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Bring Out the Book! (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
October 24, 2023 4:00 am

Bring Out the Book! (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 24, 2023 4:00 am

What do you look for in a church service? A great speaker? Meaningful music? Or maybe some encouragement to start your week? Listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg examines the lessons we learn from the response of God’s people in Nehemiah’s day.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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What are you looking for when you attend a weekly church service? A great sermon, a great worship team, some encouragement to start your week? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explores the lessons we can learn from how God's people gathered for worship in Nehemiah's day after the walls around Jerusalem had been rebuilt. O God our Father, it is our earnest cry to you that beyond the voice of a man and beyond the pages of this wonderful book that we may hear your voice and may meet with you. We pray this for us as a church so that we might increasingly be brought into conformity with your Word and we ask this as individuals. No matter what it means, no matter what changes it brings, we tell you that we want to hear you speak, and we pray in Jesus' name.

Amen. Chapter 6 was all about Nehemiah dealing with intimidation. Chapter 7 gives us a wonderful record of Nehemiah and his organization, and chapter 8 brings us to the place of Ezra and the proclamation. There is a sense in which this morning's study helps to go some way towards answering the question, why is it that a church such as this would give such place and priority and preeminence to the public reading and teaching of the Bible? Because after all, not every place that names God's name and sets about to conduct worship services does as we do. Therefore, any thinking person presumably would want to try and analyze as to whether we were doing something that was merely preferential or something that was influenced simply as a result of external factors of time and culture, or whether we were actually doing something that was of primary and foundational importance, if you like—something that has a biblical mandate, that there is both precept for it as well as the practice of it, which we're able both to obey as well as to observe. Because some of you have come from backgrounds even as recently as last week where your experience of worship was very different from this, on a number of levels, and perhaps not least of all, on the basis of the fact that far much more time was spent in a liturgical emphasis going through certain factors than would ever be spent on time given to the teaching and reading and explanation of the Bible. And again, any thinking person has got to ask themself whether this is simply a matter of superficial conjecture or whether it is in point of fact something that is substantive.

I want to suggest to you this morning that it is absolutely foundational. We recognize, of course, that in the minds of secular men, the idea of spending this amount of time on both reading and teaching and studying and understanding the Bible is really quite a strange notion. Because after all, the elevation of that which is tolerance beyond that which is truth has reached such an epidemic proportion that there is great skepticism about anybody who speaks concerning anything with a measure of forcefulness. And the television medium makes it such that anybody who appears on TV to be driven and convicted or speaking with conviction about anything looks really rather crazy.

And people have become fearful of this, and in certain cases with justification. In the British Isles many years ago now, there was a man by the name of Stanley Baldwin, a politician, and he was living in an era of great orators and powerful leaders, Lord Birkenhead was one, Lloyd George was another, Winston Churchill was another, and Baldwin had a bit of a problem, because Baldwin really couldn't speak. And yet Baldwin was going to go head-to-head with some of these men in seeking to secure votes from others. And so what he decided to do was to turn his weakness into a strength, and he began to suggest to people that he was just a plain ordinary Englishman, that he wasn't one of these great speakers like Lloyd George or Winston Churchill or Lord Birkenhead, none of that for him. No, no, he was a man of the people. And furthermore, he suggested, you ought to be very, very careful of anybody that speaks with such forcefulness. You should be very cautious of anyone who speaks with conviction or with emphasis.

And he sold this to the people to his own successful end. And it left a legacy in the country which spilled over into the church, and I think which largely is existent if we examine it within the church today, even here in the United States. It's been brought on in many cases not without justification as a result of some of the most extreme and bizarre forms of proclamation, such as we've witnessed on television and been party to and listening to these things. But beyond that, I think it has to do with something far more significant, and that is that there is a sneaking suspicion that the Bible is not to be trusted in the way that people say it is, that there is a loss of conviction regarding the authority of this book, so that what people do when they come and encounter authoritative preaching is, given all these different things, they're tempted to believe that anybody who is speaking with such conviction is presumably merely trying to manipulate people. And that since there is no real foundation and power in this book, they've already decided, then presumably the forcefulness is somehow to compensate for the absence of dynamism that is inherent in the book itself. And of course, there is a way of speaking which so attracts attention to the individual that at the end of it all, people are saying, my, what an amazing speaker.

