I — Read: Nehemiah 8-9:3
II — Theme: God’s Word is:
- It is Convicting
- It urges Confession
- Thus, as a result of these three attributes, God’s Word Gives Life!
III — Unpacking the Theme of Nehemiah 8-9:
A — The Setting of Nehemiah 8-9
- The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (at all, let alone in 52 days) was an absolute miracle:
- Barely a week has passed since the people have finished the walls of Jerusalem, so everyone still had a very sharp sense of the miracle of God in which they had shared
- (8:1-3) Though Ezra had already taught the returned Jewish exiles the Scripture (the Law; Ezra 7:10); finishing the walls apparently galvanized a brand new passion among them to discover what God expected of them, as well as what He had really promised to them
1 — An illustration of this in my own life:
- After 33 years of my life almost completely devoid of anything “God,” or “Jesus,” I was found by Him in an evening church service in Crossville, Alabama on October 28, 2001. I knew right away this was a miracle of God, Himself! I hadn’t been desperate, or searching for God in any way that I was aware of, and He literally snatched me for Himself, out of nowhere, through the preaching of His Word! Though there’s much more to this story of God’s salvation in me, suffice to say, for our purposes here—When I recognized the miracle of God in my life (and all of His work is a miracle), I was instantly desperate to read His Word (His Law, Scripture, the Bible) in order to find out what He expected of me and what He really had promised me. I found what the returned exiles of Nehemiah’s day had found: The Gospel
- Let’s see then, how the life-giving Gospel revives our minds and our hearts in God’s Compulsory, Convicting, and Confession-urging Word
B — God’s Word Gives Life Because it is Compulsory
- Compulsory means “necessary,” “vital,” or “crucial”
- In this way, God’s Word speaks of itself as the “logos” (John 1)
- This Greek term means much more than just “word”
- When John the apostle uses the term “logos” (translated “Word”), he speaks of the eternal, essential Word of God, Jesus Christ, the personal wisdom and power in union with God, His minister in creation and government of the universe, the cause of all the world’s life both physical and ethical
- One of the earliest Greek philosophers, Heraclitus, was the first to introduce the concept of the “logos” being responsible for all creation and change in the universe. He did not think the universe was created by a god or by man, but by a “logos of fire,” as the most elemental thing we could know. So Heraclitus had right thinking, regarding the logos, and fire, but did not have it directed in the proper channel.
- John the apostle was raised in a culture thoroughly permeated by Greek philosophy, and would have undoubtedly known (as did most people of the day) of Heraclitus’ thoughts on the logos. Thus, what John does—having encountered The logos who is Jesus Christ—is to show not only what the logos is but who the logos is; as if to properly direct Greek philosophy’s aim
- So when Scripture speaks of itself as compulsory (necessary, vital), it starts by saying, per John 1, that “not a single thing that has come into existence could have done so unless the logos (the Word) brought it into existence.” Then John names the logos: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
- Finally, as we relate this concept of God’s Word as compulsory to life and being, to Nehemiah 8 & 9, we might ask, Why are we using an illustration of Christ, the eternal Word when we’re really talking about the written word of God’s Law in Nehemiah?Here’s a quick summary of why:
- God’s Word is defined in Scripture in 3 ways that are all completely unified: (1) God’s Word is eternal (the logos of John 1); (2) God’s Word is Incarnate (Jesus is the very logos of whom John has been speaking in John 1—John 1:17); (3) God’s Word is written (The Bible, Scripture, the Law being read by Ezra)
- The key reason Scripture regards itself as the “objective standard of truth, and final authority for doctrine and life” is because Scripture does not see its written self any differently than it sees its eternal and incarnate self. Thus, in a sense, if the “Word was God,” (John 1:1), then Scripture itself is God, Himself
- So then, if life—existence itself—is only possible through the eternal Word; and if new life—salvation—is only possible through the incarnate Word (both of whom are Jesus Christ); this means that our daily, ongoing new life in Christ is revived and sustained by the third form of the Word—the Scripture/Law/Bible
- For us today then, we should see what’s occurring with those who hear the Word read to them, and desire that same kind of response for and from ourselves when we read and hear the Word. No longer is our Bible to be a table decoration, or “interesting reading, from time-to-time.” How can that be? It cannot! Not when we now understand it to be what Hebrews 4:12 calls “living and active, Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
- That is the life given by the compulsory nature of God’s Word
C — God’s Word Gives Life Because it is Convicting
- About 200 years before Nehemiah, Josiah was the king of Judah (where Jerusalem is), and he gave orders to the high priest Hilkiah, to repair 300 years worth of damage that had been done to the temple in Jerusalem which King Solomon had built
- While the renovations were going on, Hilkiah finds the Book of the Law of God…and the whole kingdom is immediately turned upside down!
