Damariscotta Baptist Church
Monday, September 24, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

10/18/15 Sermon - Learning by Others' Mistakes - Part 1

“Learning by Others Mistakes, Part 1”

Nehemiah 9:1-19

 

Up to this point in the book of Nehemiah, we have seen Nehemiah leave Persia to take on the task of re-building the wall around the city of Jerusalem. The Israelites join him in the endeavor. There is opposition along the way but the walls are restored and the gates are finished. The people have heard and obeyed God’s Word and the Holy Spirit was doing a mighty work in their lives. Chapter 9 finds the Israelites experiencing a humble repentance.

Their humility was demonstrated through fasting, the wearing of sackcloth and by them putting dust on their heads.

Not exactly the means we would use today, but for those living in the time of Nehemiah, these were the ways people demonstrated outwardly, an inward change.

After hearing and understanding God’s Word, the Israelites wanted to express - their inward response.

Their fasting showed how they considered themselves so poor before God that they had no food, and they were so troubled by their sin,

that for them, food seemed unimportant.

Sackcloth was worn to show their complete poverty of spirit before God. Their sin was troubling them so much the normal comforts of life were unimportant. 

The dust on their heads also showed how low and troubled they had become. The Spirit of God had moved their hearts and helped them understand just how humble they were to be, before God.

By expressing the attitude of their heart publicly, the Israelites, showed their humility was not only towards God, but also towards the other humans around them.

You can be sure, not everyone was walking around in sackcloth with dust on their heads. There were those who wouldn’t have found themselves dead dressed like that and would not have humiliated themselves and joined in.

I suspect there were those who joined in just so they could have been a part of the crowd and were doing so just so others would think they were super spiritual, as well.

But, based on what we have read, there were many Israelites who heard God’s Word and were returning to God with a humble and repentant heart.

Not only did they demonstrate how they felt, Nehemiah goes on to say that they confessed their sins and the sins of their fathers. They had heard the Word of God and realized they were missing the mark God had set up for them.

I discovered while reading this week, that the English word sin comes from the idea “to miss the mark”. The meaning comes from the context of an archery tournament. If one did not hit the target in the right place, they would say they had sinned.

Whether you missed the mark by an inch or by ten feet, it was still called a sin, either way. This concept is similar when it comes to either doing what God has told us not to, or not doing what God has told us to do.

Up to this point I suspect the Israelites were like most of us. They were doing the best they could, considering the circumstances they found themselves in. They probably thought they were making the best out of what seemed a difficult situation.

Yet, when they heard the Word of God and understood what God had done for their people, for them, and how they were missing the mark on what God wanted from them, repentance was the only logical response. It was also significant that they also acknowledged the sins of their ancestors. This was significant for the Jewish nation, because they were known for glorifying their forefathers. Then to top even the acknowledgement of sins, they then, confessed their sins.

Their confession came as the result of very strange events.

The Israelites had just experienced great victories. They had built the wall and they had spent time building their spiritual life and after going through these developments of their faith, they were brought face to face with exactly who they were and their need to repent. As their faith grew, their repentance grew.

And as their faith grew, we read they stood in their place and read from the Book of the Law. Repentance brought them back to reading God’s Word. They wanted to walk on without their sin, and reading God’s Word would show them how.

As their faith grew, so did their confessions.

Then they were brought to a prayer of repentance. Those leading the congregation read a prayer that is thought to be the longest prayer in the Bible, yet when spoken takes only six and one half minutes to say. It begins at the end of verse 5 and goes to verse 37.

The prayer begins with praise. And this praise was given because God alone was the LORD. He had made heaven and earth and everything on it. The prayer states the angels also worshipped God. When God’s attributes were acknowledged, humility was the proper response for all of God’s creation.

The prayer continues by remembering the covenant God had made with Abraham and his descendants. Those praying this prayer, actually were those descendants. They were claiming God’s promises, God’s words and his righteousness, because the promises and words and righteousness were for them, God’s people.

The Israelites praying this prayer were living proof that God performed his words. The land had been promised to Abraham and his descendants, and there they were, living in the promised land, after years of separation. 

