To mess with Dickens’ well-known line . . . It can be the best of words, it can be the worst of words. The word? Nevertheless.
It’s been over three weeks since they gathered to hear Ezra read from the Book of the Law of Moses (Neh. 8:2, 9:1). But it wasn’t a one and done thing. Twenty-four days ago they had come together to be taught the Law (8:8). The next day, the heads of their households gathered to study the Law (8:13). Then they obeyed the Law and observed the feast of booths for the first time since the days of Joshua (8:14, 17). And during those days, “day by day, from the first day to the last day” they continued to listen as Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God (8:18). And, because they dove into the Book, the Book did a work in them.
Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God.
(Nehemiah 9:1-3 ESV)
Okay, put that on your website or on the sign outside your church: “Special Meeting in the Word and Prayer — 6AM to 6PM (No meals provided or permitted).” Whose gonna show? But when the word of God captures the souls of the people of God don’t be surprised if it ignites a hunger for God (pun intended).
And so, they pray. And, they pray together. Led by the Levites, they feed back to heaven what the Book of the Law has revealed to them. From the choosing of Abraham to their deliverance from Egypt, from their rebellion in the desert to the conquest of the land, from their presumptuous, idolatrous sin in the land to their exile to Babylon, they recount it all — the good, the bad, the ugly. And in the midst of their prayer, the best of words, the worst of words.
“Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against You and cast Your law behind their back and killed Your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to You, and they committed great blasphemies.”
“Nevertheless, in Your great mercies You did not make an end of them or forsake them, for You are a gracious and merciful God.”
(Nehemiah 9:26, 31 ESV)
All sin against God is nevertheless sin. Despite God’s common grace, despite God’s plain revelation of Himself through creation (Rom. 1:19-20), despite sending His Son to atone for sin, despite the availability of the communicated word by which He makes Himself known, nevertheless we refuse, we rebel, we resolve to walk in the way that seems right to us. True of those outside of Christ. Far too often true of those of us in Christ who get tripped up by the old nature, the way of the world, and a persistent enemy. Nevertheless. It can be the worst of words.
Yet, praise God, it is the most beautiful of words when it is the nevertheless of a patient, loving, gracious God. When it draws our eyes to a God who is great in mercy and has promised not to forsake His people. When it turns our distracted hearts away from ourselves and towards the cross. When it provides fresh clarity into the gentle and lowly heart of Christ ready to receive, again and again, those He came to redeem, renew, and re-life for His glorious purposes (Matt. 11:28-30).
Nevertheless. Chewing on that one word this morning. Humbling yet exhilarating. Cause for repentance and confession. Cause for rejoicing and worship.
The worst of words the best of words . . .
Because of His abundant grace. Always for His everlasting glory.