Nehemiah 7-8: Steps to Spiritual Renewal

We are working through the book of Nehemiah this summer in our church about following God through a broken mess. This is a written variation of the sermon I preached on Chapters 7-8.

When we arrive in Chapter 7 of Nehemiah, we are at a turning point, a tipping point if you will. The wall has been completed in a record 52 days. The Israelites have overcome distractions and disagreements. Nehemiah and the people of God have overcome through providence and determination. In a sense, they have arrived. They have completed what they set out to do. Yet, as we look at the pages in our bibles there are seven more chapters.

These next few chapters are crucial. Because as I look at mankind two things happen when we reach this point, this sense of completion or arrival: 1) We coast, or 2) We keep grinding as if this is one step in a larger plan. In Nehemiah, the physical broken mess of the walls have been restored, but the spiritual broken mess of the people has barely been touched. Only through the perseverance of rebuilding the walls were the people of God ready to take steps of spiritual renewal.

I am currently in graduate school working on my Master’s Degree. In one of my recent classes I had a professor say something that has stuck with me. “You have to be broken, truly broken, before you will know what true grace is.” I believe that. I see that in my own life.

Some of you in this room resonate with that quote. You have been broken. And out of that brokenness you had no where else to turn, but to God and you felt real grace for the first time. Some of you have never felt that before and have no idea what feeling of brokenness I am talking about. My hope today is that you come face-to-face with the brokenness.

There is this tension of pride from success with the brokenness, as we arrive in Chapter 7 of Nehemiah’s narrative. Nehemiah being the man of prayer and determination looks at the people of God, the walls of Jerusalem, his plan, and then to God and says, “Okay, what’s next?”

We pick up the narrative in verse 4 (italics my comments).

“The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then God put in into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy (basically, take a census). And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first (reference to the return of the first wave of exiles) and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had just carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah…” (vv. 4-7a ESV).

He then precedes to read off the names and numbers of people who were are recorded. My hope is that you recognize a few of those initial names. Mordecai is Ester’s cousin and we read about him in the book of Ester. Nehemiah, who this book is named after. Zerubbabel who led the first group back from exile. Sometimes we wonder why all these  numbers and names are important. But, these names and numbers here in Chapter 7 begin the first step in spiritual renewal for the Israelites. They had to identify who is really Jewish. They had to know who was really in the family of God. Going through these names I would encourage you to mark these sections out in your bible. This will help make the names and numbers less daunting when you read through them.

Verses Indentification
7:7b-25 Family Lineage
7:26-38 Town or area
7:39-42 Priests
7:43-45 Levites, singers, gatekeepers
7:46-56 Temple servants
7:57-60 Solomon’s Servants (special roles)
7:61-65 Could not prove Israelite decent
7:66-72 Gifts given

Nehemiah goes through all the names of the people and recorded their numbers. Go back to something I wrote earlier. They needed to know who is part of the family and who is not. Because in order to make Israel a holy nation again, they had to begin with separation from non-covenantal people to begin the spiritual and cultural renewal process.

The dynamic of Israel is so unique. It is unlike any other nation or country, ever in the history of the world. Their culture, their practices, and customs are religious because nationality and spirituality are tied together under the Covenant of Abraham and Law of Moses. If we look back at verse 5, God initiates this process of renewal. He put it on Nehemiah’s heart.

The big picture of Nehemiah is following God through a broken mess, so that you experience restoration, healing, renewal, and sanctification for his glory. This was the aim. It started way before we get to this chapter, but this is where this message first becomes crystal clear in Nehemiah. At the heart of this renewal for Israel, and in particular their capitol city of Jerusalem, is the spiritual and religious lifeblood that comes from a God who is all about reconciliation and sanctification of His people for His glory. Chapter 7:5-72 explains what is happening in the background of chapters 8, 9, and 10. The theme of knowing who’s in and who’s out returns in chapter 11.

If you were trying to follow that part of the narrative and are taking notes, the first step to getting on the path to spiritual renewal is know what makes your family part of God’s family. In simplified words, Step 1 is define the distinction.

A modern day picture, for some families they have specific characteristics that set them apart. For example, you may know that little Timmy got his ears from your side of the family because everyone on your side of the family has ears that stick out. In Harry Potter, everyone knows Ron is a Weasley because of his red hair and his hand-me-down stuff.

