So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:8)
The book of Nehemiah is the story of the rebuilding of the city walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonians had destroyed them and taken Judah into captivity. Nehemiah was a Jew that had risen to prominence in the kingdom of Persia. When news reached him of the poverty and deep affliction of his people in Jerusalem, his heart was broken so that he wept and prayed that God would forgive the people of the sins that had led to their devastation. Nehemiah recognized God’s promise that if His people would repent God was able and more than willing to restore them.
Nehemiah petitioned the Persian king to allow him to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the walls of the city. God was gracious to inspire the people to work, and astonishingly the walls and gates of the city were repaired in only 52 days. After the wall was finished, a great celebration was held in order to thank God for His providence in enabling the people to overcome the many obstacles that could have ruined their efforts. This brings us to this important verse in chapter 8.
Ezra, a scribe and priest, along with 13 prominent Levites, mounted a wooden platform that was built for the occasion. Ezra opened God’s holy word and as he did the people rose to their feet in reverence. He began to read the Word and explained very clearly to the people the meaning of the scriptures. The result of this reading and explanation was a national revival that caused the people to weep for their sins.
I related this story to you today to help you understand the profound effect the word of God has for the salvation of souls and the growth of God’s people. The apostle Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). He also said the holy scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). Peter said we grow by the word of God (1 Pet. 2:2). These are just a few of the statements made in scripture about the power of God’s word through the gospel.
It is the sacred trust of true ministers of the gospel to faithfully expound the scriptures just as Ezra did in the book of Nehemiah. The scriptures demand repentance, faith, and full surrender to the Lordship of Christ. How will this be accomplished if churches do not declare the whole counsel of God? The gospel shows our sinfulness; it declares the penalty for our sins, which is hell; it proclaims the only remedy for sin, which is the bloody sacrifice of Christ; it demands our faith in Christ’s sacrifice, and then evidence of our faith in holy, righteous living.
Sadly, Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s method is not the method of the modern church. The gospel has been abandoned for a message of self-esteem, self-help, and felt needs. The message of repentance and deep contrition for sin has been buried under the performance stage and drowned out by pulsating rock music. Preachers are as Isaiah described, “…blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber” (Is. 56:10).
Today, in our worship service, we will stand in reverence for the reading of God’s word. We will respect the holiness and glory of God; we will sing old hymns of the faith; we will pray with conviction; and we will preach the timeless gospel from the timeless Bible. Nothing less will do. Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor V. Mark Smith