Rebuild: Nehemiah 4:1-14 – Remember the Lord, Great and Awesome

Grace For The Journey

  We are studying the Book of Nehemiah in a series called REBUILD.  We are learning about God’s rebuilding the walls and learning how God rebuilds our lives.  God’s man is Nehemiah and he is leading the massive rebuilding project – leading the people to rebuild the broken down wall that encircles Jerusalem.  That is where we left the people on Wednesday – all gathered in groups around various sections of the gates, rebuilding the walls in chapter 3.  One of the recurring points we have noted is that God’s will often includes opposition.  That opposition comes in the likeness of two characters, two bad guys named Sanballat and Tobiah.  We have been introduced to them twice already and now in chapter 4 we get to know them a little better.  

Some of you will remember a popular book some years ago entitled, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?  It was written by Rabbi Kushner.  It was not the best book because it suggested there were some things over which God had no control.  God has control over everything though His ways are often shrouded in mystery.  I like what RC Sproul said when someone asked him about it.  RC Sproul passed away a little over a year ago.  Someone said, “RC, why do bad things happen to good people?”  He said, “I don’t know, I haven’t met any good people yet.”  One thing is certain:

When bad things do happen,

God is not absent.

He is there in the mystery of the chaos, the hurt, and the pain.  The Bible teaches that sometimes God allows tribulation to come our way in order to shape us into Christlikeness.  Tribulation is expected.  Tribulation comes to Nehemiah and the people in this passage in the form of opposition, criticism, and discouragement.  I want to share with you two main headings that really surface from the text.  We will go through this passage one verse at a time, and gather our thoughts under these two imperatives.   First, we learn from this passage . . .

1) The Importance Of Prayer – Verses 1-9.

The hymn-writer asks, “Have we trials and temptations?  Is there trouble anywhere?  We should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer.”  This is precisely what Nehemiah does when facing opposition.  Let’s read about these two bad guys again, the notorious miscreants Sanballat and Tobiah.  

Verse 1 says, “But it so happened, when Sanballat (everyone say, “Boo!”) heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews.”  Sanballat is seething.  His power is threatened.  He is furious and indignant.  He does not want these Jews to succeed in rebuilding the wall because that robs him of his own glory and prestige as a pagan leader in the land.  So, he mocked the Jews.  Teased them, made fun of them. 

Verse 2 states, “And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices(literally “offer” means “pray up” the wall up)?  Will they complete it in a day?  Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish – stones that are burned?’”  The answer is, “Yes, they will!”  Sanballat is mocking, ridiculing, and criticizing all in the hopes of discouraging the workers.  Then Sanballat’s sidekick appears. 

Verse 3 says, “Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.’”  What a snide comment!  Tobiah snarls and scoffs: Tobiah is being facetious or, in today’s vernacular he was, “talking smack.” 

There is an old proverb that says: “Birds of a feather flock together.”  Critics run with other critics.  Critics run in pairs and often in packs.  Critics huddle together and point out what is wrong with all the folks who are not in their huddle.  This can happen in churches.  Critics are often the ones who start their own little group, leaving the others and starting their own special gathering.  

Notice how Nehemiah responds to the mocking.  In verse 4 he prays, “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity!”  His prayer is not so much that God wipe out these guys as it is to turn them over to others.  It is a prayer for justice.  He goes on in verse 5 and says, “Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders.”  The gist of this verse is that Sanballat and Tobiah have dared to dishonor God by discouraging the builders.  God’s name is at stake, so Nehemiah prays that God deal with their iniquity.  The sense is, “Do not let them get away with this!  They have brought shame to Your name!  Defend Your honor, God!”

Nehemiah says in verse 6, “So we built the wall(we just kept at it!), and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.”  They have gotten the entire circle of the wall built up half-way!  It is joined together up to half its height.  Nehemiah says the reason is, “for the people had a mind to work.”  Put another way, “They were committed.  They gave it their all.  They put their heart and soul into it.” 

But the critics are still lingering.  Verse 7 says, “Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry.”  Critics run with other critics.  There is a whole pack of them now.  The people called the Ashdodites come from the west, joining up Sanballat from the north (Samaria), Tobiah from the east (the Ammonites), and the Arabs from the south.  They are doing their best to close in on them.

Verse 8 says, “And all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.”  So again, God’s people turn to prayer.  Verse 9 states, “Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.”  We will read more about that “watch” that they set against them in a minute.  For now, note again that the people pray.  We must pray.  God’s will often includes opposition.  So pray.  We must pray. 

Secondly . . .

2. We Must Persevere – Verses 10-14.

Things get worse for Nehemiah and the builders.  Verse 10 says, “Then Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.’”  The tribe of Judah is starting to get discouraged.  They are like feeling that they are losing it and their strength is failing them.  There is so much rubbish lying around!  They just cannot do it!   

Ever feel like you just cannot do it?!  There is so much rubbish lying around.  Your strength fails you.  I cannot help but hear the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we will reap, if we faint not.”  Stick with the work!  Do not stop.  Do not grow weary in well-doing. 

You might be waiting for things to get better.  But verse 11 speaks about more discouragement that the people faced, “And our adversaries said, ‘They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.’”  The Hebrew here is kind of tricky to translate.  The sense of verse 11 is the enemies saying, “Before they know it, we will be right there in their midst, we will catch them off guard.  We will kill them and cause the work to stop!”

Verse 12 continues, “So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, ‘From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.’”  The people are even more discouraged.  They are ready to give up!  They see that no matter what they do, Sanballat, Tobiah, and all of their villainous horde will ruin then!

Notice what Nehemiah does in verse 13, “Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.”  We will read more about this next time, but Nehemiah comes up with a plan . . .

They will look up in pray and

Look to God’s protection;

And they will build

And defend themselves. 

They will have tools of rebuilding

In one hand and tools of

Defending in the other hand!

I love what it says in verse 14, “And I looked(and the sense is, “I looked at the discouragement in the faces of the people”), and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”  This has all the markings of an epic battle speech with all of the heroic valor and glory!  If you have even an ounce of chivalry within you, you cannot help but feel Nehemiah’s speech in a deeply, visceral way!  Here is Nehemiah rallying the people to stand firm and fight for the cause.

Nehemiah is rallying the troops.  He is calling them not to quit and remember the Lord, Who is Great and Awesome!  He is calling them to fight for their brethren, their sons, their daughters, their wives, and their houses.  He is calling them to fight, remembering the Lord, the One who fights the fight through you.  Nehemiah will say later in verse 20, “Our God will fight for us.”

Here is what we can take away from our study this morning.  When I am criticized or discouraged . . .

1. Take it to the Lord.

Simply put – we are to pray.  Twice in this passage we find Nehemiah talking about prayer.  When folks criticize you – and they will – remember: God’s will often includes opposition – when folks criticize you or seek to discourage you like Sanballat and Tobiah take it to the Lord.

Jesus did the same.  When he was threatened, when he was mocked, the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:23 that Jesus did return evil for evil but, “but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”  He took it to God.  Turned it over to God.

Do not take the matter

In your own hands,

Take it to the Lord!

When criticized or discouraged take it to the Lord.  Remember that God’s people are often despised and hated just as God’s Son was despised and hated.  Just take it to the Lord.  Commit yourself to Him who judges righteously.  Trust God to do the right thing even as you pray for your critics, praying for your enemies (Matthew 5:44).  Take it to the Lord. 

Second action, when criticized or discouraged: 

2. Keep Your Eye on the Goal.

The wall was halfway built when discouragement set in.  Halfway!  Their strength was failing.  Nehemiah could have become discouraged himself.  He could have been like, “Well, maybe the wall can wait.”  No!  He stirs the people up.  Remember from last time?  Leaders see what others do not?  Nehemiah sees the finished wall.  He helps the people see it, too.  Nehemiah says, “Fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”  He is giving vision to see the future, helping them see the goal, the finished product.

When you are discouraged by your sin you say, “Ah, there’s so much rubble!”  And you want to give up.  You have failed God time and time again.  But listen . . .

God is doing a work

In you and through you.

The Bible teaches in Philippians 1:6 that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in Christ Jesus.  God is working through your rubble to rebuild you in the image of Christ!  That is the goal!  Remember it.  Keep your eye on the goal.  Do not be discouraged, keep your eye on the goal.

M. R. DeHaan, in his book, Broken Things give this illustration: A bar of steel is worth $5; when made into ordinary horseshoes, is then worth $10.  If this same $5 bar is manufactured into needles, the value rises to $350.  Yet if it is made into delicate springs for expensive watches, it is worth more than $250,000.  The same bar of steel is made more valuable by being cut . . . passed through one furnace blast after another, again, and again, hammered and manipulated, beaten and pounded, finished and polished until it is ready for those delicate tasks. 

I hear a young single mother in the monotony of day-to-day living cry, “But there’s so much rubble!  Look at all these dishes!  There is too many diapers!  Rubble everywhere!  Toys strewn across the living room floor!”  Keep your eye on the goal!   Have the vision to see that little boy, that little girl, grown up into a godly man, or a godly woman.  Do not be discouraged, keep your eye on the goal.

Take it to the Lord. 

Keep your eye on the goal.

Number three, when criticized or discouraged . . .

3. Find Your Security in the Lord.

Nehemiah said, “Do not be afraid…remember the Lord, great and awesome …!” 

Rest in the security of

The great name of God.

Trust God to overcome the enemy.  Trust God to overcome the enemies of discouragement you face this week – doubts, setbacks, sin, and failure – God has overcome all enemies through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Find your security in the Lord.

  • Knowing your security is in the Lord and not your job will get you through the job loss.
  • Knowing your security is in the Lord and not your house and stuff and friends, will get you through the sudden relocation to a strange new home in a strange new land.

I pray this chorus of “Amazing Grace” is always on your heart . . .

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow

The sun forbear to shine

But God, who called me here below

Will be forever mine

Finding your security in the Lord, and not your husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend, will get you through the hard times when the hard times hit.  

Find your security in the Lord. 

You have got to be “in” the Lord

To have security in the Lord.

You have got to turn from sin and turn to Him.  Repent.  Let go of other gods you have been turning to for false security.  Turn away from those things.  You know what they are.  Break free from them and turn to Christ.  Find your security in Him.

Find your security in the Lord, not your performance.  God accepts us, we have security in Him; He accepts us and secures us not on the basis of our religious performance yesterday, or tomorrow, or today.  God accepts us and we are secure in Him on the basis of Christ’s performance for us – His perfect performance, His perfect record of righteousness credited freely to us through faith.  Find your security in the Lord.

Bottom line . . .

Remember the Lord

Great and awesome!

And you can sing . . .

Lost are saved, find their way, at the sound of Your great name

All condemned, feel no shame, at the sound of Your great name

Every fear, has no place, at the sound of Your great name

The enemy, he has to leave, at the sound of Your great name

Pray: “Jesus, worthy are You, the Lamb that was slain for us, son of God and man.  You are high and lifted up, that all the world will praise Your great name”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 3:1-32 – Trusting God To Work Through Us

Grace For The Journey

 

 We are studying our way through the Book of Nehemiah, a book about rebuilding – rebuilding walls . . . rebuilding lives … rebuilding physical things … rebuilding spiritual things.  The year is 444 BC.  That is just over two and a half thousand years ago.   Nehemiah has made his way to Jerusalem to lead one of the greatest rebuilding projects in the history of civil engineering.  Nehemiah 2:20 says, “So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.’”  He said that to his critics, Sanballat and Tobiah and another critic named Geshem.  Chapter two is about, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us.”  Chapter 4 is about, “The God Who Fights for Us” (Nehemiah 4:20).  In-between is Chapter 3, which is about, “The God Who Works Through Us.”  The Bible says in Philippians 2:13, it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.   We may be tempted to skip over chapter 3.  But these verses are very profitable to any child of God who seeks to learn about God’s way for their life.

Let me call attention to a few interesting things as we begin.  There are a number of names in these verses.  There is also something of a pattern that emerges.  We read of the primary leader, the team, and what they were working on.  Verse 1 begin by saying, “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel.”  Then you read about nine gates around the city wall, these 9 gates are mentioned.  The Sheep gate is the first one mentioned in verse 1.  Then you have Old gate, Valley gate, Refuse gate, Fountain gate, Water gate, Horse gate, Inspection gate, then back to sheep gate.  These gates are mentioned in a counter-clockwise direction and formed a circular pattern.  Determining the exact location of these gates is difficult because Jerusalem has been besieged, captured, or destroyed in whole or in part more than forty times.   

There are two main themes that run throughout chapter 3 . . . 

Unity.

This is brought out by the recurring phrase, “next to him” and “after him” and so on.  The focus is on solidarity … the need for one another in the Lord’s work.

Individuality.

This is brought by the names of individual persons with individual jobs to do.

I want to share from chapter 3 some principles that surface from our study.  I am calling “Rebuild Principles.”  

Each of these principles finds

 Ultimate expression in the Gospel.   

Each principle finds

Ultimate meaning in the One

Who comes to bring the greatest

Demonstration of unity among

The individuality of those

Who trust in Him. 

Jesus Christ comes in humility

And brings together a people

Of great individuality,

The individual members

Of the church.

Let’s remember that as we explore these three principles . . .

1. Everyone Has a Part.

Everyone has a part in the rebuilding of the wall.  God’s people can do more together than they can do alone.  Chapter 3 catalogues a number of individuals among the people of God used to do the work of rebuilding for God’s glory.  This is teamwork!  I love one of the little “truth nuggets” here in chapter 3 is found in verse 12, “And next to him was Shallum the son of Hallohesh, leader of half the district of Jerusalem; he and his daughters made repairs.”  It was a family project, everyone serving together!  One name after another after another.  A special truth is presented in verse 16, “After him Nehemiah (not THE Nehemiah) the son of Azbuk.”  This is a different Nehemiah.  He worked too, he was faithful, not a prominent person like THE Nehemiah, but faithful nonetheless.

They all had their assignments at various sections of the wall and various gates.  You have got people working together, literally standing together, the upper class and lower class.  You have got goldsmiths working alongside perfumers.  Big burly people next to soft around the middle people.  What is this a picture of?  This is a picture of the church.  You look at 1 Corinthians 12 and you find the Apostle Paul describing a similar group of God’s people, a people of “diversities of gifts, but the same God working in and through them,” a people untied together in Christ as various members of one Body, each having his or her part.  And each “member,” each person has a part in the church.  Working together in unity.  United together as one and working together.

O. S. Hawkins reminds us in his book, The Nehemiah Code, of a classic episode from one of the pioneer sitcoms from decades past, The Honeymooners starring Jackie Gleason: Gleason played the part of Ralph Kramden, an overweight bus driver who lived in an apartment with his wife, Alice.  His friend and sidekick was his neighbor Ed Norton, who worked in the sewer department of the local municipality.  Ralph is trying to get a big piece of furniture through the apartment door.  He is sweating profusely and unable to get the heavy object to move.  Ed walks by, lunch box in hand, on his way home for work.  He says, “Hey Ralph, can I give you a hand?”  Ralph says, “Yes!”  So Ed, clad in his trademark white T-Shirt, vest, and rumpled hat, takes hold of the piece of furniture outside the door while Ralph climbs into the apartment through the window and positions himself inside the door.  They pull and push.  But the furniture does not budge an inch.  It is still stuck in the middle of the doorway.  This goes on for several minutes.  Finally, Ralph stops, wipes his brow with his handkerchief and calls out to Ed through the window.  He says, “I don’t think we are ever going to get this piece of furniture into this apartment!”  Norton replies, “Get it in the apartment?  I thought we were trying to get it out of the apartment!”  Every one of us has a part and we must work together in unity for the glory of God.  Everyone has a part.  Are you doing your part serving and working in the church to build up, or to edify, others?  Are you using your gifts in the church? 

Acts 9 and verse 31, captures the essence of the early church as it was growing, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.”  Two words in this verse capture the work we are to be about – Edification and Multiplication.  We are to “edify,” that means to “build up; bring to completion; strengthen in power, purpose, and production,” and “multiply,” that is the ultimate goal of building up – reaching out to others, sharing the Gospel, bringing them into faith with Christ, and connection to the church.  Edifying and multiplying.  

Our church family does a pretty good job of edifying.  We seek to grow our church family in their faith and lives through sound biblical teaching from the preschool through to senior adults.  We have a high view of Scripture and we teach as God’s Word to every person in our church.  We are good at ministering to one another.   But we are not mean to just minister to one another.  We are not meant merely to enjoy preaching every week and Bible Study teaching and inward ministry.  It is important, but it is not an end of itself.  It must lead to multiplication.  

We are not just coming together, preaching, and teaching, listening, and applying to sermons and lessons and enjoying fellowship and ministry among one another.  That is important and has its place, but it must lead to multiplication – Sharing the Gospel with others.  Bringing new folks into our Bible Study classes.  Equipping others in our classes to live for God now and bring others into our church family to know Christ and grow in their faith and walk with God.  Edifying and multiplying are what we are to be about.  The big question we all must ask is, “When was the last time I was used by God to share the Gospel and partnered with the Holy Spirit in leading someone to faith in Christ and discipled them in their faith?

The second principle is . . .

2. No One is Too Big for Any One Task.

There is a surprising statement in Chapter 3 from which this point derives.  You have got all these great listings of people who are doing the work, and everyone has a part, and it seems everyone is doing his or her part and then this in verse 5, right after the workers of verse 4 Nehemiah says in verse 5, “Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.”  When I read that the first time and I was like, “Wait” … “What?!”  So, I read it again and it said the same thing, “their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.”

