Sunday School Lessons


Commentary by Walter Albritton


June 29


Worship at its Best is Celebrating the Mercies of God


Ezra 5, 6.

Key Verse: The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. – Ezra 6:16


            My parents left me a rich legacy. They taught me how to celebrate. Birthdays were so important to my mother. She believed in celebrating each one. Even in her nineties, she could remember the birthdays of a hundred family members and friends.

            Long before Christ was born, God’s people were a celebrative people. The Israelites came together in joyful festivals of worship to celebrate the mighty deeds of God.         

            Christians know how to celebrate too. As God’s people, we celebrate his mercies. Worship at its best is a celebration of the grace of God. We give thanks that God loves us in spite of our sins. We give thanks for our salvation. We give thanks for His comforting presence among us, and for His guiding hand in the daily struggles of our lives.

            Often in painful repentance, we seek His forgiveness for our sins. We feel the joy of being forgiven and restored to fellowship with our Lord. Tears of joy flow down our cheeks as sing, “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul; thank you, Lord, for making me whole.”

            God used Haggai and Zechariah to inspire the Israelites to finish the temple. Now enters Ezra, who describes the celebration that followed the completed work. First, with great joy, the people dedicated the temple to God. Then there was a one-day observance of Passover, a remembrance of God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

            After that began the weeklong Festival of Unleavened Bread, in preparation for which the people threw away all their leaven, since it symbolized sin. Throwing out the leaven was a sign of repentance.

            All of this was a joyous experience in lively worship. With glad and grateful hearts, the people lifted their voices to praise the Lord for his unfailing mercy. The Bible’s Book of Psalms, though written years later, helps us understand the songs God’s people used in their worship celebrations.

            When we who are Christians gather for worship, we have even more reason to celebrate! Our joy should know no bounds. In the fullness of time, God sent his Son to die for us, “while we were yet sinners.” We have been shown great mercy!

            On the Third Day God raised our Savior from the grave. Because He lives, we too shall live. We shall suffer, and we shall die, but we have within our breasts the glorious hope of the resurrection! Because of God’s great mercy, there is reserved in heaven a place for each of us. We shall know the joy of living in the presence of the living Christ for all eternity!

            Is that not a great springboard to joy? Knowing this good news, can worship ever be dull and boring again? The assurance of God’s mercy is reason enough for worship always to be a joyous celebration – even if the choir is off, and even if the pastor does not always preach with the fervor of Billy Graham!

            This passage from Ezra should prompt us to examine not only our hearts, but our church as well. Do we who are pastors and key leaders seize every opportunity to help our people celebrate the goodness of God? Do we anticipate each Sunday yet another chance to praise God and joyously celebrate his great mercies?

            If not, let us get started – next Sunday!

            When worship begins, the music should sound like the beginning of a great celebration, not like the beginning of a funeral. In too many churches, people listen to the Prelude and wonder when they are going to bring in the body of the deceased!

            The Israelites left us a great legacy, and so did the early Christians. They knew how to celebrate in worship! With so proud a legacy, may we not fail to show the world that Christians know how to celebrate the mercies of our God! + + + +