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.
Pastor Matt Huff leads Portland Central Nazarene Church. He loves being in ministry and seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ.