Great Joy – Nehemiah 8:9-12

Christmas is a time of joy to the world. It’s a time of great joy to all people. It’s a time of joy bells ringing and choirs singing the glad announcement that The Savior is born.

We see this emphasis in the announcement the angel made to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-11, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The angel could have said, “He will bring you great prosperity”, or “He will bring you a successful career”, or “He will bring you super intelligence”, but he didn’t. This good news will bring to all of mankind the antidote for its sorrow, that of “great joy”.

It seems that this season of “great joy” has become anything but that for so many folks. There’s a striving, a sadness, a loneliness, an emptiness in so many throughout the year, and that’s only magnified during the Christmas season.

God knew of mankind’s need for “great joy”. The sadness and despair that had plagued humanity from the moment sin entered in and fellowship was broken with God needed a remedy. And “great joy” was the heavenly antidote for the sadness of man’s sorrowful hearts.

Loads of money won’t solve it, a successful career won’t solve it, super intelligence won’t solve it. Only the Good News of The Savior’s birth will bring to mankind “great joy”.

You’ve heard of the phrase, “The joy of the Lord is my strength”. Maybe some of us think that verse is found in Psalms. It sounds like something David would write. Or maybe Solomon wrote it as part of his Proverbs. Or maybe Moses penned it in some of his writings. Maybe it’s a New Testament writing by the Apostles Paul or John. But this phrase we know so well is found in our text today in Nehemiah, and it’s context gives us the understanding of why it was said and how we can apply it this Holiday season and all year ’round.

Nehemiah 8:9-12, “Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

There’s a couple of things this passage tells us today.

First, Understanding God’s Good News Brings Sorrowful Repentance

These people were so upset. They knew they had sinned. They knew they had been rejecting God. Their understanding led them to godly sorrow which led them to repentance and salvation.

Paul spoke of this when he said in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Know this, satan would want you to live in worldly sorrow, to remain in condemnation for your sins, to live in a constant state of NOT being joyful. He wants you to think you’re never good enough, that you don’t deserve forgiveness, that you’ve messed up too much, and that you’ll never measure up to God’s standards of holy living. “It’s just too late for you”, he says.

But satan is the father of lies. God says you’re loved and you’re forgiven. So don’t be sad any more. Don’t cry. Don’t mourn. Instead, REJOICE!

That’s what Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites were saying to the people that day, “Don’t be sad! Be glad! This is a day of celebration and rejoicing! You’ve been made aware of your sins, and your sorrow has led to godly repentance and right relationship with God!”

That’s where we all are today as Believers. We’ve been forgiven. Our past is forgiven and forgotten by God. Godly sorrow has led to repentance and we are now children of the King!

Listen as Paul continues with the fruit of godly sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:11 says, “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, and what readiness to see justice done.”

Godly sorrow produces:

An earnestness, which is a deeply sincere, sober intention to serve God wholeheartedly.

An eagerness, which is living for God with gusto and excitement

An indignation, which is a righteous anger against evil and sin

An alarm, which is a holy fear and reverence for God

A longing, which is an unabated desire & hunger for more of God

A concern, which is giving God our complete, undivided attention always

And a readiness, which is a desire to see the final justice pronounced on sin at the return and eternal reign of Christ.

Godly sorrow is a necessary element in our repentance. It’s a conviction of the Holy Spirit who will birth and nurture the qualities that help us begin and maintain a life that is ever growing and effective for Him.

Isaiah spoke prophetically of Jesus, and Jesus read this very passage in the Temple at the beginning of His ministry, to describe what He came to earth to do.

Isaiah 61:1-3, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”

Godly sorrow leads to repentance. Jesus came to comfort those who live in a constant state of hopeless mourning, to get us out the ashes of sorrow and place a crown of life upon our heads, to exchange our sorrow for joy, our mourning for gladness, to robe us in a garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness and despair.

A robe, a crown, a reason to rejoice today and a hope for the future! Sounds like a King’s kid to me!

So let’s move beyond our sorrowful past and look around in thanksgiving to what He’s done and look forward in joyful celebration to what He has in store for His children!

But let’s not stop there!

Once the people got it, they needed to share it. You just can’t keep good news to yourself! So their understanding God’s Good News brought sorrowful repentance, but then their –

Embracing God’s Good News Brought Joyful Sharing.

Listen again to what happened. Ezra and his team said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

The shepherds did the same thing. Luke 2:17-18 says, “When they had seen (the baby Jesus), they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

Just moments before the shepherds had been in their usual spots doing their usual things that had gone on for generations before. There was little hope, little joy, little expectation that anything would ever change.

Then suddenly things changed for ever. They couldn’t keep it to themselves. They had just experienced the revelation of Jesus the Messiah and couldn’t wait to go around joyfully sharing the good news of great joy with those who were living in sorrow & despair. They brought hope to the hopeless, joy to the sorrowful, and gave the Bread of Life to those who had nothing.

So many today are like those in Nehemiah’s day and when the shepherds heard the Good News. They doing their usual things in their usual way with little hope, little joy, and little expectation that anything will ever change. They’re stressed, alone, and living in worldly sorrow that eventually will lead to death. They need the joy of the Lord to be their strength.

In this holiday season as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, let’s be thankful for the godly sorrow in our lives that has led us to repentance and salvation. But let’s also keep at the forefront of our daily activities that we’ve been called to share this Good News with those who have nothing. We see them everywhere. Those who are living in earthly, joyless, worldly sorrow.

Let’s not let this truth get lost among all the tinsel and lights.

As the shepherds did on that first Christmas Day, as those in Nehemiah’s day did to those who had nothing, let us share the Good News with those around us. Let us take the food of hope to those who have none. Let’s wrap up a life giving meal and deliver it to those who are in desperate need of true joy. Let us go around sharing the Good News with those who are living in mournful despair.

There’s an old saying that goes, “The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away.”

Let’s give away the love of Jesus to those who so desperately need it.

It’s the good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people, for unto us is born this day in the city of a David, a Savior, the Hope to replace all hopelessness, the Richness to every poor soul, the Mender of every broken heart, the Liberator for every captive prisoner, the Comforter to all who mourn, the Provider for those who lack, the One who exchanges a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

His joy is our strength. He is Christ The Lord.