The Central Foundation for the Church—Nehemiah 8

Brad Horton

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The people came to Ezra (vs. 1) and they asked for the book of the law to be brought. It’s important to note, after the trials, troubles, and crises they encountered, the sure foundation was the words of the Lord. The Psalmist states, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word” (Ps 119:9). He goes on to say in v. 25, “My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word.” The problem with the modern-day emergent church, which has split into different factions, is that the Word of God is not the highest priority. The needs of the people, the comfort level of the people, the outside optics are most important. 

When this type of approach is taken, the Word of God is used as a “tool” but not the foundation for growth. In the book Missions by the Book, the author established several marks of a good church, the first being the preached Word of God. He further notes, “The marks by which the true church is known are these; if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; and if the church is kept pure by disciplining sin.” He mainly focuses on the importance of church planting around the world by establishing local churches, pastored by local pastors, who are faithful to execute the truth of Scripture. 

We don’t need hyped up “mission strategists” to come up with the newest techniques. We need men both local and abroad who will faithfully read the Word of God week after week, counsel, preach, proclaim, and stand on the riches of God’s Word. 

The Reading of God’s Word

Ezra simply read from the Word of God (vs. 3). He read from early morning until midday. It was a period of at least six hours. Imagine if we had such a hunger for the Word of God in our lives, but also a hunger to come hear the Word. I am sure some do, but how much more we treasure the Word when we don’t have access to it! We, like the psalmist, should be able to confidently say “I have treasured Your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against You” (Ps 119:11). You will need access to the Word at times and all you may have is what you have committed to memory. 

They were attentive to what the law said. Only some—not all—could understand. The same exists in the church today. There are many who are learning and growing as the Word is read, preached, and taught, and there is joy. 

The Importance of God’s Word

Ezra was standing on a platform, a pulpit of wood, and the people stood as he read the Word. This is why some pastors I know will ask the congregation to stand as they read the Word. As he read, he blessed the great God for his Word. 

The response of the crowd was the saying of amen, amen. They raised their hands together. They bowed down to worship. There were no theatrics, smoke, lights, or comforting commentary. It was the Word of God read aloud. It was the words of God that had the impact. You can be impacted by a performance, but it won’t last. You can be impacted by a church that is busy, but it won’t last. If you have a church that centers everything on the Word of God, it will drive you to say “amen” and joyfully participate in all aspects of worship. 

The Explanation of God’s Word

Ezra had men to explain (vs. 7) and to give sense so the people understood (vs. 8). The word expository means “a comprehensive description and explanation.” The reason we teach and preach from the Bible verse by verse is because it is a unique and biblical way to expound the text within the framework of context. You simply cannot pull a verse out and make it what you want. On the other hand, Christians grow greatly in the Lord as we study context, words, meanings, and get the setting of the text. It avoids us finding a point and then finding a text. In expositional preaching, the text provides the points.

The explanation of God’s Word to the people here brought them to worship, as does the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word in the church today. But something else happened here. The people were moved as we have seen. They didn’t read, they listened. Dan Dumas says, “The pastor should not be the only one working hard during the sermon.” James 1:19–25 puts great emphasis on focusing on the preaching of God’s Word in the worship hour. 

It’s good and right to expect the church to have a high expectation of preaching, but they should also be ready and prepared to hear. The people here in Nehemiah were eager to hear the Word. In the text in James, he outlines six points to being an expository listener. First, open your ears. Second, close your mouth. Third, control your temper. Fourth, cleanse your heart. Fifth, mortify your pride. Sixth, move your feet. If you let pride go unchecked, you won’t hear the Word of God. 

Hearing the Word of God requires attention. If you drift, the Word will sail over your head. If you aren’t prepared to hear, you will miss the Word. In Nehemiah, as Ezra and the elders were teaching, explaining, and proclaiming, the people listened.

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