CRYING AND CELEBRATING
REBUILDING 10: Nehemiah 9
OCTOBER 7, 2018 (Robert)
Birthdays were never really a big deal in my home growing up. Mine and my brother’s birthdays especially – because they were both close to Christmas. How many of you have a birthday that falls next to a holiday so it gets overshadowed?
So for my family, we would normally have a cake, some kind of present, and an awkward “happy birthday” song. It was pretty low-key.
But when I comes to my wife’s family (in contrast to mine), birthdays are a big deal! A couple years ago, although it was in the aftermath of a few big Christmas parties, they went behind my back, made a peach cobbler and put candles in it (because peach cobbler is so much better than a cake), and we had a great time.
The funny thing is, a birthday party is a celebration of something that we had no control of! If anything, we should be throwing a party for the mom who did all the work, right?
But birthdays are really more of a celebration and validation of life. For one day or at least one party, the birthday person is reminded of how special they are.
Even better than that, the great thing about birthday parties or Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any other holiday get-to-gether, it is not just one person that has a good time, everyone gets to be part of something. For many people, getting together for a certain holiday is the highlight of their year. It’s something the look forward to in anticipation and that they look back at each time in fondness.
Or let me say it like this: Celebrations give life rhythm and remind us of why we are here. We will come back to this in a minute.
We are in week 10 of our series called REBUILDING we are studying the Old Testament books of Ezra & Nehemiah. and looking at the movement of God’s people back into their promised land to rebuild so that we can learn some principles about experiencing renewal and rebuilding in our own lives, in our families, and in our church.
Last week Jamie led us in looking at Nehemiah 8:1-8 at how Ezra stood up on a platform to read the Word of God (or at least what they had of it at the time, which was the Law). The people (who had been so starved from not having heard the Scriptures in so long because they had been in captivity), were so unified that they stood listening intently for hours.
Because (as a side note) love for God always produces a love for his Word.
The people in Nehemiah 8 responded to the reading of the Word in 4 significant ways (that each conveniently start with “C”): they (1) cried, (2) celebrated, (2) confessed, and then (3) committed themselves. Today we’ll talk about how their crying turned into celebration and next week we will look at the other two.
Let’s turn our attention now back to Nehemiah 8 and see what God has to say to us today.
In the first few verses, Ezra was reading and expounding on the Law from a wooden platform (not unlike this one) to all the people gathered below. Actually, what they were doing here looked very similar to what we do today in the modern church. In fact, verses 7 and 8 tell us that what was being read was even explained further by a whole list of Levites to the people who were broken up into smaller groups!
Read what everyone did in response once they understood what was being read:
Nehemiah 8 [9b] …For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.
The people’s first response to God’s Word was that they cried – and this was not a happy cry. Why were they so moved by the Word that they cried? Because they recognized that their lives previously had been lived in disobedience to what they were reading and they had reaped the consequences of their sin, idolatry, and disobedience to God.
While this is a small part of the text, it does point us to a very important truth for us today: God’s Law (specifically the 10 Commandments) is a standard or ruler that acts as a mirror, showing us all the imperfections in our life. None of us can match up to it.
Paul spends a lot of time talking about this:
Romans 3  …“None is righteous, no, not one;  no one understands; no one seeks for God…  …whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
The law shows us our great need. And whether that drives us to physical tears or not, we cannot receive the hope of the Gospel until we first receive the conviction of our sinfulness.
As a matter of fact, someone (especially a child) truly understands the Gospel and is ready to be saved ONLY when they first recognize that they are sinners. Because it is only the lost who can be found and only sinners who need a savior. Jesus told the Pharisees (or the ultra-spiritual religious leaders of his time):
Mark 2 (NLT) “ …Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Even if you grow up in a Christian home in a good area, if someone says, “I have always been a Christian,” then they really do not understand the Gospel fully. Because (as Paul says later in…
Romans 3  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
And to be clear, you may not remember the specific day and time that you were saved, but you must, in recognition of your sinfulness:
Romans 10  …confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord [you surrender to him as Lord of your life] and believe in your heart [or soul] that God raised him from the dead [the Gospel], you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified [from his sin], and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Because although at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, Jesus had not yet been born, died, and rose again, they knew that despite their disobedience, God had been so merciful and gracious to give them yet another chance! That is why in the midst of their crying, Nehemiah basically says in verse 9, “dry your tears – it’s time to celebrate!”
Nehemiah 8  …“This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.”…  Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”…
In the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
While God’s Word shows us our sinfulness, it does not leave us there.
When we receive the grace of God into our lives, when we confess and believe and are saved – we are forgiven, our eternal spirits are made alive, we are no longer slaves to sin or condemned, we are made righteous in God’s sight! As Paul said, although we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God:
Romans 3 (NLT)  Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
And that, above all things, is reason to CELEBRATE – which is exactly what God’s people did.
