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Rebuilding Our Faith Series #15

REVIVAL AT THE WATER GATE

Nehemiah 8:1-12  

A. Desire for God's Word (Nehemiah 8:1-5)
B. Response to God's Word (Nehemiah 8:6-9)
C. Celebration of God's Word (Nehemiah 8:10-12)

1905 WELSH REVIVAL

A Revival of Righteousness

(From Men for Nations)

"It was in 1904. ALL WALES WAS AFLAME. The nation had drifted far from God. Spiritual conditions were low indeed. Church attendance was poor, and sin abounded on every side,"

"Suddenly, like an unexpected tornado, THE SPIRIT OF GOD swept over the land. The churches were filled to capacity; the meetings ran day and night. ... Prayer, testimony, and singing would sweep over the congregation in torrents, and hundreds of souls would surrender to God Indescribable scenes took place; nothing had ever come to Wales with such far-reaching results. Everywhere THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD was felt: in the street, in the stores, in the trains.

"INFIDELS were converted, drunkards, thieves, and gamblers were saved, and thousands were reclaimed to respectability. Confessions of awful sins were heard on every side. Old debts were paid. Theaters and saloons closed for lack of patronage. Police courts were idle.

>In five weeks twenty thousand conversions were recorded." Another writer states that within ninety days there were 150,000 conversions. > The Welsh revival was a Divine visitation, in which God said, "See what I can do without the things you are depending on? See what I can do with the simplest who are ready to fall in line and depend wholly upon Me? See what I can do in answer to praying people."

It never starts where you would think it would or should. Revival is hard to understand. Revivals starts when signs of life and morality are all but gone. In fact, this word 're-vive' means bring back to life. When all hope is gone, when the scene cannot be any darker, then it seems it might be time for a sovereign work of God to start up. 1905 Welsh Revival was like this. (See sidebar).

One of the most important messages of Nehemiah is that we are not to be content to have a good working facility or well functioning church administration. We must instead press on and have an inward soul or life that exudes an organization. Of course, We are not starting from scratch. The new work is built on the foundation of what was left. But the key is for us to discover the heartbeat of the life that is suppose to fill the structures. The rebuilt wall was fine, but the spiritual vacuum of the people wrote hypocrisy on the very walls they rebuilt.

One of the saddest sights is a dead church. I am not one that that applauds meetings and pretends church. Vibrancy is gone. There is no passion about missions. There is no victory over the world. There is the pervasive dullness of religiosity. The incense from your materialistic hearts is throwing manure all about God's Word. We don't see it. We don't even believe it. We would deny it. But still your fingers are more acquainted with catalogues than the Bible pages. You can find this or that coveted item much more quicker than the book Zephaniah in your Bible. God has so desired that you not only know where the books of the Bible are, but they are imprinted in your hearts and minds. You are deceived if you think we have a strong church. Our refusal to give our whole hearts to God proves we are living in covenant judgment rather than blessing. Is it not time for you to break forth from the impurity of your hearts and be gathered together much like the Israelites of long ago at the Water Gate? Yes, now is the time.

In chapter 8, we find the people gathered together again. We do not find that Nehemiah gathered the people this time. God gathered them. Zephaniah 3:20 reads,

"At that time I will bring you in, Even at the time when I gather you together; Indeed, I will give you renown and praise Among all the peoples of the earth, When I restore your fortunes before your eyes," Says the LORD."

Let us review what happened on that day way back when they were facing such spiritual dullness. Let's especially note the three signs of a great movement of God upon a people of God.

A. Desire for God's Word (Nehemiah 8:1-5)

Firstly, we discover that the people touched by the Spirit of God have a great longing for God's Word. There are six ways we can see this desire for God's Word coming alive in their hearts.

1) Focused on God's Word (1)

First of all these Israelites were interested in God's Word. I mean they are very interested in hearing what God had to say. The LORD had given not many things that endured through time. We have experiences but they fade. But the Word of God was something as a permanent gift. In Nehemiah they are talking about the Law of Moses, the Pentateuch, that is, the first 5 books of the Bible written by Moses. They all of a sudden were greatly aware of their need to hear what God wanted to speak to them.

