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The Path to Joy

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I.            INTRODUCTION




Several weeks ago I was cleaning out a utility closet outside our house and came across a stack of cards and letters.  On one piece of folded notebook paper was a hand written note that caught my eye.  Let me read an excerpt of that note which revealed the inner longings of a wife and mother as she wrote a letter to God.


A.   Letter


Dear God,

I was told a long time ago that sometimes it helps to write you a letter.  So I am going to try it because God I need help so bad.  I know that it’s not my place to ask you why, but dear God it is so hard for me to understand why all of this has happened to me.  I know I had lived my life wrong.  But I have always believed you understood that.  All I have ever wanted was a home and kids and a man who loves me.  No one but you knows how I really feel.  I don’t think my life means too much anymore.  All I know is how much I love my kids and how much I need a firm home life.  Why dear God can’t my life ever go smooth.  Just once in a while.  Why do I have to hurt so much all the time?  Dear God I am begging you if my life has to go on this way please end it. 

I love you dear God -- Helen  


B.   Statistics concerning depression (May 2008)

1.    The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that about 10 percent (or 18.8 million people) of American adults experience some form of depression. For people with chronic illnesses, the number can be higher.

2.    One in four women will have a severe or major depression in their lifetime.

3.    While one in eight men will suffer depression.

4.    One in five children have some sort of mental, behavioral, or emotional problem (I would say it is closer to 100% *smile*).

5.    "Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24.

6.    And if I were to take a survey of everyone in this room, I think I would find that all of us, at some point in our lives, maybe even right now, are experiencing deep discouragement, sorrow, or depression. 

7.    But what does Scripture have to say about such things?  Is depression just a fact of life, something we need to learn to cope with, or is depression simply a tool of the devil to derail our faith and hinder our joy.


C.   Proposition

1.    What would you say this morning if I told you that God is not only able to give you joy, but that he desires to do so?

2.    What would I say if I told you that God’s receives glory when we are joyful? 

3.    John Piper - “God is most glorified when I am most satisfied in him.” 

4.    J.I. Packer - [speaking of salvation] “through setting his love on human beings God has voluntarily bound up his own final happiness with theirs . . . Thus God saves, not only for his glory, but also for his gladness.  This goes far to explain why it is that there is joy (God’s own joy) in the presence of the angels when a sinner repents (Lk 15:10), and why there will be ‘exceeding joy’ when God sets us faultless at the last day in his own holy presence (Jude 24).” 

5.    God is interested in our joy because it brings him glory.

6.    Our GOAL this morning is to reveal The Path to Joy; a path that is not arbitrary, or hidden, but stands in broad daylight, beckoning any who would traverse its path.

7.    We’re going to discover The Path to Joy this morning from Ezra 5 and 6

I.            Danger of such a study


1.    That the steps we talk about will be relegated to a legalistic formula.  If I check off the boxes, then I get what I want.

2.    RATHER, we are talking about a frame of mind.  A change of heart.  An approach to life.  A general attitude that must pervade every aspect of life.

3.    John Piper - When I don’t desire God: How to fight for joy (pg 15-16) - “I am not interested in superficial, external behavior changes, which the Pharisees were so good at . . . these external changes are doable without diving grace.  I would like to help those who are beginning to see that salvation is the awakening of a new taste for God, or it is nothing. ‘Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!’ (Ps 34:8).  I want to help those who are starting to see that conversion is the creation of new desires, not just new duties; new delights, not just new deeds; new treasures, not just new tasks.” 

B.   #2 Happiness

1.    For those of you who are happy to assume that you’ve got everything under control.  To assume that you can find joy on your own terms, do things your own way.

2.    Let me caution you at the outset of this message that “true” joy, “lasting” joy can only be found in God and comes as a gift from him alone.

C.   #3 Downtrodden

1.    Assume that anyone who is experiencing discouragement, sorrow, difficulties is less spiritual. 

2.    Assume that if you are following this process already that God’s principles must not apply to you. 

3.    But, if you are a child of God, then God’s promises will stand.  He will honor his Word.

D.  #4 Speaker

1.    To assume that I have it all together.  That joy is something that comes naturally for me and is not a battle

2.    To assume that I’m trying to target specific individuals.

3.    Assume that because I’ve not experienced all that life has to offer, that I cannot speak authoritatively on the subject. 

4.    As we approach God’s Word this morning, may we approach it with humility and with open hearts. 


TRANSITION:  I don’t want to belabor this introduction, but before we can talk about The Path to Joy, we need to define our terms.

