Grace – The First Amigo

An Undefinable Word

Grace is a subject that is broad and deep. I could take years examining the word of God and not adequately plumb the depths of grace. If I had an unlimited vocabulary and perfect writing skills, I would not be able to adequately communicate the beauty of His grace. There just are no words for it. So I will do the best I can to share what I have learned. But to describe it accurately is to try to accurately describe a beautiful sunset painted on the canvass of the sky. To adequately communicate its affect on the human souls is more difficult than to describe in detail the joy of watching one’s child be born…or their first intentional smile!

A Theological Description

God’s grace is that perfection or attribute of God that enables Him to have mercy on us. It is that part that strives with a rebellious person like me…and you. Like every other perfection (or attribute) grace just isn’t an adjective, it isn’t even just part of God. Grace IS who God is. Just like He is love, righteous, holy, just, etc. God is grace and He sheds His grace on us. Now how He sheds grace on humanity can be different but make no mistake that all of humanity experiences God’s grace one way or another.

 

Important Distinctions

Common Grace

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.                   – Matthew 5:44-45 NASB

Common grace is shed on all mankind, not just the elect. We see it in not only the rain cited in Matthew 5, but also in the healing of diseases, feeding the hungry, withholding judgement of those who scoff at God, murder others, and commit all sorts of unrighteousness. We even saw it at the beginning of man’s rebellion when God was gracious to Adam and Eve by making them clothes and graciously allowing them to live rather than execute judgement on them immediately. God’s common grace is that grace that everyone enjoys whether they recognize it as being from God or not.

 

Saving Grace

But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.  – Acts 15:11 NASB

 

The saving grace of God is on full display during the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. In Acts 15 the Council has been convened to discuss the issue of gentiles getting saved. A question arose that centered around the issue of whether the gentiles needed to become Jewish and hold to the Law before they could be saved. It was an honest argument that later turned into a legalistic requirement by some. Anyway, the result of that discussion is the verse quoted above: ALL mankind are saved by the grace of God.

 

In Ephesians 2 Paul states

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.                                            – Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB

 

Some Questions for Thought

God’s grace is what saves us. So what does this have to do with justification and sanctification? And what about security? Can we once saved ever be not saved? Does God’s grace keep us as well?

All these questions are good ones that need straightforward answer. They all will be addressed in the next few weeks as we continue to consider the three amigos of grace, justification and sanctification. It may get a little tangled, but there are very important things to understand about these three amigos and how they apply to life. We’ll also be able to understand how each is distinct from the other but how each works with and enhances the other. I hope you stick around for the ending. It is really awesome.

And I do mean AWE-some

 

 

Built on Obedience

The Path Less Traveled Final

True faith is always followed by obedience and actions.

Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.                            – Genesis 22:9-10 NASB

Whenever you boldly proclaim your faith, be sure that your feet are willing to walk where you proclaim you will go.

 

The journey that Abraham and Isaac had been on had come to it’s apparent end. Evidently God revealed to Abraham where he was to sacrifice Isaac since Abraham recognized the place. Imagine the feeling Abraham had. how would you feel if you had arrived to a place of sacrifice of your son? I can’t imagine the various emotions that  would be raging through me.

I suppose that as I came to the place of sacrifice my eyes would search all around to see a different sacrifice. I would be scouring the countryside for a lamb. ram or some other sacrificial animal. I imagine that i would be slowing down a little as I came to the place of sacrifice. “Where is the lamb?”

Abraham builds the altar. The thoughts running through his head must have been myriad. Abraham was building the altar upon which his son would be sacrificed. Wow. But Abraham did not stop there. He arranged the wood that would consume Isaac’s body.

Now pay close attention to the next part. Abraham bound Isaac and placed him on the altar. Isaac was probably a teen not a child if I’m reading the Hebrew correctly. So why does this matter?

Isaac could have resisted. Isaac could have run away at any point in this journey. Isaac could have said no and left his father Abraham. He must have known by now he was going to be the sacrifice. There is no record of Isaac negotiating with his father. There is nothing in the record that leads me to believe that Isaac objected in any way. Isaac was totally submitted to his father’s will. Ultimately Isaac was submitted to his Father’s will – God’s will.

Isaac was resolute in giving his all to God. There is no other way to interpret this. He was resolved to follow God’s will up to and including the point of death. How would I react to this? As either Abraham or Isaac, how would I react. How about you. Hmmm.

But Abraham’s actions did not end there. Look at the text – he (Abraham) stretched out his hand, took the knife with the intent of slaying his son. Abraham was following God’s call to the very end. Isaac was submitting to God’s call to the very end – the end of his life.

Now remember that Isaac was the son of promise. This is the son through whom God will make a great nation. This is the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah even though they were old. This was God’s miracle child to Abraham and Sarah. And now he is going to kill him and burn him on an altar by God’s command.

Let’s think about this for a moment. What was Abraham demonstrating? Well, we really have two main options. Abraham could have been demonstrating faith. He also could have been demonstrating obedience. let’s look at each of these.

 

Abraham’s Faith

He had to believe God had a plan to either restore Isaac to life or to provide a way out of slaying Isaac.

Abraham has demonstrated faith throughout this journey to sacrifice his son Isaac. Certainly he is at the very least demonstrating faith in this part of the journey. He would have to be a man of faith to go this far. He had to believe God had a plan to either restore Isaac to life or to provide a way out of slaying Isaac since God promised to make Abraham a great nation through this son and all the nations would be blessed through him. so yes, Abraham was demonstrating faith.

 

Abraham’s Obedience

Look at what Abraham did, not just believed.

Abraham was also demonstrating obedience to God’s call. He followed God’s instructions without question, debate, or compromise. He followed not only with his mind but also with his feet. He obeyed God. Look at what Abraham did, not just believed. Abraham took his son and servants and set out on a journey to an unknown place. God said “go!” and Abraham went.

Abraham ascended the mountain with his son, wood, fire and knife for the sacrifice of his son. Abraham took the tools that would lead to his son’s death and ascended to the place of the sacrifice. In fact he loaded the son with the wood that would consume his son’s body.

