When was the last time you were blown away by something? Just utterly speechless? Some would say that that doesn't happen so often for me. Believe it or not, I usually enter into a meeting or some sort of group setting, just praying that I would have the strength to shut up. But what often makes me stand in wonder is just reflecting on the Good News of Jesus Christ. The good news that Christ has died for my sins and rose again. It's bewildering to me that God has chosen me. I have literally done nothing that would cause a holy God to step down from his throne and die a death that was reserved for me. Yet I see over and over again God's faithfulness to not only me but to his people. It does make me speechless.
The other day I was reading through Nehemiah 8 and 9. So often, we take Nehemiah as principles for leadership, but that waters this beautiful account of the life of a man as he sought God during the hardships of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Over and over again, Nehemiah seeks God and encourages the people to seek him. In Chapter 8, we see a priest named Ezra read the Law to the people, and their response was worship and celebration. In Chapter 9, we are given a history lesson of God's response to the people's unfaithfulness. This is the longest recorded prayer in the Bible, and it summarizes how God has remained faithful in the history of the unfaithfulness of God's people. Sound familiar? Take some time to read over chapter 9 ask what is God showing about himself and what is he showing about me? As I was reading it, I was blown away by God's faithfulness to his people, to me. How many times have I sinned against him? Countless. I was made speechless.
The people are here once again praying for mercy from the covenant-keeping God. As the prayer continues on, there is an unfolding of history that shows how God acts graciously and mercifully to his people. Starting with creation to the covenant he made with Abraham, how he delivered his people out of Egypt, to how he provided for his people in the wilderness and how God established a kingdom for them in a rich land. As you walk through this history lesson, you get stopped twice. As God is pouring out his faithfulness on his people as the covenant-keeping God, the people confess twice of their own unfaithfulness. Is that not true for you and me? Look back in your life. Mark all the times that God had faithfully provided for you to do the tasks that he had called you to do. Think of all the times you thought you had no strength to keep going, yet God faithfully provided. Now think of all the times you were unfaithful to him.
God's patience towards his people really shines through in this passage. Despite Israel's history of stubbornness, disobedience, and idolatry, God had shown his patience as "ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." (Vs. 17) Even when they made an image of a golden calf to worship, God "did not forsake them" but guided them with pillars of cloud and fire and gave them manna from heaven. In spite of their repeated rebellion, God "sustained them in the wilderness." (Vs. 21) God brings them into this rich land and establishes them there and they still rebel against him and kill his prophets that God sends to warn them. It was these killing that started this downward spiral that is painted in the book of Judges: God gives his people over to their enemies, the people cry out to God, God would deliver them, and they would return to their unfaithfulness. Even in this cycle, how can you not see God's patience, because even with all of that, he "did not make an end of them or forsake them." (Vs. 31). It was because of that that the Israelites can even find themselves in the time of Nehemiah as a people who God graciously allowed to return to Jerusalem under Persian rule.
In Nehemiah 9, you see this sentence: "abounding in steadfast love." Gods people are repeatedly calling out to a merciful God. God's "covenant and steadfast love" is always the bases by which God's people approach him. Over and over again as you read the Bible you are reminded of the God who is abounding in steadfast love. I was once asked why I needed to talk about the gospel every time I preached. The person wanted more practical sermons to help them get through the week. I didn't know how to answer at the moment. In the context of the conversation, I was seeking to listen more than anything. I think it threw me off because it came from someone who claimed to be a strong Christian who read the Bible regularly. As I reflect on the question, I would have responded with a question of my own: How is the gospel not practical? The most practical thing for the Christian who has been beaten up all week is to be reminded of the abounding love of our God. Numbers 14:18 says that "The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." When do I not need to be reminded of that? Especially in a world of pandemic and isolation? God most impressively showed his great patience to you and to me when he sent his Son to save all who trust him. What else gives strength to get through the week? What else would give me the boldness to walk across the street to share the hope that I have? What else give me humility? What else gives me strength to get out of bed? What else gives me light in the midst of darkness? What else gives me strength to walk through sorrow and suffering? What else would cause me to help others who are as undeserving as I am? The gospel is central to all that we do and are, and for the Christian who truly understands what God has done for them, that doesn't leave them unchanged. It changes them to their core.
Praise God! In 2 Corinthians 1:20, it says, "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory." In Nehemiah 9, the people of God knew that God was full of grace and truth as they reflected on their past. For you and me today, we can reflect on verses like what we see in John 1:14-18, we see grace and truth itself embodied in Jesus Christ. Be blown away by what God has done for you through his Son Jesus Christ. Let that encourage you this morning as you go on your day. Reflect on the Gospel. Reflect on what He has done for you, how he has remained faithful even when you have been unfaithful. He is "abounding in steadfast love." Become speechless.