Most of us have probably heard the phrase “the joy of the Lord is my strength” at some point or another. In my experience, it seems that this particular phrase has become more of a saying people quote to one another than the life and truth that it was intended to carry.
Let me explain. Many people use this phrase when describing themselves in a difficult situation or as a “pep talk” for someone else who is going through a tough time. It has become a cliche saying for many Christians. The problem with this is that is has lost all its power and intent. This phrase, in its original context has a key for us to truly enjoy the Lord and live in the fullness of His incredible joy.
The story of Nehemiah is one that may or may not be familiar to you so we will give just a brief overview. The Jews had been in exile and captivity for many years and had finally gone back to Judah, their home. Nehemiah, a Jew, was a wine bearer for King Artaxerxes. One day some fellow Jews came to visit Nehemiah and he inquired about his fellow Jews. The report was not good. In fact, Judah had been destroyed with the “wall of Jerusalem being torn down and the gates destroyed by fire”.
Nehemiah fasts and prays and mourns for his people and cries out to God for help. God answers Nehemiah by giving him favor with the king and, to make a long story short, provides Nehemiah with all the money and resources he needs to go and have the city rebuilt. So Nehemiah goes and begins the process of rebuilding the city, facing opposition along the way, but persisting in the call he has. Eventually, the city is rebuilt and the people are gathered together to celebrate and read the law, which for many years had been out of their hands.
That brings us to chapter 8, where this famous phrase is located. Now again, understand that the people are gathered in their “new” city and are hearing the law read to them afresh and anew. This should be a happy time but instead the people are weeping. Let’s look at what it says:
Then Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and all the people chanted, “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 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 is holy and a sacred day before the Lord your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law (Nehemiah 8:6;9)
We can draw many conclusions from these verses as to why they were weeping on such a celebrated day, maybe it was simply like it said, they were weeping as they listened to the Law, knowing that they had simply transferred one form of bondage to another. I believe this passage is prophetic of the New Covenant and the realities that come with the finished work of the Cross.
We have all, at one time, been in bondage and captivity to sin with our walls and gates destroyed by its enslavement. Like, Nehemiah in his time, God was grieved at this bondage and sent One to rescue and redeem us. The problem is that many who have been freed from sin have simply traded their bondage of sin for another – the bondage of law and rules. You can’t have both freedom and bondage. The problem with much of modern Christianity is that we have been freed from our bondage to sin through Jesus Christ but we “weep and mourn” because we are clinging to a law that has been completely fulfilled in Jesus and now has no control over us.
The real key is what is said next: Then he continued and said, Go and celebrate, eat the fat and drink the sweet wine, for this day is holy to the Lord your God; and be not grieved, depressed or sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Go and celebrate! That is your part of the New Covenant – go and celebrate. Eat the fat and drink the wine. Do you know what the fat is? In those days, when the priest made the sacrifice of the lamb, once the sacrifice was consumed what was left over was the fat, the goodness of the meat. Kind of like a BBQ. Once the sacrifice was complete, the priest got to take and eat the fat of the sacrifice, the good part, the tasty part, the part that makes you happy. I love to BBQ and any one who loves to eat meat will tell you that the flavor is in the fat. The best part is the fat because it containes the part that makes you happy. Jesus said to eat His flesh and drink His blood which is the New Covenant. Jesus was sacrificed and as priests of God, we get to enjoy the fat and drink the wine. Do you know why? Because it makes you happy!
This day – all your days in freedom – are holy to the Lord, therefore there should be no sadness or depression or grieving because those things are NOT a part of your New Covenant and New Creation realities. In God’s presence, which you and I live in continually, there is fullness of joy. Why? Because we know to eat the fat and drink the wine! The joy of the Lord is our strength – every day and in every situation because we have learned to eat the fat and drink the wine.
Here is the key to your unending joy – feast on Jesus! Eat the fat and drink the wine and forever be intoxicated on Him. In the natural, someone who is intoxicated is “happy”, why? because they are overtaken by a substance that overpowers them and relieves them of their distresses. In the same way, but only greater, the intoxication of the Spirit makes you eternally happy and releases you from all of the cares and worries that life tries to put in your way. You can literally laugh in the face of adversity because it has no power compared to the intoxication and inebriation of the feast that is Jesus and His complete work on the Cross.
So go ahead, let go of your mourning and weeping and everything that holds you in, go to the altar and take a big swipe of the fat and a goblet full of wine and enjoy the joy that is the Lord!