Stephen Caswell © 2000
The Greatness Of God -- Thomas Adams
"It was reported of Alanus, that he promised his audience that next Sunday he would expound more clearly on the Trinity, and to make plain the mystery. While he was studying the point by the seaside, he spied a boy very busy with a little spoon trudging often between the sea and a small hole he had dug in the ground. Alanus asked him what he was doing. "The boy answered, 'I intend to bring all the sea into this pit.' "Alanus replied, 'Why do you attempt such impossibilities, and waste your time?'
The boy answered, 'So do you, Alanus. I will as likely bring all the sea into this hole as you bring all the knowledge of the Trinity into your head. They are equally possible. We have begun together, we shall finish together. But of the two endeavors, mine is more hopeful.'
Jehovah God is the main subject of chapter 9. Who He is, what He does for His people, and what His people must do for Him. Chapter 9 highlights three things about God.
I. The Greatness of God II. The Goodness of God III. The Grace of God
Today we will only look at The Greatness of God
a. Israel Worshipped God
Nehemiah 9:3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshipped the Lord their God.
God’s greatness is seen in the fact that He receives our worship. True worship involves many elements: hearing the Scriptures, praising God, praying, confessing sin, and separating ourselves from that which displeases God. Each of these elements is recorded in these verses.
Ÿ Worship is pulling our affections off our idols and putting them on God. -- Tim Keller
Ÿ Worship is seeing what God is worth and giving him what he's worth. -- Tim Keller
Ÿ Worship helps people see God in the midst of their troubled lives. -- Paul Anderson
1. Hearing The Scriptures - God Speaks To Us
Nehemiah 9:3a And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for one-fourth of the day;
The Feast of Tabernacles had ended, but the people lingered to hear more of the Word of God. Worship involves the Word of God, for the Word of God reveals the God of the Word. A.W. Tozer said: The essence of idolatry, is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. The better we know the Scriptures and respond to them, the better we will know God and become like Him. Israel was chosen to receive His Law and to know His will. Any worship service that ignores the Scriptures will not receive the blessing of God. 1 Timothy 4:13 says: Till I come give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
God's Word must have a central position in our worship. Through the Word, God speaks to us for comfort, conviction, exhortation and edification. Paul commanded Timothy to teach the Word because only this is profitable. 2 Timothy 4:2-3 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own desires they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; Brethren, those times are with us today!
The Bones of Belief
A clergyman took a seat in a dining car on a train traveling along the Hudson River. Opposite him was an atheist who, seeing his clerical collar, started a discussion. "I see you are a clergyman." "Yes," came the reply. "I am a minister of the gospel." "I suppose you believe the Bible." The clergyman, orthodox in his views, responded, "I certainly do believe the Bible to be the Word of God." "But aren't there things in the Bible you can't explain?" With humility the minister answered, "Yes, there are places in the Bible too hard for me to understand."
With an air of triumph as though he had cornered the preacher, the atheist asked, "Well, what do you do then?" Unruffled, the clergyman went on eating his dinner -- which happened to be Hudson shad, a tasty fish but noted for its bony structure. Looking up, he said, "Sir, I do just the same as when eating this shad. When I come to the bones, I put them to the side of the plate and go on enjoying my lunch. I leave the bones for some fool to choke on.
2. Confession Of Sin - We Speak To God
Nehemiah 9:1-3 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they 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 one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshipped the Lord their God.
Feasting had turned to fasting as the Word brought conviction and people started confessing their sins. In most churches today, a six-hour service — three hours of preaching and three hours of praying — would probably result in some requests for resignations; but to the Jewish people in that day, it was the beginning of a new life for them and their city. Today we live in the age of fast-food, and this mentality has invaded our churches. We fervently sing, Take Time to Be Holy, but are we willing to pay the price to do it?
The people took time to confess their sins and seek God’s forgiveness. The annual Day of Atonement was past, but the worshipers knew that they needed constant cleansing and renewal from the Lord. We must not major on self-examination to the extent that we start ignoring the Lord, but we must be honest in our dealings with Him. Whenever you see sin or failure in your life, immediately look by faith to Christ and seek His forgiveness; and keep on looking to Him. The more you look at yourself, the more discouraged you will become. Focus on His perfection's, not your own imperfections. Confession is sadly lacking today. We usually try to hide our sin from God. The Apostle John wrote about this in 1 John 1:8-9: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The word confess o&mologew means to say the same thing as. It means that we agree with God about our sins. We come clean and don't try to hide them. God's Word reveals our sin. This is why it is so important to read His Word. The Bible tells us what sin is so that we can avoid it, but if we should stumble it also convicts us so that we can confess it.
