There is a little newsletter given out here at the conference called (not too originally) The Conference Chronicle. This morning it listed some “food facts.” Apparently thus far the conference attendees have gone through 835 gallons of coffee (0 of which can be attributed to me), 6,580 donuts (1 2 of which were consumed by yours truly), 10,000 hard boiled eggs and 750 pounds of potatoes, which were used in a potato salad they will be serving at lunch today. That’s a lot of food. Of course it is raining today so the “weather permitting” lunch they offer at this conference may not be permitted.
This morning’s session features Steve Lawson, who began with an emotional expression of gratitude towards the Shepherd’s Conference and all that it means to the pastors who attend. “For me, this is the one time in the year when everything seems right.” Dr. Lawson has been attending this conference each year for the past twenty three years and believes it to be a life-changing time.
His text for this morning will be Nehemiah 8: 1-12. Every great season of Reformation in the history of the church and every hour of spiritual awakening has been a time that ushered in a time of biblical preaching. The only true Reformation is that which emanates from the Word of God. This was certainly the case in the Reformation which saw the recovery of biblical, expository preaching. This was the case in the Puritan era which saw the restoration of biblical preaching in England and Scotland. This was the case with the Great Awakening and the preaching of Whitefield and Edwards. Every great revival and true awakening has been ushered in by a recovery of biblical preaching. Every true progress in church history is conditioned by a new and deep study of the Scriptures. And this is what is so desperately needed today: a recovery not only of preaching, but of biblical, expository preaching.
These verses from Nehemiah provide a case for biblical preaching.
Call for biblical preaching: This passage begins where every great movement must: with a cry for biblical preaching. A huge crowd gathered as one, intent on one purpose – to make their plea to cry out to the leaders to bring to them the Word of God. This cry is coming from the pew, from the people, from the crowd. They are crying out to bring the book. They had been in captivity for seventy years and were thirsty for the reading and exposition of the Word.
Ezra was the man chosen to do this. God had been preparing him for fourteen years (see Ezra 7:10). Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of God. He was a man of the book who dug out the riches and truths of the Scriptures. This is where any meaningful ministry begins – digging out a text alone with the Word of God. This revival began with Ezra alone with God standing before a scroll. When God calls you to be a pastor, He gives you an insatiable appetite to dig into a text. God will make you a student of the Word. The pastor must be a walking Bible. “We have nothing to say apart from the living Word of God.”
Ezra not only studied it, but lived it – practiced it. He became a living epistle. Ezra was building the Word of God into his life with strenuous, active, aggressive effort. He was an incarnation of the book he was studying.
Ezra also taught it. He instructed others in this Word. There was an edge in his ministry where he did more than only lay out information. He stood between the ancient world and the people of his day and allowed the Word of God to flow through him. He brought forth no new truth, but was merely an echo of the Word of God.
And so we see that the revival in Nehemiah was truly begun fourteen years earlier as Ezra learned, studied, applied and taught the Word so that he was a walking Bible. It was this man that they called for. He had long been made for this hour. Ezra was prepared for the cry of the people.
The people in your congregation who know God and love God are crying out to the pastor, “Bring the book! Bring it to me!” Pastors all over this country, rather than hearing the cry of their people, are bringing things other than the Bible. They head out to interview unbelievers and bring what they want! (At this point many of the pastors in the crowd were getting awfully excited, crying out with “Amen!” and “Whoooo!”).
Characteristics of biblical preaching: Ezra gave the people a particular type of preaching – the old kind of preaching.
Here are five non-negotiables – five indispensable characteristics of biblical preaching:
- A biblical reading: A reading of the Word of God. Ezra read from the Law, beginning his exposition of the Word of God with a reading of the Word. He simply read the book, knowing that the Bible is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword. This word “read” means “to cry out.” He called aloud, roared, proclaimed the Word. This is how a pastor begins the exposition of the Word of God in which the pastor makes a statement that everything that is said will originate from this text of Scripture. “I will be the mouthpiece of this passage of Scripture to this congregation.”
- A lengthy treatment: Ezra read from early morning until mid-day. All the people, despite the length, were attentive to the Word of God. “This was not a sermonette for Christianettes.” This was an adult standing in the pulpit, preaching the Word of God using adult language. Through this passage we see that there is to be a full treatment of the Word of God. There needs to be a full disclosure of the truth of the passage and a connectedness fo their lives.
- An authoritative posture: Ezra stood at a wooden podium. There is an authoritative posture – he is not sitting on a stool sharing. He is not walking around gabbing. He is standing at a pulpit because the Word of God is on the pulpit. Ezra mounted the platform in order to be seen and to be heard. You cannot get the Bible open soon enough when you walk to the pulpit. That Ezra stood above the people was intentional for there was a transcendence about this. It showed the superiority of the Word of God and the position of the people.
- A God-exalting thrust: Ezra blessed the Lord and there was an unveiling of the Word of God. We are to be exaltational expositors. Ezra blessed the Lord and the people cried out “Amen!” bowing low before God. Expositional preaching should be elevating God and lowering man. The more you lower God and raise man, you are trivializing the grace of God. But when God is put in His rightful place, you are magnifying the grace of God.
- An precise explanation: Until you have given the true meaning of the text, you have not given the text. Christianity is concerned primarily with the mind, not with feelings or relationships, as important as those may be. It is all about truth – God’s objective revelation interpreted rationally. A pastor explains the text and gives the author’s intent for that text. He explains the text, exhorts with it, and moves on to the next text.
Consequences of biblical preaching: What is the effect of this type of preaching? It may take many years. Some preachers are never privileged to see this, but God requires faithfulness to this preaching.
Repentance: All the people were weeping when they heard the Words of the Law. The Word of God is a mirror that allows ourselves to see who we are as we are. We see ourselves as God sees us. The preaching of the Word removes self-deception so that we see our sin and our need for grace. As they came under this revelation, the people began to weep and mourn as sorrow and brokenness began to come. This always accompanies genuine revival.
Rejoicing: The people celebrated and rejoiced. Ezra told them not to mourn any longer, but to go forth rejoicing. There had been enough weeping over their sin, and a supernatural joy began to flood their souls because their hearts had been cleansed by the preaching of the Word of God.
The passage concludes in verse 12 with telling the reader that the people understood the words which had been made known to them. This is the goal, the apex, of expositional preaching. Ezra had opened the Word of God and made it known to them.
If you are a pastor you absolutely must listen to this message. Never mind the books and brunches and friends and fellowship. It is this type of message that pastors come here, to the Shepherd’s Conference, to hear. May God use this message, and others like it, to build the church for His glory.