God's Holy City: Part 2b

Living as Exiles for our Faithful God  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:42
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Why do you come to church? Why do you get yourself together on a Sunday, interrupt the flow of your day, get out of those PJ’s, turn off the TV, to come each week? Some people would say there are a million ways to spend your Sunday that are more important than going to church for two hours.
Students, I know the answer to this question for you is because my parents bring me, but would you come on your own?
Why are any of us really here today? I hope and pray your answer is not obligation to your parents, obligation to a social norm, or obligation to a spouse. My prayer is that your desire to be at church comes from a supernatural desire given to you by the Holy Spirit to come and feast upon God’s word and be encouraged by others like yourself.
What is the church?
Matt Merker in his book Corporate Worship:
“A local church is an assembly of blood-bought, Spirit-filled worshipers who build one another up by God’s Word and affirm one another as citizens of Christ’s kingdom through the ordinances.” - Matt Merker, Corporate Worship
In Nehemiah chapters 7-8 we are looking at the Jews repopulated in the city of Jerusalem. It looked to weeks ago at how and why Jerusalem was called Zion, God’s holy city.
Zion: God’s Holy City
Physically in Jerusalem
Spiritually in Eternity
The gathering of the Jews in Zion point forward to the gathering of the NT church which points forward to our eternal gathering of rest in the presence of Christ for all eternity.
Nehemiah 7 is Nehemiah populating the physical city of Zion as after the walls were established. He was careful to make sure the inhabitants were protected and we made sure that he verified their lineage so that they may populate God’s city.
We applied that last week to the need for the church to be in the business of authenticating those who truly belong to the body of Christ and who will forever populate the city of God.

II. Gathering the City

Gathering as Holy convocation
God chose to use numbers with significance and one such number is the number 7. We know that God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. 7 days is makes up a week in God’s creation and the 7th was a holy sabbath of rest.
God also commanded Moses to teach His people that their worship of Him should include feasts throughout the year. Each feast and festival had theological importance to their worship of YHWH.
The 7th month of their calendar was ultra-important, it was considered a Holy month, a Sabbath month with three separate times of worship.
7th month: a Sabbath month
Feast of the Trumpets (Day 1 of 7th month)- Lev. 23:23-44, this sabbath rest on the first day of the seventh month began with the blowing of trumpets.
There is a term HOLY CONVOCATION: this means a required assembly of the people for the worship of the Lord whereby the trumpets are blown at the beginning and end, where the law is read and where worship of the Lord commences.
Day of Atonement (Day 10 of 7th month) where Aaron and High Priests who served after him would make atonement for the sins of all of God’s people.
Feast of Booths (Day 15-Day 21 of 7th month)
Every 7 years a Sabbath Year: Every 7 years: no sowing to give land rest, no harvesting to give the poor an abundance of food, erasing of debts brought equality back to people such as creation
Deuteronomy 31:10–12 ESV
10 And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law,
Sabbath days, months , sabbath years....all points to redemption where peace is restored between men and men restored to God....an eternal rest.
God’s people Gathered around the Word
The gathering of Israel during these feasts and festivals focused on God’s word. At its inception when God commanded Israel through Moses, until this present day, the gathering of the people centered on the word of God given to man. It was not the only time the people of Israel were students of the word, but the highlight is that they would gather and worship with God’s law to them at the center.
This gathering of God’s people around the His revealed word is what sets His people apart from all others in the human race. The lost despise his word and run from, but God’s people gather around to hear and learn from it.
Focus of Families together to learn (adults and children)
Deuteronomy 31:13 (ESV)
13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
Notice also in the passage in Deut that that reading of the law was to include the next generations. They would not be set aside in their own little groups away from the assmbly. Instead, we see the little ones gathered with the assembly at this Sabbath feast. Here they are learning from the law with the rest of the adults
We can too apply these truths to the church today as we gather as God’s people. As a shadow of our eternal rest, the church exists to live out today in part what we will experience as a whole in the presence of Christ. In our homes we gather around the word of God, keeping it center. We don’t allow the cares of the world to overcome our love and affection for Christ that we see in his word.
But like Israel, we also gather together as one people centered around the word of God. This is what our passage will teach us today as we look to Nehemiah 8.
The importance of this passage to the application for the church is the need to ground ourselves in the word of God as we gather as God’s people. If we gather for entertainment purposes, or merely social engagement, while ignoring God’s specific instruction from his holy word, then we have failed as a true gathering of God’s people who is called to give proper honor to the Lord by worshipping His name. Our gathering is supernatural, setting itself apart from any other civic meetings in Bartlett City Hall, PTA meetings at the local elementary school, or gathering at social events like sports and entertainment. Here we gather to be fed and nurtured by the living word who is Jesus Christ. He unites us and be cares for us through fellowship with him in his word. There is nothing like the Gathering of God’s people.
This is the context of Nehemiah 8, as we see the Jews come back together, gathering in the 7th month, re-establishing the feast of the booths, and seeing a revival of spiritual awakening in their lives.
From this passage in chapter 8, let’s observe ways that God’s people can prepare themselves each week for the gathering around God’s word.

