This sermon is number 10 in a series of 15
Building For God - Part 10
"Getting Back To The Bible"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
There was a time in the life of the Israelites, and indeed right the way through all of the history of God's people - whether it be the Jews in the Old Testament, or indeed the church in the New - right throughout church history, when God's word, although it stands forever, had been forgotten or sidelined by the people. It never changes, it is always relevant - you don't need to make God's word relevant, it is relevant - but sometimes it can be sidelined or even forgotten. We're going to read about that and think about it today - the title of my message today is 'Getting Back To The Bible'.
Verse 1 of chapter 8: "And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our LORD: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them. And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law. And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written. So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim. And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua', or Joshua, 'the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner", and we end our reading of God's word at verse 18.
Now I did not say, I don't remember saying, at the very beginning of this series that the book of Nehemiah really is divided into two sections - the first is found in chapters 1 to 6, and you will have noticed that we skipped out a chapter, because really chapter 7 is all the organisation and you can read it at your own leisure at home. We may refer to some facts within it throughout this morning's study and further studies, but we're skipping over to chapter 8. Really the first section is chapters 1 to 6, and the second section is chapter 7, the last seven chapters of the book. The first six chapters that we have spent nine weeks on was chiefly taken up with the theme of the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem, and indeed reconstruction of the whole city. But the last seven chapters that we're now entering into this week is the re-instruction of God's people.
They have now rebuilt the city of God, and built up those protective walls which were protective for various reasons that we looked into over the weeks - but now it was time from God's word, and the book, to re-instruct God's people regarding who they were and what they were to be as His chosen people. Now what I want you to note right away before we go on any further this morning in chapter 8 is that what we are witnessing in this chapter is a revival among God's people, a spiritual revival. I hope you do know that revival has got nothing whatsoever to do with those who are not Christians, it's got nothing to do with people being saved! Revival is chiefly something to do with those who are believers, those who are saved. We see the very simple meaning of the word 'revived' is 'to bring back to life', and you can only bring back to life if there was life there in the beginning. So, although there may be an offshoot of revival, and a side-blessing of revival in folk getting saved because of the state of the church, and because they're on fire and they're going out with the gospel in the power of the Spirit, primarily revival has to begin and start in believer's lives - new life, the Holy Ghost of God getting the whole sway in the lives of believers.
So, as long as we understand that we'll not make any mistakes this morning. If you've ever read the biblical revivals, or indeed the revivals of history, you will see that there are two characteristic features in all of them. One is the unadulterated and straight preaching of God's word - that is one prominent feature of every revival that has ever happened in history: the preaching of God's word in power. The second chief characteristic which you will clearly notice if you've ever read anything about these revivals in history or in the Bible, is that there is always an active response from God's people. In other words, when they hear the word of God, they obey the word of God in an extraordinary sense that they have never done before, and one of the outcomes of that is a great joy among God's people, an overflowing continually perpetuating blessing that just seems as if it's never ever going to stop. Two characteristics in every revival in history, in every revival in the word of God, and in the revival that we have been reading about in chapter 8 of Nehemiah this morning. One: the preaching of God's word; and two: the active obedient response of God's people to that word which engendered joy within their lives.
Take the Reformation for instance, the whole of Europe, indeed the whole of the world was in darkness. It was during a period of the Dark Ages when men began to harbour after God's word, rather than the teaching of the church of Rome. The church of Rome had shackled God's word and bound it, and only the real religious authorities and those who were thought to be educated enough were allowed to read it. The fact of the matter is there were men like John Wycliffe, who came along and took their lives in their hands, and lost their lives inevitably, because they knew the importance of God's word. From then on through Martin Luther and John Calvin and all the various reformers, the word of God was put in the people's language, and the New Testament church was reborn, as it were, out of the darkness of Romanism. Where the word of God is bound or suppressed or forgotten darkness prevails, but when the word of God is rediscovered there is revival. I know that a lot of the Reformation was on a political level, but there was no doubt that there were many people swept into the kingdom of God because the word of God was found again and preached in an undiluted form.
