Resounding Joy!

Resounding Joy!

“Resounding Joy!”
(Nehemiah 12:27:43)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

  • Let me invite you to open your Bibles to Nehemiah 12.

We’ve been studying Nehemiah for some weeks in our series REBUILD.  We’ve been reading about how God rebuilds walls around a city and how He rebuilds the people of the city.  The city of Jerusalem had lain in ruins for quite some time as God disciplined His people for their sin, sending them into captivity under the Babylonians.

But that was all over now and God brought the people back into the land.  Nehemiah led the people to rebuild the walls that went around the city in a record 52 days.  And once the walls went up the people gathered together.  They opened the Bible and began doing what it said.  They listened to preaching and teaching, confessed their sin and recommitted themselves to God.   And the time has come to dedicate the rebuilt walls and rebuilt people to the One True and Living God. 

I’m going to begin reading at verse 27 in chapter 12.  Listen for things used in the dedication of the wall, musical instruments, harps, singing, choirs.  Try to get a picture in your mind as I read.

  • Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

27 Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. 

28 And the sons of the singers gathered together from the countryside around Jerusalem, from the villages of the Netophathites, 

29 from the house of Gilgal, and from the fields of Geba and Azmaveth; for the singers had built themselves villages all around Jerusalem. 

30 Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall.

31 So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs.  One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate. 

And then Nehemiah lists all the folks who went in that direction, “to the right hand on the wall” our in the southern direction.  And that goes all the way through verse 37 and then verse 38:

38 The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way (north), and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall…

And Nehemiah lists the various people with him and the places along the wall.  And he describes how the people were singing and so on.  So picture this: half of the people are gathered on top of the wall marching in one direction; the other half in the other direction, singing, rejoicing, praising God, and then they meet together at the location in front of “the house of God (40),” or the temple.  See that in verse 40:

40 “So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God,” and Nehemiah lists all the people who were with him, all the people are singing and then verse 43:

43 Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.

  • Let’s pray.

I read that last verse—verse 43—and said aloud, “I like that!”  It’s a great verse that captures the moment succinctly and memorably.  The word “joy” or “rejoice” occurs five times!  Hear it again, verse 43:

43 Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.

So I want to talk this morning about “Resounding Joy,” resounding, echoing, reverberating joy.

I read a story the other day about folks who are hired by Facebook to take down inappropriate videos.  There are several hundreds of people Facebook hires to look at videos users upload and they flag inappropriate ones, blocking them from being posted.  This led to these individuals having to watch a number of unsettling videos—horrible images, beatings, abuse, and so on—things that got down inside of them and led to deep depression, similar to the post-traumatic stress many of our veterans suffer.  The daily barrage of unpleasant, dark, and disturbing images cast them down into a numb and joyless existence.  So the Facebook people were having to figure out how best to address the problem and care for the souls of the workers.

I don’t think I’d like that job, and I certainly cannot imagine having a job like that without a deep-seated joy in the Lord.  We were designed to joy in the Lord.  Psalm 100:

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness;

Come before His presence with singing.

Know that the Lord, He is God;

It is He who has made us…

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,

And into His courts with praise.

Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

For the Lord is good…

God created us to joy in Him.  Apart from Him, we will try to find joy in the wrong things and we will we be lacking that critical element that allows us to live in a dark, fallen, world.  As Nehemiah has already taught us in Nehemiah 8:10, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Most of you know I was a parole officer before I became a pastor.  I often joke that it’s the same job, more or less!  Seven years as a parole officer; overseeing a caseload of convicted felons, making arrests, writing reports, doing background investigations on their crimes, and so on.  And I used to say when people asked about the job that anyone could do it so long as they had a growing relationship with Christ, were involved in a church, and had a great sense of humor.  Apart from those things, you can suffocate from the darkness and depravity of the work and become cold-hearted, numb, cynical, and joyless.  

God created us to joy in Him.  Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart does good like medicine…” 

We should never fake joy.  In fact, there are times we sorrow deeply.  The shortest verse in the Bible is where Jesus experiences true sorrow at the deepest human level.  He came to the place where Lazarus was buried and the Bible says in John 11:35, “Jesus wept.”  

Grief is real.  Joy is a deep-seated, weighty presence underneath the sorrow that makes its way out when the sorrow is over.  It comes through faith in the Lord.  That’s why Jesus would say, “Let not your heart be troubled,” don’t remain in sorrow, He goes on to say, “You believe in God, believe also in Me (John 14:1).”  Joy is deep-seated, always there if we are believers, it comes up and through us as we believe and trust in the Lord.

The presence of Christ is the essence of joy.  “It’s easy to sing when you walk with the King.”  