Now, we live under the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus. What separates the church our family from other organizations? What separates followers of Jesus from good moral people?

As followers of Jesus in God’s family we must be able to define what distinguishes our beliefs, values, customs, choices, actions from other people in this world, if we want a spiritual renewal in our families, churches, and our communities. My aunt says it best, “we are forgiven!” The fact that we are a forgiven people is what separates followers of Jesus and the church at its core from the world. We have experienced love so deep it forgives and gives, which is something we do not deserve. We got grace. This mark of grace becomes visible in Chapter 8 of Nehemiah.

Chapter 8 starts out like this:

“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses (which would be the first 5 books of our bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy and we find Lev. & Num. irrelevant) that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both man and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month (which would be around the start of October). And he read from it facing the square before the water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand (so 6 on his right and 7 on his left). And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blesses the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and they worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub,, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book from the Law of God clearly, and they gave sense, so that the people clearly understood the reading” (vv. 1-8 ESV).

This is an incredible picture of teaching the word of God. The Israelites have rebuilt the wall. They went back to their towns and villages. Then they came back together to hear from God, not as individuals, but as one man, for a unified purpose. They wanted to hear from God. They listened intently. They were attentive for six hours—from early morning to midday. There was a hunger for God’s Word. He had brought them out of exile. He had helped them begin restoring the city. They were seeing physical signs of God’s deliverance. They were coming to a realization that God does what he says he is going to do, but they now had to learn more about what he said.

The second step to spiritual renewal, if you are taking notes, is listen to the Word read and taught. The Word brings worship. Ezra opened the Law and the people stood because this was not only tradition, but also a physical act of submission to God. Then Ezra began to read: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord in one.” The reading would have started with this call to worship and then followed with the text that was being read. For example, Deuteronomy 16:13-14,

“You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, and your son and your daughter, your male servant, and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns.” 

The people said, “Yes! Yes!” They were listening to the word. They worshiped God, which means they danced, raised hands, clapped, and bowed down. We usually equate a response like this to music, a concert, or a sporting event. The Israelite did this in response to preaching. Ezra read. Ezra preached and the people cheered. As it says in verse 8, the Levites and priests then explained the Word to the people, why did that passage matter. They explained the meaning behind it, how it fit into the history of Israel, how to apply what was being read. Ezra read the words and rituals, that the Old Testament is full of, but it did not just stop with that. They explained what the rituals and words meant. They made the Law relevant in new and unexpected ways. The application to the Law, not just the knowledge of what it says. The Israelites, in this scene cheered, “We want more!”

This desire came because they listened to the Word. This next step, is implied yet also shown later, they responded to the Word. We cannot get to an accurate step 3 unless, we first listen to the Word read and taught. Step 3 is respond. In order for spiritual renewal to happen we must respond. For the Israelites, after hearing the Law it caused them to mourn. They worshiped and they mourned. Now, Nehemiah sees this response and hears their response, and this is what it says in verse nine:

“And Nehemiah, who was governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat (or eat the best meat) and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord in your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quite, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and send portions and make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (vv. 9-12 ESV).

It is a preachers worst nightmare. The people hear the Law and its explained in new ways, but they just do not get it. Why did they not get it? The Law was working the way it supposed to work. The Law points out their sin and wickedness, but the story is not about them. It is about God. Nehemiah absolutely wants them to respond. God’s Word calls us to respond. However, the Israelites go sometimes where we go—straight to the guilt and shame. Guilt is a powerful emotion and force. However, grief and mourning from guilt leaves us empty and unsatisfied. Our response to God’s Word will be incorrect if the information we hear is not properly understood within the greater narrative. Because Nehemiah and Ezra are in the process of restoring a culture, a mindset, and a religious way of life, they needed to take the time to help the Israelites respond the way the Word elicited. They want the Israelites to experience something that is even more powerful and drives deeper into the heart than guilt or shame. That force is one of love and grace. The joy of the Lord is our strength because he has shown us grace. The joy of the Lord is our strength! The Israelites had disobeyed. They has tossed the book of the Law out the window, which had gotten them sent into exile. Yet, God heard them and brought them out of exile. He showed them grace and then they said we want more. Nehemiah wants them to respond to the grace they have been shown not with mourning but with joy. He wants them to throw a party and share it with everyone. Eat the best meat. Drink the best drinks and not only keep it for yourselves, but share it with everyone. Then the lightbulb came on after more explanation. It says, “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and send portions and make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (v. 12). They heard the Word, they responded to the Word, and the understood the word.