One of the greatest revivalists, this time in the 18th century, by the name of George Whitfield, records his own relationship to the holy Scriptures in his journals - I want to read it to you. He said: 'I began to read the holy Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over - if possible - every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul, and I daily received fresh light and power from above. I got more true knowledge from reading the book of God in one month than I could ever have acquired from all the writings of men'. George Whitfield, a very learned man, but a man who realised the importance of God's book and God's book alone. Because of that he was sent forth of God and saw thousands brought into the kingdom of Christ through his preaching. Jonathan Goforth was another man who was greatly used of God in China and elsewhere in revival from the year 1908 onwards. Looking back at those great years of blessing in his life, he records in one of his writings: 'We wish to affirm too that we can entertain no hope of a mighty globe-encircling Holy Spirit revival without there being first a 'Back to the Bible' movement'. There needs to be, he said, for a revival that is big enough to bring our loved ones to Christ, there needs to be first and foremost a back to the Bible movement. Goforth certainly practiced what he preached, because for 19 years he read through the Chinese Bible New Testament 55 times - of course, it was not his first language.
We add to Goforth and to Whitfield and to men like Wycliffe, Wesley - Charles and John - Spurgeon, Brownlow North who was used in Ulster in revival, Jonathan Edwards used in North America in revival - all these great men of God believed in the Bible. It's a very interesting point and an historical fact that revival never ever emanates out of the liberal wing of the church of Jesus Christ, because the liberal wing dilutes the word of God.
Now at the point we have reached in chapter 8 of Nehemiah, the walls are finished. But isn't it very telling that the work of God, as it was prescribed to Nehemiah, is finished - the practical end of things - but there is still a spiritual vacuum within the people's hearts. According to chapter 7 that we didn't read, the people are now well ordered, they're well defended, and they're well governed by Nehemiah. Yet in this community of nice homes and good jobs and great security, there is an emptiness, there was something that was missing. I believe, if we could put it in our context today, it was simply this: the Lord was not given His chief place in their lives, the place that He ought to have had.
What a lesson there is for us today, especially where we are as the Iron Hall. It's not enough to have well constructed superstructures, it's not enough to have all the best music that we can have, and all the best preaching if you can get it somewhere - if there is nothing real in our spiritual lives which knows the unction of God's Spirit, if inside we are still empty, if there's no power, if there's no fire, if there's no vitality it means nothing! In chapter 6 Nehemiah said this work was a great work, there's no doubt about it. I believe this work is a great work, I believe everything that goes on here is a great work, but the fact of the matter is: if all we have are these externalities, we have nothing! Don Francisco, a gospel singer, most of you probably wouldn't like his music, but I like it. One of his songs goes like this, it's called 'The Steeple Song':
'I don't care how many buses you own, or the size of your sanctuary
It doesn't matter how steep your steeple is, if it's sitting on a cemetery.
I don't care if you pave your parking lot, or put pads upon your pews,
What good is a picture perfect stage, if you're missing all the cues?'.
What does it matter if the power of God, the glory of God is missing? You can have beautiful architectural structures, well-oiled programmes, but it means nothing if God's power and God's presence are absent! Now here's how they got back the presence of God, how do you get back the presence of God? Well, they got back to the word of God. Let me leave you, if time allows, with five points. They are steps, they're five steps to spiritual revival - here's the first: they read the Bible. Now that may seem very elementary, but that's where they started, and that's where we all need to start: they read the Bible.
Secondly: they recognised the meaning. Thirdly: they responded in obedience. Fourthly: they rediscovered lost truths. And fifthly: they rediscovered strengthening joy. Let's start with the first one: they read the Bible, verses 1 to 7. Verse 1 says that they all gathered together 'as one man', they were united. We don't need to go on any further, just to say that they were united together around God's word. Psalm 133 says: 'How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!', and later on in the Psalm it says that God commands the blessing where such unity is. Now brethren, we need to be united! This gathering of Nehemiah's was not a Bible Conference, rather it was a Bible Convention - now you say: what's the difference? Well, a Bible Conference is a place for discussion, but there was no open discussion here. Some of you love Bible Conferences where you can discuss until the cows come home things that don't matter. But the fact of the matter is this was a Convention, for Conventions are a place of decision. God was bringing His word through His servant Ezra, and He wasn't looking for a red light or a yellow light or a green light as to whether the people agreed with what God was saying, He was wanting decision not discussion!
