Why Is the Sermon So Long? (Nehemiah 8:1-12)November 7, 2021 | Brandon Cooper
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As we turn our attention to God’s word now let’s remind ourselves of how precious it is. Because the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart expands the Lord are radiant giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The statutes that the Lord decrees the Lord, our firm, and all of them are righteous, and more precious than gold and much pure gold. They’re sweeter than honey and honey from the honeycomb. Go ahead, grab your Bibles open to Nehemiah chapter eight, Nehemiah chapter eight will be in verses one to 12 this morning. Now as you’re turning there, Nehemiah chapter eight, want to share a story with you? When I was on mission field down in Columbia, we had a new teacher come down to the school where I was chaplain. And one of my jobs as chaplain was make sure people are getting plugged into a local church because missionary community is not a church. And so we were doing that and I was talking to him kind of where are you, your wife, going at this point, let me know the church they were going to they were very happy with it. They, you know, can off the beaten path, different tradition, and they were used to a different tradition than I grew up in or that I know now. And he made an interesting comment to me, he said, What I love about this church that we found is that the Lord’s Supper is the center and the focus of the service. And so it’s so nice to have the spiritual presence of Christ be our focus. And I thought, well, it’s good point. That’s really interesting. And then I kept thinking about it, though, for a little while. And so I started to wonder, okay, what is the center piece again, I was at a different church down in Colombia, and actually an interdenominational church. Here we are today, other churches have been a part of that was not the center. In fact, this the center of the service is very definitely the word. The word is the center. And so maybe that’s the question. Are we wrong? Were they right? Why is the word at the center? What do I mean by it being at the center, it is the clear priority in our services, at least in terms of time. So we have a 75 minute service here, we devote 40 of that to the preaching of the Word, more than half all by itself, everything else prayer, worship, in song, the offering, everything else gets less than half of the time. And if we go 80 minutes, as we often do, it’s probably because the sermon was 45. Sometimes it’s because of American missionary. So it’s brace yourselves. We’re staying late today. Okay, but so here’s the question. I talked to somebody today who thought I was joking last week. I’m not joking. The name of the sermon is why is the sermon so long? If you’re not a church goer here this morning, because this is not what you grew up in, or you got questions about Jesus, first of all, so glad that you are here know how welcome you are in this church. We are a community where we want people to ask questions is one of our taglines. Right, honest answers to honest questions. So, so glad you’re here. But if you’re here, you may have a question. And that question might be, what exactly is it that they’re doing here? Because it’s really odd. So we open a really old book, and then listen to some guy talk about it for 40 minutes. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. Why? Why do we do that? To answer that question we’ve got to consider when it comes to the ministry of the word, its source, its power and its results. And that’s we’re going to do this morning as we look at Nehemiah chapter a little bit of context, since we’re just kind of hunkered down in the middle of Nehemiah here. What has happened is that the Judah Eitz have returned from exile in Babylon, under Zerubbabel under Ezra who’s the main character in our story today, and then ultimately under Nehemiah as well. So we’ve got this last group of exiles returning at this point, and they’re returning from exile feeling chastened, because they know that their exile was punishment for their sins. So they’re humble, and they’re ready to hear from God. And that’s where we are as we pick up so first point, the source of the ministry, the word God speaks when we read Nehemiah eight verses one to six.
