Sunday 25 June 2017

Nehemiah 8 ,v.1 to 4, 8 to 12
This morning I want to turn with you to the reading from the Book of Nehemiah. We will see from this reading a marvelously clear statement of how a church service ought to be conducted!

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!

Nehemiah was a Jew taken into exile by the Babylonians and after they had been defeated by the Persians, he became a cup bearer to the King, and later became 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. Nehemiah knew that when this was done a spiritual foundation would also be needed for a spiritual vacuum had been created. There was a need for a firm spiritual and moral foundation as well as wealth and material things.

So on the first day of the seventh month, which according to the Hebrew calendar would be 8th October 445BC, Ezra the priest brought the Law and read it aloud from daybreak till noon to all the people he faced in the square before the Water Gate.

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.
Notice also that 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. There could have been no more appropriate place for them to assemble.

Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform. In some of the churches of Scotland they have high pulpits in the centre of the Church. They have a ceremony in which an Officer in the Church of Scotland, called the Beadle, comes marching down the aisle with an open Bible in his hand held high, and the people stand. As he places the Bible on the pulpit they say, "Amen! Amen!"
Then we learn how careful 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.

This teaching 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. When God’s people get away from loving and reading and obeying the Word of God they lose the blessing of God upon their lives. The cause of their problems lay in their own thoughts and attitudes. These people saw the holiness of God contrasted against the evil of man.

Let us look now as to how this passage about events that occurred so many hundreds of years ago can relate to us to day. There is in fact much we can learn from this passage, 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.

The Bible states, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." The instrument of that renewing is always the Word of God.

The purpose of the Church is to encourage and get Christians to read the Bible, and thereby be 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.
In the Old Testament Jesus is predicted.
In the Gospel Jesus is revealed.
In Acts Jesus is preached.
In the Epistles Jesus is explained.
In Revelation Jesus is anticipated.

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.’

In stark contrast to Africa, Asia, South America, where there is a strong biblical foundation, and they still believe it and boldly proclaim it, many Churches in the West have given up on Scriptural teaching and have engaged in dismantling the Bible and re-interpreting to fit in with the morality (or lack of it) they wish to portray. Can you imagine a Muslim cleric challenging the Koran?
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.

Politicians have added to people’s moral confusion by enacting legislation to satisfy a vociferous minority group totally out of proportion to their size.

Many of us here to-day grew up in a totally different culture. We may not have had all the wonderful technological aids and comforts that now are available, but we benefited in other ways. Like Timothy we were taught about the Bible at home and went to Sunday school as youngsters, learning the stories about Jesus, which gave us standards and values and a good foundation for life. We had morning assemblies in all schools, now largely avoided in (state) schools. This may not have been widely followed up in life, but the basics had been laid and our lives were directed and influenced by Christian values. Children are now denied these foundations and are growing up without knowing the country’s religious faith and heritage.

It is so easy to say that is just being old fashioned and dismiss. Old fashioned we may be, but we didn’t have 1in 2 divorce rate—such anti-social behaviour and juvenile delinquency- the highest abortion rate in Europe-= the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Europe- we knew what being a Christian meant.

A lot of people are now trying to discredit the Bible suggesting it is all fairy tale writing. Can we then be sure the Bible is true?

Most of those people have not read even read the Bible. To them, the Bible is a form of hate literature. Thus, other people are deluded into the belief the Bible is full of mistakes and is no longer relevant to our modern world.

The King James Version of the Bible has been described by academics and intellectuals alike as the greatest and most influential book of the ages, containing the most beautiful literature and the most perfect moral code ever devised. If one will seriously investigate these Biblical evidences, it will be found the claims of divine inspiration (stated over 3,000 times, in various ways) were amply justified.

If the churches of this land saw the Bible in that light, and listened attentively and eagerly to what it was saying, and learned how to communicate that message to the world, do you think our world would be in the condition that it is today?

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.

In his last message, given to Timothy, Paul stressed that all sermons should be expositions of the Bible and not on other topics, personal meanderings or fancy gimmicks. This is a message all we preachers should heed. If we fail to do so we, and the Churches we represent, will lose all claim to credibility.

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