The People of Israel named their sins individually as the Word convicted them. They were sincere about their sin. They were truly sorry and repented of it. This can be seen by their actions. They fasted and clothed themselves with sackcloth and ashes. This is a sign of true humility as they lowered themselves into the dust. They confessed their own sins and the sins of their fathers. Why did they confess their fathers sins? By doing this they were acknowledging the justice of God's punishment upon Israel. They also claimed back any ground Satan may have gained against them through these sins.
Exodus 34:6-7 says: And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation. The consequences of the sins we commit spread to our children. This is why it is so important for us to confess our sins, lest they become a snare to our children. Only as we confess our sin can God cancel them out through Christ's blood!
Finally, the people separated themselves from the world as they drew near to the Lord. Separation without devotion to the Lord becomes isolation, but devotion without separation is hypocrisy. The nation of Israel was chosen by God to be a special people, separated from the pagan nations around them. You are to be holy to Me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be My own. The Apostle Peter applied those words to Christian believers in the church today. If we genuinely repent we won't deliberately do the same things again. We will endeavor by God's grace to put those things out of our lives. We must separate ourselves from unholy relationships, sinful desires and practices.
Paul picked up on this theme in 2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1 Therefore Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Confession - The Obvious Solution
In The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, the cartoon character Calvin says to his tiger friend, Hobbes, "I feel bad that I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I'm sorry I did it." "Maybe you should apologize to her," Hobbes suggests. Calvin ponders this for a moment and replies, "I keep hoping there's a less obvious solution." When we want to restore our relationship with God, we need to remember that he has a liking for the obvious solution.
3. Prayer - We Speak To God
Neh 9:4 Then Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani stood on the stairs of the Levites and cried out with a loud voice to the Lord their God.
D. E. Host took of the leadership of the China Inland Mission from Hudson Taylor. At one he was trying to figure out why the missions work was doing so well in a village beyond the ranges yet struggling where he was. The Lord revealed to Him the difference was prayer. Although he was spending much time counseling, preaching, and he teaching with those whom he lived, he spent much more time in prayer for those across the ranges. He concluded that there were 4 elements in making disciples: prayer, prayer, prayer and the Word - in that order and in that proportion.
The Levites prayed to God on behalf of the people. After hearing the Word, the people of Israel had been individually confessing their sins to God. Now the Levites prayed on their behalf. Their prayer is recorded from verse 6 to 38. It is a beautiful prayer declaring God's faithfulness whilst acknowledging Israel's sinfulness. It is important for all Christians to spend much time in prayer. In our Church services silent prayer is so important, before, during and after the service finishes. The Lord also wants pastors, Church leaders and men to pray during the services. Paul addressed this situation to the Church at Ephesus.
1 Timothy 2:1-4, 8 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. verse 8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;
Paul encourages believers to pray for all men especially those in positions of authority. He also asks men to lead in prayer during the services. He does not forbid ladies from praying. However in the public assemblies Paul wants men to take the lead. Why does he ask them to pray lifting holy hands? Firstly their hands had to be clean. Those praying must not be actively involved in sin. They must not have broken relationships because of wrath or anger. God will not pay attention to our prayers if we are hiding sin in our lives; unless we are confessing sin. Psalm 24:3-4 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that has clean hands, and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
Those praying in the public worship should lift holy hands. But in the New Testament Church this is the only reason recorded why men should lift their hands in the services. I have witnessed many ministers over the years lifting up hands when praying or giving the benediction. This practice is scriptural. In many Churches today both men and women lift their hands whilst singing, praying, speaking in tongues. They wave their hands as they seek to receive the Holy Spirit from God. The New Testament does not instruct believers to do any of these things. The emphasis of New Testament worship is worship in spirit and in truth.
Prayer - The Importance Of -- Leonard Ravenhill
The Church has many organizers, but few agonizers; many who pay, but few who pray; many resters, but few wrestlers; many who are enterprising, but few who are interceding. People who are not praying and praying. The secret of praying is praying in secret. A worldly Christian will stop praying and a praying Christian will stop worldliness. Tithes may build a Church, but tears will give it life. That is the difference between the modern Church and the early Church. In the matter of effective praying, never have so many left so much to so few.
4. Praise - We Speak To God
Nehemiah 9:5 And the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashanah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said: Stand up and bless the Lord your God Forever and ever! Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise!
