A Reason To Celebrate

How many loves a good party?

I’ve always enjoyed get-togethers with friends and family. I’ve had some memorable times through the years at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even Super Bowl parties. Great food, fellowship, and fun.

In today’s world we are looking for any reason to throw a party. There’s the big obvious days like holidays, birthdays, graduations, and weddings. But there’s other days we can throw a party and celebrate as well. Like did you know that this past Wednesday was “National Mud Pack Day”? And today is “Change A Light Bulb Day”? Coming up this Wednesday is “National Bathtub Day”, and then Thursday is “World Octopus Day”. Of course who can forget that this entire month is “National Pizza Month”! Not sure any of those would gain traction as a national holiday that would demand a day off (maybe bathtub day…), but a reason to celebrate, none the less, if we so choose.

Nehemiah 12:27-47 describes an event that required great preparation & great organization, and resulted in a great, massive celebration that reverberated greatly throughout the country.

They had a REAL reason to celebrate.

We do as well. Every time we get together in God’s House it’s a cause for celebration.

We sing the song “Look What The Lord Has Done” which says, “He healed my body, He touched my mind, He saved me just in time!”

It’s a full on, pull out all the stops, nothing held back celebration of ALL the Lord has done for us!

These people back then had a process and plan to celebrate. So should we! They recognized that a great God deserves great praise. So should we! They believed His great joy deserves great celebration. So should we!

Nothing half way. Nothing just good enough. Nothing thrown together. It was all or nothing-at-all, with excellence and a whole-hearted expression of thanksgiving for all that the Lord had done.

What would we need to do to have a successful celebration like this? What’s the ingredients we’d need to set aside for a great party?

Based on our text, I see where we’d need to set aside three things.

First, we need to set aside time.

This takes planning.

The Levites cleared their schedules and came to Jerusalem to celebrate.

Nehemiah 12:27 says, “At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres.”

We clear our schedules and prioritize times to celebrate God corporately and individually.

The singers were also brought together and formed 2 large choirs under the direction of a man named Jezrahiah.

V. 28 says, “the singers were also brought together from the region around Jerusalem…”

We have singers who work to make excellent worship to the Lord and lead the rest of us in great worship to Him.

The choir organized a grand processional to the Temple.

V. 31 & 38 describes it.

Great honoring requires great organization. All of the workers at Faith (singers, greeters, teachers, prayer team, ushers, etc) do their part to create one giant, great voice of worship to God every Sunday.

The musicians tuned their instruments and rehearsed.

V. 35 & 36 describe it.

Just as the singers rehearse, so do the musicians. They practice to make their skills better and work to provide excellence to the Lord.

Great sacrifices were prepared for the celebration.

V. 43 describes it.

That’s all of us. We don’t bring a fatted calf to church every Sunday, but we do bring our tithes and offerings, our best, first, and greatest of our increase, and we bring our best, first, and greatest worship to Him in our sacrifice of praise.

There’s no replacement for time. And if it’s worth investing our time it’s worth planning and doing with excellence. God wants quality and quantity.

No one would want to attend a party where it was half thrown together. Limp veggie tray, deflated balloons, melted ice cream, moldy cheese dip. Musical entertainment from the retirement home residents down the street. I mean, God bless them, but come on!  Next.

King David was instructed to build an altar to the Lord on Araunah the Jebusite’s threshing floor. Araunah was willing to give King David the property as well as the oxen and yokes for the wood and sacrifice. But David refused. 2 Samuel 24:24 says, “I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

King David understood the value of a great investment worthy of a great God. Worship that costs us nothing is not worship worthy of One who gave us His all.

Throwing a party to celebrate our Savior requires that we set aside enough time and effort to make sure our celebration is nothing but excellent for our Lord.

Second, we need to set aside sin.

Nehemiah 12:30 says, “When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates, and the wall.”

The Levites first act was to purify themselves.

This ceremonial purifying, found in Exodus 28 & 29, included the following steps –

Washing in water
Putting on Priestly robes
Anointing with oil
Sacrificial offering
Apply blood to right ear, thumb, and big toe.

In the NT we are all priests. So how does this translate to us today?

The washing in water is the washing of the Word of God over us as described in Ephesians 5:26. It reveals sin, purifies us from within, and points us to repentance through Christ’s finished work.

