The Joy of the Lord is Strength
March 25-26, 2023
Nehemiah is leading the people. He has come from Babylon and he's now in Jerusalem and he is leading in the rebuilding of the walls. He's the governor now of the area. In many ways, it's a beautiful, powerful picture of the spiritual rebuilding of revival that God is doing and wants to do in our lives. It's also a picture of a spiritual battle. There were those who opposed the rebuilding and were very much against them. Enemies arose. That's a picture of the nature of spiritual warfare because you can expect it.
I mentioned this last week, anytime that you want to do something good or godly in your life, anytime there is spiritual revival, you can believe that the enemy will stand against you. He hates revival, and so there will be spiritual attack. Expect that. Then as we were looking at the Wednesday service, there was conflicts within. Some of the Jews were complaining. The poor ones were complaining that the wealthy ones were taking advantage of them and there was conflicts that arose. Of course, wherever you have people, there will be conflicts. That is part of the nature of man also. Conflicts within. Even churches have conflicts within. I know that's shocking to hear.
There have been, of course, church splits that have been famous. You know what I was thinking the other day? We have been going now as a church more than 33 years. Isn't that amazing? In 33 years, we've never had church split or church division. We've never even had so much as an argument amongst our elders. Just amazing. This has been the blessing of my life to pastor a church like this. Can we just give God praise? Just amazing. Just amazing. There were conflicts within so Nehemiah then is a leader who leads up and arises to bring peace within the conflict.
Nehemiah, in many ways, is an example of the qualities of leadership that God desires. You can write books. Books have been written on his leadership and he leads them through the conflict into peace. Exactly right. That is what God wants. There ought to be peace. That you're trying to be leaning in peace between relationships. In fact, Paul wrote this in the book of Romans, "If possible, so far as it has to do with you, be at peace with all men." That's the heart of the Lord. Be at peace with all men. You go as far as you can go, although I'm glad he had, if possible, it helps us to recognize or that God recognizes that some people are frankly impossible.
For you, your part, as far as it has to do with you, be at peace. That's it. That brings us to Chapter 8. The wall surrounding Jerusalem has been rebuilt, the gates have been set, the doors have been secured, but they still stayed on the ready. They secured guard at every post. They would not even open the gates until the sun was hot. They were ready for that attack. That's of course a picture of spiritual readiness. Jesus said, "Stay on the alert, watch, be ready." We are living in times where that is even more urgent today. The times in which we are living, this is the time to awaken the spiritual power and truth, not the time to sleep.
It came about after the wall was built and the doors and gates and guard station that God put it on the heart of Nehemiah and Ezra to assemble the people. All the people gathered as one man at the main square of the city and then they asked Ezra, the priest to read to the people the book of the law that God had given to Moses. They had never heard this ever in their lives. Now, when the people heard these words, which God had given to Israel, they heard about the history, they heard about how God redeemed them out of Egypt by His mighty hand and how He loved them, how He sustained them, and the glory of the Kingdom and the great glory and the glory in the temple.
Oh, the glory days. They heard it and recognized all that they had lost. All that God once did and who God once was and now we've lost it all? Their response when they heard that was the weep and to cry. The leaders stood up and they said, no, don't weep, don't cry. This is not the day of weeping. This is not the day to mourn. This is the day to rejoice. To rejoice in all that God has done for you, for the promises of God are in front of you. Several years ago I was speaking to someone who had gone through a great tragedy and so much had been lost.
The person said something that maybe you said, I know that Benny have said, they said, "I want my life back." I don't know, I just felt prompted by the Lord to say, "You don't get your life back." You get your life forward. The path is in front of you. Life is in front of you. You cannot undo the past. Whatever happened in the past, whatever decisions you made in the past, whatever devastation happened in the past, you cannot undo it. You get your life forward. The same is true for all of us. The path is in front of us. The promises of God are in front of us. You move forward. God's promises are in front of you.
When Israel was destroyed and then exiled in Babylon, you can imagine how many Jews living in Babylon said I want my life back. I want it to be the way it was. God sent Jeremiah the prophet to say, "No, you will be there for 70 years but when those 70 years are completed, then I will visit you and I will fulfill my good word for you. I have in store for you plans, plans for good, for welfare, not for calamity, to give you a hope, to give you a future." That's the powerful picture. The promises of God are in front of you. The journey is in front of you. Don't weep, don't mourn.
