There had been a spiritual vacuum in the city during the building of the wall. If you have ever been in a church building program you can identify. Just about everything gets put on hold until the building is completed. The wall was finished; the people were settled into their homes. They were well-organized, well-defended and well-governed, but something was missing. Someone told the story of an elderly woman visiting Westminster Abbey. She had toured the beautiful gothic cathedral, looked at all of the graves of famous people, then she asked, “Anybody get saved here lately?” Here’s a timeless truth for God’s work and God’s people. It does no good to have a well-constructed superstructure if there is no life on the inside.
So where did they start to revitalize the people?
Just look at the fantastic scene in verses 1-6! These verses need no explanation, no sermonizing.
“Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel” (Verse 1).
“So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (Verses 2,3).
“So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose…And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up” (verse 4,5).
“Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Verse 6).
Chapter 8 highlights the fact that after reconstruction there is a great need for revival. They had been in a strange world for too long, it’s time for the people to begin to see life from God’s perspective. Their thinking had to be changed from a worldly perspective to God’s perspective. Is that not true for many today? Many Christians have been greatly affected by the philosophy of the world, probably more than they are aware. Our media has been guilty of promoting morals and ideas that are completely opposite to God’s Word, so that many who claim to be born-again Christians need to be revived again to the things of God, so they can begin to practice being true believers!
Ezra, the priest, the author of the book of Ezra, appears for the first time here in the book of Nehemiah. Thirteen years earlier he had led a return from Persia to rebuild the temple. Apparently he had been occupied in that task all through the time of the rebuilding of the wall. But when the people had finished their work, they were desperate to hear from the Word of God, so they sent for Ezra to teach them the Law of God.
I. The steps to revival:
they were a unified people. “Now all the people gathered together as one man” (Verse 1). God’s people must come together for any true revival to begin! Before any move of the Spirit in revival power, God’s people need to come together, to realize that we who know Christ are one common people with one common goal.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
“Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Philippians 2:2).
“Bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:2-6).
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
They requested the Word of God. “They told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses…” (Verse 1). They hungered for God’s Word. In the revival under Josiah, they found God’s Word in a search through the temple, and they wept when they heard it. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word” (1 Peter 2:2).
They understood the Word of God. Verse 2, “All who could hear with understanding.” Never forget the world can never understand God’s Word. Only believers have the Holy Spirit, out great teacher to teach us. “But people who aren’t spiritual[a] can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT).
They listened to the Word of God. “And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (Verse 3). “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings” (Proverbs 4:20).
They respected the Word of God. “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up” (Verse 5). “There is something I’m looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say. (Isaiah 66:2 MSG).
They revered the Word of God. “Then all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Verse 6).
There was prayer, praise and worship. “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. “Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Verse 6).
Their was an explanation of the Word of God. “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Verse 8). This is a perfect illustration of what preaching should be. Read the Word of God, give the sense, and help the people to understand.
They responded to the Word of God. “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, 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 nor weep.’ For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law” (Verse 9).
II. The value of preaching. Can preaching change anything? “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a reformation or revival? Not only a new interest in preaching but a new kind of preaching. A revival of true preaching always heralded these great movements in the history of the church. And, of course, when reformation or revival came they have always led to great and notable periods of the greatest preaching that the church has ever known” –Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
What is the task of the preacher? Richard Baxter said, “I preach as a dying man to dying men.”
Is preaching futile? Can preaching change anything? Just look at Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Paul. Look at John the Baptist, desert-bred, sun-scorched, fire-baptized, a face like judgment morning, the fire of God in his eyes, the authority of God in his voice, and the passion of God in his soul. He preached repentance! And his preaching pointed to the Savior! “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
The task of every preacher is to preach God’s word fearlessly and without apology. There are far too many Casper Milque Toast, pusillanimous, preachers, preaching sermonettes to Christianettes. God has given us a mandate, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:1-3).
