Midweek Reflections

Midweek Reflection 14 August - 21 August 2020

Joy Part 3

Listen to audio version

This is the third part of our series on Christian joy. I thought we’d start with a short recap on where we’ve got to so far:

  • Joy and happiness are not the same. Happiness is dependent on our circumstances, whereas joy is not
  • Worship is not only about singing. Worship is where we offer our whole selves to God in obedience, adoration, thanksgiving and praise
  • God himself is the source of our joy in that he chose us to be his people and sacrificed his Son so that we would be reconciled back to him
  • Joy is ours because Jesus chooses to call us his friends which gives us open access to him and the Father
  • The Lord finds his joy in us

Spend some time in prayer praising God for the joy he has brought into your life

Nehemiah 8:10 “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” We’ll spend some time looking at what this phrase means.

Listen to: The joy of the Lord is my strength – (Rend Collective)

 

Read Nehemiah 8: 1-10

 

Nehemiah was a descendant of the Jews who had been taken into captivity in Babylon. When Cyrus the Persian defeated the Babylonians in 539 BC, he allowed the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem. Nearly a century later, Artaxerxes I was king, and Nehemiah was his personal cup bearer, an important and powerful position. In around 445 BC Nehemiah received news that the returned exiles were in a deplorable state. The walls of the city were broken down, the gates all burned and the people were in distress. When he heard this Nehemiah mourned for several days, fasting and praying to God for the people of Israel. Nehemiah then asked the king for permission to go to Jerusalem to help the people. He was appointed governor of the province and given permission to rebuild the walls.

Once in Jerusalem he assessed the situation and organised a workforce to begin repairing the walls. His efforts attracted much opposition. Nehemiah 4: 15-18 says

“When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work. 16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armour. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked”.

The work was completed in an astonishing 52 days. Nehemiah’s prayer throughout had been that God would strengthen his hands.

When the building was complete and the exiles resettled into the towns and villages around, the people gathered in Jerusalem and Ezra read aloud the Book of the Law of Moses from daybreak until noon. As Ezra read the people realised just how far from God they had strayed and how much they had fallen into sin, and were deeply distressed at that knowledge. Yet God had still been with them as they struggled to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. God’s law was now being listened to and obeyed again after a very long lapse. This brought joy to God and knowing this was a source of strength to the people.

So, Nehemiah told them not to mourn and weep about the depth of their sin but to celebrate that God took delight in their repentance: “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” It is the same for us as it was for the people of Israel.

But what does this phrase actually mean?

Nehemiah is saying that it is the Lord’s joy that is giving strength to the people. There are many other places in Scripture that tell us that God celebrates when people turn back to him. Isaiah 65:19 the Lord says that because of the people who follow his ways “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”; and Isaiah 62:5 “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you”.

Luke 15:7 tells us: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent”.

Read Luke 15: 1-7

 

One of the Pharisees’ major criticisms of Jesus was that “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Their own ‘code of conduct’ made it unthinkable for them to associate with those they viewed as sinners and referred to as ‘People of the Land’. Such people were not to be trusted with money, could not be relied on to give truthful testimony, could not keep a secret, were not seen as fit to be guardians of orphans nor as a safe travelling companion. Pharisees were forbidden to have them as guests and were to avoid any kind of business dealings with them. In their eyes, people who did not strictly observe the law were irredeemable. In this context, it’s easy to see why and how strongly they disapproved of Jesus and his actions. The parable of the lost sheep was aimed at people who believed that heaven would rejoice when a sinner was destroyed.

The shepherd was personally responsible for the sheep. It was an incredibly difficult and dangerous job. The terrain was not rolling green pasture – it was hot, dry and treacherous under foot. Good pasture was scarce, and the risk of the sheep wondering to the edge of a dangerous cliff was very real as there were no hedges or fences to keep the sheep in one place. Wild animals were a common feature which the shepherd had to protect the sheep from with nothing more than a slingshot and stones (we remember the story of David and Goliath). If a sheep died, the shepherd was expected to bring back the fleece as proof that he had not simply lost it. A shepherd risking his life for his sheep was all in a day’s work.

Many of the flocks were communal flocks with 2 or 3 shepherds caring for them. If two returned home safely while one was still out in the fields searching for a sheep which had strayed, the community would wait together and celebrate when he returned home.

That is the picture Jesus drew of God. This, Jesus tells us, is what God is like. God is as glad when a lost sinner is found as a shepherd is when a strayed sheep is brought home. As humans, we may be prepared to write someone off as irredeemable, but that is not how God sees it. Jesus says (verse 7) “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent”.

God rejoices when his people turn back to him. The knowledge that we bring God joy (however unlikely that feels) in turn strengthens us in our daily lives. We want to please him and so are given the strength to do so. Our strength comes from

  • Knowing that we are loved by Him and that He wants to have a relationship with us.
  • Our response to his love which changes us on the inside so that we are able to leave the behaviours which grieve God behind.
  • Being obedient and abiding in his love.
  • Knowing that God is faithful and that we can put our trust in him

Spend a little time reflecting on the fact that the Lord takes joy in us as well as we in him, then listen to The Lord’s My Shepherd

 

Next week, in the final part of this series we’ll continue to look at what Christian joy means to us and the people we serve

 

Download a .pdf of the above midweek reflection.