Preachers love to preach. We love to dive down deep, mining God’s Word for glorious, eternal treasures and then to swim back up to the service, sharing them with our church each week. But sometimes we get a little preacher’s cramp in so far as what to preach next. After preaching through Ezra and Nehemiah, I am thoroughly convinced that pastors, in particular church planting pastors, should prayerfully consider preaching through these books.
Here are some reasons…
New Beginnings: Ezra starts out with the people of God in Babylon. Within a verse or two God is strirring the heart of a pagan King (Cyrus) to send his people back to Israel to rebuild the temple and reestablish the covenant community. It is time for a new day. In particulur for a church plant this helps to show how God works in people and communities to build something new.
Idolatry: The books are repleat with examples of what idolatry is. Everywhere from the neglegence of the weak in Nehemiah 8 to the ignorance of the Sabbath in order to make wine in Nehemiah 13, God shows how the elevation of good things to ultimate things is actually a replacement of what is ultimate, namely the worship and adoration of the Lord God. This primes the pump for a crucial discussion on idolatry.
Priority of Worship: Why did God spank his people and send them to Babylon in the first place? According to mulitple passages like Neh. 9.32-36 it was because of disobedience. The people worship and served the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever. Therefore, God brings them back not just to build a wall but to build a community of worshipers. Isn’t this your heart cry pastor?
Dreaming: There is something so moving about Nehemiah’s lament in chapter 1 for the city and his people. He dreams of a community of worshipers. He prays and fasts to that end. Then he goes and plays the man before the king (Neh. 2). If you can get your people to start dreaming for the glory of God in their lives, their church, and their city then you are getting some good gospel traction.
Building something new while preserving something old: One potential danger of a church plant is that it is all about what is new. Sadly this can be to the exclusion of what God has done in history, even recent history. Ezra-Nehemiah help to show us that this is part of a big plan of God whereby he is procuring worshipers to declare his excellencies. It is a zealous look ahead in light of history. This is critical for us to remember today.
Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility It is a pretty amazing scene in Ezra 8.21ff where they were so boasting in God that they did not ask for an escort from the king because God would protect them. Then they stood on the banks of the river Ahava with a 900 mile trip ahead and they were undone. “How in the world are we going to make this dangerous journey?” They pray and fast. God’s hand was on them for good, delivering them from their enemies (Ez. 8.31). It is fun and helpful to tease out that tension.
Holiness: When you read the chapters on personal and corporate confession you drenched by the priority of holiness. When you see Nehemiah and Ezra acting crazy because of sin you get a whiff of the priority of holiness. This is a critical theme that needs unpacking in all churches today.
The Narrative has Bass: Who can skim past the dedication of the wall where there are choirs of people singing and dancing on the wall. They are yelling so loud that “the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” (Neh. 12.43). Let it bump.
Christological themes abound: From Ezra the Reformer to Nehemiah the mobilizer to the temple to the feasts to the preaching of the Word, everything pivots on Jesus. For a preacher who wants to cut his teeth on redemptive historical Christ-Centered preaching, this book is great. Get in there and preach about the true and better Ezra who truly brings reformation, renewal, and restoration.
There is a Redemptive Current: Jonathan Edwards labored to show his people that God was doing something through them and in their day. This type of knowledge and experience is essential. Christians must not merely sit on the riverbanks but jump in the water and feel the redemptive current at their feet! When you get into these books and realize that these are real people with real families, real jobs and real personal issues—yet that sacrificed all for the pursuit of the establishment of God’s people and the promotion of God’s fame—then you have some homiletical texture.
Below is a list of my favorite resources for the books of Ezra & Nehemiah:
Ezra and Nehemiah, by Steinmann: a Lutheran with an abundance of historical resources. I learned a ton reading it, honestly not too much made it into the sermons, but it was fascinating–lot of references to Martin Luther’s writing and sermons. Westminster | Amazon