When he arrived at the place of sacrifice he built an altar. He put the wood on the altar. He bound his son and placed him on the altar. He took the knife and planned to cut his son’s throat and sacrifice his son.

Abraham did all these things. This is what I believe is being stressed here. Abraham – and Isaac – obeyed God to the uttermost. What a lesson for us today.

 

So how are you at obeying God? I’m not concerned with what you say, I’m concerned with what you do. When God calls you to a difficult place, do you complain?

What if God calls you to a physical ailment to demonstrate His grace. Do you complain about your situation? Or, do you take your physical ailment in stride knowing that God is the One who sustains you.

Maybe God calls you to the difficult place of joblessness. Perhaps He calls you to a life where you live without a spouse. Maybe your dream is not what Gods wants for you. Will you obey God’s call and release your dream? Definitely food for thought.

Whenever you boldly proclaim your faith, be sure that your feet are willing to walk where you proclaim you will go.

Make sure that your actions always support your professed faith. Our path of holiness is one that is built on obedience. As James stated in his epistle, faith that does  not have works is a dead faith, In other words, if you proclaim faith in God yet do not obey Him, then your faith is questionable.

True faith is always followed by obedience and actions.

 

Standing on the Truth

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We could use someone like Nehemiah who isn’t willing to compromise the Word of God simply because the culture demands it.   So, are you willing to stand on the truth of God’s word?     Are you willing to say “thus says the Lord”  

To understand what is happening here, well, we need to look at the first seven verses of chapter thirteen. Specifically we need to understand verse seven. In verse seven we are told that Nehemiah returned to King Artaxerxes in the 32nd  year of his reign. This would put the year right around 432 BC. Why would Nehemiah do this?  In the ancient near east it was customary for a servant to return to his king to reaffirm his allegiance to that king. The time away from the king was variable from king to king, but the custom remained. The servant was required to go before the king who had sent him and restate his loyalty to that king. So that is what Nehemiah had done.

Nehemiah returned sometime later – perhaps between 432 – 431 BC since the prophet Malachi reproved the Jews in Judah for the very things Nehemiah details in this chapter. What we find here are reforms that are in direct response to the violations listed in Nehemiah 10:29-32.

 

The Exclusion of Foreigners

On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, because they did not meet the sons of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing. So when they heard the law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel. Nehemiah 13:1-3 NASB

Wow, this seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it. So what’s wrong with some Ammonites or Moabites living among the assembly of people? What is the problem with these folks living in and among those in Jerusalem? Doesn’t God like diversity?

There are a few things here that we need to understand. First, yes this is harsh. But God had set down His rules about this in Deuteronomy 23:3-4

No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of theLord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord, because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.             Deuteronomy 23:3-4 NASB

So the reason this happened was because these folks did not give the Israelites food and water? That event happened around a century before the current situation. Does God hold a grudge THAT long? It sure seems like it. But there is more to this issue. In Ezra 9 there is an account of when Ezra led a group back 30 years before Nehemiah to rebuild the Temple. What Ezra found was that the remaining Israelites had intermarried with, among others, the Ammonites and Moabites. These intermarriages, along with the aforementioned people’s detestable practices, spread impurity throughout the land and the Israelites. So in this light we see that God’s radical action was indeed necessary and preferred. When a person has cancer, that tumor must be removed somehow. That is what happened with vv. 1-3: the cancer of the Ammonites and Moabites was removed from Israel.

It was an issue of purity, not compatibility.

 

The Expulsion of Tobiah

Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. But during all this time I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked leave from the king, and I came to Jerusalem and learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. It was very displeasing to me, so I threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms; and I returned there the utensils of the house of God with the grain offerings and the frankincense. Nehemiah 13:4-9 NASB

 

When I first read this section, my reaction was “Really!? This guy was living in the Temple? What’s up with that?” Remember Tobiah was one of the guys that was hurling insults towards the Israelites as they rebuilt the wall. He was one of the guys trying to intimidate and scare the Israelites off. So why is he in the Temple?

The Temple had many rooms used for different purposes. Some of these purposes included a storehouse for grain and such for the priests. Evidently Tobiah was an influential relative of the priest Eliashib. Eliashib cleared out a room and gave it to Tobiah so he’s have an apartment to live in the Temple.

Nehemiah was out of town when this happened. However he learned of it somehow and asked the king to return to deal with this. Now notice that the king (though it isn’t written here) gave Nehemiah permission to leave. This makes me want to respect Artaxerxes a little more. He knew Nehemiah’s burden for Jerusalem and didn’t demand that Nehemiah stay the entire time planned. That is a king who is concerned for his subjects.

So Nehemiah returns. Notice what he says about Eliashib’s actions: He calls them evil. They weren’t a mistake, a flub, or anything but evil. This gives another indicator of how serious Nehemiah was about the purity of Israel. Nehemiah returns and throws out Tobiah’s possessions and Tobiah himself. Nehemiah wasn’t playing around. Can you picture Nehemiah getting back into town and coming to Tobiah in the Temple? Imagine what Nehemiah said…imagine what Tobiah and Eliashib thought. Nehemiah wasn’t one to be trifled with. But it didn’t end there. Nehemiah gave an order to make that room ritualistically pure. The, after the room had been purified, Nehemiah returned to it it’s original contents.

Wow, Nehemiah was a great leader who knew what was right and was determined to do that which is right.

 

The Revival of Tithes

I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. So I reprimanded the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses.  In charge of the storehouses I appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and in addition to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen. Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services. Nehemiah 10-14 NASB

The final section in this week’s article is dealing with the lack of tithes. The priests who attended the Temple lived off the tithes (literally tenths*) of the people. There were three tithes that comprised all the compulsory giving. Think of these as taxes. The total of these tithes were between 22% and 30% depending how one calculated the third tithe. In any event these tithes were collected for various purposes, not the least was the pay for the priests so they could attend to their duties. When the tithes weren’t being given, the priests had to find other means of support to meet their daily needs. When the priests did this, the Temple service suffered. So Nehemiah once again makes sure that the tithes were restored. He brought the people together and told them that the House of God – the Temple –  was being neglected because they had refused to tithe according to the Law. Well, the tithes were revived, reliable people from various walks of life were appointed  to distribute according to the needs, and sanity restored.

