Sound of Grace Ministries started in 1966 under the name Sword &Trowel. The primary goal was teaching the Doctrines of Grace (Five Points of Calvinism) in language that the “man in the pew” could understand. Our video DVDs and audio CDs on the Doctrines of Grace Teaching Series and the God of the Bible Series have been distributed worldwide. Many churches use them as indoctrination tools and many individual believers have used them for Bible studies. The one constant comment we get about our ministry is this: “You speak in a manner that makes theology easy to understand.”
Organizations are supposed to have a “Mission Statement” that clearly spells out their reason to exist. This statement defines the contribution the organization hopes to make. I read again this morning the book of Nehemiah and as I read chapter 8, I thought, “What a great mission statement this would make for Sound of Grace.” The goal of Sound of Grace is to see Nehemiah chapter 8 duplicated in our day. Look with me again at that wonderful passage of scripture.
All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
The Levites-Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah — instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.”
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. Nehemiah 8:1-13 NIV
Zerubbable led a group of people out of captivity to return to Jerusalem. The city was in ruins. The temple, walls and gates were destroyed. Eighty years later Ezra returned with another group of people and laid the foundation for the temple. Fourteen years later Nehemiah led a group back to Jerusalem and under his leadership the walls and gates were restored. Nehemiah Chapter 8 records the revival that took place when the Word of God was preached and understood at the dedication service.
First, we should notice what Nehemiah did and what he did not do. Nehemiah was not a priest, a prophet, or a scribe. He was what is called a “layman” (I hate that word). He was a gifted organizer and administrator but he was not a preacher or teacher. Nehemiah took charge of re-building the walls but when the restoration was finished and it came time to open the Scriptures and dedicate the work that had been done, Nehemiah called for Ezra the Scribe. Blessed is the congregation where both godly business men and women, as well as pastors and teachers, know their respective roles. Great preachers may be poor organizers and some laypeople may be great organizers and administrators. Some of the greatest Bible expositors I have known were some of the poorest administrators and some of the most gifted administrators were theologically illiterate. Being a successful businessman does not in itself qualify you to be a church leader any more than being a Bible scholar makes you a capable church leader. We need people with both Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s talents and they must both submit to each other in their respective functions. Let the Nehemiahs effectively take care of the secular aspects of the ministry of the Church but let them yield to the pastors and teachers when it comes times to “hear the Word of God expounded.” Let the Ezra’s expound the Scriptures but don’t allow them to tell Nehemiah how to build a wall or a gate.
Second: The Ezra’s must teach the Word of God in such a way that people understand. Verse 8 is clear as to the goal of biblical preaching. The goal must not be to impress each other in either their knowledge or their ability. True preachers must aim at making sure the people understand what God’s Word means. The congregation must not leave a church service saying, “My, what a great sermon,” they must leave saying, “My, what a great gospel!” They must not leave saying, “Isn’t he a great preacher?” They must leave saying, “Don’t we have a great Savior!’
… the Levites, caused the people to understand the law:… So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading (Nehemiah 8:7, 8).
John Wesley is said to have written out his sermons before preaching them and giving them to a scrubwoman to read. If there were words or thoughts in the sermon that she did not understand, Wesley would re-work it until she could understand it. Some folks criticized him for “cheapening the King’s English.” Wesley responded, “My concern is not with the King’s English but with being sure that people understand the truth.” I believe some preachers stay up all night trying to figure out how to talk for 30 minutes without actually saying anything.
It amazes me how godly men and women will put up with mish-mash sermons. They will complain they are not being fed spiritually but continue to support, with their presence and finances, a spiritually dead church. I remember when I was in full time evangelism I was often told by a visitor, “We don’t hear preaching like this in our home church.” I would reply, “Then why don’t you attend this church? Here they hear this kind of preaching every Sunday. If you ate at a restaurant and never got a decent meal, would you keep going back, paying good money for poor food, or would you look for a different place to eat”? The goal of Sound of Grace is not just to preach the scriptures, but to preach them in such a way that the people who hear us will understand the truth.
Third: Notice two things that happened when the people understood the Word of God being preached. One, all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law (v.9). Two, And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them (v.12).
The people first wept and then they experienced great joy and both the weeping and the joy were produced by their understanding of the Scriptures. Their weeping was turned to joy. They first wept in conviction of sin because they saw how much they had neglected and disobeyed the Word of God. One thing they immediately corrected was the observing of the feast of Tabernacles (see vss. 14-17). A correct understanding of Scripture will always produce conviction of sin. However, the same Scriptures will lead us to justification and forgiveness of sin and the weeping will be turned into the joy of salvation. Some people want to avoid the pain of conviction of sin and experience only joy. This is not possible. Others wallow in pious legalism and never come to the real joy of forgiveness. True biblical conversion will experience both conviction and joy and in that order. John Newton had it right in his famous hymn, Amazing Grace.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
Don’t ever mock conviction of sin or the kind of preaching that produces it. It is God’s grace that convicts us of our need. As Newton said, it was grace that convicted us and made us fear. However, do not stop with fear. The same grace that taught us to fear will also “relieve that fear.”
Beware of any theology or experience that is afraid of “examining yourself to see if you be in the faith” (II Cor. 13:5). Avoid the curse of “easy believism” at all cost. However, don’t confuse “easy believism” with “only believism.” Scripture condemns easy believism but clearly teaches only believe as the heart of justification. If you have never experienced “the biblical fear of the Lord,” you probably are not a Christian. If you have never known a joyous assurance of salvation, you have either never been truly converted or you have never been taught the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. I cannot emphasize too strongly that the “joy of the Lord” is not only the birthright of every child of God; but it is also the source of the Christian’s strength.
Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our LORD: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength (v. 10).
The goal of Sound of Grace is to help God’s sheep to walk in the fear of the Lord and know the experience of biblical joy. Preaching the law and putting the conscience under the threat of the law cannot accomplish this goal. That kind of preaching will indeed produce a morbid unbiblical fear of God but will never produce the kind of joy expressed in Nehemiah. The conscience must be set free from the law thereby enabling us to swim in the ocean of God’s unchanging redemptive love in Jesus Christ. Again, we must caution that setting the conscience free from the law is not enough. I remember speaking at a conference and several people said to me, “John, we will ever be grateful to you for setting us free from the law.” I replied, “If that is all I did, then I failed most miserably. My goal has always been to set you free from the law only that you might be married to Christ (Romans 7:-4). My goal is making poor sinners to be bond slaves of a risen Christ.”
If you believe Nehemiah 8 expresses a good Mission Statement, and you also believe the ministry of Sound of Grace has helped fulfill that mission in your life, we ask for your help. We urge you to pray for us and encourage others to get acquainted with our ministry. We also need financial help. The regular giving of those who share our goals is what makes it possible to publish the Sound of Grace paper and New Covenant Media books. 2011 was the third consecutive year in which the expenditures were greater than the income.
One last word from Nehemiah 8. Look again at verse 10.
Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared:
Nehemiah instructed the people to eat the fat, and drink the sweet, but he did no stop there. They were also to share the good things with those who had nothing, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared. How many of your Christian friends have never read a copy of Sound of Grace, or listened to a CD by John Reisinger, or read one of his books. Why not send a “portion to them that have not?” We would greatly appreciate any help you can give us to keep sending out “the fat and the sweet.” We don’t know of any “fat and sweets” that bring the joy of the Lord to hungry sheep like the Gospel of sovereign grace, the Doctrines of Grace and New Covenant Theology.
- John G. Reisinger