The word “shoulders” there is literally, “necks.”  The picture is a frequent one used in Old Testament Hebrew to indicate a proud people with outstretched necks, too high and mighty to do what others do, thinking that it was too beneath them.  The nobles would  refused to do the work.  It was beneath them.

There will always be people who refused to “get on board” with the rest of the crew. There will always be folks like that.  God’s will often include opposition – remember Sanballat and Tobiah?  They were critics on the outside.  These leaders mentioned in verse 5 are critics on the inside.  That is discouraging – that this should come among your own people.  Do not be one of these people!  They considered themselves too big for the job.  No one is too big for any one task.  God works through humble people.  He exalts the humble and humbles the proud. 

It is a testimony to the ineptitude of these nobles, whoever they were, that there is no specific name listed among them.  Throughout history they forever are recalled as the ones who were too proud to stoop down and help.  It is pretty cool that their refusal to work did not hamper the spirit of the Tekoites – They actually took on more work.  They rebuilt two sections of the wall.  We see that in verse 27: “After them the Tekoites repaired another section, next to the great projecting tower, and as far as the wall of Ophel.”  They were not going to get bitter; they were going to keep on serving the Lord, trusting God to do the work through them.

The Bible says in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Everyone has a part.  And no one is too big for any one task.

 One of the more interesting facts I learned in this study learning how much of the rubble from the past was used to rebuild the wall.  There was an awful lot of broken-down stones lying around.  Much of this rubble from previous ages was incorporated into the rebuilt wall.  You will remember from last time when Nehemiah was doing his nighttime reconnaissance on his mule, checking everything out, there was the time he had to dismount his mule and walk by foot because of the rubble. 

Here is the third rebuild principle as we trust God to work through us . . .  Remember this:

3. Yesterday’s “Rubble” Helps us Rebuild Today.

Just as God worked through His people then

So He works through His people now.

Just as God used past “rubble” to rebuild the wall, so God uses rubble from our past to help us rebuild in the present.  Rubble is stuff that is broken down in our lives.  Brokenness from the past, mistakes, sins, failures, embarrassments, or the death of a dream.  I do not know what your “rubble” is.  It may be a failed marriage, a wayward son or daughter, a job loss, a sickness, a bad experience, trials of affliction, suffering, or persecution.  The key truth to understand is . . .

God is working in your life. 

He is a sovereign good God. 

He takes the rubble of our past

And uses it to rebuild our present.

The words of a chorus speak to our hearts about this . . .

I come broken to be mended

I come wounded to be healed

That is exactly what God intends to do in your life: to mend you, to heal you, using the rubble of your past to rebuild your present. 

The Bible says in James 1:2-3, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, or perseverance” and in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that all things (all rubble!) work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son …”

God uses the rubble from your past experiences to help you rebuild in the present.  God will use the trials or afflictions in our lives.  God intends to use them if you will but let Him.   

He intends to work in you

By working through that

Past experience to shape you

Into who you are today

And where you’re headed tomorrow.

Yesterday’s rubble helps us rebuild today.

There is an unusual evergreen tree called the “lodgepole pine.”  It is a tree that is seen throughout Yellowstone Park.  The pinecones of the lodgepole pine may hang on the tree for years and years, and even when they fall off the tree, they do not open.  These cones will open only when they come in contact with intense heat.  God has a reason for creating them this way.  When a forest fire rages throughout parks and forests all the trees are destroyed.  The heat of the fire opens the cones of the lodgepole pine, and these pines are often the first tree to grow in an area that has been burned by fire.

Some of you have been through difficult days and challenging situations.  Like Jerusalem under siege, the walls are broken down and the gates have been burned, and there is rubble lying everywhere.  But God desires to work through all of this.  God delights in working through all the rubble and destruction of our lives.  The heat from the fires of affliction in our life opens up in us a new opportunity to live.  God uses the rubble from your past to rebuild your present.  Trust Him.  Allow Him to begin a new work in your life.  It is never too late for a new beginning.  

All these wonderful principles . . .

  • Everyone has a part,
  • No one is too big for any one task, and
  • Yesterday’s rubble helps us rebuild today

Each principle finds its ultimate meaning and expression in the promised One who came from all of these workers building the wall in Nehemiah 3.  Each principle finds expression in the One who comes to bring a more lasting unity among His people – a people of every tongue, tribe, and nation, an inheritance of nations.  The One who comes and humbles Himself as the Greatest Servant of all; our Lord Jesus Christ.   Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone in Whom the whole building of His people – the Church – grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:20-21).

So church, arise and put your armor on!  Hear the call of Christ our captain.  For now the weak can say that they are strong, in the strength that God has given.

“Lord, we confess that without You we are lost and undone, broken down rubble in need of restoration.  We repent of our sin.  We turn from our sin and turn to You.  Jesus, thank You for living and dying for us on the cross.  Thank You for resurrection life through the power of the gospel.  Give us grace to live this week for Your glory doing our part, humbling ourselves for any task, trusting in Your sovereignty to shape us from past failures as You rebuild our lives through Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, amen.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 23:11-20 – The God Who Works In Our Lives For Our God And His Glory

Grace For The Journey

Because – as the Bible teaches in Proverbs 21:1 – the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, the Lord squeezes the heart of Artaxerxes, causing him to willingly choose to allow Nehemiah to return to his homeland to lead the massive rebuilding project.  Nehemiah travels the thousand-mile distance, taking anywhere from three to six months and he finally arrives.

It could never be said about Nehemiah

That he was a cautious man

He was a man who risked, who prayed,

Who threw caution to the wind, living –

Really living – for the glory of God!

I suspect most of us want to live a life like that.  Deep down.  How is that possible? 

I think it is found largely in Nehemiah’s faith, h

His trust in the One True and Living God,

Much of his faith captured in the last

Verse of chapter 2 where he said,

“The God of heaven Himself will prosper us.” 

True prosperity . . . A rich life lived for the Lord. 

God has given us riches of life,

True prosperity – we must not settle

For just the world’s riches.

We will learn from Nehemiah this morning about our God who works in our lives for our good and His glory.   

Our passage begins in verse 11 which says, “So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.”  This is one of those verses that is easy to read right past.  Nehemiah wants to get right to it.  He is a big-time leader – No rest for the weary and all that.  Yet here we are told he took three days before he started his work.  Good leaders, godly leaders, know the value of rest.  Nehemiah had made a thousand-mile journey with a caravan of “captains of the army and horsemen” and traveled through valleys, bumps, and difficult traveling.  The group travelled as long as six months from Susa to Jerusalem. 

Too many people try to justify their positions in life by running around all the time, giving the impression they are “so busy.”  Trying to justify their existence.  Good leaders know the value of rest.  Rest is important.  Avoid making decisions when you are fatigued and stressed.  Get that rest.  Never apologize for it!

Verse 12 tells us, “Then I arose in the night.  I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode (probably a mule or a donkey to best maneuver through the ruins).”  Warren Wiersbe has said, “Leaders are often awake when others are asleep, and working while others are resting.”

Nehemiah goes on a secret reconnaissance mission at night in the city of Jerusalem.  He is checking out the state of walls – just how bad was it?  He had heard and now he wished to see with his own eyes.

This verse raises two questions: “Why at night?”  And, “Why does he tell no one?”  He says, “I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem.”  Not yet.  But why?  I think mainly it had something to do with the opposition he would face.  Remember on Wednesday we were introduced to these two crafty and anti-God’s work characters back up in verse 10: “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.”  It was the last point of application from last time: “God’s will often includes opposition.”

Nehemiah “arose in the night” to reduce the chances of running into those guys and to have time to look everything over and establish his plans for rebuilding.  Remember . . .

The presence of faith

Does not mean

The absence of planning.

Remember the cry of the American Revolutionary War: “Trust in God, but keep your gunpowder dry.”  Few great men have done great things without a plan. 

Verse 13 states, “And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire.”  Nehemiah is surveying the situation, riding quietly on his mule in the darkness, carefully inspecting all that he saw.  The location of these particular places he mentions in verse 13 and following cannot be known with absolute certainty as the city has been built over several times. 

Commentators note that the word “viewed” there is a medical term, used to describe what a surgeon does as he or she carefully examines a wound, probing, exploring, determining what is wrong and how best to correct it.  This is what Nehemiah is doing.  Probing . . . Exploring . . . Determining what is wrong and how best to correct it.

Verse 14 says, “Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.”  This area is at the Southernmost point of the city at that time.  The “King’s Pool” a reference to the “Pool of Siloam,” the place where Jesus would heal a blind man telling him to wash in that pool.  The King’s Pool was where the water from the Gihon Spring emptied.  You will remember King Hezekiah a few centuries before Nehemiah had built a tunnel from the spring to the pool, a tunnel underneath that eastern edge of the City of David.  You can go today and walk through a portion of Hezekiah’s Tunnel on a visit to the Holy Land.

The phrase we want to consider in verse 14 is this phrase, “but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.”  The picture is of Nehemiah’s inability to move in some places because of the ruin and rubble that was everywhere around him.  Stones upon stones.  Burned wooden gates.  The rubble from the destruction made passage impossible.  It was a mess.

Verses 15 and states, “So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall(picture him there, sitting on his mule, viewing the wall, and after some time …); then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.  And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work.”  Nehemiah is on a secret mission until he is ready to reveal the plan, to reveal, as he says earlier in verse 12: “what God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem.”  After some time of viewing and more planning, we come to the events of verse 17, where he is now standing before the people of the city and he says, “… You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” 

Not the first words of his statement, “You see the distress we are in.”  Truth is, many did not “see the distress” they were in.  They had become blind to it. 

Good leaders see

What others do not.

When I was in seminary in Ft. Worth, I had a part-time job inspecting the hand-held fire extinguishers and water sprinkling system in each building that the seminary own on and off campus.  As I made my rounds I walked by a set of apartments for non-students.  One Halloween one of the residents proudly displayed a carved pumpkin there on the stoop.  It looked like most Jack o’lanterns at Halloween.  But as Halloween passed, the pumpkin remained.  It was there the week after Halloween, and the following week, and the week after that.  I do not have to tell you what a carved pumpkin looks like after several days!  And what is smells like!  That rotten pumpkin folded in on itself and collapsed into an orange-black blob.  The remarkable thing is, that the family living in the apartment had to walk past it at least twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening, right past the rotten pumpkin.  Finally, as I passed on my rounds, I thought I would just go over and take care of it myself.  I did not want to embarrass or insult them, so I sneaked over and grabbed the grotesque glob of grossness and took it to its final resting place in a seminary dumpster nearby!

The point is . . .

You can grow so accustomed to things

That you just walk right by them day after

Day without even seeing them. 

Things that need changing in your

Life, your work, your marriage,

Things that need changing

In the church.

Good leaders see

What others don’t.

Verse 17 says, “Then I said to them, ‘You see the distress that we (he includes himself) are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.’”  Do you see that was Nehemiah’s real concern regarding the ruins?  It is in the last part of verse 17, “… that we may no longer be a reproach.”  Remember: the wall was broken down because of their own sin.  God’s people rebelled against Him in unfaithfulness to Him and God sent Nebucadnezzar of Babylon to lay siege to Jerusalem, breaking down the walls, burning the gates, burning the temple, and carrying the people away into captivity.  The discipline of God.  In Jeremiah 24:9 God had declared, “I will deliver them to trouble into all the kingdoms of the earth, for their harm, to be a reproach and a byword, a taunt and a curse, in all places where I shall drive them.”

So Nehemiah says to the people, “It’s time now to change all that.  We have sinned, we have confessed, and we have repented.  Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”

God’s name was at stake! 

It was more about

The name of God

Than his own name. 

It is not about him,

It is about his God.

He does not say, “Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that I may build a name for myself!”  It is, “Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that God’s name may no longer be a reproach.”

Verse 18 states, “And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me.  So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’  Then they set their hands to this good work.”  Nehemiah shared how God worked in the heart of the king, causing him willingly to choose to allow him to travel from Susa to Jerusalem to rebuild.  In essence he is saying, “God is in this!”  The people are inspired and say, “Let us rise up and build.”  And “they set their hands to this good work.”

I am glad they responded that way.  I am glad the people did not point out to Nehemiah that what he was asking them to do had been tried before to no avail (see Ezra 4).  I am glad there was no one around to say, “We have tried that before and it did not work!”  Or, “We’ve never done it that way before!”  By the way, those are the seven last words of a dying church.

It’s not always easy to motivate complacent, religious people.  Like the boy who misquoted Matthew 22:14 where Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  A modern translation of that has been offered, “Many are cold and a few are frozen.”  No, as Nehemiah will say later in Chapter 4, verse 6, “The people had a mind to work.” 

The people had a mind to work

Because they could see God in it! 

They could see the

Hand of God at work. 

They could see that

Their ruinous situation

Was not irreversible!

And your ruinous situation is likewise not irreversible!  The same God can change things.  Do you believe it?  Remember again that God’s will often includes opposition.

Verse 19 shows us that, “But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab (they picked up a follower!  A new recruit!  When they …) heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”  Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem: the unholy trinity.  Anyone who has ever dared to do anything great has faced opposition.  Anyone who has ever dared to succeed has been ridiculed by those who hoped he would fail.  Adrian Rogers said, “The door to the room of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.”

Nehemiah says, “They laughed at us and despised us,” and they said, “What is this thing that you are doing?  Will you rebel against the king?’”  That was a serious charge.  Never mind that Nehemiah had a letter that carried the king’s endorsement.  His enemies assumed he had deceived the king who surely would not be for this rebuilding project if the king knew what kind of people these Israelites really were!  They are accusing Nehemiah and the people of rebelling against the king?  Rebelling against the governing authorities. 

Perhaps we hear something of that today in some sense: “What is this you are doing, Christian?  Rebelling against the people?  Rebelling against the governing authorities, rebelling against popular culture, secular laws, and commonly accepted beliefs and decisions regarding gender, marriage, or abortion.  Rebelling against the sinful sway of our postmodern culture; going in the opposite way of the mass of humanity.”  

It is important that we recall the Bible’s warning in Proverbs 14:12, “There’s a way that seems right unto a man, but the ways thereof are the ways of death.”  Following Christ will raise the ire of those who go the broad way to destruction while Christians travel the strait and narrow way that leads to life.  Do not be ashamed of the Gospel and the Bible when you face opposition.  For the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and God’s Word is the truth about God’s way of loving and living.  Fear not the one who has authority only over your physical life and has no authority over your spiritual life.  Do not fear the president, elected officials, judges, or the electorate.  We serve a greater authority, a Great God.

Verse 20 tells us of Nehemiah’s response, “So I answered them, and said to them, ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”  That last phrase of this verse is a way of saying, “You guys do not follow the one true God.  You stand in opposition to Him.”  Nehemiah could say that because he was convinced they would oppose the Lord’s work at every turn.  And they do as we will see in coming studies.  Nehemiah trusts in “the God of heaven!”  He says, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us.”   He was not worried! 

These verses that we have looke at today raise two probing questions . . .

1) What “Persian Palace” has Become too Comfortable to You?  

We must never forget that Nehemiah was once living in a nice palace with comfortable surroundings.  When he heard about the reproach of God’s people because of a wall that remained in ruins . . .

He was willing to leave the comforts

Of the Persian Palace for the

Risky work of doing something

Great for his great God.

What do you do when you hear about people in need, unfinished work for the kingdom, or unreached people groups across the globe?  Are you willing to leave the comfortable to do the uncomfortable?  You have got a nice situation, a comfortable situation, and a routine.  You are used to it.  What is God calling you to do?

The life of salvation is not a call to indolence and sloth.  We are not simply to sit around and bask in the glory of forgiveness, justification, and the reality of the abundant and everlasting life that comes through Jesus.  The live of salvation is to lead to working, to doing, to growing and serving, and to living out our faith.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The only man who has a right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.” 

Don’t be the cautious man who never really lived.  Dare to discover what God’s will is and then to do t.  Going on that mission trip . . . Sharing the Gospel with someone today . . . Teaching that class . . . Giving to God’s kingdom work . . . Tithing to support God’s local work . . . Starting a Bible study at work . . . Talking to a family member or neighbor about Christ and His church.  What “Persian Palace” has become too comfortable?  Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring experience or nothing at all.”

That leads us to the second probing question . . .

2) Why Do You Do What You Do?  

I love the statement by Nehemiah in verse 12 were he said he had not yet told anyone “what God had put in my heart to do.” That should lead all of us to ask, “What has God put in my heart to do?”  Why do you do what you do? 

Nehemiah does not promise the people any

Material good or gain, no money, or no trophies;

Just working for the name of God and His glory.

Why do you do what you do – church attendance, small group Sunday Bible Study participation and teaching, giving?  Why do you work your job 9-5?  Why that  job? Surely not just for financial reward.  Do you see your job a mission?  Do you see every aspect of your life as God’s work and mission?

I pray you see your life as more than just a way to make a name for yourself or to gain some things out of life.  You will die one day and very likely be forgotten pretty quickly, except by your family as close friends.  Sorry!  It is just the truth. 

We have got to live for a

Name greater than your own.

You have got to do something greater than a checklist for your job, home, and family.  You have got to live for something more than vacation getaways and material things.  That is empty stuff that will die with you.  

True prosperity is enjoyed when we live for God, when we fight for the cause of God.  David was just a scruffy little shepherd boy when all Israel was scared to death of the giant Goliath.  David asks, “Is there not a cause?  Why should this Philistine defy the armies of the Living God?!”

