Very Great Gladness
“Very Great Gladness”
Series: REBUILD (Nehemiah)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
Thank you Jacob. So appreciate Jacob’s stepping up into our interim worship pastor role. He is not able to do as much in student ministry because of his time serving in this interim basis so keep praying for a worship pastor! My daily prayer is, “God, send us the right worship pastor.” I invite you to pray that same prayer every day: “God, send us the right worship pastor.” We’re getting the word out about our need and beginning to do more shaking of the bushes—got a couple potential candidates and hope to get more so keep praying as we prayerfully explore every possibility.
- Okay, we’re in the Book of Nehemiah. Let me invite you to turn to Nehemiah Chapter 8.
The year is 444 BC. The city of Jerusalem lay in ruins for 140 years while God’s people were away in captivity under the discipline of God, discipline because of their unfaithfulness to Him. But God has restored them to the city. And the city has been completely rebuilt; the walls being the last major rebuilding project, the walls being rebuilt in a record 52 days.
Last week we saw how revival began to break out as the gathered people of God asked for the man of God to bring out the Word of God. They said to Ezra, “Bring the Book!” And Ezra brought out the Scriptures and read to the people the Word of God. It had been some time since they heard the Word preached. Perhaps as many 50,000 people gathered in the open square! And they gathered eagerly to hear the Word. They gathered eagerly, they listened attentively—remember, they were standing as the Word was explained, standing for 5 to 6 hours—they gathered eagerly, listened attentively, and responded accordingly. The Word changed them; they turned to God in repentance.
We left off at verse 12 of Chapter 8, a verse that recounts the joy of the people in their understanding the Bible. They had stood there for a six-hour Bible Conference, and after it was all over, verse 12: “And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.” Verse 13 takes us to the next day of this “Billy Graham Crusade.” Verse 13 tells us about more study of the Word and how they learn about a long-neglected festival they should be observing, a holiday called, “The Feast of Booths.” Listen for that as I read the passage.
- Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
13 Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law.
14 And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.”
16 Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim. 17 So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness.
18 Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner.
Well, this sounds like a strange feast, doesn’t it, the Feast of Booths? The Feast of Booths was one of the great pilgrim feasts, or festivals, or holidays prescribed by God in the Law. Leviticus 23 tells how this feast is to be observed. God’s people were to build little booths all over Jerusalem and they were to celebrate and eat in these little booths. It kind of brings up images of our own little “Feast of Booths” that we celebrated last week in downtown Henderson—Tri Fest! Booths up and down Main Street and thousands of people gathering under those booths to eat brain sandwiches and to drink lemon shakeups. The Feast of Booths! Not quite the same thing.
In the Bible, the Feast of Booths was one of the great pilgrim feasts, or festivals, or holidays prescribed by God in the Book of the Law. It’s sometimes referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles. Same thing. God’s people were commanded by God—through Moses—in Leviticus 23 to construct these temporary shelters, booths, tabernacles, huts, temporary homes, and they were to live in them all week. They were largely made out of olive branches, palm branches, and other vegetation. And the people of God would live inside these temporary shelters for seven days to remind them of how God had provided for them during the Exodus wanderings. 40 years in the desert, living in temporary housing, God cared for His people, ultimately bringing them into the Promised Land. For centuries God’s people have celebrated the Feast of Booths.
I found an old 18th Century painting of the Feast of Booths. Look at this (pic 1). An artist’s idea of what this may have looked like. The men have chopped down some trees. And they’re using the leafy branches there for roofs. Kind of cool. Here’s another illustration (pic 2). See the little Jewish family gathered inside the booth there, sitting at the table for the Feast? They both eat and sleep in these. Seven day Feast of Booths.
This feast continues today. Our Jewish friends call it Sukkot (“Suh KOAT”). The Feast of Sukkot. The word “Sukkot” is the Hebrew word, plural form of booth, or tabernacle. Sukkot means “Booths.” The modern Jews celebrate Sukkot in late September or early October, depending on where it falls on the Hebrew calendar each year. Lasts a full week. Lots of eating, dancing, and celebrating. And the faithful Jews will celebrate Sukkot wherever they are, all over the world, and of course in Jerusalem.