II.        Joy Defined

A.   Current striving for joy

1.    Our culture is on a joy crazed hunt. 

2.    The shelves of Christian and secular book stores alike are lined with books on how to find happiness.   

3.    Most of these books link happiness with a positive self-image.  Most suggest that if you think positively, then you will feel good about yourself. 

4.    But such thinking flies in the face of Biblical language -

a)    1 Cor 6:9,11 - “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? . . . And such were some of you. BUT you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

b)   Romans 7:24 - “O wretched man that I am, who can deliver me from this body of death?”

5.    This is not the language of positive self-image, and THUS our culture cannot begin to describe the Path to Joy

B.   Biblical joy  

1.    Biblical joy is set in the context of what God does for us.  It is a gift from him, not earned, not acquired, not deserved, but granted as a result of a change of heart. 

2.    Biblical joy is an emotional response, not just a frame of mind  

a)    Psalm 1 says “Blessed (happy) is the man . . .  whose delight is in the Law of the LORD.”

b)   Psalm 37 says “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

3.    Biblical joy is often exuberant

a)    Ezra 3:13 - so exuberant that it was heard from far away

b)   1 Kings 1:40 - (at the inauguration of Solomon as king) “And all the people went up after him . . . playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy so that the earth was split by their noise.”

4.    But what sets Biblical joy apart from any other joy manufactured by the world is its enduring quality. 

a)    Isaiah 35:10 - “and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy . . .”

b)   Isaiah 51:11 - “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

TRANSITION: So, with that introductory material behind us, now we can focus on The Path to Joy, and how the Jews in Jerusalem were able to experience it.  The first step to Joy is found in Ezra 5:1, and it is to . . . .

III.    Receive the Word (5:1)

A.   The Word came

1.    The reader of the Hebrew text cannot move past the first word of 5:1 without an overwhelming flood of thoughts coming to his mind

2.    Standing at the beginning of this sentence is the Hebrew verb “And he prophesied”   

3.    “And” - translated “NOW” in the ESV “THEN” in the NKJV, “WHEN” in the NASB. 

a)    Provides a direct connection with the previous context. 

b)   If you remember, the Jews in Jerusalem were discouraged.

(1)   They had experienced the euphoria of building the altar and laying the foundation of the temple, but when their adversaries began their intimidation, the people got discouraged.
(2)   And their discouragement turned into 18 years of inactivity on the temple.  They gave up.  They became defeated.

c)    This is not a new paragraph, or a new thought, but a continuation

d)   This is a word of hope - breaking forth out of the deepest darkness comes the rays of glorious promise. 

e)    Even though the people had messed up so badly, things weren’t beyond repair.  Joy could spring from the most fallow ground, but that it must be initiated by God Himself.

4.    HE

a)    Both prophets are mentioned in this opening verse, but the singular use of prophecy is given? 

b)   Speaking specifically here of Haggai whose “in-your-face” approach is what got the ball rolling.  Haggai 1:2-8 (stay here)

c)    Unity of the messengers

(1)   Also, emphasizes the unity of the message.  Like no other time in Israel’s history, 2 prophets were speaking the same message to the same group of people at the same time. 
(2)   Haggai beginning his prophetic ministry in the 2nd year and 6th month - straight up, in your face, tell it like it is
(3)   Zechariah - beginning his ministry 2 months later in the 8th month à more visions, more futuristic, less confrontational and more encouraging
(4)   But both messages unified.  ONE voice, ONE appeal, ONE call to action

5.    Prophesied  

a)    hitpael middle 3rd singular

b)   hitpael, middle -- “The subject both acts and is affected by the action.  Beyond this basic reflexive-reciprocal function, and its passive usage, its nuances are difficult to classify.”  à This would be a causative / Factitive hitphael. [Hebrew Bible Insert] 

c)    EXAMPLE: As he spoke to the congregation, he was speaking also to himself.

d)   Word is all encompassing.  Applies to the congregation at large.  No one is excluded. 

e)    Haggai and Zechariah understand their own culpability in addition to the failure of the leaders, the priests and the people.

6.    Came authoritatively

a)    All true prophecy is “Thus saith the Lord”

b)   It comes with divine authority.

(1)   Hag 1:2 - “thus says the LORD”
(2)   Hag 1:7 - “thus says the LORD”
(3)   Hag 2:11 - “thus says the LORD”
(4)   Zech 1:3 - “Thus declares the LORD of hosts”
(5)   Zech 1:16 - “Thus says the LORD”

c)    AUTHORITY OVER THE PEOPLE “the God of Israel who was over them”

(1)    2 Cor 4:5 - For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves, your servants for Jesus’ sake.


