Rebuild: Nehemiah 9:18-38 – Marks Of Genuine Revival, Part 2

Grace For The Journey

Times are changing; therefore, should we change with the times?  Should we change, for the sake of peace, compromise? T his is the question facing us today.  Should we compromise in 2021 and in the future years God gives us?  Absolutely not!  What, then, should we do, as a church and as individual believers?  

We must consider and consult the Scriptures,

Which is the pattern, the plumb line,

And the standard for God’s people.

Today, we will examine Nehemiah 9:18-39, and see what God is telling us through this passage.

Ezra Comes to Jerusalem

In 456 B.C. King Artaxerxes of Persia sent Ezra to God’s people in Jerusalem.  Ezra’s long genealogy found in Ezra 7:1-5 tells us not only was Ezra a priest and teacher, but he was also a highly trained theologian, skilled in the Holy Scriptures.  Most importantly, though, Ezra was an uncompromising man. He lived in times of continuous change.  During his lifetime, most of the Jewish people lived in captivity outside of Israel and many years had gone by since the days of great temple worship in Jerusalem.  But Ezra was a man of God, and he would not change his determination to worship, live for,  serve God according to the pattern of the Scriptures.  No wonder the Jews look upon Ezra as a second Moses, as one who centered the Jews in the word of God.

In Ezra 7:10 we read, “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study of the word of God.”  

  • The first thing Ezra did was to give himself totally over to the study of the Word of God, even though he was growing up in the faraway land of Babylon. 
  • Secondly, he gave himself over, not only to the study of God’s word, but to the observance of God’s Word – to do what the Word of God told him to do.
  • Thirdly, he devoted his life to teaching the Word of God to others.

If you want power and punch when

You teach the Word of God,

Not only must you study it,

But you also must obey it,

And come under its

Authority and government.

That is what Ezra did.

Ezra was . . .

A man who was well-versed in the Scriptures;

A man who believed the Scriptures;

A man who did what the Scriptures told him;

A man who was uncompromisingly

Centered his life on the Scriptures.

We see these characteristics of Ezra demonstrated by Ezra’s reaction to a situation he found when he arrived in Jerusalem.  He was told that the Jewish people were freely and liberally forsaking their wives and marrying pagan women.  What was Ezra’s reaction to this news?  In Ezra 9:3 we read, “When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled.”  

This is what happens to a man of God

Who is immersed in the Word of God.  

Rather than treating sin lightly, he was appalled.  

Ezra was not a man of compromise.

In verse 4 we read, “Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles, and I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.”  What did Ezra do next?  Did he tell the Israelites, “Everything is okay.  You can go on as normal?”  Oh, no!  He told the people, in essence, “No deal!  You must get rid of your pagan wives!  You must amend your ways!  You must change, in the light of God’s Word!”  How could Ezra speak so forcefully and clearly to these people?  

Because he knew that God’s Word

Condemned such intermarriage and

There would be serious consequences

For such behavior.  Despite the passage

Of time since the people had gone

Into exile and come back,

Ezra knew that God’s Word

Was unchanging.

Philosophies may change . . . Science and scholarship may change . . . Sociology and psychology may change . . . But the Word of God does not change, and Ezra knew that God would not tolerate such behavior in His people.

We find a similar reaction in Nehemiah 13 when Nehemiah came back after a twelve-year absence and saw people divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan women.  In Nehemiah 13:25, Nehemiah tells of his reaction to those who had married foreign women, “I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair.”  As governor, Nehemiah had the authority to do these things.  He exercised this authority because he recognized the sinfulness of this behavior.

Jesus did the same thing when he saw problems in the temple.  We read that when he came to the temple and saw people buying and selling in the temple courts, he made a whip and drove the sheep and cattle out of the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers, saying, “You have made this temple a den of thieves. It should be a house of prayer!”  This is what happens when a person who is immersed in the Word of God sees a life that contradicts the Word of God. He gets angry and begins to deal with the sin.

In Nehemiah 8-10 we read about the real revival brought about, first and foremost . . .

By the people’s desire to

Study the Scripture

And

Realign their lives to it.

I hope all of us will want to study the Scripture as well.  That is where we must start.  I pray that we will say, as Ezra did, “I will study the Scripture, I will do what the Scripture commands me, and I will teach the Scripture.”

