Below is an automated transcript of this message:Thanks for listening to the podcast from Gary Combs and the preaching team at Wilson Community Church in Wilson, North Carolina. Check us out on the web at wccnc.org for more. And now here’s the sermon.
Good morning. Listen, I’m pretty punchy, so forgive me. I’m so excited. Aren’t you excited? You know, I’m supposed to be the fearless leader and everything. But, boy, that need was pretty overwhelming to me. When the contractor said what the need was, I was kind of overwhelmed by that. Now we’re on the other side of what God has done through God’s people. I am just blown away. I’m kind of excited here. Who knows what the Lord will have me say or what I might say. We’ll see what happens here.
I’m excited to talk to you from Nehemiah chapter eight, because Rise Up has been our generosity initiative of making room for more people who can come just as they are and be forever changed by the love of Jesus. That’s been what we’ve been talking about now for nine Sundays. It has been largely based on the book of Nehemiah. We’ve been going verse by verse through the book of Nehemiah. We are in Nehemiah, chapter eight now. Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king of Persia, King Artexerxes. Nehemiah heard about the walls of Jerusalem, the city that had his heart, that the walls were broken down and the gates were burned. He wanted to do something about it. The Lord put it on his heart to do something about it. So he went to the people of Jerusalem and he said, ‘You know, the kings with me, the hand of my God is upon me. The people said, ‘Let us rise up and build and they strengthened their hands for the good work.” That is where we got the theme; it is from Nehemiah chapter two, verse eighteen, rise up and build .
We feel that the Lord is calling us to do the same thing in our city, in order to reach people not just to rebuild broken down walls. That’s part of it because the people need a place of safety where they can worship the Lord. But because people are broken; because broken people need the Lord. That’s where Nehemiah is at now. He’s built the walls. He’s built the gates. He realizes now that won’t fix the city. The people need help there; they are broken.
What does he decide to do? He decides that they need to celebrate; they need to make God’s word the centerpiece of our celebration. You see, here’s the thing about God’s word. It’s God’s word that forms God’s people. In fact, God’s word has formed everything.
The Bible says in the beginning, right in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and God said, Let there be light. So God spoke all things into existence. And today His word continues to form His people , and He continues to lead his people. Today, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about how to celebrate because here’s what God did; God called Nehemiah when they were building the walls. He said, You need to get ready to celebrate because celebration is important to God. Can you believe that? He loves to lead us to rest in Him; to celebrate. And so when he was concluding the building of the walls, he also built a stage. He invited their number one preacher; he was like the Billy Graham of Jerusalem. His name was Ezra; I want you to read God’s word and explain it. And that’s how we’re going to celebrate. Because God’s people love God’s word. They love to hear it preached and taught. They love to read it and celebrate it now. So that’s how they decided to celebrate was about making God’s word the center of their celebration.
How do you celebrate? A lot of us are pretty good at partying. We’re pretty good at celebrating. If you came in just now, you missed the earlier part of the service. Why does it smell like gunpowder in here? Well, we’re a southern church, you know. That’s part of it. But it’s because we have these little confetti poppers that we just pulled the trigger on as we announced what God is doing through our church. And so we’re learning how to celebrate it. By the way, I didn’t think of any of the things we’re doing to celebrate. I was brought on board. But I’m not great at celebrating. I’m such a focus person. I’m always thinking what is next and going towards that. I don’t know if I have always been this way, but that’s kind of how I’ve become. I was smart enough to ask some other people that know how to celebrate, to come up with ideas like a continental breakfast, confetti poppers and , the take home stuff we’re giving you. all these things other I’m glad there are other people that could help an old guy like me celebrate.
How do you celebrate? Just think about that for a second. You know, the world celebrates one way. But here’s how God’s people celebrated in the book of Nehemiah, chapter eight. They circled up around God’s word, and that was like the centerpiece of their celebration. So we’re going to talk about that for a second because God’s people are called to celebrate. And when they celebrate, they celebrate around God’s word. He assembled the people in Jerusalem to celebrate the victory of having finished the walls and the victory of being called back out of exile in Babylon, to be back in Israel, back in Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple and their walls. They were just celebrating the victory that God had given them.