Application

Did you ever have this great thirst for God's Word? Those Christians in China spent literal months and years writing down their own copies of the scriptures. When they couldn't bring the copy of the holy scriptures home with them, then they would memorize it. They simply cannot understand that we would have a Bible, perhaps many Bibles, and not read and meditate in God's Word all through the day and night. We are dull. We have little response to God's Word.

God wants devotion. He wants us to hold devotion times not from dead tradition but living love. We can easily see how we have the same situation as they perhaps. They did not know God's Word. They had not loved God's Word but just heard of it. But your relationship with God's Word has a lot to do with your relationship with God. While I was in Chicago and she was in Massachusetts or Toronto, we were what might be called 'going steady.' I used to write and receive letters all the time. Her words were precious. They are so precious we still have the box of them in our room. Her words were a fairly good substitute for her presence just so the next time seeing her wasn't too far off. But by time there was Christmas break or some vacation, I would take a 24 hour Greyhound bus back to the east coast to see her for maybe just a few days. If I was not interested in her, I would not have written so much or read so eagerly her letters. If I had no interest, I might deal with her letters as with any other 'junk' mail; it gets tossed into the wastebasket.

Can others tell you are in love with God by the way you eagerly study and discuss God's Word? What do you like reading the most? God longs for us to come together and ask to hear more of His Word. Next time you pick up that novel, magazine or catalogue, ask yourselves whether you in fact have just again bypassed His Word for some materialistic preoccupation, fictional adventure or indifferent business. God wants your whole heart.

2) People initiated (1)

The next thing to note is the way the people gathered together. They gathered together as one man and they asked Ezra to read the scriptures. I can not think of one pastor who has been asked by his congregation to have God's Word read and spoken to them. Again, we have the burden of exhorting God's people to attend regularly the few services we actually have. Ezra however was asked to read the book of the Law of Moses to the people. Have you recently read through the first five books of the Bible? Genesis is okay. Exodus for the most part is entertaining. But Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy? What would it take to have you read them? They had a great hunger for all the Word of God.

Application

When is your free time? What do you think of when traveling in a car? Did you ever think about how cold our hearts are when we time and time again choose not to hear God's Word.

3) Longing to understand (2)

Perhaps we would never think of our lack of love for God's Word unless we heard stories like this one here in Nehemiah. We think our Christian living is normal. But wherever revival of the church has broken out across the world, regardless of cultural background or age, the Word of God is lifted up and highly esteemed by all. To be frank, many of them no doubt would express great wonder upon hearing how we need to be exhorted to keep reading God's Word as to whether we in fact are real Christians. They look at us as if we do not have a heart for God. We can fool ourselves by saying that we are Christians because we have the Word of God but the real sign to look out for is whether we love the Word of God. This is what we see here. All the men and women and children who could understand came before him to listen.

Let me give an example of guilt manipulated or love motivated. We are exhorted by our Heavenly Father to meet weekly with His people. This is the normal and expected meeting as dictated by the Word of God. If one does what is minimally expected, then they feel this is good. But their attitude could still be poor. They might be those manipulated by guilt. They feel so bad if they don't go, that they regularly do come. But really they have missed out on the main purpose. It is not the attendance that God is so much focusing on but the meeting with God and His people. Compare this with those who come more than expected or required. Probably guilt is not making them to go to extra services. Something deeper, a thirst for God's Word, is perhaps driving them to go to God's Word. I remember making deliberate decisions on getting out of pools, leaving my friends, forsaking special trips, walking miles in the snow just to get to church.

Of course there are certain occupations that makes it impossible for doctors, etc. to regularly attend services.

Application

So let me ask you. Are you, are we the lukewarm believers the Lord wants to spew from His mouth? Have you put other things in front of the opportunities to hear God's Word? Young people, do you attend the youth meetings with great desire and delight to hear God's Word or are you content on playing an instrument, doing your school work, talking on the phone? But you might respond defensively but my parents don't let me go to youth group. Is this true or just an excuse? If you do poorly in your studies, do you pray and seek God for a studious and disciplined life so that you could get to Youth Group or Junior Youth Group meetings? Or are you older and just can't seem to get up on the morning for devotions? Is the problem that you do not love God's Word enough so that you turn off the television and get to bed early? I strongly believe that until we say no to the many distractions that the world offer, even good ones, we are not loving God's Word.