In Nehemiah 8:1 we read, “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate.”  You can still see the Water Gate in Jerusalem today, from which one can go to the Gihon Spring on the east side of Mount Zion.  There was a plaza there where the people could assemble.  On the first day of the seventh month, which was the Feast of the Trumpets, all the people – men, women, and children – came in total unity as one man to the temple square.  Ezra had been teaching the priests and Levites, but now the Holy Spirit moved mightily, and the people came together to hear the Word of the Lord as well.  In verse 1 we read, “They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”  Notice, this Bible study was initiated not by Ezra but the people.  They begged Ezra, “We want a Bible study.  We want to hear what God has to say.  Come on, Ezra, preach to us.”

It is a profound blessing for any preacher when his people tell him, “We want to hear what the Bible says, because we know it is the very Word of God.  Do not tell us about psychology or physiology or any other subject.  We want to know what the God of Israel has commanded, and you know it.  You have the Bible!  Preacher, tell us what God has to say to us.”

Where did this hunger for the Word of God come from?

The Holy Spirit

Was working

In these people.

No one will open the Bible and want to study the Word of God unless the Spirit of God is working in him.  Wife, if your husband is opening the Bible, you can praise God.  Husband, if your wife is opening the Bible, you can praise God.  Parents, if your children are opening the Bible on their own, you should praise the Lord, and rejoice greatly, knowing that perhaps something is happening in their heart and they are beginning to love the Word of God on their own.  What great joy we have when we see people opening the Bible!  When that happens, we can rest assured that the Holy Spirit is working in them.  These types of attitudes and actions demonstrate that God’s local church family is seeking to center their lives on the Word of God, which is unchanging and everlasting, which is truth, which is the Gospel, which alone is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes!

In verse 5 we read, “Ezra opened the book,” meaning the scroll of the Law.  When people saw him do this, they all stood up out of reverence for the Word of God (this is the example that sets the practice in our church family to stand when we read the Word of God).  In verse 6 we read that Ezra began with prayer for God to bless the preaching of the Word.  That is what we must do before we preach or teach or read.  We should pray, “Spirit of the living God, open our eyes, that we may behold wondrous things out of Your Word.  Enlighten us, we pray, O God.”

In verse 6 we also read that after Ezra prayed, all of a sudden the people lifted their hands and said, “Amen! Amen!”  The word “amen” literally means, “So be it; let it be as it is said.”  Saying “amen” twice shows intensity.  It is not “Amen,” but “Amen and amen,” meaning “We wholeheartedly believe in and accept the Word of God.”  What hunger!  What thirst!  What enthusiasm!  What agreement!  Ezra had not even read yet, but the people were already proclaiming, “God, speak to us: Your servants are ready to hear!”

In Nehemiah 8:3 we learn that Ezra read for six hours.  We are not told what portion of Scripture he read, but perhaps it was the book of Deuteronomy.  All the men, women, and children who could understand stood during that time.  Can you imagine such a revival?  

The Holy Spirit worked

In the hearts of these people

So that they had the mental

And physical strength to hear

The unchanging Word of God

For six hours!

In verse 7 we read that the Levites instructed the people in the Word of God.  I believe that Ezra had trained the Levites, and as he read from the Hebrew text, the Levites went around among the people, translating into Aramaic as well as interpreting the meaning of the Word of God so that these people could understand what the Bible was saying.  That is why, in my preaching and teaching ministry I practice expository preaching – teaching and preaching verse-by-verse through the Bible.  Ministers of the Word should so preach that people can understand the meaning of God’s Word and know what God requires so they can do it.  If you do not get anything from the Word of God as it is preached in this way, perhaps you did not want to get anything.  When we read the parable of the soils in Matthew 13, we notice that the first three soils (representing our hearts, mind, and soul) did not understand or were open to receive what was taught.  But the last soil represents those who hear the Word of God, understand it, retain it, and persevere in it until they brought forth fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.  I pray you will ask the Holy Spirit to open your mind when you read and listen to the Word of God because only when you understand the Word of God can you bring forth fruit. Lack of understanding results in no fruit and no salvation.

These people were so hungry for the Word of God that they did not want to stop.  In verse 13 we read, “On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with all the priests and Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law.”  As they read, they discovered that the Law spoke about the Feast of the Tabernacles, which had not been celebrated for years.  The people said among themselves, “We have to do it.  It is in the Book!” Again, that is why we must have serious study of the Bible.  

We must understand the Word of God

So that we can do the will of God.

The people listened to the reading and teaching of the Law of God – not only the first and second day, but for a whole week!  In verse 18 we read, “Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God.”  These people were hungry!  

God’s Holy Spirit was

Bringing about a revival,

And it was centered

On the Word of God.  

There will be no reformation,

No revival, no change taking place

Unless we are first gripped

By the Divine Word.

What happened as Ezra read?  

For the first time in their lives,

These people saw themselves in

The light of the Word of God.

As they compared their lives to the light of God’s pattern and plumb line, they realized they had been living disobedient, sinful lives.  They realized they had been doing things all wrong, according to God’s Word.

The reaction of the people of Ezra’s time was like that of Josiah, whom we read about in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34.  When the priests found the long-neglected Book of the Law in the temple, they brought it to King Josiah, saying, “We have found a book.”  When they read it to him, he began to tear his clothes and exclaimed, “We are finished!  Our lives are not right in the light of the Word of God. God’s judgment is coming upon us!”  Oh, how Josiah believed God’s Word and trembled when he heard it!

The Bible says in Psalm 119:103, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” That is what we will say when the Holy Spirit works in our lives.  Otherwise, if we have no interest in God, the Bible will be the most boring book to us – a book that will put us to sleep the minute we open it.  In Psalm 119:105 the psalmist says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  In verse 111 he says, “Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart,” and in verse 127 he declares he loves God’s commands “more than gold, more than pure gold.” In verse 131 he says, “I open my mouth, longing for your commands.” In other words, “it is my food, what I need to live!”  This is the reaction to God’s Word of a child of God under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

On Wednesday, we saw the first two marks of genuine revival.  The first mark is . . .

1. Conviction Of Sin.

Ezra read and taught the law of God day after day.  As the people listened and understood and saw their lives in the light of God’s truth, they were convicted of their sins, as we read in Nehemiah 8.  What is sin?  It is anything we think, say, or do that disobeys God’s desire and design as taught in the Word of God.  That is why we cannot have any true understanding of sin until we come to the Bible and compare our lives to it.  It is the Bible that tells us, “Thou shall  have no other God’s before Me …” and so on.  Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins.  In John 16:7-11 we are told that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement.  The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  The sinner is convicted and convinced of his sin by the mighty work of the Spirit of God.

When people are convinced of their guilt and defilement, they will realize their inability to save themselves.  They will be cut to the heart and cry out, “What must we do to be saved?”  When conviction of the Spirit takes place through the Word, people humble themselves and seek God’s face to know God’s will so that they can turn from, not part, but all of their wicked ways.  Whenever the Holy Spirit comes upon us and convicts us in this way, we will own our sin.  We will not shift the blame to society or to our parents or to our husband or wife or pastor.  When I see blame-shifting, I immediately know that the Holy Spirit is not working in his life.  When the Holy Spirit convicts us, we will own our sin.

In Nehemiah 8:9 we read, “Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.”  What great conviction, great sorrow over sin, great pain of conscience these people were experiencing!  “We have sinned! We are undone and finished!” they were saying. As the people began to weep and mourn over their sins, Ezra and Nehemiah and others told them, “Please, please, do not do weep or mourn today.  Today is a day of rejoicing.  We can do it another day.” In fact, as we read later, they came together on the twenty-fourth day of the month to confess their sins and mourn over them.

The second mark of genuine revival . . .

2. Confession of Sin.

This Holy Spirit-produced authentic sorrow for sin is an essential component of true revival.  It began with the Word of God – consulting the Scriptures – which produces conviction. Conviction, in turn, causes people to confess sins, and we read the great confession of these people in Nehemiah 9.  The Word of God, when understood correctly, will produce not arid intellectualism or dead orthodoxy, but conviction and confession of sin.  We will unashamedly confess our sins before God and all people.  When Nathan the prophet came and ministered to David, what did David say? “I have sinned.”

Thus . . .

In Nehemiah 9 we find

The longest prayer

In the entire Bible –

A prayer of corporate

As well as

Individual confession.

As we examine a few of these verses we will get a sense of what true confession is.

In verse 16-17 we read, “But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God. . . .”  In verse 26 we read, “But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs.”  When revival is on, we will open the Bible gladly and read it.  It will always be in front of us.  But when we sin, we take the Bible and throw it behind our backs.