I believe today that we can know how we can celebrate the victory that God has given us. As we look at the text, I believe it’ll answer how we can do that.
Three ways that we can celebrate the victory that God has given us. Let’s dig into Nehemiah, chapter eight and hear from Gods word. “1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites,[a] helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly,[b] and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. 13 On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. 14 And they found it written in the Law that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths[c] during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.” This is God’s word. Nehemiah, chapter eight, celebrates the victory God has given us.
Here’s the first way we can celebrate: (1) By being attentive to the preaching of God’s word. Did you see that? The people were attentive. They stood. They worshipped. They love God’s word. God’s people love God’s word. Nehemiah made a plan. Nehemiah in advance said, Let me get our best preacher and he got Ezra. Let’s build a big stage,so there’s room not just for for Ezra, but for a whole group of our leaders. Nehemiah made a big plan for this day of celebration.
Notice a few details. First it says that all the people gathered as one man . What does that mean? Unity. That’s what it means. They were unified. Now listen. There has been a lot of complaining about the work. A lot of people worried that they’d never accomplish it. They saw that big old number that the contractor told them; this is how much you need to raise. And the people went, ‘We can’t do it.’ And they were right. They couldn’t. But with God’s help, we can do all things. And so the people are now all together as one man; they’re united. Notice that this is a mark of celebration to God. They were a people of worship; a people of the book. They’re united, They’re united in the victory that God has given them.
Where are they? Well, they’re standing in the courtyard near the Watergate. Because all of us now love maps, let me put one up and it kind of looks like a salamander, doesn’t it? This is the shape of the old wall. If we were to go today , the wall is about like this. But this is the part that Nehemiah rebuilt and right there is the Watergate, and that would have been the courtyard. Okay, so that’s what we’re talking about.
The Bible is a historical book; it’s ordained by God. It’s inspired by God. It also describes real history, and it took place in real places. And so that’s where they’re at, the people of God. You know, when you think about this fact, it’s very beautiful. It’s symbolic that they are hearing the preaching of God’s word near the Watergate because in the book of Ephesians, chapter four, it instructs husbands to wash their wives with the word. And so the word of God is often equated with water because of its cleansing effect. And so here they are at the Watergate.
Who does the preaching? Well, we’ve said it’s Ezra. His name is mentioned seven times in Nehemiah, chapter eight. We haven’t heard about him in the book of Nehemiah, but he’s obviously prominent in the book just before Nehemiah, which is titled as Tanakh in the Hebrew Bible. They don’t call it the Old Testament. It’s the only testament for the Jewish people. They call it the Tanakh, and they only have one book called Ezra and Nehemiah is part of it, So they have one scroll called Ezra and Nehemiah is included in our Christian Bible. We have the same words. We just haven’t separated into two books. And so Ezra now is mentioned for the first time here; he was a scribe.
What is a scribe? First of all, they were people who had a clerical job. They were copyists. So here’s the original word of God, and here’s the copy. And so they would have some sort of pen that was very primitive, that they had to dip in ink and then they would write on parchment. Or they would write on on sheep’s skin like leather that had been softened. They were trained to do it very precisely so that the letters were perfect and beautiful. If they made one mistake, they would have to start over because they’re in a scroll. It’s very difficult work; they were taught to do one letter at a time. So that’s what a scribe is. Seems very tedious, but they came to be known as experts because they’re taking their time doing that and they became people who had memorized the word of God and then became highly favored as people that could preach and teach the word. Scribes were often preachers and teachers. Certainly Ezra was among their best.