This is the day to rejoice for what God is going to be doing now. You're running a race forward, you don't run a race backward. The promises of God are in front of you. There are great principles here. This is a day of rejoicing for the joy of the Lord is strength. Let's read it. We're in Chapter 8:1, "All the people gathered there as one man at the square, which is in front of the water gate, and so they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men and women and all who could listen with understanding." We presume then the young children were not there.
This happened on the first day of the seventh month, which is important, we'll hear more. He read then from it before the square, which was in front of the water gate, from early morning until midday. In the presence of the men and the women, those who can understand, and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Now, that's important. They were all attentive. They were listening intently to the reading of the word of God.
"Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden podium which had been made for this purpose. And beside him stood and the list all of their names. Those on the left, all those on the right, Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah," and all, and then verse 5, "Ezra then opened the book in the side of all the people," the scroll really, for he was standing then above them, they could all see him there, "And when he opened it, they all arose on their feet." As a sign of respect, they arose on their feet.
The people stood up and Ezra then blessed the Lord giving the name of God here, [foreign language], Jehovah, Joshua, Yeshua, "And Ezra blessed the Lord the Great God and all the people answered, "Amen. Amen, while lifting up their hands," which is one of the examples of lifting hands in worship. "And then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. And then Yeshua and Bani and Sherebiah and all the others explained the law to the people while the people remained standing in their place. And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood it."
They understood, didn't just hear it, they understood the reading. Then Verse 9, "Nehemiah who was the governor and Ezra the priest and a scribe and the Levites who taught to people, they all said to the people stop weeping. This day is holy to the Lord your God. Don't mourn, don't weep." For the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said, "Go and eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, send portions to him who has nothing prepared." That is the way of saying, no, rejoice, celebrate. In fact, he's dismissing them. I want you to go and, "I want you to go eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, send portions to the ones who have nothing prepared for this is a holy day to the Lord.
Do not be grieved." Then he says, "For the joy of the Lord is your strength." The Levites calmed down the people saying, "Be still, stop for this is a holy day. Do not be grieved." The people then went away, to eat, to drink, to send portions, and to celebrate a great festival because they understood the words which had been made known to them. Then on the second day they came back, the heads of the father's households of all the people, the priests, the Levites there were gathered to Ezra the scribe, that they might gain insight into the words of the law of God.
Then they found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live at booths during the feast of the seventh month. Now they were in the seventh month, so they discovered that and say, "Hey, we're in the seventh month. Let's do this thing that God said that we ought to do in the seventh month." This is called the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles, and this is where they were to go and make with branches of palm leaves or other branches to make little lean to camping shelters, and everyone in the whole country camped outside for a whole week.
This is a commemoration of the Israelites moving through the desert, those 40 years, God being with them, sustaining them, miraculously providing for them all those 40 years. This is an honor to God that you would commemorate that move of God upon Israel. Verse 15, "They proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all of the cities and in Jerusalem saying, go out to the hills, and bring olive branches, and wild olive branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of other leafy trees, and make booths, lean to your own camping shelters, as it is written."
The people went out and they brought with them and made booths for themselves, each either on his roof or in their courts, in the courts of the house of God, in the square at the water gate, in the square at the gates of Ephraim. Can you imagine the entire nation camping outside all at the same time? The entire assembly of those two had returned from the captivity, then made those booths, and lived in them or rather camped in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done this from the days of Joshua, the son of Nun to that day. There was great rejoicing all through the land. Then Ezra read from the book of the law of God every day, every day from the first day to the last day. Then, they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day, there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance of God. All right. These are the verses. We'll look at the verses around these of course at the Wednesday verse-by-verse service, but there is so much for us in these words they'll take hold of for our lives starting with this, attend your heart to God's word. Notice how attentive they were.
I. Attend Your Heart to God’s Word
Verse 3, "Ezra read from the word of God from early morning until midday." Now, you think my sermons are long. They were there for six or eight hours, but it says they were listening intently the whole time. That's why they were so impacted. When they heard the words, they were intending their heart, and the impact was upon them. Notice for example, Proverbs 2:1-5, where God says it this way, "If you would receive my words if you would treasure my commandments within you if you would make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding if you would cry for discernment if you would lift your voice for understanding if you would seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures."
A. God reveals His heart in His word
Oh, I love that right there. Do you know that there are many hidden treasures in the word of God? Seek and search, then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and then you'll discover the knowledge of God. I was thinking about those verses and I've been teaching through the word of God verse by verse, chapter by chapter for more than 33 years, and this is the fourth time through the entire word of God. Here's what I've come to discover. This God passed through the whole Bible, I am seeing things that I have never seen before in my life. The depth of what God is revealing and the inside of his word is blessing my life.