In verse 36-37 we read, “But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.”  Notice, the people are not just praying about the sins of their forefathers, but they include themselves in this great confession of sin.  Why did these people need to confess their sins?  In Hosea 14, verses 1 to 2, we find God’s counsel to sinners, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord.”  In other words, they had to confess that they had sinned and trusted in Assyria, Egypt, and everyone but the true and living God.

We must first consult the Word of God, which produces conviction, and then confess our sins. Remember the prodigal son in Luke 15?  He did not just come home and say, “I’m back!” as if nothing had happened.  No, he confessed to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am not worthy to be called your son.”  When there is true revival, you do not have to force a confession out of people.  It will happen spontaneously by the work of the Spirit of the living God in their hearts.  They will be eager to say, “I have sinned!  Not my father, not my mother, not my wife, not my husband, not the pastor – I have sinned.”

In 1 John 1:9 we find this glorious promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  This is the purpose of God. God wants to save us in the right way and He does – through the Word, through conviction, and through confession of sin.

The third mark of genuine revival is . . .

3. The Commitment to Change.

The next thing we see in Nehemiah 10 is the commitment of these people to change in the light of God’s Word.  If the Holy Spirit is working in your life through the word of God, you will first understand the Word and be convicted by it, then you will confess and own up your sins and commit yourselves to change.

Commitment to change – That is what the tenth chapter of Nehemiah is all about, and that is what the Christian life is about.  

It is a commitment to align one’s life to

The pattern revealed in the word of God.

What type of change are we talking about?  

  • A thief becomes a giver.
  • A liar becomes a truthteller.
  • A lazy man becomes industrious.
  • A domineering wife becomes submissive.
  • A passive husband becomes responsible.
  • Disobedient children become delightfully obedient.
  • A Sabbath-breaker becomes a Sabbath-keeper.

Holy Spirit-produced biblical change results in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  That is the kingdom of God.  

Authentic revival brings about measurable

Change of behavior in God’s people.

In Nehemiah 9:38 we read the commitment of the people of Israel.  After listening to the Bible study by Ezra, the people were convicted and confessed their sins.  Now they wanted to commit themselves to change.  So, they said, “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites, and our priests are affixing their seals to it.”  This was a binding agreement-written, signed, sealed, and witnessed.

This was serious revival!  These people were putting themselves under a curse if they failed to keep the covenant.  Their agreement was a promise to God and to one another that these people would separate themselves to live holy lives.

In Nehemiah 10:28-29 we read, “The rest of the people-priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves . . . all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.”  This is what had happened through the Bible study of Ezra.  These people already separated themselves from all sorts of evil, and now they were entering into an agreement with God and with each other in the form of this binding agreement.

The First Issue To Be Addressed Was Marriage.  

In Nehemiah 10:30 we read, “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.”  Family is vital to every other institution. When the family goes bad, everything goes bad throughout society.  The Bible said that God’s people should not marry pagans because they were a holy race, a holy people, as we read in Exodus 34:15-16 and Ezra 9:2.  These people had been divorcing their wives at will and marrying pagans.  But here they were making a solemn promise to God: “We will not do it.  We will keep our marriage and family in the light of your word.”

The Second Issue To Be Addressed Was A Commitment To Sabbath-Keeping.

In verse 31 we find a These Israelites had not kept the Sabbath.  They were buying and selling, working, and making money.  Malachi dealt with this issue also, as did Nehemiah later on, as we read in Nehemiah 13.  Here, though, in this earlier revival we see the people saying, “We promise to keep the Sabbath.”  Additionally, they said, “We promise to not plow or plant the land in the seventh year.”  This demonstrated a lot of trust in God.  Why did they make this promise?  Because the Bible said to do it.  So, they bound themselves not to work on the Sabbath, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and to keep the Sabbath year by not working the land.  They trusted in God and His Word that He would provide for them as they kept the Sabbath.

The Third Issue To Be Addressed Was A Commitment To Support Financially The Temple.

This allowed the Levites and the priests to be provided for and allowed them to be fully engaged in leading the worship of the true God.

The Fourth Issue To Be Addressed Was A Commitment Not To Neglect The House Of God.

In Nehemiah 10:39 we read about this promise.  We find similar encouragement to participate in the church in Hebrews 10:25 where we read, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The people of Nehemiah’s time decided not to compromise with the world. They separated themselves from the world and committed themselves to serve God and each other in accordance with the Word of God.  Like Ezra and Nehemiah . . .

