“People Of Joy” Nehemiah 8:9-10 1/20/02
SI: Chapter 8 marks a major shift in the book of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah did not come all the way from Persia to Jerusalem just to build a wall.
He came to restore the spiritual lives of the people.
But not just as individuals, he came to restore them as a body of believers.
He came to restore or revive the church.
The wall simply paved the way for this great spiritual work,.
Nehemiah knew there had to be some physical safety and order and freedom
in order to have a spiritual revival. That’s why he built the wall. Means to end.
Revival begins with an assembly of all the Jews, at which the Law of God is read
and preached by Ezra and the Levites.
Going to re-read just two verses.
The response of the people to the reading of the Law of God
and Nehemiah’s instruction to them.
Verses 9 and 10
INTRO: My favorite candy bar is the Almond Joy.
For the sake of those of you who have never eaten one, let me describe it.
Comes in two oblong pieces, each of the two pieces has two almonds,
on a base of coconut, the whole thing is covered with dark chocolate.
Almond Joys are eaten in four bites.
Take the first piece, bite in the middle, eat the first almond, polish off the rest,
do the same with the second piece, eat almonds number three and four.
Then it is gone. And all you have left is a blue wrapper.
There are certainly many joys in life that last longer than four bites.
There is the joy of friendship. A good friend can give joy for years.
The joy of marriage, the joy of children
There is the joy of work. Especially if in a vocation in which skills used.
There is the joy of accumulating wealth and things, joy of success
There is the joy of hobbies and interests. Could go on and on.
There are also those destructive, enslaving joys that many people seek.
Joy of drunkenness, joy of drug addiction, joy of sexual promiscuity,
joy of extra-marital affairs
Might object to me calling these joys—pursued in order to find happiness.
All of these joys—both the good, God-given ones like friendship and work,
and the destructive, enslaving ones are alike in this sense:
one day they will be gone and you will be left with nothing but a wrapper.
And if they are your only joy, when they are gone you will be joyless.
And without joy you will be weak.
I was once in the home of a man who had lost his son in a sudden death—
his only son, his pride and joy.
All that was left were the photographs and the memories.
No more would he be able to talk to his son, wrestle with him.
But as people came to visit over the days following, I watched him lift them up,
with an incredible display of strength.
Like typical Americans, many nervous around death, unsure of what to say.
Some became very emotional.
He thanked them for coming, he spoke openly about his son, his loss,
and about the goodness of Jesus Christ.
I know this man well, he is my uncle. I’ve watched him and my aunt over years.
This is not an act. They are strong because they have a joy deeper
than the joy they had in their son. They have the joy of the Lord.
Many of you know Christians like that.
Christians are to be people of joy. Not just any joy. The joy of the Lord.
And it is this joy in Him that gives you strength.
This is true of you as an individual believer and true of us as a church body.
If we are filled with the joy of the Lord, then we will be a strong church.
Nehemiah knew this, reason he told the Jews to stop grieving,
to celebrate the feast. He wanted to rebuild the church. Knew joy essential.
Was Nehemiah implying that grief over sin or the effects of sin is wrong?
Of course not.
As we will see, grief and joy are strangely mingled in Christian experience.
But he knew that grief alone, even grief prompted by the Word of God,
would never give the people strength to become the community
God wanted them to be. Grief alone always weakens a person.
It is joy that gives strength. And not any joy. Nehemiah careful to make clear.
It is only the joy of the Lord that gives lasting strength, only lasting joy.
Because the Lord Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
His joy will never become an empty wrapper, lasts through this life and the next.
You must have the joy of the Lord or you will have no strength for Christian life.
We must have it as a church body to be strong to do God’s will together.
Examine these verses and this subject,
answer three questions:
1. What is the joy of the Lord?
2. How do you get it?
3. Why is it your strength?
MP#1 What is the joy of the Lord?
It is the deep gladness and lively pleasure that comes from faith in
Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
1. Joy comes from believing the Gospel. The Gospel means Good News.
The good news is that God has provided salvation for His people through Christ.
Through Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven and you are accepted by God.
You are adopted into God’s family, He delights in you as His sons/daughters.
Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.
Gospel like a diamond with many facets. But at its heart is this good news—
by faith in Christ you are declared righteous, you have peace with God.
You are free from fear, free from guilt. Free to commune with God.
Place you see the Gospel most vividly in this passage is in the feast
Nehemiah commands the people to celebrate this feast.
The OT church had three big feast cycles.
This one the fall feast, began with Feast of Trumpets, ended with Feast of Booths.
Other two feast cycles were Passover/Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks/Pent
Each of these feasts had a different nuance, facet of Gospel, work of Messiah
But what characterized them all was feasting.
After the sacrifices and the public worship, people would feast.