This sounds amazing—the people of God desiring God, hearing God, responding to God and then sharing that with everyone with joy! Taking that to our context today, under the New Covenant, I want to be part of a church like that. I think we all want a church like that—a church filled with life, love, joy, and unity around the one thing we cannot truly experience anywhere else, grace.A God glorifying family that absolutely celebrates and is joyful. A church that responds the way the Word of God instructs. That would look and feel incredible! That church would be a place where people want to be. Do the Israelites catch this vision of what spiritual renewal looks like?

The chapter goes on and in verse 13 we pick up the next day.

“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 word of the Law. 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 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.’ 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 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” (vv. 13-18 ESV).

The last two steps get merged together. They get squishy. In order to take steps toward spiritual renewal, we must define what distinguishes us, listen to the Word read and taught, respond to the Word, allow for correction and then repeat. I want to return to the text just read, the Israelites responded and allowed their leaders to shepherd them in their response, just as Nehemiah did when they mourned. Once they responded and were corrected, they were then truly able to understand. We will never truly understand until we experience. It is just knowledge that we think we understand, until it is put into practice. The Israelites returned to the Word because they wanted to go through the process again. If we only know, but never do, it will not drive us back to the Word because we have no experience that tells us otherwise. The leaders were there not to condemn, but correct. The people had to trust that Nehemiah and the Levites knew what they were talking about.

The timing of this is perfect. The Israelites are learning about the feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, which is found in Deuteronomy, Numbers, Leviticus, and Exodus. They heard it written in the Law of this feast. They then preceded to learn about why that feast was important, remember, all the section leaders, the Levites, were giving understanding. This feast is to remind them, to be a physical symbol, about the wandering in the wilderness, how God brought them out of Egypt, how they disobeyed, yet he was still with them. He still dwelt in the tabernacle, while they dwelt in booths. The tabernacle was the tent where God dwelt before the Temple in Jerusalem was built. If you look back in the text, they had not celebrated this feast properly since Joshua, they guy who succeeded Moses as leader. It had been awhile. Nevertheless, the Israelites were determined to follow the book of the Law. They had just come out of their own enslavement, their own exile. God had provided for them even though they had not kept his laws, just as he has for the Israelites when they we enslaved in Egypt. “You have to be broken, truly broken, before you will know what true grace is.” The Israelites experienced grace. They were experiencing joy in keeping rituals, and customs because they had experienced brokenness.

My guess is you need spiritual renewal somewhere in your life. In fact we all do. Today, if we were to draw connections to this text. We distinguished ourselves by gathering as a family this weekend, we heard the word, my hope, by the grace of God, that we understood the word, and that we will now go and respond to the word.

The appropriate response is this: if you have experienced Jesus’ grace, then share it joyfully and stop mourning about the suffering of following Jesus. If you have never accepted him, say yes to him, and if you need more understanding, then respond by asking. The worst thing you can do today is not do anything.

That is why we continually need to repeat, do it again, become like-new or made new again. We need reminders. When we read God’s Word when we respond to God’s Word, Old or New Testament, it sends us not simply to an action or to a moral code, but a person. His name is Jesus. He is the perfect form of grace. The Israelites needed reminded of God’s grace because God is a keeper of his promises. The biggest promise of all was that he was going to send someone, who would restore all things, redeem all things, heal all things. God initiated this process of spiritual renewal, just like He did with Nehemiah and the Israelites, by sending Himself from heaven to earth. Jesus went to the cross to pay the penalty for your sins and rose from the dead, so that you can experience forgiveness and grace that lasts into eternity. That is something we do not deserve.

In the ‘Real World’

Think back to the last time you lost something. What was it? Was it something valuable or something meaningless and the fact that you lost it just annoyed you? Did you panic and your heart race? Experience a temporary loss of breath? Look around in desperation? Frantically search? Do a pat down (wallet, phone & keys)?

We have all lost something at one point or another. We have all been there. We have all forgotten to hold onto and felt that temporary panic, that mini heart attack that threw us into a cognitive whirl.