A united people are here in verse 1 waiting on God - where are they? It says that they're at the water gate. Now you remember the week that we went round all the gates, and they had typical meanings, they represented things. Do you remember what the water gate represented? Can you remember? Am I wasting my time? The word of God, remember? The word of God in Scripture is represented by water. Here they are, in a typical sense, they're coming to the cleansing refreshing reviving power of the word of God - this is the place to be! Look at it: the open place before the water gate - have you got an open place before God's word, where your heart is open, your mind is open? Do you come with God's people even, and gather together around God's word?
I tell you this - and this might be a very very general statement, and you might think it's a bit simplistic, but I'm going to make it because I believe it's founded on Scripture. If God's people, with one mind, gather around God's word, to seek His will and His will alone, they will experience revival. Can I ask you: do you gather around God's word with God's people? Do you know where we chiefly gather around God's word? It's on a Monday night, it's at our Bible Reading - many of you don't come. Some of you can't come, and I acknowledge that, but many of you can come and should come, and if you did come this place would be packed out - and if the visitors were taken away from a Monday night, we would be ashamed at how few from the Iron Hall are actually here! These people realised the importance of gathering around God's word as one people. When you do come, as many of you come, do you come with the spirit of conference or the spirit of convention? Are you coming to see 'whether I'll agree with what he says today', whether it's wrong or right? Or do you come saying, 'What will God say to me today'? Oh, there's a difference.
Well, the cry came from the people, and that's what I like to notice here: it came from the people. 'Bring out the book! Ezra, we want to be revived, we want to know God, put away all that rubbish that we've known for years in captivity that's done our hearts no good, and bring out the book!'. I'm telling you, you don't hear that cry today - it's bring out everything but the book! Do you bring the Book to church? Now we don't want to get legalistic, but the fact of the matter is a lot of people don't even bring their Bibles to church. They're spoonfed, they're not searching the Scriptures to see whether these things are such. Can I ask you fathers and mothers: do you bring out the Book in the home when there's a decision to be made? What's the first thing you do? Pick up the phone and ring your solicitor or your insurance broker, or do you bring out the Book and see what God says? Leaders in the church, in your deliberations and your planning for the future of this fellowship, how often do you bring out the book, and say 'What saith the Scriptures on this'?
I want you to notice that the people didn't ask what Ezra's opinion on the matter was. They didn't say: 'Nehemiah, you're very wise man, and you're our governor and our leader, what do you think about all this?' They didn't even call Zerubabbel and ask what his thoughts on the matter were. They respected God's servants, and God's servants ought to be respected because they're sent to minister God's word - but we ought never to forget that they are only ministers of the word of God. It is the word of God that is what is important. I'm not meant to be a minister of science or a minister of philosophy, or even a minister of theology, you've got to be a minister of God's word and preach God's word as it is.
I don't know whether you've noticed this or not, but sometimes great men of God are quoted and adhered to as if they were the same authority as the word of God. Do you ever notice this? Maybe there's a discussion or something, something's being debated, and someone says: 'Oh, but Mr So-and-so, he didn't teach that', or 'he did teach that. John Calvin, he said this. J. N. Darby, he said that. A. W. Pink, he said the other. C. I. Schofield, he believes this'. Many of those men are great men, and I agree with a lot of what some of them said - I'm being careful there - but the fact of the matter is that they do not have the authority of God's word no matter who they are! Ezra was asked: 'Bring out the book!', the book of God! We must be careful that we do not teach for doctrine the commandments of men!
Let's answer a couple of questions: who was there? It says men were there, women were there, and all who could understand were there - that infers children who could understand what was being read. Now you'll see a little bit later that it would have been very hard to understand a lot of it, because it wasn't even spoken in their language - but Ezra felt that it was sufficient that they understand the translation, and they must have done otherwise God's word would not have said it. Now when we read further: how was it done? Very simply, and very similar to what we do today: there was a public reading from a makeshift erected pulpit, there and then. So that's what it means when it says that Ezra stood over the people, and they read the word of God constantly, with probably breaks of exposition in between, from daybreak - the morning dawning - until noon, until the afternoon - 12 o'clock. How many of you could have stuck that?
