Grace For The Journey
We have been studying Nehemiah for some weeks in our series REBUILD. We have been learning about how God rebuilds walls around a city and how He rebuilds the people of the city. The city of Jerusalem had lain in ruins for quite some time as God disciplined His people for their sin, sending them into captivity under the Babylonians. But that was all over now, and God brought the people back into the land. Nehemiah led the people to rebuild the walls that went around the city in a record 52 days. And once the walls went up the people gathered together. They opened the Bible and began doing what it said. They listened to preaching and teaching, confessed their sin and recommitted themselves to God. And the time has come to dedicate the rebuilt walls and rebuilt people to the One True and Living God.
In the passage we will be looking at today, Nehemiah lists the various people with him and the places along the wall. And he describes how the people were singing and celebrating. He lists the things the people used in the dedication of the wall – musical instruments, harps, congregational singing, and choirs. Get a picture in your mind – half of the people are gathered on top of the wall marching in one direction; the other half in the other direction, singing, rejoicing, praising God, and then they meet together at the location in front of “the house of God,” (verse 40), or the temple. We see that in verse 40, “So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God,” and Nehemiah lists all the people who were with him, all the people are singing and then verse 43 states, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.” This is a great verse that captures the moment succinctly and memorably. The word “joy” or “rejoice” occurs five times!
I want us to look this morning at . . .
“Resounding Joy,” –
I read a story the other day about individuals who are hired by Facebook to take down inappropriate videos. There are several hundreds of people Facebook hires to look at video user’s uploads and they flag inappropriate ones, blocking them from being posted. This led to these employees having to watch a number of unsettling videos – horrible images, beatings, abuse, etc. – many of these things got to them and led to deep depression, similar to the post-traumatic stress many of our veterans suffer. The daily barrage of unpleasant, dark, and disturbing images led to a joyless existence. The Facebook people were having to figure out how best to address the problem and care for the souls of the workers.
I do not think I would like that job, and I certainly cannot imagine having a job like that without a deep-seated joy in the Lord. We were designed to joy in the Lord. Psalm 100:1-5 declares, “Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.”
God created us to have joy in Him. Apart from Him, we will try to find joy in the wrong things, and we will we be lacking that critical element that allows us to live in a dark, fallen world. As Nehemiah has already taught us in Nehemiah 8:10, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” God created us to have joy in Him. Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart does good like medicine …”
We should never fake joy. In fact, there are times we sorrow deeply. The shortest verse in the Bible is where Jesus experiences true sorrow at the deepest human level. He came to the place where Lazarus was buried and the Bible says in John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Grief is real. Joy is a deep-seated, weighty presence underneath the sorrow that makes its way out when the sorrow is over. It comes through faith in the Lord. That is why Jesus would say John 14:1, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me.” Joy is deep-seated, always there if we are believers, it comes up and through us as we believe and trust in the Lord. The presence of Christ is the essence of joy.
There is joy all through this passage. I have broken the passage down into three headings, three words that describe what is going on in the text as the people gather together to dedicate the wall to the glory of God. They get themselves in order first and then there is the dedication itself where the two choirs make their procession at the top of the walls, and then there is the accompanying jubilation and praise that reverberates through the land.
The first word . . .
1. Purification – Verses 27-30.
In the opening verses of the passage, beginning at verse 27, we read that the people sought out the Levites and gathered them together at Jerusalem. They were scattered here and there in the surrounding villages, so the people got them all together. Verse 30 tells us that, along with the priests, they will prepare themselves and the people for worship, “Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall.” We are not told how they purified themselves, the people, the gates, and the wall, but more than likely they did so through ritualistic washings with water; washing their bodies, washing their clothing, and washing the walls.
The point is that they were going to be
Worshiping in the presence of God
And they needed to be cleansed
In order to be in His presence.
There is no deep-seated joy without purification. We cannot be a joyful people if we are a sinful people. We cannot be truly happy apart from true holiness. Rejoicing requires repenting.
One of the reasons it may be difficult to sing in a worship service is because we have not taken time to prepare ourselves; taking time before we leave the house to go to the cross and appropriate the Gospel afresh and anew. Confessing our sin, repenting, turning back to the Lord, and resubmitting ourselves to His Lordship. We should take time in the worship service to do this as well. We want our worship to be true, authentic, and real. It will never be joyful praise if there remains unconfessed and unrepented sin in our lives.
We cannot be a joyful people
If we remain a sinful people.
Sin robs us of our joy. Confess it daily. Repent from it regularly. Purification.
The second word . . .
2. Dedication – Verses 31-42.
In these verses, we have the dedication proper, the dedication itself. The people are positioning themselves upon the walls, walking over the tops of the walls, dedicating the walls to God. The city is, after all, the city “of God.” It is His city, His temple, His buildings, His walls. The picture is of this great procession, a processional of two choirs, one going to the right or south (verse 31) and the other choir going the opposite way or north (verse 38). Ezra behind the one choir and Nehemiah behind the other choir.
These are called “thanksgiving choirs,” the people thanking God for His providence, providing the people all the resources, time, and energy needed to rebuild the walls. They likely sang some of the Psalms as they made their procession around the walls, marching around and singing, maybe Psalm 48:12-13 for example, “Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.”
I found a picture that illustrates what this may have looked like . . .