Here’s a picture of a modern Jewish man (pic 3) getting some things together and you see some of the booths there. The booths take different forms, but most will have some kind of vegetation. Look at this picture (pic 4). I love this picture! Jewish couple gathering palm branches. Here’s a view looking down upon an open square (pic 5). And another here of some Orthodox Jews (pic 6) preparing for Sukkot, building the booths. Couple more (pic 7). And then, this last picture (pic 8): here’s a modern Jewish family gathered inside a booth. This is a celebration, a party, a seven-day party!
There’s an old rabbinical expression that says: “You’ve not seen joy until you’ve been to the Feast of Booths at Jerusalem.”
We read that popular verse last week, verse 10: “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” a verse that doesn’t refer to our joy, but to God’s joy, Yahweh’s joy. It is the Lord’s joy in you that gives you strength. God’s joy, His delight in forgiving sin, His joy in bringing back a wayward people, restoring them to Himself, atoning for their sin and forgiving them—it is God’s joy to do that for you. And when you know that God delights in you as His child, you are strengthened! The knowledge of God’s joy in us strengthens us. God’s joy leads to our joy.
There’s a phrase I like in this passage today. As the people celebrate the Feast of Booths it says there at the end of verse 17, “And there was very great gladness.” I like that! Very great gladness, or very great joy. I want to talk about that this morning: Very Great Gladness. Now let’s go through these verses together. Look again at this passage, beginning at verse 13:
13 Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law.
You might think God’s children had “gotten their fill” of the Word from the day before, what with 5 to 6 hours of standing to hear the Bible taught, but they are back at it the next day! A genuinely converted man, a real deal article, the authentic Christian, can never get enough of God’s Word! Never!
Verse 13 teaches that the dads of the families gathered together the next day to study the Word. It was their responsibility to teach the Word to their families. Deuteronomy 6:6-7: 6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
Dads, read the Bible to your children. Read the Bible with your wife. Open the Book and read. You don’t have to be a scholar. Anyone can do this. Just open the Book and read. Read a Bible story to the kiddos at night when you’re tucking them in. You can’t read David and Goliath enough! Jonah and the big fish. Daniel and the lion’s den. Show them how big God is and how they can trust in Him and live in Him through Jesus Christ.
14 And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month,
The way this verse reads, it appears as if the readers are just reading the words of the law and realize they are, in fact, in the seventh month. So they’re like, “Look, we’ve read here in the law about the feast of booths, it’s supposed to occur during this month, let’s get to it!” So they read what they haven’t been doing and they respond to God’s Word, by doing what it says.
James 1:22 says we are to be not just hearers of the Word, but what? Doers of the word. Doing what it says. The genuine believer has a desire to obey the Word. It’s just that simple. No desire to obey the Bible, hard to defend that you’re a Christian. Got a desire to do what God says? Well, that’s evidence of a new nature, you see. God has taken out your heart of stone and given you a heart of flesh. A soft, tractable heart, a malleable heart, a heart that receives gladly the Words of Scripture because they come from the One who gave us that heart.
So they read that they are supposed to be building these booths and living in them for a week. For seven days, living in “Temporary Housing.” When I studied this passage I was reminded of my years working as a parole officer in North Georgia. We had these field books that had our caseloads inside, each parolee had sheets of paper about who they were and their activity. And on the front of each case load was the page of general information. It had the lines there for residence. With few exceptions that little place where you were supposed to record the address of the parolee would be marked through and updated several times as few lived in one place for very long. In fact, it was popular for many of them not to tell you where they lived, but where they stayed. You ask, “Now, where are you living?” “Well, I stay at my gramma’s.” You know, not going to be there long. It’s just a temporary residence. A shelter in the wilderness. A booth in the desert.
What did these booths look like? Verse 15:
15 and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.”
This was all to remind them of those trees in the desert and how God provided for them as they gathered those branches. I suppose every time they picked up a branch they would think about those years of wandering and how God brought them through the difficulties. And as they spent that week inside the booths they would remember how they had lived in similar structures during those years in the desert.
This is an exercise that is a bit like our modern Thanksgiving. To be sure, families today gather together in more permanent dwellings, and we have big TVs on which we can watch football games as we sit in our “booths.” But we are wise to reflect during that one day, let alone seven days, to thank God for His abundant provision and protection.
16 Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim.
