July 12, 2011

Wednesday after the Third Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 92, Judges 6:1, 11-16, 33-35, Lk. 7:11-17
Evening - Ps. 104, Neh. 9:5-15, Acts 14:19

For seven days the people gathered as one in Jerusalem, and each day Ezra and the priests read and expounded the Law of God to them. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of this time. These people are returning to God on His terms. They are returning to the Bible. For hours each day they hear the Bible read and explained. Ezra probably started with Genesis and read straight through the five books of Moses, called the Torah, or Law. The significance of these books is that in them God invites the Jews into His Covenant, promises many great things to them, and tells them what they must do as their part of the "bargain." Basically, their part is to receive pardon from sin, and be lead into a new and better life with God as their God. God forgives their sins and wraps them in His everlasting love, gives them a land in which to dwell, and shows them how He is to be known and worshiped. They are the receivers in all parts of this Covenant. Even their obligations to love God above all else and serve Him in Godly worship are more like blessings than duties. It is light and life to the soul to know and serve God. The knowledge of Him is eternal life; His service is perfect freedom. The Jews were re-learning this during these days in the Scripture, and in learning them, they were re-dedicating themselves to being God's Covenant people. It has been many generations since something like this has happened in Jerusalem. Most of the Jew's history consisted of declining away from the Covenant and returning to idolatry and other sins. Times like this are rare, and noteworthy, and comparable to the Reformation in their scope and significance.

A very important part of this time is that, as the people heard the Covenant read and explained, they realised how far they and their ancestors had fallen short of it. More accurately, they realised that they and their ancestors had simply and intentionally rejected the Covenant, and that Covenant breaking was the habitual direction of their individual and corporate life. Their confession was no blanket statement. Fully one fourth of the day was filled with hearing Law, and one fourth spent in deep and honest confession (Neh.9:3). This is the kind of confession I wrote about during Lent, and you are invited to review those comments in earlier posts on this site, and read again of the nature, meaning, and process of true repentance. We notice that the first day of the reading of the Law was an occasion of great gladness. But now the Law has convicted them of their sin, and they are gathered to hear it in sackcloth and ashes, the garb of great sorrow before God. On the first day they rejoiced and celebrated. Now they confess sin and fast in their shame. I dare say the Church of our own time could benefit from such time in the Word of God, and that it would be much more of a "revival" than the emotional gimmicks found in many churches.

Nehemiah 9:5-15 begins a sermon, probably written by Ezra and preached by the Levites, probably those who aided him in the preceding days. Having spent the morning hearing the Word read and the afternoon in prayer and fasting, the Levites return to the pulpits with this sermon, which they preach simultaneously at various places to enable all the people to hear. The sermon continues to the end of the chapter and recounts their history from the call of Abraham (Abram) to their present hour. Verses 5-15 retell the call of Abraham and the Exodus, emphasising the grace of God in choosing Israel and blessing them as His people.

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