1. Gathered and Hungry (1-4)

Nehemiah 8:1–4 ESV
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.
One of the first points of emphasis in verse 1 is the desire and hunger that the people of God have for Ezra to bring out the scrolls of the Law and read them aloud. Many scholars argue as to what Ezra is reading from here but if we take the text at face value, then we can understand that he is reading the law which would be considered the Pentateuch (5 books of Moses). This is the instruction for God’s people as to how they might live in godliness among the nations. These words define for them the reality of the covenant that God made with His people. They are words of relationship and worship of the One True God.
After 70 long years without worship in the city of God at the temple of God, here the people are again back in the city and they want to hear God speak through his word!
God’s people should hunger to hear God speak to us each and every day from his word as we go to the Scriptures. He has shown his voice in the words in this book and He speaks to his people about the relationship that He offers to them through His Son Jesus. Now that hunger does not originate in us out of sheer will and determination. Hunger begins supernaturally, when God transforms our dead, hard hearts to hearts of flesh that beat for him.
Ezekiel 36:26–27 ESV
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Once therefore a person is regenerated as the bible defines it, with faith in our hearts and the Holy Spirit in our lives, then have activated a desire for God’s word, because we now desire God himself. God’s people who come to Him by faith in His Son now long daily to hear from Him through the written word of God we call the Bible.
Psalm 119:97–99 ESV
97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
Not only do we hear from God as we study his word daily, but we gather to hear the preaching of God’s word each week. Scripture is read, hymns derived from Scripture are sung and then the Scripture is opened and exposited for those who have gathered.
Do you hunger to hear from God when you open his word to read it and when you hear someone preaching it? Do you acknowledge that God has something to say to me every time God’s word is opened?
I admit as a preacher of God’s word that many times a sermon may fall flat, may be confusing or my oratory game may be off. Regardless, when the word of God is declared, God has some truth to teach you in order to instruct your heart. Listen for it as the word is read or declared!
In John Macarthur’s book on Expository Preaching, there is a section at the end entitled the “Listener’s responsibility.” In it he formulates three steps that listeners can take to prepare to hear the word of God preached:
Be Physically Ready : be in attendance to hear the Word
Be Personally Ready: be rested and attentive to the Word with proper attitude
Be Prayerfully Ready: come bathing the gathering in prayer

If a people are looking for rich sermons from their minister, their prayers must supply him with the needed material; if they seek for faithful sermons, their prayers must urge him, by a full and uncompromising manifestation of the truth, to commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (see 2 Corinthians 4:2). If God’s people are going to expect powerful and successful sermons, their prayers must make him a blessing to the souls of men!2

This idea is clearly seen in v 3 as we see the 4+ hour event where Ezra read the law aloud, atop his platform that was constructed in the Water Gate. The people gathered, not just men but also women and older children who could understand the law and its interpretation. V 3 states “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the law.” The phrase “were attentive” is added in translation to explain the literal phrase, “their ears of all the people were on the book.” But I like that literally…putting our ears on the book.” We have heard the idioms, nose to the grindstone, ear to the ground, hand to the plow. Putting your ear to the book is the way in which God’s people tune their attention to what God has to say in His word.

