Nehemiah chapter eight opens on the first day of the seventh month with Ezra the Priest preaching a sermon—and it’s a good one, lasting from early morning to midday. He preaches through the Law of Moses, and the people begin to feel the weight of their sin and mourn. Ezra admonishes them not to grieve, itself a positive response to the reality of sin, but to rejoice “for this day [the Day of Atonement] is holy to the Lord.” The people rejoiced and celebrated, because they understood the words proclaimed to them.
The next day, the leaders of the people came together to study the Law, where they found that they were commanded to celebrate the Feast of Booths, remembering their time as sojourners in the wilderness. And they obeyed, and there was much rejoicing. Ezra read from the Book of the Law in the presence of the people each day of the celebration, which lasted seven days.
Here’s the big idea that we learn from this passage of Scripture: A passion for Jesus and Scripture is created and fueled by the right preaching of the Bible. If the Bible is not preached in our churches, people will not be brought to repentance.
That sounds very harsh, but take a look at Ezra’s actions in this chapter.
What does Ezra do? He preaches the Bible. He preaches the complete Word of God. For how long? From early morning to mid-day—at least six hours. What was the result? His hearers were convicted of their sin—they felt the full weight of their depravity in light of a holy and righteous God. And there was repentance!
What happened the next day, after Ezra had preached for six hours or more? The men came to Ezra and said, “We need to learn our Bibles.” Ezra’s preaching not only brought conviction of sin, but a desire for God’s Word and to grow in holiness.
What do we preach in our churches today? We preach lifestyle topics: “Seven Steps to a Better You”; “Debt is Dumb”; “Imagine a Great Marriage”, and so forth. Now, lifestyle topics are important, and should be addressed within a sermon. But lifestyle topics are not the gospel. And it’s an offense to proclaim principles without clearly connecting them to the cross of Jesus Christ.
Truly, we as Christians have nothing worth talking about except the cross of Jesus Christ—His sinless life lived by the power of the Holy Spirit; His death in our place, for our sins; His resurrection, defeating our enemies of Satan, sin, death, and the wrath of God; and His ascension to the right hand of the Father, where he rules and reigns over all creation as our glorious & exalted King.
Those who have been called to preach are called to proclaim the gospel, not serve as motivational speakers. Repentance only comes when we are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God. It only comes when the the gospel is proclaimed.
The Apostle Paul says it this way:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:14-17, emphasis added).
So what do we do? We repent.
Just as Ezra’s preaching brought repentance to his hearers, we must also repent of our failing to proclaim the gospel. If we are to see people come to repentance and faith in Jesus, we must always proclaim the gospel in every area of our lives. We must passionately study and search the Scriptures to know what the Word of God says.
And we must be ready at all times and all places to speak the word of Christ, so that some may come to repentance.