As Ezra read God’s law, the Jewish throng wept as one. The book of Moses was a painful reminder that, as a people, they had a history of hardening their hearts against God. What has changed? Were they any different than their parents who were taken from this city seventy odd years ago? Nehemiah did not seem comfortable with this purely emotional direction. He said, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
It was as though Nehemiah looked at their collective heart and thought, they are either going to be weak-in-mourning or strong-in-joy. As their governor, aware they had much rebuilding ahead, he promoted strength, and as we shall see, he had good cause.
For myself, grief and joy are not either/or propositions. They are co laborers in leading us into the fullness of God, so I grieve with these Jews, knowing that humans, including me, harden our hearts towards God. I grieve knowing that God’s discipline is not pleasant. While we have not been carried off as slaves to a conquering nation, I grieve that we are slaves nevertheless to a pantheon of masters to whom we have given our hearts.
God often gives us the desires of our heart until we choke on them. I believe my own nation is currently choking on her demands for personal liberty and happiness. I grieve because I do not see an Ezra standing above the crowd, calling us to repentance. Yet, for those with new hearts, grief does not have to metastasize into weakness. Because of Jesus, grief can be channeled into prayer and ultimately into joy. Grief can lead us into fullness of joy.
These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:11)
In Christ, we have joy. In him, we recall that:
Ours is a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and He did not forsake Israel, even when they made for themselves a calf of molten metal and said, ‘This is our God who brought us up from Egypt.’ God, in his great compassion, did not forsake them in their wilderness. (Nehemiah 9:17-19)
Can you imagine a day when an Ezra (or ten thousand Ezra’s) bless the Lord and all the people answer, “Amen!” some lifting their hands and others bowing low to worship the Lord with their faces to the ground? I don’t know the timing, but I can imagine this because I am sure that:
At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10)
For God is on record saying, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” (Isaiah 45:23)
We can have joy because Christ is our life. Nehemiah was right—ultimately joy and strength are our direction. We may pray that he comes but we must not wait on an Ezra, or any preacher or a new President. Paul has told us the path we are to take.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)
Father, may the Ezras arise and may their recital of your word break our hearts. More than that, I pray that our knees might bow and see the holiness of this moment, so pregnant with possibility. I pray that in our Christ-strengthened hearts we might see our idols and cast them down. Thank you that you do not forsake your own people even after we have chosen leaders who help us build and sustain our golden calves. May our tears flow freely until we have room for you as our Treasure. Faithful Father and Dearest Friend, for your name’s sake, let this be.