Could it be that you struggle with that recurring private sin, because you are not really living for God, the God who longs to prosper you with real life?  Why do you do what you do?  What has God put in your heart to do?

Today, it is not that God’s name is at stake in the city of Jerusalem.  For us today it is that God’s name is at stake in the Body of Christ.  His name is at stake in the lives of His children.   What needs changing in your life but you do not see it because, like ruined walls that need attention, you have just been walking right by it day after day, like a rotting heap of ruin.  What gates in your life need attention?  Are you allowing things to come through a gate that is bringing destruction and taking you captive?  The gate of your mind – allowing thoughts to enter in, thoughts that are unhealthy?  Then as the Bible says in in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “… bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

The gate of your eyes – are you allowing yourself to watch things that are ungodly, or looking at things that are immoral?  Then “pluck it out” as Jesus said, put it to death and then rebuild.  Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:11).  

Some of you would say, “My life is in ruins.  I need help.  I need God.”  There is a Greater Leader than Nehemiah.  There is a Greater One who did a work on our behalf to repair, restore, and to rebuild our ruinous lives.  When we recognize that we ourselves are powerless to rebuild the walls of our lives and helpless to put out the flames that have charred the gates of our morality and threaten to burn us entirely, then we are in a position to turn to this Great God who does the great work for us through our Great Lord, Jesus Christ.  

It was Christ Jesus who lived and died

On our behalf “that we may no longer be a reproach.” 

Jesus on the cross absorbing the wrath of God

That would otherwise consume us for our sin. 

Jesus Christ in our place.

Trust our great God.  Trust in Christ and be saved from the wrath to come.  Trust Christ and be saved from the ruin of sin, the ruin of death, and the ruin of the judgment to come.  Turn to Him this morning by faith.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 2:1-10 – Principles for Living by Faith

Grace For The Journey

  We are studying the Book of Nehemiah in a series called REBUILD.  The definition of “rebuild” is “to build again something that has been damaged or destroyed.”  Nehemiah is rebuilding the damaged and destroyed walls of the city of Jerusalem.  

The Book of Nehemiah is not just about

Rebuilding walls, but about rebuilding souls.

Many of us are rebuilding our lives, rebuilding our marriages, or rebuilding our walk with the Lord.  Like us, Nehemiah is a follower of One True and Living God.  Nehemiah, along with all of the exiles, had been living for years in exile in Babylon.  Because of their own sin, the sin of unfaithfulness to the One True and Living God, God raised up a foreign king named Nebuchadnezzar to discipline His children.  God used Nebuchadnezzar to carry away His God’s people into Babylonian captivity.  God loves His children, so He disciplines His children.

After 70 years of discipline, God works through the hearts of various human leaders to change the events and the people begin to gather back in the land, little by little.   Eventually the Jewish temple was rebuilt in the year 516 BC.  While the rebuilding of the temple was complete, in the decades that followed the walls remained  unfinished.   There were stones scattered all around the city and the gates of the city were still broken down having been burned and destroyed.

When Nehemiah gets word of this, he is heartbroken.  He hears about it in the year 445 BC.  He is 1000 miles away in the Persian capital city of Susa, the Washington DC of the Persian Empire.  He has a job as cupbearer to the now reigning king, the Persian King Artaxerxes.  As the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah was entrusted with tasting the king’s wine to ensure it wasn’t poisonous.  It was a position that required the highest degree of integrity and trust.  God is going to use Nehemiah and Nehemiah is going to trust God to use him, trusting God to do the work of getting Nehemiah back to Jerusalem to lead a massive rebuilding project for the glory of God.

In Chapter 1 we learned that Nehemiah heard about the condition of the walls in Jerusalem and verse 4 says he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days” … “fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”  Then we read about Nehemiah’s prayer.  It contains . . .

Adoration of the Savior,

Confession of sin,

Recitation of Scripture.

We talked about our own prayers following this model of adoration, confession, and the recitation of Scripture.  I trust we all are seeking to memorize Scripture that we can use as we call upon the Lord in prayer, speaking God’s words back to Him.  

In essence, Nehemiah prays, “God, remember Your Word, the Word You spoke through Your servant Moses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  You said that if Your people living in exile, scattered all across the land, return to You, confessing their sins of unfaithfulness, You would return them to their land!  Remember Your Word, Lord!  Here we are, Your people!  Here we are confessing, repenting, and asking that You restore us to the land!”

And Nehemiah has been praying like that for quite some time.  His heart is heavy and the burden is great.  Chapter 2 shows us what happens next.

After serving the Lord for 15 years in Pakistan, missionary Warren Webster was invited to speak at the famous Urbana Missionary Conference held annually now in St Louis, Missouri.  Part of Webster’s message included these words, he said: “If I had my life to live over again, I would live it to change the lives of people, because you have not changed anything until you’ve changed the lives of people.”  Nehemiah is a man whom God uses to change the lives of people.  And God can do the same in your life, too. 

Nehemiah is a man

Wholly committed to

The Lord’s service,

Seeking to walk by faith,

To use his life to advance

The Gospel and the kingdom of God.

His life is a life lived by faith.  He shows us how we too can live by faith this week and in the weeks to come.

We are going to be learning from Nehemiah this morning.  He will be teaching us as we read his story.  We are going to be learning Principles for Living by Faith.  Really simple points that surface from the verses, rising up from the text and into our ears and hearts.

Before we look at the first principle, let us remember the year is 445 BC.  We know that because Nehemiah tells us chapter 2, verse 1 that it is the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes.  This happens in the month of Chislev, toward the end of the Persian calendar, roughly mid-November.  Nehemiah learns about the walls being broken down a thousand miles away and he weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays “for many days.”  Time has moved along.  Nisan is the beginning of the Persian and Jewish year, new year, and is roughly equivalent to our month of April.  Chapter 1 opens in November 445 BC and Chapter 2 opens in April 444 BC.  Four months has gone by.  Four months of weeping, mourning, fasting, and praying.  Here is the first principle . . .   

1) Sometimes We Just Have to Wait. 

We said before that the Book of Nehemiah is like Nehemiah’s own personal diary.  Reading the Book of Nehemiah is like reading Nehemiah’s journal or memoirs.  Nehemiah’s diary has no entry for four months.  There is nothing to write down because nothing happened.  Perhaps he hoped to hear from fellow Israelites that things have changed down in Jerusalem and the walls are being rebuilt!  But nothing. 

Sometimes we just have to wait.  Nehemiah has been weeping and mourning for four months.  He has been sad.  He says in verse 1 he says, “Now I had never been sad in the presence (of the king).  I had never been sad in his presence before.”  In other words, Nehemiah was concealing his sadness whenever he was around the king.  Why is that?  Because, in those days, you were expected to always have a cheerful countenance in the presence of the king.  You were always to be “up” and you were always “on.”  The powerful king has a lot going on and if you ever appeared before him in any way other than cheerful, positive, and optimistic, you could literally be killed. 

Nehemiah has been concealing his hurt, his heaviness, and his burden.  He has been going in every day and putting on his “game face;” smiling through the hurt, grinning and bearing it, keeping it together.  Some of you know what that is like.  Something has happened and you have been hurt but you have got to keep going.  You do not want to, but you have got to.  Everyone is counting on you.  You are pushing through, smiling through the hurt and pain, waiting for things to change.  You cannot stop.  You have got to keep going.  Sometimes you just have to wait.  In the meantime, you keep going forward, keep trusting, keep believing, and living by faith in the God who is in control and always does what is right.  Your faith keeps you moving forward when your heart is broken.  

We are going to see that Nehemiah has a plan.  He has been praying for four months. He has been thinking this through.  He has been anticipating this very moment.  In fact, when you go back to the last verse of chapter 1, verse 11, you see there that all of his praying over the months culminates in this statement where he says, “… Let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man,” this man being King Artaxerxes.  He adds for our understanding: “For I was the king’s cupbearer.”

Nehemiah has a plan – He is planning on asking the king to allow him to return to Jerusalem to lead the rebuilding project of the walls.  He has been praying for four months now and He is trusting God to do the work of turning the king’s heart.  Nehemiah will not know until he asks, so here we go, the day has come! 

Verse 2 says, “Therefore the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.’  So I became dreadfully afraid.”  We know why he became “dreadfully afraid!”  He could die for this, being sad in the presence of the king.  The king knows Nehemiah is not sick.  He says that.  He wonders what is going on with Nehemiah.  The king could have even suspected an evil plot on the part of Nehemiah.  Kings in those days killed people if ever their throne was threatened.  So, he asks Nehemiah, why he is not looking like he usually does.  He wonders if there some evil intent in your heart.  Nehemiah says, “So I became dreadfully afraid.”  By the way, I like honest leaders, don’t you?  He is writing his own memoirs.  He could have edited it to make himself look good.  He’s honest,

Verse3 says, “And said to the king, ‘May the king live forever!(that is something people always said to the kings, a word of favor, even today, ‘long live the king, or long live the queen’) Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?’”  Then, Nehemiah waits.  What will the king say in reply?  Will he call for the guards to come carry him away?  God gives Nehemiah favor before the king. 

Verse 4 states, “Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’  So I prayed to the God of heaven.  And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.’”  Now we are going to see that things get better for Nehemiah.  But not before waiting four months and be engaged with weeping, mourning, fasting, and praying.  Four months. 

Sometimes we just have to wait.  

How many times did the psalmist

Say, “I waited up on the Lord?” 

You keep waiting. 

Living by faith often means

That sometimes you just have to wait. 

Trust that God is working on

A timetable that may not be yours,

But it is His and He

Always does what is right.

So . . . In the words of the gospel song, “Hold on my child, joy comes in the morning!” We can rest assured that God is faithful even if it is after much mourning.

When the king says in verse 4, “What do you request?”  Nehemiah says, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.”  Verse 5 says, “And I said to the king, ‘if it pleases the king” … “let me return to rebuild.”  Do not miss that quick prayer there in verse 4.  Normally, when we read something like this in the Bible, we want to quickly move on to read what that prayer is.  But notice what happens here – There is no prayer.  Why?  Because this is one of those quick prayers – Bullet prayer or arrow prayer.  Shooting up a quick prayer like an arrow to the Lord.  This is the kind of prayer you pray when someone pulls out in front of you on a crowded highway!  I imagine Nehemiah’s prayer was something like, “God, guide my words.”  An arrow prayer. 

Notice the second principle for living by faith . . . 

2) Arrow Prayers Flow From Kneeling Prayers. 

Nehemiah was a “praying man.”  He spent a lot of time on his knees in prayer. 

The depth of consistent prayers,

Give rise to arrow prayers.

If all we pray are arrow prayers – “God, help me!  Get me out of this!  Help me pass this test!” – if that is all we pray, then our prayers are pretty flimsy arrows, launched from a shaky hand and bow. 

The time you spend on your knees

In meaningful prayer will result in

A daily walk where arrow prayers

Become much more meaningful –

They are launched from

A steady hand and bow

That have spent much time

In the stability of careful

Study and reflection.

That is just a important principle to remember this week as you live by faith:

Arrow prayers flow from kneeling prayers.

Nehemiah has prayed and he makes his request.  He says in verse 5, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”  And he waits for the response from the king.  The first time you ever read this, you are waiting, too!  What is going to happen next?! 

Verse 6 tells us, “Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), ‘How long will your journey be?  And when will you return?’ So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.”  God gives Nehemiah favor before the king.  It goes well for Nehemiah. 

That leads us to the third principle for living by faith . . .

3) God Can Work Through A Pagan’s Heart.

Who holds the king’s heart in His hand?  The Bible tells us in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.  Like courses of water, He directs it wherever He wishes.”  God can work through a pagan’s heart.  I have to smile when I read that parenthetical statement there in verse 6. “Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him) …”  When you read that, I am sure you wondered, “Why is that there?!”  To show us that God works through the king and the queen.  Sometimes God works through the queen to get to the king.  I see King Artaxerxes like most men.  He is calling the shots, but the queen is there next to him and, perhaps he is peripherally seeking affirmation, the way we men do sometimes.  Our wives often bring out the best in us, don’t they?  Every husband says, “Amen!.” 

Nehemiah knows that God is in control.  Nehemiah is trusting God to do the work even through an unbelieving employer.  Do not say God cannot work through your unbelieving boss.  He can.  God holds the human heart in his hand and directs it like rivers of water wherever He wishes.  God is ultimately in control of every single circumstance.   By the way, if you really believe Proverbs 21:1, you will never worry about your political leaders.   Pray for them, but do not think God is absent.  The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.

Nehemiah must have been a good worker to the king.  He says, “How long will your journey be?  And when will you return?”  I think it does not do injustice to the text to think that the king is saying to Nehemiah, “I need you!  You add value to the organization here!”  Because of the lack of diligence and dedication of some today, if they asked off work for an extended time, because we are not the best workers their boss might be inclined to say, “Go!  Take all the time you need!  In fact, don’t come back!”  Learn from Nehemiah.  Nehemiah was a good worker.  A man of integrity, honesty, and propriety.  

Nehemiah told him how long he would be away.  But then – Nehemiah’s been thinking about this for four months! – So he does on to make further requests.

Verse 7 says, “Furthermore I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah.’”  Nehemiah knows that the only way he will have success on the journey is to have the king’s total backing.  To show the king backs Nehemiah, he will need hard copies of that backing.  He wanted letters that  he can show people on the way, a letter from the king that I can show governors (or leaders) of the region across the Euphrates river, that they must permit me to pass.  When Nehemiah is on his way and somebody stops him he can show them the letter and who it was from.

 Verse 8 tells us he requested another letter, “And a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.  And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.”

There it is . . .

An acknowledgment that God

Is the one making all this

Happen through Nehemiah!

Verse 9 states, “Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.”  Not only does the king give Nehemiah a bunch of letters he can pull out and show folks along the way, but Nehemiah adds the king also “sent captains of the army and horseman with me.”  He gives Nehemiah a powerful entourage of many men and horses for the journey.  This would have been quite an impressive sight!  God can work through a pagan’s heart!

Notice the fourth principle for living by faith . . .

4) Confident Faith Leads to Confident Prayer.

When the king asks Nehemiah, “How long will your journey be?”  Nehemiah replies by setting a time, and then asking for additional letters, letters regarding his travel, and the materials he will need.  Very specific by the way in verses 7 and 8.  This leads us to conclude that Nehemiah had really thought this thing through.

Nehemiah had been visualizing all of this in his prayers for four months . . .

  • Everything involved before even starting the rebuilding project.
  • All the rebuilding materials that would be needed.
  • Believing the time would come when he would make his request. 

He had confident faith that God would work through Him in answer to his prayer.   He saw it all first before it happened.  That is praying in faith. 

The presence of faith

Does not mean

The absence of planning. 

Nehemiah was thinking

All this through as

He prayed to the Lord.

When you pray, do you think it all through?  Do you have confident faith that leads to confident prayer?  As you are praying are you thinking, “And what if the Lord gives me favor here?  What will it all look like?”  Do you pray looking to God to answer your prayer?  Nehemiah did. 

Confident faith leads to confident prayer.  Everything is going so well.  Nehemiah is clearly in God’s will.  God is answering his prayers.  He is on his way to REBUILD, rebuilding the walls.  Everything is great. 

Then we see the final principle for living by faith . . .

5) God’s Will Often Includes Opposition.

Verse 10 says, “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.”  These two guys always appear when everything is going well.  They come and cast a long dark shadow upon Nehemiah and the work.  Every time they enter, you can almost always expect something is amiss.  We will read more about them later.  Just know for now that God’s will often includes opposition.  Do not assume that criticism and negativity mean you are outside of God’s will.  God’s will often includes opposition.

We will see later that Nehemiah responds biblically to the opposition.  He will say in verse 20 of chapter 2, “So I answered them, and said to them, ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us …”  Nehemiah is not worried about the opposition.  He knows the One True and Living God, the God of heaven Himself, will be with him, will protect him, and see that the work is completed. 

When you face opposition this week, just turn it over to the God of heaven.  That is what Jesus did.  The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 2:23, “When He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

The good hand of God upon Nehemiah is . . .

  • The good hand that guides Nehemiah to the good work: the rebuilding of the walls around the city of Jerusalem. 
  • It is the same good hand that guided Ezra to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. 
  • It is the same good hand that guided the people of God to worship Him in that temple through so many sacrifices that prepared them for the ultimate sacrifice to come: the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

The gracious, good hand of God gives to us Jesus Christ to take away our sin, to live for Him, to “rise up and build” for Him this week as we live by faith.  He gives us grace, grace greater than all our sin!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 1:5-11 – Building Blocks To A Meaningful Prayer Life

Grace For The Journey

 

We have begun a new series called REBUILD.  To rebuild means “to build (something) again after it has been damaged or destroyed.”  I said last Friday that many of us are in the midst of personal rebuilding projects, rebuilding our lives, rebuilding our families, rebuilding our marriages, rebuilding our walk with the Lord.  Like those who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, we have allowed ourselves to be taken captive to sin.  The walls have come down, the gates have burned, and we need to rebuild.  Solomon said in Proverbs 25:28, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”

The Book of Nehemiah is about rebuilding.  The walls of Jerusalem are broken down and the city gates are burned.  Someone needs to lead a “rebuilding project” and that someone turns out to be Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is neither a priest nor a prophet.  He is just a regular guy, an ordinary person who is concerned about the city of Jerusalem.  And Nehemiah is going to lead arguably the greatest rebuilding project in the history of God’s people, rebuilding the city walls and gates in a record 52 days. 

