Celebrate! – Nehemiah 12
Kids celebration message :
What has been the best thing happened in your week?
What has been the worst thing?
It’s easy to be thankful when nice things happen, harder to be thankful to God when not so nice things happen.
It says in bible – give thanks in all circumstances – (all situations) (1 Thess. 5v18)
No matter what happens in our week, good or bad – we should always thank God. Because, no matter what kind of week we’ve had – God is still the creator, still our heavenly father, he’s still the biggest and still the best, he doesn’t change and still deserves our thanks. That’s what I’m going to be talking to the adults about later.
Q. What do you think we always thank God for, even if we’re having a hard time?
Elicit answers from children (how good he is, that he loves us, that Jesus dies for us, that Jesus came back to life)
Let’s do that now: Pray (for things above and things kids said)
We’ve been looking at Nehemiah; looking at Nehemiah 12 today.
If you’re a visitor, here’s quick review of where we’re up to.
Quick review of previous passages:
The Jews : God’s chosen people, encounter disaster when they stray from God’s ways and protection. Babylon’s soldiers lay Jerusalem’s temple and walls to ruins, and lead all but the poorest from Jerusalem, into captivity.
The prophet Isaiah foretold that they’d be forgiven, refined by their suffering and would return from exile.
It takes time.
Nehemiah works in the court of king Artaxerxes, but feels called by God to rebuild Jerusalem, miraculously the King allows him to do this.
Despite opposition, the Israelites put huge effort into rebuilding the massive walls of Jerusalem, the city that was their cultural home, which has been uninhabited for 160 years!
Last session in church was– Being honest to God –
Neh 9 Wall had been completed – Ezra reads from book of law, Israelites have great confession of their sin & forefathers sin that lead to them being in exile and Jerusalem being ruined.
Neh 10 People recommit to God, powerful writing of an oath to obey God’s law again: leaders seal their names on it - recorded forever in Neh 10.
Neh 11 Holy city, built by God – needed a population, leaders settle there and people cast lots 1/10 go to live in city from their homes! – Huge sacrifice, obedience, leaders who settle are listed in Neh 11.
Neh 12 – Where we’re up to - Work is done, people are there -Time to celebrate!
Celebration quiz on Projector Screen:
Photos - Local and International: Who is celebrating and what is being celebrated?
Ask congregation to call answers out.
All of those examples of celebration were for a reason, in response to something significant, something good happening. Celebration is reactive, it’s something that we want to do. It’s human nature to want to mark special happenings and it’s enjoyable, it benefits us, it feels like a ‘right’ response.
Dictionary – “holding of festivities to mark a happy event, public praising of something.”
The bigger and better the event, the greater the celebration.
Fundamental to any celebration is ‘thanks’, giving ‘thanks’ to the person who has made the whole thing possible.
In Neh 12 we see a ding dong celebration of thanks for what God has achieved:
(Read scripture highlights of Chapter 12 here from bible)
As you’ve probably realised, the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls in Nehemiah as well as being a good demonstration of how God works through a leader and a corporate body, is a great analogy of what God does in our lives when he rebuilds them through Jesus Christ.
Like the Israelites in exile, we start from a place of utter ruin, a consequence of our sin, where there appears to be no hope, we’re born into a situation where we’ve strayed from God and are cut off. But God is calling us, and has a plan for us.
The rebuilding work starts when we request forgiveness for our sins. God can then start his healing work, there’s opposition and there’s cost.
But, a truly miraculous and wonderful new life is built, and it’s creator is very worthy of celebration.
By looking at this monumental event in history, and it’s fitting celebration, I hope, we can be encouraged this morning to celebrate God and his on going rebuilding work in our lives.
I’m talking about a lifestyle of celebration, where we thank God for significant works, but also apply an attitude of celebration to our daily lives.
Here’s how we’ll break it down, as Kairos is a Baptist church, there’s 3 points! :
· 1. Significance of celebrating God
· 2. Process for celebrating God
· 3. Fruits of celebrating God
1. Significance of celebrating God
It’s our chief end
v.43 “and on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy ”
Here are a people wrapped up in God. They’ve left their homes to work on this thing, they’ve witnessed God’s work in their lives, helping them accomplish this massive feat in an incredible 52 days.
This wasn’t party emotion turned on just for the day and forgotten about the next.
Celebrating God means living our lives in worship of him. It’s more than singing songs on a Sunday. It is the total submission of all that we have and are, to everything that we know of God.
William Temple described adoration as
‘the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable, and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centredness which is our original sin, and the source of all actual sin’ (William Temple, Readings in St. John’s gospel, 1950)
We are made to be beings that celebrate God that enjoy God, that thank God, and when we do, we’re fortified, like those walls.
“Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
We celebrate, thank and praise God because it’s our chief end!
Levites were the teachers of the time, they were busy people.
