We are often inspired when we hear stories of great sacrifice.
But can those stories be joyful? Under Nehemiah's leadership, the Israelites sacrificed greatly to rebuild and maintain the walls around Jerusalem. And today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explores what they sacrificed and the surprising joy they experienced. We are moving towards the conclusion of a series of studies in the book of Nehemiah in which we've been discovering the way in which God's people were learning how to do God's work in God's way. And this under the leadership primarily of one man by the name of Nehemiah. And here they have reached a day for which they had long been waiting—namely, the day of the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem.
And the whole record of this begins in the twenty-seventh verse of chapter 12. And Nehemiah, along with his colleague Ezra, was very clear about the fact that whatever role they may have been privileged to play, the completed wall which now this day they celebrated was a graphic illustration of the reality of God's power and God's provision. It would have been a dreadful thing for Nehemiah to take glory to himself or for Ezra to begin to congratulate himself.
And in actuality, these men understood that it was on account of God's faithfulness. For Nehemiah to waken to this day of dedication, he would remember the gracious hand of God upon him that allowed him the freedom to move from Susa. He would remember the way in which he was granted the letters from the king, the amazing way in which God went beyond his demands and gave to him the provision of soldiers and forests and wood and all that was necessary for him.
No sense of self-congratulation in the midst of all of this. Now let's imagine for a moment that CNN was covering the event, and they had their reporter at a vantage point somewhere on the walls of the city, and he was there to capture all the sights and all the sounds. He would want to be able to report back that here in Jerusalem today, despite what had taken place on days before, were the sounds not of war but of peace. This that you hear in the background, he would have said, is not the wailing of people, it is the worshipping of God. You are not hearing in this metallic ringing sound swords engaged in battle, but what you're listening to, he would have said, are symbols being employed in blessing. And with every good journalist looking for some succinct phrase with which to summarize the events that he had been covering and which the cameras had been scanning, he would have said, and here I am, CNN Jerusalem, a day of—and borrowing from verse 43—a day of great sacrifice, great joy. For that summarized it more than any other thing. And if you allow your eyes to focus on verse 43, you find this pivotal little statement, on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced, and the sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. Will you think with me just for a moment about what's involved in great sacrifice and what's involved in great joy?
For this is a principle which is timeless in its application. Well, first of all, their sacrifice involved the sacrifice of their pockets. And if you look at verse 44 and following, you will see that this process whereby they made provision for the ongoing work of God, and particularly for the privileges and responsibilities of worship, was a sacrifice and a contribution which was systematic rather than haphazard. If you allow yourself to read through this again, you would realize that these men were appointed to be in charge of storerooms. They set up the storerooms because they anticipated contributions, and the contributions which would come would be firstfruits and tithes. We said how important it was for the people of God to be bringing that with which God had prospered them into the family of faith and into the storeroom, as it were, of the local church.
This morning, as on every other occasion when money is mentioned, it's always potentially a little stressful. Because as we said before, sex and money are probably the two key gifts that God has given us that we would get as messed up as any. And the Bible says a number of things concerning this, and gives to us principles of application. And according to this idea of being those who are responsible for the bringing of our finances, let me just quote to you 1 Corinthians 16, where Paul says now about the collection for God's people. Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come, no collections will have to be made. In other words, he says, I want you to make sure that the way in which you give, as did the people in Nehemiah's day, will be the approach to giving, which is not haphazard, but it is systematic, and that we make provision that is in accord with this. The second thing to notice is that as these people gave, there is no sense in which their giving was grudging, but rather it was grateful. It is again a reminder of the way in which Paul encouraged the Corinthians again to make sure that they brought gifts for the work of the kingdom. When he says in 2 Corinthians 9 6, remember this, whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. What happens then when God touches my pocketbook? When a great sacrifice takes place at the realm of the resources that he has given me? Because the real issue is not so much how much we have, it s what we do with what we ve got.
And it s proportional. It doesn t matter whether we re a student on a fixed income, whether we have unlimited resources which is a very unusual situation, but it just is this. Each one should decide in his heart what he s going to give, and should do so not reluctantly, not under the compelling urgency of somebody who tries to create a guilt trip for people, but rather should do so in a way that is glad and generous. It was greatly challenged this past weekend as I listened to missionaries from literally all around the world give testimony to the calling which was theirs. None more so than the challenge that came as a result of a couple who had been in the Philippines for the last forty-two years. They came to this conference.
The gentleman is suffering from Parkinson s disease, his wife a sprightly lady in her sixties, and they testified as to how they had gone out to the Philippines, began to work amongst a particular people group there forty-two years ago. There was no church, no message of Christ. The people to whom they went forty-two years back had never seen a white person until the two of them walked into that community. Today, they re in the States finalizing the hard-backed edition of the New Testament, which for forty-two years, amongst other things, they have been laboring to produce so that these people may have a gospel in their own tongue. Today, there are twelve churches among these people, and fifty people from the churches have gone on to advanced theological education as a result of a very talented young couple forty-two years ago who offered a great sacrifice. It was a sacrifice that hit their pockets. It was a sacrifice then and now that hit their preferences.