What we long for is that the people would walk out of a building saying, my, what an amazing God, and what a wonderful book. Now Spurgeon, when he was lecturing his students in an earlier generation, said to them concerning this, unless we are instructive preachers and really feed the people, we may be great quotas of elegant poetry and mighty retailers of secondhand windbags, but we shall be like Nero of old, fiddling while Rome was still burning and sending vessels to Alexandria to fetch sand for the arena when the populace starved for want of corn. And there is a kind of preaching that's like that.

It's entertaining, and it's wonderful, but at the end of it all, the people feel as though the guy has been fiddling while their lives were burning down. Now, the antidote to that is to do what we're going to discover here in Nehemiah chapter 8, to refuse to respond to the spirit of entertainment which pervades our day, whereby people do not come expecting to hear from God, but they come expecting to hear from man about man. They do not gather, sit up attentively, listen with expectancy, but they sit back passively. They have just come off a week in which they've been traveling, and etched in their mind is the recurring phrase, and I want you to sit back and relax and enjoy the flight. And somehow or another, that's exactly the feeling they have.

And so they came to sit back and relax and to enjoy the flight—a flight of fancy, often led by some character at the front, which you may like or you may dislike, but probably will be ultimately irrelevant to the fact that you have a business to return to tomorrow, you have an elderly relative to visit this afternoon, you have a teenage son who's wrestling with drugs, you have a marriage that's on the rocks, a flight of fancy that really means very little at all. You see, to preach is no special honor. But it is a great calling. Bruce Thielman says it this way, there is no special honor in being called to the preaching ministry.

There is only special pain. The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors, and like the sea it batters and bruises and does not rest. To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know each time you do it that you're gonna have to do it again.

Now, what we have in Nehemiah chapter 8, then, is a classic illustration of this kind of proclamation. And what I'd like you to notice this morning is simply four points. Let me give them to you so you know where we're going. We're watching the people here, and we're going to discover, number one, that they gathered expectantly, number two, that they listened attentively, number three, that they responded properly, and number four, that they departed joyfully.

Okay? So first of all, we're going to see in these opening verses the people gathering. And we're told that they gathered. We're told where they gathered. They gathered in the square before the Watergate. We would want to make more of this than is there, but it is interesting to note that they arrived in the place that was not cloistered away in the temple area, but rather that they gathered in one of the centers of city life, the kind of place where God's wisdom pleads to be heard.

They were in the mainstream of things. They were out where others could observe them, the aliens and the strangers, and they gathered there. They gathered, you will see, as one man. Now, the reckoning from chapter 7 is that there must have been somewhere in the region of fifty thousand individuals who gathered on this particular occasion.

That's a large congregation. And yet we're told that they gathered as one man. They gathered as one man. In other words, they came together in a spirit of unity. They came together with the same desires and the same devotion.

This is the way God's people must always come, if there is to be unity amongst the people of God. That the expression of giftedness within the framework of corporate worship has to do with building up the church. That the whole emphasis that Paul gives there to the church in 1 Corinthians 14 is not that if you take a thousand people and they gather in a room, they are there to have a thousand individual experiences, but rather that the thousand people have been brought together in the room in order that they may bring themselves, that they may bring their own spirit of devotion, their own spirit of expectation, their own contribution to the worship, so that their primary focus is not, What am I receiving from this event?

But it is rather, What am I contributing to my brothers and sisters who have gathered around me? Now, for a church ever to have a spirit of unity and commitment amongst itself, it demands this kind of unity in its gathering with the same devotion and the same desires. No business organization can have any cohesion to it without this. It needs to be stated clearly why they're there. It needs to be stated clearly as to what they're doing.