There is joy all through this passage.  I’ve broken the passage down into three headings, three words that describe what is going on in the text as the people gather together to dedicate the wall to the glory of God.  They get themselves in order first and then there is the dedication itself where the two choirs make their procession at the top of the walls, and then there is the accompanying jubilation and praise that reverberates through the land.   Let me give these three headings, the first word:

  1. Purification (27-30)

In the opening verses of the passage beginning at verse 27 we read that the people sought out the Levites and gathered them together at Jerusalem.  They were scattered here and there in the surrounding villages, so the people got them all together.  Along with the priests, they will prepare themselves and the people for worship.  Verse 30:

30 Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall.

We’re not told how they purified themselves, the people, the gates, and the wall, but more than likely they did so through ritualistic washings with water; washing their bodies, washing their clothing, and washing the walls.

The point is that they were going to be worshiping in the presence of God and they needed to be cleansed in order to be in His presence.  Purification. 

There is no deep-seated joy without purification.  We cannot be a joyful people if we are a sinful people.  We cannot be truly happy apart from true holiness.  Rejoicing requires repenting.

One of the reasons it may be difficult to sing in a worship service is because we have not taken time to prepare ourselves; taking time before we leave the house to go to the cross and appropriate the gospel afresh and anew.  Confessing our sin, repenting, turning back to the Lord, and resubmitting ourselves to His Lordship.  We take time in the worship service to do this as well.  We want our worship to be true, authentic, real.  It will never be joyful praise if there remains unconfessed and unrepented sin in our lives.  We cannot be a joyful people if we remain a sinful people.  

Sin robs us of our joy.  Confess it daily.  Repent from it regularly.  Purification.  Second word:

  1. Dedication (31-42)

From verse 31 down through verse 42 we have the dedication proper, the dedication itself.  The people are positioning themselves upon the walls, walking over the tops of the walls, dedicating the walls to God.  The city is, after all, the city “of God.”  It is His city, His temple, His buildings, His walls.  Dedication. 

And the picture is of this great procession, a processional of two choirs, one going to the right or south (verse 31) and the other choir going the opposite way or north (verse 38).  Ezra behind the one choir and Nehemiah behind the other choir.

These are called “thanksgiving choirs,” the people thanking God for His providence, providing the people, resources, time, energy, to rebuild the walls.  And they likely sang some of the Psalms as they made their procession around the walls, marching around and singing, maybe Psalm 48 for example:

Psalm 48:12-13: Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.

I found a picture that illustrates what this may have looked like.  Check it out: 

The people all around the tops of the walls, up and down the stairs, the two choirs meeting together here, horns blowing, people singing.

By the way, do you remember Sanballat and Tobiah?  Those rascals back in the earlier chapters?  They were trying to discourage Nehemiah and the others from rebuilding the walls.  And back in chapter 4 Tobiah specifically had ridiculed and taunted the people of God as they were getting the first stones up and he said, “Look at that pathetic wall!  It wouldn’t even hold the weight of a small animal!  If a fox were to climb up on that wall it would break it all down! (paraphrase of Nehemiah 4:3).”  Remember that?  Well, look at them now, Tobiah!  Hundreds upon hundreds of people walking across the tops of the walls.  God is good!  He has provided.

Purification.  Dedication.  Final word:

  1. Jubilation (43)

43 Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.

This verse reminds me of the verse in Matthew’s Gospel where the wise men make their way to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus.  And Matthew writes, “and when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy (Matthew 2:10).”  It wasn’t just joy, or great joy, but they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

They offered “great sacrifices.”  These were thank offerings to the Lord, a way of praising God, thanking Him for what He has done.  Most present in their minds would be their gratitude to God for enabling them to build the wall in 52 days.  But they were thankful for much more—thankful for what they had learned recently in His word, thankful for forgiveness, thankful for restoration after having been in captivity for 70 years in Babylon.  

The writer of Hebrews tells how thank offerings continue in our day through worship:

Hebrews 13:15, Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

Our thank offerings continue today through our worship.  We sing to God and that singing is a “sacrifice of praise.”  God loves to receive this sacrifice.  He loves to hear us give thanks to Him through praise.  Singing praise to God is one mark of a true Christian.  Singing to the Lord is natural for the believer.  It is a way of life.

Ephesians 5:18-19, 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,

Colossians 3:16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

The joy of God’s people in verse 43 is a resounding joy!  The last phrase of verse 43 says the joy was so great that “the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  You could hear it for miles around.

I remember when our own members Doug and Barb Musgrave went with the IMB to serve as missionaries in Johannesburg, South Africa.  They were there the year South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010.  And they wrote about how you could hear the sounds and the deafening noise emanating from the stadium.  People were blowing those long horns called the vuvuzela, those long plastic horns.  And you could hear that sound for miles around.  

