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. Absence makes the heart grow fonder

BRING THE BOOK!

ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER

 

http://www.religionquotes.info/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/15.jpgNehemiah 8:1-13 (ESV) 1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Introduction.

 

I want to follow up on my previous two sermons and in particular Isaiah 1:10 and just that part to Judah namely “Hear the Word of the Lord.”

 

We all know the saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Now, let me ask a very simple question at the outset. If the Word of God were to be taken away from you either by government or some other practical circumstances, will absence from the Word of God make your heart grow fonder for the Word of God? Maybe another way to ask the question is this. Do we take the privilege of owning the Word of God or sitting under the Word of God, or studying the Word of God together in a Bible Study group for granted?

 

We live in a day and age where Scripture is taken for granted. You will hear about people who complain when the Word of God is preached for longer than 20 minutes and they will make the following statement: “If a pastor cannot say what he needs to in 20 minutes, then he has nothing to say.” The same person will sit through a business seminar for 4 days in a week, for hours upon hours learning how to make money with no problem. I remember on holiday a few years ago a man telling me that most pastors who go over 20 minutes have missed 5 good opportunities to say ‘amen’. Many Christians in our day and age desire nothing but sermonettes for Christianettes. They want it short and they want it sweet, but will spend hours scanning the social networks. People want to be entertained. Crowds are drawn when all that is offered is nothing but pop-psychology. That is why the Word of God warns that in the last days people will gather for themselves preachers who simply say what their itching ears want to hear, and they will even embrace doctrines as taught by demons. Many Christians want to hear what they have heard before, so that they can know what they have known before so that they can do what they have done before. The desire to dig deep into the word of God, to dig hard and to dig long is a virtue that is quite absent in present Christianity.

 

I want to make a statement this morning that I hope you will agree with. If we want to see times of refreshing from heaven itself it will only happen when we see a recovery of Biblical preaching. The only true spiritual awakening is that which emanates from the word of God. Such was the case in the reformation of the 16th century as it witnessed the recovery of expository preaching by men like Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Knox as they literally turned Europe upside down with the preaching of God’s Word. Such was the case with the golden puritan era in the 17th century which witnessed the recovery of Biblical preaching in England and Scotland in the lives of men like John Owen, Thomas Watson and an entire army of Biblical expositors unloosed upon the Kingdom. Such was the case with the great awakening with the Biblical preaching of men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield. They took New England by storm; they set the Atlantic seacoast alight with the preaching of the Word of God.

Every great reformation, every great awakening and every great and true revival has been ushered in by a recovery of Biblical preaching. Phillip Schaff the noted church historian writes in volume 7 of his books on church history: “Every true progress in church history is conditioned by a new and deep study of the scripture. While the humanist went back to the ancient classics and revived the spirit of Greek and Roman paganism, the reformers went back to the sacred scriptures in the original language ‘et fontes’ “back to the fountain” and revived the spirit of apostolic Christianity. They were fired by an enthusiasm for the gospel, such as had not been seen since the days of Paul”

 

This is the same as what was ushering in the reformation namely sola scriptura, but not simply only the scripture, it was the preaching of the Scripture. James Montgomery Boice writes regarding that time, “Calvin had no weapon but the Bible, from the very first his emphasis had been on Bible teaching, Calvin preached from the Bible every day, and under the power of that preaching the city began to be transformed as the people of Geneva acquired a knowledge of God’s word, and were changed. The city became as John Knox said, the most perfect school of Christ since the days of the apostles.” This is what South Africa and the world so desperately needs namely a recovery not just of preaching, but of Biblical preaching, of expository preaching.

 

Nehemiah chapter 8 forms a most glorious backdrop regarding this topic as it gives us foundational pillars for the communication of the faith which we so greatly hold dear. It has much to say also of your and my responsibility towards the revealed will of God as given to Israel here and later the book that is now in our hands.

 

The setting:

 

The day is 445 BC, the place is Jerusalem. It is less than one week after Nehemiah has led Gods people in completing the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem in 52 days. It is a time when the whole nation now has come together to celebrate the feast of tabernacles in Jerusalem. The city wall is built, the temple has been restored, the people are back in the land after 70 years of captivity but they need more than a mere building program, they need more than just a crowd, they now need the preaching of the word of God to ignite their souls so that they may grow in the godliness that God has called them to live.

 

And so we see in these verses a case for Biblical preaching, a need so great, because as the pulpit goes so goes the people. We so desperately need a new love for the Word of God, not just amongst pastors but amongst God’s people. Maybe the saying is true, that when the people sleep in church, wake up the pastor. Oh how we need men who are able to expound the scriptures clearly, accurately with passion and authority to the glory of God.

 

Let me give you an overview of what I would like to look at in the remainder of this two part sermon.

  1. In verse 1 we will see a desperate need for Biblical preaching.
  2. In verses 2- 8 we will see the nature of Biblical preaching including 5 imperatives for Biblical preaching.
  3. In verse 9 – 12 we will see the results of Biblical preaching.

 

Point 1. The desperate need for Biblical preaching.

 

In verse 1 the text begins where every reformation and every revival must begin namely with a cry and a hunger for the preaching of the words of God. 1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.”

