Unfinished Hope | Week 10: Rejoicing in Refuge

November 26, 2017 Speaker: Randy Loveless Series: UnFinished Hope

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Nehemiah 7:73–8:12

Randy Loveless – November 26, 2017

 

UNFINISHED HOPE | Week 10

Rejoicing in Refuge – Nehemiah 7:73-8:12

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Good morning!  My name is Randy, and I’m one of the three pastors here at Damascus Road Church.  I have the opportunity to preach about 6 times every year, and am really excited to preach this morning. 

 

This morning we are going to continue in our series through the book of Ezra-Nehemiah – a series we are calling Unfinished Hope.  I do want to quickly point out that if you are using one of our study guides to take notes, we are jumping ahead one week in the book.  Today’s sermon will be week 11 in the study guide, and next week Chris will preach on Week 10.  We really only did that for practical reasons because Chris had already done a bunch of work on Week 10 – but I am excited to be able to preach on this section today.

 

Chronological Note

I want you to know that there is good reason to suspect that Nehemiah 8-10 are placed out of sequence with the rest of the narrative of Ezra-Nehemiah.  Many believe these chapters really belong somewhere around the tail end of Ezra.  I find these arguments compelling, but would rather spend our time here talking about what these verse show us rather speculating about timelines.  I mostly want you to know that I wanted to avoid drawing conclusions based on a timeline of the narrative that is unclear or disputed.  It would be easy to view the ceremony in Nehemiah 8 as a celebration after the rebuilding of the walls – but I don’t know that it is.

 

READ

[Have people stand as we read]

Nehemiah 7:73-8:12 ESV 

So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel, lived in their towns. And when the seventh month had come, the people of Israel were in their towns.  -8:1-  And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.  

-2-  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month.  

-3-  And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.  

-4-  And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand.  -5-  And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood.

-6-  And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.  -7-  Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places.  

-8-  They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.  -9-  And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.  

-10-  Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  -11-  So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.”  -12-  And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

 

As we look at this text today, I’m going to break it up into two sections…

 

THE PEOPLE OF GOD GATHER TO HEAR GOD’S WORD (v1-4)

THE PEOPLE OF GOD RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD (v5-12)

 

Can you think of any time in your life when you’ve gathered with others who you live in community with to hear God’s word and respond to it?  I hope so!  That’s what we’re doing now, and what we’re doing every time we gather – both on Sundays and in our Road Groups and Bible Studies that meet throughout the week. 

 

My plan this morning is to look at what happens in this corporate worship service in Nehemiah 8 and use it to assess ourselves.  We will be looking at everything with a particular focus on what happens at the end of the passage because there is an interesting progression that unfolds in verses 9-12.

 

THE PEOPLE OF GOD GATHER TOGETHER TO HEAR GOD’S WORD

Nehemiah 8:1-4 ESV And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.  -2-  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. -3-  And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.  -4-  And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand.

 

Location

[quickly mention comment about the water gate’s location?]

 

Initiative and Intentional Preparation

 

In these verses, as we read about the people of God gathering together to re-establish rhythms of corporate worship the people took initiative in bringing the ceremony about.  As we read, you might have had the picture of pastor Ezra sitting all the people down and preaching at them for several hours.  Let’s look again…

 

Nehemiah 8:1-2  And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.  -2-  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard…

 

It’s not EZRA dragging the people out for this – it’s the people who initiated and gathered.  And THEY told Ezra to bring the Book.

 

We also see a little later in verse 4…

Nehemiah 8:4  And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose…

 

Not only have the people taken initiative in gathering and getting Ezra to come, they also make preparations for the ceremony.  Built a platform – and the Hebrew word gives the sense that it was actually a tower that rose up above the crowd.  And it had to hold 14 people – so it would have taken some effort to build it. 

 

I don’t think I am one given to over-spiritualize, but the question I was left asking myself is, “How intentional am I in making the preparations necessary to receive God’s word – particularly at a Sunday morning service?”  How about you?  How are you preparing? 

 

Perhaps you find yourself feeling like the preaching here doesn’t fill you up, or that our Sunday morning worship experience is a little lacking.  I don’t doubt that for some of you – and sometimes for me – it falls flat. 

 

And while I am certain that there is room for improvement or growth on my (our) end, do you think this flatness might somehow stem from the fact that you watched 8 hours of Netflix yesterday but didn’t spend a single second thinking about what we were going to be studying here this morning?  Do you think it could have something to do with the fact that you show up and expect God do miraculously cut through the calcification of your self-seeking, pleasure-gratifying, consumeristic, make-me-happy-or else heart when you ignore the hundreds of opportunities to join him in that work throughout your week?  Do you pray for the person preaching?  Do you pray for your heart to receive the truth that’s being taught?

 

Let me put it this way: the results you experience here has as much to do with your preparation as it does mine (or whoever else is preaching).

 

[compare with hiking – an activity more enjoyable with preparation]

 

 

THE PEOPLE OF GOD RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD

 

But the people of God gathered to hear his Word didn’t just hear it and move on, unchanged and unaffected.  They respond to God’s word.