Ezra lead the second wave of people back from exile. Now you remember that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had destroyed Jerusalem and he had carried the people off and exiled them to Babylon. In the first group that was lead. When King Cyrus of Persia defeated Babylon, he set the captives free and he decreed that they could take their temple stuff, that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen, back to Jerusalem. A man named Zerubbabel led the first wave. Zerubbabel was from the house of David; he was in the kingly line. He led the first wave and they rebuilt the temple.
The second wave comes led by Ezra, who was a scribe and a priest. Now he was from the tribe of Levi, which is required to be a priest. But more than that, he was from the Aaronic priesthood. In other words, he’s a son of Aaron, and so he’s from the home of the high priest. Ezra is from the house of Aaron, and he leads the second wave. He does this fourteen years before Nehemiah. Nehemiah leads the third wave fourteen years after Ezra. And so we’re able to time all this out so perfectly because it’s according to the king of Persia’s date. And so we know Ezra came in the seventh year of Artexerxes and so forth. And so we’re able to be pretty accurate about these things. Ezra had been there for fourteen years before Nia Maya and so he’s known for his preaching.
Who is allowed to be there? Who is invited to be in this wonderful celebration? They must have had children’s church and everybody above fifth grade got to come into the big church, which is kind of where we got it right. Did you know that chapter eight has been very influential on the Christian church of today? It certainly was influential on this church twenty seven years ago, as I was studying the word of God. We started children’s church back in the day. We used to call it super church, and we’ve had different names. We have had the name, Kidstown. We’ve had all kinds of names. Now we have this crazy name. Dub Kids. If you’re here for the first time, it’s a southern thing. We’re WCC; yep, that’s where tDub came for. I’m sorry about that, but that’s how we came up with it. And so Dub kids is what we call it now. But up through fifth grade and kind of our thinking is when a child is able to understand they should be with the adults.
One of the observations I’ve made and that other pastors have made that this generation is brought up with their own track all the way through high school. They don’t come back to church because they don’t relate. We need our kids at some point to be part of the adult service so that they learn to appreciate the intergenerational love of being together and singing and in worship and in response because we want to break that in our church. We don’t want our young people graduating from high school and never coming back. We want them to be included. That’s why you’ll look on our stage and you’ll see people that are sixteen, seventeen years old playing drums and playing different instruments. We have our youth that are leading our children.
Verse two says it’s on the first day of the seventh month, which is the month of Tishrei, the first day of the seventh month. That’s a significant day. It doesn’t mention all that it implies. Rosh Hashanah because these were Jewish people and they knew how important that day was. So let me give you a chart because I like charts, too, by the way. Maps are kind of like charts. So I made this little chart for us today because I couldn’t find one that fit what I was after. But notice that Tishrei is the busiest month in the Jewish calendar. There are three major festivals during the month of Tishrei, which is like late September – early October in our calendar. It is the first day of Tishrei, The Feast of Trumpets, which they call Ra Shashanah now.
It was actually in the word of God that on the first day of Tishrei, I want you to blow some trumpets and celebrate like God ordained a day of trumpet play. Today they call it Ra Hashanah, which doesn’t have anything to do with trumpets. Ra means head and Ha means the and Shanah means year, first day of the year. I don’t know how that happened. I need to do more research. Somewhere along the way, they came up with a liturgical calendar and a civil calendar. The first month of the year is Nissan and then in the civil calendar sometime later, Tishrei became the first day of the year. But clearly it says in the word of God, here, it’s the seventh month. OK, anyway, just telling you what’s going on here. They call it the first day of the year now. Ra Hashanah, but they still blow trumpets. Okay, so that’s a day of celebration. I will look at this again with you in just a little bit. But that’s what day of the year it is. It’s the first day of Tishrei. It’s the time of trumpet blowing. And by the way, if you’re thinking of a trumpet, that’s like some kind of metal thing with three buttons, you are wrong. Here’s what they’re talking about; they are talking about a shofar, which is made from a ram’s horn.
