Summary: I have combined and reworked two sermons: "The Joy of the Lord is Our Strength" by Scott Coltrain (Nov. 2002) and "The Joy of the Lord" by John Dobbs (Dec. 2000) The sermon is intended to lift from despair and celebrate our salvation with joy.
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.