I have never seen what I am seeing today in the word of God, and I am more alive in my faith and my relationship to the Lord is more deep than has ever been in my entire life before the Lord. Anybody want to share my joy? Amen? Let's give the Lord praise. Search, search, and you'll find there is hidden treasures there, that will bless your life because of this, God reveals his heart in his word. That's it. God, sends forth his word, to make himself known. See, to make his heart known. When you receive his word, when you read his word, you are to be receiving his heart for you.
God's word is life. Take note of this, that God will allow the journey to be with trials and difficulties, he'll allow a journey through the wilderness, you might say, in order to help you to understand how much you need God's help, God's heart, and God's word. For example, notice Deuteronomy 8:3, God said to through Moses, to the people there as they were finishing, completing their journey through the wilderness, he said, "God let you be hungry, but then fed you with manna." That miraculous provision of God every day, and of course it's a picture of the daily provision of God's bread of life.
"Every day, he gave you that provision that he might make you understand, that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that precedes from the mouth of God." Of course, Jesus quoted that famously, when he was being spiritually attacked by the devil, but that is a powerful and deep understanding. You need more than food. Food just sustains the physical body, but the soul is the most important part of us. These bodies of ours are just temporary tents to dwell in. We're leaving these things behind. The soul is the most important aspect of who you are. God's word is sent to make your soul alive.
See, it was disregard for God's word that caused the nation to falter, and it was continuing to disregard God's word, that caused them to be destroyed. Interestingly, however, it was regard for God's word that kept them as a Jewish people for 2,000 years. Here's what I mean. It never has happened in the history of the world that a people has been displaced and dispersed amongst the nations, and then come back to their homeland and build a nation again. It's never happened, but it's happened to Israel twice. Once, we're reading now in this book, and now in recent times, we are seeing Israel again being brought from the nations and rebuilt as a people.
It was the regard for the word of God that kept them distinctly Jewish, during those 2,000 years, since the time that Rome destroyed Israel to modern days. They held on to Jewish traditions. That's what it was, Jewish traditions. It's the traditions that they were holding on to, but something was missing. See, here's my point, you can have regard for God's word and miss his heart completely. You can have regard for God's word and miss the point entirely. Let me give you a word that Isaiah said prophetically about these people. He said in Isaiah 29:11-12. He said, "This entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book."
It's like they're sealed to you, which would be given to the one who's literate, saying, please read this. He says, "I can't it's sealed," and then the book would be given to the one who's illiterate saying, please read this. He says, "I can't read," In other words, they didn't get it. It's like a sealed book to them. They didn't have a heart to get it, to receive it, to receive God's word is to receive his heart, but they wouldn't get it. In fact, a veil lies over their heart. Paul says that veil even today remains.
In fact, it's true even in Israel today there is a veil, you might see it that lies over their eyes for they do not understand the relationship that God would have with them through their Messiah. See, that's why he continued in Isaiah 29:13-14, then the Lord said, "Because these people, they drawn near with their words and they honor me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts." If they would've received God's word, they'd receive God's hearts and then it stirs your heart but no, they removed their hearts from being in reverence.
B. Understand the meaning
Oh, they had reverence but that reverence for me consisted of tradition learned by rote and so the wisdom of the wise will perish and the discernment of the discerning will be concealed. God reveals in his word, his heart, his desire, his glory and he'll use that word and his spirit to ignite your heart, to love him fully. That's why I love where it says, and they wanted to understand exactly, understand the meaning is to understand the heart. Notice verses 7 to 8, they explained the word of God to the people while they stood there, they read from the book translating to give the sense so that they could understand the meaning.
In other words, not only did they want to hear it, they wanted to understand that. Now, I love the King James Version here on verse 8 where it says they read the word of God distinctly giving the sense, causing them to understand the reading. They read it distinctly. It reminds me of when I was just starting out in ministry and I remember being at pastor's conferences with Pastor Chuck who founded Calvary Chapel and he was speaking to us, young pastors, and he was making this very point where he said, I want you guys speaking again to us young pastors starting out.
