Contact Us

  • Phone: (509) 747-3007
  • Email:
  • Mosaic Address:
    606 West 3rd Ave., Spokane, WA 99201

Service Times

  • Sunday:  8:30 am, 10 am, 11:30 am
  • Infant through 5th grade Sunday School classes available
  • FREE Parking!



Back To List

Jan 30, 2011

God's Latest Bestseller

Passage: Nehemiah 8:1-12

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Fresh Beginnings--Nehemiah

Category: Nehemiah--Fresh Beginnings

Keywords: god's word, understanding, meaning, study, bible


This message looks at the importance of the word of God to the renewal of God's people at the time of Nehemiah and today. We examine how we can understand God's word when we read it.


God’s Latest Best Seller

Series:  Fresh Beginnings—Nehemiah 8

January 30, 2011 

Get Connected:If you were going to be marooned on a deserted island for the next year and you could take just 5 books with you, what would they be?  (Have everyone in the group choose a different book to add to the list.) 

Series Recap:  We’re in the book of Nehemiah to launch us off into this new year with some “fresh beginnings.”  While Nehemiah is all about the rebuilding of the walls in Jerusalem in 445 B.C., it also is full of lessons on how to rebuild, refresh and renew our own lives and church at any point. 

  • Last week:  we looked at chapter 10 which speaks to the importance of how we handle our money and the impact that can have on our spiritual condition. 
  • This week we’re looking at the importance of the spiritual practice of interacting with God’s WORD.  I say “interacting” rather than simply “reading” because, as we all know, you can read something and not get anything out of it.  EX:  2nd place winner of the “Bad Writing Contest” in 1998 was Homi K. Bhabha, a professor of English at the University of Chicago. [It appears in The Location of Culture (Routledge, 1994)]:  “If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.”  I wonder who won 1st place that year!

How many people come to the Word of God, open it, read it or listen to it being read and end up having about as life-changing experience as you just had when I read you Dr. Bhabha’s one-liner? 

Add to that the challenge of “functional illiteracy” in America today where roughly 50% of Americans don’t read for all intents and purposes and you begin to see why, when pastors admonish their flocks to “read the Word of God daily,” most people just sort of shrug their shoulders and say to themselves, “Well, there he goes again, riding his hobby horse off into the desert of reading.  I’m sure not following him there!”

Believe it or not, the passage we’re looking at today seems to be written just for people like this.  It’s in Nehemiah 8.  The wall surrounding Jerusalem has been completed against all odds.  Life is beginning to take on some sort of normalcy.  People are getting back to business in whatever town or village they normally lived. It was after the summer’s harvest (Sept-Oct).  It was the beginning of the New Year in the civil calendar. In fact, 8:2 tells us it was New Year’s Day, “the first day of the seventh month,” which fell on Oct. 8th of that year 445BC. 

      New Year’s Day was actually a religious holiday called The Feast of Trumpets.  You’ll find it explained in Numbers 29:1-6. In fact, that entire 7th month had more religious holidays than any other month of the year.  It was almost as if God was inviting people at the beginning of their New Year to take more time to engage with God, to do business with God, before they jumped into their new year to do every other kind of business they needed to. 

NOTE:  Here is this consistent pattern by God in Scripture again:  get things right with God FIRST and then the rest of life gets right.  But put off getting life right with God and life never “gets right.”    

This month of Ethanim, as it was called, had religious holidays on the 1st day (Feast of Trumpets), the Day of Atonement on the 10th, and the Feast of Tabernacles from the 15th-21st.  Over 1/3rd  of the month (9 “feast days” plus Sabbaths, probably 2-3 that didn’t fall on the feast days) was set aside exclusively for celebrating their relationship with God (religious holidays). 

APP:  God knows we need periodic times of spiritual encounter.  He calls us to it at least weekly with the weekly rhythm of one day in seven for “ceasing from our labors.”  It’s a gift to us by God, made for us, not us for it.  Then God throws in with his people Israel a whole bunch of other “holidays”—days that have some practical spiritual significance that he wants them to pull back from work and learn to engage with Him and each other in everything from confession and repentance to praise, feasting and celebration of God. 

      Many of us need to learn to build holidays… “HOLY…DAYS,” into our weekly, monthly and annual calendars, don’t we?  After all, that is the root of our word “holiday.” 

I think it’s time for a resurgence of HOLYdays, not just “holidays” in our lives.  Just Christmas and Easter probably aren’t enough if we really want to enjoy God’s presence in deeper ways, right. J 

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a country where God had decreed, “STOP working and come PLAY with me!  Time for another family reunion with your Creator.  Come on.  Let’s rest.  Let’s reflect.  Let me renew you and refresh you in this relationship that can give you the best days of your life on earth.  Let’s party!”  That’s what it was like to live in Israel…when God came first.  When he didn’t, it was just another lost day of work, another burdensome ritual, like having to go visit the relatives on Christmas who you don’t much want to be with.