- King Josiah and the people of Judah weep and tear their clothes, and institute radical reform of religious and governmental procedures throughout the entire kingdom, because of how they were so convicted in their hearts by reading the Word of God.
- In Nehemiah 8 & 9, it’s much the same story: The people encounter God through His Word, and they are moved by conviction in their hearts to change everything in their lives!
- Why, primarily?
- Because when those who have the Spirit of God in them read and hear the Word of God, they know first and foremost that they have read and heard absolute truth. We are confronted with the only absolute Truth, who is God, Himself
- In every case of God coming into the presence of people, those people are immediately aware of their sinfulness, because they are immediately aware of God’s perfection
- And it’s not just an awareness—it is an absolute undoing of the person who encounters God!
- This does not mean that there isn’t joy and gladness for the person who encounters God; but it does mean that there’s simply no way, according to every biblical encounter we see between God and people, that we can even begin to experience joy with God before we first deeply recognize our sinfulness in His Presence. This is what it means to be convicted by God’s Word!
- Nehemiah 8:9-11 has Nehemiah himself, Ezra, and the Levite Priests all saying to the people who were hearing God’s Word, “Don’t grieve…don’t weep…this day is sacred to God….He sees that you are convicted in your hearts because of your sinfulness, and now He says for you to find your rightful joy in Him—because it is His joy that is your strength, and not His wrath!”
- In other words, God—who knows our hearts without us saying a word—confronts us with His Word, which is tantamount to confronting us with His Presence, and when we respond to that confrontation with the natural humility that comes from sinful beings in the Presence of a Perfect God. He then lifts up our fallen faces and smiles upon us, saying with great compassion for His children, “Now you may rightly have My joy for yourself, and it will always be among your greatest strengths.”
- In fact, when the people heard that God honored their brokenness and instead told them to rejoice—they were all the more happy to spend the next few days in the temporary booths they saw the people of Moses’ day living in!
- This meant that, while they were hearing the Word of God, they were to give up any comforts or “permanent things” of this world, so that their minds and hearts could be focused and practiced on what it meant to live in a world that is not their final home! Nehemiah 8:17 tells us that God’s people had not celebrated His Word with such joy since the time of Joshua, when the Israelites first came into the Promised Land—almost a thousand years earlier!
- That is the life given by the conviction of God’s Word
D — God’s Word Gives Life by Urging Our Confession
- As a matter of definitive resolution within yourself, read this following declaration out loud: Confession to God that does not involve an honest pleading with Him to help us overcome our sinfulness, and an honest (though not perfect) attempt at repenting of (turning from) that sinfulness is not biblical confession; it’s mere admission of guilt. And God does not honor such a so-called “confession”
- So let’s look at what it truly means to confess our sin
- 2 1/2 weeks after this great celebration of being confronted with God’s Word, His people came together—as a result of that confrontation—and separated themselves from all their worldly treasures
- And they did so in order to confess their sins!
- As they came to confess, they read God’s Word for 6 hours first—then they spent another 6 hours in confession and worship before God! (Don’t miss the “worship” motif that’s intended to be a natural part in confessing to God)
- The amount of time spent by the people in reading God’s Word and confessing is certainly meant to show us how serious they were about being genuine with God—and each other—about their sin, and their desperation to be cleansed from its stains
- Here we see something that runs a bit counter-cultural to a lot of “religious” church dynamic, and I think it’s important to draw this out if we’re going to see what “biblical confession that God will honor from us” actually looks like:
1 — First, we see the “brokenness” of the people of God in their confession
- There’s been a lot of progress in church culture over the last several years, in regards to “being more transparent and honest with each other,” and “taking off our Sunday morning morality masks” when it comes to “being the true Church”
- However, this mindset still only really occupies a small portion of the Western Church
- Much of this is because we still live in a society that largely recognizes brokenness as simply “being a victim”
- The established culture doesn’t dare consider the confession of our weaknesses to be a strength. In fact, we all, at some point in our lives or another must confess that we have not only been victims, but that we have indeed been victimizers. You know the old saying, “Hurt people hurt people?” Yes, brokenness also includes those of us who have willfully hurt others, and we must confess to God and to trusted ones around us these sins if we are to be cleansed by God and restored through His people
- But the people of God are often afraid to “let others in,” because it would expose them to untold shame…and what we all really want is to look good in front of others
- So, actual biblical brokenness is “being a victim,” but it’s also humbly taking responsibility for the brokenness we’ve caused in others and in our own lives. That is, real brokenness that God honors is owning our own sin for what it really is, and not blaming others for our sin, however egregious others’ sins against us may be
- In his instructions to believers on how we must confess, John the apostle says nothing of making excuses for our sin. Instead, he says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)
- The very first thing John teaches us is that all of us who believe in Jesus as Lord, are as sinful and broken as those who don’t believe in Him (we can say this because we must remember that, in God’s economy, even the slightest sin is rebellion against Him, and is deserving of death; therefore, to God, sin is sin, in terms of its outcome….Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death…”)
- But then he teaches us the actual difference between those of us who have believed in Christ and those who haven’t: that there is a remedy for our sin, once we’ve recognized it as sin: Confession to God
- John says that our confession equates to agreeing with God, that we do certainly have sin in our lives; and if we agree with God, it means we are being honest about our brokenness, which, in turn, means that God will forgive us of our sins and restore us back to loving fellowship with Him once again
- So, we must therefore recognize our sin as sin, if we’re to have any hope of God’s forgiveness.
