At this point in the year, we typically begin to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and we will in a couple of weeks but this morning we are going to continue to teach through the book of Nehemiah, and it is fitting because our passage this morning is about singing, thankfulness and celebration.
In 2014 our church family in Austin went through a series called “The Theology of Christmas Songs.” It was pretty awesome! We talked about the meaning of familiar songs like Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Silent Night, and Little Drummer Boy because those songs are full of rich, theological truths.
And because singing is a central part of our faith as followers of Jesus. Singing is a central theme throughout God’s Word. Singing is actually unique to God’s Word compared to other faiths of the world.
The book of Job describes angels singing at the point of creation as all the angels shouted for joy (Job 38)! The book of Revelation describes God’s people singing into eternity (Revelation 5).
Throughout God’s Word we see trees singing, stars singing, Jesus’ singing, the Apostle Paul singing, so that singing is a central part of our faith as followers of Jesus and singing about Jesus has shaped the majority of music we listen to today, even if those people don’t acknowledge those historical roots.
Today, when you listen to popular music, jazz, country, classical, R and B, rap, you are going to find the roots of their music going back to the spirituals, and the spirituals are largely influenced by Christ-centered songs, so that singing about Jesus, to Jesus, for Jesus is deeply imbedded in our culture and our faith.
In our passage this morning we are going to see three primary sub-points; 1. We Sing Thankfully. 2. We Sing Corporately. 3. We Sing Loudly. Let’s look at our first sub-point; 1. We Sing Thankfully.
- We Sing Thankfully.
Nehemiah 12:27, “27 Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres.”
If you are new to the book Nehemiah then you need to know the book Nehemiah is in the Old Testament, the book of Nehemiah is about the history of Israel and in chapters 1-6 the book of Nehemiah is about rebuilding walls and gates for security and safety in the city of Jerusalem and in chapters 7-13 the book of Nehemiah is about rebuilding a people for God’s glory.
In Nehemiah 12 the wall and gates have been completed, the people have renewed their faith in the Lord, so that verse 27 marks the beginning of a celebration that resembles that of a Broadway production.
It’s possible that some of us are uncomfortable with celebration. It’s possible that some of us think to ourselves, “Why celebrate?” Something hard is just going to happen in the next month!
But when we see celebration in God’s Word it isn’t celebrating nothing hard ever happening again. We know Nehemiah 13 is going to be filled with hardship but in Nehemiah 12 the people are celebrating the Lord’s provision in that moment because it’s easy to forget the Lord’s provision in our life.
Typically, we remember hardship. The Lord can provide in our life over and over and over and over and then we get a flat tire, and our first thought is, “Why do bad things always happen to me?” Therefore, we celebrate!
In verse 27 there is celebration of gladness and thanksgiving. There are cymbals. There are lyres. And it’s because this moment is a big deal. If you scan down to verse 31 the leaders appoint choirs to the top of the wall to sing out celebration and thankfulness – at the Refuse Gate no less. Isn’t that great?
If you scan down to verse 38, we see the second choir by the Fish Gate, at the top of the wall, singing out celebration and thankfulness, so that verses 27-47 reads like a Broadway musical.
I remember when our children were 7 and 10, we took them to see a Broadway musical called, “Finding Neverland” in New York City and the whole day before the musical they were complaining because they wanted to see the movie Zootopia, like any 7- and 10-year-old would do because they have no idea what to expect.
But in the first 30-seconds of the musical they see what has to be a real-life Tinker Bell zooming around the stage, her voice coming over the speakers as she introduces the show and a burst of gold glitter shoots out into the audience, and both of our kids look at us and say, “This is awesome!” They were hooked!
When you read verses 27-47 you are going to see so many details about celebration, thankfulness, and gratitude because not only is singing a huge part of our faith as followers of Jesus, but thankfulness is also a huge part of our faith in Jesus.
Our nation celebrated Thanksgiving last Thursday. Hundreds of millions of people all setting aside a day to sit around a table and give “thanks” but if those people don’t have faith in Jesus, then who are they “thanking” in that moment?” Does that make sense?