When the seventh month, seven months came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people came together as one and the square before the Watergate. They told us read the teacher the law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly which is made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from Daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Watergate in the presence of the men, women and others who would understand and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law. As read the teacher, the law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattathias Shamar Inaya, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Messiah none as less were for Daya. Michelle mkhaya has Shoom house bottom na Zechariah and Meshullam as are open the book, all the people could see him because we’re standing above them. And as he opened it, the people all stood up, as we’re praise the Lord, the great God and all the people lifted their hands and responded, amen, amen. They bow down and worship the Lord with their faces to the ground. So all the people gather in this square before the Watergate that’s interesting to begin with, by the way, because that means where did they not gather is in the temple court. So why aren’t they in the temple court for a simple reason the temple court was for men only. Whereas this town square is for everyone. And that’s good, because the word is for everyone. In fact, you see that in verse three, it’s this focus, we get a repeated later also that he does this in the presence of the men and the women. And actually everyone who was able to understand presumably, we’re talking about older kids z here. And a lot of this group that gathers this large group that gathers they tell Ezra, to bring up the Book of the Law of Moses, they tell Ezra, to read a great question for us, right? Do you come hungry for the Word of God, when you come into this room? Are you here going, you know, we got up and we’re like, Hey, we’re gonna skip the sermon this week, would you go? No, no, I need you to open the book of the law. And I need you to read from it for us. And that’s what Ezra does, he reads from the book of the law. At this point, we’re almost certainly talking about the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. So he’s reading Genesis, he’s read an exodus, something like that part of the Pentateuch because he’s only reading from dawn till noon, which sounds like a long time, but probably not long enough to read those books out loud. Interestingly, even though this is a several hour endeavor, all the people listened attentively. And certainly, we can understand why, because they’ve just come back from exile. Again, they’re chastened, and they’re humble. They want to know who God is and what He expects of them. So that that doesn’t happen, again, is a good word for us. Because we can settle into very comfortable listening habits. You feel the phone buzz in your pocket, and you get this 40 minute sermon, what’s missing 30 seconds of it, let’s say, or, you know, something triggers a thought in your head and you elbow the spouse, spouse next year or something, or perhaps you’ve got kids in the service and you’re being elbowed the entire time. And by the way, kids who here’s in city link, go ahead, raise your hands, we got a few you are, you’re a fourth to sixth graders, right? You know, this story is about you. Because it’s all who were able to understand you’re here in the service, because you’re able to understand means you’re a part of that group to be listening attentively. But none of us want to presume upon grace. And we’ve got the privilege to bring the word home with us every day. That’s a new privilege that was not common until the time of the Reformation. And so it’s easy to come and go. I’ve heard it. Now we come hungry, ready to listen, there’s such a high regard for the Word of God. In this passage, they built a high wooden platform for Ezra. confident this is so they could see him and so that they could hear him as well. So you can project across this large community that’s gathered. But interestingly, at the time of the Reformation, when the preaching the Word became the focus of the service, once more, what happens? You
go into old reformation churches, and even still many churches today, the pulpit is up high. So you gotta like climb stairs to get there. Why is that? It is not to exalt the preacher. But the word of God. It’s not the messenger, but the message that is lifted up held in high esteem almost literally. And notice what happens in verse five, then as well as we’re open the book. And as he opened it, people all stood up, the people stand. It’s like a wedding when the doors open and the bride walks in, and everybody gets up. Or maybe it’s more like when the king enters, and you wouldn’t dare remain sitting, then, of course, because the king has entered. And here he he come to sense to speak to His people when there’s this palpable all as he speaks? Is that what you feel? When we read the Bible, we are hearing the very words of God. God himself is speaking out every now and again, get his story from somebody who’s like, and I heard God say, and sometimes it’s an audible voice, a very good friend that I would trust implicitly, who has heard an audible voice before might be an angel. I don’t know right now and to get into all that, you want to hear God speak audibly. I got good news for you. You already heard it. I might have butchered the names that was still God, because this is his word. Are you listening? When God speaks, I can Appreciate traditions that do this. Well, by the way, I’ve got a lot of other denominations, you just got to know that about me. So there are some I was at a conference a week or so ago with a number of African American speakers African American church, very common that as you read the the word people stand, you know where they got that from right here. Nehemiah chapter eight are sometimes the public reading of Scripture, the one who read won’t say, the word of God, they said the word of God and the congregation will respond. Thanks be to God. Yeah, makes sense to me or in other traditions there after you read the Gospels in particular, they’ll cross themselves and say, May the Word of God be always on my mind. And on my lips, and on my heart. The beautiful sentiment right? Now we’re low church here. If you don’t know what that means, it means no smells or bells. That’s it. That’s the official definition right there. It means that we’re maybe even suspicious of some of the formal rituals that can go on with the high church, rightly or wrongly, by