When is the last time you enjoyed a Bible camp or conference weekend?  Week?  That’s one reason Alpha is so great:  you get a spiritual retreat for a whole weekend right in the middle of it.  That’s why Bible camp is so great for kids…and Bible conferences are so great for adults.  It’s like taking vacation with God. 

So, for the people of God to start the year afresh here in Nehemiah, they come together in Jerusalem for New Year’s Day.  And then something truly spiritual took place:  they…the people, not the professional clergy…called upon one of the best Bible teachers of the day (Ezra) to teach them the word of God. 

      Now, apparently some planning must have gone into this in advance because vs. 4 tells us that “Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion.” Then we’re given the names of some other men who were also on this platform who probably took turns doing some of the teaching at this Bible conference.   

Their New Year’s Day was not a day to sleep in and sleep off your New Year’s Eve hangover!  People got up before daylight and started making their way in the dark pre-dawn hours of the morning to a big open assembly area at “the square before the Water Gate” (vs. 1).  We know that because vs. 3 tells us that Ezra “read it [the Book of the Law of Moses, vs. 1] aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square….” 

      How many hours is daybreak till noon in early October at the same latitude of roughly Los Angeles, CA?  At least 6, right.  Here’s how it happened. 

 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law…. 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.  7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.

This apparently went on for a whole week (vs. 18). 

      Any of you ever attended a Greek, Eastern or Russian Orthodox Church service? What was different about it?  There are usually no pews or chairs.  The congregation STANDS during the entire service.  They are free to move around, to kneel or prostrate themselves on the ground.  Usually they stand.  They do so out of reverence and humility before God.  Apparently that was what happened here out of reverence for the word of God.  When Ezra opened the scroll, everyone stood to their feet.  That was a physical demonstration of a heart-reverence for God’s word. 

APP:  How do we show outwardly what the word of God means to us inwardly? 

[Have people stop and think about that for a moment.  What “evidence” could be used to convict me in a court of law?]

  • Really listening when it is read and explained.
  • Seek to understand it by putting time in to study it.
  • Reading it regularly and letting it take root in our souls.
  • Making time for it in our schedules.
  • Memorizing it.
  • Posting it where we can see it, learn it and be reminded about it.
  • Obeying it!  Putting it into your life.
  • ???—Other ways you SHOW what God’s Word means to you?
  • [Gave a Bible to David this week…and told him that I hope he wears it out over the next few years.

In a world filled with books, it is easy to forget that this book we hold is like none other.  Thousands of people have given their lives to preserve and translate this book. Millions in the past century alone have become martyrs because they would not forsake or deny this book.  They have been shot, frozen to death, tortured, marched till they dropped, starved, brutalized and beaten because they loved the words and truths of this book.  In a world where we see over 1.5 million new book titles published each year, it is easy to forget that THIS BOOK is like none other.  It is always the most printed, the most sold and the most read book in the world, year after year.

But, it’s not enough to just have this book in our possession.  It’s not even enough to just “read” this book.  The words are not some magical incantation that cast a spiritual spell when recited.  We must have the word, hear the word and understand the word. 

      The words “understanding” and “meaning” occur about 6 times in this chapter.  Look at vs. 8—“They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”

      The meaning of “making it clear” carries the idea that the Law was explained to the people in a language they could understand.  That may have involved simply updating the flow of the Hebrew to a form that was easily understood now some 1000 years later.  All languages evolve in their expressions and forms year by year.  That’s why it is appropriate to be coming out with updated versions of the translated Scriptures as time passes.  To say that only one translation in any given language is “the only accurate translation” and all others are heretical betrays one’s own lack of understanding about language, translations and particularly the Scriptures. 

[See overhead.  Discuss translations and the spectrum from “more formal” to “more functional”.  Formal tries as much as possible to follow the structure and words of the source/original language.  “More functional”  tries to express the meaning of the original text in contemporary language.  SEE CHART of translations.]

      What is important is that people really understand what is being read…or what has been written.  That’s why we have teaching in our worship services.  That’s why Bible Study groups are so important.  That’s why listening to good Bible teachers on the radio or TV or internet/podcasts are good and accessing good books and commentaries are useful.  None of us has enough understanding of God’s word.  We all need to be constantly growing in our understanding of its meaning. 

      The constant question in each of our minds whenever we encounter God’s word must be, “What does it MEAN?”  We have no hope of it transforming our lives until we accurately understand what it means and actively apply its meaning to our daily lives. 