2. Gathered and Needy (5-8)

Nehemiah 8:5–6 ESV
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.
Next we can see how humbled they people were by the words of God being read. V 5 tells us that as Ezra opened the books perched high above them in his platform, giving the orator a helpful audible advantage with such a vast amount of people who needed to hear at one time. As Ezra delivered the word to the people, they honored God and his word by standing for the reading. There is this amazing response to the word delivered in which they honor God as Lord and in doing so they humble themselves before His rule and instruction. They literally commit themselves to HIs instruction with the words, AMEN AMEN and then they bow their faces to the ground in humility under the great authority and power of God’s word to them.
I remember as a youth pastor how one summer our students went to camp and we studied this passage in Nehemiah. Upon reading the words that the people stood to honor the reading of God’s word, the students were convinced that was a proper way to honor God. Without discussion or planning, when we returned, our students started standing to honor the word being read. At first, it was a few, then more, then parents and finally the entire congregation. It was a powerful moment where teenagers were leading adults to give the Lord’s word an honor it was due.
When we gather, we come hungry to hear from God and we come humble, preparing our hearts inwardly to hear by acknowledging our humble position before God and his instruction. We come not to inform God of what He should do for us but we come humbly submitted to what He will teach us! They show such humility, such submission by the way they stand to honor Him, their confession of AMEN to commit to Him and then bowing to display their submission to him.
I watched an interview recently of Dr. Billy Graham on the Johnny Carson show in 1973. It was amazing to hear Dr. Graham tell Mr Carson about his 1972 crusade to Korea where it was recorded over 1 million people attended the event to hear the word of God being declared. Billy Graham said it was much like radio because the people went a mile in each direction and he clearly could not see any faces high above his platform. Only with the help of amplification could such an event take place.
But the people celebrated the word of God being declared on that day as Dr Graham proclaimed the gospel from a raised platform, much like Ezra that day in Jerusalem, and the people were listening intently.
Nehemiah 8:7–8 ESV
7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, 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, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
Verse 7
Jeshua JESH yoo uh
Bani BAY nigh
Sherebiah sher uh BIGH uh
Jamin JAY min
Akkub AK uhb
Shabbethai SHAB ih thigh
Hodiah hoh DIGH uh
Maaseiah may uh SEE uh
Kelita kih LIGH tuh
Azariah az uh RIGH uh
Jozabad JAHZ uh bad
Hanan HAY nan
Pelaiah pih LAY yuh
Ezra had to station levites among the people, where they served to help the people understand what Ezra was reading. They Levites seemed to be positioned to help the people understand the language and meaning of the text. The root word of the HB here means that the Levites were “breaking apart” what was read by Ezra.
Here we see both the service of the Levities as interpreters of the word of God for the people and the people needy of the those servants of God to help them understand it. This puts great value on preaching of God’s word as the elders of RCC stand to help you understand the word clearly while you sit under its authority needy of its instruction.
Paul tells Timothy,
2 Timothy 4:1–2 ESV
1 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.
Our practice at RCC is delivering expository sermons which means we take the word of God, divide it up and preach the same meaning that was intended by the original authors and can be applied to today’s context. We are not Jews in Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day, and yet this passage applies to our lives because God’s word is living and active. God speaks to us now through his word just as he spoke through his word as Ezra delivered on this day!
The benefit of expositional preaching is that it avoids any temptation for the preacher to interject his own ideas and thoughts. Instead, the Expositor is committed to what God has said and how it applies to the people in which he shepherds.
Derek Thomas writes,
Independent of what we may feel about the Bible as we read it, Scripture maintains a "breath of God" quality. Thus, the preacher is to make God's Word known and make it understandable. He is to limit himself to it without adding or subtracting. -Derek Thomas
Therefore, the understanding of what is read and preached comes as a gift from God. As we see these Levites helping the people understand, it is actually a gift of God to have true understanding. He opens ears and blind eyes in order to see the truth of what is being proclaimed in his word.
Psalm 119:73 ESV
73 Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
Therefore, as the preacher shares the message, the supernatural work is not in what He says but it is the work of the Holy Spirit working through the living word of God to actively bring change and transformation through the preaching of the Scriptures. Some of the poorest delivered sermons by a man can still bring about the greatest change in the heart of whomever God is desiring to change through it.
We must realize that in the understanding of a passage, the sermon is not intended to merely added to your deposit of information about the bible. It is there to inform you in a way that leads to change…as Paul writes to Timothy
2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Notice the Scripture is profitable for transformation in a person’s heart so that he is being transformed day by day into the complete man.
"The understanding must be informed, but in a manner, however, which affects the heart, either to comfort the hearers, or to excite them to acts of piety, repentance, or holiness." - Charles Simeon

