Grace For The Journey
We are studying our way through Nehemiah in our series entitled REBUILD – rebuilding a city and rebuilding a people. Nehemiah is the man God uses to rebuild the broken-down walls and building. All of that brokenness a testament to the brokenness of a people – God’s people – who had been disciplined by God during a season of exile, driven out of the city of Jerusalem and inhabiting the land surrounding the broken down city.
But the walls have now been rebuilt, the buildings inside have been rebuilt, and the people are being rebuilt. They have discovered the Bible and read about their sin and neglect of worshiping the One True God. They have confessed and repented of their sin. They have even – as we studied on Monday – they have even covenanted with God, rededicating their lives to love and serve God.
However, they have not yet entered into the rebuilt city of Jerusalem. They have largely remained outside the city. The Bible succinctly captures the situation in a verse from an earlier chapter. Just before the people hear God’s Word and confess, repent, and renew their dedication to God, there is one verse in Chapter 7, Nehemiah 7, verse 4 that reads, “Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few …”
It is time now to do something about that. May God give us ears to hear His Word today that we may be edified, the church multiplied, and He might be glorified.
Ardmore, South Dakota is a ghost town. Ardmore had been founded in 1889, by European-American settlers. It was once a thriving little town. President Calvin Coolidge had even stopped in Ardmore in 1927 during a summer trip to the Black Hills. Former residents included the infamous horse thief Doc Middleton, who briefly owned a saloon in Ardmore. The town would go on to survive the Great Depression of the 1930s without a single family going on welfare, but today not one solitary soul lives in the town. Over the years agriculture declined and younger people moved away to look for work in other areas. The last time the town had a recorded population was in 1980, when the 1980 census showed a population of 16 residents. Today some 15 to 20 abandoned houses remain eerily vacant in Ardmore. The town sign is even still up, but the place is deserted.
Nobody builds a city to become a ghost town. Yet, that is a bit like what Nehemiah chapter 11 looks like. The city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt. Buildings are up, but a census taken would have been much like the 1980 Census of Ardmore – a few handfuls of people living within the city.
As we look at Chapter 11 and into Chapter 12 and we see a census that was taken – a long list of names of those who will move into the city to repopulate Jerusalem. I do hope you will take time to read all these names later. The Bible does teach in 2 Timothy 3 that “all Scripture is profitable,” and often as we read through names in the Bible, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and we experience the joy of discovery, a “hidden gem” of truth as we mine the Scriptures.
Verse 1 says, “Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem; the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city, and nine-tenths were to dwell in other cities.” The majority of God’s people were living outside the city of Jerusalem. They had been driven out of Jerusalem during the Babylonian exile and were dwelling in all the villages more generally called Judea. In fact, you can see a breakdown of the people – God’s people, here, there, and everywhere.
- Chapter 11 from verse 1 through verse 24 is a list of people who will live inside the city, Jerusalem.
- Verses 25 and following, a list of the people and places outside the city of Jerusalem.
- Chapter 12, verses 1 through 26, you have a list of the priests and Levites whom God used in the leading of worship.
Verse 1 tells us, “Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem.” The leaders, just a few folks relatively speaking, dwelt at Jerusalem, so there was a need to bring in more people to populate the city. The city is, after all, the “city of God,” the holy city, a standing example of the power of the name of God among the people of God so folks need to move in. But just who will move in? The city cannot hold all the people of Israel, so who will live there? How will that be decided? We are not left to wonder, as we read in verse 1 that “the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city, and nine-tenths were to dwell in (the) other cites (surrounding Jerusalem, remaining in those villages).”
In the Old Testament God often revealed His will and way through the casting of lots. This was something akin to our “drawing straws” in order to make a decision of some kind. The difference is that in those days God actually established the casting of lots as one of the means by which He guided leaders. Today we have the complete Word of God in book form as the primary way we determine God’s will and way. Before going further, we should note that the casting of lots here in Nehemiah 11 says something about . . .
The peoples’ belief and trust
In the sovereignty of God.
