1Thessalonians 5:16 -18: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, this is is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
What has been the best thing that happened in your week? What has been the worst thing? It’s easy to be thankful and celebrate when nice things happen, harder to be thankful to God when not so nice things happen.
It says in Bible – give thanks in all circumstances – (all situations) (1 Thess. 5v18) No matter what happens in our week, good or bad – we should always thank God. And why? No matter what kind of week we’ve had – God is still the creator, still our heavenly father, he’s still the biggest and still the best, he doesn’t change and still deserves our thanks.
What do you think we always thank God for, even if we’re having a hard time? Think about; meditate about that and let’s do that now: Take a moment here and thank God for the good and bad that has happened to you. Celebrate.
Now, please continue that break and read Nehemiah chapter 12.
The Jews : God’s chosen people, encounter disaster when they stray from God’s ways and protection. Babylon’s soldiers lay Jerusalem’s temple and walls to ruins, and lead all but the poorest from Jerusalem, into captivity. The prophet Isaiah foretold that they’d be forgiven, refined by their suffering and would return from exile. It takes time. Nehemiah works in the court of king Artaxerxes, but feels called by God to rebuild Jerusalem, miraculously the King allows him to do this. Despite opposition, the Israelites put huge effort into rebuilding the massive walls of Jerusalem, the city that was their cultural home, which has been uninhabited for 160 years!
Now in Nehemiah 9, the Wall had been completed – Ezra reads from the book of law; the Israelites have great confession of their sin & forefather’s sins that lead them being in exile and Jerusalem being ruined. In Nehemiah 10 People recommit to God; there is the writing of an oath to obey God’s law again: leaders seal their names on it. And it is recorded forever in Nehemiah10.
In Nehemiah 11 the Holy city, built by God – needed a population, leaders settle there and people cast lots 1/10 go to live in this city – moving from their homes! – Huge sacrifice and what a show of obedience; the leaders who settle are listed in Neh 11. Neh 12 –Work is done, people are there -Time to celebrate!
A celebration was also held in our Bethel Thursday night. We celebrated the blessings from God, family treasures, friendships, our trials, love of pets, gifts of patience and forgiveness. The list goes on and on.
All of those examples of celebration were for a reason, in response to something significant, something good happening. Celebration is reactive; it’s something that we want to do. It’s human nature to want to mark special happenings and it’s enjoyable; it benefits us, it feels like a ‘right’ response.
The dictionary says of the word celebration – “holding of festivities to mark a happy event, public praising of something.” The bigger and better the event, the greater the celebration. Fundamental to any celebration is ‘thanks’, giving ‘thanks’ to the person who has made the whole thing possible.
In Neh 12 we see a celebration of thanks for what God has achieved: The rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls in Nehemiah as well as being a good demonstration of how God works through a leader and a corporate body. This is a great analogy of what God does in our lives when he rebuilds them through Jesus Christ.
Like the Israelites in exile, we start from a place of utter ruin, a consequence of our sin, where there appears to be no hope; we’re born into a situation where we’ve strayed from God and are cut off. But God is calling us, and has a plan for us. The rebuilding work starts when we request forgiveness for our sins. God can then start his healing work, there’s opposition and there’s cost. But, a truly miraculous and wonderful new life is built, and its creator is very worthy of celebration. By looking at this monumental event in history, and it’s a fitting celebration, I hope, we can be encouraged to celebrate God and his on going rebuilding work in our lives.
I’m talking about a lifestyle of celebration, where we thank God for significant works, but also apply an attitude of celebration to our daily lives.
Let’s break it down into three parts.
• 1. Significance of celebrating God
• 2. Process for celebrating God
• 3. Fruits of celebrating God
1. Significance of celebrating God
It’s our chief end ch.12, v.43 “and on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy ” Here are a people wrapped up in God. They’ve left their homes to work on this thing; they’ve witnessed God’s work in their lives, helping them accomplish this massive feat in an incredible 52 days. This wasn’t party emotion turned on just for the day and forgotten about the next.
Celebrating God means living our lives in worship of him. It’s more than singing songs on a Sunday. It is the total submission of all that we have and are, to everything that we know of God.
We are made to be beings that celebrate God that enjoy God, that thank God, and when we do, we’re fortified, like those walls. “Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
We celebrate, thank and praise God because it’s our chief end!
Levites were the teachers of the time, they were busy people. There must have been at least one Levite who drew Nehemiah aside; and said, ‘Look Nem, I haven’t got time for this, I’m really busy next Tuesday, isn’t it more important to do God’s work than to celebrate it? There are people who have come to this city to live, whose homes aren’t built yet; they need our time most.’