3. Gathered and rejoicing (9-12)

Nehemiah 8:9–12 (ESV)
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 .... 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.”
Grieved over sin:
Key words: v. 9 - “do not mourn or weep…for all wept as the heard the words of the Law”
v. 10 and 11 do not be grieved
Why were levites discouraging grieving over sin? They weren’t discouraging grieving as the Law of God took effect. Instead, they were teaching hope and joy in the Lord as the people greived their disobedience. Grieving over sin is a natural and good process of the spiritual journey. It is the way in which God draws a sinner to see his need for God.
We cannot live in grief as Christians for hope and joy are produced in us by the Spirit. Maple trees are known for producing sap. Sap is a sign of life in them and people harvest the sap and make maple syrup. The Spirit of God produces grief over sin in us like maple trees produce sap. That sap is used to make sweet syrup after it is processed correctly just as godly grief leads to repentance.
Grief is not uncommon to man because man not only lives a world full of sin, but man is by nature a sinner. Therefore, grief comes when the word of God comes in contact with a sinful heart. Out of that spiritual collision is a beautiful grief that leads faith in Christ.

The law works death, and speaks terror, shows men their sins, and their misery and danger because of sin, and thunders a curse against every one that continues not in every part of his duty

Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
2 Corinthians 7:9–10 ESV
9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Paul admonishes the Corinthians for responding to grief with action. He knows that grief is necessary and yet painful process we all go through as God’s word takes root in our lives.
Allow your grief over sin to be a barometer of spiritual vitality. If you are not experiencing sorrow for your daily struggle with sin, then you must question your walk with Christ. Grief over sin is not the end....but it is the beginning of a healthy spiritual life.
Joy in the Lord
All of our grief needs further admonishment from God’s word. Not only does the grief over sin originate from God’s word bringing conviction to our heart, but it also provides the remedy of hope and joy for our affliction.
If not dealt with properly, we can percolate on grief and live in despair and hopelessness. This is the life of the unbeliever but not the follower of Christ. Our joy is found “in the Lord.” The Levites teach this joy in the Lord to the grieving and weeping Jews.
10 .... And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The reason for the exhortation of joy is because the Feast of trumpets was an occasion of joy. The significance of this feast rests in the theology of God’s provision. At the beginning of the seventh month, they blew the trumpets as they celebrated the holy month which culminated at the Feast of Booths, signifying the completion of the autumn harvest and the abundance of God’s provision. As a holy month, the Feast of Trumpets became an unofficial introduction to this theme of God’s faithful provision for his people. The Levites fight the battle of grief among the people by the encouragement from the Scriptures about God’s faithful provision. Therefore, the reason for joy among the people is a reflection of God’s provision for them, found in his word.
The word of God is a record book of God’s faithfulness to His people. Over and over again, God gives and gives and gives to a people who rebel against him, worship false gods and desire to syncretize with the nations around them. This joy then comes from a reflection of all that God has done for them and therefore they rejoice.
Deuteronomy 12:10–12 (ESV)
10 But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. 12 And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.
Consider the cause of celebration for these Jews: Their disobedience against God was exposed by the reading of the law of God. They were grieved over their continual failure and treason against the covenant they made with God. But the levites remind them that forgiveness is possible in the Lord. Grace is supplied by Him which is a cause of celebration and not depression. Their rejoicing could be found then in the provision of grace that God already provided them and will provide them still.
Psalm 5:11 ESV
11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.
For the gathered church, we come together to be bruised and broken by the living words of God. We come ready to sit under the preaching of God’s word, like a MMA fighter comes to gym each and everyday to train. The sparing with the trainer, the repetition of the moves, the lifting of weights, and the cardio exercises all play a part in the improvements and successes of the fighter.
God’s Spirit lives in his people and uses the sword of the God’s word to penetrate our darkest of sins in order to bring them forth so that we might see clearly the depth of sin in us. Then he heals us with His word, reminding us of the suffering of Jesus Christ upon the cross, as we read earlier, in order that we might be freed from the weight of sin by his victory on the cross.