The putting on of priestly robes is taking off our filthy rags of fleshly works of righteousness and enrobing ourselves in Christ’s complete and perfect holy righteousness as described in Isaiah 61:10, “The Lord has clothed me with garments of salvation, and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.”

The anointing with oil is the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, which anoints us with power and wisdom for service. Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1&2 to announce His ministry, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, release from darkness the prisoners, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”

The sacrificial offering is the worship of our entire lives in complete surrender to Christ as we take up our cross daily and follow Him. 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

The applying of the blood to our ear, thumb, and big toe is the blood of Jesus being applied to our hearing, reaching, and walking out of His unique and specific instructions of Jesus’ plans for our life in service to Him and His kingdom and priests of the most High God.

Galatians 6:14,17, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”

We have the mark of the blood of Jesus on us. We are the set apart ones. I’m not willing to take the mark of the Beast, but I gladly wear the mark of the Savior. His blood mark on my heart sets me apart, makes the death angel pass over me with no effect, gives me victory in all my struggles, and ensures me eternal life in Heaven with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

After the priests went through the ceremonial purifying of themselves, then the people, the gates and the wall was purified. These represent our family, friends, abilities, possessions, everything that represents us.  We purify and sanctify and set everything, everything apart for service to Jesus.

So, we set aside time to celebrate with prepared, anointed sacrificial excellence.

Then we set aside sin to make ourselves and all that represents us pure through Christ’s finished work.

And then third, we need to set aside inhibitions.

What kind of party would it be if you went there and there was no music? No food? No activities? No engaging. No life. What if you just came in, sat down, and did nothing the whole time and then left the same way you came?

That’s not a party! That’s a dirge! That’s a crime!! The party thrower should be arrested for impersonating a fun person!

In order to have a successful celebration of God’s greatness, His goodness, His faithfulness, and His love, if we’re gonna throw a party to celebrate Jesus, we need to not only set aside the time and plan for it, and prepare our hearts and lives for it, but for goodness sake we should make the best of it by cutting loose and really, really celebrating!

Of all the people in the world who ever party for whatever reason , we have the best reason to celebrate.

There are people who went to a party this past Friday night to celebrate a victory at a high school football game, or a promotion at their job, or a recently filed divorce, or just because they got through another work week! They live for Friday night’s!! They got drunk, woke up with a hangover, spent yesterday recovering, and today are dreading tomorrow’s school or work responsibilities, looking forward to another weekend where they can get drunk, wake up hungover, and repeat the same thing over and over. Their mantra is TGIF and their escape from their pain and drudgery and emptiness is booze, drugs, empty relationships, and meaningless partying.

But we party with a purpose. We have a reason to raise the roof. We celebrate with our salvation in mind!

Psalm 138:1 says, “I will praise You, O Lord, with all of my heart. Before the gods I will sing Your praise.”  My whole heart! Nothing held back! With all that is within me! And not worrying about what others think. Not being ashamed. Not letting man’s input diminish my output for my utmost Savior! Amen?!

So we set aside time in sacrificial excellent preparation, set aside time in holy repentance, and set aside inhibitions and truly celebrate.

Let me just quickly mention two more things about this celebration that are significant to us today.

First, in verses 31 & 38 the choir and leaders, a massive amount of people, walked on top of the wall.

For those of you who remember from the beginning of the book of Nehemiah where Sanballat and Tobiah opposed Nehemiah in his attempt to rebuild the wall, they tried to discourage him by saying, “Even if you do rebuild the wall, if as much as a little fox were to walk on it, it would crumble to the ground”.

But then we read where all these people walked on top of the wall all the way to the Temple and we see that they were wrong.

The taunting of the enemy turned into a testimony of triumph!

What does this say to us? Keep going with what God has placed in your heart. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t get distracted. Don’t give up! And do it well, with excellence, because someone down the road might need to walk on top of what your building today!

Satan would say “if” to you. If you try. If you complete it. If you put forth the effort. It won’t succeed. It will fail. It’ll be fruitless. You’re just wasting your time.

Remember in Matthew 3 when God publicly proclaimed for all to hear about Jesus, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

The very next thing recorded in Jesus’ life in Matthew 4 was where satan tried to cast doubt on this proclamation by saying, “If You are the Son of God…”

But both of these taunts were turned to a testimony. The wall not only stood, but stood strong as countless people walked on it and around it to the Temple. And Jesus rebuked satan and spoke the Word against him to win the victory over his taunts and ultimately gain victory for us!