Now this photo is taken in front of the Western Wall that supports the Temple Mount, where the temple would have been. Today, there’s a Muslim edifice up there called the Dome of the Rock that sits on the very place where the Holy of Holies had been. But the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, because for the Jews, that’s as close as they can get because the Temple Mount is under Palestinian under the Palestinian authority’s control . And so they go to the Western Wall because that’s as close as they can get. They touch it, they cry and pray. And so it’s called the Wailing Wall.
A rabbi may have blown the shofar; he’s definitely a guy who knows how to blow a shofar. And it’s a gift. Trust me. I’ve tried to blow a shofar. Not just anybody can walk up and blow one of those things. If I could’ve found somebody to blow one this morning, maybe we would have done it. If I would’ve blown one, you would have ran. So we’re not doing that. But that’s what they do; they blow the shofar, blow the trumpet. And so the first day of the month is when they would do that. And so this is a wonderful chapter. It’s very detailed. And they get this from, Leviticus, chapter twenty three, where it says that the Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the people of Israel saying in the seventh month, on the first day of the month. So this is Tishrei. You shall observe a day of solemn rest; a memorial proclaimed with blasts of trumpets, with a shofar. You shall not do any ordinary work and you shall present a food offering to the Lord.
Here’s what’s happening there; they are studying the word of God. We’re supposed to be blowing trumpets. And so the people are learning from the word and they’re hearing and being attentive to the work. Now, how long did they do it? Look at verse three. This is the first day of the month. First day of TIshrei. It says from early morning to midday, which in Jewish time is 6am to 12pm. That’s six hours of preaching. People don’t complain to me now . if I go long. . People had a longer attention span in those days. They didn’t have smart phones and all this Netflix and stuff. When they went to church, man, that was it. That was where it was happening.
We’ve got so many distractions today; they had long attention spans. Six hours of preaching. It wasn’t just him non-stop; I think he occasionally had to get a drink of water. And you’ll see in verse three the description of how the people responded because they were attentive to the book of the Law. They were leaning in and really listening. When he opened the book, they stood up. He’s up high where they can all see him because Nehemiah had thought about this because, you know, when we finish, we need to have a celebration. Hey, look at the calendar. It looks like it lines up with the time of celebration. That’s perfect. If you kind of look at how we’re going right now, we’re only a few weeks out from Easter, which is perfect for us too, because that’s our day of victory, when Jesus won the victory over sin, death and the grave. And that’s why we celebrate every first day of the week. The Jews kept the Sabbath, which is the seventh day, remembering that God rested on the seventh day. But ever since the beginning, the Christians have celebrated on the first day because that’s the day that Jesus got up out of the grave. And so we celebrate on this day. So they built a platform that would hold at least thirteen people; a big place up there, up high, where they could see it and hear Ezra’s preaching. And the people were blessed and said, Amen. And it says on down there at the end that there was a bunch of guys, and it actually names them that were out among the people. And I guess Ezra might would take a short break and get something to drink. That’s a lot of preaching, and the people would ask questions. It’s like they were in small groups with different small group leaders. They read from the book from the Law, and they gave it clearly so that people could understand. And so, they would take little breaks.
I’m trying to imagine what this looked like, you know? Can you picture it? When you’re thinking book, you’re not thinking the right book. Here’s what is was; it was a scroll. SoEzra comes up, Nehemiah introduces him when he comes up with the scroll and he opens it and the people stood, and he puts it on the platform on the lectern. He opens it up like that. The Torah might have been in one scroll, which would be humongous, but it might have been five scrolls like the scroll of Genesi. But I think that you normally kept it in one giant scroll.
The first five books of Moses would be one scroll; it would be huge and they roll it up, and then they would put it in sack that had a drawstring at the top that was really ornate. And they still do that to this day. If you go to a synagogue, they have a cabinet behind the pulpit. And you open up the cabinet and you’ll see these bags made out of felt looking material and this beautiful stuff with hebrew lettering on it. And it will have all the scrolls. You have to pull the scroll up out of the little sack and then you roll it out like that. So that’s that’s what he did.
