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 gate that the people gathered near to hear the Word of God was called the water gate, through it they received the water that flowed from the Gibeon spring into the city. It was here at the water gate that God’s parched people heard the Holy word of God, and like water that soothes a sun scorched throat, it soothed their sin stained souls. The joy of the Lord is our strength, it is our reservoir of rejoicing. It is a joy that comes as we understand who we are and whose we are, and as we discover:
- God’s Will through his Word
Here we see a people who wanted to know God’s will. They desired to hear the laws of God, even if it wasn’t comfortable and convenient but brought conviction upon them. They were not interested in having their feelings soothed, they wanted the facts. How unlike our culture were we have replaced His Will with our wants and our way. We forget that Jesus taught His disciples to turn first to the Father for His will, not their wants, Matthew 6:9 ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Yet today we pray Father hear my prayer and help my kingdom come, and my way be done NOW. We forget that in the garden of gethsemane Jesus modeled the message that our wants must conform to His will, Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Today I fear we no longer turn to His word to discover His will, instead we use His word to justify our wants. We come up with how we want things to be and then go to the Bible to try and find proof for our feelings. We take a verse here and pull a passage there, convincing ourselves that our way was right all along. We don’t want the whole truth, just the part that fits our feelings. Instead of obedience to God’s word being our priority we have made it our protest. We are a people living under the dark cloud of our persistent protests, like a pestilence they poison, like a plague of locusts they descend and destroy. We are dying from the disease of disobedience. How different from God’s people in Jerusalem who had just been bound in bondage. The Bible says, “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…. Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God” (Nehemiah 8:13,18). I wonder what it will take for us to want His Will, to care more about His commands than our cares. Will it take captivity for us to come to our senses? Joy is found when we turn to His truth, as we begin to look into God’s Word and discover who God is, who we are, and what His will is for our life. His Word becomes the standard on which we stand so that we agree with the Psalmist who said: “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path…. Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” Psalm 119:105,129-130. Without the Word we wonder in darkness, directionless and desperate. That is why our culture is so confused today. We have substituted His will for our wants relying on our own reasoning to illumination our way. We pride ourselves in being progressive, trusting more in our technology to change the human condition than the truth. We believe that more will somehow relive the mess, but we don’t need more of the same madness we need more of the Master. We need His will and His way. The release of the iPhone 6 has made me realize that we are a culture that craves technology more than truth. We line up for the trinkets and throw away the treasure, settling for the temporary of technology when we could have His eternal truth. Today we rely on our apps instead of the Almighty. No wonder we are a dissatisfied and directionless people. Like the people in Nehemiah’s day we need to come back to the water of His word and wash our wants in His will. Joy comes from finding God’s will and God’s way through His Word. The third way that the joy of the Lord becomes our strength is that:
- Joy is the result of repentance
It was the word that caused them to weep, the reading of the Word brought repentance and revival. Instead of being concerned with getting they were consumed with guilt. It was turning back to the truth that brought tears of true repentance not just regret. It was in the scriptures that they discovered the real source of their strength, the joy of the Lord. But notice that the call to joy came after the people’s repentance, not before. They did not try to stop Ezra from reading the law. They did not try to explain away or sidestep the Scripture. They did not fall into the trap of trying to apply it to others and say ‘oh how I wish so and so could hear this’. No they took it to heart in their own lives, they wanted the law read and they responded with repentance. Today many do not want to hear the Word of God because it conflicts with their choices, causing discomfort to their conscience. The Bible says in Hebrews 4:12-13 that “the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” When we are pretending then the penetration of God’s Word is not welcome, but if we want to please Him then we want to hear even if it hurts. Today we want to pursue the path of least resistance instead of repentance, choosing the path of pleasure over peace. When we are thirsty we often turn to substitutes instead of the water that satisfies. The Word just like water is essential to living; it revives and restores us, bringing relief to our dreary dry lives. We all have a longing that only the Lord can fill, yet we are tempted to turn away and try to satisfy our longings with sin instead of the Savior. But Nehemiah reminds us that joy is found in Jesus that only our Savior can satisfy. Are you substituting the true source of satisfaction and security for sin in some are of your life? In the Savior we find enough, but in sin we always come up empty, only God’s truth can satisfy our thirst. The result of their rebellion was not just the ruin of their lives but their nation. As Ezra read the law the people stood in front of him weeping, their disobedience and darkness had been exposed. They understood their guilt and it grieved them. They stopped making excuses for the mess and turned to the Master. They were not weeping because they got caught or because of the consequences. They were weeping because they had not only broken God’s laws, they had broken His heart. Sin always severs our relationship with the Father but repentance restores. When we confess and come clean the Father Forgives and fellowship is restored. Are you defined by your failure or the Fathers forgiveness? Confession is the start of change, had they tried to deny and not come clean joy would never have come. If they had not been honest and harbored sin they would never have experienced joy in their hearts. If they had not been willing to turn from their sin they would have continued to live in their self-destructive, depressing ways. But with repentance came rejoicing, joy is found not in avoiding your sin, but in admitting it, not in covering but confronting. For when we confront our sin we come face to face with our sinful self and we see our need for the Savior. Their tears were replaced with true joy. The Bible says, “His anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” Psalm 30:5. Joy is the result of God’s love and forgiveness, having our hearts right with Him results in healing. Are you substitute sin for the Savior, are you suffering the consequences of your choice, then confess, return and repent. The stuff that promises to bring joy never does, disobedience never brings delight. Joy comes through obedient love to the Lord. It is a joy that comes as we understand who we are and whose we are. It comes when we discover God’s will for our lives through his Word. It comes when we experience His grace as a result of genuine repentance. Surrender your life to the Savior not the sin, live in His strength and not your striving.