I am guessing that millions of people reflected on “thankfulness” this last week, which is great but if those people aren’t connected to Jesus, then who are they “thanking” in that moment? Are they just giving “thanks” out into the cosmos? Okay but that’s very impersonal. Are they “thanking” themselves for all they accomplished?
You can laugh at me, but I have Ariana Grande’s song, “7 Rings” on my playlist right now and the lyrics of her song are, “I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it, you like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it.”
I understand it’s a song for woman empowerment, but ultimately, she is “thanking” herself for her accomplishments but that is a model of thankfulness that only begins and ends with our self.
Listen to me, our faith in Jesus is not just a powerful god we worship out of rituals. Our faith in Jesus is personal, because Jesus is God in the flesh who has come so that we might know Him personally, which makes our faith in Jesus completely unique to other faiths in the world, so that when we are “thankful” to the Lord we are nurturing our relationship to the Lord.
Therefore, when we sing songs of thanksgiving, we are reminding our mind and emotions that we are connected to the One who is provider, sustainer, and caregiver to our lives, so that our affections are being stirred for the Lord. Let’s look at our second sub-point; 2. We Sing Corporately.
- We Sing Corporately.
Nehemiah 12:40-42, “40 Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me; 41 and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah, with the trumpets; 42 and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam and Ezer. And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah their leader.”
It’s possible that a book titled Nehemiah would have a part in the story where the camera zooms in on Nehemiah alone so as to see Nehemiah giving thanks and celebration as he prepares to take his show on the road but in the context of 27-47, we don’t see one person singing but many people coming together to sing joyfully.
In the same way, our church family in north Austin has people like James and Natalie leading us in worship but we’re not here this morning to watch James’ and Natalie sing. James and Natalie are doing a great job of singing but when we gather as a church family in north Austin it isn’t to observe a performance. We are here this morning to sing corporately, together.
Have you ever just stopped to listen to people sing together on a Sunday morning? Even in a church family in Austin our size, I am so thankful when we can hear the body of Christ singing together.
Personally, I am not good at singing or music in general. My family makes fun of me because I can’t keep a beat. I don’t hear instruments in a song. I remember when Kennedy was maybe 4-years old and we were listening to a song on the radio and she says, “I really like the violin in this song.”
I said, “What? You can hear a violin?” She said, “Yeah, can’t you hear all the instruments playing together?” I said, “No, when I listen to music, I just hear music but isn’t that amazing that when we come together to sing as a church family, we can have 100 people singing together with a variety of ability, variety of tones, and yet when we all sing together it’s beautiful. Isn’t that amazing?
That is something that is unique to singing. If we all got together and read a passage of God’s Word, we could follow the passage at first, but after a little while we would be at different words, different inflections, and eventually it would be really hard to understand the passage.
But the God of Scripture made our singing in such a way that 100’s, 1000’s of men, women, and children, with a myriad of talent abilities, and yet we could listen to one another sing for hours. How did He do that? What a gift we have in music?
And when we sing together there is something chemically, supernaturally that happens in our soul. We might walk into the room where we are at a place where we can only see our hardships in life. We might be at a place where we are believing lies about ourselves, about one another. We might be at a place where we are overcome with discouragement but then we start to sing with the body of Christ, and something happens.
Emotions are released. Endorphins are released. Over time it’s like the horrible, scarry, overwhelming things in our life start to fade to the background. They don’t disappear but instead it’s like the weight of those things starts to shed so that we don’t sing with joy because we have joy, but it is in our singing with the body of Christ that actually stirs up joy. Isn’t that beautiful that the God of Scripture made us to sing? Let’s look at our last sub-point; 3. We Sing Loudly.
- We Sing Loudly.
Nehemiah 12:43, “43 and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.”
The phrase “even women and children” might have a negative connotation but we need to remember the despair of the people. Remember, it’s been 141 years of despair. 141 years of great distress. 141 years of the city being attacked, homes being destroyed, people being deported into foreign lands, so that the reference to “women and children singing” is because the women and children weren’t living in fear of singing. Does that make sense?