(1)   Paul to the Thessalonian church (1 Thess 2:3-4) “For exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.”

7.    Underlying THEME - GIFT - God had already given them His marching orders.  They had been called for this purpose.  And God graciously conveys his word to them again.  It is a GIFT because God is interested in their JOY

B.   The Word was received (Hag 1:12)

1.    Humbly / Obediently

a)    First word of this verse (Qal Active imperfect)

b)   The message was offensive for sure.  It confronted their situation head on. 

c)    It shook their poor assumptions - “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” (Hag 1:2)

d)   BUT rather than rebel, rather than make excuses, they humbly submitted to God’s authority, received God’s rebuke, and conformed their lives to God’s standard.

e)    James 1:21 - “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

f)     “As the Lord their God had sent him” - (1 Thess 2:13) when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God . . .”

2.    Fear

a)    Hebrew word - to be afraid.  This is not just awe and respect, this is trembling fear

b)   ILLUSTRATION: Can you think back to a time when you were given instructions by an authority figure (parent, teacher, coach, boss) and you disobeyed, but then were caught in the act.  Can you remember how you felt?

(1)   I was in the 5th grade.  Our class would be taking a field trip, but the principle had asked us to wait in the class rather than on the buss. 
(2)   I didn’t particularly appreciate this request so I went down to the coat room to relay the information to my friends. 
(3)   And in mid sentence, while I was mocking my principle, my friend Steve Hodson’s face changed, but I did not know why until I looked behind me and saw my principle, Mr. Higdon. 
(4)   That was a time of fear.  I considered my actions, I recounted my rebellion.  It flashed before me, and all of the consequences of what should happen filled my mind. 

c)    The remnant, including the leaders, priests, and prophets were caught with their hand in the cookie jar, AND they feared. 

d)   There was a trembling, a hot feeling of deep conviction that burned in their gut.

e)    What have we been doing for 18 years?

C.   Application

1.    God’s Word is always the starting point for JOY. 

a)    Psalm 1 - “Blessed (happy) is the man who delights in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night . . .”

b)   Psalm 119:165 - “Great peace have they which love thy law; nothing can make them stumble.”

2.    Those who do not receive the word

a)    You come on a Sunday morning, but it is just a formality

b)   You may even open up your Bible during the week, but you’re just going through the motions

c)    Learn to receive the Word -

(1)   Apply the message of the word to your life.  Recognize your deficiencies and then take action to change.
(2)   “journal entry from 2006”
(3)   Long for it just as a newborn baby longs for milk. 
(4)   Desire it by making it an integral part of every day. 

3.    Those who do receive the word  

a)    Some here today who are spiritually obese.  You have gorged yourself on Scripture.  You have feasted on its truths.

b)   You are committed to doctrinal purity

c)    But there is not outlet in your life for the Word to flow

d)   Instead of aiding your spiritual life, it has made you proud (1 Cor 8:1 - Knowledge puffs up)

e)    You are critical, judgmental, no one can measure up to your standard of spirituality.


1.    The path to joy begins with Receiving the Word, submitting to its authority, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict you of sin. 

2.    BUT it cannot stop there.    

3.    The path to Joy must continue, it must lead us to RESUME the WORK

IV.     Resume the Work

A.   Characteristics of their work

1.    Unanimous effort (Haggai 1:12)

a)    Zerubbabel (governmental leader), Joshua (religious leader), and all the remnant of the people.

b)   Everyone was involved

c)    The leaders led, the people followed, the prophets supported (Ezra 5:1), and the work was RESUMED.

d)   There was no fringe group sitting on the sideline. 

e)    There was no member of the congregation who had nothing to offer.

f)     There was no individual too old, or too young to contribute.

g)   They were part of this remnant, and THUS a significant member of work that needed to be done. 

h)   APPLICATION: It is no different in our church.

(1)   1 Corinthians 12 - Paul is dealing with spiritual gifts and he compares the local church to a body.  And each member of the church as a part of that body.  In order for a body to function in a healthy way, every member must perform its duty.  God did not create us with a bunch of extra parts that have no significance.  Every part of the body functions to the health and normal operation of that body.
(2)   1 Cor 12:18 - But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, just the way he wanted them to be (NIV). 

i)     TRUTHS

(1)   Ministry is vital for health - if you are not serving here, then the body will suffer.  If you are in Christ, God has you here for a purpose.  Don’t sit around.  Be proactive.  Don’t wait to be asked to help.  Volunteer. 
(2)   Ministry is intended for the body - many of you are active in ministry, but it is not connected with GBC. 
(3)   Ministry is vital for JOY. 

