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 . . .
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.
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!
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.”