the way, what is this suspicion, of course, is that it can very quickly descend into formalism, you’re just going through the motions. There’s danger on our side also, of course, you can go through the motions with what we have as well. And there’s also danger on our side that we’re not intentional. As I said, last week, the low liturgy sometimes means no liturgy, except there’s no such thing as no liturgy. So that just means the bad liturgy because it’s not an intentional liturgy. So everyone’s got their dangerous, every tradition has its dangers. But we can appreciate the seriousness with which they treat the Word of God, what happens next, as our praises God praises God. Why? Because he’s opening the book of the law. And what happens, this book reveals God to us, this is how we know who God is here, right here. And so the people lift their hands in exultation. You ever see the really weird people in the front row who do this while we’re singing? That’s me. Again, this is not the only place this comes from, but this is where it comes from. There is this sense of, of exaltation. There’s a shouting of Amen. One thing I’ve been encouraging you guys to do more and more of right, is gonna be some dialog here, you can respond. Now, these are descriptive. This is not prescriptive. There’s a difference there. It means this describes what happened at this moment. And there are no thou shalt and thou shalt nots attached to it. So this is not a command of God, you must do this. But I just like the full engagement. Still, there’s this whole body interaction with God’s word when He speaks to us. There’s this sense of as we stand before God, his authority and his truth, we can’t help but respond. Now, no doubt, a lot of what they’re doing here is because of their specific circumstances, the return from exile, when you’re in desperate straits, you listen desperately, you probably experienced that. It’s when you’re in the middle of trials where you’re going, I need I need to hear from God, everything’s going fine. You know, I need to check my box and make sure I read my Bible today. So in desperate straits, you listen desperately. That’s what the people are doing. But of course, that should always be true, because we are always in desperate straits, in one sense, at least because we’re always under assault from sin. We are.
In our flesh, at least exiles from God’s sin, exiles us from God, and by grace alone, through Christ’s work on the cross for us, are we brought back from exile. In fact, it’s Christ who’s exiled in our place. He’s there He dwells in the heavenly tabernacle and the very presence of God and he leaves it. For our sake. That’s Christmas. I’ll say that for Christmas Eve. Okay. But that’s, that’s the story. And what’s interesting, actually, is what we see here in Nehemiah eight, it’s almost a symbol of how this works after Christ’s death and resurrection and the formation of the church is what happens, the exiles return, and is the reading of the word that gathers them together, they’ve come to hear the Word of God. Well, that’s exactly what happens today. That is exactly what the church is, the word gathers God’s people could even go so far as to say the word forms his people. Another way to say this is that the church didn’t choose which books are in the Bible. The church recognized the authority of the books that should be in the Bible, you could almost define the church as those who recognize the authority of God’s word. That’s not a terrible definition. At all. In fact, the Reformers when they were breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church and establishing this new church, they had big questions because nobody had really done this at least for a few 100 years. There’s when east and west split. And so they’re going is this? Is this okay? Is this going to be a church if we split away still? And so they came up with this and I think you’re absolutely right. They said, the true church is wherever the word is rightly preached, and the sacraments are rightly administered. And discipline is rightly exercised under leaders who rightly govern. Those are some of the key marks of a church. We’re gonna hit the rest of them in coming weeks, of course, but the word rightly preached as the first one they listen, I think that’s for good reason. Joe thorn in his work on the church. He says this, The Word of God gives life to the Church of God. A church can exist and thrive spiritually only where the Scripture is rightly preached, is that overstatement. The word gives life or what I said earlier, the word actually forms the church. I don’t think it’s overstatement because it’s just what’s in the Bible. Here’s Ephesians, two, verse 20, talking about the church, the household of God, which is built on the foundation of what the apostles and the prophets, who were the apostles and prophets, that’s your New Testament and your Old Testament. That’s the word of God that we’re talking about. It’s built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. Why is he the chief cornerstone, because that’s what the apostles and prophets were talking about. Either predicting what will come with Christ or proclaiming what Christ has done for us. We are built on the very Word of God, and we as a church depend on the Word of God for ongoing help. Because we’re no longer exiles from God, because of his grace, if we belong to Christ by faith, but as we talked about week one, we live as exiles here in this world. This is an embassy of a future kingdom. So we’re kind of in you know, behind enemy lines. And what does that mean? That means we’re desperate for help. And I hope that means we’re listening desperately. There’s the source God speaks second power, God transforms let me just read verses seven and eight for us. The Levites Yeshua bunnies share baya Yameen a Kuba Shabbath Hi, Ho Daya Messiah CollectA as Araya Joseph bad Hernan and playa, instructed the people in the law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clearer and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read without verse eight is key to answering our question, isn’t it? Why is the sermon so long? Well, because what happens, you’re instructing people, you’re trying to make the sense clear, so that the people can understand that is simply put the task of preaching, I can’t tell you how many times it happens. And again, I have listened to a whole lot more sermons than I have preached. So I’ve been on the other side of this equation as well, but happened just a couple of weeks ago, even someone will come up to me after a sermon and say, I didn’t see that until you explained it.