- One of the great hopes of the Gospel is that, since Christ lives in us by way of His Holy Spirit, we will not be able to lie to ourselves for very long, before it becomes unbearable to our conscience….that is, the Holy Spirit will cause us to be honest about our sin before God, and He will forgive us through that honesty with Him
2 — The second thing to consider, if we want God to honor our confession to Him, is that, when we do recognize that we are truly broken sinners before God, we will absolutely feel the desperate need to have that crushing weight lifted from our hearts and minds
- Anyone sitting here now, who has ever felt what it is to have God’s hand heavy upon them because they haven’t confessed their guilt and sorrow to Him—knows what that desperation feels like: It can be utterly crippling and terrifying
- It can easily lead to depression and a great lack of joy, because at this stage of our emotions, not only is the world a sad and difficult place in which to live, but it seems that our sin has had such a rule over us, that perhaps it’s because God has grown tired of us sinning and finally just forsaken us. This is a very frightening place to find one’s self.
- King David understood this feeling all too well. (Read Psalm 32)
- Many of us can easily identify with David here in his agony of not confessing his sin, but what should be even clearer is that, no matter how much the devil convinces us that God has turned His back on us because of our sin—once we’ve confessed it in an honest way to Him, God restores us as though we had never been at odds with Him! In fact, He has never and will never turn His back on us once we belong to Him in Christ.
- Notice that David’s instructions at the end of his confession are to “rejoice in the Lord, and be glad, all you are upright in heart!” This is the same meaning behind what the Levites are saying to the people in Nehemiah 9
- That is, “upright in heart” has little to do with morality, and everything to do with honesty before the Lord, so that we don’t “make Him the liar” that John the apostle warns us about
- Both David and the Levites tell us, today, through God’s Word, that we are indeed sinners, but that, if we confess this in an honest effort to have God remove the guilt of our sin, we can be absolutely confident that He will remove it!
- As a result, we are told to expect God’s forgiveness, and thus rejoice in it! This is where we go from being somber, self-abasing, and self-destructive….to being joyful and finding our truest identity in Christ, and not in ourselves! The joy of the Lord Jesus Christ is our strength, indeed!
- The people of Nehemiah’s day had spent generations under the weight of God’s hand because of their sin. In their desperation, they sought to live again, which to them meant a loving relationship with God again. They went to His Word because it was compulsory (vital for life). They were convicted by it. And they confessed their sins because of that conviction….and they lived
IV — Understanding and Embracing the Gospel Is the Most Important Part of Our Conviction and Confession
- Let’s remember that nothing we’re learning today is about a mechanical or legalistic approach we have to employ in order for God to forgive us of our sins
- On the contrary, everything we’re learning must be approached under the auspices of the Gospel—the “good news.” That good news is that, Jesus Christ is the same God who gave the Law to Israel….the same God who Israel is confessing to and rejoicing in….the same God who David is pleading with and finds relief and joy in….the same God who is the logos—the Word who created all of existence….the same God who convicts by that Word….and the same God who urges our confession to Him so that He can fill us once again with His holiness
- Yes, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is the God of all the Bible, both OT and NT!
- The “good news” about knowing that Jesus Christ is that same God, is that we no longer see an overly-demanding God of the OT, and a gracious Savior-God of the NT, as if the two were mutually-exclusive
- This is a belief commonly held by many who profess to be “Christians,” so don’t dismiss this idea too quickly
- We said earlier that, “Scripture regards itself as the objective standard of truth, and final authority for doctrine and life”
- Well, as the Church, we hold to the biblical “doctrine” which all who claim to be the Church must hold to, if we are, in fact to have true eternal life in Christ:
That the core feature of the Gospel is that the same God who demands so much of His people in the OT—demands they could never accomplish in full—is the God of the NT, named Jesus Christ, who does in fact fulfill every demand that He has ever laid upon His people, including living a perfect life and dying for sin!
- In other words, Conviction and Confession, in-and-of themselves are not our salvation; but instead it is Whom we are being convicted by, and to Whom we direct our confession which is our Justification and eternal salvation!
- His name is Jesus Christ—the God of the OT and the New—and He alone has paid every one of our convictions and every one of our confessions in full, by His life, death, and resurrection for our sake! Let us praise Him indeed!