God likes to use ordinary people

To do extraordinary things.

A British evangelist once said to D. L. Moody, almost in passing said, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.”  Those words changed D. L. Moody’s life.  They can change us, too: The world has yet to see what God will do with one man, one woman, fully consecrated to Him.  Nehemiah was one such person, fully consecrated to God.

Let’s review briefly some of the introductory background from last time.  The year is 445 BC and Nehemiah has a very important job.  His job title is “cupbearer to the king.”  He tasted wine before it was given to the king to make sure it was not poisonous.  He lives in “Shushan.”  The Greek name for the city is “Susa” and the Hebrew is “Shushan.” Nehemiah is living in the citadel or the fortified palace of the king.  In 586 BC King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, burned down the palaces, knocked down all the walls, and burned the gates.  He carries them away into the vast empire of Babylon.  The people are scattered throughout Babylon in a captivity that will last 70 years. 

All these events occur because the people of God were unfaithful to Him.  God worked through the Babylonians to discipline His children.  After 70 years, the people are allowed to re-inhabit their homeland in Jerusalem.  God’s people were taken north of the Promised Land and scattered abroad.  It is a 1,000 mile journey from Judah to the place where Nehemiah is.  This is western Iran today.  Part of the city is actually inhabited today and is called Shush, Iran.  Nehemiah will make this journey more than once. 

Sushan is the capital of the Persian Empire.  It was also the palatial winter residence of the king.  Sushan is the location from which the events occurred about which we read in the Book of Esther; she was queen there in Sushan.  Daniel had one of his visions in the Persian capital of Sushan and there is a tomb there to this day presumed to belong to Daniel. 

Nehemiah hears the walls are still broken down and the gates are burned and the place needs to be rebuilt.  What is the first thing that he does?  Verse 4 tells us, “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”  Nehemiah is rocked by the events.  He is knocked down to his knees and he prays. 

Our series is REBUILD and with Nehemiah’s help we are going to learn today about, “Rebuilding our Prayer Life.”  Nehemiah is a man of prayer.  He prays a lot and in different ways.  He prays long, word-saturated prayers like the prayer we are studying today in chapter 1.  He also prays shorter prayers, “bullet prayers” or “arrow prayers,” the kind you say quickly in few words.  Like the mother who prayed for her little boy each night at bedtime.  Someone asked her what she prayed.  She said, “Thank God he’s in bed!”  Well, the prayer here in Chapter 1 is a longer prayer and a very helpful prayer for our study today.  In keeping with our series title, REBUILD, I want to share with you three Building Blocks of Meaningful Prayer . . .

There are three major components of Nehemiah’s prayer that are helpful for us to both remember and use.  I pray that we will think of these three blocks as we pray later today and throughout the week.  What does meaningful prayer look like?  What are the essential building blocks of meaningful prayer . . .

I. Acknowledgement And Adoration Of The Savior.

Prayer is most meaningful when we begin with praise and adoration of the Savior.   Nehemiah begins his prayer by calling attention to the greatness of God.  Verse 5 says, “And I said: ‘I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments.’”  The phrase, “Lord God of heaven” is an acknowledgement of the only One True and Living God.  The Babylonians may have many little gods and idols, but there is only One True God who reigns from heaven.  This anticipates our Lord’s teaching to the disciples when Jesus said in Matthew 6:9, “Pray this way, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”  Praise and adoration of the One True God.  Nehemiah continues to acknowledge God as a, “… great and awesome God …” Nehemiah likes those two words, “great” and “awesome.”  He will use them again in Chapter 4 where he calls upon the Israelites to defend themselves against their enemies, “Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren” (Nehemiah 4:14).

This first part of the prayer here in verse 5 is almost word-for-word from Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:4, where Daniel intercedes for the people.  This must have been a common way to begin a prayer.  It is a good model for us.  We direct our prayer upwards to the heavens to acknowledge, praise, and adore our Savior, “Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God …”  What a great way to begin a prayer!  

Then Nehemiah, like Daniel in Daniel 9, draws attention to the character of God.  In verse 5 he goes on to state that God, “keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him and observe His commandments.”  He is a gracious and good God who loves His children.  His children are to love Him back in a wonderful covenant of love and mercy.

Begin your prayers with the first building block of adoration.  Adoration of the Savior. 

Next block . . .

II. Confession Of Our Sin.

Verse 6 says, “Please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open(this part is very similar to Solomon’s prayer years earlier in dedicating the temple; 2 Chronicles 6:40), that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned.”   Nehemiah is 1,000 miles away from the broken down walls yet he places himself right there with his fellow Israelites as those who are guilty for the sin that led to their captivity in the first place, “Both my father’s house and I have sinned.”  He is confessing sin.

He acknowledges that he and his fellow Jewish believers had sinned against God by going after the false gods of the people around them.  They had succumbed to idolatry and turned their backs against God in unfaithfulness to the One who loved them and brought them into the land.  God had warned through the prophets that if the people did not return to Him he would scatter them into captivity.  That is exactly what happened. Nehemiah acknowledges that he is guilty.  He is confessing his sin.  That confession continues in verse 7, “We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.” 

You may recall Deuteronomy 28 which is a listing of blessings and curses.  God is speaking through the Prophet Moses.  Moses tells His people – in essence – if you obey then it will mean blessing for you.  If you disobey, then it will mean curses upon you.  Pretty simple and straightforward.  It is not about their salvation; it is about their living as the people of God.

In his confession here in verse 7, Nehemiah recalls the words of Moses.  He says, “We have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.”  Deuteronomy 2815 says, “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.”  The list goes on to talk about all the curses, including God’s driving His people away from the land.  Nehemiah acknowledges this truth, that this is exactly what he and God’s people have done; they have sinned against the Lord and “have not kept His commandments, statutes, and ordinances.”  He is confessing they he and the people are guilty.

To confess our sin is to own up to it.  We also need to lift up our voice today.  We need to confess our sin, to own up to our sin, and admit we have done wrong.  We do not blame others.  We take ownership of our own actions.  Blaming others for our sin is as old as the fall itself.  You can see the “blame game” being played out in Genesis 3 where the first sin occurred.  God comes to Adam and says, “Hey, Adam!  What have you done?!”  And Adam said, “The woman you gave me, she enticed me.”  Adam actually blames both Eve and God: “the woman YOU gave me…” God says, “Eve, what have you done?!”  The woman says, “The serpent deceived me.”  Adam blames God and Adam blames Eve.  Eve blames the serpent.  They fall into the blame game.

Confession of sin is to own up to it.  Confession is important in every relationship.  In a marriage, for example.  Confessing our sin means we take ownership of our part in the conflict.  A husband and wife are arguing over something, who is to blame? Both!  Jesus said in Matthew 7:3-5, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

In a marriage, I have got to remove the plank out of my eye before I can see clearly.   I have got to deal with my fault.  Even if I think my ownership of the problem in the marriage represents only like 5% and the remaining 95% of the blame is my wife’s responsibility, then I have still got to deal with my 5% of the problem.  Confession of sin is to own up to it.  Admit that you were wrong about it and ask her to forgive you.  Pretty simple.  If we both do our part, a relationship and communication is restored.  You are responsible for your part before God.

That works the same in every other relationship, too.  Do not blame your boss!  Own up to your problem at work.  Deal with your 5% or whatever it is.  Confess.  Same with parents and children.  Parents, do not blame your children; children, do not blame your parents.  Let each own up to his or her own share of the blame.  Same with every other relationship.  

Nehemiah confesses his share of the blame.  We have seen the first two building blocks of meaningful prayer: Adoration of the Savior . . . Confession of our Sin . . . Thirdly . . .

III. Recitation Of The Scripture.

Recitation is to recite, to say something aloud.  Prayer becomes much more meaningful when we recite Scripture to the Lord.  That is what Nehemiah does.  In verse 8 Nehemiah says, “Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations.”  Nehemiah is reciting Scripture.  He is reciting the teachings of Moses in both Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  He is recalling the threats and promises of Scripture.  And he recites the Scripture in order to make a strong plea that God would stand by His people. 

Verse 9 continues, “But if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.”  Nehemiah is reciting Scripture to the Lord.  The actual words are in Deuteronomy 4:25-31, “When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything, and do evil in the sight of the Lord your God to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess; you will not [h]prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed.  And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you.  And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.  But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.  When you are in [i]distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.”

Nehemiah acknowledges that this is precisely what has happened.  He confesses his sin and then recites Scripture to the Lord and, in essence says, “Now God, do what You have promised!”  That is a bold prayer.  “God, You said that if we would return to You that You would take us back.  You are a loving and merciful God who said You would not forsake us, so here we are!  Here we are.” 

In Verse 10 Nehemiah adds, “Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.”  Nehemiah brings himself and the people before the Lord and admits that they were the ones He redeemed out of bondage in Egypt and led into the Promised Land by His great power and strong hand.  He then asks Him to keep His promise to His people – to redeem them again by His great power, and by His strong hand.  He asks God to doo what He said He would do if they confessed and returned to Him.  He is standing on God’s Word.   

Nehemiah has confidence

In the faithfulness of God

To keep His Word.

This is not unlike Abraham before him who knew that God promised a long family line would come through his own son, Isaac.  When God called Abraham to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah, the Bible tells us in Romans 4:20-21 that Abraham, “did not waver at the promise…(but was) fully convinced that what God had promised He was also able to perform.”  He knew God would keep His Word.  I suppose Abraham recited the promise of God over and over again as he journeyed up to Mount Moriah.  Recitation of Scripture, recalling the Word of God.

Nehemiah wraps his prayer up in verse 11 when he says, “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.  For I was the king’s cupbearer.”

“This man” is King Artaxerxes who had commanded the work of rebuilding to stop years earlier according to Ezra 4:23.  Seven (7) times in this prayer Nehemiah refers to himself or God’s people as a “servant” or “servants” of the Lord.  This is especially significant given that Nehemiah is literally a servant of King Artaxerxes. 

Nehemiah knows that

He is first and foremost

A servant of the Living God!

The recitation of the Scripture is what adds teeth to Nehemiah’s prayer.  He is quoting God’s Word back to Him.  It is bold to say, “God You said thus and such, now keep Your Word!”  That is what Nehemiah does.  This is not arrogance.  He knows that ultimately God will work out His will, His way, and in His time.  Nehemiah knows that he can trust God, trusting His character, trusting Him to do the right thing at the right time.

Building blocks of meaningful prayer . . .

Adoration of the Savior,

Confession of our Sin,

And

Recitation of the Scripture.

In closing our study, let’s consider the . . .

Benefits of Prayer:

1. Prayer makes me wait. 

We will see in our study next time that four months pass by before God works through Nehemiah’s prayer.  Remember as the beginning of today’s study I said the Book of Nehemiah is a reading of Nehemiah’s personal diary or journal.  There is no entry for four months because nothing happened.  Prayer makes us wait on God.

Have you heard the three ways God answers our prayers?  He answers with Yes, or No, or Wait.  God says, “Yes, no, or not now.”  In my case there are four possible answers; God says, “Yes, no, not now, or You’ve got to be kidding!”  Prayer makes me wait.  Secondly:

2. Prayer clears my vision.

Lifting up our prayer to the Lord helps us think through the situation so we can see better.

3. Prayer quiets my heart.

Pray leads me to lay my concern or burden before the Lord and to trust in God to do the work.

4. Prayer activates my faith.

Prayer allows me to go on knowing God will do the right thing.

The Bible tells us in James 4:2, “You have not because you ask not.”  Someone has suggested what it would be like getting to heaven and finding one room there full of neatly wrapped boxes stacked high with your name on each one with, “Never delivered to earth because never requested from earth” written on the tag.

We have learned about the meaningful building blocks of meaningful prayer.  These truths will mean nothing forget about them and do nothing with them.  Let me give you little mortar to make them stick.  Three layers to help rebuild your prayer life . . .

Have A Daily Quiet Time.

Every one of us should have a time of daily quiet.  Have one!  Get up earlier . . . Stay up later . . . do what you need to do . . . Schedule a Daily Quiet Time

Memorize Scripture – One Verse A Week.

Nehemiah recited Scripture.  He knew the Word!  Do you?  Which do you know better: today’s sports stats or Scriptures?  What shapes your identity?  Which do you know better: what is trending in Twitter or what is taught in God’s Word?  I am not trying to lay on a guilt trip, I am just asking.  Do you know the Word and can you recite it as you pray?  There is power in it.  You are praying and asking for a particular thing that lies within the revealed will of God and you say, “Lord, You have said in Your Word, in Mark 11:24, “What things soever you desire when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them,” and I’m doing that right now.  Keep Your Word, Lord, amen.” Or you pray, “God, You said in Proverbs 3:5-6 to trust in You with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding, but acknowledge You in all my ways, and You will direct my paths,” so I am trusting You right now as I make my way to this meeting that You are going to give me the very words to say and to guide the outcome.  Thank You for keeping Your Word, amen.”   I have found that when I pray and take God at His Words, that I am far more likely to see God work in ways I desire.

To recite Scripture, you have to know Scripture.  Choose a Bible verse that is meaningful to you and memorize it this week.  As a family, memorizing verses of Scripture. 

Ask God To Deepen Your Love For Him.

We want to spend time with people we love.  If we are trying to rebuild our prayer life just to rebuild our prayer life then it will just be a slavish, mechanical, tiresome burden without love.  Prayer is dialogue with someone we love.  If you do not pray to God, you need to grow in your love for God.  This flows out of the Daily Quiet Time, from reading from His Word, and calling His Word back to Him.  Just be honest and ask God to deepen your love for Him.  Ask God to specifically grow you in this.  Ask Him to help you to see that He is the fulfillment of your heart’s greatest desires.  Acknowledge that He wants you to love Him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and your strength.  Ask Him to deepen your love for Him.

When you pray, your love will grow. 

The depth of your love for God is related

To the depth of our prayers to God.

Focus on the depth of your prayer life, not necessarily length of prayers.

When the Gettysburg battleground became a national cemetery in 1863, Edward Everett was to give the dedication speech and Abraham Lincoln was asked to say “a few appropriate words.”  Everett spoke eloquently for two hours, then took his seat as the crowd roared its enthusiastic approval.  Then Lincoln stood to his feet, slipped on his steel spectacles, and began what we know today as the “Gettysburg Address.”  By comparison, a very brief address containing those famous words “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…”  And suddenly he was finished.  Everett had spoken for close to two hours.  Lincoln for just two minutes.  His talk had been so prayer-like it seemed almost inappropriate to applaud.  As Lincoln sat back down, a reporter from the “Philadelphia Press” whispered to him, “Is that all?”  And the president answered, “Yes, that’s all.”  

Do not underestimate

The power and depth

Of two minutes

With God in prayer.

Nehemiah interceded for God’s people.  In this way he helps us look ahead to the true and better Intercessor who represents God’s people perfectly before the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Do you know Him?  Are you growing in  your love and relationship with Him?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 1:1-4 – Trusting God To Do The Work

Grace For The Journey

   We are starting a new series this morning called “REBUILD.”  Most of us can relate to that word.  The textbook definition of “rebuild” is, “To build (something) again after it has been damaged or destroyed.” 

  • Some of us are in the middle of personal rebuilding projects. 

Many of us are rebuilding our lives.  The walls have broken down and the gates have burned, we have made a mess of things, and we are rebuilding ourselves in anticipation of better days.

  • Some of us are rebuilding our spiritual walk. 

You have been applying the words we learned from Romans 6: “I’m dead to that.”  You have been working on rebuilding your walk with God, your purity, your growth in holiness, or rebuilding your devotional life.

  • Others of us are rebuilding in other areas. 

Rebuilding your discipline – taking in what is healthy and avoiding what is harmful.  Maybe you are rebuilding your job, your organization, your house, your home, a marriage, a relationship, or a family.

The Book of Nehemiah is about rebuilding.  The walls of Jerusalem are broken down and the city gates have been burned.  Scattered stones, bricks, and charred wood are lying everywhere, and somebody needs to do something.  And a guy living a thousand miles away learns about it and has the courage to say, “I’m going to talk to God about this.”  And that man, Nehemiah, leads one of the most daring and deliberate rebuilding projects to bring glory to the One True and Living God.

This book that we will be studying is a reading of Nehemiah’s personal diary or journal about how it all happened.  What we are going to discover in Nehemiah is . . .

Not only the need for rebuilding the walls

Around the city of God’s people,

But the rebuilding of God’s people themselves. 

Nehemiah is about both

Physical and spiritual rebuilding.

Let me invite you to find the Book of Nehemiah in your Bibles.  It is in the Old Testament, right after the Book of Ezra which we just concluded on Wednesday.  While the events of Nehemiah really occur at the end of the Old Testament period, you find it closer to the beginning.   It is right after Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, then you have Ezra, and Nehemiah.  It is just before the Book of Job and Psalms.  It might be kind of confusing because the events of Nehemiah occur at the end of the Old Testament period – or as we will see, during what we call the post-exilic period, post exile, after the exiles of God’s people.  Some of you are reading through the chronological Bible and you are seeing this, that the order of the books, the canonical order, is not necessarily the chronological order.

What I want to do in today’s blog is look at the first few verses of Nehemiah and then do an overview of the Book.  That is pretty much what we do when we start a series.  We look at the main divisions, themes, teachings, and background, to help us have a good foundation for our study. 