4. Gathered and Unified (13-15)

Nehemiah 8:13–15 ESV
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 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.”
Typically the Feasts of Booths happened towards the end of the month, after the Day of Atonement. It was the 15-21st day of the 7th month although Nehemiah and the Jews celebrated this reinstituted festival on the second day of the 7th month. There is clearly a conviction to get this feast implemented as they were driven by what God commanded the people in his word.
Upon reading the commands of Moses in Lev 23, they people were led to gather for the Feast of Booths again. Look with me in Lev 23 and let’s read what God commanded them re: this feast and why it was important.
Leviticus 23:33–44 ESV
33 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 34 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the Lord. 35 On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. 36 For seven days you shall present food offerings to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the Lord. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work. 37 “These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord food offerings, burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day, 38 besides the Lord’s Sabbaths and besides your gifts and besides all your vow offerings and besides all your freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord. 39 “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. 40 And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” 44 Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of the Lord.
There are two reasons given to celebrate this feast. The first purpose of the feast is the celebrate the autumn harvest and reflect on God’s current provision for His people. He is meeting their needs as the harvest comes in. He has made the produce sprout forth from the ground so that their families are fed and the economy flourishes. God did all those things and his provision is reason to celebrate.
The second reason for gathering during this seventh moth feast is to remember the past and all God has provided for his people. The feast reminds them of their escape from Egypt and the ways in which a they wandered the desert, living in temporary shelters, God provided food every day for them, even in their grumbling and complaining about it, God gave them liberation from slavery, protection in the wilderness landscape, and provision for their needs.
So Nehemiah and the Jews, upon reading and being reminded of this feast to celebrate as God’s people, went into the wilderness, gathered these different types of materials from the trees, and they came back to the city and built these temporary shelters. The Jerusalem homes were built with a flat roof so that these temporary booths or structures can be built safely up there. And for 8 days, they camped outside in their structures to worship and remember all that God has done for them.
I want you to imagine this scene because we do not experience anything like this. An entire city of people, living in these shelters, on their roofs for a week long celebration of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Work on the first and eighth day was to cease. Offerings were offered everyday and the time was devoted to focusing on how good and faithful of a God they served. This had to be such a unifying sight as a Jew. All of them building. All of them dwelling in tents. All of them sacrificing. All of them remembering.
I want to take you forward to the NT, because Jesus celebrated this feast as well as a Jew. In John 7, Jesus and his brothers go up to the Feast of Booths in the 7th month. John 7:37 tells us
John 7:37-39 “37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Jesus used the opportunity of this festival to remind the Jews that their wanderings in the wilderness and the physcial provision of God for them had a point to teach them. It was a parable of sorts so that they might trust in the Messiah to be the spiritual provider for their righteousness and justification. Jesus stood to say to the people that He was way to spiritual provision as God’s Son.
As we gather as God’s people to worship Jesus, we gather unified under one mission, one purpose. We have all forsaken the time in our day on this Lord’s day to worship. We all sing the same songs, we hear the same scriptures read, we all listen to the same sermon, we all worship Jesus as the spiritual provider of all we need to be reconciled to God. There is no other provision available.
Today, we come to the Lord’s table to remember much like these Jews. We remember our spiritual wandering as enemies of God and we celebrate the Lord’s sacrifice that liberated us from bondage of sin and death. We will shortly all come forward to take this meal together, as one people united by the work of Jesus. We take it individually as each person has put our individual faith in Christ for the salvation of our sins. We also take it as one body, being joined together in union with Christ and each other.