Our celebrations put satan in his place, push him back on his cloven hooves, make him put his pointy tail between his legs, and shuts him up. He cannot overcome the word of our testimony and the blood of the Lamb of Jesus Christ!

Second, their celebration shook society.

They had a reason to celebrate. The wall that had been torn down and city left in ruins was now restored. Strength and hope and a future were back in place. They sang so loudly that vs. 43 says it could be heard far away from Jerusalem.

Vs. 43 says, “They offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy.”

Everyone rejoiced. Everyone! Man, woman, boy, and girl. It was a massive, out loud, rip snortin’, rootin’ tootin’, gully washer of a good time! And it impacted their community!

They rejoiced not only in what God had done, but what He would do going forward. Vs. 44-47 describes how they put things in place planning for the future, committing to celebrating going forward.

It wasn’t a one time shot or special event, but something they intended to do every time they got together. And it grew out from there to the villages and countryside. The word was out and there was no turning back.

Now I’m by no means trying to work you up to a froth and insinuate that if you’re not making lots of noise you’re not thankful or grateful or saved!

But what I am saying is that we of all people on the face of this planet have a REAL reason to celebrate.

So when we do, whether it be privately or corporately, let’s set aside time and prepare and plan with excellence (let it cost something), let’s set aside our sin and allow God to purify our hearts, and let’s set aside our inhibitions and let loose with all that is within us to rejoice and celebrate the only One who is truly worthy of our efforts to throw a grand and glorious party!

Then let’s not keep it a secret, but allow what God is doing in us to impact the community around us.

That looks differently FOR each one of us, but should be something that is actively exercised BY all of us.

After all, one day we will enjoy the grandest party of all. God is preparing for us right now a grand gathering called the marriage supper of the Lamb, where His Bride the Church, you and me, the blood bought saints of God, will party like there will be no tomorrow, because there won’t be. It’ll be forever.

If you’re not a partier now, better get ready, you’ll be doing it for all of eternity.

Until then, we have a reason to celebrate. So, let’s celebrate the only One who is truly worthy.

I wonder what this would look like if the church of Jesus Christ were to really live this out? Really set aside time. Plan. Really set aside sin. Repent. Really set aside inhibitions. Celebrate. And really allow what this looks like to impact our community for Christ.

What would this look like differently in your life or the life of this church?

The Called Out Ones

You ever been called out for something?

Maybe it was in school for talking too much. Maybe it was for a job well done.

Called out ones stand out above the crowd for various reasons, some good, some not so good.

If I’m going to be called out, I want it to be for something exceptional and good!

Nehemiah Chapter 11 describes such a time as it gives the account of the re-population of the newly reestablished Jerusalem after the walls were rebuilt.

Verses 1-2 says, “Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.”

The rest of the chapter lists their names, some 3000 men, who were called out by God to repopulate the Holy City.

Some estimates placed a total of 10,000 people who moved into the city (when you add the men’s family members) which would mean there were approximately 100,000 people in the surrounding villages and countryside, given that they were to chose one out of every ten people (a tithe) to live there.

Imagine what these men and these families were experiencing. By lot families were chosen and asked to relocate from their comforts and security, their way of life and their friends and extended families, to move to a city that had no family or friends, no comforts of home, and was a target for attacks from enemies who weren’t happy it had been restored.

These people were asked to give up much to walk in obedience to their leader for the greater good of the kingdom of Israel.

And we as children of God in this generation are much the same way.

As the called out ones of God we have been asked to forsake much that this world has to offer for the cause of Christ and His kingdom.

As Believers, the “called out ones”, we are targets for attacks from the enemy of our souls.

We are called to a life of holiness that our flesh constantly resists.

We are called to always be on the stretch and crucify our comfort for the Gospel.

We are called to give up the security of what we’ve known and cling to the Cross of Calvary.

We are called to be careful with the choices we make in our social life as to not live in compromise.

We are called to live by faith.

We are called to walk in obedience.

We are called to work for God’s kingdom and not our own.

This world is not our home. The Bible describes us as “strangers in a foreign land”.

Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in Heaven.”

This story in Nehemiah describes exactly what God has done for us. He has chosen us. We have been called out.