What a reminder! More than our one day of Thanksgiving that culminates in a languid afternoon of turkey and dressing, God’s people during this week of booths were continually reminded of God’s care. Picture this! For seven days everywhere an Israelite looked—on top of houses, in the courtyards and in the open square—there were little booths scattered everywhere, a shantytown of shacks, each one a compelling visual reminder of God’s provision and care.
And living in those booths for seven days was a reminder of their continual need for Him. What better way to remind us of the frailty of our lives than by living inside a rustic tent of myrtle branches and palm trees, the wind passing through the leaves and onto our little makeshift beds, the drip of rain and tiny little creatures crawling all around. It’s a bit like camping out, isn’t it?
Flimsy little tents reminding us of our flimsy little lives. A tent is temporary and so is our life. James says it’s here for a moment and then gone in the next. James 4:14, “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away;” a vapor, like the steam rising up from your morning coffee. Now you see it, now you don’t. Temporary existence.
And we can’t help but think that the Israelites in Nehemiah’s day were even more pointedly reminded of God’s provision and care as they reflected back not only upon God’s care centuries earlier during the Egyptian captivity of the Exodus years, but also during the Babylonian captivity from which they had been more recently delivered. This more recent history was something of an “Exodus Redux,” or a “Second Exodus.” The word, exodus, as you know means to go out or to exit. God’s people exited Egypt during Moses and Joshua’s time and they exited Babylon during Ezra and Nehemiah’s time. God delivering them from bondage.
17 So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness.
The Feast of Booths had been celebrated in more recent history (cf. 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Chronicles 7:9; Ezra 3:4), but not like this. Not with all the people celebrating, all the people actually camping out like this in booths scattered everywhere.
So there was “very great gladness.” Then verse 18, more hunger for the Word:
18 Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he (Ezra) read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner.
So the Scriptures became central to the people of God. They heard from the Word each day of the seven days, day by day, from the first day until the last day. God’s people can never get enough of God’s Word.
I shared with you earlier that I was struck by that phrase at the end of verse 17, “And there was very great gladness,” or very great joy. It seems to me most people want that kind of joy, a very great gladness and joy. Someone asks, “How are you doing?” You respond, “I have very great gladness!” How can we have that? Let me suggest three things:
**We Have “Very Great Gladness” When…
- We Obey His Commands
The phrase, “And there was very great gladness” occurs after the people of God obeyed the Word of God.
When God’s people do what is right, there is very great gladness, great joy. Doing the right thing, obeying God’s Word, God’s commands, brings joy. You can do the wrong thing and get an immediate happiness. The Bible says there is “pleasure in sin for a season,” but it is a season that ends in emptiness and death. Joy—real joy—occurs when we do the right thing, the correct thing, the true thing, the truth. Know the truth, do the truth, receive the Truth, and joy follows. Joyful obedience to God’s Word results in very great gladness.
When we talk about obedience it is so important that we not confuse the joyful gospel-motivated obedience with the slavishly religious works-based obedience. Obedience is not what we do to become accepted by God or “acceptable” to God. That’s religion. That’s every major religion. Obey so you can be accepted by God. That’s every major religion. We often say, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship,” a relationship built upon the Gospel. I want to share with you some statements from a helpful chart by Tim Keller. It contrasts religion with the gospel. What’s the difference between religion and the gospel when it comes to obeying God’s commands?
We have very great gladness when we obey His commands. Secondly, we have very great gladness when:
- We Remember His Care
We sang earlier, “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.” This was the major purpose behind the Feast of Booths. Booths scattered everywhere were forcible reminders to God’s people of God’s care for them during the hard times. God was faithful to them in the past so they knew this unchanging God would be faithful to them in the present, and faithful to them in the future. He would never give up on them.
God will never give up on us. He is faithful! It’s like a faithful marriage. I’ve said this before: “Michele can never leave me because if she does—I’m going with her!” God never leaves us. Even if we turn from Him, He still comes after us like the Loving Father chasing after the Prodigal Son.
Recalling His loving ways in the past reminds us of His loving ways in the present; “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” Again, the joy of the Lord—God’s joy—is your strength. God’s joy for you, His delight in loving you, is what strengthens you! God’s joy in you is your stronghold.
It’s a bit like the chorus of the new song we sang earlier: “I will build my life upon Your love, it is a firm foundation.” God’s love for us, the love He delights to have in us, is a firm foundation, our stronghold. The joy of the Lord is your strength.
