Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1st - The Attributes of God

Prayer Requests

Summit Sanctification

Whoever’s Preaching

Marietta Square Preaching

Tornado Results, Esp. in White

Pollock Car Accident

Grant and Greyson Football Starting

Cassandra's Broken Arm

Text – Nehemiah 9

This morning we're going to look at an absolutely amazing chapter in the Bible. In chapter 9 of Nehemiah we're coming out of chapter 8. What major events have just taken place in chapter 8? What major project has just been completed? They completed the walls and set the doors. What has made the people more attentive to the law of God? The reading of the Law. Which book was this? Deuteronomy. What was the response to the reading of the Law? Mourning. They weren't supposed to mourn because this was during a festival, the Feast of Tabernacles, why weren't they supposed to mourn? Because this festival pointed towards their salvation; how does it point towards Jesus? Because he came as God in the flesh to dwell with and in us forever.

As we come into chapter 9, the feast of Tabernacles is over and the people are in full mourning over their sin. In this chapter they go over a general history of Israel, and we'll see that the character of God is beautifully displayed in this list. So let's get started. We're going to move pretty quickly through this, hopefully, so we won't stop to look at the minor details, because we want to see this chapter as a whole and not just a collection of verses.

Nehemiah 9:1-5 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God. On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God. Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, "Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.

We see a continued effort of repentance and knowing God's Law. Why is it so important to know the Bible? Because here-in God has revealed himself to us. There is a massive movement today with people saying that God is too mysterious for man to know, that our finite minds can never understand an infinite God, but that utterly misses the fact that he has chosen to reveal himself through a book which he has perfectly preserved for millennia. The first thing we see is that God is worthy to be praised, that is the hermeneutic of this passage, or the way in which they are reading the Bible. This makes the point that everything God does is right, that his plans and purposes are perfect. The second important point is the beginning of verse 6.

Nehemiah 9:6 You are the LORD, you alone.

This is an identification that God is One, he is God and there is no other. It is an affirmation of what is called the "Shema", which is found in Deuteronomy 6. We're not going to read many other verses today, but let's be sure to read that one.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

Next we'll see that God is Creator and creative:

Nehemiah 9:6 You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

This is a reminder how powerful God is, that he created everything there is with the power of his Word. Not just that he created something massive, and the universe is bigger than we can even measure, but also that the minute details are incredible. The universe is intricately interesting from the biggest galaxy to the tiniest cell; and it may go much bigger and smaller than we can see. The level of diversity is also incredible, no two stars are exactly alike, no two people are exactly alike, and no two snowflakes are exactly alike. God shows both his power and creativity in creation. I really like that it mentions the "seas and all that is in them" because this has really blossomed for us in the past half century or so as we are able to record and see what is in the seas. Some of the creatures I've seen look made up, but are real, living, amazing creations of God. See the website, I've included a link:

We'll come back to this verse in a bit to support another point, but let's move to God's sovereignty over man in election:

Nehemiah 9:7-8 You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.

God chose to take a man and his barren wife to make a people who would be in the spotlight of his grace for the next 1700 years, through whom the blessing of Christ would come to all people groups. God promised them the land of Israel, even when it was populated by many other wicked people, it seemed impossible, but because God is righteous, he kept his promise, and the people at this exact moment in Nehemiah 9 were living that promise fulfilled.

Here we see that God interacts with mankind, he is not a "deistic deity" which means he created the universe and then left it alone. This is seen prominently in verse 9, where God is involved and is a God of miracles:

Nehemiah 9:9-10 And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day.

Next we'll see that God is selective, and also able to avenge his people.

Nehemiah 9:11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters.

After the Israelites fled through the Red Sea, it opened up for God to do many other things. He led them:

Nehemiah 9:12 By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go.

God gave them light in the darkness, and led them where they should go. Besides a physical leading, God is able to communicate himself and his laws morally:

Nehemiah 9:13 You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments,

This law is not burdensome, it points to the coming Messiah, it shows us why God is God and we are not. It opens up the opportunity for God to be both our Creator and our Saviour. Most directly, it gives us a definitive moral law to discern right from wrong.

