Sword of the Spirit

Posted on February 8, 2015. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , |

              I.      Introduction

The wall is built around Jerusalem.  Chris taught us last week that we are all on the winning Superbowl team, even though not all of us are recognized.  We have a great quarterback, great coaches, and one awesome owner.

So… we’re done, right?  The wall is built.  What’s left to do?

How about an after-party celebration in honor of the Owner?

            II.      Nehemiah 8. The People Rejoice

Let’s open our bibles to Nehemiah chapter 8:1-10 –

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.  Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.  They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Ah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  That phrase was with me all weekend.

In verse 9, the people were weeping as they listened to the words.  Why do you think they were weeping?

          III.      A Bad Word

The bible is full of interesting, life-changing information.  For instance, we know that Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.   This is found in the book of Guinness, where beer was first mentioned.

After the book of Guinness comes the book of Exodus.  The Israelites became upset with the Egyptians because the Pharaoh made them make their beds without straw.  Then Moses led the Israelites into the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients.  Later, Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments which were also known as manners from heaven.  Sadly, Moses died before ever reaching Canada, which Joshua conquered during the battle of Geritol.

After the book of Exodus is the book of Laxatives which tells us what we can and cannot eat.

I know this was silly but the reason it’s silly is because, at least in these examples, we know what the bible really says.  But the bible is a big book.  Do you know what it really says?  God shows his glory in many ways, through the wonders of the heavens to the tiny miracle in a simple leaf of grass.  The wonders we see tell us there is a God – but a leaf of grass cannot tell us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” or “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  God speaks to us through his Word.

If we don’t know the Word, then we can be misled.  Let’s take a little quiz –

Question 1: House and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from a) patience, b) God, c) man’s labor.  (Answer: Proverbs 19:14, Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from the Lord.)

Question 2: In 2 Corinthians 4:9, Christians are persecuted but not a) depressed, b) suffering, c) abandoned.  (Answer: Persecuted but not abandoned).

Question 3: Which phrase originated in the bible?  A)  Make hay while the sun shines, b) Eat, drink, and be merry, c) In the nick of time.  (Answer: Luke 12:19, Eat drink and be merry.)

Question 4: Which expression originated in the bible?  A) fly in the ointment, b) rule of thumb, c) dyed in the wool.  (Answer: Ecclesiastes 10:1, fly in the ointment.)

Question 5: Which expression is *not* in the bible?  A) Money is the root of all evil, b) God helps those who help themselves, c) without rhyme or reason. (Answer: Actually none of those are in the bible.)

Let’s try something more recent, a quiz on Nehemiah.  (Hint:  It’s the book we’ve been reading for the last 6 weeks).

  1. Under which Persian king did Nehemiah return to rebuild Jerusalem? A) Artaxerxes, king of Persia, B) Cyrus, king of Persia, C) Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, D) Sennacherib, king of Assyria?  (Answer: C, Nebuchadnezzar)
  2. Nehemiah was concerned by the news he received from the land of Judah for what reason? A) Jerusalem’s walls and gates were in disrepair, B) Drought had destroyed all the crops, C) Romans had invaded the land, D) The temple was in shambles.   (Answer: a), the walls were in disrepair)
  3. Which of the following was not the name of a gate in ancient Jerusalem? A) Sheep, B) Fish, C) Pearl, D) Dung (Answer: C, Pearl)
  4. How long did it take to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership? A) 70 weeks, B) 52 days, C) 40 days and nights, D) 13 months (Answer: b, 52 days)
  5. Who stood and read the Law after the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt by Nehemiah? A) Nehemiah, B) King David, C) Ezra, D) Moses (Answer: c, Ezra)

If you don’t know what’s in the bible, how do you know what God is saying to you?  How do you know if a preacher is telling the truth?  If a preacher tells you to turn to Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then tells you to turn to Luke 10:37, “Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” will you follow the scripture as told to you by man?