God’s people had a high view of God’s sovereign providence, believing God truly spoke through the casting of lots. They genuinely sought God’s plan for their lives and believed God would be faithful to guide them. We are wise to do the same, turning to God as we search His Word and listen to Him through prayer as we trust Him to guide us.
Verse 2 states, “And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.” It seems that those who were chosen – the one out of every ten – were not upset when they were chosen by lot to move into the city, but rather were happy to do so. At first, we may think, “Well, of course they would be happy! They get to move into the holy city!” But remember that they had been living outside the city for many years. They had families, houses, fields, gardens, and pictures on the walls and neighborhood friends and so on. As many of you know who have been through it, moving can be a very emotional and stressful time, but verse 2 seems to indicate there was no disgruntled reaction. The people “willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.”
Verses 3-4a say, “These are the heads of the province who dwelt in Jerusalem. (But in the cities of Judah everyone dwelt in his own possession in their cities—Israelites, priests, Levites, Nethinim, and descendants of Solomon’s servants. Also in Jerusalem dwelt some of the children of Judah and of the children of Benjamin.” What we have in Chapter 11 is a list of the people who moved into the city. There are first in verse 4, “the children of Judah,” or the sons of Judah, then down in verse 7, “the sons of Benjamin,” listed there from verses 7 and following, then verse 9, “the priests,” then down in verse 15, “the Levites” and from verses 19 and following what I would call “miscellaneous other people,” not unimportant people! Real people with real names doing real things. Like “the gatekeepers” in verse 19. These were the people who would stand at the temple gate, guarding its treasures and safeguarding its holiness. We think of the gatekeeper in Psalm 24 who asks the worshiper ascending the hill to the temple, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” That was an important job!
In fact . . .
Every person had
An important job
Because every person
Comprising God’s people
Has a part in kingdom work.
From these verses we learn three truths about God’s people. First and most notably . . .
1. Every Person Has a Part.
No one acts alone in God’s kingdom, i.e., no one is a one-man show. Every person has a part. It takes all of God’s people to do all of God’s work.
There is no one person who is tasked to do everything. That is why a corollary to this truth that every person has a part – that no one person is irreplaceable! Every person is uniquely gifted to do God’s Work. Paul says this of the church in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” And he goes on to show how every person has a part in the ministry of the church. This is similar to Ephesians 4:11 and 12, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The pastors and ministry staff are not to do all the ministry, but rather to equip the saints for the work of ministry that the church may be edified, or built up. Every single one of God’s people has a part in the building up of the body of Christ. Every person has a part.
Many of the people listed here in Chapter 11 are recognized not so much for what they did, but for where they were. They lived in the city. They are commended simply for their willingness to be there – nothing more dramatic than that. Every person has a part if even just to “be there.”
Secondly . . .
2. Every Person Matters To God.
God cares about every single person. Every single person is significant to God.
One of those little “gems” that glitters among the verses is found in the second part of verse 4, “The children of Judah: Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the children of Perez.” Perhaps you know about the children of Perez. In Genesis 38, the Bible tells us that Perez was one of the twins born to Tamar in that obscure chapter that interrupts the exciting narrative of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37 to 50. It is a dark chapter about how a widowed woman deceivers her father-in-law by disguising herself as a prostitute in an effort to conceive a child. It is a sordid account of sin and neglect. Yet, it results in the birth of Perez who grew to have a number of descendants – many of whom are included here in Nehemiah 11 as those who are moving into the holy city of Jerusalem.
It is just like God to show how much every person matters to Him! Some of you have a background that embarrasses you. You feel insecure when you compare yourself to the pedigree of others. Every person matters to God! God often delights in working through the least likely of people. Remember how Paul sought to humble the church members of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1? In verse 26 to 29 he says, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
Be encouraged to know that: (1) Every person has a part, and (2) Every person matters to God!
That is especially important to remember when we feel like our part seems so small, our labor seemingly so insignificant. We begin to feel as though no one knows or cares about who we are and what we do in God’s kingdom. But of course, because of the Gospel, because our is identity found not in who we are or what we do, but in who Christ is and what He has done for us, then we can joy even in the obscurity of our part and place among God’s people in the world.
Here is our third encouragement . . .
3. Every Person Can Have Joy Even In Obscurity.
Among the names in chapters 11 and 12 that are known, the greater majority are those who are not known. They are the unknown heroes among God’s people.
The unknowns are just
As important as the knowns.
In the church, some people are more visible than others, and some are nearly invisible. We describe them sometimes as “those behind the scenes” or those who are rarely thanked for their service.
Many Christians have heard the name Billy Graham. Not near as any have heard the name Mordecai Ham, even though he was a minister ordained in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It was under Mordecai Ham’s preaching that Billy Graham was saved. He had a part, then, in the future ministry of Billy Graham.
Many Christians have heard the name D. L. Moody. Arguably the greatest evangelist of the 19th Century. Fewer, if any Christians today, know the name Edward Kimball. Yet it was Edward Kimball who stopped by the shoe store where young D. L. Moody worked for his uncle in Boston, put his hand on Moody’s shoulder, and in tears shared the Gospel with Moody as he was converted. Just one common man, a concerned layperson, living in relative obscurity, God used Kimball to bring to faith a man who would preach the gospel to 100 million people in an age before radio, television and the internet.
Some of us labor in even greater obscurity. Few see us preparing our lessons on a weekday, cutting out cardboard for the children’s lesson, brewing coffee on the Lord’s Day, on our knees in prayer for the church in our Daily Quiet time, sharing the Gospel at home and in our neighborhoods, picking up trash in the church parking lot, praying silently for the person seated next to us, smiling at a downcast visitor. Many of us labor in obscurity, many of us live in obscurity, many of us minister in obscurity.
In the fall of 2012, a book was released by an anonymous Christian writer entitled, Embracing Obscurity. In an era of what many are calling Christian “celebrity—ism,” the yearnings to be liked and popular, the anonymous author – leading by example by remaining unknown to us – extols the virtues of embracing not popularity, but obscurity – following Christ and serving Him in the way He taught in Matthew 6:1-4 when you do your charitable deeds, do not do them to be seen by others. If you do, you will get no reward from your Father in heaven. Do it in secret and your heavenly Father who sees in secret will reward you later (Matthew 6:1-4). Embracing obscurity.
Far too many ministers seek validation from others in a never-ending yearning for vocational meaning and significance. This desperation often finds expression in an especially public way through social media – namely Twitter.
While Twitter is largely an echo chamber of a very small percentage of users relative to population, it creates the false appearance of “the approval of the world” as represented by each user’s followers and activity. Many people, even pastors, hunger for acceptance and affirmation. The Twitter feed is an incessant recounting of unending, if not cringeworthy efforts to be liked, re-tweeted or commented on in some form or fashion. There is nothing wrong with obscurity. Our Lord live this way. During His life he was, “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows” … “acquainted with grief” … “esteemed not” … “stricken, smitten…and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4). It stretches the imagination beyond absurd to picture the Apostle Paul as a “hip and trendy” preacher with a self-promoting blog, platform, and cool swag.
As always, we must remember to . . .
Find in Christ
If we are Christians, we have been placed in the most prominent position ever to be placed, union with Christ Jesus, united together with the perfect all-pleasing, all-satisfying Prince of Peace. We are perfectly loved and perfectly accepted in Christ.
If we know that we will be able to joy in obscurity. We will not care so much whether our name is written down on a long list of notable and popular persons. We will care only that are name is written down in a far more important register.
If you’re a Christian, rejoice not in your ministry, as our Lord Jesus warns His followers in Luke 10:20, “Rejoice not that even demons are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Rejoice knowing that you will one day inhabit not the old city of Jerusalem, but the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God!” (Revelation 21:2).
If you are not a Christian, your name is not written in heaven. And there is only one way to get it written down – confess your sin to God, repent and turn from your sin, and turn to Jesus Christ who loves you, lived for you, died for you on the cross, and rose from the dead for you that you may have life in Him! He loves you and you matter to Him. So come to Him today and trust Him in the name of Jesus Christ.
I will be taking a few days of vacation and my blog will not be posted while I am gone. I will start posting again on June 7th. Until then stay in God’s Word and be strengthened by His truth.
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.”