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 the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, which means it is the 4th Sunday before Christmas and a special season set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to look forward in hope to His second coming. This advent season we will be focusing on the joy Jesus has given to us. When Jesus prayed for us in John 17 He told the Father that He had been teaching us all these things so that we may experience the fullness of His joy. Joy is essential to our living the life God meant for us to live.
Way back in the Old Testament there was a man named Nehemiah who had the privilege of leading God’s people, the Israelites, out of exile. He got to lead them home and even rebuild the walls around Jerusalem after the city was destroyed. Soon after their return Nehemiah had the people gather together to hear the reading of God’s Word. Once they heard it, and understood it, they began to week and mourn because they realized how messed up things had gotten.
However, Nehemiah interrupts their weeping with a challenge to rejoice and trust in the joy of God to get them through. They could have stayed in their guilt and in their shame because of their past decisions. They could have continued to sulk and beat themselves up because of missed opportunity. Or, they could take Nehemiah up on the challenge to make a different choice – let the joy of the Lord be their strength.
Their joy wasn’t based on their past. They didn’t need to do all the right things to be loved by God. He loved them unconditionally. The fact that they were standing in a rebuilt city after all these years of exile was testimony to that. God never left them. Yes, they had messed up. But, their joy didn’t depend on their perfection. It depended on God. Their joy wasn’t their own, it was God’s joy and it brought them great strength. Don’t live in the past, live in the joy of God and let Him be your strength.
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
Ever feel like everyone is watching out for themselves and no one is really thinking of others? I have felt like that a lot lately. Now, When it comes to human leaders I would like to think that when it really comes down to it they are making decisions believing they are the right ones for the most people. I hope. Even if I don’t like the decision, my hope is that they really believe it to be the right one and that is not just based in selfishness. I also hope that when we complain and disagree with things it comes from a genuine place of love for others and not from a place of self-serving interests.
What it really boils down to is as humans we always end up being a little selfish and we don’t always look out for the interests of others. The only one we can trust to always be looking for us is God. He is always with us and is always for us. We can rest assured that when God makes a decision it is always with our best in mind and when we trust Him, will always lead to a more abundant life and healthier relationships.
All throughout the Bible we hear about God dwelling with His people, something even this Psalmist alludes to. God is always with us. He stays with us, thinks about us, and know us better than we know ourselves. I mean, He knows the very number of hairs on our heads (and exactly how many hairs we have lost). He proves it, not just with words, but with actions.
Consider all the ways God has interceded in this world. He found His people in captivity in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. He did that for them. Jesus left heaven and came to this world, for us. Jesus lived, died, and rose again all for us. Jesus promised to not abandon us, but to come back for us. Do you see? It is all for us.
It is easy to become selfish in this life because no one is looking out for me – so I have to. That leads to a life of incredible worry and frustration. Why not live with God as King – who dwells with you, cares about, and is for you. People will let us down. But God never will.
… Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel….
How do you define a win? What does it look like for you to win? In sports it is easy to define a winner – it is the one with the most points at the end of the game or the one who crosses the finish line first. That’s pretty easy. But, when it comes to life defining a win isn’t always that easy. When we don’t find the win we have been looking for it is easy to fall into despair. When we let despair have its way in us we can miss the actual win God has for us.
Take for instance these two guys who were on their way to Emmaus after the death of Jesus. These guys were walking along talking about everything that just happened and Scriptures describes them as being sad. In this sadness they missed recognizing the risen Jesus! They were sulking in what they thought was a loss and missed the victory standing (literally) right in front of them!
They had decided that victory meant their political redemption. Jesus, if He really was King, would take over the Roman empire. He would defeat them and Israel would be set free. But, how can that happen when instead He is crucified and buried. Now, three days later they can’t even find His body! They were sad because what they wanted to happen didn’t. So, they assumed they lost.
Don’t let despair take over. Just because life doesn’t turn out the way you want doesn’t mean you have lost. When your prayers aren’t answered the way you pictured it doesn't mean God doesn’t care. God is King and has promised you victory. When things don’t work out the way we want, we just might need to redefine what victory looks like and be willing to see beyond our little boxes. God didn’t just want to redeem Israel, He wanted to redeem all of Creation. Victory was won, it was just a bigger victory than they expected. God has a victory for you, it just might be bigger than you expected. Keep hoping and trusting in Him, don’t let despair win.
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
God’s Kingdom is here! After a week of watching this country argue and fight over an election I just want to say – God is still King! This election has become very personal for many people as they feel like over man vs. another is going to strip them of their rights and their freedoms. If we keep putting our hope in human leadership we are never going to find what we are looking for. We will always live with a sense of fear and uneasiness. Now, maybe more than ever, is when we need to realize that God is King and His Kingdom is in our midst.
This statement from Jesus reminds me that I do not need to wait for this Kingdom, but that I can enjoy this Kingdom today, if I want to. We should not just be waiting for a future Kingdom, we should also be living in a present Kingdom. Jesus says this Kingdom is here and in fact when you pray, ask for this Kingdom to come. For God to reign supreme in this place just as He does in heaven. So, let’s look for this Kingdom and watch for ways it is breaking forth in our lives and in this world.
When asked what to look for in Matthew 11:4-5 Jesus answered with look for healing, look for life, and look for hope among the hopeless. God’s Kingdom is here healing our lives, giving us life, and bringing us hope. Fear not – God is King. Let’s put our faith there and live in His Kingdom and not get so dependent on the kings of this world.
She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
Once God’s chosen people, the Israelites, rejected Him as King things got worse. It wasn’t long after their decision that their Kingdom experienced disunity and was eventually divided into two different kingdoms. Both of those kingdoms would be conquered and they would be taken into captivity. When they were finally given the opportunity to return from exile, to go back to the promised land, they found it under someone else’s rule. So, they were no longer slaves in one land, but now found them under someone else’s authority and rule in their own land. So, when Jesus’ birth was announced they viewed it as their opportunity to finally have their kingdom back, to finally be home.
For us, when we read about Jesus’ birth we immediately think of Savior. Jesus came to die for our sins, to save us from eternal death, and to give us eternal life. We don’t usually think of Him in terms of King. But, for the Jews, He was King first. What we need to realize is Jesus is both of those things. He is Savior and He is King. He came to save the world from sin and to also give the world an opportunity to come home, to live in His Kingdom.
In His Kingdom we find freedom. In His Kingdom we find reconciliation. In His Kingdom we find comfort and security. In his Kingdom we can find all the things we long for and hunger for in “home.” The Israelites longed for the day when they could truly return home and with the arrival of Christ they were given that chance. Let’s all take advantage of this opportunity and go home by letting Jesus be King.
Pastor Matt Huff leads Portland Central Nazarene Church. He loves being in ministry and seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ.