February 29, 2024

Nehemiah: Joy in the Word!

SERMON TITLE: Nehemiah: Joy in the Word!
TEXT:  Nehemiah 8:1-12 (ESV)
‌SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
‌DATE: 3-3-24

Watch the sermon here
Take notes here


As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.


And we’re continuing our Finding Jesus series this weekend. This is a series where I introduce you to a book of the Bible that you may or may not be familiar with. I’ll give you an overview of the book — followed by a closer look at a particular section of it. And then — and this is what I hope is most helpful — each week I’ll show you how to find Jesus. I’ll show you how to find the one story the whole Bible is telling — the story of Jesus. Because the whole Bible is ultimately pointing us to him.

And in this iteration of our Finding Jesus series — we’re looking at the books referred to as the history section. This group of books cover historical events of God’s people in the Old Testament. Some of the books cover hundreds of years while others cover a brief period of time — but — together — they tell the historical account of God’s people. And — today — we’ll be looking at the book of Nehemiah. So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to Nehemiah chapter eight.


And — as you’re finding Nehemiah chapter eight — let’s take some time to get our bearings in the book — and I hope you’ll see that Nehemiah is a book you’ll want to go read for yourself.

First — and I mentioned this last week — originally Nehemiah and Ezra — were considered one book. I won’t cover all of that again — since we talked about it last week — but it’s important to recognize that there is a strong connection between the two books. And — before we look at the man who this book is named after — we need to understand where we are in the history of God’s people.

The books of history pick up where the books of Moses end. After having been rescued out of Egypt — the people are led by Moses to the edge of the Promised Land. Spies were sent into the land to scope it out — but the majority of the spies came back with bad news which caused the Israelites to distrust God’s promise to them — that the land was theirs. Their distrust results in them wandering in the wilderness for forty years until an entire generation dies. Moses — along with Joshua and Caleb — the two spies who did trust God’s promise to his people — arrive at the outskirts of the Promised Land with the next generation of Israelites. But Moses’ time on earth had come to an end. This is when God appoints Joshua to be the leader of the Israelites. And — under Joshua’s leadership — the Israelites enter and conquer the Promised Land. 

After Joshua — there’s a brief period where the people faithfully serve and worship God. But then — as we saw in the book of Judges — the people turn their backs on God — they commit apostasy — again and again. Yet God — in a display of his love and faithfulness to his people — God raises up judges who act as saviors for the people. These judges deliver them from the consequences of their rebellion as they turn the people back to God.

During the time of the judges — Ruth’s story takes place. Hers is a love story of an outsider welcomed into the family of God. And her story ends with us learning that her son will have a descendant who will be king of God’s people.

“In those days there was no king in Israel” is a repeated phrase in the book of Judges — foreshadowing that eventually the nation will have a king. Which leads us to the two books of Samuel. Samuel is a prophet who’s called by God to anoint the first king of Israel — whose name is Saul. Things don’t turn out well for Saul — he’s a proud man who refuses to repent of his rebellion and sin — so God removes his anointing from Saul and tells Samuel to go to the house of Jesse to anoint Israel’s next king — his name is David. And the books of Samuel record the lives of these two kings of Israel. Leading us to the two books of Kings which begin by recording the end of David’s life and then tells the history of David’s son — Solomon’s reign as king of Israel. 

Solomon is the last king to reign over a unified nation because his son — Rehoboam — will make a foolish decision which results in a national split. The nation of Judah is formed in the south with Jerusalem as its capital — Judah will have descendants of David as its king. In the north — the nation of Israel adopts Samaria as its capital — and Israel will have a long list of evil men as its kings.

And — it’s during this time period — that the role of the prophet is elevated in importance. The role of the prophet was to 1) Speak on behalf of God, 2) Make sure the king and the people remember the covenants, 3) Call out idolatry and injustice, and 4) Call the king and people to repentance. The prophets had the Law of God — the writings of Moses — in mind as they fulfilled their role.

