We have been encouraging you to read the Bible with us through this year, and for those of you that are joining us on this journey, I am sure that you have had your ups and downs, as have I. Reading the Word of God is an essential and profitable exercise for all believers, but it is really more than reading that we are encouraging; it is responding to the Word that those who are blogging here are eager for. We want it in our own lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters who are reading with us. So this brings up the question, how have you responded to the Word?
I found myself in Nehemiah 8 this morning challenged with my responses to the Word. All of the people were gathered in Jerusalem for the reading of God’s Word by Ezra, and it is interesting to see their responses to the Word.
First we see that the reading of the Word led them to worship.
…And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. (Neh 8:6)
Their first response was worship! How often has your reading led you to worship? I am afraid that our consumeristic society has influenced even our purposes for reading the Word. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Well I didn’t get anything out of my reading this morning.” Or, “This is what I got out of my reading this morning…” God does speak to us through His Word and He does give us applications to our lives from His Word, but our motivation for going to the Word is not to get something, it is to give something. As we see the glorious revelation of our great God in the pages of Scripture we should be falling down on our faces to worship God and give Him the glory that He deserves. We should be falling down on our faces and realizing that the Word is not all about me or my needs, it is about God and His glory. When we get this straight we think correctly about our needs. Does the Word lead you to worship?
There seems to be a progression to the responses in this text. After they worshipped, and as the Word was explained to them passage by passage, they then dedicated the day as holy to God. Dedication was their next response, and should be ours as well.
And 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.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. (Neh 8:9)
As you have seen God and worshipped Him through the Word, in what areas have you seen your own selfish desire to be the king? How has gazing at God shown you your rebellion to the King of kings and the establishment of your own kingdom instead of His? Have you really dedicated yourself and all of the events of your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ?
When the previous two responses are happening we are tempted to weep as the people did because we have seen the truth about ourselves in the light of God. The instruction came very specifically not to weep, but to rejoice and celebrate. At every phase of our responses to the Word, we are tempted to worship self. We want to worship self instead of God. We want to dedicate self to the advancement of self rather than God. Finally we want to mourn over self rather than rejoice in the King who conquers self for His own glory. This is not to make light of repentance, but to rejoice in forgiveness.
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Neh 8:10-12)
When we are our own strength, there should be nothing but mourning, but when we read and understand the Word of God we find the joy of the Lord to be our strength. Have you responded with joy to the Word today? Even if it was convicting and hard, are you rejoicing in a God who wins over your sin and uses your circumstances to mold you to look like Christ? Brothers and sisters who are reading the Word with us, worship God, dedicate yourself to Him, and rejoice in Him today!