Looking at the 21st Century American Church, what would you say is missing? What is the one thing we're getting wrong today? Stephen tells us in this message.
Other messages in this series are available here: Ezra
“THE MISSING JEWEL”
Let’s start with the bad news!
The truth is, the church of Jesus Christ often seems to be anything other than a place of joy . . . a fellowship of joy. . . a place characterized by joy.
In fact, a survey taken by the Gallop organization several years ago uncovered the truth that 60% of unchurched people considered the church not as a place that enabled people to enjoy God but rather an organization that simply tried to support itself and preserve its past.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the church is its own worst advertisement.
Why would anybody want to join a group of people characterized by one author as a group of people who seem to be seasick through their entire voyage of life? Self centered, self absorbed, self engrossed with our own discouragements, aches and pains, a people who seem unable to contain or exude any joy at all.
Where is this life that Jesus Christ said in John 10:10 could be ours that is not just life, but life more abundantly?
Ask the average Christian, “Do you have joy?” and he would, if transparent enough, hang his head and say, "No.”
That little chorus, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart” is left for children to sing – because children seem to have it.
One author wrote that worship is the missing jewel of the church. While I would agree in part, I believe that:
- worship is action, but joy is the attitude behind the action
- worship is ministry, but joy is the motivation that moves us to minister.
William Barclay wrote, “A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms . . . the Christian is a person of joy; the Christian is the laughing cavalier of Christ.”
The scriptures tell us that the cross work of Christ was motivated by joy – “Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Peter wrote that the believer, even in the midst of suffering, could experience an exceeding great joy. (1 Peter 4:13)
Paul implied to the Thessalonian believers that they were capable of rejoicing continually. (1 Thess. 5:16)
He also defined the kingdom of God in Romans 14 with these amazing words , “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink (that is material things), but the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy.”
Yet, that very ingredient, missing in many believers' lives; a quality that supposedly sets us apart from the rest of the world; a sparkling jewel which attracts a needy, dissatisfied, unfulfilled world – is joy.
The missing jewel of the church . . . is joy!
Where can joy be found? How can it be excavated from the hard rock of human experience – how can it be discovered when it lies buried deep beneath the common clay of life?
The answer is found in the Book of Ezra chapter 6.
If you have a pencil or pen, you might underline a word that appears two times in the next few verses – it is the word joy.
Verse 16 And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. Then at the end of the chapter at verse 22 And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy.
Here’s the first clue to help you in your search for joy:
First of all – joy is discovered in submission.
Let’s start with verse 14 And the elders of the Jews were successful in building through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. 15 And this temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. 16 And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.
Key words in verse 14--they finished building according to the command of God.
Whenever you submit to the will of God and then finish it, there is incredible joy.
Joy translates a Hebrew noun that denotes deep-seated gladness emanating from the heart – the soul.
It isn’t trivial, happy go lucky feeling; it is deep, resonating gladness over accomplishment.
Somebody stated the difference this way: “Happiness is kissing your girlfriend, joy is celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary.”
I was on the phone last night congratulating Tom and Patsy Strowd. Six years ago he waved goodbye to his career in finance, packed his wife and 2 children up and drove to Dallas to enroll in seminary. Last night he graduated; he finished. It’s been hard; they’re still living on the edge. But I can tell you, their voices were filled with joy.
Joy is not necessarily easy, but it waits for you at the end of the road called obedience.
Here the children of Israel are celebrating the dedication of their finished temple, and they are celebrating (v. 16 says) with joy.
Joy is discovered in submission to the will of God.
Second – joy is discovered in our confession.
17 And they offered for the dedication of this temple of God 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel. 18 Then they appointed the priests to their divisions and the Levites in their orders for the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses. 19 And the exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth of the first month. 20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure. Then they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles, both for their brothers the priests and for themselves.
Sacrifices are offered; sin is admitted; the grace and mercy of God is remembered.
And would you note in verse 17b. and as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel.
I point that out simply because there is an interesting theory held by a number of cults called the British Israel Theory. The theory basically states that, since the tribes of Benjamin and Judah are the only ones specifically mentioned after the captivity, the other ten tribes became lost. Lost that is until they surfaced in Britain and later came to America, eventually settling in Utah and other places.
It’s a theory that basically makes white Anglo-Saxons a special race and class of people belonging to God as His covenant people.
The book of Ezra puts that theory to rest – or should. By the end of the captivity, the term Israel had become synonymous with the term Jew or Hebrew.
