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."