Christ the King Sunday
(The Last Sunday After Pentecost) November 23, 2008
Nehemiah 12:27-30, 40-43
606, 618, 413, 429(3)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. And the sons of the singers gathered together from the countryside around Jerusalem, from the villages of the Netophathites, from the house of Gilgal, and from the fields of Geba and Azmaveth; for the singers had built themselves villages all around Jerusalem. Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall…So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me; and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Minjamin, Michaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. The singers sang loudly with Jezrahiah the director. Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.
In the name of our returning King, dear fellow-redeemed:
My last two years of high school and my years of college were spent far away from home. I would get home once during the months of school at Christmas time. Often as the day approached, I was asked, “Are you ready to go home?” The answer was always, “Yes!” Even if I had assignments yet to finish, even if my dormitory room still needed a good cleaning, it didn’t matter—I was always ready to go home! When the time came to leave, I would leave for home was always a special place. It was a place where you belonged, a place where you felt secure and happy.
This is how we Christians look toward heaven. We see it as a home to which we are going. It is the place where we belong. It is the place where we will be secure and happy forever in the presence of our wonderful God. Unlike our homes on earth, our heavenly home will be free from all troubles and cares for there will be no sin there. We will be able to live as God designed us to live in the beginning. We will live full, pure, exciting, meaningful lives.
Are you ready to go home to heaven? I suspect that you are. As children of God we look to be ready at any moment—ready to leave whatever you are doing should the Lord decide to call you to Himself. We are ready to go home: I. Ready by the Blood of Jesus, and II. Ready To Give Thanks and Rejoice
We’re going to consider our readiness to go home by looking at another famous homecoming described in the Old Testament. You might remember how King Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Judea around 600 BC and taken the people by force into exile in Babylon. Now, about a hundred years later, King Cyrus released them to return to their homeland and that was a very big deal to them as you can imagine. They were ready to go back home!
By the rivers of Babylon they had wept (cf. Psalm 137), but now they would see their familiar surroundings once more. Now they would be back to the place where they felt they belonged.
When the exiles began to arrive back home in Jerusalem, they saw that things were in disrepair. The walls of the city had been broken down. The prophet Nehemiah had made an inspection and reported to the people that “Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned by fire” (Nehemiah 2:17 NIV). So the walls were rebuilt and the gates were repaired.
They held a special dedication ceremony to indicate that they had truly arrived and were ready to live again within the walls of their city. The Levites were called in to celebrate the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and the music of cymbals. And also this: “When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall.” [v.30]
Notice that before officially celebrating their return, the people were purified. This ceremonial purification taught them that they were not just coming home to a city, they were returning to God. For they had all but forgotten Him a hundred years earlier. This they understood. When Nebuchadnezzar had taken them into exile, they had been guilty of worshiping idols and all kinds of sinful behavior. Now they had acknowledged their sins and they rejoiced that they had been forgiven. The purification ritual showed them that the Lord had washed them of their sins—that He had removed their transgressions from them as far as the east was from the west. To come home to the Lord they needed to be clean in His eyes of all wickedness and impurity and they were!
The ceremonial purification of the Jews before entering their home city reminds us of our need to be purified before we enter our heavenly home. We long to live forever with Jesus, but we ask ourselves, “How is this possible?” I am a sinner. My fathers before me were sinners. The fathers before them were sinners. Our holiness is not sufficient to gain us entrance to the place where God dwells. Our guilt and our bad behavior separate us from heaven. It is true enough that we have broken God’s Law in every point, not just by our actions, but by our thoughts and by our words. We have committed adultery in our hearts. We have thought evil toward others. We have spoken harshly. We have even defended our sins in our own minds. An honest look at each one of us will lead us to the conclusion, “No, I am not ready to go to my heavenly home unless I am purified.”
And you have been purified! It is Jesus Christ who carried out the real purification for you. He did this, not with a symbolic ceremony, but by actually offering Himself as a sacrifice for all sin. Paul wrote in Titus 2:14 of “Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own” (NIV). When He was forsaken on the cross He endured the very pangs of Hell in your place. He suffered the agony that would have fallen to you—the agony of bearing your guilt and suffering before the throne of God.
All of this was so that you could walk away purified and holy in the eyes of heaven. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 NIV). Believe that Jesus’ blood, His suffering and death, cleanses you too. Rev 1:5 Jesus is praised with the words “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5 NIV).
Now you are ready to go home. Ready even this moment to enter into eternal life, for you have been made ready by Jesus Christ who has taken your sin on Himself. He has taken away the barrier that stood between you and Heaven. We face even death now with the confidence that Jesus has prepared all things for our departure. Our eternal home stands ready and waiting even as He promised to His disciples when He said: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3 NIV). Our purification by the blood of Jesus and the thought of Heaven makes us ready to give thanks to God and rejoice in Him with our whole heart.
When the exiles from Jerusalem returned home, there was much happiness. This comes through clearly in the words of Nehemiah. Two large choirs of singers were assembled on the walls of Jerusalem; and on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.
This homecoming was a time of tremendous happiness for all the Jews. God had brought them safely through a difficult time of sorrow and struggle. Now their joy was restored! The sound of singing and rejoicing by young and old alike was to be heard far away from the city.
We look at such happy times and we think, “I wish I could be a part of that.” Have you ever had days of such happiness that you long to have them back again? Maybe you remember such joy from the day a child was born in your family, or perhaps you have memories of happy Christmases or celebrations when you were simply joyful about being where you were and doing what you were doing.
The Devil tries to steal our joy away from us for when we think of past days of rejoicing, it’s usually in connection with frustration that the days now are not so good. “I wish I could be happy again,” we say. “I wish for the good old days…”
It will happen that we will feel down in our spirits. We will have days when any and all joy seems to be gone. The world in which we live does not help. It is not full of joy, but full of sorrow, sadness, and fear.
It is during such times that you can think about the joy of the homecoming. What did the Apostle Paul think about when he was pressed on every side, persecuted, shipwrecked, deserted by friends, and threatened by the most powerful of his day? He said to Timothy (2 Tim 4): “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness…the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:8,18 NIV). Paul turned his eyes heavenward when the battles of life seemed hard. This was not just an “escape technique.” Paul knew that in Heaven was where the reality was. The reality of his situation was that no matter how bad things got for him, he would have joy when he arrived home to heaven.
There you too will have joy. There you can give thanks and praise God face to face, living in happiness like you’ve never known before. Peter places the blessed hope before our eyes: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:3-6 NIV).
In this we greatly rejoice. Just as the Jews rejoiced to return to their home in Jerusalem, how much more will we rejoice and be happy to arrive at our everlasting home in heaven. We can even experience a certain measure of gladness right now knowing the joy that will follow!
Sadness will come to us here, but we can put it away by looking ahead to our homecoming—the greatest homecoming promised to us by our Lord Jesus.
Are you ready to go home? To receive the end of your faith? Are you ready for the culmination of everything Jesus came for and worked out for you on your behalf? Where your happiness will be without end? If so, then pray:
Lord, let at last Thine angels come, to Abram’s bosom bear me home, that I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep My body safe in peaceful sleep until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me that these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, My prayer attend, my prayer attend, and I will praise Thee without end.
Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.