Text: Nehemiah 8
Proposition: When the Spirit of God moves through the Word of God to stir the people of God (J Edwin Orr)… God moves people from crisis to faith.
Introduction: ‘Revival’, it’s defined as “a period in which something becomes popular again after a long period of time”. The term can refer to trends in society like fashion or music. The church has also come to recognize the term to describe the way God’s Spirit breathes life into the church that it would be a brighter light in dark times. In the 1790’s the countries of Europe were going through revolution and upheaval, except for England. It’s been said that the revival that swept through parts of England at that time deflected the people away from social radicalism to spiritual reaction. It was called the Great Awakenings, three different waves of revival, one in the 1700’s, then again in the 1800’s and then into the early 1900’s. From it came the modern missionary movement, the reforms against slavery, reforms regarding the rights of women to vote and many other positive social changes because of lives ignited to faith in Christ. Often revivals occurred when there was political, moral and financial upheaval, when faith in Jesus Christ was considered to be a useless appendage to society. It has been over a hundred years since anything on the scale of the Great Awakenings has been seen in North America. This morning let’s look at a time in Israel’s history when they had gone through a period of hopelessness, when they had been led through 52 days of incredible change in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. Now they came to a place of choosing life in God in a way not seen for over a hundred years. Turn with me to Nehemiah 8.
I. When the Spirit of God Awakens the Reality of God, People Are Revived.
Look what happens in verse 1, “Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel.” The reason thousands of people came to this place was hinted at in the last verse of the previous chapter. It was the seventh month on the ecclesiastical calendar but it was the first month of the year on the civil calendar, the month called Tishrei. The word Tishrei itself means beginning. Before the captivity into Babylon this month had been called Ethanim (1 Kings 8:2) but when the people returned from the captivity they named this seventh month Tishrei and it remains so to this day. It was on the seventh month that Noah’s ark touched ground on Mount Ararat (Gen 8:4), Solomon finished the Temple in the month Tishrei (2 Chron.7:10) and Leviticus 23 declares the seventh month as a feast of Remembrance The first two days of Tishrei are called the Feast of Trumpets which leads into the Day of Atonement and the month finishes with the Feast of Tabernacles. It was for this reason the people stood before the Water Gate, tens of thousands of the 50,000 now in Judah. That’s the cause but they came as one man, they were galvanized not to celebrate but to hear. It’s as though the people had been asleep spiritually for a long time and then suddenly things changed around them. They were standing within the walls of a rebuilt Jerusalem and it was like New Year’s Day and the Spirit of God awakened their hearts to see that only God could have done this. And what is it that they especially wanted in this moment, what is it they are hungry for? They want to hear Ezra read the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament. Have a look at verses 3 to 12.
II. The Spirit of God Through the Word of God Revives People.
Look at how this happens. In verse 3 the people listen for three hours or more as Ezra reads Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Something is happening here. They don’t have any other place they want to be, something is being said that is more compelling than food or rest. In verses 4-9 it describes how those three hours looked. It began when Ezra and 13 others stood up where the people could see them. Then when Ezra opened up the scroll all the people immediately stood. It was as though the King had suddenly entered the court. Ezra begins by praying a blessing upon the Lord, the great God. It is a blessing that declares not only Who God is but what He does in mercy and grace. The people together respond, Amen, Amen or ‘It is true, it is true.’ Not a word has been read, yet the hearts of the people are ready to hear it because they have opened their hearts in worship. Their posture is one of worship, hands lifted up to receive, heads bowed in humility, hearts made ready. Look at verse 8, “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.” In verse 7 it lists 13 people who moved through the crowd helping the people to understand what they were hearing. They amplified the Word as the Spirit of God gave them discernment and a heart for the people. For over three hours they stood and listened and then learned and then received and then were overwhelmed by the power of the Spirit in the inspired, profitable for teaching correction and rebuke, adequate Word of God. You can see their response in verse 9 as Nehemiah and Ezra comfort the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.”
Why do you think they wept, what was the sorrow that overwhelmed them? Is it that the Spirit of God used the Word of God to show the people of God that they are seen by God? Called of God? Loved by God? Was there a conviction of sin, the rebuke and correction of the Word? Was it the teaching in the Word that revealed the holiness of God? (2 Tim 3:16)
We know from Leviticus 23 that the Feast of Trumpets leads right into the Day of Atonement, a day Israel is made acutely aware of the way God judges their sin and calls forth an action of repentance and then provides a substitute. In the midst of conviction of sin God demonstrates His own love towards us. Is that why the people wept, is that why we weep? On the 10th day of the month of Tishrei Lev 23 says, “And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people.” Is this why the people sobbed in sorrow?
To be revived in terms of mouth to mouth resuscitation usually evokes a gasp for air as the person begins to breathe again, revived to life. Sometimes if they have almost drowned they throw up water, they look a mess but they have been saved from deadness. I wonder if that’s not what the people looked like in Jerusalem on that day? When revival of soul occurs we are not so concerned with the way we look as we are with the way we now look at God. You could almost say that being revived in such a way is what we will experience the moment we die as a Christian… all pretense gone, total priority changed, identity transformed, alive in soul as never before. To be revived is to be prepared for glory.
After five days, on the 15th day of Tishri, the Feast of Booths began. It lasts for a week during which the people are to take the branches of trees and make simple dwellings and live in them. Lev. 23:43 says that the reason for this is, “that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” Revival receives and believes the truth that we are where we are because of the protecting hand of God. The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates that, whole families out under the stars, sleeping and eating together, one generation to another telliing of how God has led and protected them. Here too the Spirit of God moves, helping us to remember what has been forgotten. To be revived is when the Spirit of God moves through the Word of God stirring the people of God (J Edwin Orr). It will move you closer to where you need to be before you see Christ face to face.