The ‘real world’ always wants us to lose our purpose, our mind, and our hope; it wants us to loosen our grip on the reality that we are commanded to hold on to. How can we make sure we lose none of these realities?

Hold fast to the gospel. When we hold fast to the gospel we will find our purpose, a changed reality, and an everlasting hope. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is essential to the gospel,[1] and thus our reality as Christians. Because of the reality of the gospel[2] we are shown reminders that the resurrection matters, that we now exist in an upside down world, and that we have a purpose.

In gospel reality, we are given a purpose.

Paul, writing from Ephesus to the church in Corinth, is correcting some beliefs of the Corinthian Christians in his first letter. Within this context, Paul has changed his thought process at the beginning of chapter fifteen. He addressed many things in this letter to Corinth, most noticeably revolving around the message of the cross and its implications on their lives, which brings about corrections and admonishments. Because the main implication is unity in 1 Corinthians, Paul always wants to maintain a unity theme. It is important to Paul where the Christians stand on crucial cultural, spiritual, and social aspects that are a result out of the gospel, which has a direct correlation on unity.[3] “The gospel by itself does not save, but God through the gospel saves a person in Christ.”[4]

Paul must jog their lost memory of what Paul had preached.[5] He preached a message that most thought was folly, but those who were standing in Christ know that life is always better with Him than without. Paul was sure to pass on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul knew of the reality of the resurrection because of his conversion and immediately preached this (Acts 9:20).[6]

In particular, because many Christians in Corinth were Gentiles, they were now in right standing with God because of Jesus Christ and the grace that was extended through his death, burial, and resurrection. When this message was preached it flipped the world upside down.

Because the gospel announces the reality of our new standing with God through the blood of Jesus Christ, it also gives us a purpose. We have a purpose in God’s redemptive story—the gospel reality. He is moving and working in the world and he has always invited us into what he was doing. He called Paul into this story. Paul intentionally labors for this purpose in his preaching. His aim is to always present the Gentiles holy and sanctified to God based on the work he is doing.[7] Paul was preaching, planting churches, and making disciples of all nations, specifically within his calling, which was to the Gentiles though he always tried to reach the Jews. Our purpose derived from the gospel is found in this same passage because the of the reality that is presented.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. – 1 Cor. 15:1-7

That is the power in the reality of the gospel.

In verse 2, Paul states, “by which you are being saved” and again verse 3, “Christ died for our sins.” If Paul believes that holding true to the gospel is saving them, then living out the response to the gospel becomes our purpose. They would be ‘holding fast’ to the truth that Paul undoubtedly preached about the King[8], His kingdom, and the spreading of that good news. They would not be fulfilling the purpose the gospel demands, making disciples, if they believed in vain, which Paul questions. If their standing has been changed and they begin to love what God loves and accept what God accepts, then the weak and the lowly would be sought after. This message would be their “first importance.” There would be a purpose to take this heralded message of the new reality that is the kingdom of God and its King to others.

 What example do others have of the reality that is the gospel? If Jesus has been risen then there would be proof. We are that proof. The appearances of Jesus to people and that they have lived out their new standing before God by fulfilling their purpose of making disciples provides evidence of a new reality. The gospel offers us up as proof. People from various backgrounds come together as a family and a new community; different and distinct from the world is proof that something has changed. The appearances listed in this section are mostly Jewish, who formed a community that welcomed, rather than excluded, unlike the religious Jews of the day. Just look at who he appeared to. He appeared to the most unlikely people, which is offered up as proof that his resurrection is life changing. Paul echoes what is most likely an early creed for the expansion of the gospel.[9]

The gospel is the announcement that Christ died for our sins, the announcement that Christ was buried, the announcement that he was raised. That he then appeared to Peter—the one who said it could not be done. That he then appeared to the other disciples. He appeared to 500 other witnesses, who can back up his story. He even appeared to James, who did not remotely like his brother.

The gospel is the vehicle through which we are given a purpose. Holding on to the gospel is not merely standing still, but holding on to the heralded massage taking it forward. You will either take this message forward or everything else you believe is meaningless. We must hold fast to the gospel.

Have you ever walked into a room in your house and forgotten what you went in there for? You stand there for a moment, scratching your head, and racking your brain and you just cannot remember for the life of you what you went in there for.

