One Comment to “A Sacred Day”

  1. Donald McMahon
    November 4, 2019

    “A Sacred Day” (Nehemiah 8:1–12)(11.3.19)
    Ask the people to stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word.
    Nehemiah 8:1–12 (NIV84)
    When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, 8 1 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
    2 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. 3 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.
    4 Ezra the scribe 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.
    5 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. 6 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.
    7 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. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
    9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred 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.
    10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
    11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.”
    12 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.
    The word of God for the people of God.
    You may be seated.
    Title: A Sacred Day
    Two chapters earlier in Nehemiah, the rebuilding of the wall had been accomplished against great adversarial odds. Not only had it required effective leadership, hard work and dedication, the people had to always have their weapons at hand. The completed wall of the sacred city of Jerusalem was to keep out the enemy.
    It was a fortification; but, a physical barrier is not enough to keep out the enemy. Now, they had to establish their spiritual strength and protection. Building a church structure is not enough to protect against the threats from the outside. We must build the church, the Body of Christ, from the inside out.
    The preceding chapters tell of the great resistance and efforts of the enemies to prohibit the building of the wall. Against this opposition, the wall had been completed in 52 days. This miraculous accomplishment was a work of God. This encouraged Nehemiah, Ezra, and all the people.
    So, they assembled before the Water Gate and called for Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses. All the people gathered. All the men. All the women. All the children that were old enough to understand. Might this be informative for us on how we incorporate our children in worship? Some churches completely segregate children from the adults on Sunday mornings. Recently, we have started excusing the children before the scripture reading. Lord, show us your desire I pray.
    Notice the emphasis on unity: “they assembled as one man.” Yes, doing the work of God unifies us. When people come together in the kingdom work of the Lord, a great grace is released. They can accomplish more than their adversaries expect. They can even accomplish more than they expect themselves. Their hearts were responding to the stirring of God and they hungered to hear from God’s law.
    At minimum, this would have been Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. We can assume that daybreak till noon is about six hours. Just reading the Book of the Law would take approximately 15 hours. During these six hours there was also explanation and teaching going on.
    Ezra, and hence God’s word, are given a prominent place. Practically, this allowed for the large assembly, probably 30-50k people, to see and hear. It is also symbolic. In the historic cathedrals of Europe and many old churches, the pulpit was high up for the same reasons. God’s word has authority. God’s word comes metaphorically from the heavens.
    Ezra opened the book. The people saw him opening the Book and they ALL rose to their feet together. When I first started here, I asked the congregation to stand for the reading of the scripture. But, as I chose longer portions of scripture, I asked you to sit out of consideration for those whose health precludes long standing. I asked you to stand this morning to imprint this significance on your consciousness.
    Ezra praised God. The people are worshiping. They lifted their hands heavenwards and shouted Amen! Amen! Yes, raising our hands is allowed, even in the Methodist Church. Yes, exclaiming assent with an Amen! is acceptable. It is scriptural. Then they bowed all the way down until their faces were at ground level. They were in total submission.
    The Chosen People were preparing themselves to hear God’s word. Normally, I pray to God the Holy Spirit to prepare us to hear God’s revelation during the sermon. But, do you think that can happen if you have not prepared yourself? No, certainly your spirit must cooperate with God the Holy Spirit. The people listening to Ezra have given themselves over to experiencing God at work through the proclamation of His holy inspired word.
    How were they affected? They were brought to tears. This was not a shallow show of emotion. It was not a mere sympathetic teardrop. Their hearts were moved. Their conscience was awakened. They were weeping, mourning, grieving. Why? They realized they had sinned; trespassed; missed the mark; come up short; been disobedient. They had not lived the lives for which the Almighty Jehovah had created them.
    Repentance is a beautiful thing. Psalm 51:17 (NRSV) The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Acts 3:19 (NIV84) Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
    When we have confessed our sin, we are forgiven. This is cause for rejoicing and celebration. 1 John 1:9 (NIV84) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. I know that I have shared that verse with you several times; but, it is critically important because too many Christians have trouble receiving this truth. Maybe, that is part of what is going on here in this eighth chapter.
    Nehemiah, Ezra, and the teachers told them this is a sacred day. The Lord your God makes this day sacred; it is holy. What made it sacred and holy? The first day of the seventh month is the Feast of Trumpets; a day of rest and assembly. The Lord told Moses that during this feast day an offering was to be presented to the Lord by fire.
    Where is the fire in this account?
    It is within the hearts of the people.