Great sacrifice redirects my preferences. And when you read this chapter through, indeed, when we read the whole event through, you realize that these people, as a result of getting serious with God and as a result of reading the Bible, their whole preference package had changed. And every time they found something in the Bible that they were supposed to do, they did it.
They were supposed to build booths, they built them. They were supposed to gather sticks, they gathered them. And now they were supposed to come and offer up their lives in consecration and in purification. They were faced with their sin. They were faced with their predicament.
And the natural reaction of man is to turn away from that and just get on with his life. But here you discover that these folks made preparation for this day of dedication, setting aside their own personal preferences. Oh, I don't think I'll go to the dedication.
My sheep are in need of my attention. I don't think I'll go to the dedication. I bought a new field. I don't think I'll go to the dedication.
I think I need to polish my cart. I don't think I'll go to the dedication. Great sacrifice then and now not only touches my pocket but it touches my preferences.
What would you prefer to do with the remainder of this day? And what if God's plan for you was different from your preferences? Great sacrifice affects their pockets, their preferences, and their praise. You see, this was not some commandeered, organized environment in which this took place. It certainly was not chaotic. It certainly was done decently and in order. But as you read this and as you get the flavor of all these different people taking their places, you realize that what was going on here, when they finally got up on the walls and got these choirs going in two different directions, waiting for this great cataclysmic meeting in the middle, you know that it was exuberant. You know that it was loud.
You know that it was marked by variety, not only in terms of instrumentation, but the whole thing was dynamic. Chuck Swindoll, referring to it some years ago, said, as I look at chapter 12 in my mind's eye, he said, I see them like a kind of Jewish Disneyland parade. From a distance, I guess they resembled a charismatic drum and bugle corps.
An interesting picture. If we think of this dedication ceremony, a bit like the Westminster Abbey kind of approach, with everybody walking and arriving at the right place at the right moment, we've probably got the wrong picture. You will notice that Ezra and Nehemiah were at the heart of it all.
Ezra led one choir, Nehemiah followed the other choir, and they must have looked at one another and said, See you in the middle, and we'll see what happens. It was great joy, great praise. Great! Great! It wasn't average, it wasn't adequate, it wasn't passable, it wasn't insignificant, it wasn't irrelevant.
It was great! I had a few letters recently, all anonymous, from people who are concerned that we might be having great praise in our church. Number one, sign your name.
I'd love to talk to you. And number two, yeah, it is a little scary, isn't it? Yeah, it is a little different. Yeah, it moves me out of my comfort zone, but you'll never have anything that's great that doesn't involve sacrifice. And for some of us, it is a sacrifice of our pride.
It is a sacrifice of our preferences. Because when we come to corporate worship, it is corporate worship. If I want to worship on my own, singing the liturgical psalms, I can do that. But when I come to worship, I can't do that, because there's another eight or nine hundred people here in worship with me, and they're my brothers and my sisters, and I am responsible to them, and I am responsible along with them. And I am responsible to look up on the wall and see Nehemiah, to see Ezra there, and say, Well, you know what?
I don't really like these trumpets. But I trust Nehemiah. I trust his judgment. And maybe this is something God has for me. The other possibility, of course, is that where you have people who are not in touch with Jesus, any kind of exuberance will be regarded as fanaticism or extremism or unreality. And that's why we said—and I'm not going to re-preach the sermon—that in order for genuine worship to take place, we need to be spiritually alive, we need to be spiritually assisted, and we need to be spiritually active. I will sing. I will give thanks unto you.
I will enter your gates with thanksgiving. I will enter your courts with praise. I will give thanks unto you and bless your name, for you, O Lord, are good, and your mercy is everlasting, and your truth endures to all generations.
And in the last days, I've worshiped in an Anglican church, the Funny Me church, and another kind of church, and none of it has necessarily been the way I would put it together. But I worshiped, for the focus is Jesus. Great sacrifice, great praise, great joy, great joy. And on that day, they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing, because God had given them great joy. Let me just show you three things about this joy. Notice the source of the joy. God is the source of their joy. Back in chapter 8, I think it is, and verse 10, Nahumiah had said to them, Go out and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks. Go out for your lunch. Send some to those who have nothing prepared.
Make sure you don't neglect the poor. This day is sacred to the Lord. Don't be grieving, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. This is a happy time. This is a joyful time.
Solid joys and lasting treasure, none but Zion's children know. We're not in the ranks of the gloomy. This is not a cemetery. This is not a crematorium. It may not quite be a carnival, but it's certainly not a crematorium.