The people all around the tops of the walls, up and down the stairs, the two choirs meeting together here, horns blowing, and people singing.
By the way, do you remember Sanballat and Tobiah? Those rascals back in the earlier chapters? They were trying to discourage Nehemiah and the others from rebuilding the walls. In chapter 4 and verse, Tobiah specifically had ridiculed and taunted the people of God as they were getting the first stones up and he said, “Look at that pathetic wall! It would not even hold the weight of a small animal! If a fox were to climb up on that wall it would break it all down!.” Well . . . Wonder what Tobiah would say now!?” Hundreds upon hundreds of people walking across the tops of the walls. God is good . . . He has provided!
The final word . . .
3. Jubilation – Verse 43.
Verse 43 says, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.” This verse reminds me of the verse in Matthew’s Gospel where the wise men make their way to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus. And Matthew writes in chapter 2, verse 10, “And when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” It was not just joy, or great joy, but they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy!
They offered “great sacrifices.” These were thank-offerings to the Lord, a way of praising God, and thanking Him for what He has done. Most present in their minds would be their gratitude to God for enabling them to build the wall in 52 days. But they were thankful for much more – thankful for what they had learned recently in His word, thankful for forgiveness, thankful for restoration after having been in captivity for 70 years in Babylon.
The writer of Hebrews tells how thank offerings continue in our day through worship. In Hebrews 13:15, the Bible tells us, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Our thank offerings continue today through our worship. We sing to God and that singing is a “sacrifice of praise.” God loves to receive this sacrifice. He loves to hear us give thanks to Him through praise. Singing praise to God is one mark of a true Christian. Singing to the Lord is natural for the believer. It is a way of life.
Ephesians 5:18-19 instructs us to, “And be not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
Colossians 3:16 tells us to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
The joy of God’s people in verse 43 is a resounding joy! The last phrase of verse 43 says the joy was so great that “the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.” You could hear it for miles around. As I studied verse 43 two truths began to stand out. Two truths about joy . . .
- God Expects our Joy.
I cited Psalm 100 earlier. Many of you know the praise chorus that paraphrases Psalm 100 . . .
I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart
I will enter His courts with praise
I will say this is the day that the Lord has made
I will rejoice for He has made me glad
God has “made us glad.” You see that in verse 43, as well, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy …” God expects His people to be living testimonies to the joy of the Lord.
You look at some professing Christians and you wonder if they really know the Lord. You listen to the way they talk, and they do not sound like believers at all. Their demeanor and conversations resemble a people who are defeated, hard, calloused, and cynical.
Somebody said, “Some Christians give the impression they were baptized in vinegar!” Do not be that person! Do not be the person who can brighten up a room by leaving it. Do not be that person! God expects our joy. He created us for joy. Joy in Him
First truth . . . God expects our joy. Second truth . . .
- God Enables our Joy.
He is the source of our joy. Again, note the important phrase in verse 43, “For God had made them rejoice with great joy …” Who made the people to rejoice with great joy? Who enabled that joy? God – He is the source of our joy.
Remember when we studied Nehemiah 8:10? It included the phrase, “… the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Remember when we studied that phrase, I said that it does not mean we manufacture this joy ourselves. Like, “I will be strong if I can get myself joyful.”
The source of our joy is in God,
Namely God’s joy for us.
It is the joy of the Lord,
The joy belonging to the Lord,
It is His joy for His people
Whom He delights to forgive
And rescue from captivity.
It is the joy of the Lord for His children; His love for those He saves, His joy in us. It is that joy that God has toward us that is the source of our strength. Put another way:
We are joyful when
We know Who He is,
When we know
What He has done
When we know that
He loves us, delights
In us, and forgives us.
When we reflect on God’s love for us it activates our love for Him. When we reflect on God’s joy in us it activates our joy in Him. This is how God enables our joy. We reflect on His love for us in Christ and it does something to us. Our reflection upon Him causes a joy to come through us. But, we have to reflect on that love and joy. It requires our doing something; intentionally thinking upon Him and reflecting upon His love and joy for us in Christ.
Most of us have a thermostat in our homes. You know what a thermostat is, do not you? A little boy pointed to a thermostat and asked his friend, “What’s that?” He said, “I do not know; it is something my mom turns up and my dad turns down.” If you want to feel right in your home, you have to adjust the thermostat. It requires an action. I have got to do something. I cannot just lie in my bed sweating and hope it starts feeling cooler in the house. I have got to get up and go in there and move the switch down a bit!
Joy is like that. If you want to feel right, you have to do something. It will not just happen; you have to reflect, taking time to think about God’s love for you in Christ, and when you do that, it is like you have moved the setting on the thermostat: you begin to feel better, you begin to feel joy. The joy of the Lord is your strength.
If you are not a Christian, or if you are not living for Jesus, you cannot really do this. Apart from Christ, true joy, resounding joy, is simply not possible. Oh, you can have moments of happiness, but happiness comes and goes and changes with your circumstances, or is dependent upon the diversion, the escape, or the next drink, or drug. It is not the same as joy. Some of you are trying to manufacture your own kind of joy, but it will remain as foreign and elusive to you as long as you remain in the shackles of sin. God loves you and has made a way for you to know Him in Christ Jesus. Turn from your sin and trust in Him. Believe in Him and He will give you real, lasting, resounding joy.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”