Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we celebrate not some ancient historical event, or some remembrance of faithful Christians who are long departed from this earth; no, today we celebrate the living joy that You give Your people via the forgiveness of our sins. Today we celebrate Your eternal love which has been poured out on us over the past years, and is being poured out on us even this very day. And so, dear Lord, we thank You, we praise You, we bless You—our Sovereign Lord—for restoring to us the joy of Your salvation. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF ETERNAL JOY!
TEXT: Nehemiah 8: 10: “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
If I asked you when Reformation first began, what would be your answer? No doubt, like all good Lutherans you’d tell me that it began on October 31st, 1517 when Dr. Martin Luther nailed 95 statements for public debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. You would also go on to inform me that the Good News, the Gospel, the message that God freely forgives all our sins in Christ had been obscured in Luther’s day. The pope in Rome wanted to build St. Peter’s basilica, but he had no money. So, he authorized a monk named Tetzel to sell indulgences, slips of paper on which the pope said all your past and future sins were paid for. Tetzel was selling these in Germany to raise money to erect St. Peter’s. The only problem with this scheme was that Christ and His suffering and death on the cross became an afterthought. In essence, these indulgences denigrated His sacrifice for us and also became a license to sin. After all, why repent, why avoid adultery, stealing, and drunkenness when you had a piece of paper that said: “I’m forgiven anyway.”? Luther’s 95 theses were the first shot in this war against such blasphemy. And that’s why we call it: Reformation. On Oct. 31st he began a reforming of the visible church against such sins.
However, Reformation predates Dr. Luther by many, many years. Well over 1900 years before Luther’s Reformation, another reforming of the church was celebrated. Where? In Jerusalem—under the great Godly leader named Nehemiah. Our brief lesson describes that day. And both then and now, the truth of Reformation shines brightly. That truth being:
THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH!
I doubt that many of you know much about that great leader of this Old Testament reformation, Nehemiah. So, permit me to give you a little background. God’s people had been carted off into slavery, exile, in Babylon over 100 years before this. Over those years they had pined away for returning to their homeland. Likewise, they had pined away for reconstructing the temple and resuming Godly worship. Under the scribe Ezra, the Babylonian king had allowed some to return and begin that reconstruction process. But, it was slow and the pagans now inhabiting the land resisted their efforts. After about 14 years of this slow process, Nehemiah, the cup-bearer of the current King asks to go and help. The King agrees. Nehemiah was a Jew. He was a devote believer in the Triune God and looked forward to the coming of his Messiah, Jesus Christ. He was, no doubt, very capable—thus his high position in the Babylonian court. So, he goes. And after 13 years in which he oversaw the completion of the temple, the rebuilding of the city and its wall, and the restoration of Godly worship, he decides it’s time to have a celebration. And what a celebration! They have a feast. But, more importantly, they have a religious feast. They get out the old scrolls on which the Bible of their time was written and listen as God’s truth is read to them. Many are overcome with emotion and weep upon hearing those words. But, Nehemiah then tells them not to weep, but to revel in holy joy! “This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”
To most present that day, it seemed like an impossible dream come true. They were back in their city, God’s city. It was rebuilt and safe once again. They were free, free to worship our God and free to give Him praise and glory. The pagan influences of Babylon had been thrown aside. God’s Word alone, God’s grace alone, and Godly faith alone in the coming Messiah was their new foundation. When Nehemiah tells them: “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.”—He’s really telling them to share their joyous faith! He’s telling them to give to others as God has given to them. Yes, the Godly joy of the Gospel is free, to be freely shared. No longer will they have to live in the past and grieve over their sins and shortcomings. No longer will they have to worship motivated by guilt. No, the joy of the Lord is their strength!
Well, my friends, it is the same for you and me! Today we live this history! We join with Nehemiah, Dr. Luther, and all those great heroes of the Christian faith in showing our joy over God’s blessings upon us. And the chief of those blessings is the unshakeable knowledge that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins, our sins, against us anymore.” Just as these broken people were helpless to rebuild their city without help, so all of us are helpless to build, or even rebuild, our broken relationship with God Almighty. We’re sinners. We make countless mistakes every day. We fail to live up to God’s high standards. And try as we might, we cannot buy God off with our misguided words or actions. But, the truth of Reformation is that God swooped down to help us, uplift us, and save us—in Christ. He bore the pain and punishment for our sins. He took away our guilt while dying in our place on the cross. He makes us perfect, holy, and forgiven in His sight—by giving us the gift of faith which links us to Christ.
The only true response to knowing that heaven really is your home can only be: joy! It can only be a heart made pure. It can only be the confidence of knowing that “all things now work for my eternal good.”
Godly joy breeds strength. And Godly strength breeds joy. For if you know, from the bottom of your heart, that Christ has made you right with God, nothing, nothing can harm you.
Well, that’s what Reformation, every Reformation is about. And all that remains for us to do is simply to live it! Amen