And throughout the Book of Ezra all 12 tribes are represented. In chapter 2:70, all Israel dwelt in their cities. In Chapter 8:35, “The exiles who had come from the captivity offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel – 12 bulls for all of Israel.” Here in chapter 6 verse 17, “12 male goats [were offered] corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel.”
If you’re still not convinced that 10 tribes were not lost, the New Testament Book of James puts the final nail in the coffin of that theory by beginning with the inspired words, “To the 12 tribes who are dispersed abroad, greeting.”
There weren’t 10 lost tribes then; nor are they now somehow absorbed into the white race of British peoples, some of whom supposedly came over to America on the Mayflower. That theory can’t hold water any better than British ships could hold their tea outside of Boston.
My third point is taken from verse: 21 And the sons of Israel who returned from exile and all those who had separated themselves from the impurity of the nations of the land to join them, to seek the Lord God of Israel, ate the Passover.
3) Joy is discovered in our preoccupation.
They came to seek . . . what? Joy? No! They came to seek the Lord God of Israel.
I imagine that the greatest thief of joy is our preoccupation with something other than the Lord.
Some are preoccupied with the past . . . others are preoccupied with the future . . .
Preoccupation with the Lord means that, whenever you remember your past, you see His blood cleansing and forgiving. When you are tempted to be anxious about tomorrow, you look into the future and discover He has already been there and has returned to tell you He will Shepherd you through it
Lewis Timberlake was driving through North Carolina on his way to a speaking engagement. As he neared the town where he was scheduled to speak there was a sign posted at the city limits which read, “We hear there’s a recession coming. We’ve decided not to participate.”
The world is pre-occupied with everything but the Pre-eminent One. The believer needs to post a sign that says, “I have chosen not to participate – I am choosing instead to be preoccupied with God, here and now!!
David Elkind recorded this interesting moment: “I remember visiting my middle son's nursery school class, at the request of his teacher, so that I could observe a "problem child" in the class. It so happened that I was sitting and observing a group of boys, including my son, who sat in a circle nearby talking. Their conversation went like this: One child said, “My daddy is a doctor and he makes a lot of money and we have a swimming pool.” Another child chimed in: “My daddy is a lawyer and he flies to Washington and talks to the President.” Yet another boy said, “My daddy owns a company and we have our own airplane.” Then my son said something that could not be topped – with a proud look in my direction he said, “My daddy is here!”
That little boy was experiencing joy. Joy is the product of a relationship with your Heavenly Father Who is here.
The question then is not, “Do you have joy?” The question is, “Do you enjoy Him? Are you preoccupied with Him?”
Your Father is here . . . now!
Fourth – discovering joy is a matter of our perception.
22 And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had caused them to rejoice, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
Oh, don’t think for a moment they had missed it. They had already learned from Zechariah that nothing accomplished for the kingdom of God is accomplished by the power of man.
Notice again – 22b. for the Lord caused them to rejoice and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work.
That’s the proper perception of what really happened! Not by might, nor by strength, but by my spirit says the Lord! Zechariah 4:6
Joy Has Everything To Do with Good Looks!
-looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith
-looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Listen; joy isn’t syrupy smiles and amens all the time. We don’t deny moments of sorrow, feelings of sadness; but there is a difference between sadness and grimness.
Can you celebrate when life isn’t perfect? Ezra 6 says yes.
As Christians we have joy in our hearts in a mixed up world because we know how the story ends.
Hayden Planetarium in New York City ran a bogus advertisement in New York newspapers inviting those who would like to make the first journey to another planet to live there to submit an application. Within a matter of days, over 18,000 people applied. The applications were then handed to a panel of psychologists to evaluate, who upon reviewing them concluded that the vast majority of those who applied were simply so disillusioned with life on this planet they hoped to believe they could start a new life on another one.
These were ordinary people – not society drop outs – not strange fanatics of Heaven’s Gate type cults. But, as one author wrote, these were people who had discovered that life was not producing joy and fulfillment, even as they possessed more and more things. And, when they even searched out an answer from the neighborhood church, they discovered that the church had nothing of hope to offer them either.
We will never convince the world that we have the answer if we are not convinced ourselves.
And,even if we are, we will never sound convinced without this missing jewel called joy.
Walter Knight wrote, “Joy is the flag that flies over the castle of our hearts announcing that the king is in residence today.”
That says it all:
Is the King on the throne of your heart? When the King is on His throne, you can . . . you will . . . fly the flag of joy.