June 18 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~Nehemiah 8:10

Today, we get a rare glimpse at what an ancient worship service looked like. During this gathering, Ezra, the pastor-scholar, stands on a large platform so the people can see him (v. 8:4). And he reads straight through the book of the law from Genesis to Deuteronomy. Ezra also explains the meaning of what he reads to the people. Here are the ancient roots of expository preaching—a practice that would dominate the church for centuries![1] (Since this was a special occasion, we may be right in assuming that not all services were this long. Ezra preached for several hours!) In addition, there is singing and praying with both pastor and people lifting their hands to God in praise (v. 8:6). Sometimes the people stand to show their reverence before God (v. 8:5).

Take particular notice of how God’s people respond to what they hear. They are so moved that many of them weep over their failure—the people grasp how far short of God’s law they have fallen (Rom. 3:23). This conviction is good, but the leaders do not want the people to leave feeling grieved! After they recognize their sin, they must also realize that God has shown grace and mercy. As the Jewish apostle would explain years later, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Therefore, sorrow should culminate in joy. They sinned greatly, but they are forgiven by a great and merciful God!

Nehemiah wants the people to rejoice! So he sends them out to a sumptuous party after the exposition. “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks,” he tells them (Neh. 8:10). And then he says, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” What a way to end the worship service!

Worship is of central importance for the people of God and He wants us to leave His presence filled with joy! From the delight He ignites in us we derive confidence and strength to do His work in the world. Even the occasional guilt trip is good if it comes from God and His Word, but such trips should always lead us to a place of repentance and rejoicing. In fact, joy is not optional for the believer. Indeed, we are commanded in Scripture to delight in Him, to find joy in Him, to rejoice in Him, and to praise Him. Rejoice in the Lord today—His love, His goodness, His forgiveness, His mercy, His grace—and let your joy in Him be your strength!

[1] For a full discussion of the connection between Jewish and Christian preaching, see Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church:  Volume 1, The Biblical Period (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans), 1998.

Lectio Divina is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.