Rededicating Lives

Explore the Bible Series

January 14, 2007

 

Background Passage: Nehemiah 8:1-10:39

Lesson Passage: Nehemiah 8:1, 5-6, 9-10; 9:1-2, 38; 10:28-29

 

Introduction:  There are important differences between revival and revivalism.  Many “baby-boomer” Southern Baptists will remember the revivalistic tendencies of post- World War Two churches.  Commonly, Baptist churches sponsored “revivals.”  These meetings occurred at regular intervals (I grew up in congregations that scheduled semi-annual revivals), and they typically involved a guest preacher and musician who led the worship.  Great anticipation invigorated the church in the weeks leading up to the revival, and congregation mobilized for a season of intense spiritual renewal: cottage prayer meetings, WIN schools, youth meetings, and choir practice.  Everyone hoped for an evangelistic harvest and genuine renewal of spiritual vitality.

 

These revivals revealed, in many cases, a genuine yearning for a more intimate experience with Christ.  No doubt, many people can trace the genesis of God’s work in their hearts to a time of “revival’ at a local Southern Baptist church.  It’s hard to find too much fault with regular evangelistic emphases and the urgent preaching of the gospel; nevertheless, some troubling aspects of these “revivals” deserve some sober-minded consideration.  I offer these thoughts for your meditation.

 

  1. Revivals are a result, in my judgment, of God doing his ordinary work, to an extraordinary degree.  For instance, the Holy Spirit often convicts men of their sins.  During a time of revival, the Holy Spirit brings conviction in extraordinary ways and to a remarkable extent.
  2. Revivals occur as a result of the sovereign work of God and not merely as an outgrowth of human strategies.  Please don’t misunderstand this point.  Wise church leaders understand the importance of careful planning; nevertheless, human strategies do not constrain God.  He works as he wills. Indeed, revivals have often occurred at times and in places no man would have anticipated, as the “surprising work of God.”
  3. Revivals center on the holiness of God and the glory of Christ. Frankly, many of the meetings I attended centered attention on the human personalities involved.  Few people anticipated revival when the pastor continued his faithful, regular ministry of the word; instead, somehow parishioners believed that a new voice, a dynamic personality would bring results that the “familiar’ could never produce. 
  4. Revivals produce enduring results.  Again, my remembrance of revivalism recalls troubling tendencies; in particular, the temporary effects of these meetings troubled me deeply, even as a very young person.  Often, I witnessed deeply emotional “decisions” for Christ, but the tears soon dried.  All too quickly, the congregants returned to patterns of spiritual lethargy.

 

In Nehemiah’s day, we observe the marks of true revival.  God did a remarkable work through the ordinary leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra. The renewal of God’s people did not center on the dynamic personalities of these two men; rather, the attention focused on the Lord God. 

 

 

Background Passage Outline:

 

I.                   Ezra Read and Explained the Law of God (8:1-18)

A.    Ezra summoned to read the Law (vv. 1-8)

1.      The occasion of this reading: Nehemiah tells us this occurred on the first day of the seventh month, and commentators like Charles Fensham conclude that this was the Jewish New Year celebration; thus, these Hebrew people would have regarded this as a joyous occasion. In all probability, this reading took place in obedience to the admonition of Deuteronomy 31:9f.

2.      The venue of the celebration: The Water Gate was located in the Northeast section of Jerusalem.  All of the people, men and women alike, longed to hear the law; thus, the reading did not take place at the newly-reconstructed Temple. Women only had limited access to the Temple courts. Verse four recounts the building of a wooden platform that Ezra used to read the scroll of the Law.  The text mentions the names of several men who stood with Ezra as he addressed the people.

3.      The blessing and worship of the occasion: Verses six and eight point out the profound effect all of this had on the multitude.  The congregation stood as Ezra read the scrolls, and they responded by bowing their heads and worshipping the Lord.  Notice that the people actually responded to the teaching they received; that is, they did not remain impassive and inexpressive. 

B.     The response of the people to the reading of the Law: This section expands our understanding of how the listeners responded to the Ezra’s ministry. Initially, the reading of the Law grieved the attentive multitude, and they began to weep, no doubt, because of their awareness of their own moral failures.  Ezra and Nehemiah, however, comforted the mourners and reminded them that this day was an occasion for joy and celebration.

C.     The commemoration of the Feast of Booths (vv. 13-18): In connection with the reading of the Law, the Hebrews marked the Feast of Booths (See Leviticus 23:34-40). This memorial drew attention to the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.  It reminded Israel of God’s deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, the divine provision for the needs of the people, and the years of anticipation of entering the Promised Land.

 

 

 

II.                The Worship of a Renewed People (9:1-38): These people, indeed, had experienced a significant rededication of their lives to the Lord.  This spiritual renewal, of course, influenced the way they worshipped God.  Note some of the elements of their devotion.

A.    The corporate element of their worship (vv. 1-5): God’s people, of course, worship the Lord in their private lives.  Jesus reminded his disciples of the importance of entering the “prayer closet”; however, all true believers realize that worship has an essential corporate aspect as well. This public worship, if neglected, diminishes both the individual and the body of Christ.  In this text, a large group of people gathered for a unified confession of sin and exaltation in the faithfulness and forgiveness of the Lord. The people of God seem to have lost track of time; that is, they did not worship in haste.  They devoted half of the day to the reading of the Scriptures and confession of sin.  Note, by the way, the importance these people placed on the public reading of the Law.  Modern evangelical churches, following this ancient example, should devote more time in simply reading the Bible together. 

B.     Their awareness of the history of redemption (vv. 6-31): Ezra helped the Lord’s people understand the history of God’s dealings with Israel.  Sadly, like our brothers of old, many contemporary Christians have a woeful grasp of Church History.  Church leaders should promote a healthy appreciation for the history of the faith.  Our children should know something of their heritage as Baptists, and all of us must, it seems to me, develop a deep reverence for the historical record of God’s providence over the course of human events.  Protestants should realize that Christian history did not begin with the Protestant Reformation.

C.     The renewal of their covenant with God (vv. 32-38): The rehearsal of Hebrew history brought these people to an awareness of their own failures and the gracious redemptive posture of God toward his failing children.  This renewal of the covenant involved several elements: an ownership of their sin, an awareness of their solidarity with the sins of the past, a realization of God’s wondrous faithfulness and grace, and the understanding that this situation was reversible.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1.      What role does the public reading of Scripture play in your local church?  How could your assembly improve on this essential element of public worship?

2.      How can your church improve its understanding of Christian History? 

3.      How has this lesson shaped your understanding of “rededication”?