Feasting was a powerful image in the minds of the people of the ancient middle east
If you ate with a person, especially if you feasted with him,
he could not be your enemy, he was your friend, loved and accepted Him.
So after every great sacrifice, the Lord would say to the people of Israel,
through the symbolism of feasting. I love you, I accept you, let’s eat.
The joy that the feasts brought the people of Israel was not just because
they were with friends and had lots to eat and time off work,
they were joyful because they knew that they were accepted by God
For the Christian, all of life is a perpetual feast because he is accepted by God
through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Joy of the Lord does not rest on your circumstances
Joyful if you have lots to eat or very little, because you know, accepted by God.
Paul, letter to the Philippians, in prison, people turned against him—rejoicing.
Have complete acceptance with God now. Circumstances mean nothing.
Know you will feast with Him forever in the new heavens and new earth.
2. Joy comes from knowing Jesus Christ.
Where do you see Jesus Christ in this story.
Every verse of OT points to Him in some way. OT Promise, NT fulfillment.
See Christ prefigured in person of Nehemiah—calls to feasting, joy.
See Christ prefigured in person of Ezra—teaches people word of God.
See Him in the feast itself—symbolized in all of the rituals of OT worship
But there is another place we see Christ that you might overlook. Weeping people.
People heard the Word of God and they began to weep.
Wept over the effects of sin in their lives and in the world around them.
Was Jesus a joyful person in his time on earth?
Yes. Filled with the Holy Spirit. Joy a fruit of the Spirit.
And yet the Bible says He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
Remember the time Jesus healed the mute man. Looked to heaven and groaned.
Groaned when he witnessed the effects of sin in the body and spirit of people.
The funeral of Lazarus, Jesus wept at the sight of death, the curse of sin.
Wept over Jerusalem, hardness of hearts of the Jews.
Jesus was sinless in every way, but he wept over sin and its effects.
If you know Jesus, His character will grow in you and you too will grieve
over sin and the brokenness of the world.
when you see lost people trying to find joy in hilarity, parties, materialism,
you will see empty souls and the fires of hell.
Is this grief incompatible with joy?
No. Both co-exist and blend in the Christian experience in this life.
Apostle Paul, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
Listen to the way an old Scottish preacher put it (a little more wordy):
faith, may co-exist and blend into one another, so as that the gladness is sobered, and
chastened, and made manly and noble; and that the sorrow is like some thundercloud, all
streaked with bars of sunshine that pierce into its deepest depths.”
Joy of the Lord is realistic. Looks squarely at the brokenness of life and grieves.
Still joyful. Much of the joy the world seeks involves living in a fantasy world.
Tries to ignore world is broken by sin, we are broken, only hope is Christ.
World has its parties and its hilarity and its materialism because out of touch.
Christian—we grieve, but pierced with sunshine. Grief temporary, joy eternal.
MP#2 How do you get it?
Here we come to something quite profound.
Nehemiah commands the people to celebrate, to go and enjoy food/drink.
In effect, commands them to be joyful in the Lord.
This is not reading too much into this passage because many other places in Bible
in which believers are given the very same command.
Most dramatic in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
3:1 “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.”
4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.”
So the short answer to How do you get the joy of the Lord? is:
You rejoice in the Lord.
In other words, the joy of the Lord does not come upon you as you wait for it.
It is something that you must do and as a Christian you are capable of doing it.
The immediate objection to this is that my emotions of joy or sorrow are not
under my own control. I can’t help being glad or sad as circumstances dictate.
Yet—here is a commandment “rejoice in the Lord” that is stated no differently from
other commands in Scripture. Implies that this rejoicing is within your power.
In fact, all of the commands that God gives His people touch on deep emotions
and assume that, as a believer, you are capable of obeying.
God never says, when you feel stirred up, obey Me. Obey me now.
For example, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.”
If a husband says, “But I don’t love her. I fell out of love with her 5 years ago.”
“I have no feelings for her. I’m emotionally dead toward her.”
The Lord doesn’t say, “OK, I didn’t realize that you had fallen out of love,
you can disregard my command because that command is only for husbands
who are in love with their wives, not for those who have fallen out of love.”
He says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.”
The key to obeying all of God’s commands, even ones that touch on inner feelings,
like “Rejoice in the Lord” is to decide,
am I going to stand in the sunshine or the shadows?
In other words, are you going to fix your attention on, meditate on the truths
that are going to make you joyful and strong,
Or, are you going to fix your attention on and meditate on the half-truths
that will make you sorrowful and weak?
If you meditate and mull over yourself all the time,
your sad circumstances, the wrongs done to you, your failures, your faults,
even if those things are true, you are going to be weak and sorrowful.
If you meditate on Jesus Christ and His great love for you.
And how, through Him, you are fully accepted by God the Father.