Let me begin our study with a prayer to that God right now: “Father, as we begin this new series of messages through Nehemiah, give us grace to learn.  Holy Spirit, be our teacher and Jesus gives us the power and resources to rebuild what is broken down in our lives.  May we be pointed to Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, in whose name we pray, amen.”

Let us get an understanding of the background of Nehemiah.  Where does this book fall in the history of God’s people?  The history of Israel begins in the Book of Genesis.  In Genesis 12 (about 1900 BC), God makes a promise to Abraham.  God says, “I’m going to bless you and make you a great nation.  And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  That covenant is renewed from time to time.  Progressing through the years through Joshua, Judges, and 1 & 2 Samuel we get to King David and it is about 1000 years BC.  Then you have David’s son Solomon and the times of the kings, recorded in 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles.  The kingdom becomes divides about 900 BC – Divided into North and South: Ten tribes to the North are called Israel or Samaria; the two tribes to the South are called Judah.

The people have broken God’s covenant time and again.  They were unfaithful to God and began worshiping other gods.  And God raises up enemies to bring punishment upon His people.  In 722 BC the Assyrians invade the Northern Kingdom, Samaria, and carry away the 10 tribes of the Israelites into captivity, scattering them to the north in the Assyrian Empire.  You can read about this in 2 Kings 17.  The Assyrians exiled the people in order to separate them from one another, forcing them into other geographical areas so that they would intermingle with other peoples and lose their identity and strength. 

In 586 BC the Babylonian empire invaded God’s people and took captive the Southern Kingdom of Judah at Jerusalem.  King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and carried away the two Southern tribes to Babylon.  You can read about the Babylonian captivity in 2 Chronicles 36.  Nebuchadnezzar robs the temple of its treasures, destroys everything of value, burns the palaces, and burns down the temple.  He destroys the walls that went around Jerusalem.  He killed both men and women, and the few who remained were taken away into captivity to Babylon.   He took them up north along the Jordan and then east along the Euphrates river, resettling them in Babylon, a massive empire that reached into present day Iraq and Kuwait up to the Persian Gulf.  This was a sad time.  This was when Psalm 137 was written.  Verses 1-4 say, “By the rivers of Babylon.  There we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.  We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it.  For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, and those who plundered us requested mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’  How Shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?”  The Babylonian captivity lasted 70 years.  It lasted until the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.   Ezra is also the name of the Book of Ezra, just before Nehemiah.  Ezra was a contemporary of Nehemiah and there is a bit of overlap of the events of Ezra and Nehemiah.  So again, Babylonian exile 586 BC.  70 years of captivity.  

In 536 BC something wonderful happens.  There is a new empire that comes upon the scene – the empire of the Medes and Persians.  The Persian Empire was massive, including present day Iran and spread east as far as India.  God raised up a King named Cyrus.  Cyrus was not a believer, but God worked through Him to accomplish His will.  The Bible says in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” So God turns Cyrus’ heart and causes him to issue a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city walls.

There were three “waves” of Jews returning to the land to do the work: 

  • The first was led by a guy named Zerubbabel, head of the tribe of Judah during this time.  You can read about him in the Book of Ezra chapters 1-6. 
  • The second comes 70 years later led by Ezra.  And you can read about that in Ezra chapters 7-10. 
  • Nehemiah will lead the third “wave” of God’s people to Jerusalem. 

In fact, Nehemiah will make more several trips, from Babylon to Jerusalem over a period of 20 years.  But his work begins in 445 BC.  We know that because the book opens with the date.  Nehemiah 1:1 says, “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.  It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan (or Susa) the citadel.”  Chislev corresponds to our mid-November to mid-December.  And the twentieth year corresponds to the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes. We will be reading about him in Nehemiah.  That makes it the year 445 BC; 13 years after Ezra arrived in Jerusalem.

We do not know much about Nehemiah.  He is name is pretty significant though.  In the Hebrew it is “Nechem Yah.”  Literally, it means the “Comfort of Yahweh.”  We are told he is “the son of Hachaliah.”  We do not know anything about Hachaliah.  There is no long listing of prestigious pedigree here.  God is showing us that He works through common folks.  His dad is just a regular guy.  This also teaches us that spiritual empowerment is more important than physical pedigree.  Nehemiah is from a regular family, but he has an important position.

In the last verse of chapter 1, Nehemiah tells us what his position is.  The last sentence of verse 11 says, “I was the king’s cupbearer.”  That sounds like Nehemiah was the king’s butler or protector of the king.   But it was more than that.  The cupbearer to the king was a position of high office in the royal court.  The cupbearer had personal access to the king.  His chief responsibility was both to choose and taste the wine that the king drank.  He tasted it to demonstrate that it was not poisoned by some enemy of the king.  

The Bible tells us in verse 2 that Nehemiah is in Shushan.  This was where the fortified palace and residence of the king, and capital city of the Persian Empire was located.  It was at the furthest point east in the Babylonian Empire.  It was the winter resort of Persian kings.  That is where Nehemiah is when the book opens.  In essence he says, “I’m sitting in the palace in Shushan, minding my own business; it is just a regular day, when verse 2 tells us, “That Hanani one of my brethren (fellow Israelite) came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.”

An entire sermon could be built upon Nehemiah’s question in verse 2.  He asked them concerning the Jews.  He wanted to know how they were doing.  How are things going in Jerusalem?  How is everyone getting on?  He is one of those guys who asks questions more than he talks about himself.   He is concerned, compassionate, and caring.  

He does not know how things are in Jerusalem.  He does not know.  It is a thousand miles away and there is no Internet search engine or Messenger to research the issue or check with somebody about it.  He is having to ask folks who have traveled from there. 

Verse 3 gives us their report, “And they said to me, ‘The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach (disgrace and shame). The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.’  When the first couple waves of Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, they faced immediate opposition.  It took 20 years to get the temple restored, but the walls and gates were never finished.  This is what Nehemiah learns.  The walls are broken down and the gates burned with fire.  

Walls are critical to the safety and security of a city. 

The walls represented the strength and protection of God.

Many of the psalms talk about the walls of Jerusalem and the people of influence and favor gathering at the city gates (See Psalms 48, 79, 84, and 87).  The walls are still broken down and unfinished and the people are in “great distress and reproach.”  

Verse 4 tells us, “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”  From verse 4 on we learn . . .

How the cupbearer becomes the wall builder. 

In fact, we will watch Nehemiah go

From cupbearer, to wall builder, to governor.   

But we would miss so much of this book

If we thought it were only about rebuilding walls. 

It is about more than that.

In fact, there are two important divisions in the book . . . 

1. Reconstruction of the Walls – Chapters 1-6.

These chapters will focus on the physical rebuilding of the walls of the City.

2. Reinstruction of the People – Chapters 7-13.

These chapters will focus on the spiritual rebuilding of the people.

First half of Nehemiah is largely about a physical rebuilding and the second half of Nehemiah is largely about a spiritual rebuilding.  Rebuilding the walls and rebuilding the people.  And . . . Rebuilding the people takes more time.  Rebuilding the walls happens in record time.  We will be reading about that in the days to come.  All of the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt just inside of two months; a record 52 days.  That is incredible!  Rebuilding the people, however, takes much more time.   Spiritual reformation always takes time.

In the rest of this blog, I want to address the subtitle of our series.  The message within the message.  The series is entitled “REBUILD.”  But . . .

This is not simply a book about

Man doing the work of rebuilding.

Many have taken the Book of Nehemiah and used it simply to teach man-centered leadership lessons or how to build a team.  But . . .

The Bible is not primarily a book about man. 

The Bible is a Book about God.

Nehemiah teaches us to

Trust God to do the work. 

We will see this throughout the Book, trusting God to do the work in at least three ways:

1) Forgiving our Sin.

Nehemiah recognizes that sin is the reason the walls have come down in the first place.   The sin of God’s people turning away from God.  Spiritual unfaithfulness.  Nehemiah teaches us how to confess our sin to God and ask forgiveness.

We will be reading, for example, about a couple bad guys who come against Nehemiah and try to disrupt the rebuilding process.  Their names are Sanballat and Tobiah.  They were really bad guys.  We will learn that Nehemiah does not ask God to utterly destroy them or to destroy the godless nations surrounding Jerusalem.  In the opening chapter Nehemiah asks God to forgive the sins of his own people.  It was Judah’s sins that caused God to bring the Babylonians to Jerusalem and lead His people into exile.  

We will see that the Book opens and closes with confession of sin.  Any lasting work in our lives will begin and end with confession and prayer.  Nehemiah also teaches us a lot about prayer.  He is praying right after he learns the news about Jerusalem.  Verse 5, where we will pick up on Monday, begins with Nehemiah’s first prayer.  He prays several times throughout this book.  His prayer life demonstrates what the Apostle Paul will call “praying without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

Sometimes he prays longer prayers like his prayer one in chapter 1, a word-saturated prayers of confession.  Sometimes those short are “bullet prayers” or “arrow prayers” when he pray hurriedly when necessary (like chapter 2 when the king asks him a question and he wants to answer wisely).  Nehemiah 2:4-5 says, “Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’  So I prayed to the God of heaven.  And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king …’”  A short, arrow prayer, like shooting a quick arrow up to God.  Nehemiah prays a lot of those arrow prayers.  We should pray those all the time!  Going into an important meeting, we bow our heads and quickly say, “God, help me” . . . God, guide me” . . . “God give me understanding” . . . “God give me wisdom.”

Trusting God to do the work of forgiveness, of forgiving our sin. 

Secondly, we will be learning about trusting God to do the work of . . .

2) Empowering our Service.

Nehemiah trusts God to do the work of rebuilding in and through the people.  For example, we will learn that no sooner do they get to the work of rebuilding when the bad guys try to discourage them and keep them from the work.  In fact, their enemies begin to threaten their lives.  So, Nehemiah positions the people around the wall so that half of them are working and the other half are standing with swords, spears, and bow. Nehemiah tells them that in the worst case scenario of needing to defend themselves, that the trumpet will sound, rallying all of God’s people together to battle.  He makes this really encouraging statement in chapter 4, verse 20, “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.  Our God will fight for us.”  Those six words, “our God will fight for us,” . . .

Say everything about

Nehemiah’s trust

In God to do the work

In and through His people! 

He will empower our service. 

We do not do this

In our own strength.

It is easy to do things in our own strength.  You do not have to be strong to do things in your own strength.  I heard about a who was sitting with his wife on the couch and she took his arm and said, “Wow, your muscles are firming us.”  But and then she quickly said, “Oh, that is not your muscle, it is your elbow!”  That really built his self-esteem! 

You do not have to be strong to do things in your own strength.  And from man’s perspective, it may even be considered successful.  Yet, it was Jesus who said in John 15:5, “Without Me you can do nothing.”  How much did our Lord we could do without Him?  Nothing.  Even if it looks like “something” to others. 

Trust God to do the work of empowerment.

That sure is true for living the Gospel!  When we sing those words in “All I Have is Christ,” we say, “the strength to follow your commands could never come from me.”  As Christians we are not strong enough to live the Christian life without continually relying on the Holy Spirit to empower us.  Our God will fight for us. Trust God to do the work of empowerment.  Empowering your service.  Empowering everything you do. 

Finally, we must trust God to do the work of . . .

3) Reforming our Souls.

The Book of Nehemiah is not just about rebuilding walls.  It is also about rebuilding our souls, bringing true spiritual reformation to the people of God.  One of the things we will see is that . . .

Nehemiah has an unassailable

Trust in the Word of God

To bring reformation to the people of God. 

Not only will we see that in his prayer life,

But also in his belief in and trust in

The sufficiency of God’s Word, the Bible.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Chapter 8.  And we will be learning about the people gathering together in the open square and calling for Ezra to read the Book of the Law to the people.  Nehemiah 8:2-3 says, “So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.  Then he read from it in the open square that was in the front of the water Gate from morning until midday …”  Trust in the authority of the Word of God to bring about spiritual reformation in the people of God.  

Nehemiah 8:5-6 goes on to say, “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.  And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.  Then all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands.  And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”  Others are also enlisted to explain the word of God to the people . . . Nehemiah 8:8-9 state, “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.  And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.’  For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.”

The Word brought conviction upon them!  When was the last time you wept as you read the Word of God?  We will be learning about trusting God to do the work of spiritual reformation by reading and understanding the Word of God.  

The rebuilding of the people takes longer than the rebuilding of the walls.  This book is so brutally honest.  It actually ends with the people of God still struggling with sin in the last chapter.  Nehemiah is faithful.  He sticks with them and continues to lead them and ask God to do the work of spiritual reformation in their lives.  We too need to stick with folks when they struggle.  Spiritual reformation takes time.  Nehemiah was faithful.  And we can be grateful.  Because through the gates of this rebuilt city and its rebuilt walls would one day enter the very One who would take away the sin of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ came into the world to make possible the rebuilding that every one of us so desperately needs.  Jesus Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1Peter 2:5-6).  He is the most important building block in the wall of your life.  If the walls of your life have broken down and the gates have burned, trust Jesus to do the work of rebuilding your life.  Have you allowed a crack in your wall, a little sin to creep across your wall like poison ivy that grows and wraps itself around you, confess that sin and repent.  Turn to Jesus this morning. Trust Christ to do a REBUILD of your life.  Say to Him, “Lord, here am I.  I have made a wreck of my life.  Rebuild my life today.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God Working Through His people: Ezra 10:1-44 – Marks Of Genuine Repentance

Grace For The Journey

We live in a day of easy repentance.  Some years ago, an evangelical author and leader was exposed for carrying on an affair over an extended period of time.  He repented, went through a year of counseling, and was publicly restored to the ministry.  I sincerely hope that his repentance was genuine.  Only God knows the man’s heart.  But the radio interview that I heard with him and his wife left me wondering if his repentance was genuine.  The interviewer asked him how he had fallen into this sin.  He used the story of the American pilot who had flown his small plane past all of the Soviet Union’s sophisticated radar and warning systems and landed in Red Square in Moscow.  This Christian leader seemed to be saying that he had all his defenses in place, but the enemy sneaked this sin into his life and there was nothing he could have done to prevent it.  He was a victim of Satan’s clever tactics!  His wife chimed in, making it sound as if her poor husband had caught a bad case of adultery, much like we catch the flu!  It was interesting that when President Clinton was caught in his immorality, this Christian leader was one of three that he called on for spiritual counsel.

The Bible is clear that there is both genuine and false repentance.  

  • Twice Pharaoh told Moses, “I have sinned” (Exodus 9:27; 10:16), but he did not truly repent. 
  • Esau felt bad and wept over giving away his birthright, but he did not truly repent (Hebrews 12:17).  
  • Judas felt remorse over betraying Jesus and even said that he had sinned (Matthew 27:4), but he did not repent. 

If we want to be right before God, we must make sure that our repentance is genuine, not superficial.  Our text is not comprehensive, but it does give some marks of genuine repentance:

Genuine repentance involves

Heartfelt sorrow before God

For our sins and prompt

Action to correct them.

The problem concerned the Jewish exiles who had returned to the land but had taken pagan wives in disobedience of God’s commandment (Deuteronomy 7:1-4; Ezra 9:1-2). Ezra 10:11 sums up what they must do to correct the situation, “Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.”  

We learn several truths from this chapter about repentance . . .

1. Genuine Repentance Involves Heartfelt Sorrow Before God For Our Sins.

That sorrow would not be words only; it would also manifest itself in obedience to do His will.  Ezra’s deep mourning over the sins of the exiles led others to gather around him, see their own sins, and weep bitterly over them (10:1).  A spokesman for the people, Shecaniah (10:2), confesses the sin and proposes to Ezra that the people make a covenant to correct the sin.  Shecaniah himself is not in the list of offenders, but perhaps his father is the Jehiel, son of Elam, mentioned in 10:26.  Six members of the clan of Elam had married foreign wives.

Ezra acted on Shecaniah’s proposal by calling the exiles to Jerusalem, where they all shivered in the December rain (10:9).  They agreed that they had sinned and, except for four men who opposed the plan (10:15), agreed to the plan of action.  A commission was appointed to examine each case.  If the foreign wife had put away her idols and swore allegiance to the God of Israel, nothing further was required.  But in the other cases, where the wife refused to give up her idols, the marriages were dissolved, with arrangements for compensation to care for the wives and children involved.  I will deal with the matter of divorce in light of biblical teaching in a moment. For now, let us look at four marks of genuine repentance:

A. Genuine Repentance Must Be Primarily Toward God.

In chapter 10, verse 1, Ezra was praying, confessing, weeping, bowing down, “before the house of God.”  Shecaniah admits in verse 2 of chapter 10, “We have been trespassed to our God.”  It was with God that they made this covenant because they trembled at His commandment (10:3).  They owned up to their sin, “… for this matter is your responsibility …” (10:4).  They needed to confess their sins to the Lord and do His will (10:11).

While sin always hurts other people and we need to ask their forgiveness when we sin against them, sin is first and foremost against God Himself.  That is why David, after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband murdered, said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).  He wrote in Psalm 51:4, “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done this is evil in Your sight.”  Certainly David had sinned against Bathsheba and even more so against her husband, Uriah.  But those sins were nothing in comparison with David’s offense against the holy God.  

When a believer sins, he gives occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14).  Unbelievers will mock God and justify their own sins when they hear of a believer’s sin.  Thus, our sin is primarily against God, which means that our repentance must be primarily toward Him also.

