R and R

Nehemiah 8:1-3 All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. (Read all of Nehemiah 8.)

 "R and R" usually means "rest and relaxation"--a phrase used in the military to refer to what battle-exhausted troops need in order to recuperate. Christians need R & R also. However, the R & R that most Christians need is not rest and relaxation, but rather, revival and renewal! Contrary to the popular idea, however, the terms "revival and renewal" do not refer to a special series of evangelistic meetings held in a church or stadium. Revival and renewal actually refers to movements of the Spirit of God among God's people. Revival and renewal is not only something that most Christians need, it is something Christians can have--if they want it! Can revival and renewal be "programmed" by God's people? Isn't R & R determined exclusively by the sovereign will of God? Certainly revival and renewal come under the sovereign will of God (like everything else), but God's people can choose to have revival and renewal. Yes, R & R among God's people can be "programmed" if God's people are willing and really desire to be revived and renewed!

At this point we need to distinguish between "awakenings" and "revivals" or "renewals." An awakening is a movement of the Spirit of God within the ranks of the unsaved by which unbelievers are converted and brought to salvation in Jesus Christ. A revival or renewal is a movement of the Spirit of God within the ranks of the saved by which believers are motivated to recommit themselves wholeheartedly to the Lordship of Christ. An awakening generally involves large numbers of conversions as it sweeps across a large segment of the population. A revival or renewal among God's people, on the other hand, may be large or small. It may cross denominational lines and affect a large portion of the body of Christ, or it may be limited to a single church or even an individual believer. The "where and when" of an awakening is determined in the sovereign counsels of God. Certainly prayer and preaching go into the making of an awakening, but we cannot plan and program an awakening. America has experienced two great awakenings in her 200 year history as a nation, and perhaps by God's grace we will experience a third. How wonderful it would be to see our nation experience an outpouring of the Spirit of God and see massive numbers of conversions--even among those who are living pagan lifestyles! While we can pray and prepare for another great awakening, we cannot program it. God sets the time and place. In contrast, a revival or renewal among believers can be "programmed." If God's people follow the principles for revival and renewal set forth in God's Word, it will happen! Regardless of whether it is an individual, church or churches, God's blueprint for R & R among His people is clearly laid out in Scripture. When it is followed, it will surely produce revival and renewal.

In Nehemiah 8, we see God's blueprint for revival and renewal. It centers around a reverence for, and obedience to, the Word of God. A high view of the Bible is always found at the center of revival and renewal. This has certainly been true for all of the revivals that have taken place throughout Church history. It was clearly the case in the great revival in Judah during King Josiah's reign. (See 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35.) And, as we will see, it was demonstrated in the revival of God's people that came about in Nehemiah's day. R & R among believers has never taken place in the context of a cavalier attitude or a just-one-good-book-among-many approach towards the Word of God. Revival and renewal is always accompanied by an appreciation of the Bible as unique--the only inspired words of the living God.

Nehemiah 8 records the revival and renewal of God's people that took place at the time of the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. These events happened in the 5th century BC, near the close of the Old Testament period of history. The Jews had already returned from their 70 year captivity in Babylon and been reestablished as a nation. The Temple, which had been destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian armies conquered Jerusalem, had been rebuilt as a result of the motivating ministries of the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah. But the wall of Jerusalem remained in ruins. For almost 100 years after their return from captivity the Jewish people were content to live in the midst of the rubble of a ruined wall. But God did not want the city of His Temple to be vulnerable and defenseless. He wanted a strong wall around the His holy city, so He raised up Nehemiah to do the job.

Nehemiah, a Jewish cupbearer to the Persian King, Artaxerxes I, heard about the broken-down condition of the walls of Jerusalem, and had a burning desire to do something about the situation (Nehemiah 1-2). In answer to his fervent prayers, God moved the heart of the Persian king to grant Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem. Despite many obstacles and setbacks, under Nehemiah's inspiring leadership, the entire wall was rebuilt in only 52 days--a truly remarkable accomplishment (Nehemiah 4-6)! And the commitment of the people to "Operation Jerusalem Wall" triggered the revival and renewal that we see in Nehemiah 8. Getting involved in the work of the Lord, by the way, is an excellent way to trigger a revival in your own soul! If you're "coasting" right now and sense the need for R & R in your life, try getting involved in Christian service. Wall-building-type projects and revival still go together!

Although the revival in the days of Nehemiah was stimulated by the rebuilding of the wall, this was not the real focus of the R & R. The heart and soul of the revival and renewal was the people's attitude towards the Word of God. This is God's blueprint and pattern for R & R today.

