#8 “Book of Nehemiah” Series
"TAKE TIME TO REJOICE!"
TEXT: Nehemiah 8:1-18
INTRO: It is not healthy for an individual to never be happy or joyful ... God never intended for us as Christian to be miserable or always filled with guilt feelings. Some people really struggle with their relationship to God because they can never seem to feel good about how God feels about them!
When they hear a message about forgiveness they immediately respond by thinking, "Yes, I need to confess more" instead of hearing how wonderful it is that God has forgiven and forgotten their sins!
They forget that the word GOSPEL itself means, "Good News" or verses like: “There is therefore NOW NO CONDEMNATION TO THOSE IN CHRIST..." or "All things are possible..." or "We are more than conquerors…” (Greek: word in Romans 8·37 is “υπερνικομεν” (“hupernikomen”) meaning, "SUPER CONQUERORS") or "All things work together for good to those who love the Lord" or "God so loved…" or “Who shall separate us from God's love ... NOTHING SHALL!”
Some believers never believe anything good! They live out their life in Christ in fear and discouragement and because they are so down on themselves they often are down about other Christians as well. Misery loves company as the old saying goes!
ILLUS: The glum, sour faces of many Christians. ... They rather give the impression that, instead of coming from the Father's joyful banquet, they have just come from the Sheriff who has auctioned off their sins and now are sorry they can't get them back again. -- Helmut Thielicke, Leadership, Vol. 1, no. 4.
This joyless life kills all sense of motivation, so fruitfulness turns into fruitiness and fruitlessness, they are miserable when other believers are so happy! They feel cheated; but they have really cheated themselves!
PROP. SENT: God desires his people to know HIS JOY! The very strength of our faith and our fruitfulness comes from God's joy in our lives as a character trait! This is why God's Word declares that it is the "Joy of the Lord that is our strength!" Also, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine."
I. ASSEMBLY OF GOD 8:1-3
A. Unity 8:1a
1. It is a worthy thing to note that they assembled together as ONE man!
a. This concept is very similar to the picture in the book of Acts when it stated that they were all together in "ONE ACCORD."
b. When God's people are so blended in unity there is almost a guarantee of God's Spirit to move in a great way ... look at the day of Pentecost!
ILLUS: If we can convince people that we are onto something that's full of joy, they'll stampede one another to follow us. -- William Treadwell, Leadership, Vol. 1, no. 3.
2. In Psalm 133 David says that “it is beautiful when brethren dwell together in unity, like precious oil ... there God commands His blessing, even life for evermore!”
3. Worship should be a time of both brokenness and great joy ... not just a time of mourning!
4. When we gather together today to worship it should be with a sense of joy and anticipation ... Paul said to the Philippians, "Whatever is good, pure, joyful ... of good report, to think on these things!"
5. There is nothing sad about being related to God through His Son Jesus Christ!!
6. We are all equals in the church, we are brethren coming together in unity!
B. Unusual! 8:1b-3
1. The interesting comment in verse 2 is that it was the people requesting Ezra to come to them in the public square and read the Word of God to them and teach them!
a. Can you imagine people begging to have the Pastor get together with them for more preaching!
b. The next unusual item that appears is that the whole assembly of people that made up the crowd was not just the men ... it was women and children as well!
c. This could not have taken place in the temple due to restrictions of who could enter; it was held in the public meeting place in town!
d. This makes it unusual as well ... they wanted God's Word proclaimed to the entire town from the center of the city for all citizens to hear!
ILLUS: How often Christians assume they have worshiped God simply because they have been in church! We are told that the church building is "God's house" (an inaccurate designation borrowed from the Old Testament temple) and conclude that worship must take place there! Not necessarily. God was not pleased with the worship at Jerusalem (the Holy City). Nor is he impressed with beautiful cathedrals. -- Erwin W. Lutzer (1941- ) - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 12101.
2. Now here is the real catch; Ezra read the Word of God for 6 hours straight!
a. And they stayed around for all 6 hours of the message!
b. Not only that but it later states in the chapter that they all stood for the entire time ... without complaining of length or heat, or boredom or hunger!
c. The final interesting or unusual feature was the last line of verse 3, "And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law."
d. They were actually soaking it all in for the entire 6 hours of standing!
e. These were hungry people for spiritual things; it will be no surprise that God then tells them to celebrate when they at first begin to cry!
3. We should be so unusual today!
II. ARTICULATION OF GODLINESS 8:4-8
A. Unprecedented! 8:4
1. Evidently the people had so taken the lead on this thing that they had built a large wooden platform for the occasion, the Hebrew wording for this text suggests this event was a sudden or spontaneous event not planned by the religious leaders, but by the people themselves!