2.    Initiated by God (Haggai 1:14)

a)    This is the theme of Ezra, and the theme of Scripture in its entirety - God must initiate all godly things in our lives

b)   Isn’t this a humbling TRUTH?

c)    But it indicates once again, that JOY is a gift.  AND MINISTRY is a GIFT.

3.    Began immediately (Ezra 5:2 - turn back to Ezra)

a)    The first word in verse 2, “THEN” is a Hebrew word which stands as a marker of transition. 

(1)   It is nearly always at the beginning of a transitional passage
(2)   Marks a distinct, abrupt change
(3)   It indicates something that occurs at approximately the same time or simultaneously to an action.  
(4)   The idea here is that as soon as the command went out by Haggai, the people dropped what they were doing and obeyed.


(1)   Word of Jesus echo in our heads - “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men, and immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:19-20)
(2)   “Let me first go bury my father . . . (Christ) follow me and let the dead bury their own dead.”  (Matthew 8:21)
(3)   The Christian life is not for the wayward soul, the Christian life is for those who actively pursue their Master. 
(4)   It is for those who hear His commands and follow without hesitation, with second thought.  

4.    Done with Perseverance and faith (Ezra 5:4)

a)    “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop . . .”

b)   They discovered something they had missed in their previous endeavors.  They discovered that God’s eye was on them, because for the first time the persevered.  For the first time they took God’s commands seriously and pushed through the obstacles, submitted themselves to God’s authority, and boldly anticipated the consequences

c)    So they saw for the first time, God’s under girding strength.  His ability to preserve them, his umbrella of protection, his fortress of defense. 

d)   ILLUSTRATION: It is like a blind man in a fortified city.  He hears the noise of battle, he hears the threats of the enemy and he cannot see the impregnable wall of defense that surrounds him, so he opens the gate to avoid the conflict when he just need trust the fortress. 

5.    Diligence and skill - Ezra 5:8

a)    Word mentioned in the OT 7 times.  4 times in this context alone.

b)   Hebrew does not have an adjective or adverb for “diligent,” rather the author would repeat the word to emphasize the point.  (“they guarded carefully”)

c)    Not a half hearted effort - Use huge stones, and timber in the walls.

d)   They intended quality, they were building under God’s watchful eye. 

e)    Eph 6:3 - “not with eye-service as men pleasers, but as servants of God, doing the will of God from the heart.”

6.    God enabled success (Ezra 5:6-6:12)

a)    Letter goes to Darius - describes the diligence of the people 

b)   Search is made for the decree from Cyrus documenting his orders to build the temple

c)    Proclamation is found -

d)   Decree sent out from Darius laying out his expectations

(1)   vs 7 - do not interfere
(2)   vs 8 - you pay the difference (diligence)
(3)   vs 11 - consequences for obstruction were severe
(4)   vs 12 - “let it be done with all diligence”

e)    vs 14 - Prosperity

(1)   Through the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah
(2)   Prosperity by decree of God
(3)   Work is finished
(4)   Prosperity through God working through a heathen king AGAIN


(1)   “Always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord”
(2)   “Do not become weary in doing good, for we shall reap if we faint not”

B.   How about the ministry we do?

1.    Do we see ministry as a gift from God?

a)    Do you realize that God elected us to salvation for the purpose of being his workman?  Eph 2:10 - “we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God prepared beforehand (before the foundation of the earth) that we should walk in them.”

b)   Gift of the Holy Spirit - Spiritual gifts à Romans 12:6 - “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us them”

c)    Do you realize how offensive it is to be given a gift, intended to be used for God, that you refuse to employ.

d)   ILLUSTRATION: A man in the town I grew up in noticed that a local family did not have a washer or a dryer.  He went down to the local hardware store, bought them, delivered them, and dropped them off on their porch.  Would you know that 3 weeks later when he came to check on them, they were still sitting right where he left them?

2.    Are we unanimous in our effort? 

a)    Is our ministry disconnected, do you see how your effort in this body supplies the health of the rest?

b)   Are we doing ministry together or are we pulling in different directions?

3.    Is our ministry applied with skill and diligence?

4.    John Donne - Anglican ministry (1572-1631) put it this way à "No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”


1.    The path to joy includes Receiving the Word

2.    It includes Resuming the Work

3.    But it cannot stop there.  One more key element is necessary to ensure that joy results

4.    There may be those of you this morning who have received the word, understand its truths, and desire to follow its direction.  You’ve engaged yourself in ministry, you’re working feverishly from week to week, but you are spent, you are burned out, you are exhausted, perhaps going through the motions, not experiencing joy.

