Eternal Savior Lutheran Church

A member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

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Lafayette, CO 80026
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Epiphany 3 – January 27, 2013 – Nehemiah 8:1-10 – “The Purpose Of God’s Word”

Introduction:  Grace be to you and peace, from God our Father, and from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Our text is the Old Testament Lesson just read, from Neh. 8.  We begin with prayer.

Dear fellow disciples of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ:

  • It is difficult for us to fully fathom the circumstances described in our text – all that had gone on up to this point in time.  So we need to review some of the history.  Nehemiah was a servant of the Persian king Artaxerxes.  He was a descendent of one of the Jewish families originally conquered by Nebuchadnezzar the great Babylonian king, whose son lost the kingdom to the Persians in the days of Daniel.  We’re talking about the early 500’s B.C..  Under the Persians, the Jewish people were allowed to return to Jerusalem and the land of Judah – but it had remained a very poor country and a miserable place.  Nehemiah was called by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and help re-establish the area as a place for God’s people – so that His promises of a Messiah might still be fulfilled. 
  • The first part of the book of Nehemiah describes his personal history in this effort, and all of the challenges, threats, and difficulties he encountered in rebuilding the walls.  The incidents described in our text occurred just after the walls had finally been rebuilt – the people gathering together in the square at the Water Gate, a gate to the wall of the city, to hear the reading of the Word of God, the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible – Genesis to Deuteronomy.   There is enough, just in these first five books, for people to know and understand the will of God – virtually everything that He wills for us to know to live lives of repentance and faith:   1] to know His great love for us, 2] to know His will for human living – the difference between right and wrong, 3] to know His will that all should live in repentance, in the joyous knowledge of His gracious forgiveness and mercy, and 4] to know that His judgment and discipline will fall upon the impenitent, those committed to wickedness and evil, those who reject His gracious mercy and renewal of heart, mind, and spirit. 
  • This is what the people heard at the Water Gate, taught by Nehemiah and the prophet Ezra, and the Levites.  And from our text, the reaction of the people, and the encouragement of their spiritual leaders, we too are reminded of “THE PURPOSES OF GOD’S WORD” and encouraged in our own life of faith today, some 2,500 years after this text was written.  We remember that:


I.  God’s Word Reveals His Will For Human Life And Being, And Our Great Failings And Sins


Text:  “All the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.”


Statement:  I have to say that this is the appropriate and honest reaction of all who hear and study the Word of God.  The Bible is a sorrowful book, filled with descriptions of the way of goodness, light, and love – and filled with descriptions of horrendous failures of people to live in God’s love, to live in repentance, to live in faith, and to live in commitment to what is good and right.  Yes, it is also filled with warnings from God, and the record of His judgments upon those who choose to live as animals and not as His human beings!  It is a sorrowful book of tragedy indeed!


Application:  It is no different today – for people who take God’s Word seriously and actually take time to read it.  And the sorrow multiplies when we look around and see people devoted to the same rebellion against God, the same commitment to darkness and evil, and the same impenitence.  We too witness the judgment of God upon evil – and fear there is much more that we will have to witness as the rejection of God continues to grow all around us.  It should be a sad and sorrowful thing to compare the love of God, and His loving will for humanity, with the mess that we so often make of our lives in this world!


Transition:  But there is much more in God’s Word than mere gloom and doom – and this mitigates our sorrow, if we are in fact attentive to His Word and believing!  For God is no pessimist, and He has not given up in the least in regard to calling people back to Himself.  And so:


II.  God’s Word Also Reveals His Great Love For All People, For All Of Humanity, And The Assurance Of His Full And Complete Forgiveness For All Our Sins – The Renewal And Liberty From Sin And Judgment That He Has Given Us In Christ Jesus


Text:  “Nehemiah, who was the governor, and 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 or weep.”


