Jan 27 When the Word of the Lord Comes REDEMPTION TEXT: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 SUBJECT: Responding to the reality of God THEME: God’s rules are for grace – so that we can always find our way back to Him. PURPOSE: To encourage those who are discouraged because of their sin. http://hunterpartyof4.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/banned-bible.jpg If the Bible were lost – let’s say that every paper copy of the Bible was gone, and somehow a computer virus erased every digital copy in the universe, all the audio tapes and video recordings of the scriptures disappeared – how much of the Bible do you think that we could recover? Okay, we’ve all memorized John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Maybe 3:17 – “For God did not send His son into to the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Psalm 23 we could probably get. The beginning of Genesis, “Jesus wept”, a few sporadic verses – But could we actually reconstruct the entire Bible? And if not, upon what would we base our faith? ************* John Wesley said that all of our decisions should be based upon four things – Scripture, Experience, Tradition, and Reason. The Bible, our own experience with God, what the Church has taught throughout the ages, and using our brains – but that the greatest of these is the scriptures. Do you let the scriptures guide your daily life? The first thing I do every morning (after saying, “Thank You, God, for this new day”) is to read the Bible. It’s just a short verse or two – whatever is on the Upper Room that morning – but it’s how I start every day. I expect for God to speak to me through the Bible. It’s not always an “A-ha!” moment; sometimes it’s days or weeks before something starts to sink in. But I give it a chance to start working on me. ************ http://www.idealtaxes.com/images/teacher/timeline.GIF We have a great story from the scriptures today that is one of my favorites. This is during the time of Nehemiah, around 450 years before Jesus, during the Persian exile under King Artaxerxes. The Persians ruled from 539 BC to around 332, so this is right in the middle. King Artaxerxes had already send Ezra the prophet to go to Jerusalem and to restore worship in 458, and the story we have now happens around 444, 18 years later. http://st-takla.org/Gallery/var/albums/Bible/Illustrations/Bible-itsStory/Bible-Story-05/www-St-Takla-org--the-cupbearer-of-theking.jpg?m=1312980420 Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king. This was a highly responsible position, and the cupbearer was absolutely trusted, literally, with the life and death of the members of the royal court. He was responsible for making sure that no one could poison the king’s court’s wine. So Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king. He was a Jew, and had recently heard news about his homeland. He had never been to Israel. It was his heritage, but he had never been there. But he hears how the city of Jerusalem, the holy city from the stories of old, had no walls or gates or anything to keep bandits and thieves from attacking the people. It would be as if you heard that someone very important to you, like the person who first taught you about your faith, was living out of their car because someone had stolen their house from them. http://musingsofernie.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/rebuilding-thewalls.jpg?w=611&h=397 So Nehemiah is sad, and the king sees it, and asks what’s up. Nehemiah tells him, and King Artaxerxes says, “Take some time off – go to your homeland; rebuild the city; put up some gates and walls and make it strong again. You have served me well; I will help you with this.” He even gave him some money and supplies to get the job done! Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem – his first time ever – and spends some time looking around. He sees that it’s not just the city walls that are the problem, but that the people that are supposed to be taking care of things are busy lining their own pockets and not making anything better for the average person. He gets the people together and tells them of his plans, and sets up a work schedule and they start rebuilding the walls. I won’t go into all of it now, but after many setbacks and undermining and confrontations and Nehemiah having to recast the vision every couple of weeks, they FINALLY get the walls and gates finished! ************ And now, after all of the work, Nehemiah calls all of the people together. He realizes that, in all of this time, over this past century and a half, the people have not heard the words of scripture. They still called themselves “Jews”, and they still went about their business and said that they were worshiping the Lord, but they were just doing as they had been told and what they thought that God wanted. They had no firsthand experience with God Himself! Now, let me pause for a minute – does this describe your faith? Do you call yourself a Christian, but do it just because you think you ought to? Have you had a personal experience with Jesus that changes your life, or do you just go about obeying the Ten Commandments and being nice to people because that what you think you’re supposed to do? ********** The Israelites at that time thought they were obeying God, but since they hadn’t heard the scriptures, they were just assuming they knew what God wanted. So Nehemiah asks Ezra to bring the scriptures, he gathers all of the people together, and they begin to read. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. What do you hear there? First of all, Nehemiah was a radical in that he let not only the men but the women and the children hear the word of God! In those days some people believed that women and children shouldn’t be taught the scriptures, because they were too simple to understand it and it was a waste. Just like in our own country, when people didn’t want the slaves to be read to from the Bible because “they weren’t worthy enough” to receive the word of God. Second, the people listened attentively. And as they were listening, something happened! Suddenly these words of their faith that they vaguely remembered hearing about in the past were becoming real! This God who was in all of their stories was now present with them in a way that they had not realized before! It’s like the first time you fall in love – you’ve heard other people talk about love and seen movies and heard songs about it, and as a teenager you probably mocked those who had a girlfriend or a boyfriend – but when it happens to you, now you understand things like you hadn’t before! The people started to fall in love with God. But as they heard the words, they realized how far they had fallen short! This God who had done so much for them, what had they done for Him? They had rebelled and disobeyed, and so much of their life right now they realized were in direct disobedience to what God had asked from them. They realized that it wasn’t just a simple procedure of changing a few things in their lives; their entire society had to be re-ordered! The reading of the Word brought their sin clear to them. They were horrified, and inconsolable. They wept, and said, “We don’t deserve this God!” 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Sometimes when I read the scripture I see clearly how short I fall of what God wants for me. I have not been loving; I have not been kind. I have not forgiven those who have wronged me; I have not heard the cry of the needy. Nehemiah saw the people in despair and said, “Look – don’t beat yourself up for the past. Yes, you were outside of God’s will. But the purpose of reading the scriptures today is for grace – God wants to bring you back to Himself! God’s rules are for grace- so that we can always find our way back to Him!” What if we lost the scriptures? Could we re-write them? Do we know them well enough to let them continue to guide our lives? Jeremiah said it, and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews echoed it, that God wants to write His law upon our hearts, so that we will know His ways and follow Him instinctively. We have the advantage of having the scriptures – do we take advantage of it? The people of Nehemiah’s time had the excuse of not having heard the Word, and they were forgiven and given a second chance. What’s our excuse, who have the scriptures available to us all of the time? Here is the hope that I find: if God has convicted your heart today, that you have been following the rules and traditions but have not totally let Him have your heart, it is grace that has lead you to repentance. God is not angry with you for having lost your focus, but is gracious and says, “You can come back.” This morning I invite you to come to the altar. Whether you have been faithful all of your life or you have just made a commitment this morning – the grace of Jesus Christ is calling you now to make your commitment to Him, and to find real joy in your life.