An interesting thing to me is that the four who were considered reliable was a priest, a scribe, a person of the priestly tribe of Levi and a layman. Every walk of life is represented by these four men. Looks like all the people of Jerusalem were involved in the revival.

 

When I think about our own situation as the church in difficult times, I wonder where our Nehemiah is?

Where is the one who will stand up to those who pervert the word of God? Who will stand and say that God’s word is opposed to the social engineering that is happening? Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexual *marriage* is wrong. And yet we have entire denominations falling into line with the culture on this and many other issues. How have we fallen so far…

So, are you willing to stand on the truth of God’s word? Are you willing to say “thus says the Lord”  and take the ridicule? The Church could use some true conviction coming from the pulpit these days. We could use someone like Nehemiah who isn’t willing to compromise the Word of God simply because the culture demands it. The church could use a people of conviction who are unwilling to watch the beauty of God’s word be degraded with immoral and, yes, evil behavior. The question isn’t who is going to do this. No, the question is…Is this person you?

Mission Complete

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Return of the Priests

We begin this week’s article where we left off in the last article – taking inventory of those who returned. We have this week the priests and the Levites numbered and accounted for. Why is this important? Well these were the leaders of the Temple. Without priests and Levites, there was no Temple worship. This is especially true of the High Priest. He was THE priest. He is the guy who would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to sprinkle the mercy seat. Without him, well, it wouldn’t be good. The High Priest’s genealogy was very important. Only certain men could serve God as His High Priest. So the people of Israel had to be meticulous in their record keeping. In these first few verses of chapter seven we see 22 leaders given who returned in 537BC.

We also see in this first section the heads of the priestly families. The High Priests are listed in v. 22. The Darius mentioned as Darius the Persian was more than likely Darius II who reigned from 423 – 404 BC. And one more note to make here. The Book of Chronicles mentioned here is not the canonical book by the same name. It was probably another book that listed names and genealogies.

Dedicating the Wall

In this section we see the action taken by the people. This probably happened right after the other dedication services recorded in chapter 11. This is important. The people were dedicating everything to their God. They knew that it was because of who He is that they were back in the land and able to be a nation again. Lets look at how they prepared and what they did to dedicate this wall to their deliverer.

Preparations for the Dedication

Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres. So the sons of the singers were assembled from the district around Jerusalem, and from the villages of the Netophathites, from Beth-gilgal and from their fields in Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built themselves villages around Jerusalem.The priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates and the wall. Nehemiah 12:27-30 NASB

This is a big deal folks. Look at the preparations listed here. First the Levites were sought out from all their places. They (the Levites) were hunted down and invited to take part in this celebratory dedication. Sought out. They were not an after-thought. They were foremost in the mind of the people. It was almost as if the people were saying “we can’t dedicate without the Levites.” This was for good reason. The Levites were the priestly tribe. These were the guys who dedicated themselves to a life serving God in and around the Temple and providing the spiritual needs of the people. Since the whole city of Jerusalem was being dedicated to God, logic would dictate that the Levites would be involved,

But not only were they to be involved, the nature of their involvement was to be one of gladness. Look at the plan that was set in motion. There were to be hymns of thanksgiving, songs, cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers were surrounding Jerusalem so the songs would be heard throughout the city. Wow, this is perhaps the first surround sound system in history! Finally everyone was ritually purified.

So we see here this wasn’t just a party. This was a deeply meaningful spiritual event in the life of the people.

The Dedication Ceremonies

Then I had the leaders of Judah come up on top of the wall, and I appointed two great choirs, the first proceeding to the right on top of the wall toward the Refuse Gate. Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah followed them, with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, and some of the sons of the priests with trumpets; and Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, and his kinsmen, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. At the Fountain Gate they went directly up the steps of the city of David by the stairway of the wall above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east.The second choir proceeded to the left, while I followed them with half of the people on the wall,above the Tower of Furnaces, to the Broad Wall, and above the Gate of Ephraim, by the Old Gate, by the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped at the Gate of the Guard. Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me; and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah, with the trumpets;  and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam and Ezer. And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah their leader, and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served. For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon. For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. So all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah gave the portions due the singers and the gatekeepers as each day required, and set apart the consecrated portion for the Levites, and the Levites set apart the consecrated portion for the sons of Aaron. Nehemiah 12:21-47 NASB

 

What a sight this must have been. We have one large choir on the city wall walking around it in a counterclockwise direction. Then there was another choir on the same wall walking in the opposite direction. Both these choirs were probably singing as they walked around the city. Imagine the spectacle! What joy and happiness was evident in the re-dedication of their city to God. The celebration continued with the meeting at the Temple and sacrifices being made. All these folks on a wall that Tobiah said would fall down if a tiny fox had run on it. How do you feel now Mr. Helper? Singing, sacrifices, rejoicing. Oh the spectacle.

Nehemiah’s work – his vision and burden – had been completed. The city was restored, the wall rebuilt. The Temple was once again offering sacrifices. Israel was a nation again. Nehemiah and the people that returned reestablished themselves as a people once again, not just slaves of another nation. The feeling must have been wonderful.

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How often do we enter into worship with expectations that God will restore us? Or that He will even be present? How joyful are we to gather in whatever building you gather in as a church? I know in the United States there is a certain routine to it all. We sing a song or two, have announcements, sing another song or two or three, have a sermon, sing a song, take an offering and say goodbye. Oh yeah, we pray a couple times too. It all seems so routine.

I wonder what it would be like to just have a time together that was filled with rejoicing and praising God in song and testimonies of His goodness. You know, get out of the routine and cut loose with praise and rejoicing? I wonder what would happen if we left our bulletins behind, our order of service put away, and simply praised God in song, prayer and testimonies. I wonder, I really wonder…

A Six Pack of Promises

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If we place God first in our romantic life, financial life, and spiritual life, we will reap rewards that are enormously more that what we could ever imagine.

