Sermon Notes – Ps. Jim White
Sunday 18th August 2019
Over the past month or so, we’ve been looking at some pretty powerful realities of who God is – and who we are in Jesus Christ His Son.
We’ve really only just scratched the surface of the Glory of God – how Jesus has gathered us into that same place of glory that He and the Father share. We’re going to launch from where we left off with that in a minute.
We’ve talked about passion. I can’t speak for you – but I can speak for myself and say that I’ve had my passion for God taken up a few notches. It’s a fire that has never gone out. But sometimes we just need to have the heat turned up a bit and get everything into right perspective.
We’ve looked at the huge spiritual realities of love, faith and power…; how these Holy Spirit gifts are at the core of who we are – and make us who we are.
This series of sermons began because I really wanted to speak about the incredible work and place of the Holy Spirit in our lives… and when you speak about Him, He comes. Not because He loves all the attention – but because He looks for any opportunity to lead us closer to Jesus Christ. He looks for any opportunity to bring more glory to God.
I know I was a bit cheeky with some of my comments last week. Christine said to Venese, what did you give him for breakfast?
But I’m hoping that wherever you are at right now – you are loving having the Word of God wash over you – and all these eternal truths are being reinforced into your spirit… because the Word is our strength.
In fact, it’s the celebration and the rejoicing in God and His Word that is our strength. Jesus, as we know, is the Word of God – and that’s why I believe the Holy Spirit is moving so beautifully and powerfully in people’s lives right now – because the Holy Spirit Himself is breathing something fresh upon us to draw us closer to the Word – to Jesus.
We have the most amazing story of how God’s people were actually restored back to the Word of God, in the days of Nehemiah. Nehemiah led the return of God’s people, out of captivity, back to Jerusalem… back to Zion.
After a lot of physical rebuilding, Ezra the priest, spoke to all the people of Israel, “Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
There is a strong connection between the glory of God – and the joy of the Lord.
But this is not a “happy clappy,” “frivolous” “superficial” kind of joy. This is speaking of a deep gratitude – a sense of awe – it’s grounded in a fear of the Lord that is very real and very Holy…
Having said that – Ezra is definitely telling the people to go and have a party and share the joy with others who don’t have anything… it’s a joyful celebration and a time of rejoicing.
But we can only imagine what these people have been through; here is a people who have been in captivity for 70 years. But now, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, they are not only rebuilding walls, but they are rebuilding their temple, their homes, everything. They were pretty much restoring themselves as a nation. Not only was a city being established – Israel was being established.
But it’s what happened when the walls were completed – and the people of God could finally take a small break from all the work, that really encouraged me as I read this story again.
Chapter 7 ends with the statement that (Nehemiah 7:73) “…the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the Nethinim (who were servants of the priests) and all Israel dwelt in their cities. When the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities.”
So then we launch into chapter 8. .
Nehemiah 8:1-2, “Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.”
This was a huge day. Some theologians suggest there could have been about 50,000 people standing in that square, near the Water Gate, on that particular day.
And it’s a huge day because for the first time in 70 years, the Word of God is being read to them as a group. And they were hungry to hear it. And when Ezra stood on the platform which had been specially made for this day, and opened up the Word to read it, everyone stood up.
Nehemiah 8:6, ‘And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
I don’t know about you, but that really has an impact on me. To picture 50,000 people who have basically been through hell, now stand as free men and women, in the presence of God – with a hunger to know the Word…. It’s an incredibly moving experience.
And after hours of reading – probably 5 or 6 hours – the people are weeping. They are distressed to realise what they had been forced to forsake whilst they were in captivity. And Ezra had to stop reading and say to them – this is a holy day, do not weep.
But they were convicted by the Word. They were broken by it. They were distraught to see how far they had become removed from God’s Word and His blessing.
But here’s the thing. They were completely willing to submit themselves to the Word again. They were totally willing to give the Word authority over their own lives. Not just willing – they were desperate for it to happen.
I just see that we need to have that same heart and hunger for the Word of God right now – to stay under its authority. But if we need to be broken by it or humbled by it, then let that happen too.
Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not My word like a fire?” says the Lord, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
It’s interesting that Jesus said I’ve come to start a Fire… He is the Word. And He is a consuming fire.
But His Words are also like a hammer that breaks people’s hearts open – hard hearts that need smashing.
Have you ever felt like you’ve been smashed by the Word of God? Well let it happen. It’s a good thing. Conviction is a good thing. And it’s God’s goodness that leads us to brokenness and repentance – but praise God, we’re not meant to live in that place forever.
Ezra said – it’s time now to stop weeping. You’ve had pain and weeping and slavery for 70 years… This is a Holy day! – in other words, it’s a day that is set apart from the rest, because it’s a new beginning, and a revival of what has been lost.
I can just imagine that for some of those people, they must have felt like part of them had died. But now, they were being brought back to life. This was a true reviving of their faith, their life, their hope for the future…
And then Nehemiah said to the people:
Nehemiah 8:10, “Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
And this is God’s message to us today – the joy of the Lord is your strength!
Because whatever you are going through in your own personal life or in your family, and whatever we are facing as a church and as Christians in an intolerant society – the joy of the Lord is our strength.
It’s not happiness. The world craves for happiness. Whatever makes you happy.
But happiness comes and goes. It is fleeting. The pursuit of happiness is like trying to live on unstable ground – with unstable foundations.