Nehemiah 8  And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, [why?] because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Then look what they did next:
 On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law.  And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month,  and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.”
So after reading God’s Word, they realized that their time of celebration should be even bigger than just a dinner party together – this needed to be a whole holiday! This Feast of Booths (a “booth” was a temporary shelter or tent made from branches) reminded them of God’s provision and protection of his people in the desert after escaping from Egypt.
 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim.  And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.
And this didn’t just last one day…
 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.
This event for God’s people was a whole week of celebration – it was a holiday vacation. Then afterward they had a solemn or formal assembly, they got back to their regular lives (at least before their next time celebration – and they seemed to have a lot!).
And why was this time of celebration so important that God had commanded it to happen many years before? Because just as we started off saying,
Celebrations give life rhythm and remind us of why we are here.
We could spend a lot of time here talking about the importance of celebrations and holidays (or retreats like the Men’s Retreat coming up or E-Women like several of you were part of) in society and how they slow down time in our mind, break up the mundane, (as we said) give us something to look forward to and look back at.
But the angle I want us to come at this from today is that specifically every time we gather for worship, it is an opportunity to celebrate. Meaning days like this and worship services within our church like this are essential times for us as believers to celebrate Jesus. We are essentially throwing a “resurrection party” for God! So I want us to end by applying a few principles of celebrating (or throwing a party) to our worship service gatherings.
But first I feel like I have to step aside and explain something. Sadly, as a culture today we have so ruined the whole idea of celebration that immediately when we think of “partying,” many of our minds go to things such as getting plastered, throwing up, mindless amusement, and flippant immorality… and there is nothing God-honoring or healthy or helpful about that (no matter how glamorous the media paints it). That type of “partying” always ends up in regrets, shame, and scars – sometimes immediately, but normally much later.
And in response to that, several decades ago, many church leaders began to fight against this idea of “partying” and began to greatly discourage celebrations! That is why for many people, especially in the Bible Belt, the church has the stigma of no fun, no loud music (especially no drums), no dancing, no parties, no laughing too much, no gift-exchanging because it might be a pagan ritual, and the list goes on!
But while not everything is giggles and there IS a time to be serious and reverent, and yes: drunkenness and gluttony are both sinful on multiple levels (and interestingly, Jesus was accused of both)… God wants his children to enjoy life in moderation, to find contentment in his blessings, to be a people of JOY and celebration and throwing God-honoring “parties!”, but especially in worship services!
Here in Nehemiah and throughout the Old Testament (especially in the Book of Leviticus), we see day long, week-long, even year-long feasts and celebrations and parties. They took intentional time to stop working so they could play music, dance, feast, praise God, and congratulate each other. And then they would build memorials so they wouldn’t forget later!
Because here is the thing: if we do NOT take time to stop and celebrate, life loses its rhythm, time keeps flying by, and we lose focus on our whole purpose in life. Coming together to worship in services like this regularly as a habit in our life is important. It gives our week a pattern, breaks up the monotony, and bases the rest of our week off gathering to celebrate God.
So let’s turn the corner and I want to give us a few brief principles from our text. Or you could say: Nehemiah’s Tips to Throwing the Best Party (or Worship Service).
1. Celebrating takes INTENTION.
Nehemiah told them, “This day is holy to the LORD your God… for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
They had to move past their past failures, forget about their enemies, and focus on the greatness of God. That is what we have to do EVERY time we come together to worship.
Without a purpose and reason, our worship services end up being a religious ritual that become a waste of time. And I am afraid that there are many people across America that gather together every week for no other reason than habit. I have heard it said that you could take the Holy Spirit out of some churches and no one would notice. That is sad.
So for us – every time we gather for a worship service, there are many great side-effects such as fellowship, encouragement, learning, mission and ministry support, and more – but primarily we gather to praise and worship God – for what He has done, what HE is doing, and what we believe He WILL do.
For many of us, our natural tendency is to focus on the negative, isn’t it? Most of us like to pinpoint what isn’t working more than what is. What change isn’t occurring despite has already has. What we haven’t been able to do yet more than what God has accomplished through us. It’s our human nature.
That is why gathering together regularly like this is so important – despite all the bad in our lives and world, we stop and celebrate God.
2. Celebrating takes PREPARATION.
Nehemiah told them to “Go out to the hills” to get branches for the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles – and of course there was all kinds of preparation that went into the feast itself. And they had to build a platform!
And if anyone gets preparation for a party or worship service – it is a portable church like us! Every Sunday our amazing Dream Team volunteers come in and do so much to (symbolically) build the platform for us to gather and worship God.
But I must say this: some people think that a “non-portable” church (one that isn’t setting up and tearing down) doesn’t take much work – you just show up and it’s all there and ready. But if you have ever served in a ministry in a church even with a building, you know that’s not the case! There is often just as much work to do, just fewer people to do it because it is less obvious.
