Nehemiah Institute of Rebuilders # 4 The Principle of Joy
Text: Nehemiah 8:1-10
Joke, A new man came to church and sat in the back aisle, during the service he began to quietly say, “Amen” and nobody really noticed though this was not an amening kind of church if you know what I mean. Then in the middle of the sermon the man heard something he like quite a bit and a little bit louder he said, “Amen and praise the Lord” and he lifted his Bible just about shoulder height. This caused some of his more passive church attenders to look at him from the corner of their eye and caught the attention of the head deacon as he continued to “Amen and Praise the Lord.” Then as the pastor was bring the sermon home the visitor really got excited and he raised his Bible in air, pumped it up and down two or three times and shouted out loud, “Glory, hallelujah, Amen!” Now everybody looked around and the head deacon was making his way toward the man. When he got to him he quietly asked, “Sir, are you okay? You’re making a lot of noise back here.” The man whispered, “I’m sorry I just got a little joy of the Lord right then.” The deacon looked at him sternly and said, “Well keep it down, because you sure didn’t get it from here!”
I hope that we can be more like that visitor after today’s sermon that that deacon. We are supposed to get the joy of the Lord every day in our service to the Lord. Paul and Silas sang while they sat in stocks in the bottom of a dungeon, martyrs of the middle ages wept tears of joy as the wood pile was lit around them. James said, “Count it all joy…” What did they know that we don't? I believe it was the principle of Joy.
It has been two months since Nehemiah arrived and began the work of rebuilding the wall. It is now the seventh month of the year, in the fall and the people assemble by the water gate to mark the end of the work. A wooden platform has been built upon with stands a pulpit and enough room for at least 14 people and probably more. Ezra, the high priest and teacher who came back to Jerusalem about 14 years before Nehemiah. He had been encouraging the people to rebuild the temple and to rebuild their relationship with God.
On the day of this ceremony Nehemiah invited Ezra, respected Bible teacher, to read and teach God’s Word to the People of God. Both men realized that if Israel was to survive as a nation and not repeat the sins and mistakes that had driven them into captivity, then they must love and understand God’s written word.
Reaction Nehemiah 8:1-9
And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
Weeping From the Law.
Ezra and the other priest and Levites begin at dawn reading from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible written by Moses, called by the Jews, The Law.
Why would they weep at this point? The wall is finished, a great work had been done against almost impossible opposition and harsh condition. Now they are safe, now they can dwell safely in the city of their fathers, but as the chapter opens they are weeping in mourning.
The reason for their sorrow is what they have just heard. Ezra and 13 Levites stood upon the wooden platform, with the wall to their backs and the rising sun to their front and they began to read and explain the Law of God. We don’t know exactly how they did this but they probably took turns with Ezra starting. Notice Vs. 8
Nehemiah 8:8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
First they read it distinctly, that means plainly and clearly. Secondly, they gave the sense, what the passage meant, its interpretation. Very likely the passage was read in Hebrew and the people after returning from Babylon now spoke Aramaic and many of the words they would not know. Thirdly, the caused them to understand the reading. They explained what the passage meant to the people, who were there assembled that day.
Also notice in verse 3 how long the message was, “from morning until midday.” Now you may think that is about the same time we have for Sunday morning worship but what it actually means is about 6 hours from dawn till noon and it says they stood! Think about that the next time the sermon goes 10 minutes overtime. Just think, “Hey at least the preacher isn’t trying to beat Ezra’s 6 hour message.”
Ezra, along with the other priests and Levites read from the Torah, the also called Pentateuch. We don’t know exactly where and it would have taken more than six hours to read, interpret and apply all five books so they probably read from the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy which both contain the law rather than the history of the time of the Exodus.
The result was the people were heartbroken, by what they had heard. They realized that all that had happened to them, the invasions, the wars, the loss of their families, the temple and the loss of their nation was due to the breaking of God’s Law.
Deut 11:27-28 A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day: And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.
They heard the law of God, understood that they as individual and as a nation had sinned and their hearts were broken.
God’s Law brings us to conviction
What we see happening in the story of Nehemiah chapter 8, is a model of the working of God’s law on all people. As the people of Nehemiah days so is it in our day, God’s law brings us to the realization that we are sinners. It should break our hearts before God and then bring us to repentance before Him.
You can’t be saved by the law, but neither can you be saved without the law. Paul stated this truth like this in,
Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Today the world and our society will tell you that you can’t judge other people. They will tell you that God loves everyone just as they are and it’s hateful to tell someone they are sinning. When they tell me that I tell them, “I’m not judging you. I’m telling you that God has already judged you and me and all people and unless you listen to his Word, you will be condemned in your sin.”