I remember when I was growing up that I wanted to have what is termed “six pack abs”. Do you know what I mean? That term refers to one’s ab muscles being so well developed that they look similar to six individual muscle groups – a six pack if you will. Well needless to say, I’ve never quite developed those abs. I have 2 liter abs right now. My abs look like a couple of liters of soda rather than anything that resembles a six pack. But oh well.

We continue in chapter ten experiencing a number of promises the nation made to God. Now remember that they have committed in writing to these promises. Actually, they committed to keep these promises to God. And boy are they serious. These folks have had enough of wishy-washy thinking. They not only said they would keep the Law in general terms but now they are spelling out exactly what they mean. And these terms are specific. These promises, unlike my abs, were well developed and stood out from their previous behavior. These promises would definitely qualify as a six pack…a six pack of promises to God! (All verses are taken from the New American Standard Bible)

 

Promise to be Pure

and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.

Now on the surface this looks kind of odd. And I guess it really is. In the Law, Israel was forbidden to intermarry with any of the nations, regardless of the physical beauty of their people or the standing in society. This was done to keep the nation’s blood pure and dedicated to the Lord. Here the nation recommits to keep that alive. They are refusing to allow daughters or sons to be given to (or take) a husband or wife from any of the nations around them. This was a heavy promise to make. There was a limited number of brides available in the nation. But these folks decided their promise to marital purity was more important than convenience.

Promise to Keep the Sabbath Holy

As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.

Every seventh day, the nation was supposed to cease from labor and take a day off. They weren’t supposed to work at all but take time from their labor. Likewise, every seventh year they were supposed to allow the land to take a rest from it’s labor of producing crops. So the people had to trust that the sixth year would yield enough food to last them for two years. They had to trust. They needed to have faith that God would meet their needs.

Evidently they had been neglecting these commands. They were not trusting, they were not believing that God would provide for them. But now, after God so magnificently provided all they needed to rebuild their wall and the Temple,  they made a promise to show the faith in God they should have been demonstrating all along.

Promise to Tithe

We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the sabbaths, the new moon, for the appointed times, for the holy things and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God. Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood among the priests, the Levites and the people so that they might bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at fixed times annually, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law;

Now this is a big bite of verses to cover. But the gist of it is that they decided they wold renew their pledge to give as the Lord demanded, not how they felt like doing. Now look what they are promising to do. They promise to give for the showbread, the continual grain offering, the burnt offering and so on. They were pledging to take care of the Temple and the needs for the sacrifices that were deemed necessary. Now understand this; this promise wasn’t cheap. This was an expensive promise. I’m sure they intended to make good on it.

Now why do all this? They were obviously convicted about their past conduct. They knew that the Temple needed these things. Instead of withholding them or simply ignoring them, they decided to to explicitly state that they would fulfill the needs as required by the Law. These folks were serious, weren’t they.

 

Promise to Keep the Sacrifices

and that they might bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the Lord annually, and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God. We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God

Again, here is another very expensive promise. The nation is promising to bring the first of everything to the Temple. There are no leftovers here! They are bringing the first fruits of the field, their herds, their flocks and every bit of what they have. They are bringing the first of it all, not what is left over.

God is serious about being first in everything – and rightly so. The nation, in their rebellion, had decided to make Him somewhere down the list of priorities. He didn’t like that much…actually He didn’t like it at all. So the nation learned a hard lesson. And now they are pledging the first of everything. The best. The very best for God.

 

Promise to Provide

the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns. The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers.

These promises have to do directly with the Levites. Now the Levites, in case you don’t know, were the priestly class of people. Their only job was to minister in the Temple. In fact they could not do anything else. The people of the nation were to provide for them. This didn’t always happen and the Levites were challenged to either starve or break the Law. Guess which one they did? But it should have never been that way. If the people had taken things seriously, the Levites would have always had their needs met. There would have been no conflict.

But the people didn’t always provide as they should. This caused a domino effect to happen. The nation’s adherence to the Law crumbled and so did the nation. Now  the people appear to be serious about providing for those who minister in the Temple of God.

Promise to be a Steward

Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.

This promise looks small in comparison tot he other ones made in this passage. Perhaps this is the biggest one. It is at least the one that encompasses all the others. The people simply stated “We aren’t going to ignore Your house anymore, God.” And by not ignoring His house, they pledge not to ignore Him. How refreshing that must have been for God to hear these words. His people have decided to return to Him.

They decided that He did know best. They decided that He is right – all the time. They decided that His way is the only way to live.

 

So what does this have to do with us, the Church? While we are definitely not under the Law, we can learn a few things about living for God instead of ourselves. When we place God first in our lives, all other things pale in comparison. Money, position, future wives or husbands don’t really matter. All that matters is our commitment to God. Oh sure other things still occur, but their relative importance is in proper perspective.

If we place God first in our romantic life, financial life, and spiritual life, we will reap rewards that are enormously more that what we could ever imagine.

How are you doing with this? Is God first and foremost in your life or is He somewhere else on your list of priorities? How is your commitment to supporting your Pastor? Helping at church? Are you willing to do some work around the building and give money so your Pastor can dedicate himself to studying and preaching the Word of God?

Company of the Committed

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Now, are we willing to take a stand against our checkered past for our future with Christ? Are we willing to stand up and say we have been unfaithful but we desire to be faithful?

I remember when I was taking one of my psychology classes in my undergraduate studies a particular statement by my professor. We were discussing why folks take very public stands on things. My professor remarked that when we vocalize what we believe internally, that act of public declaration makes backing off our private beliefs more difficult. It is a way that we make sure that we follow through with our beliefs. The same is true in this chapter of Nehemiah. The people, led by Nehemiah, are about to take a very public and very vocal stand on what they believe and what their actions will look like. These folks are serious about this change.

Now to observe this in context, we should remember chapter 9 verse 38:

Now because of all this we are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests. Nehemiah 9:38 NASB

So we are introducing a covenant. The people that will be listed in chapter 10 will be those who have made a contract with God because of His everlasting faithfulness to them in spite of the ever present failures.

