12 May 2013


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           Throughout history humankind has pursued the elusive jewel of joy. Some have found it while others have not, and there have been some spectacular dead ends.  Lord Byron looked for it in pleasure, but in the end he wrote,  "The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone."  Jay Gould, who in his day was the ninth richest man in America, looked for it in money.  When dying, he said: "I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth."  Lord Beaconsfield, better known as Benjamin Disraeli, looked for it in position and fame and enjoyed more than his share of both.  Finding that a dead end he wrote, "Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret."  Alexander the Great looked for it in military conquest and after conquering the known world in his day, wept in his tent saying, "There are no more worlds to conquer."

            So, where then do we find real joy?  Let's look where the returned remnant found it.  Last week in our sermons series on Ezra, we had one of those episodes I so dislike on television.  You are into the story, and you wonder how they are going to wrap it all up within the next ten minutes, only to have the show end with the words, "To Be Continued."  I hate those type of endings, but that's what we had last week.  We closed with the returned remnant waiting for a reply from King Darius as to whether they could continue building.  His governor of the area, a man named Tattenai, had asked Darius to search the records for a decree that the remnant claimed had come from Darius predecessor, King Cyrus, a decree ordering them to rebuild the Temple.  We won't read this sixth chapter in its entirety, but we will read enough to give you sense of key events of the chapter, and we'll begin with the search for the original decree.  So let's begin in verse one.


            Then King Darius made a decree, and they searched the archives where the documents were stored in Babylon.  But it was in Ecbatana (that's in modern Iran and it was the summer home of King Cyrus.  It was at the base of a mountain with nice cool, summer breezes) the capital in the province of Media, that a scroll was found on which this was written: "A record.  In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt ...


            We won't read the rest of this paragraph.  If you are a contractor or an architect or like shopping at Lowe's or Home Depot it might interest you, but we won't read it.  It simply describes the measurements of the building and the materials to be used in the construction of the building.  What's of interest to us is what Darius writes after finding King Cyrus' original decree.  Verse six.


            Now you, Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and you, their associates, the envoys in the province Beyond the River, keep away; let the work on this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this of God on this site.


            Now, that was the answer they hoped they would receive.   They had permission to resume building and with no interference from the Persians.  But, it doesn't end there.  It just keeps getting better.  Verse eight.


            Moreover I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for rebuilding of this house of God: the cost is to be paid to these people, in full and without delay, from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province Beyond the River.  Whatever is needed - young bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine or oil, as the priests in Jerusalem require - let that be given to them day by day without fail ...


            That is to say, the money previously collected for the project was to be released and the daily costs, the daily maintenance of Temple worship was going to be covered by Darius.  Wow.  Permission to rebuild.  Building fund account unfrozen.  Worship expenses covered.  But we are not done.  It gets even better.  At least it gets better for the Jews, not so much for the Samaritans who tried to sabotage the project.  Verse eleven.


            Furthermore, I decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of the house of the perpetrator, who then shall be impaled on it.  The house shall be made a dunghill. 


            Samaritans, you have been warned.  You have been given notice that unless you are into impaling, go back north to Samaria and mind your own business.  We won't read it, but the rest of the chapter describes the completion and dedication of the Temple as well as the Celebration of Passover, and with that background let's return to our original question.  Where do we find real joy?  Well, let's take a look at three places where the returned exiles found it. 

            First, they found it by submitting to the will of God.  Note verse fourteen.


            So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo.  They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia.


            Submitting to the will of God leads to incredible joy.  The Hebrew word for "joy" comes from a Hebrew word that denotes deep-seated gladness emanating from the heart, from the soul. It is not a trivial, happy go lucky feeling, it is a deep, resonating gladness.  Someone stated the difference this way, "Happiness is kissing your girlfriend; joy is celebrating your fiftieth wedding anniversary."

            On Wednesdays I have lunch with a couple of long time friends.  Two Wednesday's ago one of them described a friend he had made who had moved here from Egypt.  It was spring, and the man wanted to get his garden and landscaping done, and he asked Hank, "Hank, where can I find sheep dung?  That's the best when it comes to planting things."  Well, Hank didn't know, but the guy found someone who had sheep dung and he had it delivered, a lot of it, to his driveway.  And he began shoveling sheep dung, and planting things, and after doing all his planting, he still had a lot of sheep dung in his driveway and the neighbors were complaining of the smell.  Well, he finally talked the guy who delivered it to haul it away and within a week his landscaping, his garden looked terrific.  The sheep dung had done what he said it would do.

