Certainty In Uncertain Time: Luke1:26-38 – Nothing is Impossible with God

Grace For The Journey

We are going verse-by-verse through this Gospel of Luke and Monday we began to delve into the historical events as Luke unfolds them.  The 400 years of silence following the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, are interrupted with a special delivery from Heaven.  The Angel Gabriel leaves his post in the presence of God to visit Zacharias in the temple.  He tells Zacharias that his barren wife Elizabeth, way past the age of childbearing, will in fact conceive and have a son.  They are to name the boy John – John the Baptist.  Zacharias is dumbstruck – literally – he is stricken with muteness because he did not believe the Angel.  Elizabeth does in fact conceive and she is nearing her sixth month of pregnancy when Luke pauses the action there in Judah and tells us where this heavenly messenger, this Angel Gabriel, is going to go next.Recently, I read about Alexander the Great and his use of psychological operations.  Alexander was not only a great warrior on the battlefield, but he was also a master of psychological warfare.  On one particular occasion, Alexander’s army was engaged in a full retreat from the enemy.  But before they made their retreat, Alexander employed a strategy for which he was well prepared.  He had earlier instructed his men to construct oversized breastplates and helmets much larger than the ones the men used.  The size of these breastplates and helmets would indicate that they had been worn by men some 7 to 8 feet tall.  By leaving these enormous shields on the battlefield as they made their retreat, they left the impression that they were an army of massive giants simply regrouping for the next battle.  When the advancing army then made their way to the battlefield, they would see the huge armor left behind, become fearful, demoralized, and stop pursing Alexander the Great.

Like a soldier pursuing Alexander the Great, we battle through this sin-cursed world, making significant headway and advancing forward with great strides only to be halted suddenly by an imposing, oversized piece of armor.  We face a problem or a challenge that seems overwhelming and insurmountable.  If we are not careful, we may become fearful, demoralized, and stop running the race of faith. 

At times like these we must turn to

God and remember His almighty power. 

He is bigger than that problem that seems

Like an oversized breastplate or helmet.

The Angel Gabriel makes a statement that is worth memorizing there in verse 37, “For with God nothing will be impossible.”  Gabriel reminds Mary – and us – that our God is omnipotent; all-powerful.  He can do anything.

Now virtually anytime we begin speaking of God as all-powerful, or omnipotent, or if we say He can do anything, some wise fool invariably asks, “Well, can God lie?”  Or, “Can God make the weather so that it is both raining and not raining at the same time?”  And then we simply remind him that God has all power to do whatever He wishes and that He only does those things consistent with His creation and His character.  God cannot be unloving because it is against His character and against His nature.  God is not unjust, nor unkind, nor does He ever act randomly.  But He has all power to do anything He desires and He will always act in a way consistent with His creation and His character.

I want us to take some time this morning to reflect upon the omnipotence of God, upon His nature as the all-powerful God.  Blaise Pascal said, “The greatest single distinguishing feature of the omnipotence of God is that our imagination gets lost when thinking about it.”  But we will think about it this morning as we make our way back through this passage.

I want us to think about some of the powerful work of God in this text and then, after we have gone through it, I want to share with you a few encouraging principles for application this week.  First, I have divided the material into something of an outline to help us study the content.  The first thing we see is . . .

I.  A Powerful Visitation – Verses 26-30.

The powerful visitation, of course, is that of Gabriel, the angel.  Verse 26 tells us that the Angel Gabriel goes to an obscure city of Galilee called Nazareth where he visits Mary.  She is identified in verse 27 as, “a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph.”  The word “betrothed” refers to a relationship between two persons that was far more serious than our contemporary notions of “engagement.”  To be betrothed to another meant that a young woman’s father had received the purchase price for his daughter from the young man’s father and a formal agreement was drawn up in writing that legally bound the couple to one another.  Though not yet married they were considered husband and wife.  If the woman were to have relations with another man, it would be considered adultery and the only way a betrothal could be broken was through divorce.  Mary was no more than about 15 years old at this time, and was probably closer to 13, which was the normal age for betrothal.

Verse 28 says that the angel appears to Mary and says, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you.”  That is, “You have been graced with a special privilege!”  Of course, Mary will learn in a moment that the special privilege will be to bear Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but she does not know that now and right now she is a bit startled.  Remember, the natural response in the Bible when one sees an angel is to be afraid.  Verse 29 says when she saw him “she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.”  Then Gabriel gives a little more information in verse 30.  He says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  Again, the idea is, “You have been graced with a special privilege, chosen to bear Jesus, the Son of God.”

Before moving on we must correct one faulty understanding of this powerful visitation.  The Latin Vulgate translates verse 28, where the angel says to Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one,” as, “full of grace” in reference to Mary.  That is not what the text says, but that is how it is translated by the Vulgate.  Most of you know that the Vulgate is used by the Roman Catholic Church and that the Catholic Church has extrapolated from this translation “full of grace” all manner of interpretation that is foreign to the Scriptures.  Perhaps the greatest concern here is the statement of Pope Pius IX who proclaimed in 1854 that “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin, (CCC, 491).

The so-called “Doctrine of Immaculate Conception” refers not to the conception of Christ, but to the conception of Mary.  Catholics believe Mary was sinless from the moment of conception and that she never sinned once in her entire life.  So Catholics pray to Mary as she is “full of grace” and may dispense this grace to others.  Well, that is not at all what verse 28 teaches.  I do not want to belabor this point, but I do think it is important to at least address it so that we have some understanding of this when we interact with our Catholic friends.

But in our effort to “set the record straight,” we must not lose sight of Gabriel’s reference to Mary as one graced with the special privilege of bearing the Son of God.  That is quite a privilege!  And yet, this does not make Mary the object of our prayers and devotion.  Furthermore, let us remember the words of Christ Himself later in this Gospel.  Luke tells us a certain woman from the crowd raises her voice and says to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!”  And Jesus replies, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it! (Luke 11:27-28).”

From a powerful visitation we learn about . . .

II.  A Powerful Incarnation – Verses 31-33.

The word “incarnation” refers to the fact that God came to us and “took on flesh.”  That is what the word incarnate means – God in the flesh.  God came to us as the eternal Son of God and took on the flesh of humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.  The Angel Gabriel says to Mary in verse 31, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.”  The word was a common name in that day.  It was the Hebrew short name for Yeshua or Joshua, or, “The Lord saves.”  What was not common, however, was the five-fold description that went with this particular name found in verses 32 and 33, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

If you compare and contrast this with what Gabriel said to Zacharias concerning the birth of John the Baptist, you recall that the angel said back in verse 15 that John the Baptist was to be “great in the sight of the Lord.”  It was a qualified greatness.  But of Jesus Gabriel says in verse 32, “He will be great.”  This is unqualified greatness.  And then you have these other descriptions that are unique to Jesus.  He “will be called the Son of the Highest,” which is to say, “the Son of God.”  And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, a throne upon which He will reign forever and of His kingdom there will be no end.

Time does not permit us this morning to review the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming future Messiah, of whose kingdom there would be no end.  But I would encourage you to look in the margins of your study Bibles or at least later look up 2 Samuel 7 and Daniel 2.

We have examined a powerful visitation, a powerful incarnation, now thirdly we learn about . . .

III.  A Powerful Explanation – Verses 34-38.

In verse 34, Mary asks Gabriel for an explanation.  She asks, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”  Unlike Zacharias’s response from last time, which was something like, “I don’t believe it.  Prove it!” Mary’s response has nothing to do with doubt, but everything to do with the manner of it.  It was really more a biological question.  “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”  The word “know” here conveys intimate knowledge.  We might translate this, “How can I conceive a child when I have never been intimate with a man?”  The powerful explanation follows in verse 35.  The angel says that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and that “the power of the Highest” will overshadow her.  There is great mystery in that, but in essence, the angel says, “God will make this happen.” 

It is not biological at all. 

It is supernatural above all.

And then the angel says, “The Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Now that had to be a lot for Mary to take in!  You are going to bear the Son of God and you will conceive Him in a most supernatural way.  It is almost like, there is a moment of silence as Mary tries to absorb all this.  It is almost like the angel wants to fill the silence and he just spells this out in verse 36 almost like, “Oh, by the way, your cousin Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.”  It is like a double-whammy!

Then the statement that encapsulates the power of it all in verse 37, “For with God nothing will be impossible.”  A powerful explanation!  Mary responds in humble faith in verse 38, and I love her reply, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord!  Let it be to me according to your word.”  And the angel departed.  In essence, Mary replies, “I submit to the will of God.” 

Here is the proper response

For every child of God to

Everything God says to us!

Whatever God teaches us about serving and obeying Him: sharing our faith with others, being missional, giving, tithing, trusting, and waiting, that we would say, “Here is your servant.  Let it be according to Your Word.”

Verse 37 is the hinge verse upon which Luke’s narrative swings.  It is because “nothing is impossible with God” that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, though way past the age of childbearing, conceives John the Baptist in her womb.  It is because “nothing is impossible with God” that Mary may conceive the baby Jesus in her womb.  It is because “nothing is impossible with God” that this baby to be born is no ordinary baby, but God incarnate, God in the flesh.  All this because “nothing is impossible with God.”

Let me share with you four statements that follow from this truth.  I hope they are helpful to you this week. 

First, because nothing is impossible with God . . .

  • There Is No Work So Difficult It Cannot Be Done.

This is first with reference to the work of God. 

God can do anything He wishes.  After God’s marvelous work of creation, the first time in Scripture we come across the statement is with reference to another miraculous birth, the birth of Isaac.  Sarah laughs at the thought of having a child in her old age and the Lord says, in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”  This thought is repeated in Job 42:2, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You” and in Jeremiah 32:17, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.”

God is omnipotent – He is all-powerful.  He can do anything He wishes.  By merely speaking the word, He calls all creation into existence.  He places the stars in the sky and sets the planets in orbit.  He causes the sun to rise and to set.  He gives us the very air we breathe and blesses us with life.  There is no work for Him so difficult it cannot be done.

But this is also with reference to work for God. 

As we live for the Lord and endeavor to keep His will, He equips us with His power to carry it out.   The Bible says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

Because nothing is impossible with God, there is no work so difficult that cannot be done.  Secondly . . .

  • There Is No Promise So Wonderful It Cannot Be Kept.

Jesus says in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  Paul is led to says in Romans 4:21, “What He has promised, He is able to perform.”  There is no promise so wonderful it cannot be kept.  Does it sound too wonderful that God has a plan for our lives?  God is speaking to His people in Jeremiah 29.  What He says to His people then applies to His people now, Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans of peace and not of evil, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Nothing is impossible with God.  There is no work so difficult it cannot be done.  There is no promise so wonderful it cannot be kept. 

Thirdly, because nothing is impossible with God . . .

  • There Is No Burden So Great It Cannot Be Borne.

We live in a sin-cursed, fallen world.  Sometimes we have trials and difficulties for no reason other than because we live in a messed-up world.  It is not that there is anything wrong with us, or that we have angered God, or that we have sinned, but sometimes we have trials, burdens, and difficulties because we live in an imperfect world.

Paul had a particular burden he bore.  He referred to it as his “thorn in the flesh.”  No one really knows what it was, but he had prayed numerous times for God to remove it.  God did not remove the thorn, but he said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  There is no burden so great it cannot be borne.  Paul saw the hand of God’s providence in his affliction.  He believed God allowed this burden to draw him closer to God and make him stronger.

Remember from last week our definition of providence?  The events of our lives do not happen by mere chance nor fate, but by our sovereign and loving Lord who is working out His perfect purpose and plan in our lives.  Whatever you are facing this week, whatever trial, whatever affliction, remember there is no burden so great it cannot be borne.  Nothing is impossible with God.

Because nothing is impossible with God, there is no work so difficult it cannot be done, no promise so wonderful it cannot be kept, no burden so great it cannot be borne; and, number four, my personal favorite, because nothing is impossible with God . . .

  • There Is No Sin So Bad It Cannot Be Forgiven.

This is a blessing only for those who receive Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior.  To those who receive Christ by faith, the Bible says in 1 John 1:7, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”  All sin. . . Not just some sin, but all sin.

Without Jesus I am without hope.  I am in sin.  The Bible says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  I am a sinner.  I am short of the glory of God.  I stand separated from God.  He is separated from me because He is holy.  I am separated from Him because I am unholy.  If I die in this condition, I remain separated from Him and I spend eternity in separation in a place called hell.

But if I believe that this Jesus who is God in the flesh did what the Bible says He did, things will be different.  I must believe that Jesus took the punishment I deserved by dying on the cross for my sins.  I must believe He rose from the dead on the third day as victor over sin, death, hell, and the grave.  I receive Him, I take Him by faith, as my Lord and Savior by turning from my sin and turning to Him and receiving Him as number One, as Lord of my life.  If I do that, my sins are paid for in Him and I am then clothed in his holiness and righteousness.  And this is a picture that never changes.  I am forever “in Christ Jesus.”

There is no sin so bad it cannot be forgiven; no sin I have committed in the past and no sin I may commit in the future.  The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, (continually) cleanses me from all sin – all sin – past, present, and future.

Why?  Say it with me, “Because nothing is impossible with God!”

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.”

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 1:5-25 – Responding Correctly To God’s Word

Grace For The Journey

We have begun a study through the very practical book of Luke.  Having looked at important introductory material last Friday, we now launch into our study.  Luke begins his true, historical account of the life of Jesus by first telling of one who would come before Him to pave the way for His ministry.  We are talking, of course, about John the Baptist. 