Writing it down

Now on the sealed document were the names of: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah. These were the priests. And the Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; also their brothers Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Bani, Beninu. The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, Baanah. Now the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons and their daughters, all those who had knowledge and understanding, are joining with their kinsmen, their nobles, and are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes;   Nehemiah 10:1-29 NASB

Whew! Now there were some names. I recognized a few of them by honestly most of them don’t mean much to me. They could have signed with an “X” and it would mean as much. Sort of. What does mean something is the cross section of the people we see here. Let’s start with v. 1. Who’s there? Nehemiah. The big cheese here. He signed the document. He took the pledge and the public stand. Now it would seem to me that if Nehemiah had led them this far, taking another public stand for what he has been advocating for so long would be unnecessary. So why did he do it?

Its called leadership. Nehemiah led not only with his words but with his actions.

He didn’t say “Now you all sign that you are committed to change. I’ve already shown my commitment. Now you show yours.” That would have incredibly insulting to the people. They had joined Nehemiah in risking their lives to rebuild the walls and now Nehemiah joined them in a very public way. So this list begins with the governor. Who else is here?

Well we have the Levites. These were the religious leaders. We also have the nobles and leaders. These were the upper crust of society.These folks were the ones who more than likely led the rebuilding of the wall. They got their hands dirty. They engages in manual labor. They risked everything to rebuild the walls. And now they are putting their names on the covenant making some important and serious commitments.

These folks weren’t just standing by and watching things happen…they were in the middle of them.

As we continue in chapter 10, we see others involved as well. We see the everyone else, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and everyone who had decided to separate themselves. What stands out in this list to you to this point? Think about who is represented in signing this covenant for change.

We have the governor, the priests and the nobles listed. In terms of our society today, these first ones would be the white collar executive types who were first to sign. But we also have others – the gatekeepers, singers, temple servants –  to take this public stand. In essence the entire nation was taking a stand and signing this covenant. The entire nation. Every part, every social position. Big and small. Famous and not famous. They all took a very public stand in this covenant. This is an important point we can’t let escape us. The whole nation was on board with these changes. They effectively locked arms and said “We are in this together. Let’s not only keep ourselves accountable…let’s keep each other accountable.” This is a big deal.

All these folks took an oath to walk in God’s laws, keep His commandments and His ordinances and statutes. They were recommitting themselves to the Lord in a very public way.

One other thing I’d like to draw your attention to. This is the statement “a curse and an oath”. This is probably what is termed a hendiadys. What this phrase basically means is that that took an oath that came with penalties. Again, this shows the seriousness these folks had toward this commitment.

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When was the last time you took a public stand about changing your actions to be more Christlike? Are we even willing to do something like this today?I know, our society is different, the culture is different, blah, blah, blah. you know things really aren’t that different. We experience the same pressures as the people in Nehemiah’s day experienced. They’re different because of the changes in technology but they are really the same. We have idols competing for our time and loyalty. We have sin crouching at the door waiting to pounce. WE have temptations waiting to seduce us. We have our ride, our ego, position, power, etc. We’re really not all that different.

God has been just as faithful to us as He was to Israel. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we have been just as unfaithful to Him as Israel was to Him.

Now, are we willing to take a stand against our checkered past for our future with Christ? Are we willing to stand up and say we have been unfaithful but we desire to be faithful? Are we willing to write this down? Do it publicly? Perhaps this sounds weird, but I think we need to have a moment at some point where we do write down our commitment to God and pledge publicly to follow through. We need to write out what we pledge, sign our names on it, and display that so that we can be held accountable. Are you willing? How about me?

Let’s start our own Company of the Committed and commit ourselves anew to following Christ regardless of the cost.

 

Still Faithful

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God’s faithfulness is everlasting. There is no end to it. He may remove His protection from time-to-time so that we may be disciplined. But even in that act, He is faithful to us.

We come to the end of chapter nine…finally to the end of chapter nine! Have you felt like this was an unending journey? There have been times I thought that this chapter would never end. But like most things, it has an end. finding that end is a bit bittersweet though. I’m glad to be moving on but so humbled and challenged by what was here.

The ending to this chapter is as powerful – perhaps more powerful – than the rest of the chapter. Here we will see the consummation of the recounting of Israel’s up and down relationship with God. We will see the end result of that relationship. We will also see that, unlike this chapter and many other things in life, some things never end. We will discover the never-ending faithfulness of God remembered and praised.     

 

Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, Do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You, Which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law Or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them. But they, in their own kingdom, With Your great goodness which You gave them, With the broad and rich land which You set before them, Did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves in it. Its abundant produce is for the kings Whom You have set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress. Nehemiah 9:32-37 NASB

There is so much in this section of chapter nine I could write for a few more weeks. But I won’t. I promise. The richness that we have come accustomed to is prevalent here as well. Let’s take a look at some key words and key concepts written about in these first few verses.

The first thing I notice is how the people thought about God. Look at the words used to describe God:

He is Great

In the eyes of the people, God is great. The Hebrew word used, gadol, carries with it the idea of distinguished, great in magnitude or strength, and of God Himself. In other words, this is not considered faint praise. Imagine loud trumpets announcing a very important person arriving. Think of all the pomp and circumstance  associated with someone very important arriving. Now multiply that image a million times. Actually, multiply it by infinity. That is the idea of this word when used of God. He is so great He is beyond human comprehension. Wow.

He is Mighty

God is seen also as a mighty one. This word should make us think of a brave, strong warrior type. This is used to once again describe God in an interesting way. They thought of God as their protector – mighty and strong – able to defeat all who opposed. God was seen as so strong that the people realized that there were no accidents in their lives, only incidents. If God chose to prevent anything from happening to the people, He certainly could. The opposite is also true. If God lifted His protection, things could (and did) happen to Israel. So everything came from the hand of God.

He is Awesome

The word awesome is probably one of the most overused words in the English language. This word really packs a punch. We ought not use it so often that we cheapen or lose the meaning of it or how strong a word it is. This word has the meaning of striking fear, to honor, respect, to stand in awe. To call God awesome is to call Him worthy of awe, respect and honor. This is a powerful term that we overuse. While there are many wonderful things on this earth, very few (if any) are truly awesome. Truly, God really is the only One to Whom the word awesome should be applied

Now that we have set the stage regarding how God was viewed by the people, let’s take a look at how they reviewed their situation.

