Hurray for Jesus
The Christian speaker and author Paul Tripp tells the story of going to bed one night, and as he's turning out the lights downstairs, he hears his daughter, in her room upstairs, crying. He went in to see what was wrong, and he asked her, "Why are you crying?" She turned to him and said, "Because I'm not good enough." "No matter how hard I try I can never be as good as you and Mummy ask me to be."
Do you ever feel like that?
Do you ever feel that, no matter how hard you try, you never seem to be good enough? No matter how hard you try…you still fail, you still get things wrong, you still seem to screw it up?
Paul Tripp goes on to describe how he took his little girl in his arms, and comforted her. And then he said this.
"I have never been so proud of my little girl."
Because she recognised that she's can't do it. She recognised that by herself, and by her own efforts, she could never be good enough.
And, as we'll see from Nehemiah 9-10 this evening, that is the first step on the road to being saved.
After 4 months of planning and 2 months of incredibly hard work, the wall of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, and the gates had been put in place.
And then in chapter 8, on the first day of the 7th month, all the people came back together again, to listen to Ezra reading the law of God.
Ezra read the first 5 books of the Bible and the Levites told the people what it meant. And, if you were here last week, do you remember what happened next? The people started to cry!
Look at 8 vv 9-12…
"Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, "This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep." For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve."
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them."
That was the first day of the 7th month,
"On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival o
f the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: "Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters"—as it is written.
So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly."
For three weeks in the 7th month, from the 1st day to the 22nd day, the people celebrated different festivals to God.
But on the 24th day of the month, that all changes,
Look at 9 vv 1-3…
"On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God."
For 3 hours the people listened again to the Book of the Law being read, and for the next 3 hours they confessed their sins and worshipped God. And in vv 5-37 we have an example of what they prayed.
Nehemiah chapters 9 is all about…
1) Rebellion Remembered
Look down at that prayer with me. In vv 5-6 they remember that the LORD their God made all things and gives everything life. The LORD, revealed himself to Abram and brought him to Canaan, vv 7-8. The LORD, rescued the people from slavery in Egypt, and out through the Red Sea, vv 9-12. And the LORD spoke to them on Mt Sinai and gave them the Law, vv 13-15. The LORD their God has looked after them and cared for them, from the very beginning.
"But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands."
Even though God cared for them and loved them and made them His chosen people, they rebelled against Him. They rejected Him, they even wanted to go back to Egypt! And God could have rejected them,
"They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, 'This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,' or when they committed awful blasphemies."
God still loved them, even after all that.
"Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen."
God gave them victory over the armies that attacked them, v22, he made them multiply and grow, v23.
And when the Israelites were finally ready to enter the Promised Land, he gave it to them, v25…
"But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies.
So, God punished his people. He let them be defeated by their enemies, v27. Yet even then, he loved them.
So he sent them Judges to save them, again and again.
"But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.
Generation after generation went the same way, vv 29-31…
"You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, 'The person who obeys them will live by them.' Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God."
Do you see what is going on here? Ezra and Nehemiah have called all the people together. And for the first 3 weeks of the month they celebrate, and they have reason to celebrate! God has been incredibly good to them, not least in helping them to complete the wall.
But as they come together, they also have reason to weep and mourn.
Because as they listen to the first 5 books of the Bible being read, and as they look back on their long history, they see the same thing again and again.
They see God's goodness and their wickedness.
They see God's faithfulness and their unfaithfulness.
They see God's love and their sin.
As they look back at their history the Israelites realise that at every step they have rebelled against God.
Look at v33…
"In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly."
Chapter 9 is all about rebellion remembered.
Let me ask you this evening, are you any good at remembering your sin?
I have a terrible memory. Which can be incredibly frustrating, at times, and incredibly convenient at other times.
You see, I know I'm a sinner, the Bible tells me so. If I stop and think, I know that in all sorts of ways, just this week, I haven't worshipped God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. I know I'm a sinner.
And yet, I'm so good and forgetting all the bad things I've said.
And all the hurtful things I've thought.
And all the wrong things I've done.
I'm so good at forgetting all the bad things, and drifting back to thinking, "I'm actually a good guy."
Do you remember the nursery rhyme?
Little Jack Horner Sat in the corner, eating a Christmas pie; He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, and said 'What a good boy am I!'
And perhaps that's you as well?
Always ready to think well of ourselves.
But it's not true.
The truth is we're rebels, all of us.
Our story looks just like Israel's story.
It's full of God's goodness and our wickedness.
God's faithfulness and our unfaithfulness.
God's love and our sin.
And our sin leaves us in the same place that it left the people back then,
Look at vv 36-37, they say to God… The walls were rebuilt, but the Israelites were still slaves to the King of Persia.
So what they need…most of all, is God's help.
But, as they remember their rebellion they realised that,…what they deserve least of all, is God's help.
Rebellion remembered, that's chapter 9.
Chapter 10 is all about…
2) Repentance Repeated
Look at v38…
"In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it."
In view of their rebellion, the people did what all of us should do.
Nehemiah, and the priests, and the Levites and the leaders of the people,
…as well as, v28-29.
They all make a promise, take an oath to turn back to God and obey His law.
In other words, they repent.
They realise they've been going THIS WAY, away from God,
…and they determine to STOP,
…and go THIS WAY, following God.
They repent particularly in 3 areas.
First of all, in their relationships,
Look at v30…
"We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons."
Back in Exodus 34 God had commanded His people not to intermarry with the nations around them.
Not because of race, but because of religion.
God knew that if they let their daughters marry foreign men,
…or if they let their sons marry foreign women,
…soon enough they would be tempted to forget the LORD their God, and worship foreign gods.