The late Leonard Ravenhill wrote: “Preacher brethren, this is the time to blush that we have no shame, the time to weep for our lack of tears, the time to bend low that we have lost the humble touch of servants, the time to groan that we have no burden, the time to be angry with ourselves that we have no anger over the devil’s monopoly in this end time hour, the time to chastise ourselves that the world can get along so easily with us and not attempt to chastise us,”
Too many preachers are hunting mice, while lion’s are attacking and devouring everything in sight!
III. The results of the revival.
They became people of the Word of God. “Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law’ (Verse 13). “Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God” (Verse 18).
Our responsibility is not just to read the Word, but to live the Word. God uses the analogy of engrafting to describe how His Word is to function within a believer’s life. “Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). To engraft Scripture means to make it a living extension of your life. “But He (Jesus) answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus is the Living Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
They rejoiced in the Lord. “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Verse 10). “And there was very great gladness” (Verse 17).
They became doers of the Word, they kept the Feast of Booths. “So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths” (Verse 17). The Feast of Tabernacles, also known as the Feast of Booths and Sukkot, is the seventh and last feast that the Lord commanded Israel to observe and one of the three feasts that Jews were to observe each year by going to “appear before the Lord your God in the place which He shall choose” (Deuteronomy 16:16).
Conclusion: The people were never the same again! That’s what revival does to a people and a nation.
Once a traveling salesman was visiting a small town in England. He went looking for a saloon, there were none, so he tried to find a dance hall, there were none, he searched through the town to find any kind of vice. Finally he asked a man, “What had happened here, I find no liquor, no vice, and no prostitution, and everyone is so happy?” The man replied, “Several years ago a man named Wesley came through this place.” That’s what revival does!
John Wesley lived in England in the 1800s, in his 50 years of preaching he delivered 40,000 sermons. He spoke to audiences of 20,000 or more without the assistance of a public address system. He traveled 225,000 miles, mostly on horseback, proclaiming God’s Word.
John Knox (1513–1572) was a Scottish clergyman, theologian and writer who was a leader of the Protestant Reformation and is considered the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland. He was a fiery preacher who once remarked that Mary, Queen of Scots was “an old Jezebel.” When she heard of his remark Bloody Mary said, “I fear his tongue and pen more than the armies of England.” Knox led Scotland into what is now known as “The Scottish revival.”
In every genuine revival in history two things have always happened:
1) The rediscovery and proclamation of the Word of God, and
2) The responsive mobilization of God’s people.
Revival has to do with God’s people: “Re, to do again,” and “Viva, life,” “to live again.” The reanimation of dead Christianity. It does not relate to “those who are dead in their trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). They have no life to revive, they need to be “made alive” (Ephesians 2:1). Believers are alive, many are comatose!
Revival is a special spiritual stirring that turns Christians back to a new relationship with God. It is a Spirit-led warming of lukewarm Christians. Revival shocks Christians out of their indifference into a deep conviction of their need for a closer walk with God.
When Nehemiah received the word about the condition of Jerusalem and his brethren, he immediately knew it was his responsibility to do something! What was the first thing he did? He prayed!
Listen to Isaiah’s prayer for revival: “Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down! How the mountains would quake in your presence! As fire causes wood to burn and water to boil, your coming would make the nations tremble. Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame! When you came down long ago, you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked!” (Isaiah 64:1-3 NLT)
Our personal lives need revival! Our homes need revival! Our churches need revival! This nation and the world need revival! No economic upturn can bring revival. And no election can bring revival. You can’t work it up, but you can call it down.
Revival is the sovereign work of Almighty God. In Isaiah 64, God’s people had been carried into captivity, His work was in disrepair, and His people were dispirited, much like believers today. The Church has been carried into captivity by the world, the flesh and the devil. Christians are discouraged. Many have no hope for revival. They don’t even believe that revival is possible!
Nehemiah 8 ends with, “And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner” (Verse 18).
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also the New Living Translation (NLT); The Message (MSG); The Amplified Bible (AMP); and The Living Bible (TLB).