Nehemiah 8:8 – They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
In Nehemiah 8, we run across one of those famous Old Testament scenes. Once the city of Jerusalem had its walls again, once the temple was functioning again, once the people were rejoicing in the faithfulness of God, the priests gathered the people and opened the word of God. We see a big platform, a group of priests reading the word, and those godly men explaining the word for the people of God to listen to. It was like a big, all-day conference.
Many a Bible teacher will use this passage to talk about biblical preaching, and I think that’s fair. What strikes me this time as we look at this form of preaching the word is less of what is present and more of what is absent in the description. Earlier in the chapter, we see the people gathered. We see that it is people of all ages, men and women and all who can understand (v. 2). And we see that men read the word clearly and gave the sense so that people could understand.
What is not there? There is nothing present that looks like a great deal of what passes for preaching today. There is no gimmick. There is no picture of clever sermon illustrations. There is no need for a drama, a concert, or a team of researchers who look up interesting historical anecdotes. There is just the word opened, the word proclaimed, the word understood.
I’m not for boredom. I’m not for lifeless preaching. But I wonder how many preachers spend more of their time looking for ways to capture their audience than looking for ways to proclaim the word clearly and give the sense. I wonder how many preachers today are more interested in the look of the “set” on “stage” and the lighting cues than they are about being sure the people hear the word as it was intended to be proclaimed.
Be careful, believers, not to lay this all at the feet of megachurch pastors. Men would not have turned the preaching of the word into a show were it not for crowds of people who demanded that preachers say to them what their itching ears wanted to hear. Preachers would not have gone gimmick crazy were it not for congregations who flock from church to church to hear the more engaging speaker regardless of his biblical faithfulness.
We see in Nehemiah a perfect coupling of something our churches need. We see men of God willing to stand before the congregation, read the word of God, and give its sense. And we see a congregation ready to listen. We see a congregation not looking for a more interesting or clever alternative. WE see a congregation longing for the straight up word of Almighty God—no watering it down, no artificial sweeteners, just the word. May we be Christians in churches where the word is preached and the preached word is received.