Many times when we enter into an environment we walk in for some reason and we lose our purpose for entering. The purpose we have been given is to make disciples. The purpose we have been given is to teach a gospel that people will receive, stand in, and be saved by. So I have to ask, when was the last time you built a relationship with someone and were able to share the gospel with them? When was the last time you were able to share the gospel reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and how that gives purpose to life? Hold fast to the gospel because in gospel reality we are given a purpose.

In gospel reality, we recognize a changed reality or an upside down world.

So Paul just explained what the gospel is, in a bulleted list, so that the Corinthian Christians are clear on where they should stand and if they believed what saved them. He continues on, taking a slight digression on where he views himself in light of the gospel.

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Cor. 15:8-11

Paul writes with such anguish in his voice. He views himself as a miscarriage or an abortion.[10] He acknowledges that anything good he has ever done has been by the grace of God. “I did not deserve what was given to me.” God’s grace toward him was not it vain. God’s grace flipped Paul’s world upside down through the Damascus road experience. God’s grace changed Paul’s reality. Because his reality is changed God’s choice to give him a purpose was not worthless. Paul proves grace’s effect based on the work that he performs through preaching. He stopped persecuting the church and started preaching to the church. Realities changed through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul is laboring for a purpose. The kingdom takes the realities of the world and flips them on their head. Paul throughout his letters writes how those who think they are strong and those who would be considered the weak in society are the strong. This message challenges that standing of everyone on a consistent basis. Paul adds on that he appeared to him because he has one of the most powerful stories about how the reality that is the risen King, Jesus Christ, impacted his life. Rather, than receiving punishment for what was due, he received grace. This motivated Paul to take the gospel to everyone who had not heard. It flipped his world so upside down, that he was moved and motivated all the way until death.

Hold fast to the gospel. It will turn the world upside down.

What was the last time you did something shocking? I am not talking about something that surprised someone, but something that was actually shocking. Something so shocking that your action caused a loss for words. Did it change anything?

Do you believe you deserve grace? Or do you recognize that you have been given a gift, a new reality, by the grace of God? Does our community look different than the world? Are we taking the gospel to the most unlikely people because they need the good news the most? We should hold on to the gospel so tight that the effects flip the ‘real world’ upside down, hold on so much so that everything else is rubbish.

In gospel reality, the resurrection matters.

Paul is anticipating their response to what he has just said. Paul has refreshed the Corinthians on his stance on the gospel. He now moves to direct critique of their supposed stance against a Christian’s bodily resurrection.[11] Does it even matter if Christians think there will be a bodily resurrection?

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Cor. 15:12-19

Paul writes with intense sarcasm.[12] With no hope in the resurrection of the dead it negates the gospel. Everything is worthless—the preaching, their faith, and Christ dying—if he did not raise from the dead. All those who have died are dead in sin. They have not experienced forgiveness. Even worse, Paul is guilty of bearing false witness about what God did. Why would Jesus be an exception to the rule? “Irrespective, however, of all the promised good in the present age, the substance of the believer’s hope is anchored in the future.”[13] With all the torment and tough life that Christ brings, why would Paul follow him unless there was more? It just does not make any sense. If Christ really loves us, why would he raise from the dead? Just to rub it in our face? Everyone should just feel sorry for us. We deserve to be the laughing stock.

What is so amazing is that Paul continues this line of thinking another 39 verses. He has to over kill this topic because if he did not, then they would still be under the greater impression that the real hope is in this life. We know how this story goes. The gospel struggles to change their reality. Their hope is drowned out by the ‘real world’ that Paul has to write a Second Corinthians. He cannot get them to hold fast to the gospel.

Johnson writes in his commentary,

“Recently I attended a funeral service for a well-known Christian man who had been my personal friend. He was eulogized extensively and quite appropriately for his dedication, selfless service, determination and rugged individualism. Several participants, including the pastor in his sermon, referred to the deceased as having ‘gone into presence of the Lord’ and ‘entered into glory,’ as ‘enjoying the splendors of heaven’ and so on, but no mention was made of the resurrection of the dead as the great Christian hope. This experience has been repeated numerous times in Christian funeral services I have attended over the past several years. It is almost as if we believed these persons were fulfilled, complete, at rest, glorified right now without any need for the resurrection.”[14]

“Paul kept his central theological hopes focused upon a future created anew by God.”[15] Where is our hope? Do we hope in what this life offers or do we hope in what will come? Is your time, money, and energy focused on kingdom living or earthly hope?