Next in their prayer we notice the Israelites began to see just how good God was. It was much easier to see more clearly when their pride was pushed aside and their hearts were humbled. When God was seen for who he was and for how good he really was, praise was given.

The prayer continues with their forefathers’ response to all of God’s goodness. The realization was that their forefathers acted proudly, hardened their necks and didn’t follow God’s commandments. They focused on themselves and not on the wonders of God around them.

It was like the Israelites were hearing this story for the first time and truly understanding what had happened. The sin of their ancestors was horrible. It would have been bad enough to have just sinned, but the ancestors were sinning when God had been treating them so well.

The best part of this prayer is that this generation was starting to recognize what God was really like. They had come to understand that God was ready to pardon, he was gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness and would not forsake them.

Even when their ancestors created a golden calf and started worshiping it, they recognized that even though God had sufficient grounds to abandon them, He didn’t.

Grace was given, and the definition of grace is when pardon is given, when it is not deserved. The Israelites had broken all their connections with God, and yet God kept up his side of the deal.

Up to this point, I suspect the Israelites had thought they were a special nation, because of how special they were, and now they were beginning to realize that it was not about them being special, it was that their God was special.

The Word of God had opened their eyes and their faith began to grow in a personal way. It was like they were beginning to see God as He really was. It was out of repentance their faith was able to grow.

Let’s step back for a minute and look at the big picture. Only two days ago, the Israelites had been joyfully celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. Now they were in repentance mode, sitting in sackcloth, dust on their heads, praying for understanding of their true existence. They began to see what it meant to be a descendant of Abraham. God’s promises to Abraham were their promises.

God had delivered their people out of Egypt, and heard their cries, even when the Israelites had only returned God’s graciousness with hard heartedness and selfishness.

Is any of this sounding familiar? Let’s be honest. Abraham’s God is our God. We may not be Israelites, but because of the blood of Jesus, we have been grafted into the family of God. Paul writes about this grafting of the Gentiles in Romans 11:17. The promises that are written in God’s book, are for us, but do we claim them? Or are we like the ancestors and hard hearted and not recognizing the blessing God has given us?

Do we choose to do life our way, and pray God will bless it, or do we admit our humility and ask God to lead us through the wilderness, much like he did the generation with Moses.

Where are you today? Are you in the wilderness? Do you have friends or relatives who are in the wilderness? If so, this message is a reminder to you. It is a reminder to all of us.

Because of God’s great compassion, He did not abandon the Israelites in the wilderness and because He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, regardless of what we have done or where we find ourselves,

He is not going to abandon us today. AMEN!

If there is anything I would like you to remember today it would be one sentence found in verse 17, so everyone, find a Bible, and turn to page, 513 ? Nehemiah, chapter 9 verse 17, the third sentence, and follow along while I read it:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.  (repeat)

While the Israelites were wandering through the desert, which by the way, was a result to their own bad behavior, God was their guide as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night.

Today, we have this, God’s Word, both day and night to guide us. Now mind you, it does take effort on our part to open the book and read it, but today even that has been made easier. You can find it on-line, on the radio, at one time I even had God calling me every day at 4pm to share a Bible verse over the phone.

Finding God’s Word is easy, finding the desire to make the time, is the difficult part.

And in order for God’s Word to make sense and work in our lives, we have to have the right kind of heart to put it in.

A heart, like that of the Israelite’s we have been reading about today, a contrite heart, one that has repented and recognizes who God is and who we are. Then God can use us. Then God’s Word can be hidden in our hearts that we might not sin against Him.

Let us not leave today, without the opportunity to confess our sins, seek humility, and then claim God’s promise.

Let’s pray –

 

Dear God,

Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even their starry hose, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

We recognize that we have been arrogant, and stiff-necked and there are times we do not obey your commandments. We often forget the miracles you performed among us.

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate; slow to anger and abounding in love.

Help us to walk closer to you this week, to read your Word, and then to put it into our lives.

We pray this because of your Son, Jesus Christ and we do so in His name.

 

AMEN.