In this section the people plead with God to remember that the people’s troubles are not insignificant. Now what are those troubles? Captivity of course. Even though they have rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, have re-instituted the Law and sought forgiveness, they were still a people in captivity. And they asked God not to forget about their situation.

Remember in our discussion of God being described as mighty? Remember that all came from His hand either through His actions or His removal of protection. Well we see this truth acknowledged here:

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.

The people recognized that God had been faithful with them while they had been unfaithful to Him. Isn’t that how it goes? God remains faithful while we rebel, stray and basically act like brats. But He is still faithful. His faithfulness should never be in doubt.

All that had come upon Israel – and us today (we are not Israel, but the principle is the same) – is the result of our unfaithfulness not His.

Again, the people recount the specific acts of unfaithfulness: they did not keep God’s Law, God’s commandments or His admonishments. They decided they knew better and went their own way. They lived in the kingdom God gave them yet did evil and refused to repent. And what was the result of their actions? You got it – captivity with a capital C. they became slaves. The kings over them ruled over their very bodies and their possessions. The people had no will of their own. They asked God not to forget them in their distress.

Writing it Down

Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests. Nehemiah 9:38 NASB

The final verse in this section is the codifying of their agreement. The people were under such conviction that they wrote the agreement down. This was not so much to remind God but to remind the people. It was a kind of living will. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew how serious they thought these issues were.

The word used translated in the phrase making an agreement is the word karath. This is a fairly rare word in the Old Testament. It basically means to cut. It would most fit with the idea of cutting a covenant. Now what does that mean? When a covenant was cut, the agreement was made in this manner. Animals were cut in half and placed so that there was an aisle between the various parts. The two making the covenant would then walk between the bodies symbolizing two things. One thing that was symbolized was that the covenant was sealed. The terms were to be treated as the animals – dead. That meant that the terms could not changed – they were dead. The second thing in view is that each of the covenant makers were saying that they would become like the animals – dead – if they broke the covenant. So this was a big deal to the people. They wrote it down, memorializing their commitment to God and giving it the force of a cut covenant.

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So what shall we do with all this then? We don’t have to cut covenants anymore, do we? Well I think the big takeaway from this entire chapter is that God’s faithfulness is everlasting. There is no end to it. He may remove His protection from time-to-time so that we may be disciplined. But even in that act, He is faithful to us.

Let’s learn from Israel’s examples. Let us not rebel anymore. Let us obey God. Let us rejoice in His commandments. Let us stand for His truth. Let us depend on Him and His Word rather than our own smarts. Let’s live faithfully to the One who is everlastingly faithful.

 

Mad About You

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While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.

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Years ago there was a sitcom on TV titled Mad About You. It was about  man and his wife and the challenges a married couple faced in New York as newlyweds. One of the stars was Helen hunt. I don’t remember who played her husband. Anyway, the show documented the struggles of newlyweds, with some of the things quite humorous. Both the husband and wife, though sometimes at odds, were mad(ly in love) about each other.

In this week’s section in Nehemiah 9 we see that Israel is mad about You as well. The You being God. lets see what we can glean from this passage this week.

 

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea. “Then You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants and all the people of his land; For You knew that they acted arrogantly toward them, And made a name for Yourself as it is this day. “You divided the sea before them, So they passed through the midst of the sea on dry ground; And their pursuers You hurled into the depths, Like a stone into raging waters. Nehemiah 9:9-11 NASB

 

The first section – actually all the verses today – remembers how God led Israel out of Egypt. Now why do you think this is so? Well, if we look at this section through the eyes of those who are returning to Jerusalem and all they have experienced, the reason may become clearer. Think about this for a moment: the returnees to Jerusalem experienced similar events as their forefathers. They had been slaves, then they had been led out by God and then they reoccupied the land. I think that is a wonderful thing to begin with – remembering God’s faithfulness to previous generations as they experienced it firsthand.

The exodus from Egypt was a big event in the history of Israel. There are about forty Hebrew words that are used to describe God’s miracles. These forty words are used about five hundred times in the Old Testament. Now here is the interesting thing: about half of these five hundred uses were descriptions of the exodus. So the exodus is a seminal event in Israel’s history. Here they begin with the fact that God saw the affliction of their forefathers in Egypt and their cry by the Red Sea.

They saw God not as some far off deity but as a very personal God who was concerned with His people, Israel.

Boy, could we learn a thing or two. How often do you start your prayers with a listing of God’s faithfulness to you, the  saints that have gone before and the events of history that demonstrated God’s faithfulness to the church? I need to work on that too.

This section continues by not only recalling God’s faithfulness but also His actions that demonstrated His faithfulness. Then you performed… is a remembrance directed to God. Did God need to be reminded of what He did?  Of course He didn’t. But this type of remembrance is a wonderful type of praise. God demonstrated His power to pharaoh and all the people of Egypt. God made sure that they knew that Israel’s God is the only true God.

 

Remembering  God Cares

Israel recounts how much God cared for them next. You knew…begins this short section detailing God’s care for His chosen people. Though the arrogance of the people of Egypt and especially of their pharaoh (who fancied himself a god) permeated all levels of their society, God was not napping during the difficulties Israel faced. God knew how the Israelites were treated by Egypt. God knew about it, He did not learn about it. God knew – He knew. That must have brought great comfort to them considering what this generation had just experienced.

Though they were exiled, God knew what was happening. And He cared about it.

Once again we should sense the conviction of God here. We (at least in the United States) have not experienced anything like what Israel experienced in Egypt or Babylon. Yet it seems that we doubt God knows about the various challenges we face. We feel all alone even though we (in the US) are still relatively free. We should be ashamed of ourselves! God is not ignorant of how the world and its agents are treating the Church. We feel surrounded by ungodliness and betrayal. Yet God knows all about this and is working through these events to sanctify us and bring about His will. We should find great solace in that.

