“And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. … And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people …. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 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. 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.'” (Nehemiah 8:1b, 5a, 8-10 ESV)
Nehemiah and Ezra were the leaders of God’s people when they came back to their own land after seventy years of exile. God sent both of them to serve but in very different ways. Ezra was a priest and teacher, and he concentrated on rebuilding the temple and helping the people get back on track with worship and following God. Nehemiah was the royal governor, and he worked on rebuilding the city and protecting it from their enemies. He also stopped people from breaking the Sabbath as well as stopping people from cheating each other.
But both of them knew where to find the real strength to change and grow. They looked for it in God’s Word. And so, Ezra read the first five books of the Bible to the people so they could hear and understand it.
That was sort of hard on them, because they were hearing, maybe for the first time, what God expected from His people. And they could see clearly how far they’d fallen short of God’s will. That’s why they started crying. But their leaders told them to dry their tears and celebrate instead, for “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
That’s true for us too, isn’t it? When we come up against our own wrongdoing and disobedience, it makes us sad. We know we are doing wrong, but we can’t seem to stop ourselves—we sin, and then we feel guilty, and then we try harder, and we still sin, and the cycle repeats. Who can help us?
Only the Lord. Only Jesus, who came to set us free from the cycle of shame and guilt. He took all of our sin and guilt upon His own shoulders as our Savior, and He carried it all the way to the cross. He took it away from us, nailing it to His cross. And when He rose from the dead, He gave us much better gifts in its place: forgiveness, peace, and everlasting life as God’s children. He gave us the Holy Spirit, to dwell in us and to keep us close to God at all times. Who else could do this but the Lord?
That is why He is our joy and our strength. Nobody else could overcome sin and death. But He could, and did. Now, because of Him, we too will live as forgiven, blessed, beloved children of God—forever.
Prayer: Dear Savior, stay with us and be our strength always. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
Used by permission from International Lutheran Laymen’s League, all rights reserved
1. What parts of the Bible do you know best?
2. What do you do when the Law of God makes you feel guilty and ashamed?
3. How does forgiveness make you strong?