A Revived Response
Text: Nehemiah 9
Proposition: A life awakened back to the wonder and grace of God responds with repentance, confession, praise and obedience as the Spirit of God breathes in us.
Introduction: Much of the Jewish calendar year is punctuated with feasts that either commemorated a past event or celebrated a present season. Yet of all the feasts only one is mentioned as being celebrated after the Tribulation period, after the assault of the Anti-Christ upon Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives split in two and the return of the Lord to the earth. That feast is called the Feast of Tabernacles. In Zechariah 14:16 it says, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” The Gentile peoples of the world are now called to keep what had once only been considered a Jewish celebration. What is this Feast of Tabernacles called Sukkot by the Jews since the days of Moses? It was also referred to as the Feast of In-Gathering, when the fruit crop was harvested in October. Perhaps one of the oldest names for this feast was the Feast of Booths. It originated when Moses came down from Sinai with the Law and the instructions in it to make a Tabernacle where the center of worship would take place. It was a command at this time (Lev. 23) that the people would make for themselves a booth or tent big enough for their family to be in for a week so that they would never forget the time when the Lord brought the people out of the slavery of Egypt. At the very time when the Tabernacle Tent was instituted, meaning God now dwelt with man, they were commanded to make tabernacles or booths of remembrance. The Feast of Tabernacles portrayed the time to come when the Messiah would ‘tabernacle’ or dwell with mankind forever. (John 1:14) It is a Feast of the In- Gathering not just of the fruit harvest but ultimately of the in gathering of all nations into His kingdom. It was this feast, Sukkot, The Feast of Tabernacles, that had just been celebrated for 8 days in Nehemiah 9 and now the people gather in Jerusalem as their hearts are revived to seek God with all their being. Have a look at what happens next in Nehemiah 9.
I. Revival Is Like the Recovering of a Memory Once Lost But Now Alive.
It’s been said that revival is not evangelism, it’s the awakening of people that are already saved but have fallen into an apathy that forgets the very God they once knew. When you read these verses in Nehemiah 9 it describes the revival not just of an individual but of an entire nation. Their reaction is very visible, they come together as a people fasting from the comfort of food, dressed in the clothes of poverty, covered in the dust of grief. They separate themselves from the people of other nations, people that to a great degree have been a distraction to them and they stand together and agree with God about how they have forgotten Him. They confess their sin. For a quarter of the day, for three hours, they pour out their confession and worship as the words of the Law in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are read aloud before them. Then at the very height of this time of repentance and confession the spiritual leaders stand before the people on the steps of the Temple. What is recorded next is known as the longest written prayer in the Bible from verse 5 to 38. It is in essence the recovering of a memory once lost but now alive. It is the memory of what they have been taught since being a small child. It is the memory of the person of God they once had known in a warm and loving way, it is the memory of the way they had walked away from Him and it is the memory of His promises to them like an outstretched hand. Look at how the memory is revived:
1. God chose creation to reveal Himself. In the heavens and the angels, the earth and the seas, God reveals Himself. He upholds them, day and night He keeps all in its place. It is His order and it declares Him and His handiwork. (Col. 1:16-18)
2. God chose an individual to be the way He revealed Himself. In Genesis 12 Abram was 75 years old when God begins to use him. But for the next 24 years Abram slowly forgets God’s promises and Person. When he is 99 God changes Abram’s name (Gen 17:4-6) to Abraham and also changes his wife’s name from Sarai to Sarah. So Abram (Noble Father) becomes Abraham (Father of many) and Sarai, (Princess) becomes Sarah (Mother of Nations). The Feast of Tabernacle will remember this with great significance.
3. God chose a nation to be the way He revealed Himself. In the womb of Egypt the nation of Israel was conceived and through the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, it was born. By day and by night He was with them and led them in the way they should go so that others would see a nation and by it see Him.
4. God chose His Word as a way to reveal Himself. On Mount Sinai He spoke to Moses His ordinances, true Laws, statutes and precepts. He gave blessings and curses, He gave Sabbaths and Feasts, He gave boundaries in behavior and worship.
5. God chose signs as a way to reveal Himself. There was the manna, the bread from heaven. There was the water from a rock… twice! Out of the impossible God revealed that He would care for the needs of His people even by using signs that ultimately pointed to their very greatest need… eternal forgiveness of sin through an eternal High Priest Who Himself would be the perfect sacrifice for sin, once for all, Jesus Christ.
In the recovering of this memory, things they knew but had set aside, the people were revived to see their God who had made and was making Himself known to them. It was why their hearts burned within them, it was what stirred them to agree with God about their sin and to turn back to Him. A life awakened back to the wonder and grace of God responds with repentance, confession, praise and obedience as the Spirit of God breathes in them. Look at what happens next.
II. Revival Is Like Recognizing the Pattern of Sin and Turning From It.
There is a pattern to sin that can be easily seen in the macro of a nations failures and yet is there in the micro of each of us. The people see the pattern in verses 16 to 30, I’d call it a 5D cycle. It begins with Destitution, the people were slaves in Egypt. It moves to Dependence, they trust God and change occurs. It comes full in Deliverance, they find freedom, life. It moves to Disobedience, knowing the right thing to do but intentionally choosing not to do it. It moves to Desperation, the people suffer loss of freedom and life becomes much harder, which leads back to Destitution. That’s the 5D cycle, the pattern of sin in the nation of Israel and in us too. Destitution, Dependence, Deliverance, Disobedience, Desperation.
Then there is this great transition statement in verse 31, “Nevertheless in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, gracious and merciful.” It’s like saying, ‘O God we see the pattern, the cycle of our sin and You have been faithful in stepping into that cycle and drawing us to Yourself. Revival sees the pattern and also sees the God who is greater than the pattern of our sin. There is an exasperation with themselves, with their own foolishness. Listen to verse 36, “Here we are, servants today! And the land that You gave to our fathers, to eat its fruit and its bounty, Here we are, servants in it!” Revival not only sees the pattern, it’s sick of it, it wants it no more. There is a saying in counselling, ‘Insight does not equal change, repentance equals change.’ To see the pattern is just the first step but you’ve got to be sick of it, to choose to be done with it. That’s what repentance is and that’s where change happens. So the people say in verse 38, “And because of all this we make a sure covenant and write it; Our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.” They write down the way they now choose to live before God. They contract with God to seek Him, to know Him, to follow Him to trust Him. They list the things that need to change and they commit themselves to those changes. They have others witness it and sign it with them as their revival covenant.
So we have a New Covenant in Christ Jesus but does that mean we have no need of revival today? Does that mean we are in some way immune to the 5D cycle of sin? What would your revival covenant look like? How can you move from just having insight about this to real change in Christ Jesus?