Thursday, January 30, 2014

Celebrate God's Grace

The book of Nehemiah records an occasion when Ezra the priest stood before the people and read the Book of the Law. In hearing the words of the Lord, the people "bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground." (Neh 8:6) This is a response of a people who have been in captivity for 70 years. A people who have not heard God's Word, and for the most part, have not lived according to its truth. Their only right response is to worship the One they have all but forgotten. The passage goes on to explain how certain men were appointed to take what had been read and then go to the people to teach them what it means. Once again, "they read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." (Neh 8:8) After doing this, the people have a completely different response. It says, "the people wept as they heard the words of the Law." (Neh 8:9) So why such a dramatically different response? First it was worship and then it was weeping. I think what we see is often reflected in our own life as well. We go through the routine of religious observance and find ourselves worshiping a God who is very far off. We stand before Him and exalt the holiness of His name but we don't always understand how what He says applies to our life. His truth becomes personal only when we draw near to the Lord and listen to what He says to our heart. A place where His holiness comes close enough to reveal our sin. This is where our worship turns to weeping because we are undone. Like Isaiah we proclaim, "I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips". But God's grace does not allow us to remain in this place. Ezra and Nehemiah know this to be true and so this is what they say to the people:
"Go your way. Eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to the Lord. And do not be grieved for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
They tell them to put aside their weeping and throw a party instead. Why? Because the grace of God is worth celebrating. We are to be strengthened by the joy of the Lord who's delight is in our redemption. He wants us to see our sin in the light of His forgiveness and grace. Because without drawing near, we continue to carry the burden of sin along with us. But God wants to set us free and give us a reason to celebrate. Lord, I want to draw near to you so that your Word becomes personal in my life. I want you to search me O God and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in your everlasting way. Set me free in the joy of your forgiveness and grace to the praise and glory of your great Name! Teach me to celebrate your grace.

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