      Here lies, I believe, the greatest single challenge for most American Christians.  We have the word of God.  We may even read the word of God.  But do we “understand” it to the degree that it touches us mentally, emotionally and relationally?  Does our encounter with it move us to be different people? 

Let’s be honest:  nobody feels like they always “hear from God” every time they pick up their Bible.  But the act of reading/hearing God’s word opens up one of God’s most powerful and sure ways of speaking to us.  Just as I need to be listening to my wife and kids every day if I want a solid and growing relationship with them, so I need to be listening to God’s voice as often as possible.   

Look what happened when all Israel really understood what the Law of God meant beginning in verse 9:

 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

 11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”

 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

What an amazing experience.  This has all the marks of a true spiritual revival: 

1.)     people hungering for God’s word.

2.)    people being convicted at an emotional level of the need for change, and

3.)    people responding personally, visibly, actively and practically to the move of God among them. 

Revival ILL:  How many of you know the name Billy Sunday?  Billy Sunday was the most influential American evangelist of the first 2 decades of the 20th century.  He was the forerunner of Billy Graham and had a very flamboyant, theatrical sort of style. Interestingly enough, he even held a crusade in Spokane that drew nearly 100,000 people to a tent site near where Lasar Quest is just down the street on 2nd Ave.  It was an event that changed Spokane churches for decades to come.

            Someone once asked Billy Sunday if revivals lasted, to which he replied, “No, neither does a bath; but it’s good to have one occasionally!”  J

Let me make this as simple as I can.  If this Book is to have the power God intends it to have in our lives, 3 things must happen with us:

  1. We must hear, read or otherwise ENCOUNTER the word of God. 
    1. WHEN & WHERE does that happen in your life? 
    2. How often?  How regularly?
    3. We must UNDERSTAND it. 
      1. What did it mean when it was written?
      2. What does it mean for us now?
    4. We must APPLY the word of God to our own lives so that we are changed in what we think, what we feel and what we do.  (All that makes up what we ARE.)

I want to give you an acronym you can use to remember 3 simple steps to go through whenever you read the Bible.  And in a moment, I’m going to ask you to split into groups and finish the rest of this passage in Nehemiah 8 today using these 3 steps.  There is nothing like learning something by DOING it!  That’s how most of my children developed the habit of being in the Word of God daily: we would do our devotional reading of the Bible together for several weeks and they would begin to see how I did it.  I’m sure they’ve modified many times since those days, but it got them going in something God repeatedly uses in their lives to speak to them. 

Here’s the acronym.  Since most of us like food, and since the Bible is God’s “food” for our souls…and since BLTs are one of my favorite sandwiches, here it is:  B.L.T.

Book—what does it SAY?

Look—what does it MEAN?

Took—how do I APPLY it to my life? 

If you will ask these three questions of any passage of the Bible you read…and search for the answers…you will hear from God through His word. 

BOOK:  what does it SAY? 

Here are some of the questions you may want to have in your head as you simply try to figure out what it is saying. 

  • Who is speaking?
  • To whom is this addressed?
  • What kind of literature is this I’m reading?  (History? Poetry? Prophecy? Epistles (letters)?  Parables?  Etc.)
  • What would the original readers have understood about this passage that I may not? 

LOOK:  what does it MEAN?

  • What did this mean for the people then?  What were they to do or not do, believe or think? 
  • Is this teaching repeated, modified or missing in the New Testament?
  • Is there a life principle I can see in this passage for any God-follower?

TOOK:  how can I APPLY this to my life?

  • What might God want me to DO or experience with this passage?
  • Think or remember?
  • Change about my life?
  • Feel? 
  • How will I respond today to these truths? 


  1. Use the “Bible Reading Reflections” page in your bulletin for the rest of chapter 8 of Nehemiah (vss. 13-18) .
  2. Spend 4 or 5 minutes doing each of the 3 steps.  (Monitor time and share results after each 4 min. interval.)
  3. Write down your observations and thoughts on each of the 3 steps. 

CHALLENGE:  Do a Bible reading plan.  [See web site link to “Reading Plan” on our web site:  www.mosaicspokane.com.]

APP:  All of us have ways in which we can grow in our experience of hearing from God in his Word.  What is God inviting/asking you to do?

  • Start a regular time with Him in the Word?
  • Improve it by trying this approach for a month?
  • Share regularly with someone what God is saying to you in your reading?
  • Get in a Bible Study?  (Alpha, home groups, BSF)
  • Taking notes whenever you come to church or hear a message.
  • Start using a Spiritual Journal?  [Journals available in the back.]

Most of the time, I find it is just about making time in the Bible a priority.  That’s the biggest battle.  Once that pattern is set, God has so much more to work with.  So let’s decide to “set the pattern” for this entire year!