Statement:  Who could say such a thing to people who had just heard the Law of God, recognized their great sin, and had come to understand why their lives were so miserable – other than leaders, teachers of God’s Word, who had read of His wondrous grace and mercy, His forgiveness and cleansing, His promises of a Messiah, a Savior, Who would take away the sin and guilt of the world?  And this is precisely what these faithful leaders, these true servants of God’s Word pronounced to the people – “do not mourn or weep”!  They were reminded of God’s love – and called to faith and trust in God’s mercy! 


Application:  It is no different to this day – for those who are truly ministered God’s Word.  Yes, we are all called to proper repentance – to confess our sins as we did a few moments ago.  But true servants of God’s Word also call us to faith and trust in His great love for us, and assure us of His forgiveness and mercy in Christ Jesus our dear Savior!  And so you heard the absolution, even as you are now being reminded of God’s great love and mercy, His promise that “if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”!  And in a few moments you will be given Christ’s true body and blood, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  You also are being told then “do not mourn or weep,” but rather rejoice in the gracious mercy and forgiveness of God! 

Transition:  From all of this we understand “THE PURPOSE OF GOD’S WORD” – to convict us of our sin as we are instructed in the ways of good and evil, and called to repent; BUT even more importantly to assure us of God’s optimism and His love for us, His gracious forgiveness and mercy, and His desire that we allow Him to renew us in a life of love!  For we see in our text that:


III.  God’s Will For Human Beings Is Not For Our Weeping And Despair, But Rather For Us To Have Faith And Joy In His Gracious Mercy – Remembering That “The Joy Of The Lord Is Your Strength”


Text:  “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”


A.  So God’s People Are To Eat And Enjoy The Good Things God Has Given Us


Text:  “Go your way.  Eat the fat and drink sweet wine.”


B.  And God’s People Also Share All Good Things With Those Who Have Nothing


Text:  “and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our LORD.” 


Statement:  Being good German stoics, we Lutherans may be overly tempted to “mourn and weep” over our own sins, and to grieve and fear greatly over the sins of others around us.  That is all well and good – in its time and place, and in proper moderation and to the appropriate degree.  What we may not be all that good about is celebrating the gracious forgiveness and mercy of God – rejoicing and enjoying the great blessings of God!  In fact, we may be tempted to feel guilt when life is going well and we are indulging in God’s blessings – and a good many pietistical frauds are eager to make us feel this way.  And perhaps a good bit of this pietistical fraud exists in our own hearts and minds – also accusing us and making us miserable even when we should be enjoying ourselves!


Application:  But one of the purposes of God’s Word – when we have come to proper repentance, when we are rejoicing in God’s gracious mercy and forgiveness, is to encourage us to remember that God is good, and He wills for life to be lived and enjoyed, His blessings to be rejoiced in!  And yes, this includes also sharing with others – as we are able to, out of the abundance God has given us!  And this is important – God’s will, that we know His goodness and love and celebrate it!  There should be no shame in this, no “mourning and weeping.” 


Conclusion:  We do not live in a time where things are in dismal condition and barely being repaired – although we might think of the life of the church in this way.  The church has suffered much evil – and continues to suffer.  We should be attentive to “rebuilding the walls” and returning to the hearing of God’s Word – even as we are this morning.  But when all is said and done, and we have properly heard God’s Word and understood “THE PURPOSE OF GOD’S WORD,” we should be rejoicing – and in proper moderation sharing and indulging in the great goodness and blessings of the Lord our God, including feasting and merriment – and God’s gift of wine which “makes glad the hearts of man.” [Psalm 104:14,15]


If more people understood “THE PURPOSE OF GOD’S WORD,” perhaps more people would be inclined to hear it – even though it involves a degree of sorrow and repentance.  If we more heartily embraced God’s love and goodness, and His will for our joy and rejoicing, perhaps we would have greater joy and enjoyment of life – which is God’s will for us, and part of the purpose of His Word!   So let us take care to remember – as we live in the sorrow of repentance, which gives way to the joy of God’s gracious forgiveness and mercy – that God wills for us to enjoy life and to celebrate His goodness!   God grant us to do so with ever greater enthusiasm!  Amen.


Votum:  And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds in the true faith, which is in Christ Jesus, even unto life everlasting, Amen.