When God said in Exodus 20:1-18
And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, 1 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 2 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, 3 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. 4 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.5 Honour thy father and thy mother: 6 Thou shalt not kill.7 Thou shalt not commit adultery.8 Thou shalt not steal.9 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.10 Thou shalt not covet
When God proclaimed those, and the other laws of the Old Testament, He meant what He said and He has not changed. He is still unchanging in His holiness, righteousness and judgment and his Word is and always will be the only standard of what is sin.
Notice the reaction of the people back in Exodus 20:18.
18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
The law couldn’t draw the people to God it could only convince them of His holiness and their sinfulness, in His presence.
That is what the law was meant by God to do to us. To break our hearts, to humble us before Him and bring us to a point of repentance.
And there is no salvation without repentance, there is no repentance without conviction and there is no conviction without the law.
The Rich Young Ruler comes to Christ. Luke 18:18-23
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
But notice what happened next in Nehemiah 8. Ezra said, "Don't grieve today is a day of rejoice."
Rejoice Nehemiah 8:9
And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.
Nehemiah and Ezra tell the people to stop weeping.
Why? Because once the law has had its way then it is time to stop weeping and it is time to rejoice and the work God has done. For the Jews of Nehemiah’s time it was a rejoicing at the work of the wall and the work of the souls, both had been rebuilt through God’s grace and faith in Him. Now this was a day for marking God's blessings with rejoicing and praise. The needed to be celebrating, not weeping.
The End of the Law marks the Beginning of Joy
We must also understand that joy should follow God’s work in us. We must not hold on to the judgment of the law for it will only continue to bring us heartache. We must let the law work in us but then go on to the joy of God’s forgiveness.
Jeremiah 15:16 Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.
Psalm 119:111 Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.
We are meant to be a people of joy.
Psalm 105:43 And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness:
Psalm 126:5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
Psalm 132:9 Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy.
Jesus intended us for joy. In the upper room discourse, the last words He taught before the crucifixion and His death, in the gloom of that coming pain and sorrow, He said,
John 15:11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
John 16:20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.
Illustration Joy, I have experienced.
The day I was saved, the day my best friend Vernon who I had brought to church walked the aisle, the day I came home from work, still a newlywed, and LeeOra met me at the door of our travel trailer with tears in her eyes and told me she had asked Jesus into her heart, the salvation and baptisms of my children, all these are etched into my mind and heart and landmarked by joy.
Surely it is the same in your life as a child of God. “Heaven came down and Glory filled my soul.”
And what of the future? What joys will we experience at Calvary Baptist church. Oh I want to experience the joy of people walking the aisle, of souls being saved, of people being baptized, pews filled, and missionaries sent.... “Oh Lord, give me joy.”
Transition: I want to celebrate in God's service. I want Joy!
Here is how it will happen, when I quit holding on to the law and instead I start believing in joy.
Reward Nehemiah 8:10
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.
Celebrate and Find Strength in Joy
They were told, to celebrate, to eat the fat and drink the sweet. (Who says Baptists aren’t in the OT? If they aren’t Baptists they sure eat like them.) Then to share with those who don’t have as much. Don’t be sorry for “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Joy was much more than just an emotional response at the end rebuilding of the wall. Joy was a reward from God and it brought strength from God.
It would give them the power and strength to accomplish what they could not do on their own.
Joy Must Also Be Our Strength.
Ever read a verse and the Holy Spirit kind of slaps you in the back of the head and says," Pay attention to this." Well here is one such verse. If you see someone around you that needs to pay attention feel free to give them a Holy Spirit head slap especially yourself.
The joy of the Lord is my strength. This phrase is only used only twice in the Bible, here in Neh 8:10 and then Matthew 25:21,23 “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Here we see that joy is a reward for the faithful servant.
But it is used as both a reward and a promise only in Nehemiah 8.
What does this phrase mean? How is the joy of the Lord our strength? Word study is no help must look at the context. First, we know that the people wept because the law was broken. Then they were told to stop weeping, not to sorrow. Instead they should rejoice because they had done what God commanded and had found forgiveness.
Joy must replace sorrow because there was no strength in weeping but the joy of the Lord is where strength can be found over and over again.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.
Illustration: Parable of the talent Matthew 25:14
The two faithful servants received the reward "Enter into the joy of thy Lord." The unfaithful servant was cast out of the Lord’s service. What was the difference? The first two understood why they were serving, to experience the joy of the Lord. The failed servant served out of fear and he failed.
Do you need strength to serve God today? Then you won’t find it in duty, or the law or fear of punishment. You will find it in the Joy of the Lord.
Until you learn the lesson of "the joy of the Lord" we will struggle in our service. Today is the day to change our motivation from duty, guilt and fear to Joy. Today is the day to find the truth of what God’s word promises us, “The Joy of The Lord is my strength.”