When I first became a Christian, I read a lot of Max Lucado books.  I found his books inspiring and comforting, easy to understand.  I still Like Max Lucado’s books.  But I realized I wasn’t relying on God’s Word – I was relying on what somebody else said was God’s Word.   Why would I think Max Lucado is a better source of truth than the Source of Truth itself?  The only way to discern between truth and lies is to go directly to God through His Word for the answers.

Now, the Old Testament was not yet complete in Nehemiah’s time.  The first 5 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the only books recognized at the time as divine revelation.  To the Israelites, the heart of the events in these 5 books were God’s description of Himself, such as Exodus 34:6-7 –

“And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

God’s judgment, wrath, redemption, and laws all flow naturally from God’s own character.  The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, and it comes from a verb that means “to throw or shoot.”  The idea is that the torah comes from a higher authority, a memo from the boss like “Please note our business hours are from 8am to 5pm.  Be at your desk and ready to work by 8:00am or you’re fired.”  That sort of torah.  The torah can be used for teaching, for instruction, or decisions, from raising children to how to get along with your neighbor.  Some of these legal codes were very general in nature, like the Ten Commandments.  They are very broad, apply to everyone, and no specific penalty or consequence is attached.  Some are very specific, like jaywalking, and applied the Ten Commandments to a specific case and the penalty that goes with it.

In the eight chapter of Nehemiah, Israelites were concerned they would repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, and consequently God’s written Word had become quite important.  Without knowing God’s word, they were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over.  In our time, the bible is the bestselling book ever, every year.  At least 20 million bibles are sold every year in the US alone.  Worldwide sales of the top 8 bestselling bibles sell well over 100 million bibles a year.  Then add the bible distributed freely and for missions – the Gideons distribute 70 million bibles every year, and the Bible Society, biblesociety.org, distributes nearly 400 million bibles or portions of the bible every year.

But in Nehemiah’s time, there was no way to mass produce the torah.  No neighborhood OfficeMax.  Scripture was copied by hand onto expensive parchment scrolls and took years to produce a single copy.  So how do you get the word out to all of God’s people?

Ezra brought the Law of Moses out to the people and conducted a great reading of God’s Word from sunup to noon, at least 5 hours straight, and all the people, those who were able to understand, listened attentively.

Can you imagine standing and listening to the bible for 5 hours straight?  I could teach for 5 hours straight, I think, and the miracle is that all of you will live forever.  Or at least it’ll seem that way to you.

The value of reading or listening to the Word of God for 5 hours straight is enormous.  Scripture can be taken out of context to prove almost any point, but when the scripture is read continuously in a long session, the biblical context is clear.  We are untainted by somebody else’s vision, we hear God’s word directly, we can get a better understanding of why a particular sentence exists, and we have a better understanding of how to apply it to our lives.  The Word of God is powerful.

The people, upon hearing the Word, realize that they have been disobedient to God.  The light of the Word does that, it shines on our sin, revealing it.  Once it is revealed, we can repent.  Too often we try to do it the other way around – we try to repent first, and then come to God.  But we need to see our sin as God sees our sin, not as we would like to see our own sin.  We sort of scrub ourselves up a little and think we’re clean, but we can still grow potatoes behind our ears.  The Word of God shines into places in our soul we can’t reach on our own.

You know that song they sing at 11:11, “Come Just As You Are?”  That’s the way God wants us to come, dirty sins and all.  We can’t clean ourselves up good enough to get to heaven.  We bring our messy, filthy sins to God, confess them, and God will give us the strength and wisdom to get clean.  God does a much better job of cleaning my soul than I can do on my own.

            IV.      A Sharp Word

How does the bible do this?  It’s because the bible is not just a book.  Let’s see what the bible says about the bible –

Let’s turn to the book of John, book 1, verse 1-5, 14 –

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Right away we can see that the Word of God is more than just words in a book.  The Word of God is holy, the very words of God, the very words of Jesus, who gave His very life to live among us and to freely give His life for us that we may live.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 –

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God speaks these words, every one of them.  Not taken out of context, but all of the words.  It is useful, it corrects us, it trains us, it prepares us.  The word of God in its entirety is meant to be applied to our everyday lives.