I want you to read the word of God over and over and over before you teach it. I want you to read it 25 times until God's word is written on your heart and then you'll be ready to teach it. I thought, 25 times. That is a lot of times, but I've come to see his point. It's exactly right. See, then you're ready to teach God's word. See, until it's written on your heart, for only then will you understand the heart of the one who wrote it. Ah, that's it. To understand the heart of the one who wrote it, that's it. God's word is power. It's his heart, it's sent to accomplish revival. It's sent to accomplish a stirring of faith, it's sent to accomplish the purpose of God. Isaiah 55:11, "So will my word be, which goes forth from my mouth it will not return to me empty without accomplishing what I desire, without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." God's desire, the purpose for which he sent it, is to do a beautiful work of revival. God's word is the revealing of God's glory and his love and it is stir your heart. It's sent power because, and this is the point that Nehemiah is thinking. Strength comes from the joy of the Lord. Do you not see it? Strength comes, Nehemiah was saying from the joy of the Lord.
II. Strength Comes from the Joy of the Lord
Now, interestingly, there was a time in church history when a dower face was considered spiritual. Do you have a sour face in a dower face? It's supposedly meant or showed how serious you were and they would go around dower and sour and oftentimes critical because you're not living up to the standards of God's holiness and so they would be very critical and dower and sour. The joy of the Lord is strength. Even the kindness of God brings forth repentance. Now, having said that we're speaking of joy, but is important to also say that there is a place for sadness and sorrow.
God himself understands sorrow. Isaiah 53:3-5 Jesus, he was a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief and like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised and we did not esteem him. Surely our griefs, he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried. Now we love that part. Yes, he understands our grief and carries our sorrows. You want a great verse. This is one of the most beautiful verses in my view when it comes to God carrying our sorrows. Psalm 56:8, you put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? Oh, how precious, how beautiful is that?
That our sorrows he carries so much so that he puts our tears in his bottle and writes them in a book. Now it's also true. Now there are certain sorrows that can be helpful, notice Psalms 51:17, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. God will not despise," God can use it. God can use it for revival. Notice, for example, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, the sorrow that is according to the will of God. There is a sorrow that is according to the will of God that produces a repentance without regret because at least in salvation, you'll never regret turning your life over to the Lord.
A. Faith is strengthened on the foundation of joy
You'll never regret repentance and getting your life on a path of revival. Amen? Because faith is strengthened on the foundation of joy. That is the point that he wants them to take hold of, faith is strengthened on the foundation of joy. What was causing them to weep and born? Well is because they saw that the cause of their destitution and ruin was their own hearts. You see God's word reveal to them the beauty of God and the ugliness of man. You see it both when you sing God's word and you read God's word, you will see both things. You'll see how beautiful is the presence of God, the glory of God, the heart of God. Oh, how beautiful it is but you'll lost to see how ugly the nature of man is.
Which do you respond to? Do you respond to the beauty of the Lord or how ugly in destitute man is? Which do you respond to? We know they responded to the ugliness and the condition and the destitution and ruin and they were weeping because of that. In other words, they were sorry for themselves. They were focused on all that they had lost. Their focus was on them. No, Nehemiah said and Ezra said, "No, this is the day to rejoice. Go I want you to leave and I want you to go and I want you to eat of the fat I want you-- He's going to like, I want you to right now.
I want you to go and eat of the fat, drink of the sweet. Send portions to him who has nothing prepared. This is a day we are going to rejoice, go eat of the sweet. By the way, that's why we have donuts on Sunday. It's biblical because there ought to be rejoicing in the house of the Lord, and joy ought to be truly in the house of the Lord. You know why? Because the spirit is in this place and the fruit of the spirit is love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness. These are all beautiful things.
In other words, he's saying to them, stop feeling sorry for yourself and start celebrating the presence of God for the joy of the Lord is the strength of your heart. Notice this in Psalm 119:22-24, he says, "The stone which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone and this came from the Lord and it is marvelous in our eyes." What does this mean? It is a prophetic word, of course, and it is a spiritual application. He's saying because they would relate to it in these days where they're coming back from Babylon to rebuild the temple that was destroyed. Where do you begin? If you're going to build the house of God, where do you begin?
B. Rejoice in God daily
Well, you begin in the cornerstone. It says they searched through the rubble looking for the cornerstone, and then they found it, but they didn't recognize it as the cornerstone. He moved on. They continued looking, but they could not find the cornerstone until they came back. Now it's a picture of Jesus Christ. I'll tell you why, because Jesus is that rock, that cornerstone but the Jews, he was there amongst them, but they did not recognize they moved on. Even today many in Israel do not recognize, oh, but they'll come back to it. They come back to it and then they will build on that rock for the purposes of God are built on that foundation stone.