God’s joy in you is possible only by union with Christ, by your being “in Christ,” in the perfection of His Son. It is only when we have turned from sin and turned to Christ, dying to the old us and being raised with Christ that God looks at us differently. He sees us clothed in the perfection of His Son Jesus. It’s like God put a special coat upon me, like the Father put on the Prodigal Son, a special jacket, if you like, that makes us acceptable to God.
In the 80s every guy wanted to own a “Members Only” jacket. That was the brand name: Members Only. I don’t know if that brand still exists, but it sure was a big thing in the 80s. Had a little tag on it: Members Only. You wanted to be accepted by others, you wore a Members Only jacket. You wore it all the time. Guys sitting in class all throughout the day, never taking it off. Members Only.
Apart from Christ, God sees only my sin. But if I am, Colossians 3:3, “Hidden with Christ,” then God looks at me and sees me “in Christ,” accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6), my sins covered forever by the righteousness of Christ.
The reason God can smile at me is because He always and forever sees me in the perfection of His Son. He has clothed with a kind of “Members Only” jacket. Not everyone can wear it, only those who have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. But when you do, he puts that robe of righteousness, the righteousness of Christ upon you, and it never comes off! You may not be acceptable to others, but you are always accepted by God! Always!
You are accepted not because of your performance, but because of Christ’s perfection, so you will always be perfectly acceptable to Him. God joys in you because of the perfection of Christ.
Think about this: As a Christian, what could you do to decrease God’s joy in you? Nothing! By the same token, what could you do to increase God’s joy in you? Nothing! God joys in you perfectly because He joys in you through His perfect Son. That’s my stronghold!!
We have “Very great gladness” when we obey His commands, remember His care, and finally, we have very great gladness when:
- We Delight in Christ
God’s people in Nehemiah’s day experienced a kind of “Second Exodus,” having been delivered from their captivity in Babylon. God’s people today—in Christ—also experience an “Exodus,” having been delivered from their sin.
Jesus celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7. It is in Chapter 7 that John records that “on the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink…(37).’” Real satisfaction comes only through Jesus Christ. We were designed to be completely and utterly satisfied through the living waters of Jesus Christ.
Several of us gathered yesterday for our quarterly Grace Marriage get together. And in our study we were reminded of a very simple truth:
“The more you rely on an earthly thing to satisfy you, the less satisfying it becomes. The more you rely on Jesus to satisfy you, the more satisfying He becomes.”
Sin is largely misplaced joy. It is a substitute for the “very great gladness” God wants us to have in Christ. “The more you rely on an earthly thing to satisfy you, the less satisfying it becomes.”
Every addiction counselor knows that. Addiction to alcohol and drugs begins with one small indulgence. It’s an earthly pleasure. It doesn’t last long and the next time you don’t get quite as much satisfaction so you need more. One drink leads to another. One drug to more of that drug. The first pornographic image was relatively modest, but eventually led to an all-out hard-core pornographic addiction. We’ve said it many times:
“Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
We were designed to delight in Christ. And “Purity flows from a heart that recognizes the joy of God’s salvation as a gift more satisfying than any competing pleasure the world can provide (Timothy Paul Jones).”
Turn from your sin and look to Jesus.
If you’re not a Christian, repent, turn from your sin and receive Jesus Christ as the all-satisfying Savior who redeems you and saves you from the wrath to come. Turn to Him today and be saved.
If you are a Christian, remember that “very great gladness” comes only when you obey His commands, remember His care, and delight in Christ.
And as God’s people back in the day sojourned on to the fair land of Canaan, the Promised Land, so God’s people today sojourn on to a far greater Promised Land, an everlasting city, the splendor of the eternal city of heaven—and in the final state a new heaven and a new earth—an eternal feast of booths, not temporary, but permanent housing.
- Let’s pray and then we’ll respond through song.
“God, as we look to Christ we recall with the hymn-writer: “He took my sins and my sorrows and made them His very own. He bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered, and died alone…How marvelous, how wonderful, and our song shall ever be, How marvelous, o how wonderful is my Savior’s love for me.”
As we respond to your Word, give us grace to love Jesus more than anyone or anything—knowing that in the loving of Christ we will have “very great gladness,” in Jesus’ name, amen.”
COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.