Preaching Nehemiah 8 – Understanding WHY

Date: 6/26/11
Presented at: Marengo UMC
Presented by: Lance Ponder
Main Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-6

Mom always made things easy to understand. She had the most patience with the “why” questions of the little ones. Teachers answer those why questions all day long. The world peers in at us Christians and shake their heads bewildered at why we do some of the things we do.

In Neh 8 we read that the people asked Ezra to read the law aloud to the people. He took the book of the law, stood on a raised platform, and read aloud. He paused at key points to interpret, to give people a sense of understanding. All the people of every age, men and women alike, assembled and stood for hours. They bowed down to worship and raised their hands and said “amen” to proclaim their agreement. In this short passage we see the people come together because they want to know God and they want to partake of His eternal covenant with them. The bow down to humble themselves and they raise their hands to receive from God. The word “amen” means agreement and they willingly entered into agreement with the words of God read to them by Ezra. The stood for the readings in part to hear better and to better see Ezra, but mostly as a sign of respect for the holiness of God’s revealed word. The platform Ezra spoke from was practical for the task of holding the sacred writings to be read, but it also established a center point for the attention of the assembly. The words of God were given the center of attention, as well they should be. When we preach, we read from scriptures and we take time to help the people understand. The Holy Spirit reveals God through spoken words, among other ways, and so by preaching with scriptures the words spoken open hearts to receive the Spirit and its wisdom.

The occasion for the event in Neh 8 was the celebration of Feast of Trumpets, better known today as Rosh Hashanah. The people started returning from captivity in Babylon a few decades earlier. The temple was already rebuilt, but the city wall was left in a very bad condition. Nehemiah, the governor appointed by the Persian authorities, was given permission to rebuild the wall. This wall rebuilding project was completed just a few days prior to Ezra speaking on this feast day. The people who returned were still oppressed and times were difficult, but they trusted God would restore them. They wanted to better know the God of their ancestors who created the world, led Abraham to the holy land and made the great covenant with him, and later rescued their ancestors from Egypt and preserved them in the wilderness.

And what was it Ezra told them? If you read Neh 9 you get a good picture of Ezra’s summary. God is good. God created, God provides, God is faithful, God is righteous, and God forgives. Ezra tells the people who God is and what God has done. Ezra then confesses who the people are and what they have done. The ancestors of those assembled received and benefited from God’s grace and for a time kept God’s commands. But then, upon receiving all good things, they grew lazy and rebellious. They forgot God’s commands and went about doing as they wished. The feasts went uncelebrated and the rest of God’s commands went unheeded. Ezra led the people in restoring their vows to service the great and wonderful God.

God made an eternal covenant because He loves us. When this is revealed to us we should want to know Him, to know this covenant, and to believe and thus obey. This is why.


In reading these passages the Lord impressed on me the importance of the statement that time was taken to give understanding. Those of us who have lived our lives in religious settings tend to know a lot of church jargon. Those of us who devote ourselves to deeper study tend to know even more technical church jargon. What is the value of jargon? Consider the Tower of Babel. When God divided the languages it divided the people. When one person could not understand the other, they went different ways. Church jargon also divides the churched from the unchurched. We need to be always mindful of the negative effects of jargon and we should avoid using jargon in casual conversation and especially if we don’t offer simple definitions. Here are a few examples of Christianese terms to be careful using:

Born Again

If you dare take on the mantle of religious authority or you  plunger deeper into religious study here are some examples of terms to avoid using completely in everyday conversation – even with most of your congregation:


Each of those words means something technical and are useful to advanced bible students, but they don’t belong in normal conversations and generally not in any sermons. There are also some classic religious topics that scholars love to sit around and debate. From these debates we can learn a great deal, but public debate on these subjects tends to turn people away from religion and as a result blocks their way to Jesus. It is a good idea, it seems to me, to avoid opening up these debates because they tend to divide believers and keep out non-believers, both of which run against what Jesus taught.

Calvin vs. Arminius (Calvinism vs. Arminianism)
Free Will vs. Predestination
Covenant Theology vs Dispensationalism
Premillenial vs Postmillenial

You get the idea. Even here in the blogsphere, while these subjects and other like them spark some lively discussions, more casual readers are not going to the site a second glance. Maybe that’s okay, but then maybe not.

What do you think?


About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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16 Responses to Preaching Nehemiah 8 – Understanding WHY

  1. Lance,

    I really disagree! Many of these so-called terms (“jargon”) present great biblical and theological truth! True Christianity is always going to make judgment and division!

    “Do not suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.” (Lk. 12: 51) Often “Truth” has and takes a very narrow path in this fallen, sinful and evil age! (Titus 2:13-15, etc.)

    • Lance Ponder says:

      You disagree? With me? Ha. Really. LOL.

