Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703 in East Windsor, Connecticut. He had ten sisters, all of them at least six feet tall! With that information you might think this is going to be a basketball story, but I’m sorry to break the news to you–Jonathan Edwards grew up in a family of preachers, not ballers. His father, grandfather, and several uncles were all pastors.
Jonathan was a brilliant boy. He entered Yale College, what we know as Yale University, in 1716, just before his thirteenth birthday. He was fascinated by the sciences. Young Jonathan saw all that he was learning about the natural world as evidence of God’s amazing design. As he was preparing to graduate, he had so many options in front of him. He could choose any path he desired, but he chose to study theology for two years at Yale Divinity School. Then, when he was eighteen, almost nineteen, he was invited to pastor a small Presbyterian church along the docks in New York City.
Jonathan had always been a writer, a note-taker, someone who kept his thoughts in his diary. He was young and brilliant, but he had never pastored a church before. There were decisions to be made and he was anxious with uncertainty. He decided to write some guidelines for his life, a list that would later be known as his “Resolutions.” He only spent about eight months at the church, but the “Resolutions” he began to write during that eight month period are still with us today.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Jonathan Edwards, this young not yet nineteen year old kid went on to become the President of Princeton University and publish timeless works like Religious Affections and Freedom of the Will, of which the late R.C. Sproul said, “is the most important theological work ever published in America.” He also wrote one of the most read sermons in history, Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God. Jonathan Edwards was one of the sparks God used to ignite a revival that we know today as “The Great Awakening.” Almost three hundred years after Edwards died you can visit the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University.
Church historian Sean Lucas pointed out that there was a time when Jonathan Edwards wasn’t Jonathan Edwards. What was it that gave the young Jonathan Edwards such focus, such a clear path of thought that he would pursue for the rest of his life? Well, it wasn’t his intellect. As brilliant as he was, his IQ wasn’t the key. It wasn’t his connections, his ability to network with others. Jonathan Edwards was naturally shy and antisocial. He much preferred to be in his study than to engage in small talk with a group of people. There’s no doubt that he accomplished what he accomplished by the Sovereign grace of God, but God used those Resolutions as an important tool in Edwards’ life.
The Resolutions were written over the course of about one year, from 1722-1723. They served as a personal mission statement to guide and discipline him in his pursuit of being a man after God’s own heart. George Claghorn, who has written a biography of Edwards, says, “For Edwards, [the Resolutions] were neither pious hopes, romantic dreams, nor legalistic rules. They were instructions for life, maxims to be followed in all respects. Edwards depended on the sustaining strength of his omnipotent Deity to enable him to live up to them.” Jonathan Edwards wrote 70 resolutions by the time he had finished. Before he wrote the very first resolution, he wrote:
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will for Christ’s sake. (Jonathan Edwards)
As you read through the 70 Resolutions you will find themes that he grouped together. Jonathan saw the importance of placing parameters on his interpersonal relationships and interactions, eating and drinking, his spiritual and devotional life, and the need to use his time wisely. Another topic that we could all benefit from giving more thought to is what he wrote about “suffering and affliction.” Edwards wrote,
Resolved, after afflictions to inquire what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them. (Jonathan Edwards)
Years later, during the busiest time of his life, a young teenager named Deborah Hatheway wrote to Jonathan Edwards to ask him for advice on how to live her life for the glory of God. Edwards took the time to write her a nineteen-point letter. It was a set of resolutions for her own life. Near the end of his letter he wrote,
In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds on his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robe of his righteousness. (Edwards, Jonathan. Resolutions: And Advice to Young Converts.)
That is timeless advice my friend. It’s as powerful and relevant today as it was the day Edwards wrote it. You may be thinking, “That’s a great story, but what does it have to do with the Scripture we are studying this morning?” I’m so glad you asked! If you will remember our study from last Sunday, over Nehemiah 9, then you will remember that God’s people in Jerusalem were grieved by their failure to keep the covenant God had made with them. Ezra prayed,
33 In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly. (Nehemiah 9:33 NIV)
It’s one thing to be moved with conviction, to confess our sins, to experience sorrow and grief for our sins, and to ask God to forgive us. It’s another thing to act on what God has brought to our attention. Ezra and the people in Jerusalem took the next step. Take a look at Nehemiah 9:38 with me.
