Sermon – Epiphany 3 – January 27, 2019
Nehemiah 8:1-10 ‘The Sense of It’
CT: Rightly knowing how to distinguish between Law and Gospel will give sense to your reading of the Bible and bring clarity to its main point: Jesus Christ.
Intro: Have you ever read a set of instructions over and over again to try and get the sense of it, or maybe hold your knock down furniture instructions upside down to see if something resonates. You tube is always a good option with millions of ‘how-to’ videos at your disposal. After all, a good picture can be worth a thousand words. Reading the Bible doesn’t always mean you can understand it, but there is a You tube for that too. The Bible Project is a group of people that try to visualize books and concepts in the Bible for you with short videos made up of cartoon characters and illustrations. Like the little notes in your study Bible, they can give insight into what you are reading, but you have a greater tool for understanding Scripture that is closer than you think.
Reading: In our OT lesson, Nehemiah reported that every man, woman, and child capable of hearing and understanding gathered from early morning to midday, while Scripture was read. That’s 4 to 6 hours; and they were attentive to the Book of the Law! How often have you been at large functions where people aimlessly chatter while speeches are being made? We applaud a speaker who can keep our attention for 10 or maybe 20 minutes, but 4 hours? Do you find the 1st 5 books of the Bible that riveting? Because that’s what was being read! I don’t know about you, but 20 minutes from the book of Leviticus is almost enough to lose me! But they didn’t just read; they also gave the sense of what was being read so that the people understood. And some might say, “Yes, that’s the pastor’s job to make sense of it for me!” Well… yes and a no. Your pastor can help, but you too can read the Bible and make sense of it.
Hearing: But what did those people hear that was so gripping? Was it the power of God’s creative word in Genesis 1, or the first promise of Saviour in Genesis 3? Were they so caught up with all the evil and destruction of the people living in Noah’s day that they missed hearing of God’s mercy to safely deliver Noah, his family, and all the world’s creatures through the flood? In the midst of Abraham’s sinfulness did they hear God’s promise of a descendent that would be blessing to all the families of the earth? Did they tremble as the Ten Commandments were read or did they weep at the Good News that the Lord was their God who brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery? Did they sorrow over their forefather’s rebellious nature in the wilderness, yet marvel at how anyone could say, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own treasured possession”? (Deut 7:6)
When you read the 1st five books of the Bible, do you see your own sin and rebelliousness against the backdrop of God’s grace? When you look at the cross, do see your sin and God’s love for you meeting at the same time; God’s justice and mercy perfectly displayed for you?
Two Doctrines: Jesus is the key to understanding all of Scripture, and His work on the cross reveals two very distinct teachings; Law and Gospel. They are the common thread through all of Scripture! Without this distinction, the Bible will not make sense. Without this distinction the Bible can be turned into a book of senseless stories in which God tells us things we must do that we have no hope of accomplishing. And no, it’s not as simple as one is the Old Testament and the other is the New Testament. C.F. Walther did a whole series of lectures on this subject that are compiled in a book “Law and Gospel; How to Read the Bible.” You too can read with discernment; Law and Gospel will give sense to the words of Scripture because both will point you to Christ; your need for Him and what He has done for you.
Response: Ezra’s reading of God’s Word brought about a response from the people. They raised their hands with faces cast to the ground in worship; there was mourning and weeping. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to convict us of our sin, and in hearing all the ways that they had failed to keep God’s Law and their covenant with Him they were brought to sorrow and contrition. Yet they were not left despairing. They were told that this was a holy day, but not just any holiday (this is where we get the word holiday from), a day to sleep in or a ‘me’ day; it was a day to rest in God’s Word. This day was holy to the Lord THIER God. There’s the Gospel; there’s the hope and the reason for joy. He is the God who keeps His promises to them and for them; He is faithful even as was evidenced by all that they had heard. Rejoicing follows the sorrow over their sin with the realization of the great things God has done for them. Despite their sin and amid all the hurt of captivity, God had brought them home from exile. He watched over them making way for the building of Nehemiah’s wall that they could live and worship in safety. God’s Word of Law and Gospel was at work in His people.
Words: And God’s Word is the active ingredient at work in you and me today. Maybe you remember the song from the Gibb brothers: “Words and words are all I have, to take your heart away.” Our words fall short of what we say we’ll do—and we certainly can’t speak anything into existence. God’s Word spoke, “Let there be light and there was light!” It’s the same Word that spoke through the prophets and finally as the Gospel of John tells us, “became flesh and dwelt among us.”
God’s Living Word seeks us out and involves you and me in such a way that no one should ever feel insignificant, unloved, or insecure. Jesus is the Living Word who showed us what love is by dying for us on a cross. He is the Word that says, “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19) The Living Word, spoken over the centuries, now works to bless you and me, coming to us through the reading of Scripture, the words of a sermon, a hymn, and it accomplishes what God sends it to do in the waters of our Baptism and in a simple meal of bread and wine. This Word says, “You are forgiven,” and it is done—our sins taken away as far as the east is from the west. When our ears are opened to the power of the Gospel—through the lens of what God has done for us—then God’s Word takes on a sweet richness that grips our ears and demands our attention—and a response.
Security: God’s gift of contentment is in who He is and what He has done for us. You and I can be content and secure in the forgiveness given us through Jesus’ sacrifice and through God’s promises made to us at our Baptism. He is faithful and His loving kindness endures forever! As Luther’s hymn rings out, “A might fortress is our God”; neither our sinful flesh, the devil, the world, nor death has any power over us. As the wall Nehemiah built around Jerusalem stood between God’s people and their enemies of that day, Jesus is an impenetrable wall who stands between us an all that would destroy us. We have reason to celebrate; the joy of the Lord—what He has done—is our strength.