We must hold fast to the gospel.

Imagine if we walked out the doors of our houses this week with a purpose and we are able to see actual transformation. What would our churches look like with renewed hope in the gospel now and gospel future? What if we are able to see resurrection in people, who we thought were dead, but made alive through Christ because they held onto a gospel that is real? What if we walked out these doors today, shaped by a gospel reality, and flipped the ‘real world’ upside down? Hold fast to the gospel.


[1] “Paul starts from first principles. He shows that Christ’s resurrection is fundamental to the gospel, then that the resurrection of the Christ implies the resurrection of the Christian.” “If men’s grip of the gospel is such that they are not really trusting Christ, their belief is groundless and empty” (Morris, Leon. The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 203, 205).

[2] Evangelion is used 41 times in the New Testament. It is usually followed by of the kingdom or of God and also surrounded by either preaching or proclamation. “Paul starts from first principles. He shows that Christ’s resurrection is fundamental to the gospel, then that the resurrection of the Christ implies the resurrection of the Christian.” “If men’s grip of the gospel is such that they are not really trusting Christ, their belief is groundless and empty” (Morris, Leon. The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 203, 205). Specifically, I will use gospel to refer to the announcement that Jesus is Lord. The recipients of the gospel are those who believe, have faith, and trust. The place that it gives is one of standing, purpose, and proof. God’s redemptive story is one that began before creation in Genesis and finishes with the new kingdom in Revelation. It came to a climax with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

[3] Witherington assesses that the thesis of this letter is unity (Witherington, Ben. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 94-97.), while Fiensy maintains that it is the foolishness that is the message of the cross (1:18) (Fiensy, David. Class notes)

[4] F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 347.

[5] Paul preached in Corinth in Acts 18.

[6] Simon J. Kistemaker, 1 Corinthians (New Testament Commentary) (Nashville, TN: Baker Academic, 1993), 525.

[7] Romans 15:16

[8] Paul specifically uses Christ to represent Jesus’ Messiahship or his Lordship, and thus is establishing a new kingdom as a crucified King.

[9] For in detail examination of the early creed and its historicity, see Michael R. Licona. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historigraphucal Approach. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), 223-235, 333-339.

[10] Refers to his apostleship in comparison to the conversion experience of the other apostles (Baker 534). All scholars do not agree on this, however, Witherington references Paul’s appearance or what others may have said about him. Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary On 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995), 303.

[11] Jews and Gentiles alike would have supposed that the bodily resurrection of anyone is outrageous. The body is evil, so the worst thing in the whole world would be for a soul to be rejoined with its body. (Class discussion 3/5) (NT Wright Video).

[12] “It was a regular proactive for a rhetor to try to refute and argument by showing that its logical consequences were unacceptable and thus that the logic must be flawed.” Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary On 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995), 303.

[13] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 349-63.

[14] Alan F. Johnson, The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series, vol. 7, 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 279-89.

[15] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 349-63.

Afraid of the Dark?: Moon Walking

Posted below is the manuscript from my sermon that was preached 10/20. The full sermon will be posted here.

Walking by the Light of the Moon

I grew up on a farm on 25 acres. We had a house that sat on a hill right in the middle of the property overlooking fields, woods, and a pond. We had a gravel driveway way a mile long that divided us and the neighboring farm. One of my favorite things to do was go walking or just being outside at night. I loved the smell of country air. I had a amazing big tall tree that I would sit under, lean up against the trunk, sit in the soft grass, and look at the stars. I would spread out a blanket and even fall asleep outside. The air was cool. You could hear the crickets, cars driving down the highway in the distance, an occasional dog bark up the street, it was peaceful. I loved being out there in the dark at night.Sometimes I would get up and go walking down the driveway. My favorite nights were when there was a full moon. I would get up and just go. My eyes were adjusted and the moon lit up everything. I could look out and see deer and raccoons and other little critters. It felt natural. Sights and smells of the night, peaceful. It was great. Walking by the light of the moon, I could make it down and back the driveway with no worries. It was majestic.