B. Genuine Repentance Feels Deeply The Wrong Of Our Sins.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that godly sorrow, “produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”  Both Ezra and those who gathered around him wept bitterly because they saw how unfaithful God’s people had been and they trembled at God’s word that warns of His righteous judgment on sin (9:4; 10:3, 14).

Our sorrow should be proportional to the magnitude of our sin.  It would not be appropriate or necessary to weep over relatively minor sins, although we should keep a tender conscience toward all sins.  We should confess such sins to the Lord and move on, praying for strength to avoid these sins in the future.  But, if we have sinned in a major way, it is appropriate to be deeply grieved over what we have done.  After denying that he knew Jesus, Peter went out into the night and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62).

Our grief over major sins should also stem from our understanding of the serious consequences that our sins bring both on ourselves and on others.  Even though we are God’s people, our sins can arouse His “fierce anger” (9:14; 10:14) on us and on our children.  I fear that too many Christians view God only as loving and forgiving, so that we have lost our fear of Him.  It is worth pondering that when Moses asked to see God’s face in Exodus 34:6-7, we are told, “The Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.”  We all like this picture so far!  But God does not stop there.  He continues (and we must continue also), “yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”  The realization that my sins get visited on my children and grandchildren should cause me to feel them deeply and turn from them.

C. Genuine Repentance Accepts The Responsibility For What We Have Done.

If there is any blaming, it is not genuine repentance.  If there are any excuses, it is not genuine repentance.  Genuine repentance says, “I have sinned,” or “We have been unfaithful” (10:2).  Genuine repentance exonerates God as David did in Psalm 51b, “So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.”  Marion Barry, the former mayor of Washington, D.C., who was caught on videotape using cocaine in a prostitute’s room, “admitted that his cocaine problem came about because he cared too deeply, for too long, about too many other people’s needs.”  In the trial of the Yosemite serial killer, his attorney argued that he was not responsible for his atrocious crimes because of his difficult childhood.  Thankfully, the jurors rejected that reasoning.  Even today many “experts” tell us we live in a culture where everyone is a victim because of some psychological “disease” for which they are not responsible.  

Genuine repentance always accepts

Full responsibility for what we have done.

D. Genuine Repentance Sees Hope In The Midst Of Despair.

After confessing the unfaithfulness of the people in marrying foreign women, Shecaniah interjects in 10:2, “Yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.”  Exodus 34:6-7 tells us the reason that there is hope is because our God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.”  That is how God reveals Himself to us!  David quotes those words of hope in Psalm 103 and then goes on to say in verses 8-9 and 13-14, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him, for He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”  Because God is always ready to forgive and restore the repentant sinner, the thought of repentance opens a door of hope to those who are suffering the consequences of their sins.

The first mark of genuine repentance is heartfelt sorrow before God for our sins. But sorrow alone is not enough . . .

2. Genuine Repentance Takes Prompt Action To Correct Our Sins.

True repentance requires not only admitting our wrong to God and others, but also taking practical steps of obedience to correct our wrongs.  With some sins, such as murdering or permanently injuring someone, we can never fix the wrong we committed. Some problems are so complex that they cannot be corrected instantly.  But that should not be an excuse for not taking action at all.  We should devise a plan that can lead us into full obedience to Christ.  Repentance should take place as quickly as possible in light of the complexity of the problem.

A. Genuine Repentance Takes The Necessary Action To Correct Our Sins, Even When It Is Personally Difficult To Do So.

Sometimes our sin results in problems for which are no easy solutions.  This was one of those situations.  To allow those in mixed marriages to continue in them would seemingly condone such behavior and would draw many Jews into religious syncretism right at the time that purity and separation were essential.  According to Edwin Yamauchi in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, only 111 Jewish men are listed as guilty of this sin, which was only 0.4 percent of the 28,774 exiles who had returned under Zerubbabel.  We may be inclined to think that Ezra was making a mountain out of a molehill.

But as Paul said with reference to tolerating sin in the Corinthian church, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6).  If the problem had not been confronted, it would have spread even farther.  Since the Jewish exiles who had returned were so few in number, to allow this sin to continue could have effectively diluted their distinctiveness as God’s people.  In His righteous anger, God could have destroyed the people until there was no remnant left (9:14).  Ezra believed that it was necessary to break up these wrongful marriages, in spite of God’s declared hatred of divorce (Malachi 2:16).  The fact that he fasted and prayed before acting on this argues that he did the right thing, although it was not easy.

To break up these marriages meant separating fathers from their wives and children, who would be sent back to their pagan roots, which was not good either.  I think that Ezra believed that breaking up these marriages and restoring purity to the nations was a lesser evil than allowing the mixed marriages to continue and thereby threatening the spiritual purity of the nation in both the present and the future.  Either way was difficult and painful.

Should believers today who find themselves in mixed marriages divorce their mates? Clearly not!  The New Testament commands that a believer should not enter such a relationship (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).  But it is also clear that if a believer is already in such a relationship, he or she should live in a godly manner, seeking to be a testimony of Christ by his or her behavior.  The only other biblical ground that permits (not requires) divorce is the sexual immorality of one of the partners (Matthew 5:32; 19:8-9). In such cases, I always counsel repentance and reconciliation, because it glorifies God more than divorce does.

There is another way that our text applies to us today: Just as separating from their pagan wives (and, in some cases, children) was a difficult and painful thing to do, so we must separate ourselves from our sins, no matter how difficult or painful.  Jesus said in Matthew 18:8-9, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”  Jesus was using shocking language to get us to see how serious sin is and that we must take radical action to get it out of our lives, even when it is very difficult.  Sometimes, as in the situation in Ezra’s day, there are no easy solutions.

B. Genuine Repentance Takes The Necessary Action To Correct Our Sins, Even When It Is Potentially Divisive To Do So.

Verse 15 mentions in passing that four men opposed the proposed covenant to divorce these pagan women.  I am sure that there was far more angry dissension than is recorded here.  Ezra would have been attacked as being an insensitive, unloving, self-righteous man who had no compassion for all these hurting people.

If Ezra is the author of Psalm 119 (as many scholars believe), many verses in that psalm reflect attacks on the author.  

  • He was the object of reproach and contempt (119:22, 39, 42).
  • Princes were talking against him (119:23).
  • The arrogant derided him and forged lies against him (119:51, 69, 86).
  • Many persecuted him, dug pits for him, and waited to destroy him (119:84, 85, 95, 110).
  • He had many persecutors and adversaries (119: 157).

Even though he was obeying God’s Word, he was not a popular, well-loved guy!

Some may think that Ezra was wrong to force all the Jews into the covenant under the threat of confiscating their property and excluding them from the assembly (10:8). Wasn’t he just getting outward conformity without genuine heartfelt repentance?  In one sense, I am sure that Ezra hoped that every man would take the necessary action to correct his sins out of a personal, uncoerced repentance toward God.  Yet, in another sense, as a leader of God’s covenant people, Ezra had to maintain certain minimum standards of biblical righteousness or the whole community would become tainted by sin and the testimony of God would be diluted to the point of uselessness.  So, he imposed the covenant on all.

The application for us is that God’s desire for His church is that every member would correct his sins because of heartfelt repentance before God.  But even if some members strongly disagree, the leaders must enforce holy standards on the whole body, or the testimony of Christ will be destroyed.

Whenever church discipline gets to the whole church level, it is potentially divisive. Those who are inclined toward mercy or who do not understand God’s standards of holiness will complain that the leaders lack compassion, that they are not practicing grace, and that they are being judgmental and unloving.

But if a sinning member refuses to repent after the biblical steps are followed (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1), the Bible is clear that he must be publicly removed from the fellowship and that other members are not to associate with him, except to exhort him to repentance (1 Corinthians 5:1-13).  Maintaining the purity of the church is more important than the potential strife and division that can erupt in the process of church discipline.  Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 5:13 is not fuzzy, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”

Conclusion

Genuine repentance involves heartfelt sorrow before God for our sins and prompt action to correct them, even when it is difficult and potentially divisive.

There are many today who teach that all that a sinner has to do is to believe in Jesus, and that repentance has nothing to do with salvation.  It should come later, they would say, but to do this is to confuse faith and works.  But Jesus said that He came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).  In the Great Commission Jesus said, “that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47).  Paul summed up his Gospel as “solemnly testifying … of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).  We must begin the Christian life by repentance and faith.

But repentance is not just something that we must do at the beginning of salvation.  It is something that should characterize believers all of our lives.  As the Holy Spirit convicts us through God’s Word of our sins, we should go on repenting.  

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 9:1-15 – The Godly Reaction to Sin

Grace For The Journey

I have seen men weep genuine tears of repentance over his sin.  I fear that in our decadent society, even we in the church have grown so used to sin that it does not trouble or shock us anymore.  C. H. Spurgeon, in his Autobiography, warned his fellow pastors of the danger of dealing with sin and sinners professionally, so that we lose our dread of evil.  What at first shocked us becomes commonplace and routine.  As Alexander Pope perceptively observed in Essay on Man,  

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,

As to be hated needs but to be seen;

Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face,

We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

Because we are so desensitized toward sin, we fail to have the proper response toward it, whether it is our own sin, or sin in others.  We minimize it, justify it, or ignore it and go on our way unaffected by it.

If we see someone reacting in a godly way toward sin, we think that he is a bit carried away or extreme.  He is considered judgmental or intolerant.  How dare he cast stones at others!  Does he think that he is without sin?  And so, by casting our stones at him, we justify our sins and go back to business as usual, wondering why God does not bless our lives more than He does.

Our text relates Ezra’s reaction to the sin of the exiles who had returned to Israel after the Babylonian captivity.  About four and a half months (7:9, cf. 10:9) after he led a remnant back to the land, it was reported to him that many people in Israel, including many priests, Levites, princes, and rulers, had sinned by taking pagan wives.  Ezra did not take the news in stride, chuckling, “Well, people will be people.”  Rather, he tore his clothes, pulled some hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled and speechless until the time of the evening offering.  By then, a number of godly people had gathered around him.  Ezra arose, then fell to his knees, lifted his hands to the Lord, and confessed the great sin of his people, identifying himself with them, although he had not sinned in this regard.  His prayer, which ranks with Nehemiah 9 and Daniel 9 as one of the great prayers of confession in the Bible, shows us the godly reaction to sin:

The godly reaction to sin is to

Recognize it from Scripture,

To mourn over it, and

To confess it without excuse

To the God of mercy.

How a person reacts to the news of sin tells a lot about that person.  If we hear about adultery and get a subtle thrill reading the juicy details, it reveals that we do not hate that sin and are vulnerable to it ourselves.  While I confess that I have never reacted as strongly against sin as Ezra did (I cannot afford to pull out my hair!), and while part of his reaction may be culturally explained, we still can learn from him that we need to abhor sin so that we do not become desensitized to it.  The first step is . . .

1. The Godly Reaction To Sin Is To Recognize It From Scripture.

How do we know what is right and wrong?  A popular song (supposedly Christian) a few years ago asked, “How can it be wrong when it feels so right?”  I hope that most Christians know that feelings are not a solid basis for determining right and wrong.  Yet I have had young ladies, purporting to be Christians, tell me that they are going to marry a non-Christian man because they have prayed about it and feel a peace about it.  Never mind that the Bible strongly forbids entering such a marriage (2 Corinthians 6:14)!  It is how you feel about it that really counts!  I have had Christian spouses tell me that they feel a peace about divorcing their mates for unbiblical reasons.  The peace they feel is the relief of escaping from a difficult relationship, not the peace of God.  But they often act on feelings, rather than on God’s Word.

Some say that we should follow our consciences, but the conscience is only reliable to the degree that it has been formed by Scripture.  For example, I ask couples who want me to marry them to fill out a questionnaire.  One question asks about the couple’s level of physical involvement, and the next question asks how they feel about their level of involvement, with the choices: Good, Concerned, Guilty, or Trapped.  Sometimes I get couples who report that they have sex often and they feel good about it!  That tells me that this couple does not have a clue about what God’s Word says about sexual purity before marriage.  Their sense of right and wrong has been formed more by the culture than by Scripture.

A. Scripture Reveals To Us What Sin Is.

Ezra was appalled when he heard about these Jews marrying pagans because he knew that God’s Word condemns it. He laments in verse 10, “For we have forsaken Your commandments,” and he goes on to cite God’s prohibition against intermarriage with the pagans of the land.  His citations are not an exact quote, but rather a summary of passages such as Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4.  The reporting of this sin to Ezra (9:1) reflects the biblical language, in that these are the people groups that inhabited the land before the conquest under Joshua.  Only the Ammonites, Moabites, and Egyptians were still living there.  But the point is, Ezra and the leaders who reported this sin to him knew that it was sin because God’s Word declared it to be sin.

When the princes reported that the holy seed had been intermingled with the peoples of the land (9:2), their concern was not racial corruption, but rather, moral corruption.  In the original command, God explained the reason for the prohibition, “For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 7:4; see also, Exodus 34:16).  God knew the tendency of fallen hearts.  Rather than influencing their mates to abandon their idols and follow the one true God, the Israelites would be prone to mingle pagan idolatry with their worship of God.

This is called syncretism, and it always has been a major problem for God’s people.  We do not blatantly deny Christianity.  Rather, we add to our faith the beliefs and practices of the world, so that in a short time, we are virtually indistinguishable from the world in our thinking and in the way we live.  Because of this propensity, God forbade intermarriage and He even prohibited the Jews from seeking the peace and prosperity of the pagans in their pagan ways (Deuteronomy 23:6; contrast Jeremiah 29:7).  There had to be a clear separation of God’s people from the pagans or God’s people would be drawn into the pagan practices.

Blending in with the world rather than being distinct from it has plagued the church down through the centuries.  Monasticism was an attempt to escape worldly influence by withdrawing from the world.  I was surprised a few years ago to read some leading evangelicals who were suggesting a revival of monasticism as a way to stem the current flood of worldliness in the church!  The problem with monasticism is that Jesus wants His followers to be in the world as salt and light, but not to be of the world (Matthew 5:13; John 17:14-18).  He calls us to go into the world with a distinct mission, to reach the world with the Gospel.  But to do that effectively, we must remain unstained from the world.  

The way we think and the way

We live must be shaped

By Scripture, not by the world.

James 4:4 bluntly says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  1 John 2:15 is no less strong, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Or, as Paul puts it with regards to seeking worldly riches in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”.

I have seen many Christian young people fall in love with unbelievers and consequently either fall away from their faith or have their zeal for the Lord greatly diluted.  If you know and love Jesus Christ, the most important thing to look for in a mate is a person who loves Christ and is devoted to following Him.  A believer and an unbeliever have totally different values and goals.  An unbeliever is living for pleasure and the things of this world.  A believer lives to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.  To join the two is a built-in formula for conflict and misery in the home.  Your children also will suffer.

Be on your guard!  Satan uses the tool of an unbelieving or worldly mate to ensnare many Christian young people.

B. Scripture Reveals To Us What Sin Does To People.

Satan always sugarcoats sin to make it look appealing.  We mistakenly think that sin will get us what we want, but it always leads to bondage and ruin.  Ezra’s prayer from verses 5 through 15 reveals where the nation’s sins had led them.  Verse 7 says, “… on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to plunder and to humiliation, as it is this day.”  Four times he refers to the people as an escaped remnant (9:8, 13, 14, 15), showing how the formerly strong nation had been decimated.  He repeatedly uses words like “bondage,” slaves,” and “ruins” (9:8-9) to describe the condition of the people.  He acknowledges that if they do not repent, God may destroy them so that no remnant survives or escapes (9:14).

God’s Word plainly warns that sin

Not only enslaves and eventually

Destroys the sinner; it also

Takes a toll on others.

Marvin Breneman writes, “Christians who adopt a life-style that negates Jesus’ commands are sacrificing both the future of the church and that of the peoples it should be reaching with the gospel.”  If we blend into the world, lost peoples will not hear the Gospel through our witness and our support of missionaries.  Our children will grow up thinking that Christianity has nothing to do with how we live, and they will reject the faith altogether.

Thus, we must involve ourselves with God’s Word so that we instantly recognize sin in ourselves and can turn from it.  

Being in the Bible more than we are

In TV and other worldly media

Will keep us aware of

The devastating toll of sin.

2. The Godly Reaction To Sin Is To Mourn Over It.

When Ezra heard of this sin of God’s people, he tore his garment and robe, pulled some hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled for hours.  His reaction probably seems extreme to us.  But, as someone has observed, “Rare is the soul who is so shocked at disobedience that he is appalled.”  R. C. Sproul said,“It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath, that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.”

Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”   In his sermon on that text, Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “I cannot help feeling that the final explanation of the state of the Church today is a defective sense of sin and a defective doctrine of sin.”  He goes on to say that the reason so many professing Christians lack joy is that they have never experienced a real, deep conviction of sin, which is the essence of the Gospel. He says, “They have failed to see that they must be convicted of sin before they can ever experience joy.  They do not like the doctrine of sin.  They dislike it intensely and they object to its being preached.  They want joy apart from the conviction of sin.  But that is impossible; it can never be obtained.”  Conviction is an essential preliminary to true conversion.

C. H. Spurgeon saw the same thing in his day.  Spurgeon wrote, “A very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house, and never making him say, ‘Father, I have sinned.’  How can he be healed who is not sick, or he be satisfied with the bread of life who is not hungry?  The old-fashioned sense of sin is despised.  The consequence is that men leap into religion, and then leap out again.  Unhumbled they came to the church, unhumbled they remained in it, and unhumbled they go from it.”