It’s very expensive to have one of these. You didn’t have it on a smartphone in your pocket. You had to go somewhere where a guy was trained to read it and explain it because it was so rare and they would kiss it before they opened it and then roll it out. Are you with me? Are you there? And the people stood and said a double Amen. Sometimes the preacher has to Amen himself; it depends on the crowd. Amen.
Jesus was known for the double Amen. The people gave Ezra the double Amen. But over in the New Testament’s it has been translated “Truly, truly, I say unto you.” But if you would have been there when He was preaching, you would have heard Him say, “Amen, Amen , I say unto you. He would be speaking in the Aramaic or Hebrew and he always would give himself an Amen because he had a tough crowd from time to time.
It says in verse eight that they read it clearly, and they gave the sense because that’s what preaching does. Preaching reads it to you, but then gives you the sense of how to apply it to your life, preaching and the book, which is what the word bible means. It’s the Greek word Biblios meaning book. It’s a book, God’s book of sixty six separate books. But it’s one book, united because of the Holy Spirit. Preaching goes all the way back to God’s people gathering. God’s people love to hear God’s word preached.
Paul commanded Timothy. He charged him when he gave him the keys to the church at Ephesus. He said, ‘Look, I got to go plant some more churches. You take over this church.’ Ephesus is a city of two hundred fifty thousand people. He told young Timothy, . he said, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” That’s not you, though. I couldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for this community of believers that love God’s word just as it is.
You know, when we first started the church, we used to put on our bulletin the first year, the never changing message to an ever changing world that is what we were doing. We were offering the never changing message to an ever changing world. So we knew that we had to adapt in terms of our dress code, our music and so forth . That’s cultural because you have to speak in a language that people can understand. But we knew we weren’t letting go of this. This is our anchor, and that’s who we’ve been for twenty seven years. Today we celebrate the victory of Jesus; we do this every Sunday. This day is special, because God’s doing so much in our church.
Here’s number two; here’s the second way. (2) Receiving God’s word with repentance and joy. We are attentive. We love God’s Word and we love to hear it preached. And then number two (2) Receiving God’s word with repentance and joy. Verses nine through twelve Here’s what starts happening. The people start crying, start weeping. The more Ezra preaches, the more they cry. Well, you’re not supposed to cry on the day of trumpets. A festival is supposed to be happy. They’re responding, but they’re crying, Nehemiah says. We’re supposed to be blowing shofar and celebrating. It’s the feast of trumpets. It’s a holy day. Nehemiah responds, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” What does that mean? This day is holy; t means special, set apart, set apart for special use. This day is set apart for blowing trumpets and celebrating. You people are crying. What’s going on here?
I don’t know if you have anything set apart for special use at your house. We have at our house special plates, just for Christmas. I’m telling you, these plates only come out once a year. I don’t know where they’re at the rest of the year. My wife knows those plates will come out on Christmas Eve. They’ll appear on Christmas morning breakfast, and then they’re gone again for another year. Those are holy plates, set apart for Christmas. We have red plates now, set apart for birthdays. We used to just have one. Then our granddaughter, McKenzie, was born on my wife’s birthday. Of course, Robin bought another red plate. Those red plates do not come out, I don’t know where Robin keeps them, but they only come out on birthdays. And once a year, two of them come out on her and McKenzie’s birthday. They’re holy plates. Do you understand what I mean? Set apart for special use.
The day of trumpets was set apart to celebrate the victory of being brought out of Egypt and now being brought out of exile in Babylon. Why are the people weeping? The word of God was drawing them to a place of seeing their sin. The word of God, when it first comes at you, it’s like a mirror and it reflects who you are back to you. You say to yourself, ‘I don’t measure up.’ But it doesn’t stop there. If you pull away at that point , you’ll think God is a judgmental, hateful God. You haven’t heard enough yet. You pulled away too soon, friend. Keep looking in the mirror and you’ll see how you look now and how God sees you. If you would only give your life over to him.
