Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Repentance, worship and the value of ritual



Nehemiah 7:66–8:18, 1 John 5:6–12, Psalm 110:1–7

After the walls of Jerusalem were repaired in the days of Nehemiah, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites read from the book, from the Law of God with clarity so the people understood the reading. They said, “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 Ezra said, “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.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Nehemiah 8:8–12)

These people heard the Word of the Lord and it produced great emotion. Weeping indicates both sorrow and joy, sorrow for sin and joy that God continued to be with them, even speak to them in spite of their many failures. His Word reminded them to keep the feast days and celebrate their history with Him.

“And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.” (Nehemiah 8:17–18)

Historically, this assembly often drifted into mere ritual, and that is the danger of ritual. I can go to church, attend our small group meetings, even have devotions and it becomes a routine, not meaningful and without the sorrow and joy that characterized this assembly and my dealings with God at the best of times. However, without the ritual, it is easy to forget the great truths that are my anchor in Christ, truths from the Word of God that are often demonstrated in the rituals. It is good to celebrate what God has done!

As I read from the New Testament, I think of the value of repeating truth. I have difficulty with focus. Being easily distracted means I struggle in several areas with a lack of stability. One of them is in remembering who I am and what is mine in Christ. The ‘accuser’ takes advantage of this, so the ritual of repeating what I believe becomes a weapon against his lies.

“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:10–12)

Because I believe in Jesus Christ, I have eternal life. This is not my doing. Because I believe in Jesus, He lives in me. I have His life. It is good to celebrate who I am in Jesus Christ!

The last reading arrested my attention too. Even though I’ve read this many times and know that it refers to the Messiah, for a moment I heard the Lord speaking the same words to me . . .

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:1–4)

I am not the Messiah, but when I sit near the Lord because of His grace, He is putting my spiritual enemies under my feet. I am victorious over sin, filled with His energy as one who is young, and able to function as a priest for God (or do whatever else He might ask). The key is staying by His side, enjoying Him, celebrating the facts of my salvation — in both sorrow over sin and with great joy that He is my Redeemer!


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