Verses 5-25 could be summarized in one word: believe.  The passage is Luke’s narration of how John the Baptist was born, what his name would be, and so forth.  But I really felt like the whole thing applies to us today by asking us whether we really believe.  What does it really mean to believe?  Luke wrote in his prologue to Theophilus back in verse 4 that he wanted Theophilus “to know the certainty of those things in which (he) was instructed.”  What does it really mean to know with certainty, to have certainty in uncertain times, to believe?

At the risk of promising more than may be delivered, I suggest that this passage can help us live out our Christian faith in true power, vigor, and liberty. 

This passage will move us from

Merely believing things

On an intellectual level,

To believing things on a deeply

Spiritual and emotional level.

For this reason, this passage may bring radical life-transformation to a number of us.  This passage teaches us how to believe.  The first principle is about God’s providence.  We must . . .

I.  Believe In The Providence Of God – Verses 5-10.

Providence is . . .

The belief that the events of our lives

Are not ruled by mere chance or fate,

But by our sovereign and loving Lord

Who is working out His perfect

Plan and purpose in our lives.

If I did not believe that God ruled over all events, I would not be a Christian.  God says through the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 46:9-10, “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.”   Because God is omnipotent, He can do all things, and He is working out all things in accordance to His perfect plan.

 We do not have to read very far in the text before we begin to see the hand of God’s providence, the God who is there behind the things we see, working out the perfect plan which often only He sees.  Here is a man named Zacharias in verse 5, living in the days of Herod.  Zacharias is a priest, of the division of Abijah.  There were some 24 divisions of priests serving at the Jewish Temple.  In fact, there were an estimated 18,000 priests who served at the temple, so when a man was selected to go into the temple to burn incense it was likely the only time in his entire life that he would be able to serve this way.

According to verse 5, Zacharias is married to Elizabeth.  Right away we learn in verse 6 that “they both were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”  This does not mean that they were sinless.  That will become clear soon enough as Zacharias shows us later in the text.  No one is sinless.  The phrase means that Zacharias and Elizabeth were faithful Jews.  They lived their faith.

In verse 7 we read, “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.”  Do no pass over that verse too quickly –  That painfully brief summary statement in verse 7 captures years of grief and agony on the part of Zacharias and Elizabeth.  You look at Zacharias now, old and gray-headed, his face and beard betraying decades of hard work and faithful marriage to Elizabeth.  Think of him many years earlier in the mind of your imagination.  See young Zacharias and his strikingly beautiful young wife, Elizabeth.  They were like any newlywed couple today, dreaming of a bright and wonderful future, maybe a house full house of children laughing and playing together.  A few months go by, but no pregnancy.  A few more months, no pregnancy.  The prayers are more frequent now.  Perhaps they asked other Jewish family and friends to partner with them in prayer before Yahweh.  But there is just silence.  Decades pass and it becomes agonizingly clear they will not be blessed with children.

People begin pointing their fingers and whispering about Zacharias and Elizabeth: “She must have done something wrong.  God is judging her!”  That was, after all, the usual thinking regarding couples unable to conceive.  God certainly could close a woman’s womb in judgment, but we know that is not the case because Dr. Luke has taken the care to point out to us that Zacharias and Elizabeth “were both righteous before God.”

In fact, Luke goes on to show us that decades of barrenness on the part of this couple did not affect their service to their Lord.  Verse 8 begins with, “So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God …”  Perhaps lesser men than Zacharias would have given up on God.  Perhaps lesser men would have said, “Well, there must not be a God.  It seems every time I pray, He never says anything back.  I have been praying for 50 years and, nothing.  I give up.  I am not going to worship anymore, much less serve Him!  There is no God.”  But not Zacharias.  He loves the Lord His God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

Verses 8 and 9 tell us, “So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.”  The lot was cast to determine who would be chosen to burn incense before God.  Again, given that there were some 18,000 priests serving the temple, this was like a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Verse 9 says it is Zacharias’ turn.  God is behind this.  The Bible says in Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

We know what is going to happen next.  Most of us have read this passage through many times.  We know that the Angel Gabriel appears before Zacharias while he is standing at the altar of incense and he tells Zacharias that he is going to be a father, the father of John the Baptist.  Remember . . .

That these events are occurring

as they are and when they are

Not because of mere chance or fate,

But because the sovereign and loving

Lord of the universe is working out

His perfect plan and purpose

In the lives of His children.

Do you believe in the providence of God?  Zacharias and Elizabeth were “both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless,” but they had no children.  In fact, they had come to the point in their lives, as Zacharias will demonstrate shortly, where at least Zacharias felt they would never have children, but you see, they served the Lord anyway.  They loved the Lord and served Him whether He gave them a child or not.

Your problem may be similar to theirs or it may be something altogether different, something about your job, or your family, or your future, some injustice you feel, some particular challenge you are facing now.  What will you do?  Will you box with God?  Will you curse His name?  J.C. Ryle says, “The grace of God exempts no one from trouble … Let us count trial no strange thing.  Let us rather believe that a hand of perfect wisdom is measuring out all our portion … If afflictions draw us nearer to Christ, the Bible, and prayer, they are positive blessings.  We may not think so now, but we shall think so when we wake up in another world.”

Then, we read this delightful little foreshadow in verse 10, “And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.”  Remember that!  Thousands of people are gathered outside the temple.  They are praying and they are waiting for the priest to come out of the temple to pronounce the priestly blessing.  Any moment now, Zacharias will be coming out and speaking a blessing.  They pray and wait. 

We are talking about believing, really believing.  We must believe in the providence of God.  Secondly, we must . . .

II.  Believe In The Power Of God – Verses 11-17.

 Verses 11 and 12 say, “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.”  This is always the reaction when a person saw an angel.  Angels in the Bible were not cuddly, cute, figurines, but large, masculine, divine creations of power.  Later in the passage we read that this angel, whose name is Gabriel, stands in the very presence of God.  Little wonder then that Zacharias trembles as he does.  This is what sinful man does when he is in the presence of something holy and powerful.  We know our sin.  We know our impurities.  We know our frailties.  We know our unworthiness.  We feel like Peter in Luke 5 verse 8, were he witnesses a miraculous catch of fish that starts to break the fishing net.  We fall down before Jesus and cry, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

And yet, Zacharias is “righteous before God.”  He “walks in all the commandments and ordinances of God blamelessly.”  If this is how a righteous man trembles in the presence of holiness, how then will the lost person tremble before holiness?  Fools talk about what they will demand of God when given the chance to stand before Him.  Wise people tremble at the thought.  Christians thank God that they can stand before God without fear because they stand united together in Christ.

Verse13 states, But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.’”  The angel says, “Your prayer is heard.  Your wife will bear you a son.”  Zacharias had prayed for years that God would give him a son.  No doubt as a priest Zacharias was also praying for the salvation of Israel.  Who would have guessed that God would answer both of those prayers the way He does?  God gives a son to Zacharias and Elizabeth but this son is no ordinary son!  This son is to be the forerunner of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verses 14 and 15 say, “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.  For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”  It sounds as though John the Baptist will be like a Nazarite.  Numbers 6 talks about particular individuals consecrated to God for holy service.  They were not to drink wine nor strong drink.  They were not to cut their hair, and so forth.  Whether he was to keep the Nazarite vow, it is clear that John the Baptist is no ordinary man.  He is even “filled with the Holy Spirit” while still in the womb of his mother.  This is all to fulfill a messianic prophecy given 400 years earlier.

Verses 16 to 17 state, “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.  He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  Luke alludes to Malachi 4, the last two verses of the Old Testament.  The verses foretell the coming of the prophet Elijah, the forerunner of the Lord, the one who will come before the Lord to prepare His way.  That is who John the Baptist is as our Lord Jesus tells us later in chapter 7.

Luke here stresses the power of an omnipotent God.  The providential God who declares the end from the beginning, and says, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,” is on the move again after some 400 years of silence between Old and New Testaments.  The Old Testament book of Malachi ends with a prophecy about the one who would come and prepare people for the Messiah and Luke opens his story in the New Testament telling us how that prophecy is fulfilled in John the Baptist.  All this a part of God’s providential plan, all this possible because of the power of an omnipotent God.

We must believe in the providence of God . . . We must believe in the power of God. Thirdly . . .

III.  Believe in the Promises of God – Verses 18-25.

Verse 18 say, “And Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.’”  Here is a paraphrase of verse 18, “And Zacharias said, ‘Impossible!  I don’t believe it.’”  The angel says to Zacharias in verse 20, “You did not believe my words.”  Zacharias failed to believe.  He offers a few reasons, of course.  He reminds the angel – just in case the angel needed reminding – that he is an old man and that his wife is also old.

The tragic thing is that Zacharias knew the Word of God!  He knew of other Old Testament accounts of people God had blessed with children in their old age.  He had read of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis, and how God opened Hannah’s womb in 1 Samuel.  He knew God’s Word, but he failed to believe it.  His words, “How shall I know this,” suggest that Zacharias is demanding proof.

Verse 19 states, “And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.’”  Imagine what it must be like for Gabriel to stand in the presence of God.  He stands there right now, in the very presence of the Lord.  He is the one God sends to Zacharias to deliver this good news.  God’s glory shinning all over Gabriel, and Zacharias says, “Give me proof!”  Zacharias’ failure to believe God results in a judgment that he brings upon himself. 

Verse 20 says, “But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”  Gabriel rebukes Zacharias for his failure to believe.  Because of Zacharias’ unbelief, Zacharias will be unable to speak.  And apparently this judgment of being unable to speak also includes deafness as the text suggests later when people are making signs to Zacharias to try to communicate to him (Verse 62).  Zacharias’ condition lasts “until the day these things take place,” and we know that it takes at least nine months for a baby to be born.  Poor Zacharias!  He is still in the temple and the people are waiting for him to come out.  Remember? 

Verses 21 and 22 tell us, “And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple.  But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.”  They are waiting for the priest to come out and pronounce something like the priestly blessing of Numbers 6, and Zacharias comes out looking like a deer caught in the headlights.  Mouth open, dumbstruck look, and knees knocking together.  He was speechless. 

This is all the information we get from Luke as summarily transitions to verse 23, “And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.”  We are left to our imaginations to wonder how this all played out in the home of Zacharias.  How does Elizabeth learn of all this?  Zacharias returns home from working at the temple all week in Jerusalem.  He opens the front door.  Elizabeth hears the door open from the other room and hollers out, “Hello?  Zacharias, is that you?”  But there is no response, only silence.  Does she then come into the hallway and see him and ask, “What’s the matter with you?!”  And there he stands … silent.  How is he going to explain all of this?  And is there enough paper and pen in the house to write down all of this business about Elizabeth conceiving and giving birth to the Messiah’s forerunner?!  Luke leaves all this to our imagination.  Then he takes us to about five months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy and then pauses the action.

Verse 24 and 25 state, “Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”  Here is a word of praise from Elizabeth to the One True God.  Apparently, there had been a bit of finger pointing and whispering concerning the barrenness of Elizabeth’s womb.  We infer this from her saying that the Lord has “taken away my reproach among people.”  And while her barrenness did not keep her from loving God and serving God, she rejoices that God has graciously given her a child.  Meanwhile, for about nine months, Zacharias is reminded of the consequences of unbelief. 

Every day he gets up and tries to say, “Good morning” to Elizabeth, and when nothing comes out, he is reminded of what happens when we fail to believe God.  What blessings we miss when fail to take God at His Word!  The Israelites wandered 40 years in the wilderness.  An entire generation of God’s people missed the blessing of the Promised Land because, as the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 3:19, “because of unbelief.”

God has promised us so much in His Word!  He asks only that we respond by accepting it or believing Him.  Do you?  When you suffer, when you are the victim of injustice, when you are wronged, do you still believe that “God works all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose?” (Romans 8:28).  Do you really believe that God is working out all of this in your life for the wonderful purpose of “conforming you to the image of His Son?  Or do you doubt Him?  Have you brought upon yourself a self-imposed judgment of deafness?  You hear the Word of God, but you do not really believe it.  God’s Word goes “in one ear and out the other.”  There is the sound of preaching, there is the sound of teaching, but no hearing.  Learn a lesson today from the judgment of Zacharias and believe.

Believe in the providence of God . . . Believe in the power of God, . . . And . . .Believe in the promises of God.

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.”

Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 1:1-4 – The Gospel Truth

Grace For The Journey

I really feel that God has guided me to begin a verse-by-verse study of the Book of Luke.  I believe strongly in expositional preaching, preaching and studying through Books of the Bible together and learning from the Spirit of God as He teaches us in His Word.  It has been my practice for quite some time now to preach through Books of the Bible.  The Apostle Paul speaks of the importance of teaching “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27.) and, for that reason, I have tried to strike a balance between Old and New Testaments literature that make up the 66 books of the Bible.

Why preach through books of the Bible?  First, it is the best way to do as Paul said in Acts 20:7, to “not neglect declaring the whole counsel of God.”  I believe that is an essential assignment of the pastor/shepherd.  2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 

Because all Scripture is profitable,

All Scripture should be preached.

This means that I am to do my best to present a healthy spiritual diet from Old and New Testament Books that make up the Bible.   

Another benefit of preaching through books of the Bible include not only that we will get the healthiest diet of spiritual food, but it also protects the preacher from preaching only his favorite parts of the Bible. 

  • Some preachers enjoy preaching on the 2nd Coming and do so every week.
  • Some enjoy preaching on the love of God and do so every week. 
  • Other preachers focus on a particular doctrine or a particular theological system and search for passages that support it and teach it every week. 

Going through books of the Bible forces us to deal with things we may not otherwise deal with, the hard sayings of Jesus, for example, or difficult questions the Bible raises.  We grow more healthily when we study through books of the Bible.