He says, and this is marvelous. Marvelous is a great word, isn't it? It is like, there's certain words they just step up in grandeur. Marvelous is a great word. Then he says, this is the day that the Lord has made. Let's rejoice in that. Let's be glad in that, in what? The day of our salvation, the day that God built our lives on that rock. That's marvelous. Let's rejoice in that. You know that verse has been misquoted for years. Oftentimes, people wake up in the morning and it's a beautiful, beautiful morning, and they'll say, "Oh, this is the day that the Lord has made. Let's rejoice and be glad in it."
They're rejoicing in the weather. No, this is the day of salvation. This is the day that God has made possible a relationship to the living God. He will build your life on that foundation for that rock is the chief cornerstone. He is Yeshua Hamashiach. He is the Messiah of Israel. He is Jesus, our Lord, and our Savior. Amen. Let's give him praise. Absolutely. Then there's this rejoice in God daily. Notice verse 13, they came back the second day and wanted to gain more insight into the words of the law. They found written there how the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the sons of Israel would live in these booths, these camping shelters during the feast of the seventh month.
While they said, well, we are in the seventh month. Let's do that thing that God had said, let's do this thing. That feast of booths as I said, is the commemoration of God sustaining them miraculously revealing himself. It's right to remember. The people then made little camp shelters with branches and they camped outside for seven days, but not just camping. No, no, not just camping, rejoicing. The whole seven days. Notice, this is where it's mentioned in Leviticus 23:40 amongst other places, "Now, in the first day of this feast, you shall take for yourselves fully inch of beautiful trees, palm branches, branches of trees with thick branches, willows of the brook and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days."
Now the children will love this. They love camping. I remember taking our kids camping and they thought it was so much fun. It is so much fun as long as you bring a joyful spirit with you, it's either a lot of fun or it's a lot of not fun. It's either a lot of joyful or it's a lot of unjoyful. If you bring the wrong spirit with you, it's unjoyful. Oh, we have to set up the tent. Then we got a gift in campsite ready, and then we got to make some dinner. We got to cook on an open fire. We don't even have our stuff and then we eat the food sitting around the fire. Then we have to wash the dishes. We don't even have hot water.
We got to warm up water on the fire and we got to wash the dishes. Then, oh, did you get marshmallows on your pillow? Oh, don't bring the fish in here. Did you bring mud on your shoes? Oh, this is not fun. I remember we used to go oftentimes to camp at Odell Lake. Anybody know where this is? It's East of Eugene. The top of the cascades. The reason we went there is because I was researching. I wanted to find a place where we can actually catch fish because I'm a famous terrible fisher. I just can't catch, oh, there's lots of kokanee there everybody catches something.
We would get up at 4:00 in the morning. This is fun. It is fun. Get up in the odd dark and go out there and catch fish because you're really catching fish. Then we come back and then we clean the fish. This is fun. They loved that. Then we wrap it all up, came back, and then we made breakfast, hot sizzling bacon and cooking over an open fire. That is fun. Then we took a nap. Yes, that's fun. Then we went exploring and did other things and went swimming in the lake. I mean let's rejoice. Then it says verse 18, that Ezra read from the book of the law every day, from the first day to the last day, every day and there was rejoicing in the presence of the Lord. Here's the application.
We need a daily rejoicing in the word. See to read the word of God, to discover his heart is to have an encounter with the heart of God. When you have an encounter with the heart of God, the result of it is joy and faith and love and glory. We need a daily encounter with God. We need a daily rejoicing in the Lord. Now you've heard many times, no doubt how important it is to have a time in the word, but not just a time in the word. We need a time of rejoicing in the word. We need a time of encountering the heart of God in the word for his glory is revealed.
Then you would see that the joy of the Lord is strength, is strength through the soul, glory comes, beauty comes, revival comes, faith comes, joy comes, peace comes. God will do a beautiful work when you have an encounter with God and have a rejoicing in the word every day. Taste it and see it. It's good. Lord, we love you and thank you for how amazing you are. You have revealed yourself. The beauty of your presence is glorious. God, we need a daily rejoicing. We need a daily encountering of God. Church, how many would say to the Lord, I want my soul to be alive. I see it now. The joy of the Lord is strength. It's revival, it's faith.
It's the building of that which is glorious and beautiful. I want that God, I want more joy. I want my soul to be made alive. I want more of you. I need a daily encounter with God. I want that rejoicing in you. God, I want more. Church, how many would say that to the Lord? Would you just raise your hand as a way of saying that prayer, that desire, that asking of God for it? I'm asking, I want more. I want an encounter with the heart of God through your word that rejoicing might be the result of it. For I see it now, that joy is the strengthening of faith. Joy is the strengthening of your glory, of your beauty.