Summary: Joy is the result of knowing who we are and whose we are, discovering the will of God in His Word, and coming to repentance and the discovery of grace.
Watergate not only holds a prominent place in American politics, it holds a prominent place in biblical history. One involves coverup and deception, the other involves repentance and honesty. The story of the Bible’s Water Gate is found in the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was the cupbearer of the Persian king Artaxerxes. He had been deported from his home country and carried away to Persia, but his heart was still in Jerusalem. He asked the king if he could return for a time to his homeland to assist his people in their distress. The walls of Jerusalem had been demolished and the people were at the mercy of their enemies. The king permitted Nehemiah’s temporary return to accomplish his mission, and in two months he had the wall rebuilt — in spite of overwhelming problems and ruthless opposition by enemies. It was a great victory, even though the people had to carry weapons at all times while they rebuilt the wall.
After they had completed the wall around Jerusalem, Ezra the scribe gathered the people at the Water Gate and began to read to them from the Scriptures — the Book of the law of Moses. Ezra stood on a high platform so that everyone could see and hear him as he read the Word of God. The Levites helped the people to understand its meaning. When they heard the Word of the Lord they bowed down and began to worship him. But something else happened. When the people heard from God’s Word how they were to live, and realized how they had been living, they were grieved in their hearts. Great waves of guilt began to roll over them and they began to weep before God. They realized that it was because of their father’s sins that they had been overcome by their enemies, and here they were doing the same things. They had neglected the Word of God and were ignorant of his ways. The quality of these people is shown by the fact that when they finally did hear the Word of God they responded to it appropriately with confession of their sins and tears of repentance before God. And when there was true repentance among the people there was true forgiveness from God. Then Ezra the priest, seeing their repentance, said to them: “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.... This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
We often confuse sacred with solemn and somber. We sometimes think that to be holy is to be quiet and serious, but the Bible equates holiness with joy. The true worship of God is done with rejoicing and celebration. The most sacred times in our lives are filled with joy: our wedding, the birth of a child, Christmas and Easter. God does not delight in sorrow but in joy. He is happiest when we are happy. The joy of the Lord is our strength. There are several reasons for this, and I want to lift out three reasons this morning. The first is: Joy is the result of knowing who we are and whose we are. What did the people discover as they read the Word of the Law? They heard the words: “I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45). They heard how God chose them, had loved them and delivered them from slavery. They learned how he gave them the promised land. They learned what their purpose was as a people in the world. They began to understand that they were not just a group of individuals, they were the people of God. They were not a bunch of losers living in the same area, they were the chosen people of God. They were not the product of chance and fate, they were the people of God — created by him and loved by him. They were also responsible to him. They were to be like him. Because they were God’s people they were accountable to him for their actions. They were to lead holy lives. These facts had awesome implications, but it also gave them a sense of identity and belonging. They finally understood that they had been created by God for a purpose and that their lives had a destiny. They were not just any people — they were the people of God. They were not to live just any way — they were to live in such a way that their lives pleased God and glorified him.
Isn’t this what we need today? Is it any wonder that we are having trouble with self-esteem when we teach our children that they are not the creation of God, but the result of irrational fate — an accident of time and chance with no real purpose or meaning? Is it any wonder that we are having trouble teaching morals when we teach that we are merely animals which have evolved over millions of years, and that it is unrealistic to expect people to control the animal passions within them? Is it any wonder that people are aimless when they buy the idea that there was no reason for their existence other than the forces of biology and animal chemistry? We have taught them that God is not their father and that their bodies are only the result of the evolutionary process. Human existence began in a primordial mud hole, and from there primitive life forms eventually crawled out and evolved through time until humans began to appear on the scene. And then we expect children and adults to value themselves and have a sense of purpose and meaning. Incredible!