So today we begin a study of perhaps the most favorite Gospel in the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke.  Luke is by far the longest Gospel in the New Testament and, when you consider that Luke also wrote the Book of Acts, then you become aware of the fact that Luke is responsible for over a quarter of the content of the New Testament.  Luke is described in Colossians 4:14 as, “the beloved physician.”  He traveled with the Apostle Paul on a number of his missionary journeys and stayed with him to the end.  In what most scholars believe to be Paul’s last letter, 2 Timothy, Paul, awaiting trial sometime before his execution writes in 2 Timothy 4:11, “Only Luke is with me.”

Luke writes this Gospel account around the year AD 60, though we cannot be certain of the exact date.  Luke is especially unique in a number of ways. 

1) Because it is the longest Gospel it contains information that is not found in the other Gospels. 

For example, the first two chapters are really not found in the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John. 

2) Also unique to Luke’s Gospel are the great story of Zacchaeus, the “wee little man,” and many popular parables, at least 18 occurring only in Luke. 

These include the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Pharisee and the tax collector, the rich man and Lazarus, and one of our favorites: the Prodigal Son.

3) The word “save” or “salvation” is stressed much in Luke’s Gospel. 

It is interesting that the word “salvation” does not even occur in Matthew and Mark.  This is one reason many believe the key verse of Luke to be Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”

4) There are other emphases in Luke that are worthy of noting this morning.  For example . . .

  • Luke talks more about possessions than any other Gospel writer. 
  • He is very much concerned about our understanding the danger of riches and material wealth. 
  • He also has a special place in his heart for women and children. 
  • He stresses the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • Another great theme in this book is what some call “the great reversal.” 

He will stress Jesus’ teaching, for example, that “the first will be last and the last will be first (13:30).”

5) Luke’s major aim in writing this Gospel is missional. 

He writes to point us to the truth of Who Jesus Christ is.  He teaches us about the Son of God who became Son of Man, living a perfect life in our place, and dying to take the punishment we deserved for our sins. 

Our study today focuses on “The Gospel Truth.”  That is a phrase you hear sometimes when people want to stress that they are really telling the truth.  Sometimes they will say, “You’ve got to believe me.  It’s the Gospel truth!”  From an historical standpoint, the slang use of this phrase reveals that even secular society recognizes that the Gospel is considered true by those who believe.

Luke’s major purpose in writing this Gospel

Is to assure us that what we

Are reading and studying is true.

You see that in these opening verses.  Luke is writing to an unknown man by the name of Theophilus and Luke says he is writing to Theophilus there in verse 4, “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”

It is from verse 4, from this purpose statement of Luke’s, that we find the title of our sermon series: “Certainty in Uncertain Times.”  There are many things that are not certain about the times in which we live. 

  • How certain are you, for example, that you will keep your job? 
  • How certain are you that your investments will grow in value in the days ahead? 
  • How certain are you that your health will remain good? 
  • How certain are you that you will have no problems at your school this week? 
  • How certain are you that you will have no problems in your marriage or in your family, or anywhere else? 

We may all respond differently relative to our own challenges and concerns but, at the end of the day, we cannot be completely certain of very much.  For this reason, some will argue that we cannot be certain about anything.   Existentialists and other philosophical systems deny the existence of absolute truth.  They believe you cannot depend on anything and you cannot know anything with certainty so just live in the moment.

But Luke says . . .

There is one thing about which

We may be absolutely certain:

The Gospel.  The Gospel is true. 

Jesus Christ is real.  He is the Son of God. 

He died on the cross for our sins that we may be saved.

You may have this certainty in uncertain times.

As we study these first four verses of Luke chapter, we will discover some important characteristics of Christian truth . . .

I.  Christianity is Reliable Truth – Verses 1-2.

We learn in verse 3, that Luke is writing to this man named Theophilus.  It means “friend of God” or “lover of God.”  We do not really know who this guy is and so I will not speculate.  That Luke refers to him as “most excellent” Theophilus suggests that he may be of some royal position.  One of the main reasons we know that Luke wrote the Book of Acts is because he speaks of Theophilus in his introduction to that Book, as well.  Acts, chapter 1, verses 1-3 says, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”  Here, Luke addresses again Theophilus.  Luke refers to his “former account.”  The former account “of all that Jesus began both to do and teach” is the Book of Luke.  This leads us to understand that Luke’s Gospel is Volume 1 and the Book of Acts is Volume 2.  Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

In Luke chapter 1 we read about Luke’s concern for accuracy.  Christianity is reliable truth.  Verses 1 says, “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us.”  Luke says that “many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us.”  He is talking about the true events of Jesus Christ.  He is talking about the life and ministry of Jesus.  He says that “many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us.”  Many have undertaken the job of writing down an orderly account of the true events of Jesus.  The “things which have been fulfilled” refer to how Jesus’ life and death fulfilled the Old Testament teachings and expectations of a coming Messiah, the Savior and Deliverer who would save people from their sins.  In none of the other Gospels do we read so many quotes and allusions to Old Testament prophecies of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ as we read in Luke’s Gospel.

Luke says, “Many” have taken up this task.  Perhaps Luke had in hand the Gospel of Mark, believed by most to the oldest of the Gospels, but more importantly, Luke is simply writing that these accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus were all over the place.  Many had written down what they had heard and seen.

In Verse 2 he says, “Just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us.”  Luke refers here to reliable eyewitness testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ, namely the 12 Apostles.  They had been with Jesus “from the beginning,” the beginning of His ministry.  They had walked with the Lord Jesus Christ, heard what He had said, seen Him die on the cross, and they had seen Him in His resurrected body, and watched Him ascend up into heaven.  They were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.  They “delivered” what they had seen, writes Luke, “to us,” to believers.

We are reminded here of something almost completely unknown to us in contemporary America.  I am speaking of the oral tradition.  That is, that people would memorize large amounts of material and speak them to others so that they would memorize the material too and pass it along to others.  The Ancient Near East in Jesus’ day was primarily an oral culture.  There were no bookstores, internet access, or phones to text messages.  People passed along information orally.  Accuracy was essential and usually it was spot-on.  Perhaps this seems foreign to us in our modern Western context because of our need to write down anything we wish to remember!  But it was not unusual at all for a Jewish boy before his Bar-Mitzvah at around age 12, to have memorized entire portions of the Old Testament.  This was the way things were done and with careful accuracy.

Luke tells us in verses 1-2 that Christianity is reliable truth.  What we are reading is based on eye-witness testimony.  It is not a collection of fairy tales or wishful thinking. It is truth, reliable truth. 

Secondly . . .

II.  Christianity is Reasonable Truth – Verse 3.

In verse 3, Luke says, “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus.”  We see here again Luke’s concern for accuracy!  He writes of his own “perfect understanding of all things from the very first.”  Other translations refer to Luke’s “careful investigation” of the things he heard and read from eye-witness testimony.  He takes all of this material and he writes it down in logical and reasonable fashion.  He writes “an orderly account.”  Luke writes down this true information about the Lord Jesus Christ in a reasonable and practical way.

It is important to remember that

Luke’s primary concern is not

Chronological, but logical. 

His concern is not so much

What happened first, second, third,

And so forth.  His concern is that

These events did, in fact, happen.

And Luke arranges the material in a way that suits his purposes.

This is what we expect of any good biography.  Sometimes biographies take us from adult to child, to adult again, and back to teen years.  It just depends on the writer of the biography and his purposes in writing the biography.  We need to remember that as we read the Gospel of Luke.  There are times when things will not follow a strict, chronological sequence.  And they shouldn’t!  Just as not all Gospels should agree with one another in wooden, rigid, or fashion.

If you interviewed four people who watched a sporting event, you would get four different accounts of the event.  They would all be true, but you would get varying details as they were of particular interest to the individual four persons.  One person stresses what the athlete was wearing, another the athlete’s competition, another still how skillful was the athlete, and so forth.  The most important thing to remember is that Luke is writing his account under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  His “orderly account” is a logical order that suits God’s unique purposes in telling the Gospel story.

Christianity is reliable truth, reasonable truth and, finally . . .

IV.  Christianity is Received Truth – Verse 4.

In verse 4 Luke declares, “That you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”  Luke says to Theophilus, and to all who will read this Gospel, “I want you to know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” 

We have spoken already of Luke’s concern

That we know the truth of the Gospel.

Now we focus, however, on the

Individual appropriation of the truth.

He writes that Theophilus may know the certainty of those things in which he was “instructed.”  The word “instructed” there refers to teaching. We get the word “catechism” from this Greek word.  It refers to Theophilus’ receiving the truth of the Gospel into his life.  Whoever Theophilus was, he had heard the Gospel and received it into his life.  He had been taught it and he received this truth into his life and began to live it.  And Luke says, “I am writing this to you so that you may know that what you have received is, in fact, absolutely true.”

What difference does all this make to you?

When the Conservative Resurgence began in 1979 I was in seminary in what was thought to be one of the most conservative seminaries in the Southern Baptist Convention.  I had some really great professor who love the Lord and His Word.  They believed it from cover to cover.  I did have a couple who were questionable in their commitment to the accuracy and truthfulness of the Scriptures.  They taught some things in their classes that challenged my view of the Bible.  They were very adept at avoiding and evading questions to their beliefs and teachings.  God used that time to grow me to the point where I became fully convinced of the reliability and truthfulness truth of God’s Word.  I know “the certainty of the things in which I was instructed” by my parents and church as I grew in the faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ   Do you?  Are you willing to stake your life on the truth of God’s Word?

There is very little about which we can be absolutely certain.  But one thing is unmistakably certain in uncertain times

. . .

Jesus Christ is real. 

He died to forgive

You of your sins. 

He died that you

May have eternal life.

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 13:23-31 – The Danger Of Biblical Compromise

Grace For The Journey

We are in the last passage of the last chapter of Nehemiah as we bring our verse-by-verse study of this Book to a conclusion.  There will always be more for us to learn in the Book of Nehemiah, but today finishes out the final chapter as we pick up in verse 23 and study the final passage.

Our series has been entitled REBUILD; God’s rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem and rebuilding the people who live inside those walls.  The people who had been in exile for so many years have been brought back into the land and they rediscovered the Bible.  Revival had broken out as people listened for hours to preaching of the Word, confessed their sins, and rededicated themselves to God.  They even made a covenant to God in chapter 10 promising to live in accordance to the teachings of Scripture.  They would no longer compromise in their relationships, they would no longer compromise the Sabbath day.  They concluded their promises in the last verse of chapter 10 with the stirring pledge to no longer neglect their faith.  They said, “We will not neglect the house of our God.”  That is what they said.

But, when all was said and done. . .

More was said than done.

While Nehemiah had gone back to the capital of Susa, the people fell back into old habits and old ways.  After a year or so of being away, Nehemiah returns to find that “while the cat’s away, the mice have played.”  They had allowed unbelievers; pagans, to come into the temple and marry among their people.  They had failed to keep the Sabbath and treated the Sabbath day just like any ordinary day.  They had compromised their faith in so many ways.  We continue to read about this compromise today as we study again at verse 23 and following.  As in Nehemiah’s day, we need God’s Word today.  We ask that God help us understand it, that the Holy Spirit, be our teacher as we study.  May we take God’s truth, plant it deep in us; let it shape and fashion us in His likeness,

On July 17, 1981, two suspended walkways inside the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri collapsed.  Tragically, the collapse of the walkways killed 114 people and injured over 200 others.  Responders worked for hours to locate survivors, many of whom had been trapped under the rubble of steel and concrete.  Until the collapsing of the towers of the World Trade Center 20 years later, the Hyatt Regency disaster was the deadliest structural collapse in American history.  Investigation found that the collapse was due to a late design change in the structure of the walkways.  Poor communication among contractors and economic pressures to finish a “fast track” project on time resulted in a compromise of engineering ethics.  The Hyatt Regency calamity is a standard case study in engineering courses all over the world, a case illustrating the need for engineering integrity.  In fact, the man who bore primary responsibility for the catastrophe spent the latter years of his life speaking to professional conferences in the hopes of preventing similar problems.  He did not wish to see future generations give-in to an ethical engineering compromise.

One small compromise in the integrity of the structure led to its impending demise.  In the same way, one small compromise in the integrity of God’s people may lead to the impending collapse of our faith.  We allow a “little sin” to gain entry and before we know it the entire structure of our lives falls down around us. 

Chapter 13 is all about compromise.  Today’s passage shows that . . .

What one generation practices,

The next will condone.

God’s people had allowed for the seemingly “little sin” of intermarrying with pagan unbelievers.  As a result, the future generation suffered.  Little sins have a way of growing, compounding, increasing, and aggravating.  Let’s study the passage and see how this happened.

Verse 23 says, “In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.”This was wrong, marrying the people of “Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.”  The people of God were not to intermarry with the foreigners who lived outside the community of faith.  This was expressly prohibited by Mosaic Law. 

Remember that this command not to intermarry with the people of Ashdod or the Ammonites and Moabites was not a racial matter.  There is no verse in the Bible supporting racism.  The concern was rather that God’s people intermingling with unbelievers meant that they would compromise their religious identity and religious heritage.  This is the point of the prohibition.  

Nehemiah likely cited Deuteronomy 7:1-6.  This command was given by God and handed down through Moses at Mount Sinai, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you…nations greater and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and … shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.  Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son.  For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods … But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire.  For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” 

The command not to intermarry with the people

Of Ashdod or the Ammonites and Moabites

Was not a racial thing, it was a religious thing.

If someone from the tribe of Ashdod were to repent and turn to God, or an Ammonite, or a Moabite – like Ruth, the Moabitess – were to repent of their false gods and turn to the One True God, they would find acceptance in the Kingdom of God.  Anyone who turns from sin and turns to the Lord may be saved.