The average Sunday morning congregation looks like the London Tube, a bunch of people trapped in a steel case, going who knows where, and wishing they weren't going, and not about to talk to anybody or let anyone know that they might be having a nice time. And so when the Spirit of God comes and lights a spark amongst that, and people start getting joyful, and as a result of great sacrifice there is great joy, it's infectious. People who are joyful in your work are infectious people. People who are happy are the people you like to be around. The people who exude something of the joy and wonder of the day alone are themselves the kind of people who are contagious.
And that's exactly what was happening here. When peace like a river attends my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll, as it does for some this morning, we're not talking here about an approach to life which says, you know, you don't have to go through it, you can always go over it. No, you can't. You have to go through it. This idea of fly above it is a good notion, but sometimes you can't get above it. The pilots will tell you that, right? They say to you, we've gone as high as we can go, and we still cannot get above the turbulence. We have asked the air traffic control, we come down, we go up, we come down, we're in it. We're going through it. And some of you this morning are going through it. So the world looks on and says, Well, now he's going through it, she's going through it.
What do they have to offer? And the answer is, great joy! When peace like a river attends my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll, whatever my lot you have taught me to know, it is well, it is well with my soul.
We're not talking about silly stuff. Silly grinning. Talking about crying, and somehow in the middle of it all knowing that there is joy in the midst of my tears.
That's the source of it. What about the course of it? Well, the course of joy ran through their hearts, or emerged from their hearts, ran through their houses, and made their gatherings what they were. You see, the extension of our lives is really seen when we come together and worship. And what's going on in my heart is what's going on in my home. I wonder, I say to myself, I wonder, I wonder, are my kids happy? I wonder, do I bring any measure of joy to their lives? Sometimes I hear myself talking, I say, This doesn't sound joyful. This doesn't sound remotely joyful. And if I think that, you can be sure they're sitting, Good night.
Where did he come from, you know? Well, then, do you bring joy from your heart to your home? Do you bring joy from your home to the assembling of God's people? Not silly stuff.
Just joy. Yeah, I am going through it. Yeah, we did have tests this week. Yeah, this is difficult.
Yeah, I am unemployed. Yes, I am facing fearfulness. Yes, I am anxious about this.
Yes, I am deeply concerned about my teeth. So on and so on. But you know what? There's a joy in my heart. The source is God, the course is from my heart, through my home, to my gatherings, and the force of it—the force of joy—is a dynamic force.
Look at the last sentence in verse 43, and we'll wrap this up. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. So I want to add another great—there's a third point now.
Just add it now. Great sacrifice, great joy, great impact. Great sacrifice, great joy, great impact. They made an impact. The sound that they made was unmistakable.
It was the sound of joy. As a boy, I used to ride my bike to Hamden Park, which was where they played the international soccer matches. On the majority of occasions, while I was still so small, it was impossible for me to ever be inside these events. I didn't have a ticket, and I probably wouldn't have been allowed to go if I had one, and so I used to sneak off from my bike, and I would ride my bike after the game had begun, and I would park it against the wall. There were, in those days, they allowed a hundred and thirty-two thousand people into the stadium. They have now restricted the same stadium to sixty. But there were a hundred and thirty-two thousand people in there, and I used to just sit against the wall and listen to the Hamden roar.
Listen to the roar. And it used to billow out from the stadium and up through Mount Florida and up Cathcart Road and all the way out, and people's windows in the immediate vicinity would actually shake as a result of the hundred and thirty-two thousand lifting their voices together in song and in excitement. That's exactly what was happening in Jerusalem. The sound of their rejoicing could be heard far away.
People would have looked at one another and said, What's that? They said, That's Jerusalem! That's those Jews! You know, the ones that built the wall? They're having a deal. Big dedication. The person said, I don't know quite what it's all about, but it sounds to me like they're having a good time.
I suppose it could happen. I don't quite know how. But I'd love to think that somehow or another people came, and they just parked their cars around the perimeter of the building, just to hear God's people, as a result of great sacrifice, experiencing great joy, and making a great invite. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life, with the message he's titled Great Sacrifice, Great Joy. As we heard today, the world is interested in a person's wealth, but Jesus looks at how we use what we have. The Israelites demonstrated for us that genuine joy comes not from accumulating possessions, but from being obedient to God.
If you'd like to introduce someone you know to this same kind of joy, I have a suggestion for you. As you think about holiday gift giving, there's nothing more valuable you can give to anyone than a gift that introduces them to God's Word. And a great way to do that is with the Truth for Life daily devotional.
You can select volume one or volume two. Each volume presents a scripture passage you read each day, followed by insights from Alistair about the passage. This is an easy way for someone who is unfamiliar with the Bible to start learning about God. And we price these devotionals at our cost of just $8, so it's an affordable way for you to share the gospel with others. Each book comes in a beautiful hardcover edition.
You can purchase them online at truthforlife.org slash gifts, or call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Despite the great joy the Israelites experienced at the dedication of Jerusalem's rebuilt wall, they quickly became lax about their vow to God. Tomorrow we'll find out why we ought not be too quick to judge them. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-20 05:26:56 / 2023-11-20 05:35:39 / 9