But joy is a deep inner exuberance. It’s like a wellspring that never runs dry.
There’s a time for weeping. There’s a time for grieving and mourning. The reality of the limitations of our natural world are real and they sometimes cause pain.
But deep inner joy in the Lord is what carries us through.
1 Peter 1:6-8, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,”
Joy and glory go together! Joy so deep that you can’t fully express it. And glory that is so full of God’s presence and power, that it overflows…
The Passion Translation says, (1 Peter 1:8) “…through believing in him you are saturated with an ecstatic joy, indescribably sublime and immersed in glory.”
And verse 9, (Passion), (1 Peter 1:9), “For you are reaping the harvest of your faith—the full salvation promised you—your souls’ victory!”
Your soul’s victory is the full expression of your salvation – which is joy and glory in Christ.
So now, as we talk about our salvation, we turn to go a different direction… because our victory – our ecstatic joy – our glorious immersion into God’s glory… all of this came at a great cost.
If Ezra was calling the church together in the 21st century – I know it’s never going to happen… but if it did – I believe he’d be reading from all the scriptures in the Old Testament that point to the coming Messiah. Plus all the gospel scriptures from the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul…
He’d be revealing God’s heart – His incredible love for His people. He’d be telling the story of the good news of Jesus Christ. How Christ died for our sin so that we could have life. How Jesus suffered and shed His blood, because He was the only pure sacrificial Lamb that could possibly take our place on the altar.
And hopefully, we’d be on our faces – bowing before God in repentance and in awe of what He has done for us. And we’d be shouting Amen and Amen!
And I’m taking the liberty to say that part of his message might include scriptures like this:
Jeremiah 9:23-24, “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord.”
And we would be hearing how much God rejoices in us – delights in us – has great joy in us, His Church.
Jeremiah 32:41, “Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’”
Psalm 35:27, “Let them shout for joy and be glad, Who favor my righteous cause; And let them say continually, “Let the Lord be magnified, Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.”
Ephesians 5:27, “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
These are God’s amazing promises to His church. He delights is us, He rejoices is us – and He desires that we would shout for joy and be glad because of all He has done.
But listen to this prophetic declaration from Isaiah, as he speaks of the coming Messiah – Jesus:
Isaiah 53:10-11, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.”
This is really a struggle to take hold of – because our natural and logical and emotional minds want to try and comprehend something that is way beyond us – it’s purely of God.
But it says – it pleased God to bruise Him… other versions say – to crush Him. And the word “pleased” actually means delights…
How can God the Father delight in crushing His only Son…? How can He have joy in seeing His Son suffer?
Well of course His delight wasn’t in seeing Jesus suffer on the cross – His delight was in the victorious outcome of God’s children being given life!
God delighted in His plan of redemption. He delighted in His glory being poured out over mankind. And He delighted in righteousness being restored.
That plan required pain… even death… but God, as usual, saw the big picture.
And you’ll remember the words used to describe Jesus as He faced the cross.
Hebrews 12:2, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The joy set before Jesus was the birthing and the rising of the church – the redeemed ones…
Jesus has joy in the face of persecution – in the face of suffering and pain – in the face of feeling alone and abandoned…
I can imagine Ezra speaking to the church now, and saying, this isn’t the time to grieve and be sad… it’s a time to rejoice in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
God was rejoicing way before it even happened.
This was the most glorious and powerful thing that was ever put into motion – the plan of redemption. And God’s glory abounded in His grace, His joy, His delight…
And Jesus delighted in seeing the formation of His Bride – the church – being sanctified and made Holy and pure… He looked into the future and saw this magnificent Bride rising up out of a broken and fallen world. She knows suffering. She knows heartache. And yet out of that place of brokenness she finds joy – and joy connects with the glory of God – and she changes from glory to glory and goes from strength to strength – because that’s what real strength is… it’s the joy of the Lord!
And remember those for whom nothing has been prepared. In other words, those who don’t have the understanding; those who are poor in Spirit; poor in life; those on the fringes…
We’ve been called to take what we have and what we celebrate – and give it to those who don’t have it.
We are going to share communion together this morning – all centred around this theme of glory and joy.
But I want to ask you – where are you at in the story?
Perhaps you know positionally that you are child of God – but something within you still seems to be held captive to the past. Maybe it’s your thinking, your trust, your hope… that’s still living in captivity.
Or maybe you’ve found your freedom – but as the Word of God washes over you, you realise that it’s not the reality that it should be in your life. Do you feel a conviction that you’ve moved away from the promises of God, you’ve hardened your heart to the Word’s anointed healing.
Let it burn like a fire in your heart. Let it hammer away at you until the hardness breaks into pieces, so God can rebuild you and put all the pieces back together again.
It brings us back to the words of that song which we can’t seem to get away from:
“When I thought I lost me
You knew where I left me
You reintroduced me to Your love
You picked up all my pieces
Put me back together
You are the defender of my heart”
He wants to be your Defender.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit is pouring His joy into your heart – so that your strength is being renewed. We all need strength. Let it go deep… let it be clothed in awe, in the fear of the Lord…
Maybe He’s taking you from one place of His glory to another.
As we remember Jesus this morning – think of what this cost Him. Think of what it means for our eternal life. Be humbled by it. But rejoice in it.
This is the broken body and shed blood of Christ. He says, take it in remembrance of me.