Sometimes I’d try this even if there wasn’t a full moon and usually I couldn’t get very far before I’d turn back. I couldn’t see any nature and I was always in danger of tripping over pot holes in our driveway. Maybe I’d break out the flashlight and continue the walk, now I had light. I never really enjoyed flashlight night walks. I couldn’t see any nature. You can only see so far. You see that 5-10 feet in front of you I had a nice path and it provides an okay amount of light, but because of the flashlight. I couldn’t see off into the distance. Any time you shined a light off into the distance, an animal would be scared away. Even with a flashlight, my foot would catch a pothole every now and then and I’d stumble and many times I’d turn around and go back. The walk lost its lure and luster. It was trying to light my own way. It felt artificial. It wasn’t natural. Something just didn’t seem right. I was trying to light my own way and missing the beauty of nature.

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The moon is much better light. Walking by the light of the moon was natural. It was right. It was almost as if God designed it that way, to provide light during the night. The moon simply provides light in the darkness by reflecting of the sun. John, writing to Christians, illustrates a beautiful picture of what our spiritual journey is like when we walk by the light of the moon. Scripture will shine a light into the darkness of our lives.

1 John 2:1-6 (NLT) (ESV) better picture

1 My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. 2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

3 And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. 4 If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 5 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. 6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. (NLT)

A fuller picture of the passage:

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (ESV)

Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, Jesus was a reflection of the true light of the Father for us here on earth. He pointed to the Father. He shows us the true nature of the Father. He is the advocate for us. The best walks in life are when we are walking in the moon light. The best walks in life are when we keep in step with Jesus and you let your eyes adjust to Christ’s light and stop trying to light up your own path. When we walk in Jesus, Christ lights the way for us. When we keep his commandments, that is truly knowing him. Keeping commandments are love. Think of the 10 commandments, first 4 demonstrate a love for God and then the last 6 are love for others. God’s essence, his character is that of love.

We see best through the darkness, when the light doesn’t come from ourselves. Verse 4 is like saying I’m walking in the light, but I’m using a flashlight. It’s a false sense of confidence. We look at where the light leads us. Walking in the moon light allows us to see more. We see the big picture, not just the 5 to 10 feet in front of us. We have a better chance of not tripping over those potholes. We see that keeping commandments isn’t some weight of Donts. Being in Christ is more than saying that I’m a Christian or I go to church. Being a Christian, is walking the same way that Jesus walked. When we abide in him we are walking in the light he provides. In long walks in this dark world, he is the moonlight that lights up the beauty, majesty, and the path.

One reasons why I love 1 John is because he wants to make this as clear as possible to us. We like to pull out the flashlight. We like to be in control of the situation, rather than give up control and walk in the light of the moon.

We have to take an honest look at our lives. We have to evaluate. Basically, John is saying look at the fruit in your life. Look at how you are walking. Are you scaring the animals off? Are you trying to light your own way and miss the beauty.

What does it look like to walk by the light of the moon? John answers that question. He is very straight forward about it.

Read 1 John 2:7-11 (ESV)

7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

I have always been told love is a choice. You can love someone by your action. I believe this is true. I believe it is essential to success long terms in relationships. But I also believe this…

Matt Chandler, Explicit Gospel pg. 128 “Love is a verb, but it is also a feeling. The problem is that our desire to love is overpowered by the desire of self.”

Do we actually care about other people? Are we loving them with our actions, but hating them with our hearts? Are we loving them in our hearts, but hating them in our actions?

A great example is Jonah.

Jonah…who he was, what he did and provide backstory.

  • Jonah was a prophet in the OT
  • He has a whole book of the bible devoted to his story
  • Most of us know the story of Jonah
  • God sends him to Nineveh
  • He runs away
  • Sailors throw him overboard
  • Gets swallowed by the fish
  • 3 days and 3 nights he is in there
  • spits up and goes and preaches

Nineveh repents. And that’s where we tend to stop. I want to read chapter 4

1 This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. 2 So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. 3 Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”

4 The LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

God grew a plant up over Jonah. Then God had a worm eat it and it died. Jonah became angry at God.

9 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”

“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”

10 Then the LORD said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

End of story

The last time we ever hear about Jonah. He is mad. Jonah gets ticked that God was gracious. He was more grieved about the stuff that he lost than the people that were lost. WHY?? Why was he upset? He was a prophet of God.

–Because people weren’t getting what he thought they deserved?

–Did he wanted them to suffer for what they had done wrong?

—–I try really hard to do the right thing and obey God, but what’s the point?

—-Someone else makes a mistake and they seem to get away with it.