38 “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.” (Nehemiah 9:38 NIV)
Mark it down. Put it in writing. Sign your name on the dotted line. That’s just what they did. As we turn to Nehemiah 10 you will notice that the first 28 verses are filled with names. They are the names of those who agreed to the covenant, the resolutions, the decision made. In verses 2-8 there are twenty-one priestly names, at least fifteen are the names of families and not individuals. In verses 9-13 there are seventeen Levite names. In verses 14-27, there are forty-four “leaders of the people,” the heads of families who signed the document. And then last of all, in verses 28-29, we read,
28 “The rest of the people– priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand– 29 all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord. (Nehemiah 10:28-29 NIV)
What was it that they agreed to? They agreed to “follow the Law of God given through Moses” and to “obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.” Now, there’s a lot in the Law God gave through Moses, so Ezra, Nehemiah, and the leaders outlined three specific areas they would focus on. This is so important for you and me to understand. Like Edwards “Resolutions,” the leaders put careful thought into what they intended on doing, they took the time to write it down, and then they committed to keeping what they had committed to doing.
I met with a young couple this past week who are planning on getting married next month. I’ve given them a notebook filled with lessons about the most important things they’ll need to continue to grow together as husband and wife. I’ve also given them an assignment to write a letter to one another. In the letter they have to write how they feel about one another and even more importantly, their intentions as a husband/wife for the future. They’ve probably never heard of Jonathan Edwards, but I’ve given them an assignment to record their resolutions concerning their marriage. Marriage is a big step, outside of making the decision to follow Jesus, the decision to get married is the biggest decision we’ll ever make in life. Love won’t suffice. Love alone won’t get you to the cake with the big “50” on top of it. It’s going to take hard work, thoughtful decision making, and constant care and attention if you ever want to stand behind the cake one day.
And so it is in our walk with the Lord. Far too many of us say, “I’m a Christian,” but then give no thought to the living out of that decision. We spend more time trying to decide what we’re going to wear in the morning than we do preparing to live out our faith throughout the day. Ezra and the folks in Jerusalem had been radically impacted by hearing the Word of God and they didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors any longer, they didn’t want to go back to living like they had before they fell under such conviction while hearing the Word of God. They knew that if they didn’t want to go back, they needed a plan. I mentioned to you that there are three main areas in their plan. The first decision they made is found in Nehemiah 10:30. Read it with me.
30 “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. (Nehemiah 10:30 NIV)
The first decision they made was to guard their most intimate relationships. There would be no mixed marriages. Now, if I just left it there…many of you would assume things that have no connection to what is taught in God’s Word. There was a time in our country where “mixed marriages” meant that you shouldn’t, or in some places, couldn’t marry someone of another race or ethnicity. I’m certain there are still people who believe that and some who would even say, “Isn’t that what the Bible teaches?” The answer is, “Absolutely not!” The prohibition against “mixed marriages” is about marrying folks outside of the faith.
Where did Ezra and the leaders of the people in Jerusalem come up with this teaching? Remember, they agreed that would follow and obey everything found in the Law given to Moses. So, let’s look at what God gave to Moses so that he could teach it to God’s people. Turn with me to Exodus 34:15-16 and let’s read together.
15 “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same. (Exodus 34:15-16 NIV)
And we’ve got example after example where God’s people went against what they were taught and they were led away to serve foreign gods. In 1 Kings 16:30 we are told,
30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. (1 Kings 16:30 NIV)
More evil than any other king that had gone before him? What could he have possibly done to earn such a title? Well, if you keep reading you will learn that he married a woman named Jezebel who was the daughter of the Sidonian king Ethbaal, and then he began to serve and worship her false god, Baal. Ahab, the Jewish king, set up an altar for Baal in Samaria, he made an Asherah pole, sacrificed his own sons to pagan gods, and allowed Jezebel to kill God’s prophets. There were some bad kings, but Ahab was the worst!
Solomon is another example for us to learn from this morning. The Bible says Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, but he allowed his heart to be turned away from the Lord. We read, in 1 Kings 11:4,
4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. (1 Kings 11:4 NIV)
At the same time, there are examples of those who were not ethnic Jews who were included in the people of God by faith. Moses married Zipporah, a woman from Ethiopia, Rahab was from Jericho, and Ruth was a Moabitess who married Boaz and became the great grandmother of King David.
We are living under different circumstances than Ezra today. We’re not arranging marriages for our kids, they get to choose who they will marry, but we can instill in them how important it is to date and marry someone who loves the Lord more than he or she loves them.
And what about those of you who are married and your spouse is not a follower of Jesus? Should you leave them and marry someone who is a believer? Evidently that was a question that was being asked in Corinth as well. Paul wrote to answer the question for them in 1 Corinthians 7:13 with me.
13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. (1 Corinthians 7:13 NIV)
Paul goes on to say to those in this situation: “How do you know that God won’t save your spouse through you?” And I know of situations where this very thing has happened. What greater joy could a husband or wife experience than to see their mate come to know and love Jesus!
Let’s take a look at the second commitment they made which had to do with the way they would conduct their business going forward. Read along with me from Nehemiah 10:31.
31 “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts. (Nehemiah 10:31 NIV)
Business back in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day was no different than business today. There’s always another dollar to be made and not enough time in the day to make them. Yet, God had given His people clear instructions, through Moses, back in Exodus 20. Turn there and let’s begin reading from Exodus 20:8.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. (Exodus 20:8-10 NIV)
Keeping the Sabbath day “holy” is one of the Ten Commandments. Six days you can work like a dog, but on the Sabbath, which is Saturday and not Sunday by the way, we are to cease from working because that day is to be set aside for the Lord. You and I, as New Testament believers, are no longer under the Law, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t set aside one day a week to rest, renew, and pay added attention to growing in our walk with the Lord.
Remember, the Jews of Jerusalem were surrounded by those who didn’t worship YHWH, they knew nothing about the Sabbath and didn’t care to keep it even if they did know. The temptation to spend the Sabbath day making money was a temptation the Jews had given into for far too long. Let’s be honest, it’s a temptation that is still with us today, but this isn’t our biggest temptation when it comes to business or our work life today. Our biggest temptation is to do business according to the world’s standards instead of using our work life as our ministry.
I have a friend who owns a business and during the lockdown she has been sending her employees emails with Scripture, prayer, and encouragement to trust God. She didn’t tell me that, one of her employees told me. I know employees who see their job as their ministry. They truly care about those they work with, they wouldn’t step on or gossip about one of their co-workers just to get a promotion or attention. Let me tell you, these folks are rare. Keith Miller wrote in his book, A Taste of New Wine,
It has never ceased to amaze me that we Christians have developed a kind of selective vision which allows us to be deeply and sincerely involved in worship and church activities and yet almost totally pagan in the day in, day out guts of our business lives and never realize it. (Miller, Keith, A Taste of New Wine. pg. 79).
Ezra, Nehemiah, and the leaders of the people in Jerusalem resolved that it would no longer be business as usual. Mark it down!
The last area that they set their sights on was the house of God. The document spells out all kinds of things they will do and provide so that the ministry of the house of God, the temple can be and provide what God intended for His people. In the last verse of the chapter, Nehemiah 10:39, we read, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” Once again, every decision they made was rooted in the Law of God given to Moses. In Exodus 30 we learn that the temple tax was a half shekel and it was to be given every time a census was taken in Israel. In Nehemiah 10 we learn that it was to be a third of a shekel and it would be given each year. The money was to be given to support the ministry that took place at the temple.
Most people don’t know too much about the ministry that took place at the temple, but we do know about the ministry that takes place at our local churches. I can’t speak for other churches, but I’ve got a long history of watching how the Lord has used this church family in my own life and in the life of my family. This is the place that God has used to lift me up when I’ve been down. This is the place where others have prayed for me, and with me, when I needed the assurance of God’s presence and care. This is the place where I’ve gathered with others to study God’s Word, worship our risen Savior, and sing of the glories of our King! This is the place that has celebrated with Connie and me when our children were married. This is the place that has wept with my family when we buried my mother and Connie’s brother and father. This is the place that has given my family an opportunity to make a difference through our tithes to provide healthcare through the King’s Klinic, food for the hungry through the BritVil Food Pantry, educational support for at-risk kids through Study Buddies, and to provide opportunities for kids like mission trips, Kids Across America summer camp, and ski trips to Colorado. This is the place that has given me the opportunity to share in so many weddings, celebrate the birth of a new baby with ecstatic young couples, and to weep with my friends at the funerals of their loved ones. After fifty-nine years of living, I have to stop and think, “How would my life be different if God hadn’t led me and my family to Britton Christian Church?!” We will not neglect the house of our God!
Why was it so important for the leaders to resolve to never neglect the house of God? Well, you have to remember, the first group of Jews who left Babylon and made their way back to Jerusalem began to work on setting the altar in place immediately, but by the time we get to Ezra 4, we read,
24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:24 NIV)
They first stopped their rebuilding project because of opposition, but we know that it didn’t take any time for them to become preoccupied with their own lives. At the beginning of Ezra 5 we learn that the prophet Haggai showed up in Jerusalem. God had given him a message to share with the people. We can read the message he delivered in Haggai 1:2-5. Read it with me.
2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house.'” 3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” 5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. (Haggai 1:2-5 NIV)
The people of Jerusalem had lost interest in God’s house because they were so fixated on their own houses. Fast forward to Nehemiah 10 and we learn that Ezra, Nehemiah, and the leaders of the people resolved to never neglect the house of God again. Mark it down!
What a great lesson for you and me. We need to guard our most intimate relationships, we need to do the work God has given us to do in a way that reflects our love for Him, and we need to resolve to never neglect God’s house and the ministry that takes place here. There may be someone here this morning, or someone who is watching me online, that has never made the commitment to trust Jesus as Lord of your life. My friend, before you resolve to do anything else, resolve to trust Jesus. Give Him your heart, your mind, and soul.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 9, 2020