because I want to do the same thing.
It seems to be a spontaneous gathering. No invitations were sent out. No public notice was given. They came together as “one man,” eager to understand God’s Word.
And the people didn’t wait to hear what Ezra had chosen to preach on, they wanted him to bring the book of the law, the Torah, the first five books of Moses.
Nehemiah 8:2 ESV
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month.
The Bible is not some kind of magic book that changes us just because we read it. God’s Word must be understood before it can enter the heart and release its life-changing power. We’re told that the people could understand five times in this chapter which shows us that the Bible is not meant to be confusing but to be understood.
Nehemiah 8:3 ESV
And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
Ezra started reading at dawn and read until lunch. The people listened to the Word of God for over six hours! We know from verse 18 that this continued for a week. And, they didn’t just sit in their pews but “the ears of all the people were attentive.” They didn’t sleep or get distracted. They paid attention!
There’s no greater thrill to a preacher then when people listen attentively to the Word of God.
In an effort to follow Ezra’s example, we’re going to have six-hour sermons beginning next Sunday…
Nehemiah 8:4 ESV
And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand.
Ezra stood on a platform so they could see and hear him better.
Nehemiah 8:5–6 ESV
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
When Ezra opened the Book in verse 5, the people honored God by standing up. They knew this was not just a man speaking; they were about to hear the very Word of God. They didn’t have their own copy of the Scriptures and Bible apps hadn’t been developed yet.
The people went from sitting to standing. They raised their hands, shouted their agreement by saying “Amen” and then bowed down and worshipped by putting their faces to the ground. The anticipation of hearing the Bible in a way that they could understand totally gripped them. They were locked in, focused, and ready to hear from their great God.
Nehemiah 8:7–8 ESV
Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
They probably mingled with the people, answered questions and told them how to apply the Law. There was both a public proclamation of the Word in a large assembly as well as face-to-face interaction.
The first misconception is that the Bible is too confusing to read. What we learn from verses 1-8 is the Bible is designed to be understood. Here are some ways to better understand the Word of God:

Find a readable translation

Read a chapter a day. Grab a notebook and write down one verse that impacts you. Use a study Bible. There are lots of them out there.

Pay attention

Bring your Bible and follow along. Take notes.

Come to Sunday School

You can grow a lot in a small group setting.
The second misconception is:

The Bible is too boring to study

As Ezra read and the leaders explained the Word, the congregation’s first response was one of conviction and weeping.
Nehemiah 8:9 ESV
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.
The natural reaction to the Bible is remorse and guilt – that’s actually why some people don’t want to hear it and end up unplugging from church. As Romans 3:20 says, “…through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Scripture caused them to see the ugliness of their own hearts and the beauty of God.
While some pastors give syrupy and sentimental sermons that just make people feel good, the preaching of the Word should confront and convict us, leading us to confession and cleansing. We’re called to be a holy church, not just to focus on what makes us happy.
While weeping is necessary and important, it’s not the final message God has for us. Nehemiah and the Levites convinced the people to stop mourning and start celebrating. The Word of God brings conviction and leads to repentance, but it also brings us joy.
The God who convicts of sin is the God of grace and mercy.
It isn’t enough for us to read the Word, or receive the Word as its preached and taught; we must also rejoice in the Word.
Nehemiah 8:10–12 ESV
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.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Did you catch that? When the people understood the Word of God, it brought them joy. We can have joy because God has provided a solution to the sin problem.
When we understand God through understanding His Word, we will have a contagious joy as we invite others to experience the same thing.
That’s one of the points Nehemiah makes:
We can’t have true joy unless we share what we have with others.
The Bible and the truths in it are far from dry or boring. If we understand Scripture, we will come to a place of joy. Every effort to make Christianity seem sad, heavy, strict, and boring comes up short. The people who know the story of redemption best are the freest, the most joyful, and the least likely to keep it to themselves.
Let me give you two ways that you can rejoice in what you understand from the Bible:

Look to Him instead of your sin

Instead of focusing on how you’ve messed up, look at what God has done for you. Some of you are filled with guilt and shame. If you’ve confessed it, the Bible says you are forgiven and free. It’s time to move on with joy.
Isaiah 44:22 is a great verse if you’re struggling with guilt and shame:
Isaiah 44:22
22 I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.

Share what you have

Look for ways to share what you have with others. Who can you give something to this week? Ask God to give you an opportunity this week to share your joy with someone.
The second misconception is that the Bible is too boring to study. The truth is that we will find great joy when we jump into God’s Word. The last misconception is:

The Bible is too difficult to apply

This myth says that God is just out to make life miserable for us by giving us impossible things to do. It is true that we can’t obey everything in the Bible because of our sinfulness but we can live out its truths and principles on a daily basis. In fact, God’s Word was given in order to transform our lives.
We don’t have to make the Bible relevant because it already is.
In verses 13-18 we see how the Israelites found great joy in their obedience. As they paid attention to what they heard, they discovered they were not fully following the Lord in all areas. While they had celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles at different times in their history, they were supposed to set up booths made out of branches. They were doing part of what God wanted, but weren’t following all the directions.
There are times in our lives when the problem isn’t that we’re not following God, it’s that we’re not following Him completely.
The Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths, was a reminder that they were called as a people out of Egypt. When they got into the desert, God told them to collect branches in order to have shelter. God then told them to do this every year, even when they had their homes to live in.
God told them to live in shacks for a week. They were to go out, fetch some branches and sticks, and make booths for their families to live in. They probably wondered why this was so important, especially since the wall was now finished.
There were three main purposes for this festival.
It was a time for looking back and remembering the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, when the people were homeless and lived in temporary shelters. It helped them remember where they had come from and how far God had brought them.
This festival was also a time for looking around at the harvest blessings from the hand of God.
Finally, it was also an occasion for looking ahead. These believers may have been tempted to get comfortable with their new city and their new homes.
But God was teaching them, “Remember, your home is not in this world. You are always going to be pilgrims here. Your home is in heaven.” After the wall was up, God wanted to make sure they didn’t count on walls, but instead on Him. We need that reminder. Don’t sink your roots too deep into this world because our true home is in heaven.
As the people applied God’s truth, they did it with an attitude of joy. Look at the end of verse 17:
Nehemiah 8:17 ESV
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.
And there was very great rejoicing.
When you obey Him, you will have the satisfaction that you are doing the right thing, no matter how hard it is.
As you’ve listened to God’s Word this morning, maybe you are ready to be renewed. You know you need to be revived. It’s so easy to slip, isn’t it? Our natural tendency is to head south spiritually and be in sin over our heads. Some of you have lost your joy and feel a bit dry. You can relate to the psalmist when he asked in Psalm 85:6:
Psalm 85:6 ESV
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
Someone asked evangelist Billy Sunday if revivals lasted, and he replied, “No, neither does a bath; but it’s good to have one occasionally!”
From time to time in the history of the church, God’s Spirit has burdened people to pray, search the Scriptures, and confess their sins; and from these sincere spiritual movements, He has seen fit to bring fresh life to His people. It happened in Nehemiah’s day, and it can happen again today.
And it can start with you.
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