The Greek word used in the Bible is “Ekklesia”, which means “Called out ones” (literally EK “out of” ant KALEO “shall be called out” so “shall be called out of”). The called out ones are you and me, which makes up the assembly of God’s people, the congregation of the Bride of Christ, the Church.

We need to remember that we didn’t choose God, He chose us. He pursued us. He called us out. The Holy Spirit worked on us and worked on us some more until, one day, we yielded to Him and gave our hearts to Jesus Christ.

Jesus called out His followers from among the crowd. He looked out among the masses and selected a handful of them to be His disciples.

Mark 3:13 says, “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him.”

Peter gives a beautiful and powerful description of the called out ones this way.

1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

Jesus has chosen us to be built with Him as our foundation into this beautiful spiritual house known as His Church, His Bride, for the purposes of declaring His praises to all who would believe!

As wonderful as this is, this choosing and willingness to yield comes with a price. Just as Jesus paid the ultimate price with His life, by embracing being a “called out one”, we also are asked to pay a price.

This price is a daily dying of ourselves to be more like Christ. We allow His holiness to transform us into His image so that others might see Christ in us and be drawn to Him as well.

Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Jerusalem is the only city in Bible that’s called “the holy city”. It’s set apart, “called out”, I guess you could say, from any other city in the world.

And the Holy, called out City should be inhabited by holy, called out people. Psalm 15 talks about the requirements of these inhabitants.

Psalm 15 says, “O Lord, who may dwell in Your sanctuary? Who may live on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and who does what is righteous, and speaks truth in his heart. He who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur upon his fellow man, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his promises, even when it hurts, and who lends money without interest and doesn’t accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.”

These are standards of righteous, holy living that will qualify us to live in God’s Holy City.

Let’s think again on what the people in Nehemiah’s day were asked to do and see how it relates to us today –

Material Things

To live in Jerusalem, you had to re-order your view of material things. You had to give up land in your previous region, and take up some kind of new business in Jerusalem.

As we learned last week in the grace of giving, when we give God our whole heart then everything else easily falls into place behind it. As the people then were willing to reorder their view of materials things and give up whatever they needed to for the cause of the kingdom of Israel, we need to ask ourselves as the called out ones, how are we doing in our willingness to give everything for our King and His Kingdom?

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…”

Where is our heart in this matter?

Social Things

To live in Jerusalem, you had to re-arrange your social priorities. This meant possibly leaving some friends and family behind in their old village. When you chose to serve Christ with your whole hearts, some of your family and friends may not understand you. They may treat you funny or call you names or shun you.

Rearranging your social priorities might mean saying no to some business outings and opportunities where compromising behavior takes place. This might mean declining offers to attend parties and other events with your friends from school because you know some things will be taking place there that are not pleasing to God or edifying to your spirit. This might mean breaking off some unhealthy relationships that are constantly tempting you to choose the wider road of destruction. This might mean saying no to activities that keep you away from your devotional time with the Lord, or church, or small groups or other opportunities to grow in the Lord.

Living a life of holiness is not easy. Saying yes to relocating to the Holy City will mean sacrifice and change. But the rewards it brings are wonderful in their peace and joy and purpose beyond yourself and your own goals. It helps you to live for the greater (and greatest) purpose of God and His kingdom.

Jesus said in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sister or father or mother or children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

So we ask ourselves, are we willing to rearrange our social priorities to make us qualified to live in God’s Holy City and place Christ and His Kingdom first?

Physical Things

To live in Jerusalem, you had to have a mind to endure the challenges in the city. It had been a ghost town for seventy years, and was now basically a slightly rebuilt, somewhat repopulated ghost town. The city didn’t look all that glorious, and needed work.

Being a Christian is hard work. It’s not for the faint of heart. There’s work to be done. When Jesus said, “It is finished”, he was referring to the work He needed to accomplish for our salvation. But the last thing He told His disciples before He ascended to Heaven was, “Go and preach the Gospel.”  This means there’s work to be done.

We are in the age of reaching and reaping. This Church age between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the Rapture must be marked by an ongoing, vigorous, intentional, passionate sharing of the Gospel.

This Holy City still has room for more residents. The gates aren’t closed yet. The vacancy sign is still lit. And the harvest is plenteous. Those who went into the city didn’t stay in the city. They went out and folks came in. The city’s population didn’t remain at 10,000. In fact, today the city has nearly 1 million residents.