It needs to be made clearly plain to them why they're going to sell or whatever it is they're going to do. And so, when God's people gather, the same is true. Now, says somebody, but surely we're all very different. Yes, of course, there's tremendous diversity to it. It just struck me again yesterday in Washington, D.C., that the amazing thing about how many faces there are in the world.

But it's awesome. When you're in an airport like that, such an international airport, you realize that millions and millions and millions of people in the world, and you take all these people, there's no two faces the same, except when God decided to make two the same. The amazing diversity that is represented in a congregation like this.

And may it increase more and more. May our congregation be marked by the diversities of race and nationhood. May it be so for God's glory, so that we can show that what we're talking about is not the superficial merging of our backgrounds, but rather a unity in devotion that is marked by 1 Corinthians 1 and verse 10. Well, if you turn to that, you'll find out what it is.

If you don't, you'll just have to listen to me tell you. 1 Corinthians 1 10. I appeal to you, brothers, says Paul, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you may agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

And this doesn't mean that we all agree about everything, because some people like this and some people like that and some people like the next thing. But what it does mean is that at the very center of what it means to be the family of God, there has to be unanimity of perspective in relationship to the priority of prayer, to the authority of the Bible, to the centrality and preeminence of Jesus, to the absolute necessity of evangelism, to the central place of the worship of God's people, and so on. And it is these shared convictions which allow God's people to gather together as one man. And you cannot have a church family without that unanimity of perspective. And that is something, loved ones, church, for which we need to pray constantly, that God would allow us as we gather to gather expectantly and in unity. Because after all, we like them are gathering also voluntarily.

We're not gathering here as a result of an act of Congress. There may come a day when an act of Congress says that we can't gather here, and then we'll have to gather against the situations, but for now we're able to come voluntarily. We're able to come with the spirit of the psalmist in our hearts. I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord. And that's the difference, incidentally, between a believer and an unbeliever, or at least between somebody who is walking with Christ and somebody who isn't. Because you can't be walking with Christ and not want to walk with the people who love Christ. And so when church for you is merely the attendance upon an event which you have to enjoy, and maybe in a moment we have to endure, which may have facets of enjoyment in it, then presumably something in terms of your own relationship with God needs to be addressed. See, why don't our children get up in the morning and go, hey, Sunday, church, we're going to church. Oh, yours do?

I'm sorry, I just got, I got through, I got a different group. Why is that? Well, there's a ton of reasons, but at the very heart of it all is simply this, there's none that seeketh after God, no, not one. It doesn't matter where you rear them or what you do with them, they do not by nature ascribe to the things of Christ.

They do not by nature love the law. They don't by nature love the word. They don't like singing. Teenage kids, many of them, the last thing they wanted to do in the world is sing.

And if they do sing, they ain't want to sing what you want them to sing, because that's like, whoa, I'm not going to do that stuff. So what do we have to pray? Now that we can coerce them and convince them ultimately, we need to pray that the Spirit of God would change their hearts. I don't know what day it was in my teenage years, when God worked something in my heart that made me go to church expectantly, but I know he did. When I got my driver's license, the thing I was most excited about, and this may seem bizarre to you and cast me in a weird mold, and I can tell you, I was as ordinary and bad a guy as you could ever imagine, but when I got my driver's license, one of the most exciting things was to be able to drive 35 miles from Ilkley and Yorkshire to York, which is further north and in east, to go there to hear David Watson preach on Sunday nights. And the service, you had to get there 45 minutes before it started.

Now, I don't know when that transaction took place in my life, but it took place somewhere. And I can only imagine that somehow or another, the way in which my parents framed the parameters for me paved the way for that transaction taking place, so that I didn't make a decision in a vacuum. The people all gathered, and you will notice there were boys and girls there as well as men and women. They gathered expectantly, and their expectation was directly related to what was about to happen, because they told Ezra the scribe to bring out the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. Bring out the book, they told him. We want to hear what God has to say, what the LORD had commanded. We don't want to hear too much from you, Ezra, but we want to hear a lot from God. We don't want a lot of your opinions and your notions. Just read the book to us. Explain the book to us.