That’s probably something of what this sounded like in Jerusalem.  “the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”

As I studied verse 43 two truths began to stand out.  Two truths about joy.  You may wish to jot these down in your notes.  Number one: 

  1. God Expects our Joy

We cited Psalm 100 earlier.  Many of you know the praise chorus that paraphrases Psalm 100:

I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart

I will enter His courts with praise

I will say this is the day that the Lord has made

I will rejoice for He has made me glad

He has “made me glad.”  You see that in verse 43, as well:

43 Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy…

God expects our joy.  He expects His people to be living testimonies to the joy of the Lord.  

You look at some professing Christians and you wonder if they really know the Lord. You listen to the way they talk and they don’t sound like believers at all.  Their look and their conversation embodies a people who are defeated, hard, calloused, and cynical.

Somebody said, “Some Christians give the impression they were baptized in vinegar!”  Don’t be that guy!  Don’t be the person who can brighten up a room by leaving it.  Don’t be that person!

God expects our joy.  He created us for joy.  Joy in Him.  So, “I WILL enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I WILL enter His courts with praise…for He has made me glad.”

First truth: God expects our joy.  Second truth:

  1. God Enables our Joy

He is the source of our joy.  Again, note the important phrase in verse 43, “for God had made them rejoice with great joy…”

Who made the people to rejoice with great joy?  Who enabled that joy?  God.  “for God had made them rejoice.”  He is the source of our joy.

Remember Nehemiah 8:10, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Remember when we studied that phrase we said that it doesn’t mean we manufacture this joy ourselves.  Like, “I will be strong if I can get myself joyful.”

The source of our joy is in God, namely God’s joy for us.  It is the joy of the Lord, the joy belonging to the Lord, it is His joy for His people whom He delights to forgive and rescue from captivity.

It is the joy of the Lord for His children; His love for those He saves, His joy in us.  It is that joy that God has toward us that is the source of our strength.  Put another way: We are joyful when we know He loves us, delights in us, and forgives us.

When we reflect on God’s love for us it activates our love for Him.  When we reflect on God’s joy in us it activates our joy in Him.  This is how God enables our joy.  We reflect on His love for us in Christ and it does something to us.  Our reflection upon Him causes a joy to come through us.  But we have to reflect on that love and joy.  It requires our doing something; intentionally thinking upon Him and reflecting upon His love and joy for us in Christ.

Most of us have a thermostat in our homes.  You know what a thermostat is, don’t you?  A little boy pointed to a thermostat and asked his friend, “What’s that?”  He said, “I don’t know; it’s something my mom turns up and my dad turns down.”

If you want to feel right in your home, you have to adjust the thermostat.  It requires an action.  I’ve got to do something.  I can’t just lie in my bed sweating and hope it starts feeling cooler in the house.  I’ve got to get up and go in there and move the switch down a bit, praise God, get that house feeling like an ice box!

Joy is like that.  If you want to feel right you have to do something.  It won’t just happen; you have to reflect, taking time to think about God’s love for you in Christ, and when you do that, it’s like you’ve moved the setting on the thermostat: you begin to feel better, you begin to feel joy.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.

If you’re not a Christian, or if you’re not living for Jesus, you can’t really do this.  Apart from Christ, true joy, resounding joy, is simply not possible.  Oh, you can have moments of happiness, but happiness comes and goes and changes with your circumstances, or is dependent upon the diversion, the escape, or the next drink, or drug.  It’s not the same as joy.

Like many of you I’ve toured Alcatraz Island in the bay of San Francisco; that island out at sea where they used to lock up the most notorious of criminals.  I remember learning about how the inmates in the evenings could often hear the sounds of the people in nearby San Francisco as the wind carried their voices and laughter across the chilly bay waters and into their prison cells.  For some it was a sad reminder of a joy that could have been theirs had they only done what was right.

And some of you are trying to manufacture your own kind of joy, but it will remain as foreign and elusive to you as long as you remain in the shackles of sin.  God loves you and has made a way for you to know Him in Christ Jesus.  Turn from your sin and trust in Him.  Believe in Him and have a resounding joy.

  • Let’s stand for prayer.

“God, we thank you for Jesus Christ, the One in whom is found lasting, resounding joy.  We know that the devil would have us turn away from Christ and follow substitutes for joy in this fallen world.  Everywhere we turn we’re promised substitute joy—we see it on television, we hear it in music, we’re bombarded with it on the internet.  God, forgive us for our sin.  Unshackle us from sin.  Give us hearts that turn to you regularly throughout the day, finding our life and identity in Christ alone.  We believe you lived for us, died for us, and rose from the dead for us that we may have life.  We thank you Jesus for taking away our sin and giving us a song in our heart.  Our souls sing back to you this morning a sacrifice of praise.  We worship you now, in Jesus’ name, amen.”

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