      Perhaps I did not make myself clear. It wouldn’t be the first time. LOL. The point is that jargon excludes. When we get to talking in jargon, those who don’t know the definitions are quickly lost and will wander away. That’s not to say the jargon doesn’t have a place, but in “casual” conversation our jargon can make us sound “holier than thou” or “better than thou” and can repel folks that might otherwise be interested in Jesus if our jargon wasn’t in the way. Church folks can get like that and caution is word I’m promoting to the seasoned churchgoer.

      • Lance,

        It is the “Emergent” Church that is seeking to diminish our biblical and theological statements. So we simply cannot escape this our biblical & theological jargon. Note too the “emergents” are for the most part anti-creedal also. Certainly Creeds should not stand over the bible itself, but quite often they are very helpful tools in our understanding of Christian doctrine. So a church will often only be as healthy spiritually as its biblical-theological-jargon, for it is from here that the true church lives. Like Wesley said, give me a handful of godly men [and women], that read and know their Bible, and here is what will change the church! English Methodists certainly did so for nearly 50 years!

  2. Lance,

    If you have never read any John Nelson Darby? Here is a wee dip… I hope ya enjoy? But you must put on your biblical thinking cap! And Darby himself can challenge our biblical “jargon”, certainly! 🙂

    Btw, there is no relation, just both born in Ireland.

  3. Lance Ponder says:

    You make some compelling points, Fr. Robert. I will go and think and pray about what you have shared. Thank you, and God bless you.

    • Lance,

      I have not “arrived”, I am just sharing some of my new (so-called), but long and hard fought convictions, biblically & theologically. A pastor-teacher worth his salt must dig deep! And I really believe the Church and culture is in for a very rough ride! Note too, I am not speaking from my easy-chair, and at my age I am not seeking a place of comfort, or even respect, but seeking to preach and teach the Word of God, to a sleeply Church! And we just could be much closer to the End of the Age than we realize!

      I sense too your seriousness in the Word and things of God! 🙂

      Best..’In Christ’

  4. Catie Eliza says:

    Jargon is a bit exclusive, BUT, sometimes the words we use don’t have a counterpart in modern urban common english? Cause frankly, Christianity is becoming evermore counter-cultural, so what we talk about is less and less likely to be instantly understood? But what are we to do? Not have the discussions? xx

    • Lance Ponder says:

      Thank you for joining the conversation. I think you’re right that our faith is becoming counter-culture. Perhaps we’ve done it to ourselves to some extent. I am not suggesting we toss all jargon, but we should be discerning about its application. Does that make sense?

  5. Catie Eliza says:

    Yeah, I agree, absolutely. :] xx

  6. Todd Beal says:


    I agree with both you and Fr. Robert. As Fr. Robert explained, we must not dumb down our spiritual knowledge because it is crucial for building a rock solid understanding of the Bible. However, I agree with you in that there is a time and place for using “insider” religious terminology.

    It is my experience that most Christians have no clue to the underlying meaning of most religious terms/buzzwords, and certainly, the majority of them never desire to know the meaning, let alone sincerely study it. As in secular life, the absolute majority of Christians simply absorb the everyday “shop” lingo, and doctrinal teaching, within their church. They get the sense of what the words and concepts mean, including the context in which they are used; they learn the usage patterns of how and when to use them in a “fellow believer to fellow believer” conversation, and simply leave it at that. They know buzzwords, but that’s about it. Then, when they start talking to someone outside church walls, they start throwing around the same religious lingo without truly understanding what they are saying, and cannot figure out why a non-Christian (or new/uneducated Christian) doesn’t grasp their “message”.

    This is one of my very biggest pet peeves, borrowing beliefs and religious terminology from others. If you did not arrive at your personal understanding of a belief and/or religious term through study and prayer, you stand on no good authority for using it or believing it.

    On the other hand, one of my other biggest pet peeves is theological intellectualizing apart from an accompanying spiritual understanding in one’s heart, as given by the Holy Spirit. There is no room in the Church for intellectual think tanks that devalue the personal experience of salvation. Just as non-intellectual Christians more often than not, check their mind at the door of forgiveness, conversely the intellectually oriented Christian tends to check his heart and spirit at the door of forgiveness. His natural tendency is to use his intellect at the expense of listening to the Holy Spirit and deepening his relationship with Christ, as is evident in his spirit-devoid intellectualizing of spiritual matters.

    As said at the outset, religious terminology is important, but as you said Lance, there is a time and place for using it. A non-Christian needs know only three things: who is Jesus Christ, why do I need him, and what must I do to receive him into my heart. Beyond that, all terminology must be custom tailored to the individual. A new Christian needs know only what is necessary for him to deepen his relationship with Jesus Christ. And if that includes teaching him the meaning of religious terminology then so be it, but we must do so according to his personal level of ability, and spiritual level of maturity.

    My point here is that above all, we Christians must dedicate ourselves to three things: first, know why we believe what we believe; second, possess a discerning spiritual knowledge of the terminology we use, and third, know how to explain the meaning of that knowledge to others based on their level of understanding and ability. We must in all things stay spiritually in-tune with the Holy Spirit, ask him for wisdom, and exercise discernment in all our dealings with others.

    Thanks for this post Lance; right on.

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