Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14

Read Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 8.

There are (roughly) three types of sermons:

  • Topical: A topical sermon is one where the preacher chooses a topic, studies that topic from all the relevant scripture passages, then organizes the sermon as he sees fit and delivers it. Topical sermons usually reference many different passages from the Bible. In my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical.
  • Textual: A textual message happens when the preacher takes one verse (usually) which provides the main point (Big Idea) of the message. Sometimes one or more points of the message is also drawn from the same verse as the Big Idea. But other passages of scripture are brought in to develop the Big Idea. I don’t do a lot of textual preaching but my series on prayer titled How to Talk So that God Will Listen contains several textual messages. In that series, each line of the Lord’s Prayer provides the Big Idea like, “Our Father in heaven,” but I went to other scripture passages to explain what the Bible says about God as Father.
  • Expository: An expository message is about one passage of scripture, usually an entire paragraph of scripture. The paragraph that is chosen provides most, if not all,  the biblical content for the sermon–the Big Idea, the main points, the sub-points, and so on are all drawn from the same paragraph and are explained in the message. Preachers often quote or reference other scripture passages in an expository sermon, but those quotes/references are used to clarify, explain, illustrate, or apply the truth in the main paragraph of scripture.

Most of my preaching is expository. Even in a series or message that is topical, I will usually spend extended time in the message in one passage of scripture. I wrote above that in my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical. That is true; however, my message on God’s eternality is mostly an exposition of Psalm 90. And the series I’ve done preaching through Genesis, Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, James, and many other books are all examples of expository messages. They go paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse, explaining and applying God’s word until every passage in that book has been explained and applied.

What does any of this have to do with Nehemiah 8? Consider:

At the end of Nehemiah 7, which we read yesterday, verse 73 told us that “When the seventh month came….” but the end of that sentence is here in Nehemiah 8 which we read today. What happened in “the seventh month” (7:73) is that “all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”

Why did they do this? Because they were celebrating the Feast of Trumpets which is commanded in Leviticus 23:23-25 to happen “on the first day of the seventh month” (Lev 23:24b). Leviticus 23 doesn’t say much about this feast. All it commands is “trumpet blasts” (Lev 23:24c), “a day of sabbath rest” (Lev 23:24b) and “a food offering to the LORD” (Lev 23:25).

As the people observed this festival, they wanted to hear God’s word. So they asked Ezra to read the scripture to them. Verse 3 here in Nehemiah 7 told us that “he read it aloud.” But verses 7-8 told us that he and other Levites did two more things in addition to reading God’s word aloud:

  1. They translated the Hebrew text into Aramaic which was the common spoken language of God’s people at that time. The phrase, “making it clear” in verse 8b refers to that translation.
  2. They explained the passages they were reading. The phrase, “giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” in verse 8c refers that explanation.

What they were doing was, in basic form, expository preaching. They read the text and then explained it.

This is what I try to do in every message I preach: read God’s word, then explain it. I also try to apply it and that happened, too, in verses 13-18.

Why do I preach this way? Because it feeds God’s people. When a true believer hears God’s word read, explained, and apply, they are nourished in their faith and in the truth of God’s word.

Topical and textual messages have their place; when they are done properly, they teach God’s word, too. But the paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse teaching of God’s word is what God’s people need to grow. They needed it here in Nehemiah after they returned to Jerusalem from exile.

You and I need it, too. So come to our Sunday assemblies hungry for truth and ready to be taught God’s word. It’s the best thing for you and your faith.

2 Chronicles 16, Zechariah 1

Read 2 Chronicles 16 and Zechariah 1.

This devotional is about Zechariah 1.

When Zechariah wrote these words (v. 1) were still 18 years or so to go in Judah’s 70 year exile. The end was not yet in sight but it was closer than the beginning. God’s message to the people in the first 6 verses of this chapter can be summarized as follows:

  • Your parents and grandparents refused to repent when the prophets preached to them that the exile that we’re in was coming. Don’t be like them (v. 4).
  • What happened to those ancestors of yours, anyway? Oh, yeah, they died in exile just like the prophets said. The prophets themselves died too, by the way (v. 5).
  • What survives from those days? God’s word; that’s what (v. 6). Everything God said would happen, did happen.
  • The point of these first 6 verses is that God’s word through the prophets had proved to be true. His word was so clearly true that even the rebellious ancestors were forced to admit, “The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.” God’s punishment for their sins was clear proof of the truthfulness of his word.

So, God’s message now was, “‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” In other words, “Don’t wait for the punishment of sin to prove the truth of God’s word. Believe that God’s word is true now and turn to him accordingly.”

People in every generation have rejected and tried to discredit God’s word. They argue that there is no proof that the Bible is God’s word; it is just a human book, they think.

Leaving aside the prophecies that have already been fulfilled, God’s word is fulfilled day after day in the consequences that people experience for their sins. “The wages of sin is death” according to Romans 6:23; the fact that every sinner dies proves this word of the Lord to be true. The Bible also promises blessings for faith in and obedience to his word as well as judgment for unbelief and disobedience to his word.

You and I have the benefit of history. We can see how others who lived before us have disregarded God’s commands and sinned because they wanted to sin. What became of their lives? In every case I can think of, they proved that faithlessness and disobedience bring heartbreak and sorrow.

