“…Cometh the Man…”(Nehemiah 8) (John MacDiarmid)

Talk given for Poole Christian Fellowship at Poole High School on 24 June 2018.

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The story so far: God’s people have come back to Jerusalem with the goal of seeing the temple rebuilt. The job is completed, and they are now into a new era of living as the people of God in their own land. In the second wave of returning exile God has sent Ezra, a teacher of the law, to show how they should live as the people of God.
Today we look at what God did through Ezra, and ask what lessons it has for the people that God wants us to be today.

We pick up the story of Ezra’s ministry in Nehemiah Chapter 8:

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of 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 was 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 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.
Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
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. 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.

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 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.

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.
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.”
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written.

So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.

So, what does this show us about the kind of people that there were in Jerusalem, the kind of people that God wants us to be?

1. A Profound Respect for the Word of God

Clearly the people were hungry for the word or God, and hungry to obey the word of God. Ezra read the word, probably the book of Deuteronomy, the Levites explained it, and the people gladly obeyed. Although their situation was very different to ours, the message is the same. God wants his people to have a respect and an honour for His word. Do we?

2. A Profound Response of worship

Clearly, worship and the word were closely connected as Ezra led the people in worship and they responded in adoration.

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.

We worship God out of an understanding of who He is, as He has revealed Himself in His word.

3. A Profound Mixture of Grief and Joy

When Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn” – he was not endorsing grumpiness, but warning us that exposure to the holiness of God brings grief, as we mourn for our sin. But it also brings joy as we rejoice in who God is and in what he has done for us.

”For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Grief gives way to joy..
Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

4. A Profound sense of Celebration

For the Christian, celebration is never far away as we celebrate who God is what He has done for us, what it means to be His people. God’s people are a people of celebration.

5. A Profound expectation of God’s power

Showing once again their obedience to the word, as soon as they become aware that they should be celebrating the feast of tabernacles, they go for it. Jesus himself celebrated the feast of tabernacles, and we can read about it in John 7:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”[c] 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

The Feast of Tabernacles, as well as reminding the Jews of their wanderings in the desert, and thankfulness for the crops which had been gathered in, involved a ceremony of fetching water from the pool, which looked forward to the day when God’s Spirit would be poured out on all who believed in Jesus. Here Jesus shows us what Tabernacles is all about. Although the Jews of Ezra’s day did not realise it, they were looking forward to the fulfilment of God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on all believers when God’s people would be a people of the Spirit as well as the word.

And that’s the challenge for us today, to be a people of God’s word, whilst also reaching out to God to constantly fill us with His Spirit. May we be a people of the Word and the Spirit!

John MacDiarmid
June 2018