Read Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14 today. This devotional is about Nehemiah 8.
There are (roughly) three kinds of sermons:
- Topical: A topical sermon is one where the preacher chooses a topic, studies that topic from all the relevant scripture passages, then organizes the sermon as he sees fit and delivers it. Topical sermons usually reference many different passages from the Bible. In my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical.
- Textual: A textual message happens when the preacher takes one verse (usually) which provides the main point (Big Idea) of the message. Sometimes one or more points of the message is also drawn from the same verse as the Big Idea. But other passages of scripture are brought in to develop the Big Idea. I don’t do a lot of textual preaching but my series on prayer titled How to Talk So that God Will Listen has several textual messages. In that series, each line of the Lord’s Prayer provides the Big Idea like, “Our Father in heaven,” but I went to other scripture passages to explain what the Bible says about God as Father.
- Expository: An expository message is about one passage of scripture, usually an entire paragraph of scripture. The paragraph that is chosen provides most, if not all, the biblical content for the sermon–the Big Idea, the main points, the sub-points, and so on are all drawn from the same paragraph and are explained in the message. Preachers often quote or reference other scripture passages in an expository sermon, but those quotes/references are used to clarify, explain, illustrate, or apply the truth in the main paragraph of scripture.
Most of my preaching is expository. Even in a series or message that is topical, I will usually spend extended time in the message in one passage of scripture. I wrote above that in my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical. That is true; however, my message on God’s eternality is mostly an exposition of Psalm 90. And the series I’ve done preaching through Genesis, Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and many other books are all examples of expository messages. They go paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse, explaining and applying God’s word until every passage in that book has been explained and applied.
What does any of this have to do with Nehemiah 8? Consider:
At the end of Nehemiah 7, which we read yesterday, verse 73 told us that “When the seventh month came….” but the end of that sentence is here in Nehemiah 8 which we read today. What happened in “the seventh month” (7:73) is that “all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”
Why did they do this? Because they were celebrating the Feast of Trumpets which is commanded in Leviticus 23:23-25 to happen “on the first day of the seventh month” (Lev 23:24b). Leviticus 23 doesn’t say much about this feast. All it commands is “trumpet blasts” (Lev 23:24c), “a day of sabbath rest” (Lev 23:24b) and “a food offering to the LORD” (Lev 23:25).
As the people observed this festival, they wanted to hear God’s word. So they asked Ezra to read the scripture to them. Verse 3 here in Nehemiah 7 told us that “he read it aloud.” But verses 7-8 told us that he and other Levites did two more things in addition to reading God’s word aloud:
- They translated the Hebrew text into Aramaic which was the common spoken language of God’s people at that time. The phrase, “making it clear” in verse 8b refers to that translation.
- They explained the passages they were reading. The phrase, “giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” in verse 8c refers that explanation.
What they were doing was, in basic form, expository preaching. They read the text and then explained it.
This is what I try to do in every message I preach: read God’s word, then explain it. I also try to apply it and that happened, too, in verses 13-18.
Why do I preach this way? Because it feeds God’s people. When a true believer hears God’s word read, explained, and apply, they are nourished in their faith and in the truth of God’s word.
Topical and textual messages have their place; when they are done properly, they teach God’s word, too. But the paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse teaching of God’s word is what God’s people need to grow. They needed it here in Nehemiah after they returned to Jerusalem from exile.
You and I need it, too. So come to our Sunday assemblies hungry for truth and ready to be taught God’s word. It’s the best thing for you and your faith.