Summary: In our last three messages in Nehemiah, we’ve seen what it takes to understand God’s Word the way He would have us to. The fact is, most of the time our problem isn’t understanding God’s Word. Most of the time our problem is applying all the things that w
We have spent the past few Sunday nights talking about what it takes to understand God’s Word. The first 12 verses of chapter 8 have given us one of the best examples in Scripture of God’s primary design in making His Word understood. In that text, we’ve seen how it takes the right message for God’s Word to be understood. It takes the right method for God’s Word to be understood. And it takes the right response for God’s Word to be understood. If we pulled the right principles from those 12 verses, we should have no problem in knowing how we can understand God’s Word. But most of the time, the knowledge isn’t the problem, is it? I got to take CJ out on the golf course last week. He loves to golf and I played a little bit when I was in high school. Here’s the frustrating thing to me about golf. In my head, I know what I’m supposed to do. I had a few lessons. I’ve seen the experts on TV. I’ve heard Hank Haney’s golf tips on the radio. I have the information that I need to hit a decent shot. But something happens when I get into the tee box. For some reason, none of that information makes it from my head into my swing. My swing is shaped by my undisciplined body rather than by the information in my head. And I lose another ball off into the woods. How often do we do that in here? We know what we’re supposed to do. And when we respond in the right way to the right message that has been presented using the right method, it continually reinforces what we know we’re supposed to do. But then we leave here. And too many times, none of that information makes it from our heads to our lives. The book of James puts it this way in James 1:19-25: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. BUT be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” What James is saying is that if we have sat under the teaching of God’s Word, we know what we’re supposed to do. We know how we’re supposed to live and give and go and tell. Anytime we look into God’s perfect Law of liberty, which is His Word, it’s pretty clear what we’re supposed to do. Our problem is not looking into His Word when we’re in here. Our problem is that we forget about it when we leave. Most of the time, ours isn’t a knowledge problem. Ours is an application problem. When we come in here, we look into the mirror of God’s Word. And that mirror shows us all of the flaws in our life that, by God’s grace, we need to work on. But then as soon as we put the mirror down, we walk away and forget. And as soon as we put the mirror down, we think we’re okay. And because we think we’re okay, we never apply to our lives the Word that we have understood with our heads. Our passage tonight is huge. As I said, it runs from 8:13 all the way through chapter 10. And the reason that it’s so long is because Ezra spends all that time making it clear that the people applied the Word that they understood in 8:1-12. Tonight we’re going to look at the pattern they followed as they applied God’s Word to their lives. And as we do, I trust that we can use this same pattern when we are having a hard time applying particular truths of God’s Word to our lives. We’re going to look at this large passage in three chunks. We’re not going to read each section, but you can take that home for your homework tonight.
The first section runs from 8:13 through the end of chapter 8. It starts in verse 13 with the leaders of the remnant gathered in a small-group Bible study with Ezra. And, as happens anytime you get serious in studying the Bible, they found things they weren’t doing that they were supposed to do. As they were reading in Leviticus 23:33-43 and Deuteronomy 16, they discovered that they were supposed to be having the Feast of Tabernacles—literally “the feast of tents or booths.” God intended the feast to remind the people of how temporary their existence was when they were wandering in the desert for 40 years. They were supposed to build tents or temporary booths to remind them of that. And as it reminded them of how temporary things were for them, it was also supposed to remind them of God’s provision for them. From very early on, the true meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles was distorted. By the time of Solomon, it had become more of a harvest festival. By the time of the exile, it had almost begun to look like some of the pagan harvest festivals of the nations around them. But when the leaders of the remnant got to digging in the Word, they rediscovered how it was supposed to be. And they rediscovered its true meaning. So, from verse 15 through the end of chapter 8, they built these little temporary booths and celebrated God’s provision for 7 days. What is interesting is that, when they first began to read and study Scripture, what was the first thing they found that they could apply? The first thing they found that they could apply was something external. It was an outward action. It was a ritual. It was a work. It was some THING that they could DO. The first thing they could find to apply to their lives was the easiest thing to find. They found an external requirement of the law. Doesn’t the same thing happen to us? We find the 10 commandments and say, “OK, there’s a list of stuff that I can do.” We look through the rest of Scripture and see all of the different external things we can do. Go to church. Pay a tithe. Help the poor. Witness. Don’t say bad words. Don’t gossip. And before you know it, we’re caught up in a bunch of rituals. We’re caught up in a bunch of rules—do this, don’t do that. Now, is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends. Observing the externals is a good thing. It was a good thing for the remnant to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. That was what God wanted them to do. But do you remember what God told the pre-exilic Israelites back in Isaiah? In Isaiah 1:13-15, God told them, “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” Why was God so angry with them? They were doing what they were supposed to, weren’t they? Yes, they were—but they were only going through the motions. They were doing the right things, but they didn’t have the right heart. You see, you can dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s just the way that you’re supposed to. But if your heart isn’t right, it doesn’t matter. God is still not pleased. Dotting all your I’s and crossing all your T’s is a good thing. But it’s only the starting point. When you understand that Scripture is telling you to change something in your life, change it. But don’t stop there. Application of God’s Word to your life doesn’t stop with simply observing the externals.