In two days we are going to formally dedicate this new (to us) church building to the Lord. Even though a local church’s building is NOT the temple or the wall around Jerusalem, it’s hard to not at least consider those important dedication texts. Consider Nehemiah 8. As the post-captivity Israelites gather to celebrate the completion of the wall, Ezra unwraps the book of the Law and reads to the people. Hearing the Law, for perhaps the first time in their lives, they begin to weep realizing how much they have grieved God by flouting His law. Not a wrong response. James tells us that there is a time to grieve our sin; Paul tells us that godly sorrow leads to repentance; and Isaiah even reminds us that Jesus will be a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. However, Nehemiah’s response makes it clear that not even grief over something as horrific as generational idolatry has to go on forever.
Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~Nehemiah 8:9-10
He is essentially reminding the wall builders, and by extension us, that as great as their sin was, the Lord was greater still. Sorrow for sin, sorrow for loss, sorrow for unmet expectations or “unfair” life circumstances are all part of the human condition and are all evident in the lives of God’s people as recorded in His word. But sorrow is still ultimately all about us and Nehemiah’s instruction says, “That’s not where your hope lies!” Brothers and sisters, let’s not spend our lives as a church, or as individuals, focused on what we don’t have or what we wish was true. Consider, instead, this take from a very old commentary on Nehemiah 8:10
“‘For the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ This beautiful sentence is, literally, delight in Jehovah is a strong refuge.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. 1897)
Sad? Wistful? Grieved? Righteously indignant? Don’t stay there, delight in the Lord Jehovah!