So here’s what it looks like. You first of all cry because you see how far you are from what God’s called you to be. But then you are filled with joy as you recognize that Jesus has paid the price to make you right with the father. That’s what seems to be happening here. They didn’t have Jesus yet. But they do have the day of atonement coming up pretty soon. And here the teacher is going among them and saying, ‘We’re not supposed to be crying today; today is a day of celebration that they would blow the trumpets. It’s a holy day for joy and the people were broken because we didn’t line up with God’s word. They are told to coming go eat some food because that makes everything better right?
It was weird how he told him to do it; I say weird because I’ve never had it. . They were told to go eat some fat. Basically, that’s usually what I end up doing. But I don’t think we usually talk about it like that. Eat the fat, drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready. Make sure everybody has some. Don’t be celebrating and leaving people out. So we filled the lobby full of food for both services today. See, we’re people of the book, aren’t we? We are people of the book; we celebrate differently than the world. But eat the fat? I’ve never had anybody say that. Now it might be a Jewish thing. I don’t know. This thing about eating the fat might be a Jewish thing because we’ve got a dear friend who’s a messianic Jew; she’s a Jew who came to Jesus. We would have her over, and I would, you know, cut the fat off the corner of my steak or something like that. It would be sitting on the side of my plate and she’d say, You gonna eat that? Can I have it? Yeah. Go for it. Maybe you’re a fat eater. Enough of that. I told you I was a little punchy today.
After this, he encouraged them saying, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Does that make sense? Let’s think about that for a second. Does the Lord ever get discouraged? No. No. He holds the whole world in his hands. The joy of the Lord is unconquerable. And if you would join the Lord and be a child of God, the joy of the Lord, even in the midst of whatever you’re going through today, even going through the storm you’re going through something, the joy of the Lord will be your strength. I know some of you are unemployed and you’re struggling with that. Some of you got bad news from the doctor last week. I know, because you’re coming down here and praying with me on Sunday mornings. I heard all this just at the first service. You may need work. The doctor said there’s a spot on your my lungs. My teenager is giving me a fit, and I am trying to raise them right. I don’t know what you’re going through today. You know? I don’t. But God does. And there’s a joy that dwells in us from the Father, even through suffering. That’s why the world looks at us look it does. There’s something different about you. It’s an incomparable joy that gives us the strength to go through a storm and our faith is not hurt. In fact, it grows. This is what they’re saying to him. Look, God brought you out of Babylon, just like he brought the people out of Egypt. We’ve got you on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, when all your sins are atoned for. Finally the people listened. All of the people, in verse twelve, went their way. They ate. they drank and they sent portions. They made great rejoicing. There was much rejoicing. I like the King James version that says great mirth. That’s a word we ought to bring back; mirth. There was great mirth, great joy, and they celebrated.
You know, when the world sorrows, when the world gets caught, when somebody gets caught in sin and they’re not a follower of Jesus, they have worldly sorrow. They’re usually sorry that they got caught. You know the difference. Like there’s tears from consequence, not from the sin. But when a believer in the Lord feels repentance, they feel sorrow, too. But it’s different. They feel sorry that they offended God for their sin. They’re sorry for their sin but not sorry they got caught. They understand the difference.
To the church at Corinth, there’s different kinds of sorrow. The kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow, so the regret goes away. Now the joy comes but worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance. In other words, it lacks heart change. You’re not really sorry; you’re saying that you’re just sorry that you got in trouble. That leads to spiritual death because there’s no change in the person’s life. Do you understand what I’m saying? And so these people, I believe in Nehemiah, were crying Godly tears and they got cheered up by God’s word.
The people of God understood God’s word, and they celebrated. Here’s another translation of that same verse twelve in chapter eigh, ‘So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food and celebrate with great joy. Because they had heard God’s words and understood them.’ Pastor and writer Thomas Watson wrote. “Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.’ We have to say I’m sorry for offending God and that brings godly sorrow which leads to repentance, which leads to no regret.