There must have been at least one Levite who drew Nehemiah aside; and said,
‘Look Nem, I haven’t got time for this, I’m really busy next Tuesday, isn’t it more important to do God’s work than to celebrate it? There are people who have come to this city to live, who’s homes aren’t built yet, they need our time most.’
There must have been someone who thought that, and if I was there, it would probably have been me!
And yet, not only was this an all inclusive act of thanksgiving, but they brought people in from the surrounding countryside too!
v27 “..the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication”
What Nehemiah demonstrated was that the job wasn’t actually finished, until God had been thanked and his works celebrated. It’s part of the process.
He was right too
Nehemiah was around before Jesus, but Jesus taught this very thing through parable of the ten lepers.
Reader: Tell Jesus and the leper story (Luke 17 : 11- 19)
“Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other 9? Was no-one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?
The foreigner was a Samaritan – sound familiar? – Last week Pat Took opened up the parable of Good Samaritan for us – how insulting message was – Samaritans despised, yet in that parable, the one who pleases God, same here.
– it’s the most unlikely person who pleases the Lord, because he comes before the Lord and gives thanks!
Those lepers were in an appalling state, their flesh was rotting away on them. They were dying a slow death, Jewish society couldn’t bear to go near them, and was afraid of them and their disease .
Can you believe that they were healed from this terrible disease, and didn’t fall on their faces before Jesus and praise him, thank him, for what he had done?
Yep, I can believe it. I’ve been one of those 9.
That same Jesus has healed me of the rotting of my sin, a disease that was eating away at my life.
I’ve said a big thanks before now, but my heart hasn’t always carried on in a state of gratitude, my actions don’t always celebrate what God has done.
I’ve prayed and prayed for things in the past, and God has answered my prayers, Victory! Breakthrough! Yes!
It’s only days later that I might remember that I’ve got God to thank, he’s been waiting for me to come back to him and praise him!
It happens to all of us, but it’s not defensible.
Personal story miraculous answer to prayer
We celebrate God and give thanks because it’s required, and we don’t want to leave God waiting for it.
v43.” The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”
The whole thing was designed as a public event, the choirs and instrumentalists walked on the top of the walls, not like the Queen’s tea parties, where only a select few get in. This couldn’t be more public!
What’s that sound? – What are those people in Jerusalem doing?
As we seek to witness in the local area and in our work places, it’s good to identify what made this public celebration such a witness.
It wasn’t the fact that they were having a wild knees up on the walls.
That in itself, if that’s all it is, is just having a good time – anyone can do that!
We’re not to just copy the behaviour of successful worship events and hope the worship is good.
I’ve been to some great parties and enjoyed a good dance, in many ways replicating the physical actions of this celebration in Nehemiah, but that doesn’t make it an act of witness or worship!
The witness comes in v.43 the people were ‘rejoicing because God had given them great joy’. Bingo! There’s the witness: expressing the joy of God.
People must have said: I want to know what this thing is that you have that gives you such joy! Real joy! You’re so full of Joy about this God of yours, you can’t keep it in.
I want that!
Is that what people would say about our worship on a Sunday? Or about your life – your daily act of worship in the week, at home, at college, in the office?
Don’t be disheartened, but do ask the holy spirit to change you.
There’s no set way to express our adoration, there’s no right or wrong, except that we do express it, even if it feels a bit uncomfortable. That joy speaks for itself.
I struggled with the concept of worship and public praise for my first few years as a Christian. I couldn’t forget myself, I was too self aware, it felt too unnatural, too un-British.
John the Baptist said – ‘he must become greater, I must become less’ (John 3 v30)
That’s what we do in our public worship. Make God greater, and make ourselves less
It’s a witness
2. Process for celebrating God
The Levites were brought to Jerusalem from the surrounding region for this day, the singers were brought in from the villages, the people the gates and the wall are purified before the two choirs march in opposite directions around the walls.
This celebration of God was very well planned.
I went to a course last week, the Rough Guide for Dads. The one thing that Phil Wall, the speaker, kept coming back to, the main message for Dads, was this: If you don’t book them in you book them out! His point was that by not scheduling your children into your diary in the same way that you schedule your busy life, you effectively schedule them out of your life.
We can do that with a lot of relationships can’t we? Including God.
Every time Phil shouted the first line, ‘If you don’t book them in’, we had to shout back, in a manly way, ..’you book them out’ good fun, but true of God.
If there’s a specific thing to thank God for, or if you don’t feel you’ve thanked God recently for his remarkable goodness, book him in, set aside a morning, a lunchtime, an evening.
It needs to be planned.
v.30 ‘When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall’.
Before anyone sang a word in thanks, there was purification.
The people were cleansed first, then the project was cleansed.
This would have been through a sacrifice where a sacred animal suffered death in the place of the people.
Remember how we see the leper? That’s how God sees our heart when we come before him, sin is vile, and it’s the thing that God wants to deal with.
