This Sunday we continued the “Grace Foundation” series. In it, we are looking at the obvious foundation of God’s grace that flows throughout the Word – even during the time when the law “ruled” the people. In this part we looked at the story of Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of
In Nehemiah 8, Nehemiah declares that the law is to be read to all the people
in the newly rebuilt Jerusalem .
They have been living without the law for quite a while, and without God’s
guidance and precepts, they were not getting God’s results. They were a shell
of what they once were because they had fallen away from God’s ways of doing
When we disobey God and experience defeat, it is not God punishing us for disobedience, but simply us not getting God’s desired results because we’ve failed to operate within His systems. This was the case with God’s people in
. Some may believe that this is what we need
today. The world is in disarray. What we must need is the law shouted from the
rooftops. Nehemiah lived in the day before Jesus, however, before the Holy
Spirit and before redemption. The law was all they had. Jerusalem
This reading of the law was a special occasion. Normally, a reading like this would be only attended by men, but we read that all the men, women, and any who could understand were present. It was important that everyone heard this. We have seen how sometimes even the husbands don’t do the best job relating what God has to say to their wives (i.e. Adam and Abraham). The people stood for six hours as the law was read, and after it was done, they mourned and wept. That is what the law will do; it will condemn. The people became very aware of how far they had fallen short of pleasing God.
Now, all of this happens on the first day of the seventh month – which on the Hebrew calendar was New Year’s Day. It was called the feast of trumpets. It was a day where the people came together to bring offerings and to ask for God’s favor (grace) upon their soil as they began to sow seed for the next year. This is somewhat like what we do by attending church on the first day of the week. We bring praise and offering and bring blessing to our soil that we will be planting into – first the soil of our hearts and also the soil of the earth that we work in.
While the law was being read, the Levite priests were among the crowd to help them understand what was being read to them. This is a picture of the Holy Spirit. This is why I have the congregation physically ask the Holy Spirit to be their teacher at the beginning of every sermon. I do my best to be Spirit-led in my teaching, but the Holy Spirit is there to help you learn what the Word means. It is not enough to simply read the Word or listen to a pastor read the Word to you. You need the Holy Spirit to teach you what it means.
At the mourning, Nehemiah declares that they should not weep or mourn, but celebrate. He declares that they should eat the choice foods and drinks and then take some to those who were not there.
One thing I find very interesting about that declaration is that it also says a lot about the assignment of the church. Think about who it is that would not have already been there at the assembly – those who did not understand. Who is that to us? It represents the lost, who do not have the Holy Spirit who makes them able to understand. What were they to take to those people? It was not the law, but the choice food and drink from the meeting place of God.
The church then should be a place full of great joy and celebration and “choice food” that can be taken out to those who do not understand. If they weren’t going to understand the “law” from the “priest,” why do we think they will understand it when WE beat them over the head with it? They understand joy and celebration. That will draw them to the source of the celebration (If I be lifted up, I will draw all men…). So, even at this reading of the law, God saw it important that there be a joyous celebration. Why do we celebrate even at the reading of the law? We do so because the blood of Jesus has justified us apart from our ability to obey the law!
In Matthew 12, Jesus had a confrontation with the Pharisees over the authority of the law. The Pharisees saw his disciples eating grain off the ground in a field on the Sabbath. This was against law. They accused Him because, if He allowed His disciples to break the law, they thought He must not be who He said He was. Notice that Jesus did not eat the grain. He was keeping the law for us, but the hunger of His disciples was more important than a rule.
He answers their question, like any good defense attorney (remember, that is one of the things He is for us), with a question. He points out the hypocrisy of their accusation with examples from the Old Testament – how David and His men ate food consecrated for the priests and how, technically, priests themselves break the law when they WORK in the temple on the Sabbath. He illustrates the problem with law. Law is black and white, and the world is not. The spirit of the Sabbath was rest, but their observance became work and it lacked grace and love.
They used the presence of a man with a shriveled hand to try and trick Jesus also. Instead of being concerned with the man’s healing or well-being, they wanted to catch Jesus breaking the law. Remember what Paul said in Galatians 4 – law always persecutes grace. Jesus asks them if they would rescue one of their sheep that fell into a ditch on the Sabbath or let it die, as well as whether a man is not more important than a sheep. Then He tells the man to stretch out that crippled hand and be healed. Was it a sin to heal on the Sabbath? Even this does not answer the question because Jesus is not the one who did the WORK of healing. The man stretched out his hand and received healing. In the man’s world, grace just superseded law. What an awesome picture.
Were the Pharisees amazed and converted? No. They then plotted how that might kill Jesus. Once again, this is what law does when faced with grace. Law sees grace as its death sentence and will fight it with all its might. Let grace rule in your life!