Monday, November 25, 2019

Thanksgiving Choirs

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This sermon discusses the OT book of Nehemiah, chapter 12, where the writer makes reference to "thanksgiving choirs" that were utilized in the celebration when the rebuilt wall around Jerusalem was dedicated. The sermon provides some contextual details and then points out four observations from the passage and applies them to our responsibility to join the Lord's "thanksgiving choirs."

Written Excerpts:

Nehemiah was a Jew living in exile in Persia. He was a cupbearer to the king of Persia, so he held a very trusted position of importance. He had received word from some who had already returned to Israel from exile that the walls of the city were still in total ruin. He grieved over the condition and he received authorization from the king to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls. 
There was great opposition from their enemies, who lied about them and tried to undermine their efforts. You probably remember hearing how Nehemiah organized families to rebuild portions of the wall near their homes. He also organized them so that some were working while others stood guard; as well as even having some carry their weapons while they worked. Once the work was finished, it was time to celebrate. 
(Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary) This ceremony of consecrating the wall and gates of the city was an act of piety on the part of Nehemiah, not merely to thank God in a general way for having been enabled to bring the building to a happy completion, but especially because that city was the place which He had chosen. It also contained the temple, which was hallowed by the manifestation of His presence, and anew set apart to His service. It was on these accounts that Jerusalem was called "the holy city," and by this public and solemn act of religious observance, after a long period of neglect and desecration, it was, as it were, restored to its rightful proprietor. The dedication consisted in a solemn ceremonial, in which the leading authorities, accompanied by the Levitical singers, summoned from all parts of the country, and by a vast concourse of people, marched in imposing procession round the city walls, and, pausing at intervals to engage in united praises, prayer, and sacrifices, supplicated the continued presence, favor, and blessing on "the holy city." 
In verse 31, Nehemiah stated that he “appointed two thanksgiving choirs,” which provided the idea for my sermon title today. One choir went to the right hand on the wall...
Verse 38, the other thanksgiving choir is mentioned as going the other direction on the wall.
Verse 40, both thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God.
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, before we celebrate the sacrament of communion, I want to point out a few observations from the account of the Thanksgiving Choirs in Nehemiah.
1.         Singers, musicians, and others were reinstated to their former responsibilities. (vv. 27-29)
One of the things that Nehemiah and also Ezra did was to re-establish the groups of singers and musicians the way King David had set them up years earlier. These musicians are summoned to Jerusalem to help celebrate the dedication of the wall.
Decades had passed and there was a lot of sorrow and heartache that they had experienced, but God kept His promise to bring them back to their own country. God isn’t finished with them yet as a nation, and those who had been tasked with leading the people in praise to the Lord were once again put into service, as before.
There may be various reasons why some even today experience a long separation from the worship and praise of God. But God isn’t finished with us. If we return to Him and cooperate with Him, He will still give us the opportunity to be useful in His service again.
2.         There is an expected preparation required to be fit for the true worship of God. (v. 30)
Nehemiah 12:30 (NKJV) Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall. 
(Expositor's Bible Commentary, Revised) – The verb [purified] occurs ninety-four times. It is used almost exclusively of ritual or moral purity, most frequently of the purification necessary to restore someone who had contracted impurity to a state of purity so that he might participate in ritual activities (Lev 22:4-7). The Levites are said to have cleansed all that was holy in the temple (1Ch 23:28) and the temple itself (2Ch 29:15) during the times of revival. Ritual purification was intended to teach God’s holiness and moral purity (Leviticus 16:30 For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.).
God had laid down very strict procedures for purifying the priests, Levites, utensils, and buildings that were to be used in the service of God. It was a direct object lesson for them to illustrate the “otherness” of God and the fact that God cannot tolerate any kind of moral/ethical impurity or evil. 
That’s why Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons.” (1 Cor. 10:21) We either belong to God or to the devil. We can’t have a little of both.
The true worship of God with the kind of joy expressed here requires the worshipers to be pure – wholly devoted to God and God alone.
3.         The singers (choirs) were full of joy and enthusiasm. (vv. 42-43)
The Scripture says that they sang “loudly,” and they rejoiced with “great joy.” It also states that the women and children were included in addition to the designated singers or choirs.
It is hard to comprehend or imagine the excitement and celebration that was happening. The enthusiasm flowing through the crowds of people must have been profound. They certainly had reason to celebrate… Defeated, exiled, city / temple destroyed, and wall broken down in ruins. Now that has all been recovered at least to a large degree.
They were expressing their joy so intensely; it is described in verse 43 that the “joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.” I wonder if people around us feel the “joy of Wayside Church?” Are we a people that are excited about what God has done for us; individually and collectively?
4.         It appears that all of the joy and celebration motivated generosity among the people. (vv. 44-45)
It may be nothing more than a reporting of what was happening – i.e. the tithes were collected. However, it does specifically mention, “for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered.”
After God brought them back into their own land, helped them rebuild the temple and the wall, and now has been worshiped and praised in the dedication festivities, there is a level of excitement and joy building that is contagious. Contagious spiritual joy almost always produces generosity. These Jews were bringing their tithes and gifts so that the priests and Levites could be supported just like God originally ordained years earlier.
Even today, when people get excited and joyful over the things God is doing for them, they want to share the joy with others through a genuine spirit of giving, benevolence and generosity that results.
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, I hope that everyone of us will accept the privilege of being in God’s “Thanksgiving choir” spiritually speaking.
Communion is a special time to thank God for His salvation.
Closing Song: There Is a Fountain

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