What the Church Needs: Ezra & Nehemiah
There are many examples in Scripture of godly men fulfilling their call and glorifying God. They serve as models; albeit, they are imperfect ones. However, they can teach us many truths both by their positive and even their negative actions. We look to these men only in an effort to project their emulative characteristics back onto us, realizing all the time that they are mere men, and sinful men at that (except, of course, Christ Jesus). We can learn; we must learn from those who have gone before. We look at these men and examples of the past in order to reform the present. Ultimately, however, we must look to Christ. We know looking back throughout the Bible that Christ was active within his people. As we look back on them, we are actually focused on Christ and his work then to better our now. So, what do we need?
Ezra and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:1-8)
We need an Ezra and Nehemiah-like devotion and commitment to expositing the word of God. It sounds so simple—preach and teach the word of God. Not only preach and teach it, but do so expositionally. It is God's word, so we preach that and not merely what is popular, exciting, and inoffensive. Men should never preach part of a text, only what they want, always topically, never entire books, etc. The word of God should be read and explained verse by verse. This ought to be done throughout entire books in the Bible along with the occasional topical or theme study. What message are preachers sending to the congregation when they hold the word of God in contempt? What does it say when they only preach and talk about select scriptures? When this happens, so many themes and subjects will never be addressed because they are being purposely avoided. If the whole counsel of God is not expounded, how will the people learn and grow? How will they hear from God? How will they be challenged, convicted, transformed, held accountable, fed, led, and convinced of God's truth and glory? They won't!
Cases where preachers do not preach the actual text are prevalent. Why? It may be because of tradition or ignorance; it may be that it was how they were taught and mentored, or because it is less offensive. It could be due to the fact that people enjoy it, it is popular with the lost, low standards yields higher results, the preparation is faster, and there is safety in numbers (everyone is doing it). This subject has already been addressed elsewhere, so we will not rehash it here. However, it is a key symptom to what ails the church. Sheep cannot grow if they are not being fed, and they must be fed the proper diet. What we see, more often than not, are wolves in shepherd's clothing. They care nothing about the sheep. Wolves seek only to scatter and devour!
In the book of Nehemiah, there is an example of expository preaching. Thousands of years ago in the Old Testament, God had men who knew and understood the importance of preaching his word to his people and doing it in a manner in which they could understand. Godly men stood on a wooden platform (built for such an occasion) and read the Law in the hearing of the people. These “preachers” faced the people and taught them. They not only read the word of God, but they explained it. They interpreted God's word; they “gave the sense” so that the people not only heard, but they also comprehended what was spoken.
How astonishing. The book was opened, the people stood, Ezra prayed, everyone worshiped, the Law was read, the teaching was applied, the people were discipled, and they understood. This went on for hours. A perfect picture of expository preaching exists in the Old Testament. Isn't this what ought to be happening in our churches? Doesn't this make sense? We have platforms and pulpits, we pray and worship, the word of God is read aloud, so why isn't it exposited? Many churches do things correctly but forget the most important part—preaching and teaching God's word verse-by-verse and applying it to the needs of the people or the current state of the world and culture. Just because something is done almost right does not mean that it is right. A half-truth is not the whole truth; therefore, it is an untruth.
What is needed is for men to stand before the people and preach God's word. We need courageous men who will not back down. We need men who will proclaim the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; we need men who will preach grace, faith, and repentance. Ezra preached the Law; that terrible tempest that stirs up iniquity and blows strength into man in order to sin. Remember, we have Christ; we have his grace. We have the gospel; Christ and his gospel calms the storm. Christ rebukes the waves and declares, “Peace, be still!”
Preach the word! Preach it in season and out of season. Preach it as a dying man to dying sinners (Baxter). Preach it as if hell depends on it. Preach the word in order to snatch sinners out of the very grip of hell's relentless grasp. Heaven and hell hang in the balance; souls are progressing down the wide path. Preach the word; call them to turn, repent, and follow Christ. We have felt the flames, smelled the smoke, heard the cries, saw the unmitigated wrath of God—now, warn the hell-bound. It is not too late; preach the word!
We have been washed in blood, raised from the dead, adopted by the King, created anew, and bought with a price. We have been given a message; we are ambassadors. We must now proclaim this message. Preach it with every breath. Proclaim the gospel to those who slumber. Tell them who are awake. Warn them who remain comfortable. Exhort those who appear apathetic. Appeal to them within and without. Go into the hedges and byways; preach the gospel at home and abroad. Oh, God, please raise up preachers who will proclaim your word; those who will raise your gospel in its entirety.