V.         Renew your heart

A.   View success as coming from God (Ezra 6:14-15)

1.    For those of us who have made it through the first two gates (Receiving the Word / Resuming the Work), this is where we fall flat on our face.  This is where we disqualify ourselves completely from JOY

2.    One of most offensive errors in the ministry is to credit ourselves with success; to suggest that it came through our carefully devised programs or skill.  However, all success belongs to God and that is the first key to renewing your heart. 

3.    When success comes, there is a reconditioning that is required.

4.    When fruit is evident, direct your attention to God and give him credit for your accomplishments.  Otherwise you will become puffed up with pride and disqualify yourself from JOY

5.    Notice who gets the credit for success à the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 6:14)

a)    Does this just boggle your mind.  It is likely that Haggai and Zechariah didn’t even lift a finger to the actual work. 

b)   We are told in 5:2 that they supported the work, but this likely refers to their prophetic ministry of encouragement and exhortation.

c)    You see, the work wouldn’t have begun if they hadn’t communicated God’s Word.  His Word started it all.

6.    the decree of God

a)    decree is magnified in these chapters (11 times in 2 chapters)  [5:3,9,13,17; 6:1,3,8,11,12]

b)   the underlying message is that although a decree was issued through human means, the answer to the question posed in 5:3, is that God gave them a decree and they were inclined to obey.

7.    the decree of Cyrus and Darius

a)    the whole thing was orchestrated by God

b)   Only he could have accomplished this success

c)    All the credit belongs to him

B.   Thank him for it

1.    If we don’t blow it in the first area, then we’re almost sure to blow it here.  

2.    Celebration and dedication- (Ezra 6:16-17)

a)    Give appropriate and necessary praise to God for his work

b)   As we have seen so clearly from these people, their exuberance was heard for miles around.  It caught so much attention at the end of chapter 3 that it resulted in the added stress and discouragement of chapter 4

c)    APPLICATION: have you ever considered the fact that praise is not just a means of worship, but a means of testimony; a means of proclamation?  That through your praise, God is not only glorified, but people come face to face with the reality of God’s power, personhood, and grace.

3.    The people experience success of labor.  They’ve been working hard.  They’ve been pressing towards an objective. 

4.    Their energy has been focused on the completion of this temple, particularly completion before the Passover

C.   Separate yourself to God (6:19-21)

1.    “All of them were clean” (vs 20) 

2.    “everyone separated himself from the uncleanness of the peoples of the land to worship the LORD, the God of Israel.” (vs 21)

3.    2 Cor 6:14, 17 - “What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness . . . Therefore, Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.”

4.    APPLICATION: There are many of you this morning who are dabbling in sin.  You are trying to walk in both worlds.  But you’ll never experience God’s JOY unless you commit yourself wholly to obedience.

D.  Closing comments about Joy

1.    NOTICE: vs 22 - “they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful . . .”

a)    JOY is a gift

b)   Only other times that this word occurs in the OT in this form

c)    2 Chron 20:27 - Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, with Jehoshophat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy, for the LORD had made them rejoice over their enemies. (Ezra was likely the one who wrote 2 Chron)


2.    NOTICE: It came through the GIFT of the WORD

3.    NOTICE: It came through the GIFT of ministry.

4.    NOTICE: It came through the GIFT of God-empowered success. 

5.    NOTICE: IT comes after 4.5 years of hard labor -- started in 2nd year and 6th month (Hag 1:15) / ended 6th year and 12th month

6.    NOTICE: It comes as the people See success as coming from God, as they Praise Him for it, and as they Separate themselves to Him. 


a)    Is it any surprise that the NT word for joy (cara) is so closely associated with the word for grace (cari")? 

b)   Just as grace is God’s benevolent favor to undeserving people, joy is God’s benevolent gift to obedient servants

8.    Won’t you enter into God’s Joy today?

9.    John Piper - When I don’t desire God (pg 30-31) - “God is glorified in his people by the way we experience him, not merely by the way we think about him . . . Our chief end is to glorify God, the great Object.  We do so most fully when we treasure him, desire him, delight in him so supremely that we let good and kindred go and display his love to the poor and the lost.”

10.     John Piper - Ibid (pg 31) - “Oh how easy it is to think we are what we ought to be when the emotions are made peripheral.  Mere thoughts and mere deeds are manageable by the carnal religious mind.  But the emotions - they are the weathercock of the heart.  Nothing shows the direction of the deep winds of the soul like the demand for radical, sin-destroying, Christ-exalting joy in God.”

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