Before these believers could stand before a holy God, they had to have a clean heart.
It’s important to start from that place of forgiveness, as it focuses our thanks on God when we celebrate , not on us. When God has done a work in our lives, or if we’re thanking him simply for who he is, there is a temptation to celebrate ourselves as if we had a bigger part to play than our simple obedience.
‘Apart from me (says God) you can do nothing’ John 15 v 5.
The Psalmist wrote – ‘you do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart. Psalm 51 v16-17’
External ritual achieves nothing when un-confessed sin lurks in the heart.
Someone said that ‘holiness precedes happiness’.
It’s hard to celebrate even God when our sin hasn’t been dealt with first.
And yet when we confess our sins they’re removed ‘as far as the East is from the West ‘(Psalm 103 v 12)
What a glorious starting point ! Makes you want to praise God doesn’t it?
From the heart
v43 ‘on that day they offered great sacrifices , rejoicing because God had given them great joy’
It’s superlative, these people were giving their best to God, and I don’t think this was a stale and stern remembrance of what God had done. This was a celebration that could be heard for miles, and there was no PA system!
We don’t adore with our mouths, our hands or our feet. We adore God with our heart, and the other body parts just communicate it.
In Jerusalem there were trumpets, cymbals, harps, lyres, choirs and the procession.
Each brought the thing they could in contribution to the celebration, and what was that? – their thankful hearts. They expressed their thanks in different ways, but it was their thankful heart that they all brought.
We thank from the heart.
3. Fruits of Celebrating God
My grandad – a remarkable man, demonstrated something of God.
Now to me, the concept of a birthday was always that you should be given nice presents, but my granddad, seemed to get it all wrong.
Every year on his birthday, he would give birthday money to all his grandkids.
He didn’t have loads of money, and he was always generous.
And so it is when we celebrate, adore and thank our heavenly father.
God is always seeking to do good things in us.
When we are obedient, because of his graciousness, he heaps blessings back on us. When we thank him, we benefit!
There are lots of benefits to celebrating God’s work – I’ve picked up on just a few.
Giving praise to God is a profoundly unifying experience.
In Jerusalem the priests, Levites, leaders singers and masses join together in worship of God, there’s no distinction as to which ones are rejoicing with great joy – they all are!
When we come together before God, we become aware of our equally deep need for God’s forgiveness, and stuff that might divide us can only fade into insignificance compared to the wonder of what Jesus has done for us all.
It’s very hard to hold on to a sinful thought or habit, when we expose ourselves to God in humble adoration.
There’s empowerment for future works
This celebration we read about was not only marking the end of the building project, but the start of a new era for the Jews, through the celebration, they were dedicating themselves to future works.
v. 44 ‘At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes’, v. 47 ‘..all Israel contributed the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers’
As we celebrate what God has done in our lives, it’s inevitable that we dedicate ourselves to future works. By looking back at what God has done , we’re encouraged at what he’s going to do.
Whether that’s celebrating a key event, celebrating the daily working of God in our lives, or simply celebrating who God is.
A lifestyle that celebrates God, equips us wonderfully for the trials of life.
We are empowered.
Brings us Life
Hebrews 13 v 15 “Let us continually offer a sacrifice of Praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name”
It’s only plants that are alive and healthy that bear fruit. Praise is the fruit of a heart that knows Jesus.
I could see it this morning during worship time –see it on your faces!
As we glorify God, so life in all fullness is released in us, even if we don’t start off feeling very alive on a Sunday morning.
The spirit of God is a spirit of life.
God did a great work for the Jews, and Nehemiah recognised the importance of celebrating God’s deliverance.
We too should recognise the triumph of God, and live a life in celebration of him.
It’s our Chief end – we’re made for it.
It’s required of us, God’s work isn’t finished yet, if we haven’t thanked God.
It speaks as a witness to those around us.
Celebration won’t happen unless You Plan it.
It starts with Confession
And comes From the Heart, not the hand.
Celebrating God brings unity to the church
And empowers us for the works ahead.
I’ll end with this.
When Paul was in prison for spreading the good news of Jesus- he wrote,
In Philippians 4v4 ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
You may agree with the idea of celebrating God, but just not feel able to because of where you’re at right now, maybe you feel let down by God or can’t see God working in your life. Maybe can’t see what there is to thank God for.
Even if it’s with the weakest whisper of your heart, rather than a triumphant voice, persevere.
He will lift you up as you turn to him.
I know a mother, who had a son who died. A verse that was very special to that lady was this from Job, who spoke out of incredible suffering :
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised’
Job 1, 21
That speaks lots to me about what faith is!
In our suffering, God is still worthy of Praise, and as we do, he’ll rebuild our hearts.
Confess sin – ask God to search our hearts
Thank God for milestone events in life, thank him for things we have not thanked him for before.
Let’s consider how we can live a life that speaks in celebration of a God that rebuilds lives.