Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 (a reworking of sermons by Scott Coltrain and John Dobbs to whom credit is given)
Last week we considered the various gifts of the Spirit—the special talents given to us. This week we will focus on one of the fruit, the result of the Holy Spirit/s presence in our heart, enumerated in Galatians 5:22 and 23. Here Paul writes, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, (and) self-control”. The fruit we will focus upon today is joy.
In our Old Testament reading for today we are reminded what a precious thing joy is. Nehemiah tells his people that “the Joy of the Lord is your strength.” The book of Nehemiah records a time when Israel is coming back into their homeland after spending 70 of foreign captivity in Babylon.
While they were in Babylon, the Jews were not able to practice their religion in its entirety. In fact, for the most part, they did not have access to the Law of God. For most of the captives, whatever they knew of their Faith came from memory or the memories of others. By the end of the 70 years, they had forgotten far more than they remembered about the Will of God.
After having rebuilt the Temple and having just completed re-building the wall around Jerusalem so that they might enjoy security from their enemies, Ezra the priestly scribe began teaching the people the Holy Scriptures. When they heard the Word of God, they were profoundly grieved because they became aware of their sins. The more they heard the more they realized just how much their fathers and they, themselves, had strayed from the Will of God. Their failure was evident. Their guilt was obvious and they felt it deeply. They wept in sorrow and repented of their sins. But Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra who was the priest and scribe told the people to not mourn and weep concluding with the words, “do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
In our spiritual lives, sorrow for our sins can be a wonderful thing which leads us back to the Lord. Paul speaks of its benefits of sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7:10 where he writes, "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation."
When we realize how we have fallen short of the righteousness and holiness of God, how we have offended Him, how we have spurned His Will and rebelled against One who is so loving and kind.... it should generate remorse within our hearts. It should cause us grief, shame, and sorrow. Such sorrow is good if it brings us to repentance. It is beneficial if it causes us to humble ourselves, confess our sins, seek His gracious forgiveness, and motivate us to make the decision to change our ways. These steps lead us to the obtaining of salvation.
There is, however, a type of sorrow that is not the Will of God. There is a sorrow that can be counter-productive. This is excessive sorrow or despair. Such was the overwhelming sorrow that the people of Israel felt when they were instructed through the reading of God’s Word.
Sorrow can become destructive when we continue to feel grief and sorrow AFTER we have been convicted of our sins, AFTER we have confessed them to God, and AFTER we have sought forgiveness and made the commitment to change. After confession and forgiveness, God wants to replace the grief and sorrow with holy gladness and joy.
Nehemiah urged his people to NOT go on and on in their sorrow and weeping, but rather to go on through their sorrow to find the joy of the Lord which would be their sustaining strength.
The prophet Isaiah foresaw the ministry of our Redeemer. That ministry was foretold in Isaiah 61:1-3, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord... To comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting."
Restoring joy to those who are sorrowful and penitent because of their sins is at the heart of God’s ministry of reconciliation. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, "Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4)." That is the essence of the Gospel - the good news - that if you mourn over your sins, Jesus will give you comfort and joy.
Satan relishes and encourages our excessive despair over sin because this provides a means of driving a wedge between us and our redeemer. If we believe our own despair more than the forgiveness that the Lord offers, we in effect discount God’s forgiveness and our weakened, perhaps even destroyed, because of it. Remember the words of Nehemiah, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” A despairing Christian is no threat to Satan.
In 2 Corinthians 2:6-7,11, Paul instructs the congregation to accept back into fellowship a repentant man and comfort him before his sorrow becomes destructive. Paul writes, “forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.... in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes."
The Devil uses accusation to make us doubt that God loves us, and doubt our salvation. Satan strives to snatch the fruit of the Spirit from our souls. He works hard to discourage us by whispering lies into our spiritual ears. Perhaps, you have heard him whisper to your soul, saying:
- You’re no good.
- God’s not pleased with you and He never will be.
- You are a spiritual failure.
- You have so many faults and weaknesses, you’ll never be able to please the Lord.
- You have messed-up so many times, He is not going to forgive you.
- You might as well give-up because you’ll never make it.
Discouragement is one of the chief goals of Satan because it is an effective tool for destroying the joy of the Lord, and when that joy is destroyed our faith is weakened.
If you are wrestling with these feelings today, know that the Deceiver is playing mind-games with you. The mind is the primary battleground where Satan attacks us, today. If Satan can get you to think how he wants you to think and believe what he wants you to believe, your mind becomes his fortress under his control.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, "the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."
When the Deceiver begins his demoralizing attack, we need to fight back with the teachings and promises of Jesus Christ and His apostles. We need to bring our thought processes into submission to Christ. If we find that we ourselves are experiencing this kind of attack from Satan, remember Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 --- "If God be for us, who can be against us? He Who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, and furthermore is also risen, and is at the right hand of God and makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?....
In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Remember Philippians 1:6, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”."
Remember 1 John 1:9, “ If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Elsewhere we read: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins."
Remember 2 John 4:4, "Greater is He Who is in you than he who is in the world."
And remember Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me." Surely that includes resisting the temptation of Satan who tries very had to make us believe that God does not love us enough to forgive our sins.
When Satan tries to get you down on yourself, when you are feeling that your life is of no account and forget that it is precious to the Lord, one remedy is to Count your Blessings and thank the Lord for them, one by one. Count your blessings and THANK HIM for them. Remember how good He has been to you. ’When upon life’s bellows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.’ A grateful heart is a happy heart. Count your blessings and thank Him for them, one by one. This is a defense against the whiles of the Devil. The joy of the Lord is your strength.
My heart goes-out to all who are plagued with excessive sorrow and whose life is enervated by regret. Few know just how horrible it is unless they themselves have experienced it. I hope that the things I have brought forth in this message may be of some help if you are being weakened and discouraged by excessive regret.
My wish and prayer would be that all of us would know - each moment - the joy of the Lord and be strengthened by it.
When Nehemiah gathered the people together and Ezra read the Word, the people saw two things: Their need for repentance and their joy at God’s forgiveness. We find the same things in the Word. We find our need for repentance! God blesses the penitent heart. We also find the joy of the Lord if we will but open our hearts to it.
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 51:17, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me…. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” God forgives, his love causes him to forgive…and we are the beneficiaries of his grace. Romans 2:4 asks, “do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” Part of repentance is accepting God’s grace and forgiveness!
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 16:11 “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” In Hebrews 4:16 we read, “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.” Psalm 30:5 teaches that the Lord’s “anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." Remember that dwelling upon your sins and weaknesses is a rejection of His grace and is not the will of the Lord. Proverbs 17:22 teaches, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Joy can be found today for all Christians! It is found in the Word of the Lord, in the Worship of the Lord, and in the Will of the Lord! This joy is a strength for you! Come to the sources that can produce joy in your life so that you will have the strength to fight the good fight, to finish your course and keep the faith! Let us count our many blessings and rejoice in the Lord!