Contained in that Law is the Sabbath, which is directly concerned with mankind resting for the glory of God, especially now where we rest in Jesus Christ, and it shows that God is attentive to the welfare of his people.

Nehemiah 9:14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant.

Let's read another verse:

Mark 2:27-28 And he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."

Next we see that God is sustainer:

Nehemiah 9:15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.

If you jump back to verse 6 you see that God is preserving all of his creation, in the New Testament it says Christ holds it together by the power of his Word. I wasn't going to, but we have to read that one!

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

We pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," and God always does, he could easily cut this planet off from sustenance just by causing it to stop raining, or for the crops to stop growing, and the Bible promises before it is all over, a famine so great will strike the world that a loaf of bread will cost over a $100. But through history until now, God has been sustaining his people.

But his people were not grateful, yet God is patient.

Nehemiah 9:16-17 But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

We've got several other attributes in there, don't we, merciful, gracious, forgiving, and full of love. It was almost as though the Israelites in the Sinai desert were trying to prove that God is rich in mercy:

Nehemiah 9:18-19 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, 'This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,' and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.

Here and in the next verse we see that God's grace is not contingent on men doing anything, in fact, if it was, then it wouldn't be grace. God continued to give them good things, even though they utterly rebelled. This went on for 40 years. Another attribute we'll see in this passage is that God also gave his Spirit to instruct.

Nehemiah 9:20-21 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.

After these 40 years, God proved himself to be faithful to his promises by giving them the land he had promised. Not only did he give them the land and multiply them, but it was already prepared for them to move right in. God plans things in advance, he has foreknowledge and the power to make it happen. He sees the end and the beginning, and he is working all things for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Nehemiah 9:22-25 And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess. So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would. And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.

Right at the end of this passage we have another attribute of God, that he is good, which means perfect and complete, there is no darkness in him, he is the standard and highest measure of good. This is intensified by how mankind constantly reacts to him, even his own people. God does not abandon his people, but he also does not let them continue towards their destruction. Let's read another New Testament verse,

Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

God is a correcting God.

Nehemiah 9:26-27 Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer.

God's punishment is correctional not punitive towards his people. He is also saviour.

Nehemiah 9:27-31 And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

At this point it gets a little tedious, God is good and his people rebel, over and over and over again. This is a great look at the fact that we cannot obey God on our own, but that we need an intercessor, we need someone to bear our sins for us, and someone to guide us. God has provided both for us in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant was good, but God was making a definitive statement that it was not perfect and that the New is so much better than the Old. We are thereby warned by God to not fall back from his Son, and we also see that God sends prophets who proclaim his message.

All of this points us at the fact that when sin increases, grace abounds all the more. Therefore the Apostle Paul asks, "Should we then sin all the more so that grace abounds further?" No, this leads back to our very first point, that God is worthy to be praised. His faithfulness leads us to something else, let's read Romans 2:4:

Romans 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

This is precisely where the Israelites in Nehemiah 9 go, let's read about their awesome repentance:

Nehemiah 9:32-38 Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works. Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress. "Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.

We'll look at this covenant next week, but the main point is that the attributes of God led these people to strive for holiness, not to sin all the more so that God's patience and kindness and admonishing would be magnified. We long to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect, to be so perfectly sanctified that we neither want to sin, and do not sin. This is, of course, impossible apart from the perfect work of God in us which he has accomplished through his Son who is the embodiment of all of God's attributes, an instructor to the foolish, a light in the darkness, the only God, gracious, merciful, patient, and the Saviour of all who believe. We know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we have such a great and lasting promise of God's faithfulness. He has been faithful with others, we trust he will be faithful with us, he has been faithful in the past, so we can trust that he will be faithful forever. Let's close with Philippians 1:6.

Philippians 1:6 I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.