There must have been someone who thought that. And yet, not only was this an all inclusive act of thanksgiving, but they brought people in from the surrounding countryside too! v27 “.the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication” What Nehemiah demonstrated was that the job wasn’t actually finished, until God had been thanked and his works celebrated. It’s part of the process. He was right too. Nehemiah was around before Jesus, but Jesus taught this very thing through parable of the ten lepers. (Luke 17 : 11- 19)
We celebrate God and give thanks because it’s what we feel, what overcomes us, and we don’t want to leave God waiting for it. v43.” The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. ”The whole thing was designed as a public event, the choirs and instrumentalists walked on the top of the walls, not like the Queen’s tea parties, where only a select few get in. This couldn’t be more public!
The witness comes in v.43 the people were ‘rejoicing because God had given them great joy’. Ahhh Haaaa! There’s the witness: expressing the joy of God.
People must have said: I want to know what this thing is that you have that gives you such joy! Real joy! You’re so full of Joy about this God of yours, you can’t keep it in. I want that! Is that what people would say about our worship in our churches or here in our Bethel? Or in your day to day life – your daily act of worship in the week, at home, at college, in the office?
John the Baptist said – that ‘He (Christ) must become greater, I must become less’ (John 3 v30) That’s what we do in our public worship, our celebration of God’s miracles….. Make God greater, and make ourselves less
2. Process for celebrating God
It is Planned . The Levites were brought to Jerusalem from the surrounding region for this day, the singers were brought in from the villages, the people the gates and the wall are purified before the two choirs march in opposite directions around the walls. This celebration of God was very well planned.
There is confessions. v.30 ‘When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall’. Before anyone sang a word in thanks, there was purification. The people were cleansed first, then the project was cleansed. This would have been through a sacrifice where a sacred animal suffered death in the place of the people. Before these believers could stand before a holy God, they had to have a clean heart.
It’s important to start from that place of forgiveness, as it focuses our thanks on God when we celebrate , not on us. When God has done a work in our lives, or if we’re thanking him simply for who He is, there is a temptation to celebrate ourselves as if we had a bigger part to play than our simple obedience. ‘Apart from me (says God) you can do nothing’ John 15 v 5.
The Psalmist wrote – ‘you do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart. Psalm 51 v16-17’ External ritual achieves nothing when un-confessed sin lurks in the heart.
Someone said that ‘holiness precedes happiness’. It’s hard to celebrate even God when our sin hasn’t been dealt with first. And yet when we confess our sins they’re removed ‘as far as the East is from the West ‘(Psalm 103 v 12) What a glorious starting point ! Makes you want to praise God doesn’t it? Celebrate!!
We thank from the heart.
The Fruits of Celebrating God – God is always seeking to do good things in us.
When we are obedient, because of his graciousness, he heaps blessings back on us. When we thank him, we benefit! There are lots of benefits to celebrating God’s work
Giving praise to God is a profoundly unifying experience. In Jerusalem the priests, Levites, leaders singers and masses join together in worship of God, there’s no distinction as to which ones are rejoicing with great joy – they all are! When we come together before God, we become aware of our equally deep need for God’s forgiveness, and stuff that might divide us can only fade into insignificance compared to the wonder of what Jesus has done for us all. It’s very hard to hold on to a sinful thought or habit, when we expose ourselves to God in humble adoration.
In our Bethel on Thursday night and every Thursday night, we come together as one to celebrate. What joy there is in each heart as we open them up to our Lord.
This celebration we read about was not only marking the end of the building project, but the start of a new era for the Jews, through the celebration; they were dedicating themselves to future works. v. 44 ‘At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, first-fruits and tithes’, v. 47 ‘.all Israel contributed the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers’
As we celebrate what God has done in our lives, it’s inevitable that we dedicate ourselves to future works. By looking back at what God has done, we’re encouraged at what he’s going to do, whether that’s celebrating a key event, celebrating the daily working of God in our lives, or simply celebrating who God is.
A lifestyle that celebrates God, equips us wonderfully for the trials of life. We are empowered.
Hebrews 13 v 15 “Let us continually offer a sacrifice of Praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name” It’s only plants that are alive and healthy that bear fruit. Praise is the fruit of a heart that knows Jesus. The spirit of God is a spirit of life.
God did a great work for the Jews, and Nehemiah recognized the importance of celebrating God’s deliverance. We too should recognize the triumph of God, and live a life in celebration of him.
When Paul was in prison for spreading the good news of Jesus- he wrote, in celebration – In Philippians 4v4 ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let us rejoice and celebrate without ceasing! Amen