“God’s Joy is Our Strength”
Nehemiah 8

Palm Sunday:  
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” ~ John 12:13
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” ~ Matthew 21:10-11
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. ~ Zechariah 9:9
These verses describe the scene on Palm Sunday. 
Take a minute and try to envision what the atmosphere must have felt like. “The whole city was stirred,” palm branches were being placed on the road before Jesus as he rode “humbly” mounted on a donkey. People were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 
It’s clear that those who were part of this scene thought Jesus was an important person. There was joy and it sounds like it was contagious. Jesus was seen as a person who loved them, and they loved Him, they saw Him as the King of Israel. 
The Word had become flesh and was riding into Jerusalem to become the Passover Lamb for the world. Now that is love. 
God’s Word has been renewing people since the beginning of time. 
God’s word formed the world. 
God’s word formed Israel at Sinai. 
God’s word promised a new exodus and return from exile. 
God’s word set the people free from Babylon.  
Today’s Scripture in Nehemiah 8 tells how the Israelites who had returned to Jerusalem, from Babylon, looked to God’s Word to make them new. The people asked Ezra to bring the book, Nehemiah 7:73b – 8:1,
“When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”

Ezra has been in Jerusalem since 458 BC, Nehemiah arrives 13 years later and now that the walls are built the people are asking to hear the Word of God. Now that the people are safe, they turn to God’s Word to direct their lives. Maybe they sensed God’s hand in helping them complete the building of the wall and this accomplishment drew them back to God’s Word. 

A great lesson, when you see God’s presence in your life does that draw you back to focusing on God’s Word?

We read in verse 4 that Ezra was well prepared, 
“Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion.”
I wonder if while the others were building the walls and gates, Ezra was building a high wooden platform? 

We also read that Ezra had a group of men standing next to him ready to assist in helping the people understand what was being read. What an amazing Bible study!

This could be where “preaching,” from a pulpit begins? Preaching had been around since Moses and the prophets. Jesus and Paul preached and Paul commanded Timothy to preach the word, 2 Timothy 4:2.

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

Thankfully preaching today doesn’t always look like what Ezra was doing. His sermons went from daybreak until noon!

Not only did Ezra have men beside him, there were other men helping out as well, verse 7 described these men as Levites who explained the Torah to people. 

Hearing God’s Word is important, understanding God’s Word is life changing. We see this happened in verse 9, 

 “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.”

Their weeping demonstrated they understood. They felt a need to repent. Their repentant response opened them to a freedom to rejoice. Look at verse 10, 

“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.”

There will be a time for weeping, after the Festival of Booths, in chapter 9. Right now they were being told not to weep “because the joy of the Lord was their strength.” 

What does the “Joy of the Lord” mean?
It means, Yahweh’s joy, Yahweh’s good pleasure.

What had Yahweh’s good pleasure been? 

Moving the heart of Cyrus to allow them to return to the land and rebuild the temple and walls
To bring Ezra and Nehemiah back to the land to lead them
It has been for His people
What is their strength?

Yahweh’s joy in saving, restoring and protecting them. 
Yahweh is their strength.
Take a moment, and consider – What has Yahweh’s good pleasure been for you? Where in the past few weeks have you had to lean on the strength of the Lord to get you through? According to Nehemiah, that is joy.  

But what about their weeping? What about their sin? Is joy more important than repentance? 

Those very thoughts that could have been going through Jesus’ mind as He rode into Jerusalem that day of Passover. What about their sin? The answer to that question would be given at the end of that week. 
For Palm Sunday, the focus was on what Yahweh had done for them. 

How did the Isrealites know Yahweh was encouraging them to be joyful? 
Check it out! 
The Isrealites were back in Jerusalem, with a temple and walls rebuilt! 
Yahweh was back in Jerusalem riding on a donkey!

Would you believe me if I told you that God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ takes almighty joy in those who put their faith in Jesus?

Would you believe me if I told you that God is pleased with you? 

How do I know this? He tells us in His Word. The very reason Jesus was riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, leads us up to one of the more well-known verses in Scripture, John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Nehemiah 8:12 shows that the people were made strong by the knowledge of God’s joy in them:

“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.”

When was the last time you had a party because you understood Scripture? It sounds like a great idea to me!

Turns out, the second day, no hangovers, instead, 
verse 13,
“On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law.”

The people came back to learn more about God’s Word. 

Ezra didn’t miss a beat. He knew what time it was, and decided to make it an object lesson. It was the seventh month and according to the Torah, the seventh month was when the Lord commanded Moses that the Israelites should dwell in booths. The fathers took the message to their families and obeyed, right away, verse 16,

“So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.”

They were reenacting the past. 
This was shaping their view of the world in their present and revealed the way God would save His people in the future.  Their whole community had returned from exile, just like those from Egypt had done. 
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, He too was reenacting a time of celebration. The Word was arriving and this should bring pleasure. God’s Word makes known God’s good pleasure and God’s mighty acts on behalf of His people will show them that He loves them. 

God gives us memorials to celebrate so that we may remember what He has done for us and how He loves us. 

As we begin the memorial of Holy Week, and remember the road the Word of God made for us, let us remember what He has done for us. Let us feel His joy and may it be our strength.  Hosanna!

Let’s pray.