And that’s, that’s exactly what I’ve been there. So why because you get a maybe a little bit of the background and the leg language or the culture or something like that the you know, the history of the time, or somebody who’s spent a good number of hours trying to catch the logical flow of the argument and you go, Okay, now, now I see. Now there’s a little bit of a tension here, isn’t there, right? Because we read in Hebrews that we should all be teachers by now. So there’s, you need to grow up there, you should be able to see more and more in the word on your own, of course, that that’s there and that’s real. But on the other hand, God, in his infinite wisdom, decided that the church needs teachers. Here’s where John Stott puts it in his excellent book, the living church, he says, talking about Acts, chapter two in that first Christian community says, notice something else about those first Christian believers, they did not suppose that and because they’ve received the Holy Spirit, He was the only teacher they needed, and they could dispense with human teachers, not at all, and goes on to describe again, the ministry of the teaching of the Word. God knows we need teachers, but we see in this text and what exactly the teacher should be doing. This sermon is not an inspirational talk, or motivational speech. It’s not a TED talk, where you just have a slightly different springboard. No, it is making known God’s truths to God’s people.
The word rightly preached that brings clarity, as we’ve seen, and conviction and comfort as we’ll see in the next section. To borrow Paul’s language in Second Timothy, All scripture is God breathed and is useful for what teaching, rebuking, correcting and training and righteousness so that we can be equipped to do the work that God has called us to do. So why Is the sermon so long? Because the word of God is his ordained means for our transformation. The word is the agent of transformation. And the word itself testifies to its immense power. We’re gonna whip through a ton of text here in just a moment. So get ready to write because what does the word do? The word initiates our faith, Romans 1017. faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word about Christ. This should make pretty good sense to us. Of course, you cannot believe the message of the gospel if you don’t hear the message of the gospel. So of course, faith comes through hearing the Word, the Word of God also regenerates us first Peter 123 You have been born again, not a perishable see, but if imperishable, through what the living and enduring word of God, the word cleanses us, Jesus says to His disciples, and John 15, three, you are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. This is an interesting one to buy. This almost answers my opening illustration, why is the word and not the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and baptism at the center of the service because this is what the word does. Here’s Agustin talking about this verse in his commentary on John’s gospel, he says, Why does he not say you are clean through the baptism with what you have been washed? Is Baptism? That’s the symbol of our cleansing right? So why does he not say you are clean to the baptism with which you have been washed, but through the word I have spoken save only that in the water also, it is the word that cleanses take away the word in the water is neither more nor less than water. The word is added to the element and their results the sacrament as if itself a kind of visible word. We hit baptism two weeks we’ll talk more about that. What else does the word do? The word sanctifies us? Here’s Jesus praying and John 17, Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth. Were sanctified by his word, the word convicts. Hebrews four of the Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double edged sword it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. The word liberates Jesus again, John chapter eight, if you hold to my teaching, if you hold my teaching, you’re really my disciples and you will know the truth. And it’s the truth that will set you free. Kind of like Jeremiah, one, nine and 10. Two, I don’t know how to fit this into just the Christian life. But here’s the power of the Word of God. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, I have put my words in your mouth. See today, I appoint you over nations and kingdoms, to uproot and tear down to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant. Jeremiah, by speaking the words of God is overthrowing kingdoms. Because that word comes to pass. It is safe to say that Isaiah had it right when he said, The Word of God does not return to God, empty or void, but accomplishes all the purposes for which he sent it out. That’s what I mean by the word being a transforming agent. And I mean, could we substitute God for all of those things? Isn’t it God who initiates faith? Yes. Isn’t a God who sanctifies Yes, isn’t it a God who can pick Yes, but He does it through the word, the word is the agent, the instrument, the means, if you want to make tea, which I highly recommend, by the way, you need some things. You need water, and it should be hot water. You need a vessel of some sort a mug or a tea pot, something like that. But you know what you need most of all, if you want to make tea, tea leaves, right? Otherwise, it’s just going to be a mug of hot water. And eventually lukewarm water. You need tea leaves, the word is the tea leaves. Now we’re starting to see why Martin Luther said, the teaching and preaching of God’s word is the greatest and noblest part of any service. Because all of that everything we just talked about all those texts that’s happening in us as the Spirit ministers His Word to us. We’re the mugs of hot water. That’s our hearts. Right? And the Word of God is what transforms us. What does that make me by the way?
On the infuser, you know, that little like metal mesh ball that you put the TVs in and you dunk it in the water? You know what you don’t talk about when you’re drinking tea? The infuser if you can taste the infuser by a different infuser. That lead really gives it a nice taste. Yeah, no, that’s not the goal at all. So the whole point of me up here is to get out of the way so that the tea can do what it’s here to do so that the word can Speak. Here’s Charles Simeone, who is an important part of the awakening in England around the time of John Wesley. He says this about why we preach expository sermons, which basically just means, preach the text, let the text speak, he says my endeavor is to bring out of Scripture, what is there and not to thrust in what I think might be there, I have a great jealousy on this head never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind to the Spirit. In the passage, I’m expounding that as my jealousy as well. Now, that could be a lot. You were here for the last two series, we’ve got some good examples of this. In our series on the Lord’s Prayer, we spent a long time on the words our father. But I don’t think we shoved in 40 minutes worth of content in the past. But we’re drying out all the implications of those two amazing words, especially as we see them throughout the whole counsel of God. Or if you’re hearing the last series, The humming been seen hearts, we looked at a passage like you have set eternity in our hearts. And there we were just drawing out the massive implications of a pretty simple truth, as we look at the world around us. But that is our hope and our jealousy, the best preaching moves from the text to the original context. So we got to look back for a moment what was happening then and there, what’s the history we need to know? What’s the culture of that time? What was the occasion for this word, to be spoken from the text to the original context, then, to the gospel context, we have to funnel every scripture through the cross of Christ, because Jesus tells us quite clearly that all scripture is about him. And so even when we’re in something weird, like Nehemiah eight, this is a passage about Jesus, somehow, we got to bring it through the gospel context, the text, the original context, the Gospel context. And then finally, to the current context, what does this matter for you today? Here’s the thing, it’s so easy to skip any or all of those, like, really, really easy. So you read a passage, like, early on in First Samuel when Eli and his sons die in the ark is captured. And look, I could jump from the text to the current context, really quickly, because we could talk about parenting couldn’t we may look at the contrast between now Eli parents, his sons, and the indulgence there. And then you look at how a Hannah, parents Samuel I could have eaten out of my hand for 40 minutes, I promise you that. The only problem is that’s not what the compassion is. What is the passage about it’s about Nicobar the glory of the Lord has departed, because of the wickedness especially with the leaders of that time. That’s a different sermon. And so you kind of you get invitation tea, you ever made that brown powder stuff? It’s fine. If you’re looking at it, like no, gosh, no, that’s fine. But if you ever had it, you know, it tastes okay. But it’s got no power. It’s got no power when you do an imitation T is the word of God. It’s the old joke of the preacher who uses the word of God the way a drunk uses a lamppost, more for support and illumination. We don’t want to do that. Or of course, look, I could just sit back in the original context, I find this stuff fascinating. So we could talk language all day long. We could talk archaeology all day long, we could talk code, I can give you a lecture for 40 minutes, that would probably fascinate some of you, not all of you, and you would walk out of here going that’s a