Living with Joy

It was the first day of the Seventh month of the year 445 B.C. The captives of Israel had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. In less than six months’ time, Nehemiah had led and completed the reconstruction of the city walls despite many trials and conflicts from without and within the Israelite community. He has now gathered the whole assembly together into the square facing the Water Gate.
A giant wooden platform had been erected in this square. Standing atop the platform was Ezra the priest along with a delegation of Levites. Ezra stood behind a podium upon which sat The Book of the Law. In this book were written the first five books of the Bible which outlined the community’s beginnings and the righteous requirements of the Almighty for His people.
Ezra opened the Book of the Law and began to read. He would pause periodically and one of the Levites would speak and give the sense of what had just been read. Ezra would pick up where he left off and begin reading again. The people sat in quiet attention as the severity and the kindness of God was read and explained in perfect detail.
By the end of the book, the people had come to realize, through Ezra’s reading and the Levites’ preaching, why they had been tossed out of the promise land in the first place. God had set before their ancestors a blessing and a curse. They had chosen the curse rather than the blessing by worshipping false gods and transgressing their covenant. Forty years later and the nation was still suffering for this error. They all understood clearly, were broken-hearted, and wept bitterly under the shadow of the great platform as the word was read and preached over them.
In the midst of their brokenness, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites spoke again and commanded the people not to weep. One of them said, “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” (Nehemiah 8:10). Absolutely amazing. Here the people are convicted and broken over their sin having been moved by the preachers’ bold proclamation of the word. Now the preachers move from preaching the Law of God to preaching grace the grace of God.
The nation had erred. For future reference, the people needed to know just how serious was that error. They needed to be broken, however, it was not profitable for them to remain in that brokenness. It was just as important for them to know that God’s anger had abated, and His covenant was being restored. They needed their mourning to be turned to joy, for the joy of the Lord was their strength.
This is such an important lesson for us. Too often our view of God gets skewed by unbalanced preaching or lack of communion with God. If your pastor is always preaching the severity of God in His judgments and omitting the preaching of grace, or if you are not spending time with God in personal prayer and Bible study then you can start to see God as a ruthless tyrant that is just out to get you. The reality is that God is good. He is slow to anger. He is abounding in steadfast love and mercy. His desire is for you to find joy in the grace that he supplies.
Our strength is not in fear. Our strength comes from the joy that God supplies. His grace, that is greater than our sin, empowers us to live lives characterized by joy. We are among those who have been confronted with our sin, and who have come to know the One who saves us from sin. Our mourning has been turned to rejoicing. We have been crucified with Christ, and like Him, we have been raised from the dead by His perfect and unbounded love.

I encourage you to live in joy. Yes, you have sinned against God, but if you have repented and believed in Jesus as Savior then you have been set free from sin. You have died, and yet you live. So live! Live in the strength of His joy.