Even though your sin and rebellion was so heinous, Jesus Christ had to die,
God has accepted you as righteous in His sight.
Looks at you and sees the perfection of Jesus Christ.
That He has adopted you as His son, has a place for you.
Find some verses of Scripture that encourage.
If you think on these great things. Ponder them. They will color your spiritual life.
They will even fill your emotions with the sunshine of God’s joy.
When I was a boy remember enjoyed picking some daffodils in the spring
and putting food coloring in their water.
The food coloring would be drawn into the petals. Yellow and blue, green.
Red and yellow, orange. Not right away. Next day, a little speck, then more.
Same way with you. As you rejoice in the Lord, on Christ’s love, all He has done,
you will be filled with that deep joy and lively pleasure in Him.
For those of you here who do not have the joy of the Lord and who are feeling weak, want you to consider three things.
1. Don’t forget that your temperament colors your spiritual experience.
When you become a Christian, your personality does not change.
Christians aren’t all alike—some are cheerful, some gloomy, introverts, extra
Experience of the joy of the Lord is different.
If you tend to be skeptical, melancholy, hard to stir up into any emotions,
your experience of the joy of the Lord different from Christian who
is naturally extroverted and cheerful.
But remember, Christ claims your personality and He is sanctifying it.
Gives you the power to bring even your temperament into subjection to Him.
Never an excuse to say, I’m just a gloomy person, can’t rejoice in the Lord.
Still commanded to rejoice in the Lord.
Recognize your tendencies, call all the more on the power Christ has given.
2. Don’t forget that the depth of your joy will depend on the strength of your faith.
If your faith is weak, you will have little joy
because joy of the Lord rests on the appropriation and meditation on
the truth of the Gospel. If you don’t have strong faith in Gospel, little joy.
Always going to be doubting and questioning God, not taking at his word.
Christian friends come to you and say, look what Bible says, don’t grieve, rejoice.
You say yes, but you doubt. Faith weak. Never appropriated. Little joy.
Story told many years ago a man was traveling by foot up in the far north.
It was winter, darkness fell he came to a large frozen lake.
Knew it would take him miles out of the way to go around, but afraid to cross.
Didn’t know if the ice was thick enough. Started out on the lake, more fearful.
Knew that ice the thinnest in the middle, got on hands and knees, then on stomach
Finally, out in the middle, paralyzed in fear.
Heard a noise, bells, shouts—looked up, in moonlight, sleigh two horses,
two couples singing, laughing, whizzed past him and into the darkness.
Picture of a Christian with little faith in the Gospel. Strong enough to hold you up.
God’s Word can support, but lack of faith and fear, paralyzes, little joy.
Strengthen your faith. Claim the promises. Live by them. Test them.
3. Don’t forget that deliberate rebellion will make it impossible for you to rejoice in the Lord.
If the Word of God and the Holy Spirit prompts you to confess and repent of a sin,
to follow Him into a path of obedience and you say, No.
Decide to continue in your rebellion—you will never have joy.
Hate to tell you this—you are going to be absolutely miserable.
A deliberately rebellious Christian much more miserable and weak
than an unconverted pagan who is living in sinful ignorance.
Because you are sinning against love.
And you are fighting the very nature that the Holy Spirit has implanted.
First step to joy will be to repent of living in sin. Come back into fellowship.
Do you rejoice in the Lord?
By faith, claim the promises of the Gospel and live by them, find joy in them?
Delight in knowing Jesus Christ?
We have already anticipated this answer in the earlier points. Brief.
A person’s strength does not come from his body but from his heart and soul.
How many times in history have vastly superior armies been routed
by smaller ones because they lost heart, lost morale?
Perhaps you have known people, strong bodies, strong financially,
strong reputation, strong in many outward ways,
but so weighed down by sadness, have become weak.
Same principle is at work in the Christian life.
If your heart is full of joy and your soul is at rest in Christ,
then work will be easy, sorrow will be bearable,
trials will not be so hard, temptations will be resisted.
How can any of these things weigh down a heart that is full of joy?
Brothers and sisters, the joy of the Lord is your strength, nothing else is.
A painful sense of your sinfulness and failure will not make you strong.
Determining to be a better person will not make you strong.
Certainly you should be grieved over sin, should determine to be better,
but neither one will make you strong, both will reveal your weakness.
Your strength comes from rejoicing in the Lord.
And you cannot rejoice unless your faith and hope is fixed on Christ,
and unless you believe, that in Him you are accepted by God.
Our church will be strong—not because of attendance, giving, programs, preaching
strong to the extent that we, as a body rejoice in the Lord.
If we are a church that is committed to the Gospel and is in love with Jesus Christ,
we will be strong.
Certainly we must weep over sin and determine to obey the commands of Christ,
but these things will simply expose our weakness.
Our strength comes from rejoicing in Him.