Satan does all he can to steal our joy. One way he does that, relevant for our study, is to convince us that the church of Christ, that Christianity, is really impotent in our society today. No one cares about Christianity, the church of Christ is too small and too powerless to make any difference. So why bother?
The Jews in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah were not much different than Christians in 21st century America. When Israel returned from 70 years of exile in Babylon, they were a small minority in a very large Persian Empire and their success hinged on the will of the Persian rulers and their policies. I want us to understand the work and message of Ezra and Nehemiah but also to be strengthened in our walk with God in the same way they were, especially from Nehemiah 8.
The Jews are a decided minority in a nation / empire that could not care less about true worship of the true God. Their neighbors are no less apathetic to their work to rebuild the temple and restore worship according to the law of Moses. In fact, some of the Jews themselves are not putting their shoulder to the work either.
RESPECT FOR THE LAW OF GOD – Nehemiah 8:1-8:
Notice that it was the people who asked Ezra to read the law of Moses to them. A preacher can only do so much. The congregation has to be the one who stands up and says, “Let us hear the word of the Lord.”
We see the respect for the law of God in several ways. The people asked for it to be read. They were attentive to the reading (vs 3). Ezra read it from early morning until noon. The people stood, while Ezra was reading the law (vs 5). While it was being read, the people remained in their place.
RESPONSE TO THE LAW – 8:9-12:
When we read the word of God, we have one of two responses, sometimes mingled together. The Jews’ initial response to the reading of the law on this occasion was that they mourned and wept, no doubt realizing that they were not and had not been obeying the law of the Lord as they should have been.
But, Nehemiah, the governor, steps up beside Ezra, the scribe, and the Levites and they all encourage the Jews not to mourn but to celebrate: “This day is holy to the Lord your God!” (Said three times: 9, 10, 11) Why? Because it was a day of return, a day of repentance, a day of renewal, a day of thanksgiving. The reason is stated in verse 10 that “this day is holy to the Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
THE RESTORATION OF THE LAW – 8:13-18:
When they read in the law, they learned they had been worshiping unscripturally and they repented and started doing what the law of Moses had been telling them to do for centuries.
THE JOY OF THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH:
What should make us joyful? The world wants us to think that having the largest church is the goal. If we do not have an auditorium that is overflowing with people and a budget that is tens of thousands of dollars and two worship services, then we are not doing what we ought to be doing.
Of course, God is concerned about numbers. God wants as many people to be saved as will submit their will to His will in humble obedience.
But the joy of the Lord is our strength. We do not merely want to be the largest church but we do want to be the most faithful to the Lord and His Word as we can possibly be. That touches on each of us, our individual lives and as a community of Jesus Christ. If there is something that the NT teaches us to do and we haven’t or are not doing it, we need to do just what the Jews here did: we need to start doing it.
The joy of the Lord is your strength when you orient your life around the Word of God.