Leading in the Spiritual

June 23, 2024 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: A Time to Rebuild

Topic: English Passage: Nehemiah 8

As we begin our study this morning, I would like for you to turn with me to the book of Leviticus chapter 26. Leviticus is the third book of the Bible, after Genesis and Exodus. It was written by Moses after God has used him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Once the people were freed from Egypt. Moses gave them God’s law. He instructed them how they were to worship Yahweh and enjoy fellowship with Him.

Obedience to Yahweh included building a special structure in which the highest expression of worship would take place. That place is known as the Tabernacle. Once the Tabernacle is built, Leviticus explains all the rules for how the nation should worship and obey.

As the book comes to an end, we come to Levititus chapter 26 where God promised to bless the people if they walk in obedience and to curse them if they rebel. I’d like to begin with an extended reading covering that second aspect of God’s promise.

Leviticus chapter 26, beginning in verse 14. And I am going to read all the way to the end of the chapter in verse 46. Again, the people have received the Law and a promise of blessing, but now here come these words. Leviticus 26:14.

But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

[21] Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

[23] And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

[27] But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

[34] Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity, and also, because of the iniquities of their fathers, they shall rot away like them.

We’ll pause there for a moment. God said to Israel that if they won’t walk in obedience, they will face panic, anxiety, disease, famine, starvation, invasion, deportation and death. This will be God’s judgment for the people’s idolatry and desecration of the Land in defiance of God’s Law.

This is exactly what happened across the history of Israel. The leaders and the people rejected God’s word, and so they were overrun by their enemies. They did not have the freedom and autonomy and glory God had promised them. It happened in small ways throughout Israel’s history, but it all led to the end of the line of David ruling in Jerusalem as the Temple was destroyed and the city was captured by the Babylonians.

Let’s go back to our reading in Leviticus 26. We’ll continue in verse 40.

[40] But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”

Even in the midst of the worst judgment against them, God promised to preserve the nation of Israel. They wouldn’t have perfect protection all the time, but they would be preserved with the hope that they will turn back to the Lord.

One major glimpse into God’s restoration came when the Persians took power and King Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. This took place under the leadership of a man named Zerubbabel, as well as a priest named Jeshua. Almost 80 years later, a priest named Ezra led a second group back. And they were followed 13 years later by a third group under the leadership of Nehemiah.

Ezra and Nehemiah understood that nation needed to be restored, not just geographically, not just numerically, and not just structurally. The nation needed a spiritual restoration. And God had called them to lead it.

Go ahead and turn with me to Nehemiah chapter 8, which is where we’ll pick up the story today. Nehemiah chapter 8. We saw last week that on the first day of the seventh month, the people were gathered together to hear the word of God. And for some, this may have been the first time they heard it read in front of them. The people initially respond with sorrow, but Ezra and Nehemiah tell them to go home and rejoice with food and drink for everyone.

They’re not rejoicing because things are going well; they are to rejoice because they have heard the word of God and now are on the path to restoration. A good meal would also strengthen and prepare them for what was to come next.

The very next day, another assembly is convened, but this time, it’s not everyone. It is the recognized leaders of the people.

Look with me at Nehemiah chapter 8, verse 13. Nehemiah 8:13.

On the second day the heads of fathers' houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law.

There is a very simple, basic lesson here, but it vital to the people of God and to the way God works. The principle is that if God is going to use someone, or some group, to lead others toward holiness and restoration and maturity, that group of leaders will lead in their knowledge.

We’re going to cover a brief list of how leaders lead in this section, and this is the first expression. Leaders lead in their knowledge.

This was not a strategy meeting. This was not a time to brainstorm solutions from the wisest or most successful businessmen among them. This was not a corporate think tank. This was not a town hall meeting.

This, very simply, was a Bible study. The men came together to study the words of the Law. The leader was the man most respected for his integrity, and for his knowledge of the word. The leader was Ezra. Nehemiah got a wall built, but Ezra knows the word, so they gather to him. They come together to read and understand the word of God.

Again, it’s a simple principle, but it’s so easy to forget in the life of a church or in our own families. Fathers and mothers and elders and teachers and ministry leaders shouldn’t be selected for, or primarily operating out of, their ingenuity or creativity. A leader among God’s family leads through the knowledge of God’s word.

Apart from going to seminary, how are you supposed to grow in your knowledge of God’s word? You read it for yourself. You ask questions of others. You come to our Sunday morning class and our home groups during the week. What your life, what your marriage, what your home and what our church needs most is to know the word of God. And so, what a leader needs most is to know this book.

That’s why the qualifications of leadership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 say that an elder must be a man who is able to teach. He must be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it.

Men, even if you never expect to serve in a church as a pastor, or an elder, if you intend to lead your home well as the head of the household, you need to know the word of God. Be growing in your knowledge of it.

As these men gathered with Ezra, they came across something important. Verse 14—And they found it written in the Law that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.”

They proclaimed and they published. These men were not simply to lead in their knowledge. Number two, they were to lead in their teaching. Leaders lead in their teaching.

This sounds like an obvious and logical expression of the first point, but we live in a culture that communicates, “If I know more than you, I get to be in charge. I don’t have to share that knowledge with you, but you have to do what I say.”

That’s not God’s design for leadership. Men, you who are called to lead are called to know the word, and you are called to teach the word. The same is true for pastors and elders. It’s not enough to have the ability to teach. That’s not simply a qualification or requirement; the duty is part of the office. Go and tell people what the word of God says. Proclaim it. Publish it. That’s what verse 15 says.

