In 586 BC, Jerusalem was in shambles. The temple had been ransacked and destroyed by Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. Many of the Jews had been carried into exile.
Some seventy years later, after Persia had taken over Babylon, King Cyrus released the Jews to return to their homeland. God had promised this through the prophets. Slowly, the temple was rebuilt. Almost a hundred years later, Nehemiah went back to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Bit by bit, the glory was being returned to Jerusalem and the people of God.
In Nehemiah 8, scripture recounts that when the walls were completed, a scribe named Ezra called an assembly of the people. As soon as the sun came up, Ezra read from the Book of the Law. For many in that assembly, it was the first time they had heard the Law of Moses. For others, it was a refreshing renewal of God’s word.
Ezra stood high on this wooden platform and the people listened for half a day while the word was read. It seems that the Jews were hanging on every word. As Ezra read, the people wept and grieved because of their past sins of disobedience. They realized that they had not, in any way, kept their end of the covenant.
But as the people wept and grieved, notice what Nehemiah and Ezra declared, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep. Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Marvelous words, aren’t they? The joy of the Lord is our strength.
Yes, there is a time to weep and grieve over our sin. There is a time to be still—to reflect upon God and his word. But there is also a time to celebrate with fervor and energy and abundant joy because of what God has done.
The joy we have in Jesus gives us the strength we need to get through this spiritual journey we call life. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
This Sunday, we will hear Paul issue an imperative command to the Christians in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always! Let me repeat that: REJOICE!” Keep in mind that Paul wrote those words from a jail cell. Even in prison, Paul finds reasons to rejoice in the Lord.
We probably don’t talk about joy as often as we should. The Bible talks about joy a lot. In the book of Psalms alone, no less than 38 times the writer tells us to either sing joyfully or to shout joyfully to the Lord.
Jesus says in Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
In John 17:13, Jesus prays these words, “Father, I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” Jesus wants us to have his joy!
In Matthew 28, the women show up at the tomb of Jesus and they see an angel. Now, imagine how fearful that would make you! But the angel says, “Fear not. The one you seek is not here. He has risen.” And Matthew tells us that the women “…departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are run out of Antioch. Rejected! How would that make you feel? Angry? Vindictive? Here’s how Paul and Barnabas reacted, “They shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes this to the church in Rome, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
He tells the Thessalonian church, “Always be joyful!”
In 1 Peter 1:8, the apostle informs his hearers that they already possess a glorious and inexpressible joy in Christ.
John begins his letter by telling the Christians, “We are writing these things so that your joy may be complete.”
I give you these verses simply to make a point: Joy is really important to God! Joy ought to be an easily recognizable characteristic of the church of Christ. Christians have every reason to be the most joyful people in the world. We are members of a joyous faith where God, and what God has done, are celebrated.
How full is your joy tank? I know… pandemic, anarchy, social unrest, the election, and a thousand other things from Satan are trying to rob us of our joy. Yet, a church without joy cannot exalt Jesus! Nobody is attracted to Jesus when His people walk around full of anxiety and fear like the rest of the world.
But when we approach the chaos of the broken world with joy, hope, and confidence in Christ Jesus, that gets people's attention. The anxious unbeliever says, “I want what they’ve got!”
Let’s be a church that is anxious for nothing. Let's be a church that exudes joy.
Because it makes Jesus look good.