In verses 1-8 we see the great appreciation that God's people had for the Bible. First of all, they suggested a public reading of the Scriptures (v1). Remember that this was long before the time of the printing press! Everyone did not own a Bible, so the people gathered together in a public place to hear the Word of God read by Ezra the scribe. This was the same Ezra who wrote the book of Ezra. He was Nehemiah's contemporary and was greatly used by God to bring about reform in the hearts of the people and lay the groundwork for the revival and renewal. The fact that Ezra did not have to force the people to attend the public reading of Scripture shows their great appreciation of the Word of God. They requested Ezra to read the Law of God to them, and they listened attentively to it for at least 6 hours! And when the people stood up in honor of the Scriptures being opened, they may have remained standing for the whole time (v 5-7)! When was the last time we were so hungry for the Word of God that we stood for 6 hours and listened intently to the reading of Scripture? Some Christians have a difficult time paying attention to a 30 minute sermon or even a brief devotional reading of God's Word. No wonder there's no revival and renewal in the lives of so many of God's people! How much do we really appreciate the Bible?

In verses 7 and 8 we see that the Scriptures were not only read but that they were translated. They had to be translated because the people understood Aramaic better than Hebrew. During the 70 year Babylonian captivity the people had largely lost the use of their native Hebrew tongue and had begun to use the Aramaic language of their captors. Thus the Hebrew Scriptures had to be translated so that the people could understand. These Aramaic translations, incidentally, were the beginning of the oral tradition behind the written Targums that exist today--the Aramaic manuscripts of Old Testament Scriptures.

Besides being translated, the Scriptures were explained (v8), so that the people would know the meaning of God's Word. Reading the Word of God is just the beginning. God gave His Word to be understood. Are you understanding the Bible? Read several translations and get some good commentaries to help you understand the meaning of Scripture. There will be no revival if the Bible is not understood. A desire to understand Scripture is the mark of a true appreciation of the Word of God. This kind of appreciation of the Bible is at the heart of R and R.

In verses 9-12 we see that there was an appropriate response to the Bible. In verse 9, the people were weeping as God's Word brought them to a realization and conviction of their sins. The reading of the Word of God made them realize how far short they came in meeting God's standards of holiness, and how badly they had neglected the ceremonial requirements of God's Law. They were weeping because of their failures and mixed-up priorities. Tears of repentance are always an appropriate response to hearing and understanding God's Word. In fact, without the response of weeping over our sins and shortcomings, there will be no revival and renewal.

But there was another response to the Word--joy and gladness. Ezra and Nehemiah told the people to stop crying (v9), not because weeping was an inappropriate response to the Word of God, but because it was a special feast day--a time for joy and celebration! It was the first day of the seventh month (v2), which was the Feast of Trumpets. In the Jewish civil calendar, this was the start of the New Year, and it was to be a time of celebration before the Lord. According to the Law of God the people were to send gifts to the poor with thanksgiving and joy in their hearts for how the Lord had prospered them. (v10-12). Joy and celebration is also an appropriate response from us when we understand the Scriptures. There's bound to be joy and gladness in the hearts of God's people when they really understand from Scripture the extent of God's great love and care and provision for His people. Joy and celebration will certainly accompany revival and renewal! It's an essential part of God's pattern for R and R.

In verses 13-18 we see that appreciation and response to the Bible led to obedience. Obedience to the Word is the hallmark of true revival and renewal. When the people learned of God's requirements for the Feast of Tabernacles which was to be held later in the month, they immediately began to gather the tree branches for the booths or lean-tos that were to be constructed. Living in these temporary dwellings for the one week feast vividly reminded the people of God's care for their ancestors throughout the forty years of Israel's wilderness wanderings. We see from verse 17 that the Feast of Tabernacles had not been carried out in this way since the days of Joshua--almost 1000 years of negligence!

Perhaps some of the people did not completely understand all of the reasons why God required that they cut tree branches and live in "booths" for a week. But they obeyed! Maybe some of the people thought that they could remember God's care for Israel in the wilderness just as well without building those "silly little lean-tos!" But they obeyed anyway! Some of the people may have even thought that cutting down so many tree branches would be destructive of the wildlife! But still they obeyed! And because they obeyed, God blessed them and there was revival and renewal. In the same way, we may not completely understand all the "why's" of God's commands, but we are to obey them anyway. In 2 Peter 3:16 we are reminded that the apostle Paul wrote "some things that are hard to understand." Who wouldn't agree?! The Scriptures dealing with the different and distinct roles of men and women in the church, for example, are in Paul's writings. (1 Corinthians 11 and 14, 1 Timothy 2). The Scriptures about allowing ourselves to suffer financial loss rather than suing fellow-Christians in a court of law are in Paul's writings (1 Corinthians 6). Easier to understand, but often hard to obey, are Paul's writings about how wrong it is for Christians to split up into separate factions in the local church (1 Corinthians 3). These may be hard-to-understand and difficult-to-obey Scriptures--but we must obey because they are the words of God. We obey, that is, if we really want R and R and God's blessing in our lives.

The centrality of Scripture continued to characterize the great revival and renewal of Nehemiah's day. Even when the people gathered together for worship and prayers of confession, they spent the first 3 hours in Bible study (9:3)! The centrality of Scripture is always the pattern of revival and renewal. Appreciation, response and obedience to the Bible is God's blueprint of R and R.

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