What was the reaction of the people? 'When's this boy going to shut up? You've gone well over your time!' - was that the reaction? Or as some people say: 'Oh, people who do those things, they don't know any better, or they've nothing better to do' - these people had been years in captivity without God's word, and now they'd got it and they couldn't do without it! Do you know what their reaction was? They lifted up their hands to heaven - and can I say that there's nothing wrong with doing that. The charismatics might do it, but you can do it too if it's from your heart and it's in prayer to God and praise - and it would do us well if we all did it from time to time. They said: 'Amen, Amen!' - they agreed, that simply means 'Thus, it is correct', 'Amen and Amen' - and do you know what else they did? They fell on their faces before God, and they worshipped at the reading of the holy Scriptures.
My friends, they didn't know what we know, but they had a reverence and a respect for God's holy word. Some people would call it 'bibliolatry', that they were almost worshipping the Bible - and some people throw that charge at us because we take the Bible so seriously, but that is a lie. We are acknowledging the Author of this book, and His sovereign will and purpose which is found therein. Do we have a respect for God's word? Do we reverence it? The cry was: 'Bring the book', it was the cry that brought them out of the darkness, it was the cry that brought us out of the darkness in the Reformation, and every revival since it. It freed them, it freed us, and it will free us again if we bring back the Book!
Now can I ask you - I don't want to rush over this, and I have so much information here this morning I'll probably not get through it - but I want to ask you a very very simple question as individuals: do you read your Bible? I think I've said this before, that sometimes in counselling situations people have problems with sins, and they come to me, or they have problems with other things in their mind - and they really don't know what the answer is. One of the first questions that I've learnt to ask is: are you reading God's word? And usually the answer comes back: 'No, I'm not. I know I should be'. David said in Psalm 119: 'Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee' - God's word is what pushes all that sin and dirt out, but you can only push it out if you're pushing God's word in!
Everyone: are you daily reading God's word? Are you, preferably, reading the Bible through once in a year? It was said of that great man of God, George Mueller, that he read the Bible over 200 times in his lifetime. William Evans, who in the early part of the last century pastored College Church in Wheaton, it is said of him - you might not believe it, believe it or not - that he memorised the entire Bible in the King James Version...and the New Testament in the American Standard Version! Billy Graham says of his medical missionary father-in-law, Nelson Bell, that he made it a point in his life, I quote: 'To rise every morning at 4:30 and spend two to three hours in Bible reading'. He didn't use that time to read commentaries or to write, he didn't do his correspondence or any other work, he just read the Scriptures every morning - and he was a walking Bible encyclopaedia - people wondered at the holiness and the greatness in his life. It was Spurgeon who said: 'A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn't'. Imagine asking, having to ask Christians: do you read your Bible?! How many of you read your Bible this morning? How many of you will read your Bible today at all? How many of you will open your Bible between this morning and this time next week? My friend, if you want revival in your life, you need to know revival in Bible reading in your life.
Let's deal with the second point: they recognised the meaning. Verse 8, this is very interesting: 'So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading'. Now here we have the fact that they recognised the meaning, the characteristics of authentic Bible exposition. The first thing was that he read God's word. Now this might seem elementary, but this is where we've got to begin: it is not the opinion of men that exposition rests upon, but it is the establishment first and foremost that all truth comes from God. He is the source, not my wisdom, not my expertise or my education whatever it may be. They read from God's word, secondly: there was a respect for God's word. The people listened intently, verses 5 and 6, and we see the response. But the third thing is this: the truth was explained so that all could understand, all that were at an age of understanding.