Now — as far as the two nations go — you’ll read of king after king, and conspiracy after conspiracy, and betrayal after betrayal in the northern kingdom. The nation of Israel never recovers — there’s only evil kings for Israel — leading to the nation’s eventual defeat by the Assyrians. The kings and the people refused to listen to the prophets God had sent to call them to repent — thus they experienced the consequence of their rebellion. 

And — now — our attention is on the nation of Judah — the southern kingdom — and its eventual end. Judah has some good kings — like Hezekiah and Josiah — but Judah also has some horrific kings — like Manasseh — who introduce idolatry and child sacrifice to the nation. More prophets arise at this time — calling the kings of Judah to repent. But the evil kings lead the nation so far from God that it too is conquered. And the books of the kings end with the people of God being led to go live in exile in Babylon. And this leads us — the readers — to wonder if this is it for God’s people. Have they finally gone so far that God’s done with them?

Last week we saw the first group of exiles return to Jerusalem. Now — more time has passed — as we come to our book for today. Nehemiah — a Jew serving in the Persian government — hears about how the rebuilding of Jerusalem is going — and the news upsets him. Which leads us to the content of the book.


The book of Nehemiah can be divided into three sections. Chapters one through seven — describe the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem. Chapters eight through ten record Ezra’s teaching from God’s law — met Ezra last week. Then the final chapters of the book focus on further reforms Nehemiah puts in place.

The book begins with Nehemiah asking the king of Persia for permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city. The king grants him permission and even sends a security force with him for protection. Shortly after arriving — Nehemiah faces opposition to his efforts — which is a repeated experience for God’s people as they return from exile.

Here’s an example.  

Nehemiah 4:1–23 (NLT)
Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, 2 saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap — and charred ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” 4 Then I prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are being mocked. May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! 5 Do not ignore their guilt. Do not blot out their sins, for they have provoked you to anger here in front of the builders.” 6 At last the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city, for the people had worked with enthusiasm. 7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. 8 They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. 9 But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves. 10 Then the people of Judah began to complain, “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.” 11 Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.” 12 The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!” 13 So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas. I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows. 14 Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” 15 When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. 16 But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. 18 All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm. 19 Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, “The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!” 21 We worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard. 22 I also told everyone living outside the walls to stay in Jerusalem. That way they and their servants could help with guard duty at night and work during the day. 23 During this time, none of us — not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me — ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.

So you can imagine the tension the people experienced as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Yet amazingly — in just fifty-two days — they finish the rebuild. There’s a great celebration — as you can imagine. And — it’s during this time of celebration that Ezra teaches from God’s Word. Now — the passage we’re going to focus on comes from this part of Nehemiah — so let’s cover the final section before turning to our text.

After the celebration is over — Nehemiah returns to Babylon — remember he works for the king of Persia. And — while he’s away — Nehemiah hears reports that the people in Jerusalem were already abandoning their commitment to God! So Nehemiah asks the king for permission to go back to Jerusalem to make things right.

And — with the king’s permission — he returns to find out that a priest had loaned out space in the Temple to be used for storage to one of the guys who’d been trying to stop the rebuilding of the wall! “Well — what’s the big deal — maybe they were just being kind to their neighbors?” The problem — in case it isn’t clear — is that the Temple area was meant to be reserved for the worship of God. And by allowing the space to be used for storage — well that meant that the items needed for worship were pushed out. 

Imagine coming to Gateway Church and there being no rooms available for kids because we’re letting some organization that opposes Christianity to use our space as storage. And the parking lot is full of their storage containers — and you can’t park your car on a Sunday morning. And the worship center only has a few seats available because of all of their stuff — oh — and the stage is packed with boxes so there’s no space for the band or for me to preach.

You’d have every right to wonder, “I know that we’re supposed to love our neighbors — but I’m not sure this is what was meant — seems like worshiping God is pretty important too.” Well — that’s what was happening in Jerusalem. With the Temple being used as a storage facility — instead of a place of worship — worshiping God wasn’t happening — and this was the new normal! And that — rightfully so — upset Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 13:7–9 (NLT)
When I arrived back in Jerusalem, I learned about Eliashib’s evil deed in providing Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God. 8 I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room. 9 Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the articles for God’s Temple, the grain offerings, and the frankincense.

He cleans up the temple — and a bunch of other messes — and the book ends with these words of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 13:30–31 (NLT)
So I purged out everything foreign and assigned tasks to the priests and Levites, making certain that each knew his work. 31 I also made sure that the supply of wood for the altar and the first portions of the harvest were brought at the proper times. Remember this in my favor, O my God.


And this leads us to the passage we’re going to look at more closely. We’re in Nehemiah chapter eight — beginning in verse one. For context — know that the wall has just been finished — the rebuild is complete — and the celebration has begun.

Nehemiah 8:1–12 (ESV)
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.

The people are wanting God’s Word to be part of the festivities. “Bring us the Word of our God! Read from the Word so we hear from our faithful God who’s brought his people back to Jerusalem.”

2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.

From early morning until midday — so we’re talking hours here — the people listened attentively as God’s Word was read to them. We give our time and attention to whatever gives us joy — don’t we? Sports events. Movies and YouTubers. God’s Word. Sermons. 

4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood.

Now this is describing what happened. So this isn’t a prescription — telling us how we must do things — this is just a description. But if you grew up in a church tradition where you stood when God’s Word was read — know that it’s places like this — in God’s Word — where that tradition comes from. As is the tradition of having the one who’s reading and preaching from God’s Word to be elevated up high for all to see.

6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Ezra blessed God — that’s another way of saying he praised God — and all the people agreed by saying Amen. That’s what the word Amen means —it means “I agree.” And they raised their hands and bowed their heads as they worshiped God.

7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

God’s Word wasn’t just read to them — it was explained. The priests helped the people understand what they had heard.

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.

Why would they weep as they heard God’s Word? Perhaps they wept due to realizing they had been disobedient to God’s Word. Weeping’s an appropriate response when we recognize our sin. But this was a day for celebrating — this isn’t a day of famine — it’s a day of feasting. Not a day of weeping — this is a day for rejoicing. 

Earlier we saw what many suggest was repentance by the people upon hearing God’s Word read to them. They lifted their hands and bowed their heads — they looked down — a sign of repentance and humbling before God. And Ezra wants the people to know that God forgives his people. He’s faithful to forgive those who turn from their sin — that’s repentance — and turn to him in faith. And being forgiven is a reason to rejoice! So…

10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

They went away rejoicing because they understood what had been taught to them from God’s Word. They went away with the joy of the Lord being their strength — and the Word of God was the reason for their joy.


Joy in the Word is what I titled this sermon — which is also our way of finding Jesus in Nehemiah. We just saw the people’s response to the Word of God — but — in Jesus — we see the Word of God. As the apostle John tells us in the opening of his gospel…

John 1:1–5 (ESV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And a few verses later John writes…

John 1:14–17 (ESV)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Though we find joy in the Word of God — the Bible — the greater joy — that the Bible is pointing us to — is the other Word of God — Jesus Christ. Have you ever thought of the many times our joy is directly linked to Jesus in Scripture? Let me remind you of a few.

Philippians 4:4 (ESV)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Or as the New Living Translation states the verse…

Philippians 4:4 (NLT)
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again — rejoice!

Or as the angel said to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.

Luke 2:10b (NLT)
“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”

The announcement of Jesus’ birth was good news of great joy.

Or Jesus’ words to his disciples.

John 15:11 (NLT)
I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

Jesus has promised his disciples joy — overflowing joy. And he says that this joy will come from their relationship with him — and by obeying what he’s taught them. So the Word of God — Jesus — tells us that obeying the Word of God — Scripture — will give us overflowing joy.


I wonder if the joy of the Lord is your strength today? I’d be curious to know if your delight is in your Lord — if you claim to be a disciple of Jesus — if your delight is in the One whose birth is good news and reason for you to be full of joy? I wonder if God’s Word — Scripture — gives you joy because it points you to Jesus? That’s its goal after all — that when you read it, listen to it, hear it preached and explained — the goal of Scripture is for your joy to overflow as it points you to your Savior.