And time and again, that's exactly what had happened,
…so now they promise to repent.
Then in v31 they promise to repent in the way they use their time, v31…
"When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts."
Again in his Law, God had commanded His people not to be like the nations around them, but to rest from their work on the last day of every week, as a Sabbath.
He had commanded them every 7 years to give the land a rest from being worked, …and he'd given them special days every year when they should stop and focus on their relationship with him.
But again, over the years, the people had abandoned God's commands.
They had ignored the Sabbath and forgotten the holy days, …so now they promise to repent.
And finally they promise to repent in the way they use their money, that's vv 32-39.
Look at vv 35-36…
"We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree.As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks to the house of our God, to the priests ministering there."
God had laid out in his Law how the people were to worship him with their money,
…giving him the first of their crops,
…giving him the best of their wealth and their herds and even their families.
They were to give 10%, a tithe, of their income to the priests, …and they were to support the work of the temple. By giving generously to God, they were acknowledging that God had given generously to them.
They were to use their money to worship Him. But they had not. They kept their money for themselves, …and failed to give to God what belonged to Him.
And so now they promise to repent. They did what all of us should do. When we remember our rebellion, …when we acknowledge that we've sinned against God either by what we've done, or by what we've failed to do, …that's only the beginning.
We also need to repent. To stop going our own way and determine to obey God and go his way from now on.
So let me ask you this evening, do you need to repent?
Or rather, where in your life do you need to repent?
If you're struggling to see where you need to repent, then how about examining those three areas in your life.
Do you need to repent of a relationship you're in?
Perhaps you're in a relationship with a non-Christian?
Perhaps you're in a sexual relationship outside of marriage?
Are you obeying God, and worshipping Him in your relationships?
Or do you need to repent?
Perhaps you need to repent of how you use your time?
Is God getting the best of your time, or the scraps of your time?
Do you reserve the best part of your day to spend time with him, reading the Bible and praying?
Or does time with God get squeezed into 2 minutes here and 5 minutes there…if at all?
Are you obeying God and worshipping him with your time?
Or do you need to repent?
And how about your money?
Is giving to God your first priority?
Does he get the first fruits of your pay cheque, or just a bit of what's left over at the end of the month?
Do you recognise how generous God has been to you being generous to others?
Are you obeying God and worshipping him with your money?
Or do you need to repent?
We must remember our rebellion, but we must also repent.
When we see the ways in which we've turned away from God,
…we must stop, and turn back to him.
And that's not something we do just once.
We have to repeat it again and again.
Martin Luther, one of the greatest Christian leaders in history, started his 95 theses with these words,
"Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."
Every day we sin, and need to confess our sins.
And every day we should remind ourselves from God's word that, through faith in Jesus, God has forgiven our sins.
But we mustn't stop there.
Because every day we should also repent.
We should identify the areas in our lives that are not as they should be,
…and we should turn back to God,
…and seek to obey him better today than we did yesterday.
If chapter 9 is about Rebellion Remembered,
…then chapter 10 is about Repentance Repeated.
…even as chapter 10 leaves us with this wonderful example,
…it should also make us stop and think.
Yes, the people repented,
…but how many times in the past had their forefathers done just the same thing?
Yes, they turned back to God and committed themselves to obeying Him again,
…but how many times had they done that all before,
…only a day or a week or a month later to forget what they'd said and rebel against God all over again?
Do you see, as we come to the end of Nehemiah 9 and 10 there is also…
3) Reality (to be) Recognised
The truth is, we're rebels. We are rebels, and so we should repent, …but in time…we'll rebel again.
Every morning we should commit ourselves again to worshipping God with our relationships and how we spend our time and how we use our money, and every area of our lives.
But the reality is…it won't be long until we fail again.
Nehemiah 9 and 10 are wonderful chapters, …they should inspire us to repent.
But they should also point us to a bigger reality.
That no matter how many fresh starts we're given,
…no matter how many times we promise to redouble our efforts to obey,
…we always go the same way.
In the end we always screw it up.
Like Paul Tripp's little daughter, we need to recognise that no matter how hard we try we'll never be good enough.
We need more than just another fresh start,
…we need something new, a…
4) Rescuer (is) Required
Do you see?
We should read Nehemiah 9 and be humbled at our rebellion,
We should recognise again that what we need most of all is God's help,
…and what we deserve least of all is God's help.
Then we should read chapter 10 and be inspired to repent…yet again.
To turn every area of our lives back to him.
But we should also read it and say, 'I need more than that!'
Because no matter how hard I try, I can't keep God's law,
…I need someone who can keep it for me!
In other words brothers and sisters, Nehemiah 9 and 10 should leave us saying, 'Hurray for Jesus!'
'Hurray for Jesus'
…because you and I aren't good people who deserve God's love…but Jesus was.
'Hurray for Jesus'
…because he loved us so much that he came to take the punishment that you and I deserve by dying on the cross.
'Hurray for Jesus'
…because God says that if we put our faith in him, then even wretched rebels like you and me, can be saved for all eternity.
Nehemiah 9 and 10 should prompt us to remember our rebellion,
…it should lead us to repeat our repentance,
…it should lead us to recognise the reality, that we can never be good enough,
…and it should also cry out for the rescuer that we require.
And that's why I've rearranged the order of service this evening, because I want the rest of the service to help us do those things.
So first, we're going to stand and remind ourselves of what we believe by saying the Creed.
Then we're going to say that confession together, and I'm going to lead us in a time of prayer.
And then we're going to take communion together and remember that Jesus is our rescuer.
So let's stand…