Just think about if you were throwing a party at your house – everyone else gets to just show up when it starts and leave when its done, but you are getting your house ready the whole week leading up to it and then still cleaning up chips and cake for two weeks after!
So here at Village, serving on the Dream Team personalizes “church” for you. It is moving from consumer to giver/host. It’s not just “let me help you with that” it is saying, “this is my house, I’m going to work to get it ready. And I can promise you this – If I’m up early, serving, talking, praying, or studying… my heart is always MORE ready to worship God than if I just show up at the last minute.
That is because we get out of it what we put in.
I have never watched that much sports on TV. I love to play sports, but I have never really followed a team enough to know who is playing or how they play. But that changed 3 years ago. Once Rebecca’s cousin, Hunter, started played football for Clemson, I started watching. Now I try to watch every game – including yesterday. And I’m not just watching passively, I invited some people over, we ate dinner, I yelled at the TV, I talked about the players, I even feel like the harder I cheer from my living room, the better they will do.
What changed? I am more personally invested in the game. I turn the TV on in anticipation because I looked up information before the game and watched a few videos during the week. I am prepared to cheer because I have been taking about the team with friends all week.
Now when I watch the game I am ready to cheer.
When we come to worship ready to sing because we have been singing praises during the week, ready to study because we have been reading our Bible, ready to focus because we slept well… we are going to be able to celebrate God in our hearts so much better. That is why when you come back from a Christian retreat or camp or conference, your heart feels so full and you come ready to worship. Because the more we put into something, the louder we celebrate!
3. Celebrating takes INVITATION.
Not only did Nehemiah and Ezra, their leaders at the time, invite everyone to join in and celebrate, look what the people did in verse 10: “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready.
The Israelites didn’t just keep the party to themselves, they went and found others who didn’t have their food ready – and provided it for them. They invited them into the celebration.
Jesus told a parable in Matthew 22 and said that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who threw a wedding feast for his son (there is God throwing a party again). But after the first people he invited did not come, he sent his servants to “ Go… to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’  And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
We have said many times that the Church exists (and our church exists) to reach the people that are not in it yet. The best kind of worship service is the kind that others come to because you invited them! God’s grace and love is not meant to be kept to ourselves – share it with others.
Consider how Apostle Paul said:
2 Corinthians 1  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God…
4. Celebrating takes EXPRESSION and INVOLVEMENT.
They ate, drank, shared, gave thanks, they played music and sang, they proclaimed the goodness of God, and they participated in the celebration event called the Feast of Booths. Look back at:
Nehemiah 8  And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.
I looked up that last phrase on blueletterbible.com and it means there was an abundant, intense, rejoicing. Meaning – they threw a huge party.
For some reason, at football or basketball games we cheer and shout, sing the team fight song loudly and off-key, clap, maybe even dance and act like a fool a little bit. Most of us do it. But then we “behave” ourselves in church services: we’re kinda quiet, we keep our hands at our side, we and are pretty chill. Why is that?
Well it is possible that some people are simply not interested (yet) in what’s going on. I’m not saying that in a judgmental way – I’m just saying that there are many people that are not yet God-worshipers, so to be expressive and responsive in a worship service would not be authentic. And my prayer is that they would experience true worship and give themselves to God.
But also some people are not expressive and involved in their worship not for a spiritual reason, but for a social reason. Most Christians in America have been so conditioned to think that when we are ”in church” we have to be somber, the music has to be at a comfortable volume, the baby better not cry, you better not laugh too loud, don’t listen to intently… etc. It’s how we have been cultured to act!
But I think that we would all agree that when we stack sports games and birthday parties and new purchases and everything else that we celebrate up next to worshiping the King of Kings and studying Scripture which is God’s Word to us… they do not even compare! It doesn’t even make sense that we would be quiet in church. But that’s what we are used to doing, that is our tradition, and
And how do you change a culture? It’s not overnight – it’s a little bit at a time. And I want to challenge us this morning to consider changing our culture of worship. I want to challenge us to consider giving ourselves the permission to move, to be loud, to clap, to cheer, to sing loudly off-key (if you must – on-key is always better), to vocally agree with a truth that is preached, …
When you come to worship next Sunday morning, I challenge you to come early to get your mind and heart prepared. If you do not serve on our Dream Team yet, come 15 minutes early and “tailgate” with some coffee and pre-service music. Read some Scripture when you get up and listen to some worship music on the way. Share Christ with someone this week, invite someone to join you, etc.
Let’s come ready to celebrate. Let’s come with intention, with preparation, with invitations to others to join us, and with expression and involvement. We have nothing greater to celebrate and praise and worship. Scripture says that if we do not praise him, the rocks themselves will cry out!