We take God’s Word seriously

And are building our lives

And this church

According to it.

We preach the Word of God faithfully and refuse to compromise for the sake of peace. As a church, we have only one purpose: to hear from Christ on the last day, “Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.”  And even if times change, we will continue to preach the timeless truth of God’s Word, which alone is able to save sinners and which alone will give us the great, everlasting life and joy of the Lord that we read about in Nehemiah 8.

Should a true church of God compromise in its preaching, teaching, and practicing of the Word of God?  The answer is an emphatic “No!”  Because only in the Word of God will we see Jesus Christ, who is the true Prophet, Priest, King, Savior, Judge, and our only way of salvation.

What about you? Have you seen and trusted in Jesus Christ?  Have you surrendered your life to Him?  If not, I urge and beseech you to do so from this day on.

May God have mercy upon us this day.  May He sustain and strengthen us by the Holy Spirit, that we may not conform to the world, but faithfully declare, proclaim and life by the Word of God that alone brings salvation to the world. 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 9:1-17: The Marks Of Genuine Revival, Part 1

Grace For The Journey

In an article entitled “Playing Charades,” from Citation, by Dr. Perry Buffington, he released the findings of his research on the lack of transparency in people during certain circumstances.  He found that the average person puts on airs or acts outwardly differently than he actually feels or thinks inwardly most often in three situations:

1.   When individuals walk into an automobile showroom.  They will hide their true emotions in an attempt to protect themselves from being an easy mark to the salesmen.  They will tend to act unaffected with what they see, even though their heart may be racing.

2.   When individuals walk into the lobby of an upscale hotel.  They will act with an air that is not their true self in an attempt to come across as a person comfortable and at home in lavish surroundings.

3.   When individuals enter a church.  As they take their seat in the sanctuary, they will act with an air that they have nothing to hide from God and fellow worshippers.  They will put on a sacred air in their conversations even though they are uncomfortable with who they know they truly are on the inside.

In other words . . .

We have become skilled

At acting authentic,

Faking our fellowship with God,

Impersonating the saints,

And simulating spirituality.

And do not ever let anybody

See that you do not

Have it all together.

Like the true story of a rather single-minded, self-confident businessman who always seemed to have it together.  Even though he worked seventy-and eighty-hour weeks, he was a man who seemed organized.  The article I read told that he had a cottage built on a nearby lake to use as a weekend retreat.  To make his plan even more efficient, he learned how to fly and kept another car at the airfield nearest the lake, for weekend transport.  But that plan was not quite efficient enough, so he further fine-tuned his plans by fitting his plane with pontoons so that he could land on the lake and actually taxi right up to his newly constructed pier.  On his first trip in the newly rigged plane, he flew, by force of habit, straight to the rural airport and started his descent.  “What are you doing?” His wife suddenly screamed, “There aren’t any wheels on this plane!”  It was just enough time for the man with the plan to pull up before touching down.  Somewhat taken back, he flew on to the lake and made a perfect landing.  As the plane drifted to a stop at the pier, he turned to his wife and said, “I’m sorry dear. I did know what I was doing . . . just lost my thought for a moment there. I should have planned more carefully and had built-in reminders about the change in flight plans.  It won’t happen again.”  Then, he opened his door and hopped confidently out of the plane and directly into the lake!  The moral of the story is to never let anybody see you for who you really are – including your spouse.  You must come across before people, at all times, as having life under control.  For your information, that happens to be a self-centered, naturally depraved philosophy of life. And, it happens to inhibit everyone! 

Another word for Christianity is exposure.  

  • You became a Christian after being exposed as a sinner. 
  • You grow as a Christian after being exposed to the milk and meat of God’s Word.

One of the chief obstacles to revival in our personal lives is that . . .

We are encouraged

By both our culture

And our sinful nature

To cover up, to fake it,

To walk into a church

And put on airs.  And

Most of all, to never

Expose our guilt and sin

To anyone, not even to God.

But suddenly, our lives are intersected with the living Word of God which, according to Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 12, is alive, powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword – we read it, and it cuts through and penetrates our true thoughts and true intentions. 

There is no room for charades

When revival comes.

The Word of God

Pulls off our masks,

And demands radical change.