The command forbidding God’s people

From intermarrying with the pagan unbelievers

Of the surrounding land was to protect God’s people,

To safeguard their religious identity and protect their religious heritage.

Any compromise of that solidarity would lead to a loss of religious identity and heritage. 

And that’s precisely what verse 24 illustrates, “And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people.”  The children “could not speak the language of Judah” and the language of Judah is Hebrew.  Follow me on this: If the children “could not speak the language of Judah,” if the children could not speak Hebrew, what else does that mean?  It means also they could not read Hebrew.  What does that mean?  If they cannot speak Hebrew or read Hebrew, then they cannot understand the Bible. 

The concern is greater than nationalistic pride.  In the words of one commentator, failure to read and speak Hebrew “meant a steady erosion of Israelite identity at the level of all thinking and expression, and a loss of access to the Word of God, which would effectively paganize them.”  He adds, “A single generation’s compromise could undo the work of centuries.”

Verse 25 says, “So I contended(same verb as in verses 11 and 17)with them and cursed them(pronouncing God’s curse upon them), struck some of them and pulled out their hair,and made them swear by God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves.’”  We have noted previously the contrast between the leadership styles of Nehemiah and his contemporary Ezra.  When Ezra was vexed by the people’s sinfulness, he pulled out his own hair (Ezra 9:3).  Nehemiah, on the other hand, pulls out the hair of the people!

The pulling out of the hair of others probably had more to do with public shame than anything else.  Other Old Testament references suggest that the removal of hair was a way of drawing attention to one’s shameful conduct or inflicting shame upon an enemy, plucking the hairs of one’s beard, for example (cf 2 Samuel 10; Isaiah 50:6).

Nehemiah makes them recommit again.  He makes them swear allegiance again to God and His commands.  He asks in verse 26, “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things?  Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel.  Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin.”  While Solomon was the greatest king who ever lived, even he was led into sin by compromising his religious convictions.  Taking a number of foreign wives may have been the way other kings of other lands acted, but this was not to be so for Israel’s king.  And this compromise led to Solomon’s downfall.  His heart was no longer devoted entirely to the One True God but was divided, some of his heart given to false gods.

Nehemiah asked them in verse 27 says, “Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?”  Nehemiah describes this intermarrying of pagan women a “great evil.”  He does not sugarcoat his rebuke.  Were we to ask just how bad was the situation in Jerusalem, how bad had this thing gotten while Nehemiah was away?  We discover in verse 28 that even the high priest had compromised his faith.  Verse 28 states, “And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; therefore I drove him from me.”

The high priest’s son Joiada – or Jehoiada, depending on your translation – has a son whom he gives in marriage to the daughter of Sanballat!  Sanballat, you will remember along with Tobiah, was one of the chief enemies of God’s people introduced way back in chapter 2.  We read a couple weeks ago how Eliashib had allowed the enemy Tobiah to live in one of the storerooms of the temple.  Nehemiah learned about this and drove Tobiah out of the temple.  Now Nehemiah discovers that Eliashib has also allowed his grandson to marry the pagan unbelieving daughter of Sanballat. 

What one generation practices,

The next will condone.

Nehemiah learns of this and, the last phrase of verse 28 says, “therefore I drove him from me.”  More literally, Nehemiah “chased him” away.  I can picture Nehemiah chasing him away just as he chased away Tobiah from that storeroom!

In verse 29 Nemiah prays, “Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.”  Nehemiah entrusts their situation to God: “Remember them, O my God,” remember what they did, how they “defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.”

Then a concluding statement in verse 30 and following, “Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan. I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service, and to bringing the wood offering(wood for the altar)and the firstfruits(of the harvest)at appointed times. Remember me, O my God, for good!”

The book opens and closes with Nehemiah on his knees in prayer.  Let me give at least three truths to take with you as a result of our study together.  

1) Spiritual Compromise Leads to Spiritual Calamity.

Once we allow a crack in the foundation of our faith, it just a matter of time before we face dire consequences.  Spiritual compromise of any kind leads to spiritual calamity.  There are non-negotiables for the children of God.  A.W. Tozer said, “The blessing of God is promised to the peacemaker, but the religious negotiator had better watch his step.  Darkness and light can never be brought together to talk.  Some things are not negotiable.” 

That Chapter 13 of Nehemiah is all about compromise is providential, the last chapter of the Book leaving us with a warning that rings in our ears . . . 

Do not compromise your faith.

Someone defined compromise as “planting God’s flowers in the devil’s dirt.”  God’s people had compromised in a number of ways . .

  • They had planted God’s flowers in the dirt of cultural temptation and accommodation. 
  • Their most recent transgression was a compromise of relationships. 

Our most important relationship is not with another person, but with God.  We love Him more than any spouse or any friend.  He is our most important relationship.

Remember that the command forbidding God’s people from intermarrying with the pagan unbelievers was for their own good, to protect God’s people, to safeguard their religious identity and protect their religious heritage.  Any compromise of that solidarity would lead to a loss of religious identity and heritage.

We too must not compromise in this area.  We will seek lasting and meaningful relationships with those who share our faith.  We will not, as the Apostle Paul would warn five centuries later, “be unequally yoked” or married to those who do not share our Christian convictions (2 Corinthians 6:14).  Young people – and older people – that means we will not get involved in a relationship where that young man or young woman does not share our faith.  If they have not given their heart to Jesus and are not seeking to surrender and know Him more, then we are going to safeguard our hearts by not compromising our convictions.  If we do, this truth will be manifest: spiritual compromise leads to spiritual calamity. 

Second . . .

2) Course Corrections Require Radical Actions.

Put another way . . .

We must deal with sin

And we must deal

With it radically.

We noted last time that the problem with so-called “little sins” is that they do not remain little.  The people had compromised for quite some time.  Neglecting the commands concerning the temple, neglecting the commands concerning the Sabbath, no wonder then in time they are neglecting the commands regarding intermarriage with pagan peoples.

Had the people done what God had said concerning the Sabbath it is hard to imagine they would have had opportunity to intermingle much with the unbelieving pagans with whom they did business.  But one sin leads to another and to another still.

The progression of sin is addressed in the opening chapter of the Book of James, verses 14-15, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.  Course correction requires radical actions.  When Nehemiah learns of the people’s sins, he does not waste any time forming committees or hoping it will all go away, he takes radical measures.  Remember how he cleansed the temple?   Just kicks out Tobiah!  And today we read of his pulling out the hairs of those who had sinned, and “chasing away” a fella who was bringing shame upon the people of God.

Here is a question for you . . .

“What sin do you need

To get out of your life?

Or what needs cleansing in your life?  Quit flirting with that so-called “little sin.”  Take radical action this morning by “chasing it away” with the vigor and determination that Nehemiah had in chasing away the high priest’s son-in-law.  Confess that sin to God and repent from it.  Turn from it today.

Some of you need to turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  You need to be saved from sin, death, and hell.  You have allowed compromise into your life and you need to turn to Jesus.  Turn to Him today and be saved.

Third and final take-home truth . . .

3) We Must be Fluent in the Language of Faith.

Some of us speak the language of the world better than the language of faith.  We speak the language of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.  We are culturally savvy.  We know the words to the latest songs, we know the names of the popular actors and actresses.  We are well-versed in the latest Hollywood movie and Madison Avenue fashion.  But far too many of God’s people speak only the language of Ashdod.  

Conversant in our cultural situations,

Yet woefully ignorant of

Our Christian convictions.

Resolve today to be fluent in the language of faith.  Know your Bible.  Read your Bible daily.  Study it.  Memorize it.  Meditate upon it.

Pass on the teachings of Scripture to your children and grandchildren so as to avoid generational compromise – because – just like a fatal design change to a building in the 11th hour, we compromise our Christian convictions by allowing a seemingly “little sin” into our presence, little thinking that it will cause the entire structure of our lives to collapse.  

Ask God for grace to conform you to the teachings of His Word.  God has spoken.  The Holy Spirit will help you apply what you have learned.  Ask Him to lead you to full obedience, holy reverence, and true humility.  Plant His word deep within your mind and heart.  Ask Him to shape and fashion you in Christ-likeness. 

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 13:15-22 – The Result Of Neglecting God’s Word and Worship

Grace For The Journey

We are nearing the end of our study of Nehemiah and are in its final chapter, chapter 13 chronologically the last written words of the Old Testament.  We noted last time that chapter 13 describes the upending of the covenant that God’s people had made with God back in chapter 10 in the heat of revival.  In chapter, 10 the people were all about making things right and living as authentic followers of God.  Maybe in the past they had failed the Lord, but no more.  They were recommitting themselves to the Lord and concluded their rededication with the rousing statement in Nehemiah 10:31, where they said, “We will not neglect the house of our God.”

Yet, here they are a few years later neglecting the house of God.  What did this involve?  We saw that it meant that . . .

They had neglected previous teaching,

They had neglected the purity of the temple,

And they had neglected the practice of tithing.

All this happened while Nehemiah was away on a trip back to Persia.  We read where Eliashib the priest had even allowed that Tobiah to move into a storeroom of the temple.  So, Nehemiah comes back and “cleans house.”  Tobiah is kicked out and the temple is restored to order.

We saw last time that the first part of chapter 13 describes the people’s forsaking the house of God.  Today’s passage describes their forsaking the Sabbath. 

Some say the fourth commandment no longer applies.  Strictly speaking, you will not find in the New Testament a teaching that says something like: “Continue to observe the Sabbath exactly as God’s people did in the Old Testament, namely resting from your labors on the seventh day of the week – Saturday – and gathering together in the Jewish Temple for the express purpose of worshiping the One True God.”  You will not find that kind of statement in the New Testament and there is a good reason for it.  While Sabbath was observed by Old Testament believers on the seventh day – on Saturday – something happened 2,000 years ago that caused the Jews of that day to change their Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  What was that incredible historic event that caused God’s people to change their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday?  

It was none other than the resurrection.

Jesus Christ rose from the dead on

The first day of the week, on Sunday.

Luke describes the followers of Christ observing the Sabbath, getting ready for the Sabbath on Friday evening.  Luke tells us there were women at the tomb that evening, that they saw where Christ’s body was placed in it, and the Bible says at the end of Luke’s Gospel in chapter 23, verse 56, “Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment (according to the fourth Commandment).”  That is the last time we read in the New Testament that followers of Christ observed the Sabbath rest on Saturday strictly as a matter of adherence to the 4th Commandment.

After that first Easter morning, Christians began gathering together for public worship on the first day of the week, on Sunday.  The Bible tells us in Acts 20:7, “Now on the first day of the week” … “the disciples came together to break bread.”  They came together on the first day of the week, on Sunday, to break bread in worship.  They gathered on Sunday to bring their tithes and gifts.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of the week let each of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper.”  In essence, Paul says, “When you guys meet together for worship on the first day of the week, Sunday, let each of you lay something aside during the offering.”  I think we can see this truth at least in part in the opening chapter of the Book of Revelation where John speaks of being, “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10).  The Lord’s Day was the way Christians began to refer to Sunday, the first day of the week.

Our Seventh Day Adventist friends insist that Christians should worship on Saturday.   They tell us Christians did not begin worshiping on Sunday until commanded to do so by order of Constantine in the 4th Century.  But when we look at these passages we say, “No, that is not what we see in our Bibles and that is not the practice of the early Christians in the centuries preceding Constantine.  Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week – on Sunday – and His followers have been gathering together on the first day of the week ever since.”

Strictly speaking, the fourth commandment, in terms of keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day – Saturday – is a commandment that is no longer binding in that explicit sense.  At the same time, however . . .

The Sabbath principle remains.

The importance of taking one day in seven to rest cannot be overstated.  Rest is a principle woven into the very fabric of God’s creation.  God created the world in six days and rested.  He desires that His children rest as well for their good and for His glory.

Now, let’s study our passage.

Verse 15 says, “In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens(or all kings of stuff, goods and so forth), which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions.”

While Nehemiah was away the people had gone back to old habits of working and doing business on the Sabbath.

Verse 16, “Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.”  The “men of Tyre” or the “Tyrians” were Gentiles, people not bound by Sabbath law, but they found ready and willing business partners in God’s people.  Verses 15 and 16 describe a bustling market scene teeming with shoppers, with the accompanying noise and sounds of commerce and trade.  This burgeoning marketplace did not simply appear all at once.  It must have started off very small, shortly after Nehemiah had gone back to Persia.  It had not been that long ago when they promised in their covenant to do differently, as we read in Nehemiah 10:31, “If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and we would forego the seventh year’s produce and the exacting of every debt.”

But that was then, and this is now.  What had started as a small little compromise, just one “little sin,” had grown into a monstrous mesh of trespasses.  The far-reaching impact of just one sin!  We noted this truth in our last study by way of application.  We said we must remember the danger of compromise.  Someone said, “People seldom lose their faith by a blowout – It is usually a slow leak.”  One small little compromise that begins like a trickle of water from a faucet in time turns into a gushing flood of iniquity.  

The trouble with “little sins” is that they do not stay little.  People who never imagined to be stuck in darkness were the very people who had begun to enjoy a “little stroll in the shade.”  The trouble with little sins is that they do not stay little.  How many times have we said this, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”

Verses 17 and 18 state, “Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, ‘What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day?  Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.’”  Here is Nehemiah the reformer in action again!  He’s like, “What in the world is this evil you are doing, buying and selling on the Sabbath?!”  He says in verse 18, “Did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city” because of Sabbath-breaking?!”  

That was a reminder that at least one of the reasons God had disciplined His children centuries earlier, allowing them to be carried off into exile by the Assyrians and Babylonians, was because of Sabbath-breaking.  Nehemiah is saying, “Don’t you remember your history?!”  Don’t you remember what happened to our ancestors when they profaned the Sabbath?!  Their sin had consequences!  And you are headed for the same consequences!”  Sin would have fewer takers if its results occurred immediately.

If you knew that the “little sin” of clicking on the inappropriate link on your computer, taking you to a web page you ought not to be looking at, if you knew that one seemingly small click would lead immediately to your losing your job, losing your spouse, losing the pride of your children, and losing respect from everyone in the community, you would be less likely to click on the inappropriate link.  Sin would have fewer takers if its results occurred immediately.

Verse 19 states, “So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. Then I posted some of my servants at the gates, so that no burdens would be brought in on the Sabbath day.”  Nehemiah determines to fix the problem.  He instructs them to close the gates of the city and make sure they do not open back up until after the Sabbath.  Closing the gates ensured that no one could go outside and do business, and no one could come inside to do business.  Nehemiah sees that the gates are closed “as it began to be dark before the Sabbath.”

The Sabbath ran roughly from six o’clock Friday evening to six o’clock Saturday evening.  Even today, the Sabbath is observed in Jerusalem by orthodox Jews.  Beginning early Friday afternoon most businesses and restaurants close.  There are a few non-kosher restaurants that stay open for tourists, but most shut down.  Public transportation, busses, and light railway shut down as well, Friday evening to Saturday evening.

The last part of verse 19 tells us Nehemiah did not trust the people to keep the gates shut.  The Bible tells us that he, “… posted some of my servants at the gates.”  He wants to make absolutely certain the gates stay shut!

Verse 20 says, “Now the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice.”  There are some people camping out just outside the gate ready to do business on the Sabbath.  Nehemiah warns them in verse 21, “Then I warned them, and said to them, ‘Why do you spend the night around the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you!’ From that time on they came no more on the Sabbath.”  Nehemiah is not talking about laying hands on them to pray for them!  Someone said, “The only right time to get angry is when you get angry at sin.”   Nehemiah was angry at sin, a righteous indignation.  Verse 22 states, “And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves(due to their negligence, the Levites needed to be ritualistically purified again), and that they should go and guard the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day.  Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Your mercy!” 

How does this passage apply to us today?  We have already noted again the danger of compromise.  The trouble with little sins is that they do not stay little.  Some of us need to repent of the little sins we have allowed to “get inside the gates.”  We have got to take decisive action like Nehemiah and say, “No more!”  That will mean some of us need to be honest before God, confess sin, and repent from sin – little sins and greater sins.  When a person is ready to confess his or her sins, God is always ready to cover those sins with His blood.

This also applies with regarding to the Sabbath day observance.  If the fourth commandment no longer applies in the strictest sense an explicit command to observe the Sabbath as Jews under law did in Nehemiah’s day, how do we apply the principle of Sabbath as followers of Christ today?  I am glad you asked!  I want to share with you the “Three Rs” of the Sabbath . . .

1. Reverence.

We must believe in the reverence of the Lord’s Day.  Deuteronomy 5:12 says, “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.”  Sunday ought to be thought of as a holy day, a day set apart for worship of the One True and Living God who saves us through His Son Jesus Christ.  It is not just any day, it is a day where we especially pay tribute to and give concerted reverence to God.  

The people of Nehemiah’s day fell into an irreverence of the Sabbath.  It was a day like any other day.  They did business and traded on the Sabbath, indicating that they had a love for the world more than a love for the Lord.  Making money on the Sabbath was more important to them than taking time on the Sabbath to focus upon the Lord.

Our Lord’s Day – Sunday – ought to be a day of special focus upon the Lord, a holy day, a day we endeavor to do things differently than other days of the week.  It is not that there is some place in the New Testament that provides a list of approved activities on Sunday, you know, “You can do this, but not this.”  That would be to commit the error of legalism, precisely the problem with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  He had to teach them that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

2. Rest.

We need to understand the importance of rest from work.  Many folks spend hundreds of dollars on time-saving devices and then work overtime to pay for them!  Someone said, “The average American is a guy who was born in the country, worked so hard he could live in the city, then worked even harder so he could get back to the country.”  Few Americans really know the value of rest.  Even when we take time off, we don’t know how to rest.  With irony we often note that “no one needs a vacation more than the guy who just had one.”  Rest is a gift from God.

The Bible tells us in Exodus 20:9-11, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth…and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day …”  God rested not because He was weary, but because He was finished!  He was finished with the work of creating.  There was a limit to God’s creative work and God met the limit.  Man must also recognize the value of limits to his work.  

Ray Stedman called the Sabbath, “God’s stress management program.”  I like that.  The Sabbath teaches us the value of “pushing the pause button,” taking a break from the frenetic pace of our workaday world, giving our bodies and our minds a break from the chaos.

Rest.  But what are we to do during this time of resting?  That is the third R . . .

3. Remembering.

We have already noted the importance of reverence . . .

The Lord’s Day is a day consecrated or

Set aside for focus upon the Lord. 

It is during this day of focus

That we remember.  We remember . . .

Who God is and

What He has done.

Right after Moses gives the fourth commandment to rest on the Sabbath, he adds this in Deuteronomy 5:15, “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” 

Remember what God did for you. 

Remember how He delivered you.

Observing the Sabbath is not just about reverence and rest . . .

It is about remembering;

Purposeful remembering

The Lord on the Sabbath.

The Lord’s day is not a day merely to sit around and do nothing!  It is a day, yes to physically rest from the regular routine of work, but it is a thoughtful rest.  It is a time to remember who God is and what He has done; a thoughtful rest.  In a word, it is worship.  

When we gather for worship, we focus upon and think about God – Remembering His mighty acts, praising Him because He is worthy of all praise. 

We take time in our homes to open the Word, reading from the Bible, remembering who He is and what He has done.  It is a special time for thoughtful, restful reflection upon the Lord.

The point of the Lord’s Day is not rest in the sense of inactivity and idleness, laying around all day, or just sitting around watching TV, or going shopping or playing video games and surfing the internet.  Again, we must not be legalistic here.  Sometime in those activities may well be acceptable, but we must take care not to lose the day.  

We must not miss the blessing of the Lord’s Day as a day of “relaxation infused with consecration.”  The Lord’s Day is a special day on which we refrain from doing the things we normally do that we might consecrate ourselves to God and enjoy His presence more fully in a uniquely wonderful way!  

As our Lord Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man.”  It is a gift from God!

As we prepare to respond to God’s truth.  Let me review the essence of our study . . .

First – Is there a sin you need to confess right now before God?  Have you compromised your faith, allowing sin to intrude through the city gates and into your temple – your mind, your body.  Confess silently to God and ask His forgiveness.   Repent.  Turn to God. 

Second – What do you need to do to make sure Sunday never becomes like just any other day, but a special day – a day of reverence, rest, and remembering.  You may ask God silently, “God, help me always to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.”  

If you are not a believer, you have never been saved, turn to Jesus Christ and be saved from your sin.  The Bible teaches in the Book of Hebrews that Jesus Christ is the One in Whom is found rest, real rest, in the fullest sense.  If you are weak and tired and heavy-laden with sin and sorrow, go to Jesus and He will give you rest, heavenly rest, salvation rest.  Just say to Him right now, “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment and offering forgiveness. I turn from my sin and receive you as Savior.”  

May God give us grace to surrender all to Him, including the Sabbath.

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 13:1-14 – Why Is The House of God Forsaken?

Grace For The Journey

Our current Bible study series is entitled “REBUILD.”  We have noted that the Book of Nehemiah breaks down roughly into two categories:

Chapters 1-6; Physical Rebuild, where we read of the Rebuilt Wall

And

Chapters 7-13; Spiritual Rebuild, where we read of the Rebuilt People.

What we have in Chapter 13 is what many scholars believe to be the last portion of the Old Testament written.  It does not appear that way to us as the Book is in its canonical order rather than its chronological order.  It is placed along the other books of Old Testament history, but the contents concern the last events of God’s people in the history of the Old Testament.

Beginning at verse 4 Nehemiah says, “Now before this,” and that opening phrase tips us off to the fact that Nehemiah then tells us about some things that happened while he was actually away from Jerusalem, things that happened while he had gone back to Persia for awhile.  See that at verse 6 where he says, “But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king.  Then after certain days I obtained leave from the king” – verse 7 – “and I came to Jerusalem…”  This tells us that quite a bit of time has passed.

Chapter 13 is something of a paradox.  It can be seen as both discouraging and encouraging.  It is discouraging in that it shows us that much of what Nehemiah led the people to do was soon forgotten.  The great covenant they had made with God back in Chapter 10, a chapter that concludes with the phrase, “We will not neglect the house of God” (10:39), is a covenant largely broken by chapter 13.  The people neglected the house of God as indicated by Nehemiah’s statement in Chapter 13, verse 11, “So I contended with the rulers and said, ‘Why is the house of God forsaken?’” 

The Book of Nehemiah is often hailed as a great book on leadership, yet by popular metrics of success, it would seem Nehemiah failed.  After all, he led the people to reform, but while he was away, the people fell back into old habits and old ways; they fell into sin.  So much for Nehemiah’s great leadership!  Maybe Nehemiah could have related to the statement that “the conference room is the place where everybody talks, nobody listens, and afterwards, everyone disagrees.”

Fortunately . . .

The Book of Nehemiah

Is not primarily

A Book about leadership,

But a book about God

And how God relates

To His people.

And this leads us to the encouragement of Chapter 13.  While much of what we study here can be discouraging – the people fall back into old sinful habits – the fact is that God will not abandon His people.  He had made a promise to them as far back as Genesis 12 to be their God and to never forsaken them.  That fact holds true for God’s people today.  He will not finally abandon us when we fall into old sinful habits.  The cross still stands to cleanse us from our sin.

I want us to look at the teaching outline that will help us journey through the passage together.  It is a descriptive outline, merely describing the events of the passage as we read through the text.  It shows how the people of God had neglected the house of God:

First from the opening verses, verses 1-3, we see that God’s people had fallen into sin . . .

1. By Neglecting Previous Teaching – Verses 1-3.

One of the positive marks of the people of God in Nehemiah is that as they read the Word they responded rightly to it.  While they had neglected previous teaching in the Word, they immediately seek to correct it.  Verses 1-3 say, “On that day (or at that time) they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people, and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the assembly of God, because they had not met the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing.  So it was, when they had heard the Law, that they separated all the mixed multitude from Israel.”  The people were reading the Word or hearing the Word read aloud and they said, “Hey, there’s something we have neglected.  The Bible says we are not to have Ammonites or Moabites with us inside the city of Jerusalem and we have allowed them to intermingle with us.  We have got to change that!”  So they did.

A bit of context is helpful here.  Were we to go back and read the portion of Old Testament Law that was read aloud to them, we would go back to Deuteronomy 23, verses 3-6.  There we would read this very specific prohibition: No Ammonites or Moabites allowed to be among you!  Why?  Well, verse 2 tells us, “Because they had not met the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them.”  When God delivered His people out of slavery and bondage to the Egyptians and led them on a journey to the Promised Land, it was the Ammonites and Moabites who stood against them.  When God’s people were famished and thirsty, the Ammonites and Moabites refused to give them bread and water.  These folks did not follow the One True and Living God.  They were rebellious idolaters.  And verse 2 reminds us that they had once even hired a prophet to prophesy doom against God’s people, but it did not work.  You can read about that later in the Book of Numbers 22-24 where they hired this guy named Balaam to curse God’s people.  But every time Balaam opened his mouth to curse God’s people, God turned his cursing into blessing.   And all he could do was speak good things upon God’s people.  Remember . . .

God had made a promise,

A promise of blessing

Upon His children

As far back as Genesis 12

So Balaam could not change

That blessing into cursing.

The people are reading from the Book and they realize they had neglected this previous teaching about separating themselves from the Ammonites and Moabites and the say in verse 3, “We need to change that,” and they do, “they separated all the mixed multitude from Israel.”

Now remember, we have covered this ground before . . .

The problem with the

Ammonites and Moabites

Was not a racial problem,

But a religious problem.

It was not that the Ammonites and Moabites were of a different race and God’s people were of a superior race.  You will never find a single verse in all the Bible to support racism.  That is not what is going on here. 

The prohibition against intermarrying and intermingling

With the Ammonites and Moabites was due to their being

Unrepentant followers of false gods.  They would not

Follow the one true and living God – to Intermingle

With them was to compromise one’s convictions and

Open up the possibility of falling into sin by falling

Away from God and turning towards false gods.

If, however, an Ammonite or Moabite were to confess

And repent and turn from the false gods of the pagan lands,

They would be welcome among God’s people. 

Remember Naomi the Moabitess, a woman from Moab.  Remember what she said to her mother-in-law Ruth?  She said, “… Your God will be my God …” (Ruth 4:16e) and she turned from the false gods of the Moabites and was welcome into the fold of the people of God.  The doors remain open today for anyone to enter into a relationship with God if you come in repentance, breaking with sin, and entering into true worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The first area of neglect: the people had neglected previous teaching.  The second area of neglect is, God’s people had fallen into sin . . .

3. By Neglecting The Purity of the Temple – Verses 4-9.

As we look again at verses 4 and following, we enter into some events that occurred while Nehemiah was away.  Remember when Moses went up on the mountain to be with God and get the 10 Commandments and then he comes down to find the people in sin?  That is what’s going on in verses 4 and following; Nehemiah was away, having gone back to Susa, the capital city of Persia, and while he was away what happened?  

