Saturday, September 22, 2007

Joy through Understanding

Nehemiah 8:1 – 3, 8 – 12
“Joy through Understanding”


This is a remarkable story where the people cam expecting joy, responded by weeping, and ended up celebrating.

Ezra read to those who a.) Could understand [v 3], b.) Listened carefully [v 3], c.) and worshiped the Lord [v 6].

The people had been in exile for 70 years, cut off from Jerusalem (the focal point of their religion). Now they were gathered together. For 70 years they were unable to practice their religion. Probably most of them were ignorant of the book of the Law.

They gathered together and asked (demanded) for the Law to be read to be “brought out.” They were hungry for God to speak to them. This was an exciting time of possible revival.

IN ALL PROBABILITY, they had no idea what they were getting into.

I. Understand is not necessarily a comfortable thing.

Ezra and the priests did four things: a..) They read from “Book of the Law” (first five books of the Bible), b.) They made it “clear.” c.) They gave the meaning. d.) They helped them understand (gave application).

A. Hearing from God can be DIFFICULT.

1. It may not be what you expect.

a. Ever pray for something and have the answer come back, “no, I have something better?” (Usually exactly what we did not what to happen.)

b. Ever been reading the Bible and something just jump out at you and grab you so much that you could not escape the thought. (Usually something you don’t want to do.)

2. It may not be what you want.

a. Nobody wants surgery or chemo unless the natural course is worse than the treatment.

b. The treatment for sin is radical: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” [Matthew 5:30]

1.) JESUS WAS NOT SAYING TO DO THIS!!! What Jesus was saying was that sin was serious and needed to be seriously dealt with.

2.) Problem is we tend to be comfortable with sin.

B. Understanding God can be DEVASTATING.

1. Understanding God puts you in a different light.

a. We think we are “good people.” (By our standard, maybe we are.)

b. Trouble is the Bible describes us like this: “As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; [11] there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. [12] All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. [13] Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. [14] Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. [15] Their feet are swift to shed blood; [16] ruin and misery mark their ways, [17] and the way of peace they do not know. [18] There is no fear of God before their eyes.” [Romans 3:10 – 18]

2. Understanding brings either godly sorrow or anger directed at God.

a. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” [2 Corinthians 7:10]

b. Many times when we understand we get angry... typically at the messenger.

3. Understanding “puts the question” to our lives.

a. “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” [Joshua 24:10]

b. “As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. [3] For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do.” [1 Peter 4:2 – 3a]

C. Understanding how to apply God’s Word can be DAUNTING.

1. “Application” is the main source of error. Worse yet, application can become theology.

a. Example: the desire to be holy applied can lead to a trust in works.

b. “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. [2] I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? [3] Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” [Galatians 3:1 – 3]

2. The gap between home brewed theology/expectations and divine ones may be a “guilt trip” used to control or abuse God’s people. [See Arterburn and Felton “Toxic Faith”]

3. Worse yet, the gap between what you think you can do and what you think God is asking may see too large.

***** Misunderstanding causes irreconcilable sorrow. *****

II. How do we resolve the difference?

A. Some people “give up.”

1. They may have cried because they knew they “couldn’t.”

2. This is EXACTLY CORRECT!

3. The point behind “grace:” if you can do it yourself then you wouldn’t depend on God. The only way you knew it was going to happen is because of God... you’ve got nothing to lose by trying.

Example: Imagine Joshua trying to justify walking around the city of Jericho to the news media. I can see the news brief now, “Please be patient. This is not my plan, it’s God’s. The idea is to walk around the city until God’s appointed time. When that time is here, God will make things happen.”

B. Some create an excuse...

1. We develop a reason “why” which is a “white tiger.”

2. Some have called this the “gospel of success” or the “escalator theory.”

a. The core belief is that “humans are god.” We control our own success or failure by “doing.”

b. The idea is that if we take the right step then the “escalator” will take us where we want to be.

c. If we don’t succeed, then there is a REASON or PURPOSE. In other words, a “white tiger.”

***** Another way to understand “reason” or “purpose” is our concept of “blame.” *****

C. Some might feel discouraged.

1. We call this “information overload.”

2. We are overwhelmed with the contrast between God and us.

III. Crisis leads to decisive choice.

A. Here’s the picture:

1. The people clearly understood and were weeping (mourning) [v 9]

a. At this point they could choose to resist God.

b. They could choose to look on the dark side.

2. The people needed to learn a lesson: “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” [v 10]

a. Yes, there are dark times, there are cycles when things do not go well, there is pain and hardship.

b. Reality: all creation is under the “curse.” The curse is a spiritual law just like gravity is a physical law.

B. The decision was this:

1. [v 10] “Go and celebrate!”

a. Celebrate with choice food, sweet drinks, sharing gifts...

b. This is New Years (new beginning), Easter (resurrection hope), Thanksgiving, and Christmas (God’s gift) rolled into one.

2. WHEN you hear God speak:

a. Respond appropriately... if you need to humbly repent, do it.

b. But when you truly understand, you will then respond appropriately by celebrating.

“Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” [v 12]

People who are not God’s DO NOT HEAR when He speaks.

“Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." [29] The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” [John 12:28 – 29]

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” [1 Corinthians 2:14]

IV. The joy of the Lord is your strength.


A. We weep because we are weak and we do not understand.

1. That’s ok... it’s a start.

2. That weakness drives us to dependence on God.

a. Quit blaming. (This is how we are trained.)

b. Open your heart to understanding. (Spiritual discipline.)

1.) Fact: you can have your heart’s desire but have a sick soul. [Psalm 106:15]

2.) You can take the Promised Land with God’s promise and blessing but be pointless without God’s presence. [Exodus 33:1 – 3, 15 – 16]

3. It is in that weakness when God gives us “grace.”

B. We understand God’s grace has nothing to do with us.

1. God used the “foolish” and the “weak.” [1 Corinthians 1:27 – 31]

a. God used a single mom as the mother of the Messiah. [Matthew 1:18]

b. God made the one who would die for the sins of this world a homeless man. [Matthew 8:20]

c. God used a cross to win the ultimate war for our souls. [Colossians 2:14 – 15]

2. [v 12] “they understood the words” and the result was joy. Why?

a. Because joy is the natural reaction of God’s people to His presence (after they get over the shock and do the business necessary).

b. Because joy is the natural reaction of God’s people to His unfailing love.

c. Because joy is the natural reaction of God’s people to His voice.

(Ill.) The dog listening to the Gramophone... the caption: “His Masters Voice.”


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