Early one September morning in 458 B.C., the people of Israel gathered in Jerusalem to hear the word of God. Ezra, the chief priest began to break the bread of life. He began to put forth the word of God before the people.
Ezra read and the people wept. Ezra preached and the people were grieved. Every once in a while, the word of God ought to cause some tears to fall. Sometimes at the midnight hour the word of God will prick our hearts and start the tears to flowing. Sometimes the word of God will bring sorrow into our souls when it convicts us of secret sins and gross iniquities. Ezra read God's word, and my God, the people of God did weep. Think it not a strange thing my people when there is weeping in the household of faith!
The word of God has a way of disturbing us and troubling us. Religion is more than just good feelings and happy times. Sometimes, there is pain and agony. We might wish it wasn't so, but that's just the fact of the matter.
The book of Moses, which was read that day, stirred up a host of emotions in the hearts of the people. On one hand, hearing the words again of Moses, the man of God, called their minds back to happier times. And, on the other hand, this book, this word, was a divine spotlight illuminating the great distance from God that the people had drifted.
The book of Moses was filled with the memories of a proud past, and the precious promises of a loving God. In the word, God promised a land of milk and honey. In the word of God, there were promises of joy, peace and prosperity.
Oh, every now and then, especially when the days are dark, God's people begin to remember happier days. They remember easier times. God's people remember the days before strife and strain showed up on the scene.
As Ezra read the book of Moses, the people remembered the seemingly happier days when Moses was still around; but, oh how the times had changed. It's funny, but, yesterday always seem to be brighter than today when things aren't going right. When the waves of affliction roll over the soul, we long for yesteryear.
Ezra read the book written oh, so long ago, and the people remembered and wept for days gone by. For today, today, was a new and troubling and stressful day.
As Ezra read from the old, old book, the people's eyes began to fill with tears as they saw their shattered dreams lying in the dust. Their hearts were heavy as they heard what could have been and should have been. Oh so long ago, God promised them that life would be sweet and good; but, now all that remained were broken, unfulfilled promises.
The word of God cut away the dense fog from their minds and allowed the people to see life as it really was. Here they were, the chosen people of God, fresh out of exile. Their nation had been divided into two. Gone were the days of King David and mighty Solomon.
Yes, they had heard how God ran a highway through the Red Sea yesterday. They heard that God made the Jordan River passable yesterday. Yesterday, God made manna fall from heaven and rivers run through dry deserts. Oh, yesterday was a great day.
I believe that all God's children stop and think about yesterday sometimes. When the fires of adversity are burning away our hopes, we begin to remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We remember how they were delivered from a fiery furnace, yesterday. But, it seems that God has turned us a deaf ear today. It seems like there will be no deliverance for you and me.
When the deep waters of loneliness and sorrow are creeping up in our lives, we remember that God allowed Noah to sail the deep sea in safety, yesterday. But, now it seems like we are sure to sink, never to rise again. When the waters are rising up as never before, we are sometimes tempted to give up and quit. When we remember what God did yesterday, when we read in God's word, his great mercy and deliverance yesterday, and today seems so dark and senseless, we fall on our knees and weep.
The word of God has a way of reminding us how utterly poor our lives are sometimes. You see, when we encounter the word of God, we see what God wants to do for us. We see the blessings God wants to shower on us. In the word, we see how much happier, how much better, how much more meaningful our lives could be and should be. The word of God tells of the riches in glory that are yours and mine. God's word tells of a shower of blessings waiting to rain down on us; but, oh how we fail to claim them.
My soul aches when I think about the rich blessings of God that I have forfeited. My soul sheds a tear when I consider the promises of God that I have yet to claim.
When we see, through the word of God, that we can live in a land of milk and honey; but, instead we dwell in a land of misery and hardship, we mourn and weep. When Ezra proclaimed the word of God, the people wept. The memories were too much. The memories opened the flood gates and the tears stained their faces.
Yes, the book of Moses, which Ezra read stirred up a host of emotions. Surely, there was sadness when yesterday was remembered; but, on the other hand there were some tears of conviction rolling hard. You see, the word of God is a divine spotlight that illuminates the great distance from God that the people of God had drifted.
Ezra began to preach God's word, and tears began to flow; and hearts began to break. Yes, the word of God can hurt sometimes. The word of God is more powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. It is piercing. It cuts soul and spirit.
The living word of the living God is a discerner of the thoughts of the heart. In time we all must join the psalmist in declaring, "o lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off."
The word of God searches out our hidden sins and gross iniquities. The word of the Lord pierces our pride and our false sense of self-righteousness. Yes, when the Israelites heard the word of God, they fell down on their faces and they did weep. The word of God will show us our sad state of sinfulness.
The word of God is concerned with sin. Oh, folk don't like to talk much about sin anymore. Sin is no longer discussed very much in sophisticated or educated circles. We no longer attribute the cause of some of our problems to sin anymore; but sin is serious and, sin has grave consequences.
Sin will cut us off from the promises of God. Sin will send our souls into lonely exile, far from the God who loves us. The exile of sin cuts us off from the joy of the Lord. It removes the peace of Christ from our lives. Exile, caused by sin, is a terribly, lonely place.
The word of God is concerned with the issue of sin and sinners. The word convicts the sinner. The word corrects the back-slider. The word challenges the complacent. The word of God has a way of cutting us deep on the inside.
Ezra wielded that two-edged sword of God in ancient Israel. The word of God fell like hot coals on the hearts of the people. They considered their unfaithfulness in light of God's fidelity. They had to admit that God was good, and that they were bad. The sword cut open the hearts of the people, exposing their sin to the bright light of God's high standards. The word hurt. The truth was painful. They fell down on their faces and wept.
Oh, my people, be not dismayed when tears fall from your eyes. Be not dismayed my people for the tears of conviction and confession are a blessing. For when the tears of conviction flow, that means that our hearts have not turned to stone yet. When we feel the pain of the cutting of God's word, that just means that God is still at work in us.
It's a terribly sad day when we stop feeling any guilt about anything. It is a sad day when we act as if all the world are sinners except for us. It's sad, sad, sad, when we never feel the word of God challenging us and correcting us.
When we get to the point where we no longer feel the sharp blade of God's word on our souls, we may be beyond help. For God comes to those who know they are sinners in need of salvation. God comes to those who are genuinely sorry for disobedience and faithlessness. God comes on the run when, through our tears, we lift up a feeble voice of confession.
God prunes the good branches so that they might bear more fruit, better fruit. So, if you feel the sting of God's word in your life, take heart, knowing that our great God is at work in your life. Does it hurt sometimes? Yes. Do you wish it would stop sometimes? Sure we do; but, know that the tears and pain is not in vain, for God is at work in you and me!
When the word of God was read by Ezra, the people mourned, they wept, they were filled with grief. But, thanks be to God, grief is never the end of the story for the Christian. Grief never has the final word for a true believer of God. For grief is only a gateway for the grace of God to enter into our lives.
Sometimes we have to be broken before we can accept the wholeness of God. Sometimes we have to fall down low, before we learn to lift up our eyes unto heaven. Sometimes we have to be filled with grief, before we will fully accept the grace of God.
The children of Israel cried when they heard the word; but, old Ezra stood up and told them that the time of mourning was now past. Yes, there is a time to mourn, for there is a season for everything. There is a time to mourn and a time to dance. I believe old brother Ezra waxed poetic. He sang, "Rise children rise, wipe your weeping eyes, for God's grace has arrived." Ezra had to tell the people that now was no time for tears of sadness, but tears of gladness.
Still today, God's preacher has to tell the folk that now is no time for mourning. Oh, my people let us not dwell too long at that big old crowded party that we attend every now and then. You know that party. I'm talking about that old pity party that we throw for ourselves sometimes. We sit around in our homes, in our church, on the job. We sit around with curtains drawn or heads bowed down, crying because life seems to be so hard and unfair. We can't seem to do anything right and everything always seem to go wrong. Oh, what a pity party we can put on. But, I'm here to tell you that there is more to life than tears and sadness.
Yes, Ezra's people had cause to weep, and so do we when we are cut by the word of God. But, glory hallelujah, there is more to the word of God than pain and conviction. You see, the word of God is a two-edged sword.
One side cuts. It cuts away our self-righteousness and sin; but the other side comforts. It comforts our souls when we are troubled and afraid. God's word is a two-edged sword. One side hurts. It hurts us when we try to walk with God, but still run with the devil; but the other side heals us. It heals our souls and spirit when we have been broken and bruised by life.
Yes, my lord, the word of God is a two-edged sword. One side brings misery; but the other side brings mercy. One side brings pain, but the other side brings peace. One side causes us grief; but the other side brings us grace.
The grace of God enables us to move beyond grief. The grace of God will enable us to have joy when others are down and sad. The grace of God always come to those who have Godly grief.
Let us go back now for a moment to see brother Ezra and the people of Israel. Hear now Ezra telling the people not to mourn or weep, for this day is holy to the Lord our God. Now I tell you, I wondered why was this day holy? What was so special about September 1, that made it such a holy day? I searched and I searched. I looked in all of my books and resources, yet, no clear answer was given. But, good God almighty, the Holy Ghost began to whisper in my ear, some divine truths. The Lord told me that the day was holy because the word of God began to touch and to change lives.
Whenever the word of God convicts a sinner, it is a holy day. Whenever the word of God comforts the afflicted, it is a holy day. It's a holy day when God's word brings healing to the church and to the world. It's a holy day when the word of God breaks through our agendas and our wills. Whenever the word of God stirs us up to strive for God's righteousness, my God, what a holy day.
Ezra, like all preachers sometimes, had to tell his people on several occasions, not to mourn and weep. Tell us Mr. Ezra, why not weep? Tell us brother priest, why not mourn? There in verse 10, the man of God gave the answer. He said, "...do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." There is joy in God. There is strength in God. Oh, be not cast down thou child of God, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. There is joy in God's goodness. There is joy in God's mercy. There is joy in God's great love.
Now hear this if you please. There will still be trouble, there will still be some pain and misery. But our God, whom we serve is able to deliver us through trouble. Our God, whom we serve, is able to keep us in times of distress. Our God has grace sufficient for our every need.
If we need comfort, his grace is sufficient. If we need joy, his grace is sufficient. If we need power, if we need hope, if we need peace, his grace is sufficient. Thanks be to God for grace that overrules our grief.
Rev. Clarence W. Davis is pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A frequent contributor to BlackandChristian.com, Davis earned a Master of Divinity and a Master of Theology degree from Harvard Divinity School. The opinions
expressed are those of the author and are used by permission.