Verses 4 and 5 tell us, “Now before this, Eliashib the priest, having authority over the storerooms of the house of our God, was allied with Tobiah.  And he had prepared for him a large room, where previously they had stored the grain offerings, the frankincense, the articles, the tithes of grain, the new wine and oil, which were commanded to be given to the Levites and singers and gatekeepers, and the offerings for the priests.”  Eliashib the priest allows Tobiah to move into one of the storerooms of the temple!  Can you believe it?!  It may actually be more like a suite of storerooms. Right there in the temple.

This is that same Tobiah who taunted Nehemiah and the Israelites back when they were rebuilding the wall.  He is the guy who was like, “You’ll never do it!  That wall will not even support a small animal if it were to try to climb upon it.  You guys are losers!”  That same Tobiah!  Tobiah was – incidentally – an Ammonite!  One of the people we just read about it in the previous verses, a pagan follower of false gods.  That is the guy who was allowed to live in one of the storerooms of the temple!!

Eliashib in verse 4 allowed it.  He was a priest there at the temple and because he was “allied with Tobiah,” a relative of Tobiah, he had allowed him to live in the temple storerooms.  Now Nehemiah did not know this.  He was away in Persia.  He tells us that in verse 6, “But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king (433 BC). Then after certain days(or after quite some time)I obtained leave from the king.”

A quick timeline: Nehemiah had been governing in Jerusalem, leading the people in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem for some twelve years, from 445 to 433.  Then, he went back up to King Artaxerxes, thousand miles away, back to the Persian Capital of Susa.  Remember, he had a job there as the king’s cupbearer.  So, he was back in Susa for awhile, maybe 2-3 years, no one knows for certain how long, but after some time, he obtained leave from the king, asked for permission to go back and see how things were going in Jerusalem, and he comes back to Jerusalem. 

What does he discover?  Verse 7 says, “And I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.”  He describes it as evil.  The temple was sullied with the presence of the unbelieving thug, Tobiah!  How did you feel about that, Nehemiah?  He tells us in verses 8 and 9, “And it grieved me bitterly; (what did you do, Nehemiah?) therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room.  Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.”

We are going to be reading more of his righteous indignation in future study of this chapter where he gets even more brutal.  He is quite a contrast to his contemporary Ezra.  In the book of Ezra when God’s people fall into sin it causes Ezra to pull his hair out.  Later in this chapter we will see that when God’s people fall into sin it causes Nehemiah to pull their hair out!  

Nehemiah discovers Tobiah is living in one of the temple storerooms – defiling the purity of the temple – So Nehemiah does a thorough spring house cleaning.  The purity of the temple had been neglected.  Nehemiah foreshadows another housecleaning event.  Hard to read this passage without thinking about a future housecleaning of the temple five centuries later when our Lord Jesus would knock over the tables of the money changes in righteous anger and clean house (Matthew 21:12ff).  Remember: anger itself is not a sin.  Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and sin not.”  Righteous indignation is not a sin.  

Nehemiah kicks out the Ammonite Tobiah and verse 9 tells he, “commanded them to cleanse the rooms.”  And they bring back into the storerooms “the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.”  

This mention of grain offerings leads to the third thing the people had neglected.  God’s people had neglected previous teaching, the purity of the temple, and thirdly, God’s people had fallen into sin . . .

3. Neglecting The Practice of Tithing – Verses 10-14.

Verse 10 says, “I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them; for each of the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone back to his field.”  God’s people were to support the Levites through tithing.  You will recall that from last time.  They were to bring in grain offerings and tithes to support the ministry of those who ministered at the temple.  But the Levites were not being supported.  There were no storerooms full of tithes because Tobiah was living in the storerooms.  So, the Levites – who were supposed to be financially supported by God’s people – had to leave the temple and go work the fields to support themselves.  Verse 11 tells us what Nehemiah did about that, “So I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their place.”  Nehemiah got things in order and the people began tithing again. 

Verses 12 and 13 state, “Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse.  And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouse, Shelemiah the priest and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah; and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered faithful, and their task was to distribute to their brethren.”

Then Nehemiah prays in verse 14, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for its services!”  Nehemiah is asking God to not forget what he did in restoring to order the temple and its services.

In closing, I would like to leave you with three reminders by way of application.  How can we rightly apply this passage to our daily lives? 

1. The Duty of Confrontation.

When Nehemiah discovered that God’s people had fallen into sin, he called them out on it.  He confronted them.  It is a lie that we should avoid confronting people out of love. That is just wrong.  It is unloving to leave them in their sin.  Let me say that again: it is unloving to leave a brother or sister in sin.

The Bible says in Galatians 6:1-2, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

The Book of James ends in chapter 5 and verses 19-20 with these words, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”  If you love me you will want to save my soul from death and lovingly lead me to Christ whose atonement covers a multitude of sins.  

Jesus teaches in Matthew 18 that when your brother or sister sins you are go and tell them their fault between you and them alone (Matthew 18:15ff).  We have a duty to confront sin.  Deal with it.

Remember the Duty of Confrontation.  Secondly, Reminder . . .

3. The Danger of Compromise.

Chapter 13 is full of compromise.  The people of God compromised their faith and trust in the One True and Living God.  They allowed sin to creep into their lives, creeping into their community, and into their temple.  Tobiah the ungodly Ammonite was allowed to come in among them!

Have you compromised, by allowing an ungodly Ammonite to take up residence in the storeroom of your temple, your body?  Is there an evil Tobiah who lives inside your heart?  What are you going to do about it?  Nehemiah took quick, decisive action.  He did not stop to pray about it.  It was evil.  He already knew what to do.  He kicked it out.  

You who have compromised your faith by allowing little Tobiah’s into your lives, you must “clean house” this morning.  Confess those sins and repent from those sins.  Do you have any unhealthy associations?  I do not mean, “Do you have lost friends.”  I hope you do have lost friends.  Many of them.  We should be praying for and talking regularly with lost neighbors, lost friends and co-workers about their need to accept Christ as Savior.  Are there unhealthy and unhelpful relationships causing you to compromise your faith in Christ?  That man, that lady, who does not follow Jesus and you are in a relationship with them – and they are drawing you away from the Lord.

Did you know that Lottie Moon, the famed Baptist Missionary Woman we remember at Christmastime, did you know she was once engaged to Southern Seminary Professor Crawford Toy?  She broke off the marriage engagement once she learned that he had changed his theology and no longer believed as she believed.  Though she loved that man, she loved Jesus more.  She knew the danger of compromise.

The Bible says in Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise becomes wise but a companion of fools suffers harm.” This is a reminder that if we allow unhealthy and unhelpful associations into our lives, we will very likely and very soon go astray.  You cannot follow God with a compromised heart.  You cannot expect to have any influence if you compromise your Christian convictions.  Someone said, “The world will never be evangelized by Christians who compromise.

Thirdly . . . God’s people had fallen into sin . . .

3. The Delight of the Cross.

We said at the outset that Chapter 13 is at once discouraging and encouraging.  It is awful easy to read of the compromise of God’s people in Nehemiah’s day and shake our heads in disbelief.  But as I reflect upon this chapter, I sense God often shaking His head over me.  How often have I sinned by behaving no differently?  The people had said during the covenant they made with God in Chapter 10, “We will not neglect the house of God!”  But here they are just three chapters later neglecting and forsaking God’s house.

What commitments have you made previously to God in your life?  How many broken promises?  How many sins?  Aren’t you glad, Christian, aren’t you glad that when you sin, the cross still stands to meet your needs?  God convicts you of your sin and you confess immediately, repent, and turn back to Him.  Thank God for that Holy Spirit conviction to point out sinful compromise!

As one commentator writes: “Be encouraged by the evidence of grace in the ongoing impulse to repent.”  I like that.  Be encouraged, Christian, by the evidence of grace in the ongoing impulse to repent.  And repent today.  Turn from sin and turn to the Savior.  The cross still stands to meet our needs.  If you are not a Christian, you are not a believer, you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – The cross still stands.  Right now.  Turn away from your sin and believe in the One who has made a way for you to be saved from eternal hell and suffering in the final judgment.   The only way to escape that fiery judgment is to turn away from sin and turn to Christ.  Believe that Jesus is who He said He is.  He lived for you and died in your place to bear the punishment you deserved, and He rose from the grave to grant life to all who believe.  Turn to Him today and follow Him in baptism, getting connected to the church and growing.

Those of you who are Christians, remember the duty to confront, the danger of compromise, and the delight of the cross.

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 12:44-47 – Joy and Giving

Grace For The Journey

  We are studying verse-by-verse through Nehemiah in a series entitled, REBUILD.   Nehemiah records the events some 400 years before Christ when God’s people had been under the discipline of God for their sin.  They had been unfaithful to God so God allowed the Babylonians to attack Jerusalem, knock down its buildings and walls, and carry off God’s people into captivity.  The city of Jerusalem lay in ruins for many years after that.  But . . .

By God’s grace that was all over now,

And the people are brought back to

Their homeland in Israel and the city is rebuilt,

The walls rebuilt in just 52.  And God then

Begins a “rebuilding” of the people. 

Having rediscovered the Word, the people

Are led to rededicate themselves.

That brings us to Chapter 12 where last time we read of this great dedication ceremony.   The people gather together to dedicate the rebuilt walls, the rebuilt city, and their rebuilt selves to the One True and Living God.  Nehemiah gives us the details in Chapter 12, the two thanksgiving choirs marching around the tops of the walls, meeting together at the front of the temple in what was surely a grand musical offering of praise and thanksgiving to God.

We paused to reflect on the concluding verse of that narrative, where the word “joy” or “rejoice” occurring no fewer than five times.  Verse 43 says, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  Resounding joy!  We talked about how God created us to joy in Him.  While we experience times of real sorrow, God created us to delight in Him, to love in Him, to sing in Him, and to joy in Him. 

He both

Expects our joy

And

Enables our joy.

We also noted that the people of God in their worship offered up sacrifices of thank offerings to God.  Our thank offerings today are found largely in what the writer of Hebrews calls “the sacrifice of praise to God.”  Hebrews 13:15 states, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

Worship, singing, and praise is natural for the Christian as he or she has Christ within and the word of Christ that dwells within.  The Bible says in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” 

The presence of Christ

Is the essence of joy. 

It is easy to sing when

You walk with the King.

But is joyful worship only about singing?  Is it enough just to shout and sing and lift our voices in praise?  Are there not also practical expressions that accompany our shouts of joy.  It is easy enough to shout and sing, but is more expected of us?  The Bible answers that question with a resounding, “Yes.”  And our passage today opens up with Nehemiah’s telling us something that happened at the same time, on that very day.

Many of you are familiar with that is called the Shorter Catechism; a longstanding disciple-making booklet put together in question and answer format to teach basic doctrines of the Bible.  The old Baptist catechism is based largely upon the Shorter Catechism.  There are these question and answers, for example . . .

Q. Which is the first commandment?

A. The first commandment is, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

The very first question of the Shorter Catechism asks this question . . .

Q. What is the chief end of man?”  

A. The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

The chief end – that is, the whole point of our existence – is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  Others have noted that we glorify Him most when we are enjoying Him most.  But . . .

Joy is more

Than singing. 

Joy is living.

Nehemiah shows us in today’s passage that joy is also giving.  These verses describe a people who found joy in giving. 

These verses tell us about the peoples’ joyful giving.  Were we to look inside the walls of the rebuilt city we would see not only the temple, but a bunch of storerooms that contained food, grain, pots and pans, and other things used for ministry. The priests and Levites would come in from the villages and prepare everything for worship.  It took time and it took resources.  Tithes were collected into the temple and the monies and resources were distributed to those who led in worship, supporting the ministry of the Lord.

By the way, you have got to love Nehemiah!  He is keen to capitalize on the joyous occasion, striking while the iron is hot, he teaches the importance of tithing and giving to support the work of the Lord.  As one preacher says, “It is one thing to shout on a great occasion, but another to offer the sacrifice of praise continually and to make realistic provision for the church’s needs.”

In today’s blog, we are going to look at three words about given . . .

1. It was Cheerful – Verse 44.

Their giving was done cheerfully.  We have already noted the theme of jubilation that precedes this passage, the people rejoicing with great joy.  Nehemiah tells us in verse 44 that as the people gathered together tithes and offerings that they did so joyfully.  The very last phrase in verse 44 says, “for Judah (that is, the people of God), rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered.”  The passage goes on to show that the peoples’ giving was the joyful expression of gratitude for those and to those who led in worship at the temple.  Cheerful giving.

The Bible teaches the same truth in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.  Someone has said, “You’re not really giving to God until you enjoy it.”  I think that is true.  Some say, “Give till it hurts” and for others “It just hurts to give,” but I think it is true that we are not really giving to God until we enjoy it.  We are not to give grudgingly, nor of necessity, as though being forced in some way.  We are to give cheerfully.  

You will remember Jesus one day was watching people give their tithes and offerings in the temple.  Some were showy in their giving, pouring a number of coins into the giving containers making as much noise as possible.   And Jesus saw a poor widow woman putting in just two small copper coins into the temple treasury—not much, not even worth a penny in our day.  And He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had”  (Luke 21:1-4).  You cannot give like that if you are not giving cheerfully.  We cannot expect God to honor our giving if we give grudgingly or of necessity.

Some of you will know the name Harry Ironside.  Ironside was the famous pastor for some 20 years at Moody Church in Chicago and author of a number of commentaries.  Ironside used to tell the story about an old Scotsman who accidentally gave more than he intended into an offering bag during a worship service.  In Scotland, the ushers at the church used a pole with a bag on the end of it and they would make their way through the pews and position that bag in front of you and you put your offerings in the bag.  This one guy accidentally dropped in a gold sovereign coin by mistake when he meant to put in a shilling.  Now a shilling back then was worth a quarter, 25 cents.  And a gold sovereign was worth 20 shillings, worth $5 which was a lot back then.  This old Scotsman accidentally drops in the sovereign and, as soon as he realizes it, he tries to get it back.  But the user pulled the bag back and said, “Nah, once in, always in!”  And the old Scotsman says, “Ah well, I’ll get credit for it in glory.”  And the usher says, “Nah, you’ll get credit for the shilling!”  That is all the old man intended to give, so that is all the credit he will get.  We are to give as God has given to us: joyfully, freely, gladly, cheerfully.

Their giving was Cheerful.  Second word about their giving . . .

2. It was Scriptural – Verses 44-46.

Nehemiah notes twice in verses 44 and 45 that their giving was “by the Book,” according to the Scriptures.  These verses say, “And at the same time [on that very day] some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites …”  The phrase “specified by the Law” means, “as recorded in the Scriptures.”  Tithing was biblical.   

You will also see in verse 45 the phrase, “… according to the command of David and Solomon his son.”  The service of ministers was supported by the people as the ministers were doing what was commanded in the Word.  Ministry was supported by tithing and giving.

The word “tithe” means “tenth.”  That is literally what the word means: “tenth; one tenth, or ten percent.”  Strictly speaking, to tithe is to give 10% of what you have received.  A tithe is 10% of your earnings.  Earn $1,000, and if you tithe on that, $100 dollars goes to the Lord. An “offering” is when you give above the tithe.  As you have returned your tithe to the Lord and as God often prompts you, you may give an offering in addition to, or above your regular giving.  That is an offering.

It is not our place this morning to do an exhaustive Old Testament survey about the various tithes of grain, money, and offerings collected by God’s people.  I will leave that to your further study later.  But one truth is unmistakable: God expected His people to give the first tenth of what they had received, to return that to God to support the ministry, the ministry to God’s people.  The people in verse 44 were obeying that command, the command “specified by the Law.”

They obeyed God’s command, His Law about giving and tithing.  And again, you can read some of those commands later in places like Leviticus 7, Numbers 7, and Deuteronomy 18.  By the way, I am reading through Numbers in my devotion time and discovered that one of the longest chapters in the Bible is Numbers Chapter 7, nearly 2,000 words and all of them about giving.

The greater point is that God uses the tithe to do the work of the ministry to God’s people.  Tithing is a principle that continues into our day.  Some may differ on whether the Old Testament Law about tithing is still binding as a law, but nearly every Christian agrees on the principle of tithing, tithing is an ongoing principle is the means by which God funds the ministry of the church.

Our church expects members to discover the joy of tithing, the joy of returning to the Lord the “first fruits” of their harvest, the top of their giving, the first tenth, 10% of what God has given us through the providence of a job.  Like God’s people giving to the temple, we give our tithe to the church and all those monies support the ministries of the church.  You are receiving ministry from the church – including the ministry of hearing the Word of God, sitting under the teaching of God’s Word in Bible Study classes, gathering together for worship – you are receiving so it is natural to be giving; giving to support what you are receiving.  That is why the tithe is returned to the local church.  

We are not to use our tithe for other things.  That is, we do not take our 10% and give it to other causes and call that “tithing.”  We give our 10% back to God through the local church ministry (Malachi 3:10); that i’s tithing and then – as God leads us to give above our tithe – we may choose to give offerings to other causes, missional, or humanitarian needs, or otherwise.  

God always honors our giving.  Tithers will provide testimony that when they return their tithe, God always provides.  As God says through the Prophet Malachi in Malachi 3:10, “’Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”  A good question for us to ask is, “What would the church look like if everyone were to give as I give.”

Their giving was Cheerful.  Their giving was Scriptural.  And, thirdly . . .

3. It was Bountiful – Verse 47.

Verse 47 essentially demonstrates that the people provided more than enough funds for one another.  Everyone received what was necessary.  Verse 47 declares, “In the days of Zerubbabel [a hundred years earlier] and in the days of Nehemiah [both then and now] all Israel [note that: all of God’s people] gave [all gave] the portions for the singers and the gatekeepers, a portion for each day. They also consecrated holy things for the Levites, and the Levites consecrated them for the children of Aaron.”  What you have here is unity of the people with regard to their giving.  They gave cheerfully, Scripturally, and bountifully so that each and every person received what was needed to do the ministry.

One commentator has noted, “The people funded the worship of God.  Their perspective was, ‘Whatever it costs us, though we must sacrifice, we must support the worship of God in the temple. That is what our lives are about.” 

Bountiful giving is easy

Once we reflect on what

We have bountiful

Received from God.

Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.”  Here is the question: “What have we NOT received from God?”  If we belong to Christ, it’s logical that everything we have belongs to Him.  As Isaac Watts wrote in the hymn we often sing: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Giving to God is just taking our hands

Off of what belongs to Him.”

It is in the context of giving in 1 Corinthians 9 that Paul says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (1 Corinthians 9:15).

The greatest gift we have received from God is Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God for HIs indescribably GREAT GIFT, the gift of salvation that is ours through Jesus Christ.

Danny Akin, president of Southeaster Seminary, was talking about Christian giving and how those who are believers should give generously, the tithe to the local church merely being the start of our giving.  Rather than splitting hairs about how much a person should give each week he suggested this exercise, he said, “Get on your knees, look to the cross, and give based on that.”

As we close out study, let’s consider the teaching we have heard from God’s Word.   When God’s people give, their giving is to be cheerful, their giving is to be Scriptural, and their giving is to be bountiful.  What are you giving?  Do you tithe, do you give 10% back to God through the church ministry?  Many of you do.  Really, if we are serious about living by God’s truth, the Bible teaches that, for the Christian, 10% is only the beginning.  The Bible teaches us in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.  Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him,  …”  But how do you do that?  Do you give cheerfully – or begrudgingly, out of necessity?  Maybe our motives are not right.  Let’s take a moment to confess silently and repent from sin.

Some of you are convicted about giving to God, beginning to return the tithe to Him, the first 10% of your paycheck as the means by which you say, “God, I trust You to provide.  I am taking You at Your Word when You said, ‘Prove Me now in this.’  I am doing just that, believing You will pour out every need I have through the open window of Your provision.”  Silently thank God for His abundant provision and ask for His grace to be a faithful giver.

If you do not know Jesus Christ . . .

God does not want your money,

He wants your soul. 

Your greatest need is not

To receive more stuff,

Your greatest need is

To receive a Savior;

The Lord Jesus Christ.

Be encouraged to know that God loves you this morning and has made a way for you to be accepted by Him, forgiven of sin through Him, and finding life in Him.  Turn to Christ this morning and be saved.

When we survey the wondrous cross, when we look to the cross, we see there every reason for our giving generously.  God’s love is so amazing, so divine, that it demands our soul, our lives, and our all.  May God be honored and glorified as we respond to Him  in truth through Christ Jesus our Lord, 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 12:27-43 – God Gives Us Real, Resounding Joy!

Grace For The Journey

 We have been studying Nehemiah for some weeks in our series REBUILD.  We have been learning about how God rebuilds walls around a city and how He rebuilds the people of the city.  The city of Jerusalem had lain in ruins for quite some time as God disciplined His people for their sin, sending them into captivity under the Babylonians.  But that was all over now, and God brought the people back into the land.  Nehemiah led the people to rebuild the walls that went around the city in a record 52 days.  And once the walls went up the people gathered together.  They opened the Bible and began doing what it said.  They listened to preaching and teaching, confessed their sin and recommitted themselves to God.   And the time has come to dedicate the rebuilt walls and rebuilt people to the One True and Living God. 

In the passage we will be looking at today, Nehemiah lists the various people with him and the places along the wall.  And he describes how the people were singing and celebrating.  He lists the things the people used in the dedication of the wall – musical instruments, harps, congregational singing, and choirs.  Get a picture in your mind –  half of the people are gathered on top of the wall marching in one direction; the other half in the other direction, singing, rejoicing, praising God, and then they meet together at the location in front of “the house of God,” (verse 40), or the temple.  We see that in verse 40, “So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God,” and Nehemiah lists all the people who were with him, all the people are singing and then verse 43 states, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  This is a great verse that captures the moment succinctly and memorably.  The word “joy” or “rejoice” occurs five times! 

I want us to look this morning at . . .

“Resounding Joy,”

Resounding,

Echoing,

And

Reverberating

Joy!

I read a story the other day about individuals who are hired by Facebook to take down inappropriate videos.  There are several hundreds of people Facebook hires to look at video user’s uploads and they flag inappropriate ones, blocking them from being posted.  This led to these employees having to watch a number of unsettling videos – horrible images, beatings, abuse, etc. – many of these things got to them and led to deep depression, similar to the post-traumatic stress many of our veterans suffer.  The daily barrage of unpleasant, dark, and disturbing images led to a joyless existence.  The Facebook people were having to figure out how best to address the problem and care for the souls of the workers.

I do not think I would like that job, and I certainly cannot imagine having a job like that without a deep-seated joy in the Lord.  We were designed to joy in the Lord.  Psalm 100:1-5 declares, “Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all the earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.  Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise.  Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.  For the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.”

God created us to have joy in Him.  Apart from Him, we will try to find joy in the wrong things, and we will we be lacking that critical element that allows us to live in a dark, fallen world.  As Nehemiah has already taught us in Nehemiah 8:10, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  God created us to have joy in Him.  Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart does good like medicine …”  

We should never fake joy.  In fact, there are times we sorrow deeply.  The shortest verse in the Bible is where Jesus experiences true sorrow at the deepest human level.  He came to the place where Lazarus was buried and the Bible says in John 11:35, “Jesus wept.”  Grief is real.  Joy is a deep-seated, weighty presence underneath the sorrow that makes its way out when the sorrow is over.  It comes through faith in the Lord.  That is why Jesus would say John 14:1, “Let not your heart be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in Me.”  Joy is deep-seated, always there if we are believers, it comes up and through us as we believe and trust in the Lord.  The presence of Christ is the essence of joy. 

There is joy all through this passage.  I have broken the passage down into three headings, three words that describe what is going on in the text as the people gather together to dedicate the wall to the glory of God.  They get themselves in order first and then there is the dedication itself where the two choirs make their procession at the top of the walls, and then there is the accompanying jubilation and praise that reverberates through the land.  

The first word . . .

1. Purification – Verses 27-30.

In the opening verses of the passage, beginning at verse 27, we read that the people sought out the Levites and gathered them together at Jerusalem.  They were scattered here and there in the surrounding villages, so the people got them all together.  Verse 30 tells us that, along with the priests, they will prepare themselves and the people for worship, “Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall.”  We are not told how they purified themselves, the people, the gates, and the wall, but more than likely they did so through ritualistic washings with water; washing their bodies, washing their clothing, and washing the walls. 

The point is that they were going to be

Worshiping in the presence of God

And they needed to be cleansed

In order to be in His presence.

There is no deep-seated joy without purification.  We cannot be a joyful people if we are a sinful people.  We cannot be truly happy apart from true holiness.  Rejoicing requires repenting.

One of the reasons it may be difficult to sing in a worship service is because we have not taken time to prepare ourselves; taking time before we leave the house to go to the cross and appropriate the Gospel afresh and anew.  Confessing our sin, repenting, turning back to the Lord, and resubmitting ourselves to His Lordship.  We should take time in the worship service to do this as well.  We want our worship to be true, authentic, and real.  It will never be joyful praise if there remains unconfessed and unrepented sin in our lives. 

We cannot be a joyful people

If we remain a sinful people.

Sin robs us of our joy.  Confess it daily.  Repent from it regularly.  Purification. 

The second word . . .

2. Dedication – Verses 31-42.

In these verses, we have the dedication proper, the dedication itself.  The people are positioning themselves upon the walls, walking over the tops of the walls, dedicating the walls to God.  The city is, after all, the city “of God.”  It is His city, His temple, His buildings, His walls.  The picture is of this great procession, a processional of two choirs, one going to the right or south (verse 31) and the other choir going the opposite way or north (verse 38).  Ezra behind the one choir and Nehemiah behind the other choir.

These are called “thanksgiving choirs,” the people thanking God for His providence, providing the people all the resources, time, and energy needed to rebuild the walls.  They likely sang some of the Psalms as they made their procession around the walls, marching around and singing, maybe Psalm 48:12-13 for example, “Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.”

I found a picture that illustrates what this may have looked like . . .

The people all around the tops of the walls, up and down the stairs, the two choirs meeting together here, horns blowing, and people singing.

By the way, do you remember Sanballat and Tobiah?  Those rascals back in the earlier chapters?  They were trying to discourage Nehemiah and the others from rebuilding the walls.  In chapter 4 and verse, Tobiah specifically had ridiculed and taunted the people of God as they were getting the first stones up and he said, “Look at that pathetic wall!  It would not even hold the weight of a small animal!  If a fox were to climb up on that wall it would break it all down!.”  Well . . . Wonder what Tobiah would say now!?” Hundreds upon hundreds of people walking across the tops of the walls.  God is good . . . He has provided!

The final word . . .

3. Jubilation – Verse 43.

Verse 43 says, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  This verse reminds me of the verse in Matthew’s Gospel where the wise men make their way to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus.  And Matthew writes in chapter 2, verse 10, “And when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”  It was not just joy, or great joy, but they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy! 

They offered “great sacrifices.”  These were thank-offerings to the Lord, a way of praising God, and thanking Him for what He has done.  Most present in their minds would be their gratitude to God for enabling them to build the wall in 52 days.  But they were thankful for much more – thankful for what they had learned recently in His word, thankful for forgiveness, thankful for restoration after having been in captivity for 70 years in Babylon.  

The writer of Hebrews tells how thank offerings continue in our day through worship.  In Hebrews 13:15, the Bible tells us, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”  Our thank offerings continue today through our worship.  We sing to God and that singing is a “sacrifice of praise.”  God loves to receive this sacrifice.  He loves to hear us give thanks to Him through praise.  Singing praise to God is one mark of a true Christian.  Singing to the Lord is natural for the believer.  It is a way of life.

Ephesians 5:18-19 instructs us to, “And be not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

Colossians 3:16 tells us to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

The joy of God’s people in verse 43 is a resounding joy!  The last phrase of verse 43 says the joy was so great that “the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  You could hear it for miles around.  As I studied verse 43 two truths began to stand out.  Two truths about joy . . . 

  • God Expects our Joy.

I cited Psalm 100 earlier.  Many of you know the praise chorus that paraphrases Psalm 100 . . .

I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart

I will enter His courts with praise

I will say this is the day that the Lord has made

I will rejoice for He has made me glad

God has “made us glad.”  You see that in verse 43, as well, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy …”  God expects His people to be living testimonies to the joy of the Lord.  

You look at some professing Christians and you wonder if they really know the Lord. You listen to the way they talk, and they do not sound like believers at all.  Their demeanor and conversations resemble a people who are defeated, hard, calloused, and cynical.

Somebody said, “Some Christians give the impression they were baptized in vinegar!”  Do not be that person!  Do not be the person who can brighten up a room by leaving it.  Do not be that person!  God expects our joy.  He created us for joy.  Joy in Him

First truth . . . God expects our joy.  Second truth . . .

  • God Enables our Joy.

He is the source of our joy.  Again, note the important phrase in verse 43, “For God had made them rejoice with great joy …”  Who made the people to rejoice with great joy?  Who enabled that joy?  God – He is the source of our joy.

Remember when we studied Nehemiah 8:10?  It included the phrase, “… the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Remember when we studied that phrase, I said that it does not mean we manufacture this joy ourselves.  Like, “I will be strong if I can get myself joyful.”  

The source of our joy is in God,

Namely God’s joy for us. 

It is the joy of the Lord,

The joy belonging to the Lord,

It is His joy for His people

Whom He delights to forgive

And rescue from captivity.

It is the joy of the Lord for His children; His love for those He saves, His joy in us.  It is that joy that God has toward us that is the source of our strength.  Put another way:

We are joyful when

We know Who He is,

When we know

What He has done

When we know that

He loves us, delights

In us, and forgives us.

When we reflect on God’s love for us it activates our love for Him.  When we reflect on God’s joy in us it activates our joy in Him.  This is how God enables our joy.  We reflect on His love for us in Christ and it does something to us.  Our reflection upon Him causes a joy to come through us.  But, we have to reflect on that love and joy.  It requires our doing something; intentionally thinking upon Him and reflecting upon His love and joy for us in Christ.

Most of us have a thermostat in our homes.  You know what a thermostat is, do not you?  A little boy pointed to a thermostat and asked his friend, “What’s that?”  He said, “I do not know; it is something my mom turns up and my dad turns down.”  If you want to feel right in your home, you have to adjust the thermostat.  It requires an action.  I have got to do something.  I cannot just lie in my bed sweating and hope it starts feeling cooler in the house.  I have got to get up and go in there and move the switch down a bit!

Joy is like that.  If you want to feel right, you have to do something.  It will not just happen; you have to reflect, taking time to think about God’s love for you in Christ, and when you do that, it is like you have moved the setting on the thermostat: you begin to feel better, you begin to feel joy.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.

If you are not a Christian, or if you are not living for Jesus, you cannot really do this.  Apart from Christ, true joy, resounding joy, is simply not possible.  Oh, you can have moments of happiness, but happiness comes and goes and changes with your circumstances, or is dependent upon the diversion, the escape, or the next drink, or drug.  It is not the same as joy.  Some of you are trying to manufacture your own kind of joy, but it will remain as foreign and elusive to you as long as you remain in the shackles of sin.  God loves you and has made a way for you to know Him in Christ Jesus.  Turn from your sin and trust in Him.  Believe in Him and He will give you real, lasting, resounding joy.

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 11:1-12:26 – God Is Faithful

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 ObscurityIn 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

Our identity,

Our meaning,

Our value,

Our worth,

Our importance.

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!

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 9:38-10:39 – A Loving Response To God’s Love

Grace For The Journey

Nehemiah chapter 9 is the longest recorded prayer in the Bible.  Chapter 9 is a six-hour worship service, 3 hours of reading God’s Word and then 3 hours of confession, confessing the sin of not following the Lord God. 

God’s people rehearsed

The ways of God

And then they

Responded to the Word.

They responded rightly to the Word.  They said, in essence, “We confess!  We have sinned!  God has been faithful.  We have been unfaithful.”  That is chapter 9 – God’s faithfulness in the face of Israel’s unfaithfulness.

The people genuinely repent.  I was reading in my quiet time the other day where Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7 that there is a kind of sorrow that does not lead to repentance.  Like the serial adulterer who is sorry only that he got caught.  But then there is a godly sorrow, a godly sorrow that leads to repentance, to a commitment to change.  That is what the Israelites have here in chapters 9 and 10 in response to their sin.  They confess, they repent, and then they purposefully commit themselves afresh and anew to God.  They pledge . . . in written form . . . they pledge their allegiance to God.

Verse 38 says, “And because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.”  Basically, the people are saying, “Hey, we have broken Moses’ Covenant before.  We get it.  We failed big time.  But no more!  We will keep all the words of the commands of the law!”  They were not doing this as a means of acceptance with God.  They were not keeping rules and commands in order to get saved.  This is not a covenant of works. 

It is a loving response

To God’s love upon them.

God had called them into a special covenant of grace whereby they became His special people.  In fact, it had not been that long since they had celebrated the Day of Atonement, a day on which a goat was taken and the sins of God’s people were confessed upon that goat and the goat was driven into the wilderness never to be seen again – reminding the people that God had forgiven all their sins. 

The people are already God’s children

Accepted on the basis of God’s grace.

Chapter 10 is their loving response

To God’s love for them. 

Chapter 10 is the covenant, first the people who signed it (1-27) and then the covenant itself in the following verses.   The signatories include the civil leaders Nehemiah and Zedekiah in verse 1, then priestly names and Levite names and then leaders, 84 names altogether.  The point of the long list of names indicates that the people are in solidarity, they are united together on this and they mean business!  In the same way we would sign a church covenant, putting our names down to say, “We are already in this covenant, but this is a way of saying, ‘Yes, I am on board.  Yes, I unashamedly stand together with brother and sister before God and say, I am proud to be included in this number of names whereby we are covenanting together.  We will keep the covenant together that God has made with us.’”

Verses 28 and 29 underscore the seriousness of their intent, showing that the rest of the people following God were behind all the leaders and with the leaders in keeping the covenant, “Now the rest of the people – the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding; these joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes.”  They were so serious that they even “entered into a curse and an oath” which means, they even set up some kind of consequence for failure to keep the covenant.

There is a really neat phrase in the last part of verse 28 I do not want us to miss.  Verse 28 says, “Now the rest of the people – the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, and all those who had separated themselves from the people of the lands …”  Did you note that last phrase, “All those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands.”  It indicates the wideness of God’s mercy; a mercy that extends beyond ethnic Israel to all who will leave the false gods of the lands and join with those who worship the One True and Living God.  God’s mercy extends to all who will believe – including you and me!

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,

like the wideness of the sea.

There’s a kindness in God’s justice,

which is more than liberty.

Verses 30-39 record the specific pledges.  These are areas of specific application where the people had been particularly negligent in keeping the Mosaic Law, the love covenant God made with His people.  The people acknowledged they were guilty of breaking the covenant in three particular areas: Their failure to recognize that God is Lord of their Relationships; their failure to recognize that God is Lord of their Rest; and their failure to recognize that God is Lord of their Resources.  God’s people . . .

1. Made A Commitment To God About Their Relationships.

Verse 30 states, “We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons.”  This is a pledge of allegiance to God regarding relationships.  Verse 30 acknowledges the danger of mixed marriages.  The law condemned mixed marriages – not on racial, but on religious grounds.  That is important!  God is not opposed to people of different races marrying.  He created all people!  It was not a racial problem, but a religious problem.  The problem was that the people of the surrounding lands did not worship the One True God.  Marrying someone with a different religious worldview was disastrous.  Think of Solomon whose heart was drawn away from God because of following the hearts of the women of foreign lands with foreign gods. 

It is still an issue today.  Paul teaches this same principle in 2 Corinthians 6 where he warns of two people being “unequally yoked.”  He is talking about the wedding of two people who do not have the same biblical worldview.  It is not a racial problem, but a religious problem, a holiness issue.  A believer should only marry another believer.  The Bible also says in 1 Corinthians 7 that a widow is free to remarry but, “only in the Lord,” only a believer.  It makes a difference when husband and wife are on the same page spiritually.

The reason for this principle for the marriage relationship is clearly taught in the Bible . . .

  • Genesis 2:24 teaches that the husband and wife are “one” in marriage, one flesh.  How does that work if the one-fleshness is not in agreement on matters of faith? 
  • Deuteronomy 6 instructs that parents are to teach and pass on their faith to their children. 
  • Ephesians 5 says marriage is a picture of God’s relationship with His people – Christ and His bride the church. 

If one of the two persons in marriage is not a believer in the God of the Bible, how can they carry out these instructions effectively?  How can their marriage adequately reflect the relationship of Christ with His church? 

God’s children pledge allegiance to God in our relationships.  Secondly, God’s people . . .

2. Made A Commitment To God About Their Rest.

Verse 31 says, “If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and we would forego the seventh year’s produce and the exacting of every debt.”  God’s people had broken the fourth commandment, broken the Sabbath, the day of rest, by beginning to do business on the Sabbath instead of observing the sabbath as a day of rest.

Keeping the Sabbath was

An evidence of faith and

Trust in the Lord to provide.

Refraining from work was a way of saying, “God, I trust You to take care of my needs.  I know I do not have to worry about making money today, because You will provide and You want me to show You that I believe that by resting.  So I will rest.”  And the true Israelite would rest on the Sabbath day, trusting God, resting in His promises . . .

Taking the day as a special time

To focus upon the grace of God,

To focus upon the greatness of God,

And to focus upon the goodness of God.

This is the point of the Sabbath today.  It is not a law to be kept legalistically.  We observe the sabbath principle on Sunday because that is the day Christ rose from the dead – It is in Christ where we find our eternal rest!  We are wise to refrain from working on the Lord’s Day where possible, on Sunday, whereby we too indicate that we have faith to believe that God will provide our needs.  We enjoy taking a day to rest, reflection, and a time to recharge, keeping the day as a day unlike the usual routine and rhythm of the week.  

God’s people pledge that He is Lord of our Relationships . . . He is Lord of our Rest, and thirdly, God’s people . . .

3. Made A Commitment To God About Their Resources.

Verses 32-39 declare, “Also we made ordinances for ourselves, to exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the regular grain offering, for the regular burnt offering of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the set feasts; for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God. We cast lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for bringing the wood offering into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at the appointed times year by year, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God as it is written in the Law.  And we made ordinances to bring the first-fruits of our ground and the first-fruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the Lord; to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; to bring the first-fruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the [u]house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities.  And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse.  For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine and the oil, to the storerooms where the articles of the sanctuary are, where the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers are; and we will not neglect the house of our God.”   The terms “offerings” or bringing the “first” as in first-born or first-fruits, or “tithe,” occur over a dozen times in these last eight verses.  That is a lot of times!  The people pledge allegiance to God with regard to their resources as the way in which ministry will continue.  The main takeaway here is that the people of God recognize that God is the Lord of our Resources.  They had neglected worship of God though their giving and they are pledging to make it right.  

We too recognize God is the God who owns all our stuff.  He is the One who gave it.  When we tithe – the word means “tenth,” – when we give, we acknowledge God is the rightful owner of everything we have.  God has used the means of His people tithing and giving offerings as the way to fund ministry so that, note last phrase in the chapter says, “we will not neglect the house of our God.”  When we give of our tithes and offerings, we also acknowledge that we are not worried about God’s providing and we are happy to return a portion of our resources to God for the funding of ministry. 

It is a faith issue.

Our giving is one of

The ways we indicate

That we trust God.  

And because of the giving of God’s people, ministry thrives. 

The people in Nehemiah’s day covenanted together to say, “We will do what God says!” but, as we will see in future chapters, they fall back into old sinful habits.  We will see that in Chapter 13.  

Many of us can relate.  We really want to serve the Lord, yet we fail Him.  We sin. 

  • What sin do you need to confess to God as you respond to His Word today?  
  • What does your current obedience to God say about your love for Jesus?
  • What is your initial response when you hear the word “tithing” or “giving?”  

Is there a way you have “neglected the house of God?”  Neglected to find in Christ all that your heart and life needs?   Have you neglected seeking a relationship where the other person shares your biblical worldview?  Take time right now to repent of your sin and turn to Christ who lived for you, died for you, and rose from the grave for you so you could have the best relationship ever – rightly related to your Creator, through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Then . . .

  • You will experience and enjoy the blessing of God’s rule and involvement in your relationship.
  • You will experience and enjoy the bliss of God’s rule and involvement in your life that leads to rest.
  • You will experience and enjoy the bounty of God’s rule and involvement in your resources!

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.”