lot of good information in your hearts would be strangely unmoved. We don’t want to do that. Or I could do moralism and skip the gospel context, right? Let’s preach the law of God and then say, no, go do it. That’s not good, either. You see, the aim of exposition, then is to get the central thrust of the passage as it relates to our hearers today. Now, I’ve gone Mehta on you like bed Modere. So why are we preaching about preaching? What is the point here? Because we collectively submit to the authority of Scripture, that’s really important. Do you submit to your leaders, I hope so scripture commands that you should, but you submit to the Word of God first. In fact, if you were to sign our membership covenant, you would see the first thing you agree to is not to submit to the elders, the church, goodness, no, but to submit to the authority of the Word. So we need to be like the Bereans. Acts chapter 17, constantly examining what we’re taught. Now,
we got a false vision of what the Bereans do, because we imagine the brands hearing something, and then going home and opening up their favorite Study Bible that their favorite preacher wrote or something like that. And then maybe finding a couple of snarky blogs to show that the preacher wasn’t right. They didn’t all have Bibles back then I got news for you. They had one and it was in the synagogue. So that meant they were doing this in community, but that’s what we do. We come together and examine the things that I’ve said even this morning, been faithful to the text of Scripture, but why So you guys have to be in on this because if I get off track, it is your responsibility to correct me. That’s on you. That’s pretty your job description. Hopefully the elders will catch me early on, of course, but if it’s going on, you stand up, and you rebuke me. And at worst you fire in excommunicate me. Paul says this in Galatians. One, Paul, who’s writing the Bible, by the way, at this time, says, Even if I, or an angel from a heaven should preach a gospel other than the one you were taught, let them be damned. Let them be damned. Because as we’ve seen, this isn’t this is far too important not to take seriously. It’s the word comes with power. The word is the instrument of transformation. What results unless section the results that God says when we read verses nine to 12, the Nehemiah, the governor, as were the priests and teacher, the law and the Levites, who are instructing the people said to them all this day is holy to the Lord or God, do not mourn or weep for all the people weeping as they listen to the words of the law. Nehemiah said go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is a holy to our Lord, do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength. The Levites called all the people saying, Be still for this as a holy day, do not grieve. And all the people went away to eat and drink some portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that have been made known to them. So two things happen after the public reading and instruction of the word conviction and celebration. The word accomplishes God’s purpose for those hears that day. Not surprisingly, this begins with a deep humbling, that’s the confession of sin. When we hear the law of God, when we hear what God commands of us, we see that we fall far short. And so here in this moment, you can see this is a group of people who understand why God sent them into exile in the first place. Because they see their wicked practices, the wicked practices of their parents, and grandparents, they understand. And we understand why God ought to send us into exile to you hear the word of God, and you go, I shouldn’t be here. I have no right to be here. This is a good reminder, though, for us that the fact that the word brings us sort of conviction reminds me of an old story of the man who toured the Louvre for the first time in Paris. And he’s looking at these works of art, you know, the Mona Lisa, or something like that. And he’s kind of glaring at it. And he goes, I don’t like this. And security guard overhears him and says, Sir, these works are no longer being judged. At this point, the viewers are. That’s the word of God. The Word of God is no longer being judged. It judges its readers, and its hearers. But Ezra and Nehemiah, as they don’t leave the people there, they will leave them in their grief at sin. If you leave here, only feeling conviction only was important. If you leave here, only feeling conviction that I’ve heard the word makes us weep, yes, because we see ourselves for who we are in light of it. But the word also makes us rejoice, because we see God for who he is and what he’s done on our behalf in Christ. This all ties into last week, by the way, and that whole service order, because what happens we have instruction and the word of God, that’s the law piece what God expects of us, that leads to confession.
