The Word for today:
mark this: Nehemiah 8:1-4
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.
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.
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.
And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose.
Chapter 8 presents a turning point in the book of Nehemiah.
In chapters 1-7, we saw a nation reborn under the leadership of Nehemiah. Beginning with chapter 8, Ezra re-enters, and we are going to see the born-again nation grow up.
Parallels to the church (which won’t be formed until after the death and resurrection of Jesus) are obvious. First, we read that the people gathered as one man. That is a precise picture of what the church–the body of Christ–will be:
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
Born-again, they/we are then transformed by the reading and teaching of the Word of God:
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard.
And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday.
And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. (Nehemiah 8:2-4)
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
The people weep at the reading, for the Word of God lays lives bare, exposing how far short of God’s standards we have fallen:
For the word of God is 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. (Hebrews 4:12)
But they are told to celebrate:
“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.“ (Nehemiah 8:10)
They are to celebrate because God is happy with them!–
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
The justice of the Law brings sorrow. But the joy of the Lord brings strength. Notice that it’s not joy in the Lord but the joy of the Lord that brings strength. That is, it’s not our joy in Him, but His joy over us that is our strength:
The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
About 400 years after Ezra and Nehemiah, the pitiless condemnation and the infinite forgiveness of the Word of God would be embodied by a single man, raised high on a wooden structure within the shadow of Jerusalem’s walls.
Wherever you go to church, make sure that man–who by his very being is the pronouncement of the Word of God–is lifted up high:
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)
Make sure that the Word of God is read and taught and treasured and followed. Make sure that the problem–sin–is pronounced; and that the remedy–God’s reconciliation through Jesus’ death and resurrection–is the lasting emphasis.
And make God’s smile your strength.