Summary: The Scriptures teach that the joy of the Lord is our strength. This is a lesson which provides guidance on how we can experience the power of spiritual joy in our Christian lives.
Background: The Jews had returned from 70 years 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 believed it was time to begin teaching the people the Holy Scriptures. (READ Nehemiah 8:1-9)
When they heard the Word of God, they were profoundly grieved. They were convicted. 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.
In our spiritual lives, sorrow for our sins can be a wonderful thing. Paul speaks of its benefits in 2 Corinthians 7:10, "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.
God desires that we have this kind of sorrow and remorse. This kind of sorrow is essential in getting us to where we should be.
However, there is a sorrow that is not the Will of God. There is a sorrow that can be counter-productive. This is excessive sorrow or despair. Brothers and sisters, it is destructive when we continue to feel grief and sorrow AFTER we have have been convicted of our sins, AFTER we have confessed them to God, 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.
The prophet Isaiah foresaw the ministry of our Redeemer. In Isaiah 61:1-3, that ministry is foretold as if through the mouth of Christ - "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me because the Lord has annointed 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."
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.
In Corinth, there was a brother who committed an act of immorality. The Church disciplined the erring brother with disfellowshipment and that action caused the brother to realize how wicked his behavior was. He sorrowed over his sin. In 2 Corinthians 2:6-7,11, Paul instructs the congregation to accept back the repentant brother and comfort him before his sorrow became destructive: "Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather 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."
You know, there are few things that Satan relishes more than a Christian who is in despair over their sins. When a Christian lacks spiritual comfort and joy, the Deceiver rejoices because that Christian is under Satan’s thumb. He is worthless to the Lord and no threat to Satan.
Return back to Nehemiah 8:9-10, "Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ’This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all of the people were weeping when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them,... ’Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."