“A People Restored”: God’s People Repented
If you have ever been to an art museum you have likely seen someone staring at a painting for quite a while. The reason is because artwork is intended to be deep and rich. Good art should take time to dissect, analyze, and enjoy.
Take a painting of a couple enjoying a picnic in the park for example. That scene should be interesting enough on its own, but the artist would not want you to walk past his or her painting, say, “Huh, that is a good depiction of a couple in the park” and walk past. The artist wants you to stop and examine the piece. Noticing the smaller details—perhaps the facial expressions of the couple. Noticing the colors used and the mood they create. Even noticing the brushstrokes.
Art is intended to be enjoyed on many levels. The problem is that many people (I can be guilty of this) fail to realize it. Instead, we settle for the surface level and move on.
The same is true of God’s Word. It is designed to move us in different ways, ultimately leading toward moving us to action.
The Convicting Nature of the Word
After Nehemiah led the people to build Jerusalem’s walls, they called on Ezra to read the Scriptures to them. To this point in the story, the people’s city had been rebuilt. Now it was time for their hearts to be restored.
When Ezra read, and the Scriptures were explained, the people were struck by what they heard. Apparently, the people realized that they had been failing to live out what they were hearing. They were living in disobedience to God. So they wept.
As we read God’s Word, there are times when we should have the same response. We cannot not at times. So much of the Scripture reveals God’s holiness—His perfection and goodness. When we understand furthermore that we have been called to live in a likewise holy manner, how can we not throw up our hands in despair? We are far from being holy as God is holy.
This may be incredibly uncomfortable for us and we naturally might prefer that all of Scripture just make us feel happy—but that is not the gospel. The gospel starts with our brokenness before God, a brokenness that only He can fix and that only He did fix in Christ Jesus.
But even after we trust in Christ, sin still plagues us. We still find that we live as our old dead selves instead of our new, true selves in Christ. And so, reading the Bible should continue to convict us. But praise be to God that He does not leave us there.
The Encouraging Nature of the Word
I love the response to the people’s weeping. This was not a time to weep—it was a time to celebrate. Why? Because God wanted His people to see another aspect of the story of Scripture that they were hearing. God has not left us stuck in our broken condition, estranged from Him. He provided the means by which we can truly be holy as He is holy: through the gospel of Jesus.
The beauty of the gospel is that it all depends on God. What we cannot do, God has done. We cannot be holy, but in Christ we are declared holy because we have been credited with Christ’s righteousness. We cannot live as a holy people, but through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can cast away sinful desires and live pleasing to God.
So in a sense, all of Scripture should make us happy—actually better: joyful. Because all of Scripture points us to Jesus, the answer for our sin. This is so important. We need to get to this point so that our hearts are filled with awe, joy, love, and gratitude. Jesus has gone before us and He has secured victory for us!
The Transformative Nature of the Word
We’re not quite ready to walk away from this masterpiece of a painting called the gospel. God is not done with us yet. What we encounter in the Scriptures is designed not to leave us where we are, but to move us to live differently. Basically, every time we read God’s Word, we should live differently afterward as a result.
We see this in the story this week—God’s people acted on what they had encountered. And so should we. Not to earn God’s favor, of course, but from it.
Does this describe how we read the Bible? Gazing intently into what we read to see its angles, much as if reading through a prism? Do we sit in God’s Word so that we can experience the full depth of it? Do we read anticipating to be changed? And is this how we teach? Those are important questions to consider, aren’t they?
You never go away from us. Yet we have difficulty in returning to you. Come Lord, stir us up and call us back, kindle and seize us, be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love, let us run.” — Augustine (354-430)Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 138.
Preschool Tip: This is a great session to celebrate the Bible with your little ones. The hope is that you would do this every week, of course, but perhaps this week even more than normal. This is a good reminder of the importance of positioning the Bible physically, not just figuratively, in front of our preschoolers. Be sure to have a Bible open as you teach. Have Bibles that the preschoolers can hold and handle. Keep the physical Word in front of them so that the words within it get into their hearts.
Kids Tip: Consider taking this session’s content as a great time to encourage your kids to be in the Word on their own. It is likely that the only time many of your kids crack open a Bible is when they see you. As we know, personal time in the Bible is the greatest way we grow in Christ, so encourage your kids to spend time on their own and offer tips on how they can do that. The best of those tips will come from your experiences.