In our study of Nehemiah, chapter 8, we observed the Jewish people hearing, for the first time in their lives, the Law of Moses.  They began to weep and to mourn.  There was no need to fake anything. 

The Law of God’s Word

Was a plumb line; and,

As they held it up to themselves,

They realized how crooked

And how sinful they were.

It was true then, as it is to this day . . .

True revival comes from an

Encounter with God’s revelation;

When God’s Word exposes

Us for who we truly are.

It is a time when you discover

The truth of Scripture and

Radically apply it to your life.

Revival is indeed a time

When a person is literally “re-Bibled.”

In Nehemiah, chapter 8, that process had already begun.

In Nehemiah, chapter 9, something interesting took place that was not a part of the Jewish calendar.  Notice verse 1, “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them.” What strikes me about this action is that it was not prescribed.  It was not commanded by Nehemiah or Ezra.  

It was the outflow of true revival.

What we discover in this chapter is nothing less than a model of confession.  If you want to be real, if you want to stop pretending, if you want to cease the charades, if you want to be “re-Bibled,” there are lessons here to teach you how.  

The people of Israel are God’s show-and-tell.  Do you want to know how to confess?  Do you want to know how to be “re-Bibled?”  God says, “Here, watch them – they will show you how.”  

Nehemiah chapter 8 was

The lesson of revival.

Nehemiah chapter 9 is the

Model of confession

That results from revival.

The first characteristic of true confession is . . .

A Humble Approach To God’s Presence.

Did you notice, in verse 1, that they came clothed in sackcloth and with dirt on their heads and shoulders?  There was no charade of saintliness here; no pretending.  In fact, the dirt was a way of exposing and admitting to God that they knew they were sinners.  The dirt on the outside was an illustration of the dirt on the inside that they were willing to expose to each other and to God.

Notice verse 2, “And the descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.”  By the way, one of the characteristics of true confession is that you do not blame your sin on the sin of your parents. You confess both your actions and your parents’ actions as sinful and admit that both parties have sinned.

The second quality of true confession for us to model is . . .

Complete Admission Of Personal Sinfulness.

Continuing to verse 3, we read, “While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day [three hours]; and for another fourth [three hours] they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.”  James Montgomery Boice was asked, a few years ago, if he believed America was experiencing revival.  He responded by writing, Whenever I have been asked that question, my answer has always been, “No.”  The reason I say, “No,” is quite simple – there is not national consciousness of sin.  In fact, there is hardly any consciousness of sin.  When revival sweeps over a people, the first evidence is a profound awareness of sin and sorrow for it.” 

In other words, confession includes admission.  And admission is an evidence of revival.  G. K. Chesterton, a famous philosopher and theologian, once read a series of articles entitled, “What’s Wrong with the World?”  Chesterton sent a short letter to the editor which said, “Dear Sir: Regarding your article, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’  I am! Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton.”

1 John, chapter 1, verse 8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  Verse 10 states, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”  Right before that in verse 9 John writes, “If we confess our sins . . .”  The word “confess,” is “homologeo” which means, “to say the same thing about our actions as God says; to agree with God.”  He says it is sin, and we agree, “Yes Lord, it is indeed sin.”  The last half of verse 9 declares, “. . . He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

By the way, I believe the most miserable person on planet earth is a believer in sin . . .

He cannot fully enjoy his sin

Because of his guilty conscience,

And

He can no longer enjoy

Fellowship with God either.

Like the story about the preacher who called in sick one Sunday morning and had one of his associates preach for him, but he actually went golfing.  He is out there golfing on Sunday morning, and the angels are watching and so is the Lord.  The Lord said to his angels, “I’m going to make him very unhappy.”  The preacher teed up and knocked a hole in one.  A hole in one!  The angels said, “Lord, that’s misery?” And the Lord said, “Who can he tell?”  

Would you like to hear from the diary of a believer who was caught in the guilt of sin and the misery of refusing for a time to confess?  David writes in Psalm, chapter 32, verses 3 through 5, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord;’ and You forgive the guilt of my sin.” 

Here are the people of Jerusalem, being led by priests who, for three hours, verse 4b says, “. . . they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God.”

The third quality of true confession includes . . .

A Clear Acknowledgement Of God’s Greatness.