But that needs to be followed up with the words of assurance for those of us who believe. So that hours is a mournful joy. At this point, that’s not what heaven will be like, but that’s what it is here on Earth. There’s this sense that the world is not and we especially are not what we should be, but God is saving us present progressive. God is in the process of saving us and restoring us. What I mean by a mournful joy, by the way, it’s a little bit like when you have a vow renewal ceremony, after there’s been an extramarital affair. And is there joy at the restoration? Yes, but it’s tinged with grief at the offense given and the harm done. That grief though, it’s so interesting. That’s the context for this famous line. Probably most of you have heard the phrase the joy of the Lord is our strength. Many times it’s a weird spot for it isn’t it’s kind of coming out of nowhere almost it Nehemiah saying this to get the people to stop grieving their sin. What exactly does it mean here? I think we can learn from Tom was Chalmers, Scottish Puritan preacher in his famous servant sermon, the explosive power of a new affection. He explains how the gospel how gospel joy, defeat the sin in our lives. Let me quote him, he’s a Puritan. So he’s hard to read, but worth reading. At the same time. He says this in the gospel, we so Behold God as that we may love God, it is there. And they’re only where God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners. And where our desire after him has not chilled into Appa see, by that barrier of human guilt, that’s what we’re looking at here, right now we’ve got a barrier of human guilt, and it’s threatening the Israelites at this point, that’s going to chill them into apathy. I didn’t measure up, I’m never going to measure up. So I guess I’ll just quit. Just give up because I don’t measure up. But no, it’s an object of confidence. Instead, it is the bringing in of this better hope whereby we draw an eye on to God and to live without hope is to live without God, to read the law only would create hopelessness in us, because we can’t save ourselves, can’t change ourselves. You’ve tried, I’ve tried it doesn’t work. We need a power outside ourselves. But to read the law, to read the Pentateuch, like Ezra has done this morning is not only to read God’s demands, but God’s deeds, because you read he started in Genesis or something, you know what you read, you read the story of Abraham. You read a story of an idolatry, her being called out of his darkness and into God’s marvelous light. By grace alone, He’s done nothing to deserve this. And yet God establishes his people through this one man. Are you read the story of the Exodus? They were there that long, believe me, they got to the exodus to what happens there the the liberation of God’s people from bondage from slavery, because of what because of how good they were? Did you see what they did Max? You know, the cucumbers were better when we were living in slavery. This is not a good people. Okay. And yeah, God saved them because of His mercy because he’d set his affections on them by grace and grace alone, you get all of that. So the joy of our salvation then protects us against the enemy’s accusations, which would otherwise paralyze us as it paralyze the people here, but more, the joy of our salvation produces obedience in us, so that progressively, increasingly more day by day, the enemy has nothing left to accuse. Because we’re filled up with something new. There’s a famous like chemistry stunt, I guess, basically, where they, you know, they set you in this chemistry lab, they give you a beaker, and they say to you and your team, you need to get all the air out of this beaker. And so you’re like vacuum pumps, and you gotta make sure the glass can handle the vacuum and whatnot. And then inevitably, some student who’s a little bit brighter than the rest is gonna go.
