Nehemiah 8:1-3, 9-10
1 “all the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given for Israel to obey. 2 So on October 8[a] Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand. 3 He faced the square just inside the Water Gate from early morning until noon and read aloud to everyone who could understand. All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law. 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 And Nehemiah[b] continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”
The word Watergate holds a prominent place in both biblical history as well as American politics, yet they couldn’t be more contrasting, one involved a cover up the other confession. The first Watergate is found in the bible, in book of Nehemiah, a place of repentance and honesty. God’s people had returned from 70 years of foreign captivity in Babylon. They had been separated from the Law of God and what they knew of their Faith came from the memories of others. So after having rebuilt the Temple and the wall around Jerusalem, that had been destroyed, Ezra the priest preached the Word of God to them. Their response was one of remorse, they were grieved, convicted by their careless lives. Great waves of guilt began to roll over them and they began to weep before God. They realized that they and their father’s had strayed and sinned bringing about the consequences of captivity. They had neglected the Word of God, yet when they heard the truth, with tears they turned from their ways and back to the Word. In our spiritual lives, sorrow over sin can result in repentance. Paul speaks of its benefit in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation.” When we realize how we have fallen short of the holy standard of God, spurning His Will and rebelling against His righteousness, the result should be more than remorse within our hearts it should lead to repentance. Sin leads to shame, and sorrow and such sorrow is good only if it brings us to repentance. This is not just feeling sorry for our consequences this is confession. When we humble ourselves before His holiness and seek His face of forgiveness. To their response of repentance Nehemiah responded with these words: ”Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” It is out of the sorrow that they saw the strength, not theirs but His. Nehemiah shared one of the greatest truths, we don’t have to be stuck in sin, forgiveness frees. The sorrow of repentance is replaced by strength because forgiveness does not focus on the failure it focuses on the Father. This was a sacred day, one that was to be filled with joy, because repentance leads to rejoicing. Today we so often confuse sacred with silence, we see it as solemn, and somber, but in contrast Nehemiah’s called for serious celebration. Some of the most sacred moments in my life have been the ones most filled with joy, my wedding, the birth of my children, Christmas and Easter. The joy of the Lord is our strength, it is our reservoir of rejoicing because:
- Joy is the result of knowing who you are and whose you are.
What did the people hear from the Word of the Law? The words: “For I, the Lord, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.” Leviticus 11:45. They heard how God had chosen them, loved them, rescuing and redeeming them from slavery. They heard about His provision of the Promised Land, and their purpose as His people. They heard that they were a product of His creation not a byproduct of chance. That they had been redeemed to be responsible, and that they were accountable for their actions. They knew they were wanted and loved; they had a sense of being and belonging. Their lives took on meaning and direction as they understood that they had been created with purpose, to lead lives that pleased God. That they were not to live however they wanted but according to His Word. But how many have missed this message today? Is it any wonder that we are surrounded by self-esteem struggles and suicide, when we teach our children that they are the result of chance, a coincidence of the cosmos, not Christ’s creation. Today our children are bombarded with the message that they are the result of the random, an accident instead of the work and wonder of the Almighty. No wonder we have trouble teaching morals when we teach that we are merely animals evolved over millions of years. No wonder we are moving toward moral decay when we have bought into the belief that it’s all just a result of biology, the result of fate not the Father. We have reduced life to a primordial soup, in which primitive life forms once swam, only to crawl out and evolved into us. Then we expect people to place value on themselves and have a sense of purpose! No this is not a message that beings meaning, it’s a mess. We have opened the door to despair and depression, creating a culture of spiritual drifters who stumble about aimlessly, whose only purpose is the pursuit of pleasure. What if we stopped listening to the world and replaced it with the Word. When we replace the trash with the truth we hear the message that we were created in the image of the Almighty not some accident. We were created with a point and a purpose, we have meaning and value. When we listen to the lies we are lost, but when we listen to the Lord we live in love. It is here in Jesus that we find joy, in the one who replaces sorrow with strength. There is no joy in the junk of evolution, where only random chance can lead to change. But the message of the Word involves coming to the cross and cleansing change. So who are you, are you are a child of God? Whose are you, do you belong to God? Ephesians 1:3-6 says: 3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.” God knew you and loved you before the world ever began, and when does life begin? According to the Bible your life began in the heart of God before the world was ever created. He loved you into existence and will pursue you until you responded to His peace, so that when you die your life will continue with Him into an eternity that he has prepared for you. What greater sense of self-esteem, what better sense of identity could we have? What greater joy is there than understanding that your life is connected to Christ? Would you make today a sacred day, a sacrifice of praise to our God, a day to shout out that the joy of the Lord is your strength?