What lessons there are for preachers in our midst this morning and myself: those gifted in God's truth translated and gave the meaning. It's interesting that Nehemiah knew that this wasn't his gift. He had been using his gift up to chapter 7 in erecting these walls, but his gift wasn't preaching, so he stood aside and in came Ezra. It's like John the Baptist, his job was making roads, preparing the way for the Lord; Nehemiah's job was building walls, but when he knew his job was over he got out of the way. Maybe we need to get out of the way for someone else to take over. But here is Ezra coming to the fore, the word of God is preached; Ezra reads the Scriptures in Hebrew, but the word here for 'understanding' really in verse 8 - he read in the law distinctly, and gave the sense - that word 'distinctly' means 'making a distinction', it literally is 'translated'. Now you might say: 'Why did the Jews need the Bible translated when they wrote it?'. Here's the reason: for years they had been in captivity in Babylon, and they had learned things in Babylon that caused them not to understand God's word, and they had even learned another language - they were now speaking Aramaic - so they didn't even know the language that the Bible was being read in.
Ezra, he read it, and these other men around him that we had trouble reading this morning, they translated God's word and they expounded it to them - but isn't there a lesson in this for us all? They recognised the readings, they were Jews from birth, they had lost their tongue, they had lost their culture, they had come out of Babylon back to Jerusalem, their mentality and their lifestyle were worldly - and when they heard God's word they didn't even recognise it because their ears were Babylonish. There was a communication breakdown, and some of us might find it hard to get into God's word again because it's been so long since we've been in it, and because our lives have imbibed things that are a total antithesis with God's law, commands, and rules and principles.
Although it was hard for them, although it was inconvenient, they unlocked the door of understanding; and someone with ability led them beneath the surface of God's will and they understood it. Now listen to this: they didn't have a Bible in their own language. The possibility is that Ezra had the only Bible that was in existence at this particular time, yet they heard God's word, they understood God's word, and through the powerful preaching of God's servant they obeyed God's word. They didn't have one iota of the amount of things that we have been blessed with in this day, but they were streets ahead of us! Can I say that we spend much of our time occupying our minds with unanswerable questions and irreconcilable issues, rather than that which is clear and plain within God's word - don't we? It puts in the time thinking about all these issues that you cannot reconcile, that you cannot make sense of, but the fact of the matter is - as Mark Twain said - it's not what I don't understand about the Bible that bothers me, it's what I do understand. Are you obedient to what you do understand?
They read the Bible, they recognised the meaning, and thirdly they responded in obedience: the truth was applied in verse 9 - they did that day. They wept, they cried for guilt - why were there crying? Because they knew that they were the ones being spoken of, they committed the sins, they were guilty in the eyes of God! They were thinking back over years of darkness where there was no spiritual input in everything that they had done, and they were now realising how far away from God they had been. When was the last time you and I wept as we read God's word and applied it to our hearts? When was it? Has it ever been?
They read it, they recognised the meaning, they responded in obedience, and here's something interesting: they recovered lost truths. We read that on the second day, verse 13, the chiefs of the people came together, and the reading of God's word continued - but there was a notable discovery that was made in verse 14. The discovery simply was that, yes, they had celebrated for years what was called the Feast of the Tabernacles, but since the days of Joshua, the conquest of the promised land, since those days one particular feature of the Feast of Tabernacles had not been obeyed - what was it? Well, it was the building of booths. They used to get these olive branches, and all sorts of things mentioned here in these verses, and they used to build these little huts, and the people would live in them for the duration of this feast to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles. They were celebrating the feast, but they were not adhering fully to God's word in the celebration.
Now this is remarkable, because at once when the people in Nehemiah's day recognised the challenge that they had not done this thing, they were obedient there and then to it. They could have said: 'Well, here's something that hasn't been observed for 1000 years or more' - do you know all that mattered? It's still in this book. They could have said: 'Well, David, the great King, the King of our glory period and Solomon his son paid no attention to these feasts - even in the days of Joshua these things were not built'. But the fact of the matter is, because it was in this Book, that is what motivated them to obedience. I hear people saying today: 'As long as the spirit of the word is adhered to, it doesn't matter how you obey it in form. As long as you are, in your heart, adhering to a principle within God's word, it doesn't matter what the form is'. Now there's no doubt that the principle is more important than the form, but let me tell you this: if the form is stipulated in scripture, you've got to obey the form as well as the principle. If you find it in God's word, conference is not asked for, your opinion is not applied for from God, what God wants from you is obedience. It was awkward for them to implement this since the days of Samuel, David and Solomon, but God blessed them for it because they found it written within the Book!