In the Scriptures, God speaks to us; and in prayer and praise, we speak to Him. Stand up and bless the Lord your God! is a command every true believer wants to obey. God’s name is exalted above every name, and we should honor it as we praise Him. It should be exalted above all blessing and praise. How can we praise God? We praise His Glorious name by declaring it out loud. We do it by witnessing to the lost. We affirm God's greatness in our singing. We can praise God in our prayers. Many portions of Scripture declare God's glory and holiness. We can read these. What things can we praise God about? The Levites tell us.
i. He Is The Only God
Nehemiah 9:6a You alone are the Lord The nation of Israel was surrounded by idolatry and the degrading lifestyle that was associated with pagan worship. In his reading and explaining of the Law, Ezra had certainly emphasized the Ten Commandments, including the first two commandments that declare the uniqueness of God and the wickedness of idolatry. Even today, faithful Jews still recite The Shema as their declaration of faith in the one and only true God. Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: One of Israel’s ministries to the world was to bear witness to Jehovah, the true and living God. Isaiah 45:5a I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: God is worthy of our praise and worship for He alone is God. There is no other god.
ii. He Is Our Creator
Nehemiah 9:6b You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them
Genesis 1:1 says: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. This statement can only be applied to Elohim, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Whenever God wanted to encourage His people, He would point to creation around them and remind them that He had made it all. Isaiah 45:18 For thus says the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he has established it, he did not create it in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.
He used the same approach to remind them of the foolishness of worshipping idols (Isa. 41). To know that our Father in heaven is the Creator of all things is a great source of strength and peace. Idolatry means worshipping and serving the creature and the creation rather than the Creator. Romans 1:25. Augustine said, Thus does the world forget You, its Creator, and falls in love with what You have created instead of with You. God made everything perfect. The beauty of creation declares His majesty. Psalm 19:1-2 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handywork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
iii. He Is Our Provider - Nehemiah 9:6c And You preserve them all.
He did not simply make everything and then abandon it to its own course. He is involved in the affairs of His creation: He sees when a sparrow falls, and He hears when a raven cries out for food. He has the stars all counted and named, and He has even numbered the hairs on your head. Some folk take less of God's time keeping record of this. God continually provides for His creation. He gives us the very breath that we breathe. He provides food and water to all. Paul said this to the people of Lystra and Derbe.
Acts 14:15-17 We ... preach unto you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them: Who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he did not leave himself without witness, in that he did good, gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Jesus said that, God provides for the evil and the good. However if we focus too much on what He gives or what we want Him to do, we may find our hearts becoming selfish. Sincere worship honors God in spite of circumstances or feelings or desires.
Praise To God
In a church in Estonia, a paralyzed member was asked what song he'd like to hear. He answered without hesitation, "O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing." He said, "If I had a thousand tongues, I could sing a thousand songs. "
b. The Angels Worship God
Nehemiah 9:6d The host of heaven worships You.
Psalm 29:1-2 Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due to his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. The Scriptures tell us that the angels continually praise the Lord. The seraphim continually say Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory. You and I can’t duplicate the mighty works of the angels, but we can imitate their devotion to the Lord as they worship before His throne. We can gladly praise our Creator & Redeemer.
a. They Worshipped God
1. Hearing The Scriptures - God Speaks To Us - The people took the time to listen to God's Word. They spent about 3 hours hearing what God had to say to them. Do you listen to God speaking to you from the Word? Do you set apart unrushed time so that He can?
2. Confession Of Sin - We Speak To God - God's Word convicted people of sin. They then confessed their sin and their parents sin. Their actions showed that they were sincere. They fasted, wore sackcloth and separated themselves from defilement. When God convicts you of sin do you confess it or try and hide it? Do you separate yourself from all that defiles you? If you are genuine about sin you will remove sinful habits and desires.
Have you confessed your parents sin to cancel out the consequences of it on your family?
3. Prayer - We Speak To God - All the people of Israel prayed to God. The Levites then prayed on behalf of the people. They asked God to forgive and restore the nation. Prayer is an important part of the believers life. It is important that we all pray, both individually and corporately in the public worship. God wants Church's leaders and men to lead the way in this. Are you involved in the ministry of prayer? Men are you leading the way within your family? God has given you this responsibility in the Church and in our homes.
4. Praise - We Speak To God - The Levites encouraged the people to stand up and bless the Lord. Then they praised God in prayer. How often do you praise God for His goodness to you? Do you praise Him for Who He is? Is your desire to bless the Lord when you come to Church? Do you delight to sing praises to the Lord?
b. The Angels Worship God
The angels worship God continually. Even though we can't serve God the way that they can, we can worship and adore Him. Let us be thankful for God's goodness to us.
Let us sing the doxology. Inside the front cover. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.