Friday 25 January 2013

Nehemiah 8 ,
This morning I want to turn with you to the reading from the Book of Nehemiah, which is the Old Testament reading for this Sunday. We do not study the Old Testament very often, so it may make an interesting change.

Nehemiah was a Jew, taken into exile by the Babylonians after they had been defeated by the Persians, and he became a cup bearer to the King, later becoming civil governor of Jerusalem.

The people of Israel had been taken into captivity to Babylon and after 70 years were returning to Jerusalem, their spiritual homeland then in ruins, to rebuild their lives and homes. The walls of the city had been destroyed and needed to be rebuilt. This was completed with great and concentrated effort, always under fear the people would be attacked again as their enemies were ready to do so. Nehemiah realised the danger so selected reliable men as watchers

On completion Nehemiah knew that there then was a need for a firm spiritual and moral foundation as well as wealth and material things. Nehemiah realised that a nation needs more than material works and wealth, it needs a spiritual dimension. Today so many people are greatly affected by the philosophy of the world, and are too ready to follow ideas and fashion from the media, ideas and attitudes that we are hardly aware of as being wrong, but feel compelled to adopt.

So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest was sent for to bring the Scriptures which had been given by the Lord. The place where they met was by the Water Gate, the seventh gate, a prominent number to the Jews, a number signalling perfection. There were a series of gates, sheep, fish, east, etc. this gate was the symbol of the Word of God -- the water of the Word, the reviving power of the Word of God. There could have been no more appropriate place for them to assemble.

Ezra read it aloud from daybreak till noon to all the people in the square. This indicates the tremendous desire of these people for truth. They listened and the fact that they stood for so long shows how much they wanted to hear from God. They were simply crying out for His guidance. They were not looking at the clock to see if the service went over the bare hour.

How sad that now so many young people have no opportunity of hearing the Word of God. No longer is it taught in many state schools, and parents have neither the knowledge or the will to teach or even encourage them to do so. A generation is growing up without any knowledge of their Christian heritage.
Religion is being phased out of the majority of peoples lives, aided by a secular press, an anti-Christian judiciary and political establishment.

Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform. At one time central pulpits were common in the Free Churches, and I did have the pleasure and joy of preaching in a Methodist Church where they still have the pulpit in the centre and high. Other Free Churches still have a central pulpit, but not so grand.

Then we learn with what care it was made clear what the meaning of Scripture was. They read from the Book of the Law of God, giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. The purpose of every act of worship is to hear from the Word of God, not some lecture on climate change. For many Christians, the only Bible connection they have is from the readings in the Sunday service.

It is vital that the Church teaches in simple terms. One of the greatest communicators was William Barclay, who put things so clearly that all who read his writing came away with an understanding of the passage. He also gave an impartial exposition which it is the duty of every preacher with integrity. We are there to teach Scripture, not engage in some academic or intellectual alternative.

This teaching of Ezra had such a profound effect upon the people that we are told they wept as they listened. They did so because they realised how their lives had gone astray and they had wrong thoughts and ways. These people saw the holiness of God contrasted against the evil of man.

They felt convicted about the way they had been living their lives. We all need to examine our lives from time to time to see what needs to be corrected. Sometimes however, people feel they are too great a sinner to approach God, but He is ready to forgive and forget because of the sacrifice made by Jesus on the Cross. The Bible states, ‘there is no condemnation for those who have accepted Jesus Christ’

There is general agreement that a severe moral decline has occurred in the world, allied to the decline in religion and especially with the disregarding of the Bible. The Bible provided a foundational basis by which people were guided.
The two great Presidents in America’s past, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, were devout Bible readers who let it guide their great responsibilities and made no secret of the fact. Many other leaders of that nation were similarly influenced, but sadly the present one does not appear to be. Anyone in doubt should read his inauguration address

Christians should be eager to read the Bible, and thereby be made more aware of God’s intention for this life. It would be interesting to know how many Church members actually read their Bible at home. During his Crusades Billy Graham would ask the people if they had brought a Bible to hold it up, and thousands of Bibles were raised. Such days and practices are now long gone.

It may be asked, ‘why do I need to read the Bible?’ The Bible gives us access to the mind of God. The more we read the more we will know God’s intention for us. Just as you spend more time in a person’s company you get to know them better, so as you spend time with God through His Word, the better you will know Him.

The whole Bible is about God’s offer of salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. We need the Bible to have a relationship with God and it brings us into the presence of God. All true Christian ministry should be based on the Bible, it is our only authority for the Church to exist.

When the word is opened up, people begin to understand themselves. This is the great thing about Scripture. When you know God you begin to understand yourself, because you are made in the image of God. These people in Jerusalem were soon growing in self-knowledge as they began to hunger for the Word of God.

The great tragedy of our day is how few churches seem to understand this power of Scripture. Across the country there are churches in which there is little life. The services are dull and dreary because the Word of God is not central. Whenever there has been a revival in the Church at the forefront were men like Charles and John Wesley or Evan Roberts in the 1904 Welsh revival, men who were boldly preaching the Bible. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the greatest preachers of modern times once stated, ‘the primary task of the Church and Christian Ministers is the preaching of the Word of God. The decadent times in the history of the Church have always been when such preaching has declined.’

Of all that is happening today, the most frightening thing is the lack of a sense of sin in society, a total lack of moral values. People are doing terrible things -- murdering one another, raping one another, hurting each other right and left -- but they do not feel they are doing anything wrong.. That is what the Word of God is given to correct. It awakens afresh an awareness of what is causing the wrong.

In the absence of any outstanding preacher on the national stage, each local Church has the added responsibility of making sure the Bible is faithfully and boldly preached. Preachers must give a strong but simple message, and congregations must be prepared to listen and not expect to be just entertained.

The primary business of Christians is to understand the Word of God so as to think God's thoughts after him -- to learn to think like God. It is not only important to know what the Scripture says, it is even more important to know what it means!

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