2. The people had anticipated a large gathering and so built the platform to enable the priest to be above the crowd so he could be seen and heard easier – they didn't want to miss a thing!
a. This is actually where our concept of a platform in church buildings comes from!
b. And for the same reasons ... not to elevate the pastor's ego ... just his body and voice!
3. Notice in verse 4 that his associates were on the platform with him ... to give support and be examples of leaders for the people.
a. This was an unprecedented event ... the planning of it by the people.
b. The construction by the people.
c. The desire by the people.
d. The hunger for the Word by all the people, men, women, and children!
e. This is really where revival comes from ... a hungry congregation!
ILLUS: Peter Buehler, who helped lead John and Charles Wesley to experience conversions, once said, "If I had a thousand tongues, I'd praise Christ with them all." Charles Wesley expanded this stray comment into lines that became the well-known hymn "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing." -- "The Golden Age of Hymns," Christian History, no. 31.
B. Unbelievable! 8:5-6
1. They all stood for 6 hours as the Word of God was read!
a. Notice Pastor Ezra's response to this sight; “HE PRAISED THE GREAT GOD!”
b. And suddenly all the people “LIFTED THEIR HANDS AND RESPONDED, AMEN! AMEN!” (In Hebrew a repeated word meant special emphasis!)
c. This service was going places, the Pastor was hot with joy ... and they followed suit by joyous shouts of PRAISE and agreement. (The meaning of the word "amen.")
ILLUS: When Handel wrote the "Hallelujah Chorus," his health and his fortunes had reached the lowest possible ebb. His right side had become paralyzed, and all his money was gone. He was heavily in debt and threatened with imprisonment. He was tempted to give up the fight. The odds seemed entirely too great. And it was then he composed his greatest work -- Messiah. Could we not say of Handel that the Spirit entered into him and set him upon his feet? -- Peter Marshall, Sr., "Who Can Take It?," Preaching Today, Tape No. 131.
2. From Praise they entered into worship ... as they all bowed down and just worshipped God as a whole group!
a. Imagine the unbelievable
sight of this ... especially for Old Testament times, rarely had such a hunger
existed in the people of
b. At other times they had gone through long periods of time where their worship was nothing more than ritual ... and uneventful! In the past it had often been religious practice but without passion. We don't need more religion; we need more PASSION in our relationship with God, healthy passion, the kind that is balanced!
C. Understanding 8:7-8
1. Here's where the balance part comes in; passion alone would lead to emotionalism without content!
2. Just as ritual without any passion leads to cold dead orthodox faith.
3. What brings the balance ... the Word and the desire to understand it!
4. You will note in the text that the Levites scattered throughout the congregation during Ezra's reading of the Word and explained to all those who desired the understanding of the text ... what does this mean for you and how does God desire your response? etc.
a. They moved among the people "MAKING IT CLEAR AND GIVING THE MEANING SO THE PEOPLE COULD UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS BEING READ!"
b. We still do this today! This is the point of preaching, to teach the meaning of God's Word and suggest ways that this can be applied to our life and lifestyle today!
c. Preachers who only tell you what the text says but not what it means to you haven't finished their job!
5. We don't need sermons that simply inform us just how bad the world is, we need sermons that also tell us what we can do to make it a godlier place!
6. Preaching is not just a conclusion to a time of worship ... it is the focal point of where our worship is going ... to God ... then God speaks to us from His Word, a worship service is a two way conversation and fellowship with a Real and Mighty God!
ILLUS: Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of the book Man's Search for Meaning, was imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II because he was a Jew. His wife, his children, and his parents were all killed in the holocaust.
The Gestapo made him strip. He stood there totally naked. As they cut away his wedding band, Viktor said to himself "You can take away my wife, you can take away my children, you can strip me of my clothes and my freedom, but there is one thing no person can ever take away from me -- and that is my freedom to choose how I will react to what happens to me!" Even under the most difficult of circumstances, happiness is a choice which transforms our tragedies into triumph. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 278-279.
III. ABUNDANCE OF GLADNESS! 8:9-18
A. Uplifting! 8:9-12
1. There should be a fitting conclusion time to a service as well, here the people begin to respond to the understanding of the Law of Moses by weeping.
a. Probably because they became aware of their failure to live up to God's Word in the past.
b. It is awesome to understand who God is; they were struck with their past failures!
2. What is so disconcerting about this is their reaction to the Word of God because of their PAST failures as a people of God!
a. After all, the past is over and they are no longer the people like they were in the past, captivity had taken care of that change, these were exiles in return and those who had rebuilt the temple and the city walls!
b. They had changed but didn't fully realize who they were NOW.
3. They saw their old failures and began to weep, Ezra saw who they were NOW and immediately jumps in to correct their response!