 

Remembering God’s Actions and Provisions

The final section of this weeks section demonstrates what God did and the provisions He made for Israel during the exodus. This section has three very important phrases: [You] made a name for Yourself, You divided the waters, You hurled. Clearly Israel was mad about Him. They are recounting His actions which ensured the survival of the nation of Israel. Lets look at these three actions.

 

You made a name for Yourself

God’s actions were so radical – so awesome – that He established His name in the land of Egypt.

The Egyptians never forgot about the God of Israel and how He humbled their pharaoh, his magicians and their nation. God certainly made a name for Himself there. How did He do it? Well remember the miracles? The plagues? The Nile turned to blood. Frogs, flies, dead cattle. You’d think that the Egyptians would eventually get a clue…well they did but only after the angel of death swept through and killed every first born.

You divided the sea

So God took Israel out of Egypt and led them to the Red Sea. We don’t know exactly where they went but we do know that the Israelites felt they were cornered. Add what happened? Did God abandon them? Nope. He did what seemed impossible: He parted the Red Sea so Israel could walk over to the other side on dry land. But He didn’t stop there.

You hurled into the depths

This is a clear indication of what happened once Israel passed through the waters. God didn’t just get Israel across the sea. No, He then threw pharaoh’s pursuing Army into the sea like a stone into raging waters. Have you ever seen what happens when a stone is thrown into raging waters? It disappears almost immediately beneath the  turbulence. And  that is what happened to pharaoh’s army. God hurled them into the raging waters of the Red Sea and they disappeared.   Now that is a great protection plan!

 

So what about us? Well we should take some very important lessons away from this passage. First we should always remember and recount how God has remained faithful to the Church in spite of our own wanderings. Second, let us not forget that God does care about what we are experiencing here on earth. If He is sovereign and omniscient (and He is those things and much more) then He is not surprised or overwhelmed by the events we face. Third, we must realize that in spite of the way our world wants to isolate and ignore God, He has already made a name for Himself. We need not be discouraged by the constant drumbeat against God. God isn’t dead. He isn’t even sick. He is on His throne. He is reigning from on high and He is coming back for us. Just like He was faithful to Israel in Egypt and in Babylon, He is faithful to His Church.

While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.

Repentance, Worship and Revival O My!

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God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous

When revival starts to spread in the land a number of things begin to happen. Here in Nehemiah 9 we will see two of the more prominent things that happen when revival hits the land.

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God. Now on the Levites’ platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. Nehemiah 9:1-4 NASB

Repentance

Repentance is an interesting thing to observe. The reason it is interesting is that it is more than one action but it is only one action. Have I confused you yet? Let’s see if I can clear things up a bit.

The twofold nature of biblical repentance is what sometimes gets confusing. The first aspect of repentance is a turning from action. Now what is this turning from action? It is a turning from sin and a sinful heart. Here we see the beginning of their turning from in v. 1 – sackcloth and ashes is a way to illustrate mourning. Then in v. 2 we see that they separated themselves from foreigners. Now this separation is not based on frivolous things. This separation is based on religious grounds. Do you see what is being said here? The people had recognized that the Lord had made them a special people that was distinct from all others. They turned from their inclusion of other nations. They chose to return to the way the Lord wanted things done.

Now for the turning to part of repentance. We start to see this in v. 3: they stood and read from the book of the Law. They turned to God. So not only did they turn away from their previous sin, they turned to God and the way He wanted them to do things. This turning to God led them to worship here in vv. 3-4. This worship will continue in a different form in the coming verses.

Worship

This section constitutes one of the longest prayers in the OT. It was meant not only to serve as a traditional prayer but also to instruct those who were hearing it. This occurs in some of the Psalms (78, 105, 106, 135, and 136). It is quite interesting to see the heart change from grieving to rejoicing.

The first thing I want you to notice is God is praised as the Creator and maker of everything:

Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, “Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens…” Nehemiah 9:5-6b NASB

This is always a good way to start a time of intense prayer. How often have you begun your prayers with a simple praising of God for who He is and what He has done? Regardless of what Mr. Darwin thinks or theorizes, we did not arise from a bubbling sea of cosmic ooze to then evolve into man through a number of random mutations (all of which were positive). No, we were specially created by God to reflect His image in His creation.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Think of what is happening in your body right now. You are breathing, your heart is beating. You are reading this blog and comprehending the thoughts I have written. You do all this with very little effort. Just think of what you would need to to if you had to think “breathe in lungs, heart beat again, think brain!” I doubt much else could be accomplished if we had to will ourselves to continue to perform  basic functions.

In the next section we see the Lord as the all-sovereign one. He is the one who chooses man, not the other way around.

“You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham. “You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give him the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite— To give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise,
For You are righteous. Nehemiah 9:7-8 NASB

I love these verses in Nehemiah – they are theologically rich and so challenging to me. I hope they are challenging you to take a look at your life and how you are conducting yourself in this world.

Look how this section begins: You are the Lord God…. The declaration that their God, known by His covenant name YHWH, is THE sovereign one is quite the statement. these folks were not worried to say their way was the only way. Seems like we could learn a thing or two from them. Standing for what we believe is all good. But standing for truth is better. Are you ready to say that our God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – is the ONLY God in the universe worthy of our worship? I hope so.

Continuing through this section we also  see that His sovereignty is affirmed when they state that He chose Abram and called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees. Notice it doesn’t end with the call of Abram. God made a covenant with Abram to give him the land of the various “ites” that lived in the promised land. But God’s covenant didn’t end there. He swore to give the land not only to Abram but also to Abram’s descendants. So who are these descendants? Israel of course. It doesn’t matter what others think – the land known as “Palestine” belongs to Israel. Period. They will inherit it. They will possess it. Why? Because God promised it to them.

The final observation I want to make about this section is the final few words: You are Righteous. Now we may not think much of those words but they are heavy. To be righteous means to be without sin. Who could make such a claim? Only God can. He is the only one who is, by nature, without sin.

Revival

I don’t care what society thinks. Whether they recognize this truth or not, God is not dead. God is on His throne. And I don’t care if I am a laughingstock, a backwards man, or anything else. I will continue to say “God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous.