In his great work, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards rightly argued, “True religion [he meant genuine Christianity], in great part, consists in holy affections.”  When God changes our hearts through the new birth, He gives us new desires for holiness and a hatred toward sin.  These emotional qualities (and many others) will increase over time.  But . . .

A distinguishing mark of a true Christian

Is that he mourns over sin,

Both his own sins and the sins of others.

Ezra was so steeped in God’s Word and the history of God’s ways with His errant people that he knew that God’s severe discipline would fall again if the people did not repent.  Even though Ezra himself had not committed this particular sin, he identified himself with the sin of the people and mourned over it.

What would you think of a doctor, who upon discovering that you had cancer, gave you a hug and said, “Take two aspirin and you’ll be just fine?”  How about a fireman who responded to a report of a house on fire by saying, “It will burn itself out soon?”  How about a policeman who arrived at the scene of a robbery, shook his head, and said, “Boys will be boys?”  In each case, the response is inappropriate to the situation.

A Christian’s response to sin, whether his own or the sin of other believers, should be to mourn.  That attitude stems from trembling at the words of God (9:4).  The godly reaction to sin is first to recognize it from Scripture, and then to mourn over it.

3. The Godly Reaction To Sin Is To Confess It Without Excuse To The God Of Mercy.

Ezra’s prayer is a model of confession.  It has four elements . . .

A. Confession Acknowledges The Absolute Righteousness Of God In All His Dealings With Us.

In verse 15, Ezra affirms God’s righteousness in His past punishment of Israel by sending them into captivity: “O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous.”  In 9:13 he acknowledges that God has given them less than their sins deserve. The implication of 9:14 is that if God were to give them what they deserved now, He would totally wipe them out.  Ezra exonerates God, while accepting the blame for what the people have done.

B. Confession Submits To God’s Righteous Dealings Without Complaint Or Excuse.

There is not even a hint of complaint on Ezra’s part that God has not been fair.  He does not point to any extenuating circumstances.  Perhaps there was not an adequate supply of Jewish women for these exiles to marry, which led them to marry foreign wives. Perhaps the men rationalized by saying, “But our wives promised to worship at the temple with us.”  Ezra laid aside any and all excuses.  Rather than complaining about God’s judgment, Ezra readily acknowledged that God would be justified to inflict much more punishment than He had.

Ezra’s identification with the people, in spite of his own innocence in this sin, shows that he knew the evil that lurked in his own heart.  If he had been self-righteous, he would have prayed, “Lord, these people of Yours are obstinate and wicked. You are righteous to judge them. But I’m not like they are.”  But instead, he included himself when he confessed the sins of the people.

Many years ago, a correspondent of the London Times was reporting on many of the same problems that we now have.  He ended every article with the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”  G. K. Chesterton wrote a brief reply: “Dear Editor, What’s wrong with the world? I am. Faithfully yours, G. K. Chesterton.”  Biblical confession does not excuse oneself.

C. Confession Agrees With God Concerning His View Of Our Sin.

We are prone to minimize our sin by calling it a shortcoming, a fault, a tendency, or some other benign terms.  In verse 6, Ezra admits his shame because, “our iniquities have risen over our heads.”  In other words, “We’re drowning in a flood of our sins.”  He refers to their “great guilt” because of their iniquities that led to the captivity (9:7).  He admits to forsaking God’s commandments by joining with the uncleanness, abominations, and impurity of the peoples of the land (9:10-11).  He refers again to their “evil deeds” and “great guilt” (9:13) for breaking God’s commandments and committing these abominations (9:14).  He does not gloss over their sins as no big deal.  He calls it what it is.

D. Confession Casts The sinner On God’s Undeserved Mercy, Based On The Sacrifice Of Jesus Christ.

Ezra’s prayer makes no petition, but rather, he implicitly casts himself and the nation on God’s undeserved mercy.  He acknowledges that the current return from exile and the building of the temple are a powerful way “grace has been shown from the LORD our God …” (9:8), which those who have sinned have ungratefully disregarded.

Verse 5 tells us that Ezra made his prayer at the time of the evening offering.  Perhaps the smell of the sacrifice encouraged his heart that God has made a way for sinners to be reconciled to Him, namely, through the shedding of the blood of a substitute.  The Old Testament sacrifices pointed ahead to the shed blood of God’s perfect and final sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Through faith in Christ’s blood applied to our hearts, we can draw near to God for cleansing from all our sins.

Conclusion

J. C. Ryle said, “Christ is never fully valued, until sin is clearly seen.”  Thus, our first reaction to sin must be to see it clearly from the Scriptures.  Then, realizing that it put our Savior on the cross, we should mourn over it.  Finally, we should confess it without excuse to the God of mercy, appropriating His cleansing for our consciences, that we might be renewed to serve Him in purity.

C. S. Lewis observed, “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”  As we grow in godliness, with Ezra, we will react more strongly to our own sins and to the sins of God’s people.  We will dwell more consistently at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, where God’s mercy flows to our repentant sinners.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 8:1,15,18-36 – Fervor For The Lord Leads To Faithfulness In The Lord

Grace For The Journey

  I heard the story of a husband who was driving home from church.  His wife was sitting on the other side of the front seat next.  Seemingly a large gulf separated them.  With lonely eyes she looked at him and said, “Dear do you recall when we first met how close we used to sit to each other?  You use to put your arm around me.  What happened to those days?”  With one hand firmly attached to the steering wheel, and the other resting on the empty space between them, he said, “Well, I haven’t moved.”  The distance was not because he had moved.   A separation had resulted because she had moved away.  She had left her first love.  Is this where you are spiritually?  This was the charge the Risen Lord brought against the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:4, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee because thou hast left thy first love.”  The word “left,” pictures something gradual.  This departure did not happen overnight.  Somewhere along the way they lost their passion.   Have you ever heard of the second-generation syndrome?  The second generation has a natural tendency to accept the status quo and to lose the vision of the first generation.

Church history is filled with examples of it, and sadly, so are many churches.  

The parent’s fervor for the Lord Jesus

Becomes the children’s formalism

And the grandchildren’s apathy

(Judges 3:1-6).

 I wonder is this exactly what happened to the people of God in the days of Ezra?  When the first captives returned under Zerubbabel only 50,000 responded? (2:64).  Even that was small in comparison with the large number of Jews living in Babylon.  But now here under Ezra the number comes to approximately 1,500 men, plus women and children.  Why was there so few?  Over the decades the old generation had died, and a new generation had arisen that had never seen Jerusalem or the temple and probably had little interest in the welfare of their fellow Jews, sacrificially laboring there.  Eighty years had passed from Zerubbabel’s time, sixty years had passed from the completion of the temple (6::15) and these Jews had lost their vision.

The vision they once had of

Being called to do God’s work,

To be a witness to the

Surrounding Gentile nations,

Had now faded

Almost to nothingness.

They had lost the glow,

And the zeal they

Once had was spent,

As they became increasingly

Absorbed into the culture

And lifestyle of Babylon.

Can that happen to us in our Christian lives?  Of course it can.  There is a lukewarmness, a complacency, and an apathy about amazing biblical truths that we have heard from our childhood or from our Bible teachers.  Whether we like it or not, leaving our first love for our Savior is very much a part of 21st century Christianity.  I wonder is this where you are?  Would Paul have to say of you what he said of Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas hath forsaken me having loved this present world.”  Thankfully, there are those in every age who remain true to the Lord and here are 1,500 of them taking the long road back to Jerusalem.  There are three pictures of God’s people in this passage that I want you to see.  I want you to see this tiny remnant . . .

1) By The River.

This group left Babylon on the first day of the fifth month (7:9), and after about a week of travel (8:31), they stopped at the River Ahava which was probably a tributary of the river Euphrates.  Here they stopped for three days (8:15).  Now it is very evident that the story of this chapter is closely linked with this river.  Notice how many times Ezra mentions it: We read in 8:15, “And I gathered them together to the river that runs to Ahava;,” in 8:21, “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava,” and finally,  in 8:31, “Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem.  This became a . . .

a) A Time Of Reflection.

The people use this time as an opportunity for prayer, for fasting, and for waiting upon God (8:21).  I can imagine Ezra reflecting on how far God had brought them.  Would his mind not be occupied with God’s providential care for His people?  I can imagine that his heart was filled with “wonder, love and praise,”

as he contemplated the “good hand of His God upon him” (7:9.)  Was this not the secret of his ministry?

Ezra had known something of . . .

1. God’s Gracious Hand.

For it was God who had brought him to the place where his heart was set on God, the things of God, and the things of eternity.

2. God’s Guiding Hand.

God had opened the door for Ezra to go in to see King Artaxerxes and ask permission to return to Jerusalem to reinforce the work, and to reform the workers (7:6).

3. God’s Giving Hand.

While the King had granted permission (7:13), made provision (7:14-23), and gave privileges (7:24) Ezra could trace everything ultimately to the hand of God upon him.

For Ezra, this was a time of reflection as he reviewed the past, considered the present, and prepared for the future.

Do you ever take time to reflect, to ponder all the way your Savior has led you?  James Philip in his booklet “A Time to Build,” says that, “Waiting time is never wasted time.”  How right he is.  Sometimes in the Christian life, waiting is more important than running, or doing, or serving, or working, or anything else that we might do.  Ours is a frenetic age, and the pace of life is such that many of us, even in conservative circles no longer know how to “wait,” or “be still,” or “meditate,” in the presence of the Lord.  Instead, we are overactive and would rather be running around, busy with a thousand and one other things in our Christian lives, than simply waiting in quietness and reflection upon the Lord.

b) A Time Of Inspection.

We are told in chapter 8 and verse 15 that Ezra viewed the people.  Geographically, Ezra was at an important departure point for the caravans traveling west, spiritually this stop was not a waste of precious time but provided opportunity for Ezra to take stock of the situation.  Here he is making a final, assessment of the situation before setting out a journey of 900 miles. He says, “I looked among the people and priests.”  His purpose being to see how this company of people would be useful in reinforcing the work of God in Jerusalem.  Do you ever consider of what service, value, or usefulness you can be to Christ’s church?  Do you ever assess the work that you undertake for the Lord? Here is a check list to think about . . .

Is your service effective?

What are you achieving?

What goals do you need to set yourself?

Are you frittering away time on unnecessary tasks?

Are you burning up energy on needless work?

Are you fully committed to the Lord’s work?

Are you motivating others to labor for the Master?

c) A Time of Detection.

In checking the exiles Ezra discovered there was not a single Levite among them (8:15).  The Levites were the descendants of Levi (Genesis 29:34) who had been set apart by the Lord, “to stand before the Lord, to minister unto Him and to bless in His name” (Deuteronomy 10:8).  They were to serve in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple (Numbers 3:5).  Levitical service had played an important part in the wilderness journey.  Bearing the Tabernacle of Witness and the Ark of Testimony through the desert had been the responsibility of the three great families of the house of Levi (Numbers 3:17).  Later, King David had organized the Levites into courses for the service of God (1 Chronicles 23-26).  Here were the spiritual leaders, the very ones who should have been in the forefront supporting the man of God and they are absent.  There was a failure in leadership.  This was not something peculiar to Ezra’s day. In the Bible we find that God sometimes bypassed the official leaders because of their failure, and raised up others to do the work.  

  • Eli and his sons Hophni and Phinehas were official priests, but because of their failure to lead the people aright, the Lord bypassed them in favor of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:11).
  • Amos was a sheep farmer but God raised him up because Amaziah the official priest was a spiritual disaster (Amos 7:10-17).
  • In the New Testament it was not the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees whom God chose to be the foundation of the church, but just a group of ordinary fishermen.

Has it not been the same throughout the history of the church?  When the church needed reforming in the sixteenth century, who did God raise up, but an obscure monk named Martin Luther?  Peter Williams reminds us that, “Before the Evangelical Awakening of the eighteenth century the worldliness of the bishops and clergy was destroying the spiritual life of the church but God had his men in John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield.”  Are we not witnessing the same failure in the church’s established leaders today?  When prominent religious leaders deny the authority of the Word of God and encourage acceptance of lifestyles and attitudes contrary to what God accepts, how are we to respond?  Is this not a failure in leadership?  In Ezekiel’s day the whole of society was corrupt.  The prophets, the priests, the princes, and the people (Ezekiel 22:23-31).  God was seeking for a man who would guide the nation and deliver the land, but He found none. He says, “I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”  In Christ’s day when He saw “the multitudes” …. “as sheep having no shepherd,” and He said, “The harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:36-38).

Is this not a rebuke to our slothful condition?  What an honor it is to serve the living and true God, and yet when there is work to be done, where are men and women of God?  Where are you?  Why when we want men to stand in the gap we find none?  Do you want to know why?  Because like many of these Jews in Babylon we say, “Do not disturb my comfort zone.”

2) Before The Lord.

In verse 21 tells us that Ezra, “… proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.” e eyes of the Lord was this self-judged fasting company.  No Ark was borne on the shoulders of anointed priests to lead them now; no pillar of cloud by day or fire by night was there to guide; yet they knew that the God who had led them through the wilderness, would not fail and they sent up their request to Him.  It is important that we notice how they came before the Lord . . .

1. Humbly: for they fasted. They came with the attitude of Abraham, “I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord which am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27).

2. Believingly: they had already told the King, “the hand of our God is upon all them for good that     seek Him” (verse 22c).  Verse 22 concludes with, “So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.”

3. Earnestly: they committed to “seek,” God.  James 5:16 reminds us that it is “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man that avails much.”

What a picture of these people before the Lord.  Do you know what it is to get before the Lord, to close the door, to concentrate the mind, to confess the sin, to clear the head, and to claim the presence ?  They got before the Lord in order . . .

a) To Be Guided.

Verse 21 says the people were called to humble themselves, “to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”  They wanted to be guided . . .

1. About Their Future – “… a right way for us …”

They wanted to know God’s way for that is the best way.  

  • Before them lay a journey of 900 miles.
  • Beneath them lay difficult terrain.
  • Around them there was the possibility of encountering formidable dangers from enemies of the land.

They come before the Lord and left their future in God’s hands.  Is your future uncertain? Are you unsure about the path that the Lord would have you travel?  Have you committed it all to Him, the Lord who says in Psalms 32:8, “I will guide with My eye.”

2. About their Family – “… And for our little ones …”

Did you know that God has given you a “right way,” for your family?  It is found in the greatest manual on family upbringing that you will ever find. Do you know what it is called?  The Bible.  Do you know what it says?  In the framework of the home, God has constituted parents to fulfill the role of scribes to teach your children the Word, as priests to pray for them, and as kings to enforce God’s rule in their lives.  Are you really concerned about your “little ones?”  How much time do you spend in prayer for them?  You say, “I haven’t got the time.”  Susannah Wesley had seventeen children and she found time for them.

3. About their Finances – “… For all our substance.”  Is it not time that you got before the Lord and sorted out your finances?  You may think you earn your money by your hard work, by the good job you have.  In reality God gave you that job.  God gave you the skills and ability to learn that job.  God gave you the health to perform that job.  The truth is all that you are and all that you have, which includes your money, comes from God.  The Bible says in Deuteronomy 8:18, “But you shall remember the Lord your God for it is He that gives you power to get wealth.”  The question therefore we need to answer this is, “How much do we owe to the Lord who loved us eternally, redeemed us sacrificially, and indwells us permanently?”  Oh, how we need our great and loving God to guide us in all these areas.

b) To Be Guarded.

Travel in those ancient times was extremely dangerous, and in addition to 1,500 men, Ezra had the women and children to think about, not to mention the vast amount of wealth they were carrying.  Here was a caravan that was a prime target for the enemy.  Verse 22 tells us, “For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road …”  Here is what Ezra had been doing.  Ezra had been witnessing to this pagan king.  He was saying that God was going to take care of them.  He had proclaimed this great truth, now he needed to practice it.  To Ezra God was more than a religious concept, rather He was a God who could be trusted in the most difficult of circumstances.  What a marvelous example Ezra is for us . . .

For having been saved by faith,

We are now called to walk by faith.

Having initially trusted the Lord to save us,

Let us now trust the Lord continually

To go with us and to guard us.

The Christian life is a pilgrimage.  Pressing on to Heaven we are all the while passing through hostile territory.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us our “Adversary the devil as a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour.”  The world in which we live has many distractions which would seek to lure us away from the route of our pilgrimage.  Satan has his bandits.  He is a master tactician of spiritual warfare.  He would seek to cut off the supply line and ambush us as we set our faces toward glory.  That is why we need the unseen hand of God to guide us and to guard us.

Lo, the hosts of evil round us

Scorn Thy Christ assail His ways

Fears and doubts too long have bound us

Free our hearts to work and praise

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage

For the living of these days

3) Building The Work.

Or we could say, shouldering the work.  Spiritually speaking . . .

When you get by the river in contemplation,

When you get before the Lord in supplication,

You will build the work in anticipation.

As we look at these Jews we notice . . .

a) What Was Entrusted To Them.

Beginning in verse 26 we read that Ezra chose twelve leading priests and gave them “…the silver, the gold, and the articles, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes, and all Israel who were present, had offered” and instructed them to, “Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leaders of the priests and the Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel in Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.”   The silver and gold had to be weighed out and the consecrated vessels were committed to consecrated servants who handled this matter in a most business like way.  These twelve men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were responsible for the Lord’s treasury, and would one day give an account to Him.  This reminds us that we need to be very careful in the handling of finances and the material things God gives us?  This is the principle that Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers when he spoke about the offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem in 2 Corinthians 8:21, “Providing for honest things not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men.”  Paul is saying we are taking pains to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord, but in the eyes of men.  

