In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. – John 7:37-38
Text: Nehemiah 8:1-10
Props: a Bible and birthday party horns
Summary: Nehemiah led the people to obey God’s commandments. We get an inner joy and strength from understanding and following God’s word.
We like to celebrate when a new year begins. It gives us a moment to remember what happened during the past year and to look forward to the future. Today I want to tell you a story about a man of God who helped people find joy from hearing and understanding God’s word.
About 445 years before Jesus was born, a man named Nehemiah led the Hebrew people as they returned to Jerusalem. They were slaves in a far away country called Babylon. Even though they had come home to Jerusalem, they had to start all over again. Buildings were destroyed from the war. They had to build the house of worship, called the Temple. Then they had to build the walls of the city for protection from their enemies. The people were sad and troubled. They wanted to remember the good times from the past. They wanted to be given hope about their future as God’s people. They were thirsty for a word from God.
(Read Nehemiah 8:1-3.)
On the first day of the new year, the people gathered in a public square on the south side of the temple near the Water Gate. This was a place where the whole family could meet. It was not only for men, but also for women and children. The Water Gate was given that name because an underground stream ran nearby that was used to provide water for the temple. The Water Gate led into the temple area where a ritual bath was taken by the priests to make them clean to do their duties in the temple. This area required the use of “living water” or running water, not just water in a pot. Because it was the first day of a new year (Rosh haShanah), the priests blew the ram’s horn, called a shophar (pronounced SHOW-far) to celebrate.
They asked Ezra, the scribe, to read to them from God’s laws written in the books of Moses (Torah). Those are the first five books in our Bible. (Show the Bible.) They did this from sunrise to noon! (And you think our services are too long? ) Since many of the people did not understand their original language of Hebrew, the priests explained it in the language they knew and helped them understand what it meant. When the people realized they had not been following God’s laws, they were sad and cried. But Nehemiah told them not to cry, because God wanted them to be happy on this day. “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (verse 10) God would give them the strength and courage to live, even though they were facing tough times. Then the people dedicated themselves to serve God once again and a great renewal (revival) happened.
A few days later they began to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. Now let me take you forward in time. About 475 years later at this feast, the priests were bringing jars of water in to the ritual bath area through the Water Gate. The Lord Jesus stood up and called loudly to the people, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” He promised to give the Holy Spirit to those who believed on him. That would be like a living water cleaning them on the inside! (see John 7:37-38.)
We learn from this lesson that it is not only important to listen to God’s word from the Bible, but also to understand it by listening to our Sunday school teachers as they explain the meaning to us. God’s word is for ALL people. God will give us an inner happiness, “the joy of the Lord,” as we grow spiritually from learning how God would have us live.
Let us pray: Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for the joy you give us when we hear your words from the Bible. Amen.
(Pass out little horns for the children to toot.) Let’s show everyone how happy we are right now: let’s all toot our horns to thank God for a new year!
©2004 by Jim Kerlin. All rights reserved.