“All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.” Nehemiah 8:12
Not too long ago it would’ve been hard to image a scenario in which American believers couldn’t gather for corporate worship. Then came COVID-19. Week after week of virtual church raises questions about what gathering again looks like. Well, in Nehemiah 8:1-12, we see Israel rediscovering the joy of corporate worship.
The people who gathered to hear Ezra read the Law of Moses had returned to Jerusalem from 70 years of captivity in Babylon. So, for over a generation, adversity prevented them from hearing God’s Word corporately. Today’s Church can learn three things from the response of these Jewish exiles.
First, look upward in worship (vv5-6). As Ezra opened the book, the people spontaneously responded in worship of God and in reverence for His Word. Today, many have lost their sense of awe for the things of the Lord. What used to be a day of rest and worship has become a day of leisure and laundry. Hopefully, the freedom to hear God’s Word corporately is something we’ll no longer take for granted.
Next, look inward in repentance (v9). As the meaning of what was being read was explained, God’s instructions became clear. The reality of their sin caused genuine grief, even in the midst of this joyous occasion. Few pastors still preach repentance, which is why few people truly grieve over their sins. When the whole counsel of Scripture is proclaimed, it brings the conviction of the Holy Spirit and confession of sin.
And then, look outward in service (vv10, 12). While grieving over their sin was appropriate, this was not a time for sackcloth and ashes. As they departed, their attention was on helping those who didn’t have the means to celebrate the joyous occasion. In corporate worship, we get to soak up the joy of the Lord, but we’re not meant to remain full sponges. God desires to squeeze those blessings onto others through acts of love and service.
What corporate worship looks like going forward depends completely on us. Have you grown accustomed to the convenience of couch church? Or, has adversity increased your desire to worship and study God’s Word together? America desperately needs to rediscover the joy of corporate worship. Revival can begin when we, as God’s people, look upward in worship, inward in repentance, and outward in service.