Does hearing the word of God bring you to repentance? Every Sunday, I try to say something like this at the end. ‘It’s our time to respond to God’s word, because God’s word always deserves a response.’ What needs to change in me that God wants to help me with.
Now here’s number three. We’re talking about celebrating. Here’s the third way: (3) By experiencing the joy of obeying God’s word. By experiencing the joy of obeying God’s word. Now, we are in verses thirteen through eighteen and the centerpiece continues to be God’s word. They’ve been attentive. They’ve listened. They love hearing it. They’ve repented in tears, and now they’ve been encouraged to experience the joy of forgiveness in their village. And now they’re like, ‘Well, let’s do it.’ What if we started doing what God said to do and studying God’s Word? They came upon this feast of Tabernacles, and they’re like, ‘Let’s do that.’ If it says to do that, why don’t we do that? They just start taking it for what it is. They just start looking at it and saying, ‘Let’s do it’ and they’re so excited.
Verse thirteen tells us that on the second day (so this is Tishrei, too just the second day) had more teaching and preaching, except now, they are studying; they are studying the words of the Law. They’re It’s good thing we built walls and gates because it doesn’t look like we’re going to be working the whole month. We need to be in a safe place where we could get together. And so, you know, just put the chart back up again, just to remind you what’s going on here. So in Tishrei, there are three big events. And so the first day was Ra Sheshanah, the feast of trumpets. Now it’s the second day and they’ve got this coming on day ten. Now that’s not mentioned in Chapter eight. It’s assumed because that’s the high and holiest day of the year for them. But now they’re studying something that takes place on the fifteenth day through the twenty second day of Tishrei called Sukkot. In Hebrew, Sukkot is the feast of tabernacles or the feast of booths. It’s in Leviticus, chapter twenty three, where they celebrate. This is a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. Celebrate in the seventh month, live in temporary shelters for seven days. All native born Israelites are to live in such shelters. Your descendants will know that I had them live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God. And so this is to make them remember they’re forty years in the wilderness, living in tents and temporary shelters before they came into the promised land. So every year in history, they’re supposed to spend a week camping out with their kids , studying the word of God remembering God brought us out of slavery. Well, what better way to celebrate if you’re the people of God who were just got brought out a Babylonian exile? I mean, it would be like celebrating that all over again. Maybe it is good what they did back there in the days of Joshua. In fact, that’s what Nehemiah writes, “17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.”
They camped out for seven days in these little booths that they made out of palm branches. When you saw the list in there, right there is the instructions, Verse fifteen: “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” So they’re making these temporary shelters, and then they’re camping out in them, and they’re hearing the word of God preached every day. And so they camped out all over the place. They camped out in the cities, but they camped out in the courtyard in front of the Watergate. They camped out in the courtyard in front of the gate of Ephraim. It’s all there.
Now. I’ve had this in my head. I don’t know if we’ll ever do it because I haven’t figured out how to do it and whether you would even do it with me. But sometimes I feel like I just don’t get enough of you. You probably feel like you get plenty of me. But sometimes I feel like I don’t get enough of you. And so I started thinking, Wouldn’t it be great if we camped out? Seven days would be hard, right? But what if it was a weekend? What if we camped out in October in the parking lot and like had preaching on Friday night and study on Saturday morning and then free time, you know, get to know each other and then maybe more preaching on Saturday night, more preaching on Sunday morning that we clean up all of our camp here and go back to work on Monday morning. What if we did that one October? Would you do it, where you go out for a weekend and cook, barbecue, preach, listen, all of the kids are there and there’d be a mess? The whole city would think we went wacko if we would do a thing like. We would be celebrating Sukkat, the Feast of Tabernacles. I I don’t think we get together enough sometimes and really hear the word of God.