If you’re here today and your life is lacking in joy — Christian or not — know that joy has been promised to all who turn to Jesus in faith. Joy is promised to all — including you — and is found by knowing the One whom this book points you to — who — “because of the joy set before him” — endured the cross in love for you. May you turn to Jesus for your joy and strength — may we all turn to him for our joy and strength. Let’s pray.


Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word to us. What an example the returning exiles are for us today. They listened to your Word being read to them for hours on end — because it gave them joy. May you make the hearing and understanding of your Word be our joy and delight.

Spirit of God, you inspired the human authors of Scripture to write down exactly and perfectly your Word. You’ve preserved your Word so that — not only the first recipients — but us today can read and hear your Word with confidence in knowing that what we have is from you. Increase our confidence in your Word — increase our obedience — increase our joy in your Word.

And Jesus — you are the Word of God who fulfilled the written Word so we might have life, hope, peace, and joy in knowing that we’re eternally loved by the One true God. Help those who believe in you — who are your disciples — to follow you and your delight in God’s Word. And help those who don’t yet believe in you — to hear your life-giving Word for the first time so they respond by turning to you for their joy and salvation. And we pray all of this in your name. Amen.


One way we joyfully celebrate and feast on the good news of knowing that we have eternal life is by participating in communion as a congregation. Communion is a time of remembrance, but it’s even more than that for a follower of Jesus.

Communion is the good news. It’s the gospel. It’s a communication of the power of God as displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus. Communion is the gospel not written down or spoken in words, but it’s the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection in a different form.

The bread and the cup. His body and his blood. Wounded for us. Pierced for us. Shed for us. Beaten for us. Bloodied for us. Humbling us by reminding us of the death we deserve. Yet stirring joy in us as we feast on the reward of grace that we don’t deserve, but are able to experience because of our Heavenly Father’s love toward us. Communion is a celebration of eternal life being offered to us.

The apostle Paul writes it this way.

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”

With these words Christ has commanded all believers to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup in true faith and in the confident hope of his return in glory.

I want to remind you that all Christians are welcome to take communion with us. However we must remember the warning that Paul gives us.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)

A person who participates in communion while knowingly, blatantly, and unrepentantly rebelling against God’s commands participates in an unworthy manner. Paul says that they drink judgment on themselves. God takes his gift of love to us seriously — for his gift was the sacrifice of his perfect Son — thus we’re to take God’s gift of love seriously too. So let’s take a moment to examine our lives for present sins that need to be repented of.

- moment of silence -

Please join me by praying the confession that’s on the screens.

Congregational Confession: Holy God, you have seen our troubles; you have heard our thoughts; you know our inward and outward pain. Help us see where we have not been humble. Guide us in confessing where we have been sinful. Lead us through every time of testing and keep us from temptation, that we may rely solely on you to prove us in the faith we have been given in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord has heard our voice. And he has promised that all who believe in Jesus Christ will not be put to shame. Why? Because the Lord is generous to all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Know and rest in the assurance that — in Jesus Christ — you are forgiven.


At this time, I’d like to invite forward those who are going to be serving us. And — while they make their way forward — know that as the bread and cup are passed down your rows, you’re to take the bread on your own — but save the cup — which we’ll drink together. Also — in the trays with the bread — there’s a gluten free option in the center of the tray. Eat the bread on your own — but save the cup — which we’ll drink together.


The blood of Christ, shed for you.


Let’s pray. Father, we acknowledge that you are holy and majestic — and blessed is Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. In Jesus, your Word became flesh and dwelt among us — he was full of grace and truth. He lived as one of us — knowing joy and sorrow. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, opened blind eyes, and broke bread with outcasts and sinners. Dying on the cross, he gave himself for the sins of the world. Raised from the grave, he won for us victory over death. We praise you that Christ now reigns with you and will come again to make all things new. In his name we pray. Amen.


May you go with the joy of the Lord — who is the Word — as your strength. Amen.

God loves you. I love you. You are sent.