Nehemiah 8: 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks…This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
What is the source of an athlete’s strength? Perhaps they just have an unfair physical advantage in size, strength, or ability to process oxygen. David Epstein’s book The Sports Gene identifies this correlation between superior genes and sporting success. Others might suggest that an athlete’s strength is mental – their ability to battle unhelpful thoughts or trumping their mind when it tells them to stop. The reality is that elite athletes must have both the physical ability and the mental fortitude to be the best.
As a Christian, what is our source of strength? Is it in the talents we have been born with, or the mental toughness or self-discipline we seem to have come into this world with? What does the Bible tell us?
This chapter in Nehemiah is powerful. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the return of the Jewish people to their homeland after 70 years of Babylonian captivity. What we find, however, is that after their return, they once again stray from God’s word. God provided his laws to keep his people as a holy lineage through which his Son would emerge as the Savior of this world. To understand the context of the above verse in Nehemiah, we read that Ezra, as the teacher of the law, was asked to come before all the Israelite people and read the Book of the Law of Moses. So, he did this; he read the laws from sun-up until noon. In Nehemiah 8:9 we read that Ezra said “…’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.” The context of the joy of the Lord being their strength was immediately after their expression of remorse, of repentance.
The great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon eloquently presents this concept in one of his sermons The Joy of the Lord, Strength in His People:
“Have you ever seen clearer shining than that which follows a shower? Then the sun transforms the rain-drops into gems, the flowers look up with fresher smiles and faces glittering from their refreshing bath, and the birds from among the dripping branches sing with notes more rapturous, because they have paused awhile. So, when the soul has been saturated with the rain of penitence, the clear shining of forgiving love makes the flowers of gladness blossom all around. The steps by which we ascend to the palace of delight are usually moist with tears. Grief for sin is the porch of the House Beautiful, where the guests are full of ‘The joy of the Lord.’ I hope, then, that the mourners, to whom this discourse shall come, will discover and enjoy the meaning of that divine benediction in the sermon on the mount, ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.’”
If we want to experience the true joy of the Lord, a joy of divine origin, it begins with a repentant heart. While our sins are paid for on the cross and our salvation for eternity is secure, as long as we live on this earth we live with our fallen nature. As the Apostle Paul says: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). And yet while he considered himself the worst of sinners, he experienced the full joy that comes when we repent and recognize that we have a savior who is quick to forgive. God does not want us to remain in a place of mourning. For 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). And we do not have to grieve any longer, for the “Joy of the Lord is our strength!”