Receive the grace of God in the warning of these words and choose to believe that obeying God’s commands will be far better for you than disobeying them. That’s the lesson God wanted the people of Zechariah’s generation to learn from the exile. It is the same lesson he wants us to learn, too.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 2

Read 1 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 2.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 2.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and prophesied during much of the same era of time–the time when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been displaced by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was declining and would eventually be taken captive by the Babylonians. Jeremiah prophesied before and after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians but Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry began only after Jerusalem fell. Ezekiel began to prophesy in Babylon (1:1) while he lived with the other exiles. Instead of serving God as a priest, which he would have by birth (1:2), Ezekiel was called by God to see visions (chapter 1) and to prophesy to God’s people in exile.

Here in Ezekiel 2 he received a direct message from God himself, a message that commissioned him to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent. Jeremiah had faithfully proclaimed the word of the Lord, even when he was imprisoned for his message and when the Lord’s enemies plotted to take his life. Ezekiel, too, was told to be faithful with the message the Lord gave him (vv. 4-8) regardless of whether people responded in repentance and obedience or not. The reason God sent Ezekiel and told him to keep prophesying even when there were no results was that “they will know that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5c). People may reject his word, but God will not withhold it from them.

Why did God send prophets to people who would not listen and repent? The answer is that it removes their excuse and renders them guilty before God (see Rom 3:19). While it is hard to keep speaking truth in a hard-hearted world, God has a purpose for his word going out even when there is no response to it. Messengers like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and us are not held accountable for how people respond to the message. Only God can transform a heart that his hard to his message through the power of the Spirit. What we are responsible for is to be faithful—faithful in speaking what God said without subtractions, additions, or apologies and faithful in living the truth in our own lives.

Maybe you’ve been praying for someone and witnessing to them when you can or maybe you’ve been praying about witnessing to someone but feel like it will be useless to do because you’re sure they won’t respond in faith. Let God’s word to Ezekiel in this chapter speak to you, too. God put us where he put us for a purpose and he commanded us to be faithful in speaking his word for his purposes. Success in evangelism is always encouraging, but lack of success isn’t an indictment of you as a messenger. The only time we have failed to serve God in evangelism is when we have failed to speak for God when we have the chance. Let’s learn to trust the Lord’s word and his purposes and just be faithful in giving the message—as clearly, compassionately, and convincingly as we can, yes. But none of those is as important as speaking faithfully.

Ruth 1, Jeremiah 36 and 45

Read Ruth 1, Jeremiah 36 and Jeremiah 45.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 36 & 45.

Many years ago, I was writing an academic paper that I was scheduled to present to a conference of scholars on preaching. I was more than 70% finished with the paper when the hard drive on my computer died, taking all my work with it. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know how disheartening it is to lose all your work and have to start over.

Fortunately, I had backed up my hard drive the night before so I didn’t actually lose all my work; I only lost one day’s work, namely, the pages I had written the day the hard drive died. It was frustrating, and created some stress because the deadline was approaching, but it wasn’t as disheartening as starting over from scratch would be.

Here in Jeremiah 36, Jeremiah dictated a sermon to be delivered at the temple (vv. 1-4). Then, because Jeremiah was no longer allowed in the temple, he sent Baruch, the man who wrote down the message Jeremiah dictated, to read the scroll aloud in the temple (vv. 5-8). This message started a season of repentance in Judah (vv. 9-10). Then, some of Judah’s government officials were told about the message and they wanted to Baruch to read it to them (vv. 11-18). Finally, these government officials decided that the king needed to hear these words (vv. 20-21).

Baruch and Jeremiah were told to hide, so the king, Jehoiakim, had one of his guys read the scroll (v. 22). He was not nearly as impressed (v. 24) by the Lord’s words as the others were; instead, he cut off pieces of the scroll as it was read and burned Jeremiah’s entire message one piece at a time (v. 23). Like having a hard drive crash or having your forthcoming book manuscript burned up in a house fire, Jeremiah had to do the work of dictating the message all over again (vv. 27-30).

Few people would have the audacity to cut pages out of God’s word and burn them. This is doubly true for Christians; most of us don’t even know what to do with our warn our Bibles because we would never throw them in the trash can.

But, when we ignore sections of God’s word or reinterpret parts of it that are distasteful to us, we are doing something similar to what Jehoiakim did when he burned Jeremiah’s scroll. We are reading a heavily-edited copy of the Word, but, rather than edit or destroy the physical copy of scripture, the editing is done in our minds or through our choices of what to read and what not to read.

This is one reason, by the way, that I do verse-by-verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, book by book expository preaching. Preaching the next passage in the Bible prevents me from ignoring the harder passages to interpret or avoiding the passages that might be painful or controversial.

Reading through the Old Testament like we are also helps us to get exposure to all of God’s Word, not just the parts that we find comforting. But we can still do our own editing of God’s word by applying and obeying some parts of it while living in disobedience to other parts.

Are there any areas in your life where you are ignoring or avoiding God’s word?

James 3:1-2: Before you start teaching God’s word, develop your spiritual maturity as an Intentional Act of Faith.

James 3:1-2: Before you start teaching God’s word, develop your spiritual maturity as an Intentional Act of Faith.

Teaching God’s word is important, an essential function of the local church and necessary for the growth of every believer in Christ. But, who is qualified to teach God’s people in the church? Find out in this message.

This is message 21 in the series, Intentional Acts of Faith, a series about the New Testament book of James. It was developed by Pastor Brian Jones and delivered by Brian to Calvary Bible Church on Sunday, June 27, 2021.