Summary: Focus on the runway and you won’t melt
As we begin this passage of scripture, the Jews have just returned from 70 years of foreign captivity in Babylon. Unlike our county jail up in LaPorte with its jail ministry that provides Bibles to the prisoners, the Jews were not allowed to practice their religion or even read the word.
They weren’t allowed access to the Law of God. All that they remembered of their faith came from memory or what had been passed down from the elders of the community. So by this time, they had forgotten more than they remembered about the word of God.
The book of Nehemiah tells us of the time of Israel coming home, rebuilding their homeland, and returning to their faith. If you look back in the book of Nehemiah you can see how Nehemiah has been busy doing the work assigned to him by God, rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem.
But Nehemiah had more than building walls and gates on his mind. He was a man of passion. He was passionate about returning God’s people to God. He was passionate about getting the people beyond the state they were in. Nehemiah not only wants to reconstruct Jerusalem, he wants to help the Jews reconstruct their lives.
The reconstruction of Jerusalem is over. Now it is time for re-instruction. Then - because they have been denied the word of God for 70 years. Now - because we have become apathetic to God’s Word. We need to become passionate about God and His Word, as passionate as those who were set free then.
The reconstruction is done and the Book of the Law has been discovered. What did the people do? They all gathered in the square and said, “Hey, we’re gonna have church! Hey Preacher, get your Bible and get out here! We’re gonna have church! We’re gonna have church!”
They were excited about going to church. They have had enough of the way they had been living for the past 70 years. They told Ezra to get the book and get to work. “We want to hear the Word of God. We want to learn. We’re ready to worship.” They were excited about going to church.
Now, if you’ll look in your Bible you will see that book of Ezra is right before Nehemiah. Ezra is a priest, a scholar, and a teacher of God’s word. He’s been in Jerusalem for 13 years, sent there to make sure that worship took place in the rebuilt temple. Finally, he is called to do just that.
Verse 2 says, "Ezra the priest brought the scroll of the law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand.” (I’m guessing the rest went downstairs for children’s church.)
Ezra stood before them on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Ezra was in the pulpit. We know this from vs. 4, not included in our Lectionary reading for today. And he is standing there, surrounded by 13 guys with hard to pronounce names.
Then Ezra opened the Book. And all the people stood up. I think that’s neat. Have you ever been in a courtroom? No, it’s not a trick question. I’m sure you’ve seen one on TV or in a movie. What happens when the judge walks in? The bailiff says, "all rise."
And everyone stands up out of respect for the judge. Well, no one deserves more respect than God or His Word.
So the people stood up out of respect for God’s Word. They had assembled as one man. They were bound together by their common desire to hear the Word of God. They were single-minded. And at the end of vs. 3 we read, “All the people paid close attention to the Book of the Law."
We’ve all heard the jokes or funny stories. “Why are we supposed to be quiet in church? Because people are sleeping.” “Pastor, I wasn’t sleeping during your sermon. I was meditating on your words of wisdom.”
Pastors have long been the targets of jokes dealing with the length of sermons. There’s the one about the preacher who was ending his sermon and apologized the congregation for speaking too long, "I don’t have a watch with me", he said. Somebody from the back yelled out, "Do you have a calendar?"
The Pastor’s sermon went on and on and on. The little girl, thinking about the offering, leans over to her mom and says, “If we pay him now, will he stop?” Tapping the watch, making sure it’s working.
“All the people paid close attention to the Book of the Law." They were eager to learn! How do we know this? Vs. 3 tells us that the people listened to the Word of God from dawn until noon. This is a 6:00 am service to a 12:00 pm service! Six hours! What do you think of the idea of standing for my sermons, let alone for a 6 hour worship service?