I remember, when I was growing up, a church that I attended used to have an annual preacher’s conference. Now, people, there was morning preaching, noon preaching and night preaching for seven straight days at the church I grew up in with my mom. They had a children’s home at this church, and so they had a big cafeteria and all this extra stuff because they had a children’s home for orphans, and my mom would work in the cafeteria that week to help support her church. Of course, I had to come with her because she brought me, and I would be hearing preaching three times a day for seven straight days. Now, you might think a ten, eleven or twelve year old would freak out if he had to endure that, but it had the opposite effect on yours truly. It put in me a deep, abiding love for hearing God’s word preached. Then you might think, Well, do you ever get to hear preaching? Right now, I I love to preach, and I learn something every Sunday because what’s happening right now is not me. I study, I prepare. Then the Holy Spirit uses me because you’re praying for me to do that. And then I’m praying for your ears to be attentive and for your hearts to repent and then to experience the joy. And then for all of us to go out here obedient to God’s word and changed.
God’s people love God’s word. And so they built booths. We can see it in Leviticus, chapter twenty three. The instruction for that from the days of Joshua says in verse seventeen. They’d not celebrated Sukkat like that since Joshua first led the people into the promised land. Now, you know, that’s hyperbole. We talked like that. We haven’t celebrated like that since nineteen ninety nine or whatever you know. Is that right? We haven’t celebrated like that. Maybe it was hyperbole.
In Ezra, Chapter two or three, they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, so it’s not like they weren’t doing it, but he doesn’t mention the booths, so maybe they were just doing the preaching part without the camping part. So maybe he’s emphasizing that we started camping out again. We hadn’t done that since way back then, and that made it better because we were out of our comfort zone and it made us more attentive. I don’t know, but that’s what it says. And then what did they do?
Verse eighteen says, day by day. From the first day to the last day, they read from the book. There was preaching every day and the people that couldn’t they just couldn’t get enough of it. They couldn’t get enough of it because it will change your life if you can hear it through the ear gate, read it through the eye gate, apply it to the heart gate through the power of the spirit through the understanding of Jesus. You need to get your Jesus glasses own because you can’t understand God’s word unless you see it through the blood of Jesus. Because then when you look at it, you recognize it’s not judging you, but it’s pointing you to the cross. If you pull away too soon, you’ll think it’s judging you. But if you look long enough, you’ll recognize that, no, it’s just showing me that I’m a sinner that needs a savior. Joy comes when we study and follow.
Look what Jesus says in John 15, “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love. Just as I will obey my father’s commandments and remain in his love. I’ve told you these things so that you’ll be filled with my joy.” Yes, your joy will overflow. Do you know the joy of submitting to and following Jesus and obeying his teachings? It just there’s no joy like it.
Now I’m going to close in prayer. The first part of my prayer is going to be for that person that’s here today. And you’ve never committed your life to Jesus. That’s your offering today. That’s it. What can you give the Lord who owns everything? Everything belongs to him already. How do you give a gift to the Lord? Give him the one thing he might not have. You. . Maybe he doesn’t have you? Maybe you have never given your life to the Lord So we’ll start with that prayer. Then I’m going to pray over offering our time of response. Because this is celebration Sunday, Lord. So I pray now for that person that came in today on a thin thread came in saying I need something. I need help. Is it you? Would you commit your life to Jesus right now? You can do it right in your seat By praying and believing in your heart What you’re saying is, Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner. I need a savior. I repent, which means I’m changing my mind I’m turning away from my sin I repent of my sin And I turn to you I believe you died on the cross that you raised from the grave that you live today I believe it. Come into my life and forgive me of my sin. Make me the person you want me to be. I want to be a child of God. I want you to be my lord and savior. And if you’re praying that prayer right now believing in your heart the Lord will save you. He’ll make you a child of God. Everything will be new. You’ll be a new creation. So we’re praying with you right now for that decision. Others are here today and you’ve lost the joy of your salvation. You’re going through a storm, through a difficult time, right now. And would you just say, Lord, give me your joy? Lord, help me either to go through this, around this, under this or over this you tell me what to do. Lord, I will do it. But give me your joy in the midst of it. Lord, I pray for all the discouragement, all the fear, all the brokenness in this house to be healed. The joy of the Lord is our strength. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.