5. Gathered and Obedient (16-18)

Nehemiah 8:16–18 ESV
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.
The final observation we want to make about the Jews is their obedience to the law of God. No matter what was sacrifice was needed, they responded with obedience. Surely it was inconvenient to travel to Jerusalem as a Jew to celebrate the annual feasts. Surely, it was difficult for the Jews reestablishing the city of Jerusalem to stop and celebrate this weeklong worship.
I can imagine the grumbling of some “we just finished a rebuilding project and now we are building something else.” But instead of selfishness, we see a selfless obedience to what they learned from Ezra the Scribe and the teaching Levites. Not only did they obey the word of God, but verse 17 tells us that there was “great rejoicing.” If I could add one more caveat to my previous point about joy in the Lord, as these verses instruct us, I would say that obedience to the word brings the people of God a great joy in their hearts.
Jesus taught this to his disciples in John 15,
John 15:10–11 ESV
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Our joy in the Lord is directly connected with our obedience of his word. Just as the Son was faithful to the Father in all that given to him to accomplish, so the believer experiences joy from the Lord as we follow his commands.
D A CARSON writes,
The Gospel according to John b. Unpacking the Metaphor (15:9–16)

The Son does not give his disciples his joy as a discrete package; he shares his joy insofar as they share his obedience, the obedience that willingly faces death to self-interest

The gathering of God’s people in Nehemiah’s day and in the church today can learn great lessons about how we live and how we gather. God has called us to obedience in our individual lives. He calls those who follow him to demonstrate their love for God by their obeying the commandments of the Christ. In doing so, we will rejoice. We rejoice because we see the power of God at work in us, empowering us to obey in ways we would not without Him.
We also rejoice in our obedience because we know that obedience is the pathway of our sanctification. Obedience = growth in Christ and all of us should continually be seeking growth in our walk with Him.
Not only does obedience apply on an individual level, but it applies on a corporate level as well. We worship as God demonstrates and instructs us in his word. He gather together, centered on Christ, learning from his word, celebrating Him in song, speaking to him in prayer, and fellowshipping by the Spirit. We keep our practices as a church biblically simple so that we do not fall into the temptation to entertain like the world does.
This concept of church practice or ecclesiology is called the regulative principle. Simply put the regulative principle is structuring the gathering of the body according to what the word of God teaches. Mark Dever states,
Jesus is building His church, and He’s doing it by the power of His own Word (Matt. 16:18; Rom. 1:16; 10:17). He also regulates the church’s worship by that same Word, graciously informing us how we are to approach Him.- Mark Dever Deliberate Church
The competing view on worship that some churches take is do whatever you want as long as Scripture does not forbid it. This is defined as the Normative Principle. The difference is simply that our practice of structuring our worship is built upon the explicit or implicit commands of the Bible regarding how we worship God. Some have simplified these methods in a helpful way of explanation:
Preach the word
Pray the word
Sing the word
Read the word
See the word (ordinances)
All of these components of worship them centered around Christ and his word. This regulative principle functions as guardrail on a winding mountainous road to keep the church safe from veering off into unbiblical forms of worship. The word teaches and instructs us in all of life, including how the church gathers to honor Christ so that we way worship him obediently as people who have been changed by him.
Transition into the Lord’s Supper
One particular way we worship Him is through the ordinances. Like I mentioned previously, we remember Christ as the liberator of our lives through the ordnance of the Lord’s Supper. It is a memorial, a reflection on our parts of his sacrificial work.
We see his humanity symbolized in the bread. He came in the world and took on flesh. That same flesh that we share with him was different in that Jesus never sinned in his flesh. Therefore this bread should also help up remember his sinless body that was bruised and crushed for our iniquities was given by Jesus freely on our behalf. He stood in our place.
We see his blood in the juice. It symbolizes the need for sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins that was practiced by all of God’s people. That sacrificial system culminated in the perfect lamb of God who gave his life as a ransom for many. His blood provided a perfect and complete atonement for the sins of his people, his elect so nothing is required of them to appease the wrath of God nor earn favor with Him. Jesus paid it all.
We gather today as a body to remember this together because we are one in Christ if you have trust in Him by faith. We take this together in obedience to the commands of Christ, DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME.
We invite you to participate with a disclaimer:
Participation in the Lord’s Supper at RCC should involve only those who profess that Jesus Christ is Lord, who trust in Him alone to provide the full salvation from their sins, who have been baptized by immersion following a true conversion to Christ, and who are faithful members of our local church body or a like-minded church.
In a moment, Connor will play and we will come forwad together, take these elements back to our seats. Use the time as he plays the music to reflect on Christ, confess any sins to him that have been exposed through the preaching of the word, rejoice in Him. Then I will return to the pulpit and lead us in participating together in the Lord’s Supper.
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