You know, we’ve just filled this with water, right? That’s it. That’s all you need to do to get the air out. That’s awesome with sin, right? How do you get the sin out? You don’t just try and pump it out. Because it nature abhors a vacuum, you have to fill it with something else. What do we fill it with? Joy, the Lord, the best way to expel our sinful desires, that inordinate love of the world that we have is to replace it with gospel joy, to replace it with the love of God who loved us first, the joy of the Lord is our strength. The Gospel arms us to do battle against our sin. Because we now know, intimacy with God, who is the satisfaction of our every desire. So how do we get gospel joy? That seems really important now, right? Like, I need it. This is my strength. I need this. How do we get it? We’ll look at verse 12. What happens? Then? What are we to celebrate with great joy? Because here’s how it happened. They now understood the words that had been made known to them. How do you get the joy of the Lord, you understand God’s word? That’s how we get it. Of course, because that’s how we understand the gospel. This is why I’ve never preached a sermon that doesn’t include the gospel of God help me I hope never to and will not burden you with law alone. It will just leave you with the grief and not the celebration. The word rightly preached should produce a mournful Yes, but a mournful joy in us, grieved by sin, powered by the gospel, and I love to do you notice that they’re like, if you got extra food, you need to share it with the people around you. That’s evangelism. That’s what they It is, can you get a joy this good? You’re like, well, I’m stuffed, I guess we’ll throw the rest of it out, don’t you send it out from there? Why is the sermon so long? Because these are God’s words, He speaks to us in this moment. These are God’s words into which he has poured his power. So that the word is the instrument, the means the agent of our transformation. So we kept reading by the truth through the words, the agent, the instrument of our transformation. So his words and what he poured his power to his purpose ends, our transformation, our salvation, that’s the result. So what do we do? We talked last week, you know, after the sermon, part of the sermon, of course, is that we dedicate ourselves to what God has said to us. How do we dedicate ourselves to God in light of what we’ve just heard? I’m gonna give you three, okay, look, listen and learn. First, look, if the word is the instrument of transformation, look at it. What do I mean by that? Read the Bible, but I couldn’t say read the Bible, because then it wouldn’t liberate. And I’m a Baptist. And so I have to obliterate my points in the London Baptist confession of 1689. You can check it out for yourself. It’s not really look at the Bible. Read the Bible, study the Bible. Let yourselves steep for a while, in the tea, right? Let the tea sit there and transform you. And look, this is especially for those of you who are here today who still have questions about Christianity, like you’re here because you’re checking it out. Don’t listen to me. Listen to him. Just open the Bible, take the black one in front of you. If you don’t have one, it’s yours. Happy to give it to you. And read it. Let’s start in the New Testament. Read John, read Matthew, read Mark, read Luke. Bring your questions back or go on our website and find the resources find a sermon about that passage because we need teaching. That’s fine. That’s cool. But read God’s word itself. Look at the Bible. Second, listen attentively. We don’t devote 40 minutes to this each service because I like how I sound. I have a thin, really high pitched voice. It’s the opposite. Really. Nobody’s here to hear my mellow baritone, right? No. So why are we here? He’s got us speaking. Because God is speaking. How can you figuratively because we don’t do this here. How can you figuratively stand as the word of God is proclaimed? What distractions need to be removed so that you are paying careful attention? These are good questions to chew through. So what you’ll be doing in community groups this week is answering those questions right there. Why do we need to listen to attentively so that last we can learn? Learn? Our goal is understanding so that the word can work, let the word work, don’t judge it but let it judge you. That’s conviction, and then let it transform you. That’s the celebration. That’s the gospel. Joy.
Richard Wurmbrand, who was founder of Voice of the Martyrs, was imprisoned for many years under the communists in Romania, wrote a book called tortured for Christ in which he describes the underground church in under Soviet rule. He writes this he says the communists published books called the comical Bible and the Bible for believers and unbelievers, they tried to show how stupid scripture is and to do so quoted many Bible verses how we rejoiced over it. The book was printed in millions of copies, and was full of Bible verses, which were unspeakably beautiful even when the communists ridiculed them, criticism self was so stupid and took it seriously. So he says, The communists were delighted because they kept asking for more and more copies of it little they know that was the underground church, asking for more copies of this lie because it had the word of God in it. And that’s the power, the power of God’s word even quoted in books ridiculing Christ. You can immediately Intuit its source and its power and best of all, we see the result the purpose for which was sent the salvation of those that God calls through it. Let’s pray. Father, in this moment, we know we are on privileged territory. This is sacred ground. We could take our shoes off for sure, because we have heard you speak to us this morning. how grateful we are that you have graciously disclosed Yourself to us. Despite our sin and rebellion, we should have been cast out and instead you bring us nearer by the word that testifies to you and testify As especially to your grace to the gospel of Christ and Jesus, that even when we were dead in transgressions because of your great love for us, you being rich in mercy made us alive in Christ through the cross. In light of that, Lord, how can we not weep for our sins? How we’ve offended you and yet celebrate rejoice in our salvation. Lord, would you give us ears to hear, eyes to see and hearts to understand? The word that is rightly preached, and by it, Lord, may You transform us and call many more to yourself. For the sake of your great name, amen.
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