 

Now, isn’t this a glorious picture. This was a very sizable gathering. Commentators tell us that there were upwards of 42000 people gathered at the Water Gate at the east side of Jerusalem.  The Bible says that they gathered as one man which means that they were resolved for the right reason. They are there to make their plea, to cry out to their leaders to bring out the book, to bring out the word of God. This is remarkable as this is literally in our context coming from the pew, this is coming from the people, from the crowd that gathered there that day. Oh how we need a people so hungry that they cry out day after day, bring the book, bring the book.

 

To understand the context we are reminded that there was to be a public reading of the word of God every 7 years according to Deuteronomy 31:10-13. They had been in captivity for this last 70 years, and they are long past this time of public gathering in the Holy city, for the word of God to be brought to them and for the Pentateuch to be read to them and for exposition and for explanation to be given to them, and so they are under the heightened awareness of this and they cry out, “bring the book.”

 

Now, Ezra is the right man to step forward with the book. He is the key figure here. It was 14 years earlier that Ezra himself returned from captivity to Jerusalem to begin this ministry of teaching the word. Back in Ezra 7 we see Ezra 14 years earlier as God prepared the man for the moment as we now find ourselves in Nehemiah 8 where we see the moment prepared for the man. Ezra 7:10 (ESV) 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

 

Ezra had set his heart, he was resolved, he was fixed upon one thing, established on one thing and that is to be a man of the book. Notice, he studied it that means to seek with careful enquiry. The Hebrew word {daw-rash'} carries a connotation of digging out riches that are beneath the surface. It literally means “to seek with care, to enquire or require. Ezra was a student of the word for 14 years, digging out the truths of God’s word leading up to this revival at the Watergate. This is where any meaningful ministry begins, namely with a digging out by yourself alone with God. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV) 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

 

Oh that we may all have this deep inner desire that Ezra had for the Word of God. There are too many opinions in this world by pastors and members alike, that might sound fanciful and even Christian, but it is so departed from the Word of God. Too many Christians are promoting what we know as fool’s gold, simply because they are too lazy to dig for the real golden nuggets from God’s Word. What we see in Ezra’s life is a work of God.  If God has called you He gives you a deep inner desire to study the word and we need to dig, and dig and we will never reach the full depths of this inerrant, inspired infallible book. Not sure how many of you have read Pilgrim’s Progress. Its author was John Bunyan. He was so engrossed in Scripture that Spurgeon said of him: “cut him anywhere and he bleeds bibline.” What we need today is walking Bibles. We have nothing to say apart from the word of God.

 

Not only did Ezra set his heart to study it, but notice as well from the text that he lived it. He became a living epistle of what he was reading and what he was learning. Ezra lived the word of God. Let me point out something interesting regarding this word ‘aw-saw’. It is used elsewhere in the Old Testament as a word that carries the idea of expending great energy in the pursuit of something. It is literally the word that was used of Noah’s strenuous effort in building the Ark. It carries the idea here that he was building the Word of God into his life with strenuous effort, he wasn’t passive in his sanctification, he was active, he was aggressive as he was bringing his life under the authority of scripture and he was an incarnation of the book he was reading. The word literally means ‘to squeeze, to accomplish, to press or to bring into order’.

 

Not only did he study the word of God and live the word of God but notice that he taught the word of God. This word ‘to teach’ in the Hebrew (lamad or law-mad) means, to goad, to prod or to instruct with diligence. In other words there was an edge about his ministry, not only was he laying out information for those who were in front of him but there was a point to the truth. He was pushing people towards the will of God, as he taught the truth.

 

A preacher really stands between the word of God and the people whom they minister to. You stand in the middle and the truth flows through you to the people. A great preacher from the years gone by namely Charles Hodges said the following at his 50th anniversary in the ministry “I have never had an original thought in my mind in my life’, meaning he brought forth no new truth. He simply was an echo for the Word of God. This is what God has called preachers to be, men who are students, men who dig, men who live the message, men who teach it and preach it.

 

So, what better man could they call forth on this day at the Watergate? For 14 years he was prepared for this day, studying, living and teaching the Law of God. He was like a walking book. This revival at the Watergate began with people crying out for Biblical preaching, and Ezra was ready as he heard the people cry: “bring us the book…” Sadly today when people are crying preacher bring us the book, preachers are going to all kinds of other conferences to learn new tricks to attract people instead of proclaiming ancient Words. They feed on all kinds of fads and gimmicks while their own people are malnourished and dying spiritually. They spend more time learning how to make their services attractive for unbelievers. I have never met a lost person who says we want more Bible exposition. The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit for they are foolishness to him because they must be spiritually discerned. The natural man wants entertainment and we sin against heaven under almighty God to cater for that at the cost of excluding the sound teaching of the Word of God.

 

This is my prayer for Logos and Polokwane, Oh that our people will cry, ‘preacher bring the book, let’s eat’. No more sermonettes for Christianettes, no more fool’s gold, no, we want the real deal.

 

We will continue next week, but in the meantime can I challenge you to show your love for the Word of God through your attendance and adherence to the Word of God. I pray that under our ministry in this area we will see the preaching of the word of God leading to reformation, revival, a great awakening as last seen in the days of Jonathan Edwards. I trust that we will remember that the Bible must be daily bread and not cake for special occasions.

 

Amen!

Logos Community Church: - 30 March 2014