2 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The bible is not a man’s interpretation of God; the bible is directly from God through the Holy Spirit.  Holy Spirit inspired the men to write the books of the Bible.   Each book may have an individual’s flair or spiritual gift influencing him – certainly the book of John is very different than the book of Luke – but the words themselves come directly from God.

Hebrews 4:12-14 –

For the word of God is alive 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.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The word is relevant to our lives, and we discover through the word what pleases and displeases the Lord, and we are compelled to repent from sin.  But that sin is embedded into our very fabric, and giving it up isn’t easy.  The Word of God cuts like a knife, surgically removing sin from our lives.

John 8:31-32 –

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Often we don’t even know we are a slave to sin.  We can be very sincere about our beliefs, but sincerity is not enough.  Religious people can be wrong.  But following the teachings of Jesus, becoming a follower of Jesus, is the only way to eternal freedom.

Acts 17:10-12,

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.  Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Don’t believe what you are told.  If I teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if what I said is true.  If Theresa or Libby or especially Chris teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  If Dr. Young teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  If the Apostle Paul himself appears before you in a great flash of light and teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  God doesn’t mind if you question what you’re told.  In fact, he will consider you noble if you read the bible for yourself.

And finally, our class anthem, Ephesians 6:17,

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The Word of God does more than protect us; it allows us to go on the offense against the powers of darkness.  It is a double-edged sword of the Spirit.  We are well equipped with the Word of God.

              V.      A Good Word

At the end of Nehemiah 8, in verse 9, the people have heard the word of God, they have been cut by the double-edged sword of God, their thoughts and attitudes of the heart have been judged.  And the people are weeping.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

They realize how far short of God’s will they had fallen.  But let’s look back at Nehemiah verse 2 for a second.  What day is this?  It’s the first day of the seventh month.  Let’s hop over to Leviticus 23:23-25, which describes the Feast of Trumpets:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.  Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’ “

First they were weeping because they were convicted of their sin; now they find out even the weeping on this particular day is a sin.  Talk about opening the floodgates.  This is a holy day, a Sabbath day.  A day made for rest, a day made for feasting.  It’s a day for celebration.  Sort of like crying on Christmas, it’s just not right.

            VI.      Conclusion

Celebrate that we have read the Word, that we are on a path to understand God’s unique will for us.  Nehemiah 8:10-12,

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

I think this is reflective of how we should live as Christians.  We should read the bible to be convicted of our sin – but why should this conviction lead to misery?  Why should it be a bad thing to discover something in ourselves that doesn’t meet God’s standards?  We know already that we are not perfect, so why should imperfection make us weep?

Instead, it should be an opportunity.  Celebrate!  With the Lord’s guidance, our sin has been revealed to us.  If we repent of our sin, that is great news!  That’s a step towards righteousness, a better person for the Lord.  The angels rejoice at the news of our repentance.  Luke 15:10, Jesus says,

there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Instead of being upset that we’re not perfect, praise the Lord that He has revealed our iniquities.  That’s just what the Israelites did – they celebrated.  They went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”  So rejoice at the Word of God that shows us our imperfections.  Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.”  1 John 1:4, “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.”  God doesn’t want you to have a little fun, He wants you to have a whole lot of fun reading and studying His word.  If you’re not experiencing joy when you read the bible, something isn’t quite right.  Ask the Lord to help.  Go to Him in prayer and ask Him.  Say, “Lord, I want your Word to bring joy to my life.  Show me why I am not joyful, remove whatever keeps me from joy when I study your word.”  God will answer that prayer when you are honestly praying to God for His will in your life.  And let us sing the praises of Christ our Savior for His Word and His beautiful mercy and grace, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.

To God be the glory.


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