BaptistWay Bible Series for May 3: Focus on God’s teachings

BaptistWay Bible Series for May 3: Focus on God’s teachings focuses on Nehemiah 7:73; 8:1-4, 9-18.

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Writer’s note: This week’s lesson focuses on the need to make God’s teachings from the Bible a central part of your life. But an eternal relationship with God starts by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you feel you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus and want to know more, a good way to start is by clicking here.

With any new start, focus on the basics

We’ve turned the page, for a new day has dawned
We’ve rearranged what is right and what’s wrong
Somehow we’ve drifted so far from the truth
That we can’t get back home
Where are the virtues that once gave us light
Where are the morals that governed our lives
Someday we all will awake and look back
just to find what we’ve lost.

We need to get back
To the basics of life
A heart that is pure
And a love that is blind
A faith that is fervently
grounded in Christ
The hope that endures for all times
These are the basics,
we need to get back
to the basics of life.

— First verse and chorus, ‘The Basics of Life,’ 4Him, The Basics of Life, 1992

Albert Reyes, president of Buckner Children and Family Services, is a believer in the mission statement.

If you’re active in any business or organization, you’re no doubt familiar with the mission statement. One definition listed in Wikipedia says a mission statement is “a written statement that spells out an organization’s overall goal and provides a sense of direction and a guide to decision making for all levels of management.”

But Reyes’s belief in the mission statement as a guide and direction doesn’t stop at the corporate level: He believes individuals should have a mission statement. When he served as president of the Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio, he urged each of his students to adopt one. He now encourages BCFS employees to do the same.

His personal mission statement, “to develop kingdom leaders from my circle of influence to the ends of the earth,” fits his commitment as an educator and as the leader of a global ministry to orphans and at-risk children and families.

A mission statement is usually best when it’s at its most basic. The word “basic” usually translates into brevity, clarity and purity.

So what’s basic to you? Do you have a personal mission statement that provides a summary definition and direction for your life? How important is it?

In 445 B.C., the Jewish people had just done an amazing thing: Despite internal and external hindrances, under Nehemiah’s leadership they had finished rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, which had not stood intact for more than 140 years.

Following the rebuilding, Nehemiah records that the priest Ezra held a revival among the people. Unlike what we think of as a revival, there was no special music, sermon or tent. What Ezra brought to the people was a reminder of the basics of life: that God’s teachings in Scripture need to be at the center of the lives of God’s people. So he read the law.

Ezra reads the law, leads a revival

At the end of Nehemiah’s seventh chapter, we find the Jewish people at a milestone. They had completed the Jerusalem wall in a mere 52 days, squelching their opposition because of the evidence of God in the work (Nehemiah 6:16); Nehemiah had established the city’s civil and military leadership (7:2) and he had conducted a census to establish how many (or in this case, how few) Jews inhabited it (vv. 4-72).

Now, in the seventh month of 445 B.C., the city of Jerusalem is occupied by the Jewish people, who are ready to move forward as a nation once again. But to start over, they needed a starting point. And they need to start with the basics. That point comes in chapter 8, when Ezra holds a national revival in the middle of the Water Gate square on a raised platform built so the people could hear and see him.

Ezra didn’t preach, didn’t add any commentary. From daybreak until midday, about five hours, he read Scripture. In verse 1, it is called “the book of the law of Moses,” but it could have been the entire Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) or selections from it.

What is known is the people’s response to its reading. Before he read the Scripture, Ezra praised God and was answered with “Amen, Amen!” and the people bowing to worship the Lord. As Ezra took the podium and opened the Scripture, “all the people stood up” (v. 5) in reverence of the words about to be spoken. They were ready to hear a word from God —and the word of God—with a reverence and passion.

Throughout the crowd, Levites were stationed to help interpret the reading. As they heard the law and had it explained to them, understanding soon settled on them and, with that understanding came a deep conviction of the people’s sin against God: not only the sin that had led to their defeat and enslavement by Babylon, but worse, the sin that had separated them from God.

Their conviction was such that, in verse 9, we read that Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites had to calm the people, who had begun to mourn and weep when they heard the Scripture read. Nehemiah and the leaders told the people not to mourn, but to go home and prepare feasts “for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).

A second day of teaching

Following the events of the first day of Scripture reading, the next day Ezra held an interpretive follow-up with the heads of households and other leaders. Part of this meeting must have been a review of Leviticus 23:33-44, which requires God’s people to celebrate the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles.

Occurring in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, the Feast of Booths calls for Jews to live in simple arbors made of tree branches. It recalls the time the Jewish people lived in the wilderness during the Exodus period.  

The people then celebrated the Feast for a week, the largest since the time of Joshua 1,000 years prior. Each day Ezra read from Scripture, and the people celebrated.

It is a picture of revival not out of the reach of the Christian church today. What could happen if we as individuals, as Bible study classes or as churches focused more intensely on God’s teachings in Scripture? What if all it took to bring a revival to us was the reading of God’s Word?  

Questions to explore

• In our focal passage, the people eagerly anticipated hearing the reading of Scripture. How would you respond to such an event?  

• What benefits might occur if God’s people focused on God’s teachings in Scripture more intensely?

• What gets in the way of us reading Scripture? Do you think you read it enough?

• Take a class poll: Do you read all of Scripture, or just your favorite parts?

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