Do you see your money as a gift from God?  1 Chronicles 29:14 tells us when David took up an offering for the temple he prayed, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort?  For all things come of You and of Your own we have given You.”  What David literally said was, “What we put into one of Your hands we simply took from the other.”  

This good news to those

Who live “hand to mouth!”   

The Bible teaches us that we

Live, “From His hand to our mouth.”

What about the treasure of the Gospel?  For Paul says 2 Corinthians 4:7, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.”   God has entrusted to you, your wealth, the Gospel, and your gifts (Ephesians 4:7). There is a day of examination coming very soon for notice . . .

b) What Was Examined For Them.

Verse 33 tells us what happened when they got to Jerusalem.  There was a weighing and counting of the items and the priests wrote down the number and weight of everything.  The Bible sys in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done whether it be good or bad.”  We will not be there for our sin, for that was settled once for all in the death of the cross, but our service will be reviewed at Bema judgment seat.  Do not you think it is going to be some sort of a children’s party where prizes will be given out without discrimination.  It will be a judgment in every sense of the term. And the quality of every Christian’s service will be tested.  Think of that.  In one sweeping view our entire life of service will be reviewed and revealed.  We will discover then that what we thought was gold is but wood, what we thought was silver stones is but hay, and what we thought was precious stones is but stubble.  How dreadful it will be to pick up ashes of our worthless service and press them into the nail scarred hands of the Savior.  At the Judgment Seat, there will be a review (2 Corinthians 5:10),there will be a regret (1 Corinthians 3:5) and there will be a reward (1 Peter 5:4).   I wonder when you stand in His presence on that day, will you hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21)

Shall I empty-handed be

When before the crystal sea

I shall stand before the everlasting throne

Will I hang my head in shame as I answer to my name

Not a thing that my Redeemer there can own

The Lord has entrusted to you treasure, talent, and time.  At the bema He will call you to account.  We also notice . . .  

c) What Was Expressed Of Them.

Verse 36b says, “So they gave support to the people and the house of God.”  The word “gave support” carries the idea of not only providing for the work but furthering the work.  What a memorial and epitaph.

Will it be said of you, when your day is over not only provided for the work of building the Lord’s church but you also we involved in furthering the work of God?  Here is God’s word of commendation for faithful service.

Oh, may we keep in view

The day above all days

That at the Judgment Seat of Christ

We may receive His praise.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God At Work Among His People: Ezra 7:1-10 27-28 – God Always Has His Man

Grace For The Journey

   Someone once asked William Booth of the Salvation Army the secret of his life. He replied, “God has had all there was of me. There have been men with greater brains than I, even with greater opportunities, but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and caught a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with me and them.  On that day I made up my mind that God should have all of William Booth there was.  If there is anything of power in the Salvation Army it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.”  In a journal, Jim Elliot, murdered in South America by the Auca Indians wrote these words, “God I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life, that I may burn for Thee.  Consume my life, my God for it is Thine, I seek not a long life but a full one like you Lord Jesus.”  William Carey, the Baptist missionary ,at the end of the eighteenth century, was one day at his work as a cobbler in Northampton.  Someone who came in that day to visit said, I see that you are a cobbler.”  “No,” said Carey, “My business is the kingdom of God, but I’m doing this to pay the expenses.”

He was really saying that . . .

The thing his heart was set on

Was the work of God,

The good of souls in India.

This is what moved him,

This is what motivated him,

And

This is what mastered him.

The same is true of Ezra.  It was the year 458, and Artaxerxes 1st was King of Persia.  Almost sixty years had passed since the completion of the temple in Jerusalem, and the Jewish remnant was having a very difficult time.  It was then that God raised up Ezra to lead a second group of Jews from Babylon to Judah to support the work and help rebuild the city.  Ezra was a Jew who was brought up in the kingdom of Persia.  As such, he was born and raised a displaced person and ministered in the second half of the fifth century.  He was a trusted official who occupied an important position in the court of the Emperor of Persia as a confidant.  He had never seen Jerusalem and lived in an alien and pagan world.  Yet, he is a man who is remembered as a significant individual in the purposes of God.  People thought of him as a second Moses because of the great revival of God’s work that happened under him.

Every person is important to God and God’s work, but as Dr. Lee Roberson has often said, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.”  

  • When God wanted to deliver Israel from Egypt, He raised up Moses.
  • When Israel was divided and defeated He called Samuel to teach the Word and David to serve as King.
  • In this very same period of Old Testament history, we meet with others like Daniel, Queen Esther, and the man who came after, Ezra, Nehemiah.

Just individuals, yet people who left a mark on their generation.  Richard Nixon was right when he said, that leaders are people who “make a difference,”and Ezra was that kind of man.  Do you want to make a mark for God in your generation?  Do you want to be useful to God?  Or do you want to waste your life by living aimlessly?  What made Ezra so useful to God?  Notice, from the context that Ezra was . . .

1) A Distinguished Man.

Ezra is one of the neglected characters of the Bible.  I do not believe he has received proper recognition from Bible expositors and certainly not from the church.  When was the last time you heard a message on this man Ezra?  Yet, Jewish tradition has a great deal to say about Ezra.  It claims that he established the system of synagogue worship while in Babylon.  That he played an important part in the formation of the Old Testament canon.  That he wrote the books of Chronicles, Nehemiah, and Esther.  The accuracy of these facts is not fully established, but the very fact that they are attributed to Ezra, shows us something of the greatness of the man, and why in Jewish tradition, he is regarded as a second Moses.  I believe Ezra was distinguished because of . .  .

a) His Family.

There were some priests in the Jewish remnant who could not prove their ancestry (2:61-63) but Ezra was not one of them.  What he does in the opening verses of chapter 7 is trace his family tree back to Aaron, the high priest and brother of Moses to prove that he was a true priest and had the right to introduce necessary reforms.  It was Moses who originally led the people of God to the land which the Jews were now returning with Ezra as their guide.  He acted as a second Moses in the nation.  It seems that Zerubabbel had passed from the scene.  Between Chapters 6 and 7 there is a period of fifty-seven years to which belongs the story of Esther.  Evidently Zerubabbel had died, and spiritual decline had set in among God’s people again, but God had His man and now Ezra with some fifteen hundred people begin the long road home.  

Some of you have never had a godly heritage, but you have determined you are going to give God your all.  We praise the Lord for those of us who can say with the Psalmist, “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, yes, I have a goodly heritage” (Psalm 16:6.)   Can you look down the corridor of time, and in the providence of God, thank God for a godly father and a praying mom? What an unspeakable privilege it is to be brought up in a home like Timothy where, “from a child you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15).

The older I get the more thankful I am for the home that I had. I had a godly mom and father who made a big impression on my life. Being blessed with godly ancestors is no guarantee of success for their descendants, but it is a good beginning.  God promises to bless the descendants of the godly. The Bible says, “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion, and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children and peace upon Israel” (Psalm 128; Deuteronomy 4:40).  Ezra knew the names of his ancestors and what these men had done and he made the most of his heritage.  What about you?  Are you squandering the rich spiritual legacy that has been entrusted to you? Or are you using it to honor the Lord and promote His cause?  What a tragedy it is when the descendants of godly families turn away from the Lord and lead lives of rebellion and disobedience (Judges 2:10).

b) His Focus.

Verse 5 tells us about Ezra’s heritage – He was a descendent of Aaron, the chief priest.  Ezra is the first person in the Bible to be called a scribe or teacher.  Verse 6 tells us that Ezra was particularly skillful in his work as a scribe.  The primary function of a scribe was to make copies of the Scripture.  The office involved classifying, very carefully counting each letter of Old Testament writing to preserve accuracy, and teaching the precepts of the law.  Ezra’s responsibility was to transcribe the sacred Scriptures and then to explain and expound them.   He loved his work and this is reflected in his deep reverence for the Scriptures.  According to verse 6, he saw the law of Moses as something “which the Lord God of Israel had given.”  The very words he transcribed he regarded as “the words of the commandments of the Lord” (verse 11).  He made the law of the Lord his delight.  Ezra was mighty in the Scriptures, reading to know the letter, marking to know the meaning, and inwardly digesting to experience the power of God.

A man whose focus was on the “sword of the Spirit,” might naturally be expected to further the “Spirit’s work.”  Where is your focus? Is it on the Scriptures or on the sport?  Is it on the truth or on the television? Is it on the faith or is it on finance?

c) His Faith.

His careful study of the Word of God had increased his faith (Romans 10:17).  It helped him understand God’s plans for the Jewish remnant and he wanted to be part of those plans.  Certainly, as he studied the Old Testament Scriptures, he prayed for God to help His people, and the Lord answered that prayer by calling him to go to Jerusalem.  Ezra was a man of faith.  Indeed, he traces everything “to the hand of the Lord His God upon him” (verse 6).  Notice . . .

1. His Faith Was Revealed.

Verse 6 talks about “his request.”  Ezra asked the king Artaxerxes to allow him to return to Jerusalem with a second group of exiles. He did this because he realized that his life was not his own (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Do you realize that?  Have your priorities been sorted out?  Has the chief aim of your life been determined?

2. His Faith Was Rewarded.

Verse 6 says, “The king granted him all his request.”  That meant . . .

  • Permission was Granted – verse 13.
  • Provision was Made – verses 14-23.
  • Privileges were Given – verse 24.

All God’s servants consecrated to the work of God’s house were to be exempt from paying taxes.  This letter, like the earlier proclamations is truly remarkable.  Ezra had no doubt that it was all of God.  It was, but do you know the means God used to accomplish His ends? Godly lives.  Think of those who held high office and had a powerful influence on the Persian King . . .

  • Daniel, who was the second ruler in the kingdom under Cyrus and Darius.
  • Zerubbabel, who was appointed governor of Jerusalem by Cyrus.
  • Nehemiah, who was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes.
  • Ezra himself, who held office in the Persian Court.

It was the godliness of their lives, the strength of their convictions, and the distinctiveness of their stand that made them instruments that God could use, to shape the thinking of these pagan kings, and to affect the course of Israel’s history.  One day some men came to see Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  They were trying to blackmail him.  They walked into his office and threatened him, saying that if he did not meet their demands, they would publish things that would ruin his reputation.  He responded, “Write all you know about me across the heavens.”  That is the power of a clear conscience.  Ezra was trustworthy. He was not corrupt, nor was negligent.  He had integrity.  Is that you?  Are you held in respect or contempt by those with whom you work?

3. His Faith Was Reflected.

Verse 7 tells us that Ezra went back to Jerusalem and fifteen hundred people went with him.  Here we see the power of influence., the power of an example.  Make up your mind to follow the Lord, and there will be some people who will follow your example.

2) A Determined Man.

Verse 10 is one of the great verses of this book, indeed of the whole Bible.  Verse 7 begins by saying, “For Ezra had prepared His heart.”  If he had come to that point in his life we would never have heard of him.  But from that moment on he knew where he was going.  Ezra was not going to live aimlessly.  He was going in a certain direction.  He had decided the issue.  He longed to please God, to seek God’s will and do His will.  

We will make nothing of our lives

Unless we come to the point where

Our primary goal is a yearning after God.

Is this your goal?  What is the direction of your heart?  Have you set your heart on God and the things of eternity?  As believers we know the grace of God; we know how Christ died for us on the cross.  We know these things, we believe them, we rejoice in them. But knowing that, do we know what our lives are going to be about?  Do we know our direction?  Like Ezra, Daniel purpose in his heart as well (Daniel 1:8).  This is the place to begin.  How much in your inner being do you deal with the Lord.  What does God see, when He looks in your heart?  Does He see a one who because he has prepared his heart it has led to his priorities being in order?  Ezra had prepared his heart for the day that he would return to his land.  He knew it was coming because he had faith in God, so he inwardly determined to make three things the chief objective of his life. He was determined . . .

a) To Ponder God’s Word.

Verse 10 goes on to say, “ . . . to seek the law of the Lord.”  He would have agreed with the Psalmist who wrote “Oh, how I love Your law, it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97).  Remember Ezra did not have a New Testament, and he had only part of the Old Testament, but he immersed himself in it.  For Ezra this was not an academic, intellectual exercise.  No, he believed that this Word that God had given to His people was an incomparable treasure and there was nothing in Persia to equal it.  

Ezra set himself the task

Of mastering Scripture,

Only to discover that

Scripture mastered him.

He was a high Persian official who had tremendous responsibility, yet, in the midst of a busy schedule, he took time to familiarize himself with the Word of God, which was precious to him.  

It was his knowledge of the Word

That made him a useful instrument

In the hands of God.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a worker that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  Are you diligent in this matter? It i not about being Bible scholars; it is simply allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly. What time do you give to the reading and study of God’s Word?  Is the Bible precious to you?  Do you read it in such a way so as to allow it to sift your heart, illuminate your mind, and warm your soul? Are you present at meetings where the Word of God is faithfully expounded?  The very first thing that the early Christians were known for was that they, “continued steadfastly in the apostle‘s doctrine” (Acts 2:42).  He was also determined . . .

b) To Practice God’s Word.

Verse 10 concludes with, “… and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”  In other words, Ezra obeyed the Lord and applied the Bible’s teachings and principles to daily life.  Ezra’s whole life became an outworking of the principles that he found in the Word of God.  Is this not the way we should study our Bibles?  Is this not the way we should approach Scripture?  Is this not the way we should come to church and listen to the ministry of the Word?  We should not be just sermon tasters who critique the performances of preachers.  Far too often we compare preachers with preachers and set one style off against the other.  The important thing is not we think of the sermon but what we do about it.  What are you doing about what you are hearing? The Bible tells us in James 1:25, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only.”  It is the doing that brings the blessing.  If our knowledge of the truth does not result in obedience then . . .

We end up with a big head

Instead of a burning heart.

(1 Corinthians 8:1; Luke 24:32)

Martin Luther speaking of a pastor by the name of Nicholas Hussman said, “What we preach he lives.” Could that be said of you?

c) To Proclaim God’s Word.

Ezra is searching the Word, he is obeying the Word, and he is teaching the Word in conjunction with the directions of God (Leviticus 10:8-11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Malachi 2:7).  Ezra studied God’s Word in order to become competent in teaching it to others.  He lived God’s Word in order to present a consistent life.  He proclaimed God’s Word in order to bring about revival in Israel (9:10).  We need a return to preaching in these days!  It was Samuel Chadwick who once declared, “I would rather preach than do anything else in the world.  I have never missed a chance to preach, I would rather preach than eat my dinner, or have a holiday or anything else the world can offer.”  Preachers, do you love preaching the Word?  Do you believe in the preaching of the Word?  

3) A Devoted Man.

Notice Ezra’s hymn of praise at the end of the chapter.  It is a hymn that shows us his devotion to God, a devotion that was expressed in two ways.

a) He Lived With God’s Honor Before Him.

Now there is no doubt that Ezra had played a vital part in the shaping of the thinking of this pagan king but he does not say, “Blessed be the Lord who by my means.  No, he passes himself by and gives glory to the . . .

1. God of History.  Verse 27 says, “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers.”  Sam Carson says that probably takes in a thousand years of history for Ezra traces his ancestry back to Aaron the first high priest. My …. aren’t you glad that history is His story ?

2. God of Destiny.  Verse 27 continues by saying, “… who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart . . .”  The Bible says in Proverbs 21;1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will.”  It was God who put all these things in the king’s heart.   Do you live with God’s glory before you?  Have you really got to the place where you can cry, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory” (Psalm 115:1).

b) He Labored With God’s Hand upon Him.

Verse 28 says, “And I was strengthened …”  I have a feeling that if Ezra had been interviewed by a television talk show at that time, they would have said to him, “Ezra, would you explain to us the secret of your success.  Was it your talent?  Was it the marvelous gifts you had?  Was it your obvious scholarship?  Was it your discipline?  Was it your willingness to pay the price in study?”  Ezra would have said, “No, none of these things are the secret of my success.  The secret of my success is, ‘the good hand of the Lord was upon me.’”   This is what we need today more than everything else.  The phrase “hand of God” is found six times in Chapters 7 and 8 (7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31).  The hand of God speaks . . .

1. Of His Power.

God is omnipotent.  The Bible says in Isaiah 40:12, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?”  With what ease did our God create the universe, the same God who says to you this in Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.”

2. Of His Protection.

Ezra did not ask for a band of soldiers to go with him to Jerusalem, “to help … against the enemy in the way” (8:22)  Why?  Because he had spoken to Artaxerxes about the hand of His God.  Do you feel that somehow you are going to slip out of His hand? Well, the Lord says in John 10:28, “And I gave them unto them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

3. Of His Provision.

How else did Ezra receive did receive such gifts from the king apart from the hand of God? The Bible tells us in 7:14-23).

4. Of His Purpose.

What is God’s purpose?  That His hand might be at work in us and through us.  God uses all kinds of people to accomplish His will, but if God’s hand is not at work in us and through us, nothing will be accomplished.  Do you need to pray like Jabez, “Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Your hand might be with me …” (1 Chronicles 4:10).

God Always Has His Man.  In the early days of his ministry, D. L. Moody was challenged with these words, “Its yet to be seen what God can do in, and with, and by a man who’s wholly surrendered to him.”  Moody said “I’ll be that man.”  That is what Ezra said.  Will you say that?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”