Nehemiah 8 -An attitude of worship – A sermon on Nehemiah 8 by Rev. Colin Pretorius.
Picture it! Judah, about 600 years before the birth of Jesus. The people of Judah have finally run out of chances to be obedient to God. Time and time again the Lord called them to repentance but time and time again they remained deaf to His call. He sent one prophet after the other to warn them but they were all ignored. This was the nation that the Lord had set aside for Himself, but, to put it in human terms, His patience ran out. Because of their continued lack of repentance, God sent the feared and much-hated Babylonians to punish His people. Jerusalem was torn apart, destroyed and burnt. The temple was razed to the ground and a large part of the population exiled to Babylon.
But God didn’t forget them. Some 70 years after the exile, He worked in the heart of the Babylonian ruler to allow many of exiles to return. Over the next decades this remnant of God’s people rebuilt the temple, but the city was still mostly in ruins. Even in the time that our passage is set, about 150 years after the exile, the city remained devastated. The great wall surrounding the city was in pieces and the gates were open. Any opposition or invaders could easily enter the city.
It’s against this background that a messenger is sent to Nehemiah. He was an important official in the government of Artaxerxes (who was the son of Ahasueros of whom we read in the book of Esther). And when this important fellow hears the news about Jerusalem and its people, he’s shocked and shattered. He turns to God in prayer, confessing the sins of his people and he begs God for forgiveness. And God responds! He works in the heart of the ruler, who sends Nehemiah to Judah as governor, and under his leadership a process of reform starts. The almighty God, known for His faithfulness, promised His people forgiveness if they repented, and His covenant promises still held true despite their unfaithfulness. Now, through the work led by Nehemiah, the nation itself would be rebuilt. It would start with the physical rebuilding of the wall, but at the end of the day it wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about the building of an edifice but about the edification of the builders.
Remember that the remnant of Judah had been back for almost 100 years yet the wall had not been rebuilt. We didn’t read chapter 7 this morning, but there we’re told that with God’s guidance Nehemiah led the people in completing the rebuilding in just 52 days! I think we can safely call that a miracle! Can you imagine what a huge impact this must’ve made on them! Their city, no God’s city was safe again!
And this is where we step into the picture this morning, so to speak. It’s the day after the wall’s been completed. The material need of God’s people has been met, now it was time for their spiritual rebuilding.
So can we learn anything from this piece of history? Well, friends, the answer is a resounding Yes! It’s a lesson Christians across the world and, yes, even here in Tivoli need to hear and learn today. For you see, at its very core this passage tells us what biblical worship is all about. It’s about worship that comes from repentance; it’s about worship as it is reflected in our attitude to God’s holy Word and to living lives submitted to God. As we look at how this played out in the lives of the remnant of God’s people, we’ll see that Nehemiah 8 tells us about:
- Gathering together as God’s people;
- Affirming the authority of God’s Word; and
- Surrendering oneself to the God of grace.