So the people went away… celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them. (Nehemiah 8:12)


When the Jews assembled shortly after having finished rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in its entirety, they wept on hearing the Book of the Law of God read to them. As they realised how far they had strayed from God’s instructions, they were desolate and sad. It seems to me that the holy spirit came among his people on that day and moved in their hearts. The same thing happened to me on the day, in early March 2011, when I sat down and began to read the Bible through for the first time. Like the people in todays passage I had been moved to turn to the Lord with a new determination and commitment. I was ready to read God’s words. But, like the those who wept when Ezra read to them from the Law, I was not ready for the experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit as I heard God’s word. I can’t tell you why, but after one or two lines into Matthew’s Gospel I began to read out loud until the end of chapter 3 when I could read no more because I was weeping too much. It was as if I was just listening to it – and for the first time, it was completely clear and I could understand everything I heard.


Nehemiah 8:8-12 NLT

They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today’s a sacred day before the Lord your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich food and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with those who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” and the Levites, too, quieted the people, telling them, “Hush! Don’t weep! For this is a sacred day.” So the people went away to eat and drink at a festival meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.


This experience of weeping while reading the Bible aloud to myself, was quite a shock I can tell you! But as the tears subsided I knew God had spoken directly to me and I felt the greatest peace I had ever felt. I was alone, nervous and unsure what was happening but it was good. I felt a new sensation that day. I think it was joy. Not happiness, not contentment, not satisfaction, not elation – and yet, strangely a little bit of all of them – it was joy.
So my goal is to remind believers that joy quite often makes you cry, and so does the Holy Spirit. It is something to welcome and celebrate. And to non believers I say, the Lord doesn’t want to bind you up with laws, commands and rules, he wants you to hear and understand the words he has to speak to you. It will bring you joy and strength to hear them.

Today’s readings:

Nehemiah 7:73b-9:21, 1 Corinthians 9:1-18, Psalms 33:12-22, Proverbs 21:11-12


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