There’s plenty of room in God’s Kingdom, and He will turn no one away. Jesus said in Luke 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.”

It doesn’t matter who you are today or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter how unqualified or unworthy you feel, Jesus stands always with open arms accepting you saying, “Come unto Me all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest for your weary souls.” And He loves you with an everlasting love.

Kingdom work is hard work. It’s not without its problems and challenges. But we’re not left to do it alone. Jesus has promised to never leave us of forsake us, so He’s with us always giving us the strength we need in every situation.

He’s given us His Holy Spirit to embolden us to witness, give us discernment, guide us, comfort us, and help us along our way.

And He will not let one effort we expend for Him go wasted. It all counts. It’s all being used and fruitful in working together for your good and His glory.

It’s work, but it’s worth it.

Spiritual Things

To live in Jerusalem, you had to live knowing you were a target for the enemy. There were strong walls to protect you, but since Jerusalem was now a notable city with rebuilt walls, the fear was more from whole armies than bands of robbers. The old village was not in much danger from great armies.

As Believers living in the Holy City, we have placed a bullseye on our chest.  Satan doesn’t want us to live a holy life. He doesn’t want us to be successful in our witness. He doesn’t want us to be productive for God’s kingdom. He has many weapons in his arsenal – worry, doubt, fear, busy-ness, complacency, compromise, to name a few.

But we need to be reminded today that God in us is greater than he that is in the world.

I imagine the people chosen to live in the city battled distractions of worry and fear. The enemies of the children of Israel didn’t see them as a threat before the walls were rebuilt. But now, they were a target.

Same with satan. As long as you and I are coasting, or staying busy doing other things, or walking in doubt or fear, and really not committed to God’s Holy City and His purposes, he won’t bother you much. But if you determine to God Kingdom purposes and begin to make waves, count on the attack.

Keep in mind, the people in Nehemiah’s day didn’t move in to the city without leadership already in place. It says that along with the chosen ones the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem as well.

Know this – we have a leader who has already fought the battles for us, who is the captain of the armies of God, who has at His disposal the vast hosts of heavenly armies who, at a moment’s notice and with His word, move on our behalf. He will never leave us exposed. He will never be caught off guard. He will never be delayed in His response to our cries for help. And He will never be less than completely victorious!

One more thing about this spiritual aspect of moving into the Holy City – it required a closer walk with God.

When the folks were living in the country side and other villages they might be able to get away with things they otherwise wouldn’t by living in the Holy City. Why? Because the Temple of God was in the Holy City.

Living right next to the Temple placed a greater awareness on those living there of their need to walk a life that was holy and pure and righteous.

I think maybe that’s why some people don’t like to attend church. They don’t like to be told what the Bible says about their compromising lifestyle choices. “Out of sight, out of mind”. “What you don’t know won’t hurt you”. “Ignorance is bliss”. Or maybe more directly, “You can’t tell me what to do! Who made you God?”

Let me encourage you to make church a priority. Every Sunday and every Wednesday and every other opportunity given to you, come. It puts us in a much needed close proximity to  God’s Word, God’s presence, and God’s people, all so very necessary to keep us walking a life of holiness and righteousness and purity before our Lord.

The Bible tells us there is a city coming down from heaven to earth, when God is done with this earth as we know it, and it calls that city the New Jerusalem. Revelation 21:1-4 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the Throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things had passed away.”

Just as the chosen ones in Nehemiah’s day were assigned to live in the Holy City of Jerusalem, so one day God will make a new Jerusalem, consisting of His Bride, the Church, you and me and the those God has pursued and chosen for His own.

To be a citizen of this Holy City you must yield to His will, walking in loving obedience, faith, and trust. What’s standing in your way materially? Socially? Physically? Spiritually?

People don’t want to be citizens of the New Jerusalem for the same reasons many didn’t want to be citizens of Nehemiah’s Jerusalem. It takes work. It takes sacrifice. It takes dying to ones self. But He has a chosen people who have been called to declare God’s praises to others of how He has called us out of darkness into His wonderful light.

We have been called and called out to a high calling of holiness because our God is holy. And we have been called to proclaim Him and invite others into this Holy City.

The lot has been caste. You have been chosen. You are one of the called out ones.

What will you do?