ILLUS: The praise
chorus "We Exalt Thee" took on a whole new meaning when I heard my
three-year-old daughter singing her version: "We exhaust thee. We exhaust thee,
O Lord." -- Tammy Lindsey,
4. His instruction is simple and to the point: “DO NOT MOURN OR WEEP!”
a. Their focus was wrong ... they were looking
at the OLD
b. It was not a time to focus on failure or past mistakes but to rejoice in a revitalized faith as to who they are NOW as God's people!
5. Nehemiah instructs them as to the proper response to the 6 hours of sermon he and the Levites had just preached!
a. REVIVAL TIME GUYS!
b. REJOICING IS THE PROPER RESPONSE ... GO AND REJOICE TOGETHER!
c. Don't GRIEVE; THIS IS A NEW DAY AND YOU ARE A NEW PEOPLE!
d. FOR "THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH" ... there it is! They needed newfound strength as they were starting out as a new people!
6. They had just finished dealing with the consequences of the old sins; rebuilding, and it was not a time to mourn the past but celebrate the new and to rediscover some joy after many months of hard labor and threats from the enemy!
a. There was a proper time for tears and sorrow; that had already come earlier in their captivity.
b. But there comes a time when we need to move beyond sorrow, when our sins are already forgiven and we are new creatures in Christ, to celebrating that new life and realizing the “joy of the Lord is our strength.”
c. To continue to stew in sorrow after our sins are forgiven is to mock the cleansing power of Christ and to put ourselves into false bondage again.
7. Finally they understood this and did they ever celebrate, in fact they ended up doing a double festival one right after the other! BOY DID THEY FEEL STRONG!
8. Some Christians could learn from this, they are always so mournful over their past they never feel good about themselves as a Christian ... they never really appreciate who they ARE NOW in Christ ... they still are mourning and feeling burnt out by Satan who likes to remind them of their past errors and what a failure they are (what they once were would be more accurate!).
a. There is no strength is unhealthy mourning!
b. If you have committed your past sins to Christ for forgiveness then for HEAVEN'S SAKE FORGIVE YOURSELF AND GET ON WITH SOME JOY AS A cleansed SAINT, not a condemned SINNER!
9. It is unhealthy to be joyful all the time (wait until chapter 9 when they do have some things to cry about!), BUT IT IS ALSO UNHEALTHY TO NEVER be joyful as a saint of God!
a. Miserable Christians are not much of an attraction to the FAITH!
b. They will not lead many to Christ unless they find someone who loves being miserable as a Christian too!
c. And they will be weak as a Christian ... unable to cope often with life and struggling even with minor issues that others more joyful can easily cast aside or overcome!
d. Sorrowful saints find that motivation is next to zero so they never do anything that gives them joy and then they are mad at others who are happy and can do everything!
e. What's part of the answer: Notice Ezra told them to get TOGETHER and celebrate ... Christians having some joyful times together with other Christians can be a great buffer against pining and self pity! Make sure you pick joyful ones to fellowship with ... they have obviously learned to appreciate their relationship with God and can help you with yours!
B. Universal 8:13-18
1. What is the universal truth for us in this passage?
a. That it is possible to lose the joy and passion of worship and our relationship with God if we forget the MEANING of the Gospel and the meaning of our practices!
b. Why does it state in verse 17 "...the Israelites had not celebrated it like this since the days of Joshua, son of Nun."
c. In Joshua's day it was celebrated with great joy because it was new, the meaning fresh ... and the victory great since they were in the Promise Land … they had left the past mistakes back in the wilderness!
d. What it means here is that they had rediscovered the fresh meaning of an old celebration ritual!
2. We can fall into the same ruts of worship too ... and forget the meaning of what and why we are here! When this happens tiredness and boredom set in and there is great loss of joy, the purpose of being together as the church falls aside over petty issues and sidetracked minds!
3. The final verse says it all ... “DAY AFTER DAY, FROM FIRST TO LAST THEY ... CELEBRATED.” IT EVEN WENT on for 8 days! We should have such a problem with worship!
ILLUS: “Euangelion” (which we call gospel) is a Greek word, and signifies good, merry, glad, and joyful tidings, that makes a man’s heart glad, and makes him sing, dance, and leap for joy. -- William Tyndale (C. 1494-1536) - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entries 5088-5091.
4. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes stated, “There is a time to cry, and a time to laugh.” Just make sure there is a time for both or you'll become a very bitter SAINT instead of a BETTER saint!
CONCLUSION: Real revival always comes from spiritual hunger to understand God's Word. When God fills this "hunger" we find ourselves flooded with fresh joy, thus fresh strength! If you know Jesus ... and desire to know His Word, then look out, He will pour out His joy and we will celebrate!