4) Length of Service (3a)

I wonder how many times people have complained about long meetings? In how many council meetings has this discussion come up in? Part of it is trying to understand the people but more than anything it is the grand confession of our hearts that do not long for God's Word. We don't have chairs so we buy chairs or pews. We don't have cushions, so we buy cushions. But here they met from early morning to midday with a minimum of 4 hours. I know that you are probably thinking that these people don't have jobs and school pressures that we do. But these thoughts really cover over the true longings of our hearts. We just do not want to admit even if we had time, we would want to hear God's Word. In fact you do have time. We have more free time then many generations before this. We can criticize and say that a longer service is not any more spiritual than a short one, a longer sermon is not more spiritual than a short one. Of course a long service does not prove anything. This is not what is even being discussed here. It was long because the people wanted it long. .......... They longed to be in the House of the Lord.

Application. Do you desire more time hearing God's Word?

5) Attitude of hearers (3)

This brings us to the attitude of the believers. The people were attentive to the book of the law. Now they did have language problems. They were not learned people. They could for the most part not read. But they had this for them. They wanted to learn. They were attentive. Sometimes I see people falling asleep. Sometimes I see notes being passed or girls giggling or guys laughing. You are not being attentive to God's Word. When you are thinking about what you need to prepare for a meal tomorrow or how you are going to finish off that report. You are not being attentive to God's Word. These people stood for hours just to hear God's Word. And they were paying a lot of attention. I believe that we evangelicals have the same problem with the liberals, except they are more honest. We have dead hearts. We don't really care or believe God's Word is relevant to us. The liberals confessed this openly, changed their doctrine and started discussing social issues. We just don't really take God's Word seriously.

Application

What is your degree of attentiveness when you come? Do you come late or get here early to pray? I long for that time when God's people are here early praying for the worship time. They desire so much for God to speak and for them to hear that they come an hour early to pray. Many churches around the world do this now. Some care for others so much that during one worship service they will be downstairs praying for the people upstairs so that they would be attentive.

6) Respect for God's Word (4-5)

Lastly, I want to mention the respect they had for God's Word. I know this was a special occasion of a sort. They had finished the wall and organized the people. But something else was being done here. The people's heart was being reformed by the Word of God. There was the scribe Ezra standing up at the wooden pulpit they made for the occasion. Six on his right hand; seven stood on his left. He was higher not only so that people could see but also so that people could hear.

Most interesting is that when the word of God was opened, the people stood. These people didn't have chairs; they probably just had a blanket or flat rock to sit on. However, when the scrolls were opened, when he opened the book, the people stood up. They respected God's Word. They could sense the presence of God. They knew that God was speaking. They knew that when honored people were in your presence, they would stand. Well they stood and stood. I read at the Stand in the Gap rally that they had the whole Bible read 27 times before every one came. I am not too sure whether this was for who. My guess it was for the evil beings to hear so much of God's Word that they run away in terror. In this case, we have the Word of God for the people.

Summary

I want to ask you where you are now at. Do you now thirst for God's Word? Is your desire to know God's Word preoccupying your mind? Just like having a girlfriend, you think when you can meet with her. Your mind is on her. You want to be with her. You take your extra thought time to think about her. But God wants this also to be true about His Word. Is there that longing, that thirst, that love for God's Word? I have told several, even many of you this is now my prayer request: that I would love God's Word more and more. I want to do naturally what I am told to do in scripture if I am to be successful in what I do. I want to meditate in His Word day and night. May God visit us with a fresh anointing of His Spirit to love His mighty Word. Let us now turn our thoughts to a people who were stirred by the Spirit of God and the way it affected their worship.

Old Testament

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B. Response to God's Word (Nehemiah 8:6-9)

Longing for God's Word directly relates to our worship of God. We have not understood the important place of reading and teaching God's Word during a worship service because we have not ever been moved by God's Word. Tradition guides us rather than God moving us. Let me make several notes regarding their worship.