Apply the book for us. And we'll be very thankful for that. Do you know that every time that Reformation and a revival has taken place in the history of Christendom, it has always been related to great preaching?

Always. That's why we would do well, and I say it to you often, to pray for God to raise up young men in whose hearts there is a conviction concerning the Scriptures. Because at every point in history, when society is turned around as a result of the people of God being stirred, it has been directly related to preaching.

Acts in the day of Pentecost, what did they do? They preached. Man and brethren, listen to this. This Jesus whom you crucified, God has made him both Lord and Christ. And when they heard this, the people were cut to the heart, and they said to one another, Man and brethren, what shall we do?

There's something we need to do here. Let me quote to you from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a revival? It is renewed preaching.

Not only a new interest in preaching but a new kind of preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the church. And of course, when the Reformation and revival come, they have always led to great and notable periods of the greatest preaching that the church has ever known.

As that was true in the beginning, as described in the book of Acts, it was also after the Protestant Reformation. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Latimer, Ridley—all these men were great preachers. In the seventeenth century you had exactly the same thing—the great Puritan preachers and others. And in the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield, the Wesleys, Rawlins, and Harris were all great preachers. It was an era of great preaching.

Whenever you get Reformation and revival, this is always and inevitably the result. Now whatever the late twentieth century in America is about, it sure isn't about great preaching. It might be about great entertainment. It might be about great singing. It might be about great seminars. It might be about great families.

It might be about many things, all of which in and of themselves are fine. But it is not about, I suggest to you, great preaching. Therefore, for those who go around, they always ask me, say, do you think there's a revival here?

I say no. Because revival and preaching have always gone hand in hand. And preaching is in the shadows.

Neither the world nor the church believes in it. And that's why instead of congregations coming expectantly, the temptation is that they come passively. Bring Out the Book. That's the title of today's message from Alistair Begg on Truth for Life.

We'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. Our prayer at Truth for Life is that every local church would bring out the book and that all Christians would gather Sunday by Sunday expecting to hear God's voice as his word is preached. In fact, that's our mission, to teach the Bible every day with clarity and relevance.

We trust God's Spirit will work through the teaching of his word so that unbelievers become followers of Jesus, believers grow in their faith, and local churches are strengthened. If this is something you long for as well, we want to encourage you to come alongside us in this profession. Sign up and become a monthly Truth Partner.

When you do, you're committing to pray for us regularly and to give a set amount of your choosing each month. Your gift goes toward making Alistair's online teaching library freely accessible and the distribution of this program throughout the world. It only takes a few minutes to sign up online at truthforlife.org slash truth partner, or if it's easier, call us and join the Truth Partner team.

888-588-7884. And whether you become a Truth Partner today or you just give a one-time donation, we want to say thank you for your gift by inviting you to request a book called The Beauty of Divine Grace. It's a foundational book that makes clear the full extent of our dependence on God for salvation.

Even if you've been a Christian for years, it's easy for us to get off track as we think about salvation, to fall back on personal effort or merit to try to supplement or justify salvation. But when you read the book The Beauty of Divine Grace, you will once again be reminded of why assurance of salvation is found in Christ's finished work alone. Ask for your copy of The Beauty of Divine Grace today when you sign up to become a Truth Partner or when you give a donation to Truth for Life through our mobile app or online at truthforlife.org slash donate. And if you'd rather mail your donation along with your request for the book, write to Truth for Life at post office box 398000 Cleveland, Ohio 44139. I'm Bob Lapine. Whether you preach from the pulpit in your local church or you sit in the pews, we each have an important role to fulfill in corporate worship. We'll find out more about that tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-24 07:59:44 / 2023-10-24 08:08:46 / 9

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