            I know this is a stretch, but obedience is a little like sheep dung.  It does the trick.  It produces joy, but it sometimes stinks along the way.  We don't always want to do the right thing, it stinks, but the right thing pays off in the end.  Joy is not always easy to find, but it waits for us at the end of the road called obedience.  It took them twenty-five years to rebuild the Temple, but at the end of that road the children of Israel experienced joy.  Listen to their experience.  Verse sixteen.


            The people of Israel, the priest and the Levites and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. 


            Let's move on.  So first, they discovered joy at the end of the road of obedience.  Second, they discovered joy in their preoccupation.  Look with me at verse twenty-one. 


            It was eaten (that is the Passover meal) by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by all who had joined them and separated themselves from the pollutions of the nations of the land to worship The Lord, the God of Israel.


            They came to seek what?  Joy?  No!  They came to seek, to worship, The Lord, the God of Israel.  I venture to say that the greatest thief of joy is a preoccupation with something other than the Lord.  Some are preoccupied with the past, while others are preoccupied with the future.  Preoccupation with the Lord means that, when we remember our past, we see His blood cleansing and forgiving . When we are tempted to be anxious about tomorrow, we look into the future and discover God has already been there and has returned to tell us that he will shepherd us through it

            A man was driving through North Carolina on his way to a speaking engagement.  As he neared the town where he was scheduled to speak, there was a sign posted at the city limits which read, "We hear theres a recession coming.  Weve decided not to participate."

            The world is preoccupied with everything but the pre-eminent One.  We need to post a sign that says, I have chosen not to participate.  I am choosing instead to be preoccupied with God, here and now!

            David Elkind, an author, professor and child psychologist, visited his middle sons nursery school class, at the request of his son's teacher, so that he could observe a problem child in the class.  It so happened that he was sitting and observing a group of boys, including his son, who sat in a circle nearby talking.  The conversation went like this.  One child said, My daddy is a doctor and he makes a lot of money and we have a swimming pool.  Another child chimed in, My daddy is a lawyer and he flies to Washington and talks to the President.  Yet another boy said, My daddy owns a company and we have our own airplane.  Then David Elkind's son said something that could not be topped.  With a proud look in Elkind's direction, his son said, My daddy is here!

            That little boy was experiencing joy.  Joy is the product of a relationship with our Heavenly Father, who is here.  The question then, is not, Do we have joy?  The question is, Do we enjoy Him?  Are we preoccupied with Him?  Our Father is right here, right now!

            Thirdly, and finally, they discovered joy in their perception.  Verse twenty-two.


            With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days; for The Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.


            The Lord turned the heart of the king.  That was their perception.  Turn with me to Zechariah chapter four, verse six on page 770.  Remember two prophets had been in their ears, Haggai and Zechariah.  And listen to what God had said to them through the prophet Zechariah.  Once again, chapter four, verse six on page 770.


            He said to me, "This is the word to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says The Lord of hosts."


            The people had learned from Zechariah that nothing accomplished for the kingdom of God is accomplished by the power of humankind.  It is accomplished by God, and so when they looked at all the events surrounding the Temple, they concluded that God had turned the heart of the king of Assyria!

            You see, joy has everything to do with good looks.  In fact, one might say joy equals good looks.  Joy comes from taking another look at our situation.

            As Christians, we have joy in a mixed up world because we have seen how the story ends.  We've gotten a good look at it.  As a result our perception of events unfolding in and around us has changed.

            Hayden Planetarium, in New York City, ran a bogus advertisement in New York newspapers.  They invited those who would like to make the first journey to another planet, in order to live there, to submit an application.  Within a matter of days, over 18,000 people applied.  The applications were then handed to a panel of psychologists to evaluate.  Upon reviewing them, the panel concluded that the vast majority of those who applied were so disillusioned with life on this planet that they wanted to start a new life on another one.  These were ordinary people who had discovered that life was not producing joy and fulfillment, even as they possessed more and more things.

            Walter Knight wrote, "Joy is the flag that flies over the castle of our hearts announcing that the king is in residence today."  I could say more, but that really says it all.  Amen.