1) Leader's prayer

Please note with me in verse 6 that Ezra himself was moved greatly by God's Word. Ezra responded with a great prayer of praise. I don't know if they sung, but one could imagine that the prayer held everyone's attention for in the next words the people not only said Amen but "Amen, Amen!" It is insufficient for a speaker not to respond to God's Word. The speaker leads the others into worship.

Application

My concern with this pulpit is not so much the ability to preach but that men who love God and His Word preach it. I want to hear messages of God so powerful that the speaker can but barely control himself with a great praise chorus in the end.

2) People's worship (6b)

Worship follows the hearing of God's Word not just by the speaker but by all the individuals making up the congregation. Here we see the people bowed low and lifted up their hands. I am not convinced that this is always necessary, but I am convinced that if you want to lift your hands and bow down or kneel, or even put your face to the ground, that this is thoroughly permissible. But don't get carried away by what others are doing. Do it only if you have to. I just can't stand phony worship. If you worship by lifting your hands, then it should be in response to His presence and your willingness to do what He says. If you are doing it because last week He met you, I wouldn't suggest to do it. It is not the action that expresses spirituality but the attitude. In this case, we are convinced this was not just any typical response to imitating what is going on up front by the leaders but they themselves responding to God Himself. This is what worship is: God's people responding to the glory of God.

Application

Before going on, let me ask you directly, "Have you ever worshiped God ?" "Have you been so impressed with the presence of God that you bodily, emotionally and spiritually respond?

3) Further understanding desired (7)

I recently read a book on what happens during revivals. One thing that occurs is long meetings. I remember one account where a revival had just begun. The speaker spoke and the people were so moved that they were crying and weeping before God. God had come close to them, or more accurately, their eyes were opened to the presence of God that is always near them. God is always here. After speaking to them, he decided it would be good to have another special meeting for the next night. But no one moved. They just stayed put. He couldn't help but preach another sermon right at that time. After a couple of more hours, he finished, but the people still didn't move. After much convincing, he finally got the people to return to their homes. But the people would be there the next night in even greater numbers.

Application

These people remained in their places. They stayed still. One did not have to take a survey as to what should happen next. Indeed this happens during times of revival, but how I long this might happen in our quiet times with the Lord, with our Sunday School classes, Bible studies and sermon. May there be that 'wish it would go on heart.'

4) Mourning and weeping (8-9)

Being in a Chinese church, we know the difficulty of understanding words that we don't really understand. We know something great was happening that day because God's people were impacted even when they did not fully understand the message because of language problems. The people knew God was there. But when a translation was given, then we see that even a greater understanding came over the people. I am not sure what language they translated from or to. I suppose they read it in Hebrew, the language the OT was originally written and translated to Chaldean.

When they understood it, then their hearts were particularly touched. We will not get into all the things written in the Books of Moses. Next time we will focus on one particular thing they were specially convicted in. But today, it is sufficient to see that they mourned and wept when they heard what God had expected of them, but they had failed to keep. We should not be surprised when we hear the people of God carried away in tears. They are very sad tears of disappointing our God but they are refreshing because of God's healing grace.

Application

Have you ever responded to God's Words with tears? Have you ever been able to see your sins with the light of God's Word shining on our hearts?

Summary

God's Word is as powerful as a two-edged sword. When it is wielded by the Spirit of God, then it swings into our souls convicting us of our sins and His wonderful grace. We see our great ignorance, transgression, sin and passivity to the things of God. We weep because we have been so blind, so stubborn, so hard, so unappreciative, so worldly. When God's Word is revealed for what it is, then one weeps and weeps. The tears break out. The hearts are humbled and healed.

C. Celebration of God's Word (8:10-12)

Perhaps what we least understand is after God's people met God and heard His Word, they were told to stop crying. Now truly, they had greatly sinned. They can look back and see why they had sinned. They read Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They know now why their ancestors were taken into exile. One would have thought that they should have stayed that way for a good long while. After all their sin took a long time. Wouldn't they need in penance to weep and weep, cry and cry, mourn and mourn. For every sin they committed, were they expected to cry for 5 minutes. No. This is not what God desired.