——I didn’t catch a break like the Ninevites did and escape the consequences. Its stupid they got away with sinning. They got to have all the fun and still get all the reward. I was good and did what I was told. I did what I was supposed to and still didn’t get it as good as them. It wasn’t any fun.

Jonah’s desire for self and self righteousness was overpowering the desire for love.

John is saying, Christians…

—Are we like that? Are we losing the battle in our mind to really love people? Or are we trying to fake it?

—-Christian, are we really loving our brother, when we don’t get excited that he repents of his sin and escapes God’s wrath?

—-Christian, are we really loving our brother, when we don’t get excited that he returns home after he squanders all our fathers wealth?

—-Christian, are we really loving our brother, when we don’t share living water and they are dying of thirst?

—Christian, are we really loving our brother, when we don’t give them the bread of life and they are starving of hunger?

—Christian, are we really loving our brother, when we don’t confess our wrongs and wrong doing?

—Christian, are we really loving our brother, when we lie to ourselves and claim that we’re alright and we don’t sin?

—Christian, are we really loving our brother when we sin and then ignore the consequences it has on others?

—Christian, are we really loving our brother, when we keep people out of God’s kingdom by not walking in the ways the Jesus walked?

Because I’m a post-modern child I tend to look at everything in twos. I see two sides to everything. I like the big picture and the personal application.

I think John is clarifying walking with Christ. We are fallen and we like to twist things. So something even as simple as walked as Jesus walked will get twisted.

John is telling Christians you are either walking by the light of the moon or you are moon walking away from Christ. Now let me clarify that.

Can anyone here moon walk? I’m not very good at it and I’m not going to try. My wife advised me against embarrassing her. I practiced at home and she said you better not do that on stage.

This is what a moonwalk looks like (I moonwalked).

Many times when we walk with Christ as Christians, we are moonwalking.

(Illustration) Timeline      God——————–Sin

God is this way. He is holy. He is “this” direction. Man and God are separated by sin. We hear gospel that God is love and send his Son to die to atone for our sins, to be the propitiation for our sins, and our response is two things: we either affirm it and it compels and we do something about it or it hardens the heart. We are all on a journey with God, going two directions.

We are both facing him and walking with him forward, or we are walking the wrong way. People of the world who haven’t accepted Christ are facing this way.

As Christian, we like to face him and go backwards. We say be believe, but we want to hold onto our own sin and selfishness. I see you. I know you are there and you want me to go that way, but I’m going to go this way. It’s easier. It’s more fun. I’m too busy. I like this better. John calls us liars when we do that. John says walk as Christ walked. Christ walked forward. We must keep in step with him.

We can’t say we are in Christ when we are moonwalking away from him. When we moon walk in our Christian life, we are sinning. Plain and simple.

-Does the gospel change how you live? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ changing your heart? Is love still a conscious choice you have to make, or is it a natural feeling? Are you feeling a burning desire of compassion for people? Are you walking in obedience, not because you are told to or because its what you are supposed to do, or are you walking forward because you love Jesus?

Son is a reflection of the Father. It’s now our turn. God now gave us that mission.

When we obey Jesus we become the moon. We become light for others. We become a reflection of the Son (Sun). We light up this dark world. Those around us see Jesus. We can obey God because of what John writes in verses 1-2 in chapter 2:

1 My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. 2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

If we do sin…

The goal is not to not sin. The goal is to keep his commandments. The goal is to walk in the light of the moon, obeying, loving your brother and sister, and not causing other people to stumble.

This is how Jesus walked. He walked in love. He fulfilled the law by walking in love.

-He laid down his life for others.

-He took a stand for God’s commandments.

-He was beaten and afflicted for us

-He came to seek and save the lost

-He was the light of the world. The light of life.

Jesus says, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, love one another.”

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Is your life lining up with Jesus’? Are you walking with him, Christian, or are you moon walking away?

Here is the response.

Go back to chapter 1 verse 7-10 (NLT)

7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

-We all are sinners. We all have sinned. We cannot deny either of these.

Do not be deceived. God loves you and he desires a relationship with you. He wants to walk forward with you. He wants you as a Christian to walk by the light of the moon, obeying his commandments of love. He wants to light up the path for you so that you can reflect Him, and light up this dark world.

Christian, are you walking by the light of the moon or are you moonwalking away from Christ?