And the same is true with the gospel message that you and I have received in Jesus Christ. Even if you’re not a leader in some formal capacity, if you belong to Jesus Christ, you are a member of His body which has been given the responsibility of proclaiming and pronouncing the glory of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

People need to hear the truth because faith comes by hearing. If your classmates and coworkers and neighbors don’t visit a church that preaches the true message, and if someone doesn’t tell it to them, they cannot be saved. They will be judged forever.

What’s the message? It is that everything in this life was created by God with the intent of expressing His glory and pleasure. You and I were created to showcase God’s holiness and love and compassion and forgiveness. But none of us lives up to that. God will only be pleased with perfection, and we can’t do that.

So,  since you and I aren’t perfect, and since we can’t become perfect in this life, God did it for us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die as a sacrifice and to be raised again in victory over disobedience and over death. God judged His Son so that He could show mercy to sinners.

One day, all the pain and dysfunction of this world is going to be undone by Jesus, and all His people will be saved forever in a new earth. You can be part of that if you will turn from your sin and trust completely in Jesus.

That’s the gospel message. No matter how badly you’ve messed up, God will show you compassion if you will humble yourself and call out to Him for forgiveness and mercy on the basis of what Jesus has done. God is a God who restores and who saves and forgives. He reconciles sinners to Himself through His one and only Son.

The restoration of Israel under Ezra and Nehemiah is simply another expression of that truth. God is gracious and compassionate. He doesn’t delight in judgment. He doesn’t want that for you. Every animal sacrifice of the Jews in the Old Testament was pointing to a greater sacrifice that would be once for all—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. God has graciously made that message known in His word so that we would read it and know it, and so that we would to tell others.

You lead others by knowing God’s word and by proclaiming God’s word.

A third point we see in this passage is that leaders lead in their obedience. You lead by obedience. It’s not enough to know God’s word, and it’s not enough to tell others about it, if you will not obey it.

In the grace of God, His word worked in these people to bring about obedience. They were called to live for seven days in booths made of branches. This was called the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles. It was to be celebrated in the seventh month, beginning on day 15.

The Feast of Tabernacles was intended to serve as a reminder of the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness after they left Egypt. In that time, God humbled and tested them, but He was faithful to provide for them and preserve them.

The feast was an act of remembrance. It was a reminder. This is part of a leader’s job. Never assume that if you’ve told someone once, they’ve got it all figured out. You might have it all figured out by now, but you didn’t learn it the first time either. And you still forget, and so do I.

Peter said in his second letter that his job as an Apostle and an elder was to remind the people. He didn’t always need to be telling them new things. He had a ministry of reminding.

And we parents have the same kind of ministry. We are to build reminders into our homes. We have annual holidays and traditions where we should teach, like Christmas and Easter. But we should also have reminders built into the pattern of our lives. We pray before eating, not as a superstition, or as some magical thing. We pray to be reminded that this food is an expression of God’s faithfulness and goodness to us.

My mom used to say the same once-sentence prayer every time we were with her and she backed the car out of the driveway. And now, when my kids are in the car, and we’re leaving on a trip, I think about that same prayer. We go “in the name of the Almighty God.” It’s a reminder that we are not guaranteed to reach our destination, but we’re trusting in God.

When your kids are put to bed at night, you can pray with them and build into their lives important reminders to confess sin, to rejoice in God’s gifts, and to depend on Him in everything. Leading others is about reminding them of the truth and modeling it for them. We model obedience, which is what Hebrews 13 tells us. We are worthy of imitation.

The Israelite men gathered with Ezra on the second day of the month, and the Feast started on the fifteenth day, so they had about two weeks to get ready. And in that time, there was a joyful expectation.

Look at verses 16-18—So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.  And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.

What an amazing picture. The feast itself had been celebrated in Israel’s history and even after the people returned. But to this degree, where everyone was building their booth and rejoicing in the Lord, this was something that hadn’t happened in over 900 years. This was national obedience and universal joy. This was a picture of heaven. The people united in obedience and joy and in worship of God Almighty.

Now, as we close, I want to point you to one final aspect of leading the people in restoration. The men led in their knowledge, they led in their teaching, and the led in their obedience. And finally, we’ll see that they led in their confession. They led in confession.

Let’s read the first five verses of chapter 9—Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God. On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, “Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.

Biblical joy and biblical confession are not at odds. Our culture doesn’t understand this because they associate negative emotions with negative qualities. But worship, joy, and confession don’t work against each other. Because if you are worshiping a God who loves you and promised to restore you, then confessing sin before Him will only draw you nearer to Him. Yes, there’s a grief in understanding your sin, but there is still the joy of salvation and the confidence of the promise of restoration.

This is the something the Pharisees in Jesus’ time had absolutely missed. They thought their job was to act like they had it all together. And Jesus said that heart led them and others to hell. There was no humility, only pride and arrogance.

Moms and dads, and grandparents and aunts and uncles, the children in your care need to know that you’re a sinner just like them. You lead them even in confession.

This is going to be the focus of the rest of the chapter, which, Lord willing, we’ll look at next time. The nation has gathered, not to pat itself on the back, not to say, “Look how great we are! Look what we did!” The people have gathered to confess their sin and the sins of their fathers, in the hope and joy that God will faithfully bring about their restoration.

The men stand there with Ezra, and they are leading in worship and leading in confession. They do so blessing the glorious name of God who is exalted above all blessing and praise, and who will, in compassion bring forgiveness and restoration to those who call on Him.

Confession is a vital part of leading others and a vital part of drawing near to God. We’ll talk more about that next time.

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