This is because God had made that day an holy day. God marked that day off in a special way. God wanted to be remembered not just for judgment but also for grace and mercy. Let me quickly mention three things.

God wanted them to be more aware of His strength than their weaknesses.
God wanted them to be instilled with the joy of His presence than lingering on in a sense of shame.
God wanted them to know what a wonderful thing it was to gain insight into God's Word so they could obey than just to sob over how they have disobeyed.

Simply put, they were to celebrate. And so the festival went on. God wanted to have a happy people. Happy are those who know their sins are forgiven! Anytime God comes and reveals Himself in special ways, we should celebrate. Even as God's people, we can see we do not desire Him as we ought. We are not thankful as we should be. We are easily distracted. But God doesn't want us weeping all our days. The point of grief is for recognition of wrong doing and the deciding to do right. This is a time of joy when He reveals His Word to us.
    • God wanted them to be more aware of His strength than just their weaknesses.
   •  God wanted them to be instilled with the joy of His presence than just linger on in a sense of shame.
   •  God wanted them to know what a wonderful thing it is to gain insight into God's Word so they can obey than just to sob over how they have disobeyed.

Simply put, they were to celebrate. And so the festival went on. God wanted to have a happy people. Happy are those who know their sins are forgiven! Anytime God comes and reveals Himself in special ways, we should celebrate. Even as God's people, we can see we do not desire Him as we ought. We are not thankful as we should be. We are easily distracted. But God doesn't want us weeping all our days. The point of grief is for recognition of wrong doing and the deciding to do right. This is a time of joy when He reveals His Word to us.

Application

When God's people meet God in a special way, they should take extra notice of these times. They are significant. God reveals Himself through His various attributes at different times. If we grieve so much that we cannot rightly understand the whole purpose of God, then we will strip away from what lessons God had originally purposed to teach us.

Conclusion

As we conclude, we must notice that God is rich in grace and man great in his sin. Man might had started looking good and ordered in his city walls, but this did not mean they were right in spirit. God had to do a special work within His people to create the inner soul of the city. This is what He does when He causes us to become Christians. We are born from above. We are made a new creation. The old has passed away; the new have come. He visits His people in special ways in a special way in our lives to accomplish His glorious purposes. They didn't deserve this special visit. Note their sins. But neither do we deserve such a visit. But may God revive us just the same. May God come to us as He came to them at the Water Gate. May the rivers of life be poured forth upon us with a stream so mighty and strong, so clean and pure, that we would weep over our sins to such a degree we need to be reminded that it is also a day of great grace.

Book of Nehemiah Index: Rebuilding Your Faith

Nehemiah

REVIVAL AT THE WATER GATE

Nehemiah Overview and Notes | Nehemiah Outline | Also see notes on Ezra

Nehemiah Historical Introduction | Nehemiah Rebuilding the Walls

Nehemiah 1:1-2:5 | Nehemiah 1:1-4 Love for God

Nehemiah 1:11-2.8 God's will | Nehemiah 2.9-20 Prepare

Prayer: Prayers that Changes the World 1:4-11 | Nehemiah 1:1-11 Prayer | Nehemiah 1:05-11 Prayer

Nehemiah 3:1-32 (1/2) Hope | Nehemiah 3:1-32 (2/2) Gates

Nehemiah 3 Jerusalem Map (pdf)

Nehemiah 4:1-6 Anger & Despair | Nehemiah 4:7-23 Anger & Fears

Nehemiah 4:7-23 Threats | Nehemiah 4:7-23 Overcoming Fear

Nehemiah 5:1-05 Loans | Nehemiah 5:1-19 Counts

Nehemiah 6:1-19 Rumors | Nehemiah 7:1-73 Restore

Nehemiah 8:1-12 Revival | Nehemiah 8:13-18 Obedience

Nehemiah 9:1-38| Strength & Direction in Life | Confess

Nehemiah 10-12 Covenant | Nehemiah 13:1-31 Restoration

 

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