Messages from Pastor Raddatz


January 23, 2022, Mount Olive Lutheran Church Houston TX, Other texts for today: 1 Cor. 12:12-31a & Luke 4:16-30


THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH


Nehemiah 8:10, “And do not be grieved, the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ESV


Have you ever waited for something, so long, that after it came you were grieving and sad and sorrowful?   It’s like you wait so long that your tears become tears of joy.  You thought this day would never come.  You thought you lost what you were looking for, but here it is!  It’s like coming home.  You may have thought that you would never see home again, but after 70 years here you are, back home.


This is what the Children of Israel felt in our reading from Nehemiah.  They have returned from exile.  They are home.  This is their third trip back to their homeland of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah is a governor who wisely rebuilds the walls around Jerusalem.  This keeps threats to their safety away.  He uses half the men to rebuild the wall and the other half were equipped with shields, spears, bows and armor, Nehemiah 4:16-18.   Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday.


GRIEF changed to JOY


If there was an opposite to joy, it is grief.  Grief is not just a sadness or a depression that lasts a long time, instead it is a reality that we are not what we think we are.  When we experience death we realize that we will not live forever.   When we celebrate a blessing, grief reminds us that this blessing is something we do not deserve.  Grief can be God’s tool to lead us to a deeper understanding of joy and strength.


During the reading of the Torah by Ezra, the children of Israel were filled with grief.  This was a realization that they have fallen short of God’s expectations.   I don’t think they were moved to repentance because he read for about six hours.


Ezra the scribe … Ezra the priest: Ezra was the man responsible for having the temple rebuilt, and for returning God's people to worship. Nehemiah, in all his work of rebuilding the walls, just continued the work Ezra had begun.  We know Ezra cared about God's Word, because he was a scribe - someone who copied the Bible by hand. We know he was a man devoted to God Himself, because he was a godly priest. -David Guzik


One result of grief and mourning is to worship the Lord.  The people stood during the reading, but they also worshipped God.  


JOY OF THE LORD found in worship and in work


Through God’s joy filled plan the nation of Israel was able to return to their homeland, but they had work to do.  The walls of Jerusalem that protected the city from invaders were destroyed.  That’s what 70 years can do to stone and masonry work.   They could go home, but they had to put some sweat equity into their home.


Nehemiah’s plan was to have half of the people rebuild the wall and half of the people defending those who worked on the wall.  Nehemiah's team gave out strength in the total package. If any one of the folks had tried to do his or her work on the wall alone, they'd have never made it. It was too big a project. But since other people were building the wall, since there was progress on down the line, then each person was encouraged to keep laying bricks. Nehemiah even passed up the opportunity to eat better food than his workers, instead choosing to live in the same quarters, eat the same food, and get the same job done.


Through teamwork, and by seeing the progress that was being made, the joy of the Lord became increasingly evident, and in only 52 days, the walls of Jerusalem were standing strong again.


Work is prayer” = “Ora et labora” - Rule of Saint Benedict. Benedict viewed prayer and work as partners, and believed in combining contemplation with action.


They not only found joy in worship, but they also found joy in working together, each doing their part. While some worked others defended.  They got a lot done in a brief time.  


YOUR STRENGTH


It is God’s joy to give you strength.  Are you a parent? A mom's strength, like a dad's strength, is limited. But the Lord? No limit to His strength.  Through the cross on calvary God purchased our forgiveness and our worship of our idol, strength.


Are your financial resources limited, and sometimes not strong? The Lord's strength is unlimited, and forever strong. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.


Can your health falter, and leave you physically weak? Of course it can. Perhaps it has. The Lord's strength, however, is perfect and complete. Our confidence in God is, at times, the only strength we know.


So, our joy is knowing that no matter what comes our way - whether it's personal hardship for us or our family - or maybe just the routine difficulties and good times and troubled times and plenty of strength times and exhaustion times - through it all, we have a relationship with a God whose strength is overwhelming and limitless.


Because of that, we have joy.


Practically, that means you'll put God first, in all things. You might love your spouse, but love God more. If you're dating, you might love that person you're seeing, but love God more. And as hard as this is to comprehend, if you love your children, love God more.


Read your Bible. Know your Bible. Pray your Bible. Be with God's people. Get absolutely immersed in all things of God.


Then, know the joy that comes from being so well grounded in the Word.


In the shortest summary, the story of Ezra and Nehemiah is the story of God's people coming home after a 70-year exile and rebuilding Jerusalem. Because they returned home, the city was rebuilt, the Temple was restored, and the stage was set for the eventual arrival of the Messiah.


But a question needs to be asked. Why did God invite His people to come home then, and why does God keep making a way for people to come home today? Why would he love such unrepentant, stubborn, stupid people, those with an intent only to sin, and increase their sin ever more?  Only because he loves us. -Andy Cook, Lifeway


You Fellow Servant, in Christ,


Pastor John Raddatz




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