Are we like that? Do you know what the Christian church is regulated by, as far as I can see today, in the West? It's what everybody else does - 'They don't do that down there! Do you know what they're doing down there? Why can't we do it here?'. Friends, I'm not making a moral comment or judgment on anything that anybody else does, but we ought to go by the Book, not by what others are doing. The people in Nehemiah's day could have said: 'David was blessed, and he didn't see this as an essential! Samuel was blessed, it wasn't essential for his life!' - they said, 'It is written in the Book, we will do it'.
They recovered lost truths, and fifthly and finally: they rediscovered strengthening joy. These people had lost touch with God, maybe they thought God had left them - but the fact of the matter was, they had left God. But now that God was back in His word, they thought God was angry - and that's the way some people feel, or maybe are made to feel, when they get away from God in their life and sin enters. Then all of a sudden they hear God's word, and they get convicted, and you know there's nothing wrong with conviction - in fact, we could do with a lot more of it: tears of contrition and repentance. This is what we have here: they began to weep, they began to mourn - but do you know what Ezra said? 'Don't weep, don't mourn, for this day is holy unto the Lord your God' - verse 9 - 'Mourn not, nor weep, for all the people wept when they heard the words of the law'.
If you're like these people, and you have sidelined God's word in your life, the devil sometimes comes along and he says: 'You will never make it back. You have done this, or done that, and that has cut you off from God. There is no opportunity or no chance really for you to be what you used to be, or for God bless you'. That even discourages some people from praying or from coming to Bible Readings, or from reading God's word and studying it themselves. The accuser, the devil says: 'You're no use. It's no use trying this, forget about it! You're a hopeless sinner, just give in, because you've been cut off from God, God is angry with you'. Now yes, repentance is needed, and we're instructed to weep and to mourn - but the people were told in Nehemiah's day: 'God is not just angry with your sin, but God is a God who wants to forgive, and God is a God who wants you to be strong again'.
The people could have said: 'How can we be strong? We've lost our testimony. Our children and our grandchildren have been brought up in Babylonish systems, they haven't learned the law, they don't even know the language of the Bible - how can we possibly be strong again?'. This is what God's servant said to them, verse 10, listen to it: 'The joy of the Lord is your strength'. You may say: 'Well, that's some argument! Is that not a bit of a circular one? I don't have any joy - the joy of the Lord is your strength! How can the joy of the Lord be my strength when I don't have it?'. Do you know what the joy of the Lord is? It perhaps would be better read: 'The joy that is the Lord's is your strength' - the joy that is the Lord's? The joy that the Lord owns, His joy, not your joy, His joy! Now what is His joy? His joy is seeing His people doing what He has asked them!
Do you remember 3 John chapter 1 and verse 4, the apostle said: 'I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth' - I have no greater joy! Tears of repentance are good, beating your breast before God is good, making sacrifices in your life - cutting off that right hand and plucking out that right eye and throwing away, that has caused you to sin - it's all very good and it's very necessary...but God's word says: 'To obey is better than sacrifice'. The joy of the Lord, His own joy in His heart will be yours if you do what He says. Do we do what He says?
'When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His word,
What a glory He sheds on our way.
When we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey'.
Do you want to be revived? You need to revive reading this book! You need to recognise the meaning of this book! You need to respond in obedience to this book, completely 100%! You need to recover the lost truths of this book in your life, and in God's people of the assembly! And you need to rediscover the strengthening power of God's joy when you obey Him - and I can tell you, and I don't obey Him as I ought, but in the times when I am obeying Him the most there is a buoyancy, and even a confidence that is not self-confidence or pride, but to know that before God you've got a conscience that is clear!
Do you know that? Do you want revival? We want revival: we need to get back to the Book.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tenth tape in his 'Building For God' series, entitled "Getting Back To The Bible" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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