 

Nehemiah 8:5-12  And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood.

-6-  And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.  -7-  Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places.  

-8-  They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.  

 

We have no way of knowing what exactly was read – the Hebrew word used for “Book of the Law of Moses” is Torah, which meant they most certainly read some or all of the first five books in our bibles.  I think it makes sense that they would have gone through Deuteronomy, which is a book that serves as sort of a condensed version of the Law of Moses.

 

Whatever they read, we know that it impacted them deeply.  Based on their reaction of great lament, it seems likely that they were confronted with the reality that they, as a nation, had been faithless.  Reading the Book of the Law of Moses would be like reading the history of your family tree and all the ways that they failed and hurt each other and how it connected to your own experience of faithless living and the resulting pain and brokenness. 

 

But reading the law also exposes us to the biblical reality of the heart of our God – the Loving Father, the Faithful Husband, the Pursuer who is more merciful and gracious than we can fathom. 


Again, there is no way to know, but it is not hard to imagine this passage being read:

 

Deuteronomy 4:25-40 ESV  “When you father children and children's children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, so as to provoke him to anger,  -26-  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed.  -27-  And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you.  -28-  And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.  -29-  But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.  -30-  When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice.  -31-  For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.  -32-  “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of.  -33-  Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?  -34-  Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?  -35-  To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.  

 

Don’t you see – the thrust of this text is the same as it is for the entire Book of the Law, and it is the same as our Bibles today.  The big picture that emerges more clearly the more you study it is that God fiercely loves you despite the fact that you’ve failed him and insulted him and grieved him more than you could possibly understand.  That is the good news of the Gospel.

 

Should We Weep and Mourn?

Though they are ultimately hearing good news about a God who loves them, the Israelites weep and mourn.  And it seems like it was probably pretty noisy – with tens of thousands of people all wailing together.

 

The question is: Is this an appropriate response for us when confronted with our sin?

 

Paul, in 2Corinthians mentions that he had written a “severe” letter to them beforehand, where he apparently called them out pretty forcefully. 

 

2Corinthians 7:8-10 ESV  For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while.  -9-  As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.  -10-  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

 

Paul plainly calls it grief.  We as Christians covered by the blood of Jesus should still experience grief as the result of our own sin.  And while there is a ‘worldly grief’ that is simply lamenting the consequences of sin, a ‘godly grief’ – though it is still grief – produces repentance in us.

 

So yes – your sin should make you weep and mourn.  Absolutely it should.  But we are not called to live in that space indefinitely, which we see in the closing few verses here in Nehemiah 8.

The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength

 

Nehemiah 8:9-12 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.  

-10-  Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  -11-  So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.”  -12-  And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

 

Nehemiah, Ezra, and the rest of the leaders tell the people to stop grieving, and instead tell them they should be celebrating.

 

I want you to see and understand that this is more than, “Don’t worry, be Happy!” or just turning that frown upside down.  Look at the reason the people are given to celebrate… in verse 10 – “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

 

And the word that is translated strength could also be translated “a place or means of safety or protection.”

 

If you’re at all like me, you might be asking… whose joy is it?  Which one of these is they correct way of understanding this joy… #1 or #2?

  1. The Joy that the Lord has in His people?
  2. The Joy that the Lord’s people have in Him?

 

I’ll answer Yes.

 

Zephaniah 3:14-17 ESV  Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!  -15-  The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.  -16-  On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.  -17-  The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Do you see the interplay between God and his people?  The people of God are told to rejoice and exult because the LORD has forgiven you and taken away your judgments – and the LORD will rejoice and exult because he enjoys the work of restoring his repentant people…

Zephaniah 3:18-20 ESV  I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.  -19-  Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.  -20-  At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the LORD.

CLOSING

I was counseling someone recently and I made a mistake, and said something that no gospel-fluent biblical counselor should ever say… I said, “It seems like you’re having a hard time forgiving yourself.” 

 

The truth of the gospel is that it’s not up to you to forgive yourself.  Every last one of us is in the same boat – lost sinners desperately in need of God’s grace.  He loves you, and his desire is to restore you, in fact he rejoices at the opportunity to restore repentant sinners.

 

Do you see how the Joy of the Lord can be your protection and refuge?  No matter what you’ve done or how far you’ve fallen.  No matter what darkness you might find yourself in.  No matter how ashamed you are of something you’ve done – those who trust Jesus can ALWAYS find protection in remembering, “God rejoices over me.”

 

Jesus said, COME TO ME!! If you’re tired and weary, Come.  If you are carrying a weight of shame and guilt and regret that you cannot bear – COME TO ME!!

 

He says, take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul – for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. 

 

Yoke yourself to Jesus – trust him with your sin.  He’s not burdensome.  Trust him with your shame. Trust him with your guilt.  And don’t try to forgive yourself – but celebrate the forgiveness you have in Jesus!  What an appropriate way to spend the last parts of your Thanksgiving weekend – thanking him for living the life that we could not, for dying the death that we deserve, and for giving us new life now – we have a lot to celebrate when we trust Jesus.