by Pastor Lawrence Bowlin
This is clearly a time of revival in the history of Israel. After rebuilding the temple and the walls of the city, the people are now in a good and safe place to devote themselves more fully to the Lord. Having lived in exile for so many years, they had been deprived of the blessings of the ordinary means of grace in the context of the Church, but now many are overwhelmed with a mixture of sorrow and joy.
As all true revivals begin, so this one begins with the Word of God. All of Israel was gathered together at the water gate and a tall wooden platform was built for Ezra to stand on in order to read God’s Word from the break of day till noon. Clearly, the Holy Spirit was at work in their midst for everyone listened attentively for about six hours straight. And whenever Ezra broke out in praise to God in the midst of the reading, the crowd likewise responded with a hearty Amen. I’m not sure how they managed to do it, but in addition to the reading of God’s Word a number of Levites also explained it, giving its meaning so that all could understand it.
And when God’s Word was made plain to them, they were convicted of their sins and wept profusely, but some seemed to find little comfort afterward and were rebuked for it. It’s not that their emotions were unacceptable for sorrow is a proper response in repentance, but repentance needs to be joined by faith in the sufficiency of God’s atonement. All the OT sacrifices that they performed that day pointed to the perfect Lamb of God who would satisfy the wrath of God and bear the curse of the Law. Anyone who has the gift of repentance will also have the gift of faith in the Christ who has won salvation for sinners. Therefore, anyone who is fully convicted of sin will not only experience genuine sorrow but also true joy in the Lord who has borne our sorrows and has shared with us his joy, the joy of salvation as well as the joy of righteousness.
That is why we celebrate communion on Sundays and why we sing songs of joy in the congregation of the saints. If we only read the law of God and stated what our sins deserve, we would never be able to lift our heads. But because there is real hope in the gospel, we can both weep and worship at the feet of Jesus. Likewise, because we now have this hope, we have something to share with our fellow believers who also know Christ, whether that is spiritual food and/or physical food, for the gospel teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We also have a newfound commitment to our own families to teach them the wonder of the gospel and the wisdom of the law. And we see that evidenced here by the heads of the household gathering around Ezra to learn more about the law of God so that they can then share what they have learned with their families. This too is a good sign that revival has taken place when there is a renewed interest of religion in the home. And when they did so, they learned about the Feast of Booths that was commanded from of old and recommitted themselves to the old ways to do the things that they did at first. Clearly, they were evidencing by their actions that they had returned to their first love and wanted to love him even more. Clearly, the joy of the Lord had become their strength.