    Remember, the sacrifice of a broken spirit and contrite heart. Their hearts burned on the altar of God’s heart.
    All the people assembled. They were of one mind and they were eager to hear God’s word. They were worshiping. They spent six hours in worship and the Holy Spirit, often depicted as fire, moved within the people. They were able to understand what the Lord desired. Hearts were changed. Yes indeed. This was a sacred day.
    Nehemiah tells them that this is a time to celebrate. Dry the tears from you faces. They were to enjoy special food and drink. Share in this celebration. Include those that are unable to make their own preparations for feasting. Love your neighbor.
    For the joy of the Lord is your strength. Of course, this by itself could be another full sermon. It is not clear whether this is God’s joy or it is our joy of God. That is ok because they are intrinsically intertwined. In Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples he says in John 17:13 (NIV84) “I am coming to you now [Father], but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they [my disciples] may have the full measure of my joy within them.”
    The Lord has gifted us with pleasure; and happiness; and joy. There is nothing wrong with godly pleasure. We know that all good gifts come from God, so happiness also comes from God. Joy takes God’s blessing to another level. C.I. Scofield wrote in The New Life in Christ Jesus:
    “Joyousness, in the scriptural sense of the word, might be defined as happiness overflowing. Happiness too full to be used up in mere personal satisfaction; happiness all alive and aglow. If happiness might be compared to a tranquil lake, embosomed in protecting hills, joyousness would be like the outflowing of a brimming river.”
    This sounds like the kind of joy that could give you strength. Nehemiah had gone through significant trials to reach this sacred day, the Feast of the Trumpets. His relationship with the Lord gave him the strength to overcome great odds. In his kingdom work for God, he found joy and fulfillment.
    Let us not be satisfied with stale and dutiful worship. Let us worship in spirit and truth. Let us be moved to tears and shouts of amen. Let us yearn to be transformed by God’s word and the stirring of the Holy Spirit within us. Let us be joy filled and strengthened for kingdom work.
    The Jewish people were ordered to celebrate feasts to remember a variety of occasions when Yahweh worked wonders. The harvest feasts also recognized the general benevolence of the LORD. Great things happen when people join together while they eat. There is a bonding and a building up. It also reminds the people of God’s generous provision.
    Nehemiah sends them off to celebrate by eating the best foods. Enjoy sweet drinks. This is a case where the physical pleasure of eating is commended. It is to contribute to happiness and joy. This is consistent with scripture that celebrates the gift of our sense of taste:
    Psalm 34:8 (NIV84) Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
    1 Peter 2:2–3 (NIV84) Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
    Psalm 119:103 (NIV84) How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
    And, the author of Hebrews talks about “those who have been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly, gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God.”
    In the New Covenant, we are not commanded to hold conventional feasts. We are given two sacraments though: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; otherwise known as Holy Communion. The Lord’s Supper is certainly meant to be a fulfilling “meal.” It is also a “remembrance” of what the Lord Jesus has done. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
    Our God created us with five senses and our sense of taste helps crystalize the remembrance of Jesus. We see the bread and cup. Sometimes we can smell the bread, especially if I have baked it here. Our remembrance of Jesus is enhanced by the hearing of our Communion liturgy; reliving that Last Supper. Taking the cup and bread in our hands, chewing and swallowing all use our sense of touch. The Lord’s Supper is intended to be an experience; a physical experience and a spiritual experience.
    I confess that I was tempted to skip over verses 4 and 7 when I was reading. After all, here we have 26 difficult Old Testament Hebrew names. It would have been simpler to just say “and other scribes stood on the platform beside Ezra.” It would have been easier to say “thirteen Levites instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.”
    Then the obvious occurred to me. These names are listed intentionally; so, they must be read. Continuing this train of thought, I must discern why the names of these men were specified. Why did the Lord include them? They seem like ordinary men doing their godly work. Clearly, these men were real with real names; they are an historical fact.
    I told you that the wall around Jerusalem was completed in the sixth chapter. In Nehemiah 7:4 (NIV84) we read, “Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.” Chapter 7 is pretty boring. It is a long list of the families that returned from exile to reestablish Jerusalem. Before they rebuilt their homes, they rebuilt the wall. These were a people dedicated to kingdom work. Note, there were relatively few people.
    I believe the list of names in verses 4 & 7 is a continuance of this idea of honoring those that endured the hardship of traveling back to a broken down city. They would face threats and danger. They would have to live sacrificially for God’s purposes.
    These were real people, with real names. They counted. They were important and their names were important. I tell you that you are important. Your name is important. Our circumstances are not as difficult as those faithful people on that Sacred Day; but, we do have some serious challenges in the days ahead.
    I have put up this easel and paper. Please print and sign your name after worship service.
    This is a sacred day. We have sung praises to our God. We have prayed. We have given our tithes and offerings. We have read the Scriptures and had them explained. Next, we will taste and see that the Lord is good as we celebrate Holy Communion. Yes, this is A holy and Sacred Day!
    Amen and amen. Let us pray.


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