As a result, the men, women, and children were singing so thankfully together that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar. Isn’t that good? It’s as though the “joy of the Lord” echoes.
It seems like it is easy to get caught up in despair these days. It is easy to become overwhelmed so that joy is something that stands out in our culture today. But in the context of Nehemiah 12 the people have filled up their soul with God’s Word, they have bathed in confession and repentance, their conviction in the Lord has been renewed and they are filled with joy, so that they sing together loudly.
When you read verses 27-47 you see the celebration is described as a “great celebration.” The cymbals are loud. The choirs are great. The people are cheering, and their joy is hard from afar.
Did you know there are some churches in our city of Austin that downplay singing songs to Jesus? The idea is that singing songs about Jesus is uncomfortable for some people who don’t have a church background, therefore, those churches in Austin have reduced singing songs about Jesus and replaced them with cultural songs that are more familiar.
But I have found that people from all spiritual backgrounds have been touched by the singing of God’s people. In our church family there have been people who express no faith in Jesus, and yet they gather with us on a Sunday morning, they sing songs with us about Jesus, and they are emotionally moved through the process. That’s the power of singing!
In fact, God’s Word teaches us that when we sing with the body of Christ, we aren’t just singing with those who are in the room but that there is something supernatural taking place in those moments.
God’s Word teaches us that the stars are singing of His glory, rocks sing of His glory, trees sway in the wind, so as to dance and sing of His glory, so that the whole of creation is singing with the body of Christ in those moments.
We aren’t just singing with the people in the room, but we are singing with angels, we are singing with creation, we are singing with the physical and the spiritual, as we align together for His glory. How can we not be touched by singing?
I think it’s possible that for some of us it might be hard to sing right now. Maybe we are discouraged? Maybe we are distracted? Maybe there is a numbness that has come over us in this season?
It’s important to clarify that not all singing is celebratory. In God’s Word, there is song of praise, song of confession, songs of prayer, songs of lament, songs of history, offering, cries for justice, so that we don’t only sing when we are winning. We sing in grief. We sing in joy, but we sing because of the faith we have in Jesus.
I think this truth is best illustrated in Acts 16 when Paul and Silas are simply serving the Lord. They are sharing the gospel. They are caring for others and the people falsely accuse Paul and Silas with rods. It wasn’t just with hands and feet but with rods and then threw Paul and Silas into prison.
It would have been easy for Paul and Silas to be frustrated with the Lord. It would have been easy for Paul and Silas to doubt the power of the Lord or the will of His work in their life, but I want you to see God’s Word on the screen:
Acts 16:25, “25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.”
If you think about a people singing loudly together with joy, we see it illustrated in the life of Paul and Silas. A worship service is taking place in prison and the other prisoners were listening. Look at what happens:
Acts 16:27, “27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.”
A guard losing prisoners would have been put to death in a public execution, so in verse 27 the jailer is going to take his own life out of embarrassment but look at what happens:
Acts 16:28, “28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
The Apostle Paul responds in verse 31 and says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” They spoke the words of Jesus to that man to believe Jesus is God in the flesh who has come to take our sin at the cross, so that when you believe in Jesus you are believing that Jesus took your death of sin at the cross.
Therefore, I invite every man, woman, and child here this morning to believe in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. You must believe in Jesus. You don’t have to know everything there is to know about Jesus, but you need to believe in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is belief in Jesus that brings forgiveness. It is belief in Jesus that brings joy. It is belief in Jesus that moves us to sing. Won’t you believe in Jesus today?
Will we experience sadness in this life? Yes, but through faith in Jesus there is joy that is greater than our sadness. There is a joy that stirs us to sing. Therefore, let us sing! Let us sing! Let us remember all that we have in Jesus and let our joy sing out! Our joy in Christ is greater than our problems. Our joy in Christ is greater than our circumstances. We have Christ! Why would we not! Will you pray with me?