How is your revival going? Are you reviving your relationship with God every day? If you know about your sin and repent of it – like the Israelite’s did here in Nehemiah – you’re on your way.

But you also need to work on your worship. Recognizing God’s worth, recognizing who He is, is key to revival and worship. One very important way of worshiping God is how we pray. How are you in your prayer life? This one in Nehemiah sets the bar pretty high. But learning from it this week (and in the coming weeks) can only help you and me be better at praising God when we begin our prayer time. It will help us stay focused on this important truth:

God is still God, and I am not.

Crushed and Rejoicing

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We are holy not because we are perfect. No, we are holy because God has set us apart for a special purpose.

I remember back when I was just saved. It was in 1984. I was in the Marine Corps and had experienced things that made my salvation experience very real and emotional as well as spiritual. I decided that every Sunday I would do nothing except read my Bible and go to church. I had decided that Sunday was special and I would reserve it for the Lord out of a grateful heart.
What I didn’t realize is that I had recognized the meaning of the word holy. In both the Old Testament and New Testament, the idea of being holy is one of specialness – of being set apart from everything else – rather than the idea of being perfect. That is an idea that we, as the Church, need to remind ourselves daily.

Crushed Hearts

Here in Nehemiah 8:9-12, we see the effect of Ezra’s reading the Law to those gathered. It was devastating. And I mean devastating in a good way. The people were crushed. They were humbled. They were reminded of the true meaning of being holy.

Then 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 were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Nehemiah 8:9 NASB

The first thing that leaps of the page at me is the fact that the people here were weeping. Now remember that this wasn’t just a few people. There were upwards of 50,000 folks there. And they were weeping. Imagine that for a moment. There are fifty-thousand souls gathered to hear the word of God read and explained. After that has been accomplished (and probably during the reading) the people were weeping. Fifty-thousand people weeping. Imagine the sound. It must have been beautiful to hear. Why beautiful? Yes, why beautiful indeed.

Their weeping was in response to the Law being read and explained. They had just been crushed by the beauty of God’s word and the ugliness of their sin. They more than likely understood why they had experienced the ruin and destruction of the recent past. No it wasn’t a petty god playing with them. It wasn’t the schemes of Satan hammering them. They realized that it was their own thoughts and attitudes that had brought them low. God promised them exile if they didn’t obey Him. They didn’t. God kept His promise. But God also promised them restoration if they repented. They did and God kept His promise.

 They were crushed by the beauty of God’s word and the ugliness of their sin.

The weeping here is the recognition of all that – and probably more. When we hear of God’s goodness – when we experience it – we are reminded of it – what other response can we have? And when all that is brought to our mind in spite of our own thoughts and actions…well, weeping may be too tame a word to describe what our reaction should be.

Have you ever been brought to tears after hearing the word of God preached? Have you ever been brought to tears after hearing how God restored you (or a loved one) to a right relationship? Or how about watching a brother or sister in Christ being sanctified before your very eyes? Have you ever wept over the effect of God’s word on you and others? I hope so.

When we see the culture crumble around us and it defy God’s holy word we should be brought to tears. But we should also be brought to tears as we see God working miracles in spite of the crumbling culture.

Celebration Day

Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 NASB

Nehemiah, who had already declared that the day was holy – completely set apart for the Lord – once again instructed the assembly not to weep or grieve but to celebrate. Let’s consider this for a moment in our own lives.

When we are confronted by our own sin – when we understand the gravity of our rebellion – we should weep. And celebrate. We should celebrate because we are aware of the sin and shame of our thoughts and actions. We should celebrate because God obviously is working on us still. He hasn’t (and won’t) abandon us to our own devices and vices. This is a great reason to celebrate.

 Joy is independent of circumstances while happiness is totally dependent on circumstances.

Nehemiah ends this verse with the oft-quoted “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Our strength is found in the Lord not ourselves. His joy – which He is eager to give us – is beyond our comprehension. Now joy must not be confused with happiness. Joy is independent of circumstances while happiness is totally dependent on circumstances. So if we experience the joy of our Lord, no matter the situation we find ourselves, we can be joyful. After nearly thirty years as a Christian – and fifty-on years of life – I may be on the brink of understanding this. How about you? Have you found that living in the joy of the Lord is where your strength exists. Please, don’t look at your circumstances to be encouraged. Look at the Lord. Look at what He has done on your behalf. Your sin is gone. Regardless of what happens in your life, if you’re a Christian your destination is sure. You will live an eternity with Him as His friend.

Comfort Offered

So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:11-12 NASB

The Levites, who were the priests in God’s Temple, came to comfort the people. They reiterated the need to rejoice and not grieve. This was the most important thing the Levites could do in order to give comfort to the people.

The people had been confronted with their sinful thoughts and actions through the reading of the Law. They were obviously cut to the heart. They wept, they grieved. They responded this way because of the illumination of their sin when the Law was read and explained to them. The Priest come on the scene and tell them to go forward and celebrate, share food and rejoice. The reason the Levites said do this is because the people had understood the Law as it was read and explained to them. This is important for us.

If we ever want to be moved along in the process of progressive sanctification, we not only need to hear the word of God taught, preached and explained but also we must understand it. Reading and hearing isn’t enough.

But how?

Well the first thing we can do is study. We must be diligent in seeking to understand what the word of God actually says. To do this we must be part of a Bible believing fellowship that teaches the word of God. There are plenty of churches around us. Some are liberal and some are conservative. Those are easy to find. The hardest church to find is one that teaches what the Bible is rather than a pet interpretation of it. When you find a church that does that, stay there.

Next we need to submit to those who have gone before us. Yes I know that takes humility. We need to get over ourselves and realize not one of us has all the answers. We need to look toward those who have more experience, knowledge and wisdom to help us understand.

Third, and most importantly, we need to actively seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This is so often neglected. We must – MUST – seek His help in moving towards Christlikeness.

Seeing our sin as sin is not a curse. It is a blessing of the highest order. Because when we are taught and understand the word of God and we are grieved by what grieves God, we will move a step closer to being more like Him. And then rejoicing can begin.