The prayer in Nehemiah begins by elevating God, in verses 5b to 6a, “. . . O may Your glorious name be blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise!  You alone are the Lord. . .”  This is putting God in His proper place.  He is the God who reigns in the heavens; majestic in splendor; sovereign in all things.  This mirrors the way the Lord taught us to pray, in Matthew, chapter 6, verse 9, when he told us to begin praying by acknowledging the greatness of our God, “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .” 

That is not a

Reference

To His address,

But His attributes.

“In heaven,” literally refers to His elevation above all creation.  He is transcendent; above all; sovereign; majestic.  Although we come to a loving, caring Father, we also acknowledge His greatness.  When you begin your prayer with the words, “Heavenly Father,” you are actually saying, “Majestic, Holy, Sovereign, Creator, Eternal Father.”

True prayer does

Not trivialize God,

It pays tribute to God.

Now notice how this prayer of Ezra, in chapter 9, verses 5 through 38, acknowledges the greatness, goodness, and sovereign power of God . . .

• First, in His superb creation of the universe – Verses 5 through 6.

• Secondly, in His sovereign calling of Abraham – Verses 7 through 8.

• Thirdly, in His supernatural conquest over Egypt – Verses 9 through 12.

• Fourthly, in His scriptural commands from Mount Sinai – Verses 13 through 18.

• Fifthly, in His satisfying covenant with Israel – Verses 19 through 25.

• Lastly, in His steadfast compassion towards His people – Verses 26 through 38.

This prayer reviews the sin and failure of God’s people and the sovereignty and faithfulness of God.  They were blasphemous, stubborn, arrogant, refusing to listen to the Scriptures, stiffening their necks, closing their ears, becoming disobedient, rebellious, scorning the Law, refusing to pay attention to the Law, commandments, and ordinances of God, refusing to serve God, and refusing to repent.  There are no charades here.  In this model of confession, sin is exposed for what it was and God was pled with to be forgiving and gracious once more.

Confession Is A Reminder Of Personal Corruption And Guilt.

The average Christian is in need of revival, because he has learned how to manage his sin rather than confess his sin.  We learn to live with as much sin as our consciences will allow.  We sugarcoat our selfishness, rationalize our disobedience, justify our arrogance, we excuse our lack of obedience to the Law and commandment of God. 

We manage our sin –

We do not confess our sin.

We have forgotten how heartbreaking, how grievous sin, in the life of a believer, is to our Heavenly Father.

A pastor recently sent in a rather interesting article on a problem they were having in a middle school in Oregon.  A number of girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the girls’ bathroom.  After they put on their lipstick, they would press their lips to the mirrors leaving dozens of little lip prints.  Finally, the principal decided that something had to be done.  She came up with a rather ingenious plan and told her custodian exactly what to do.  She called the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the school custodian.  She then explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every day.  To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, she then asked the custodian to show the girls how he had been cleaning them.  He took out a long-handled brush, dipped it into one of the nearby commodes, and then scrubbed the mirror.  Since then, the lip prints have disappeared. The pastor then applied the story this way, saying, “Try thinking of this story when you’re tempted to sin” . . . “If you could only see what you’re really kissing up to, you might not be attracted to it after all.”

Confession is the fresh realization that sin is corruption and filth.  You shudder to think what you have been kissing up to.  The justification stops; the rationalizing stops; the believer mourns and pleads to be rescued from sin’s allurement – because it no longer looks appealing.  But if that was all confession was, we would be led to despair. 

Confession is not only a reminder of personal corruption and guilt . . .

Confession Is Also A Reminder Of God’s Character And Grace.

Verse 17b, “. . . But Thou art a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness . . .”  Skip to verse 28b, “. . . and many times Thou didst rescue them according to Thy compassion.”   Now look at verse 30a, “. . . Thou didst bear with them for many years . . .”  Skip again to verse 33, “However, Thou art just in all that has come upon us; for Thou hast dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.” 

Anyone in tune with God

Is struck by his own guilt

And by God’s grace.

Revival . . .

Commences with . . .

The content of Scripture,

As in Nehemiah, chapter 8.  

Revival . . .

Continues with . . .

The confession of sin,

As in Nehemiah, chapter 9.

Revival . . .

Will be confirmed. . .

By the

Commitment of surrender.

Which we will look at next time as we look at Nehemiah, chapter 10.

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 8:13-18 – Very Great Gladness

Grace For The Journey

We are in the Book of Nehemiah.  We will be looking today at verses 13 through 18 of Nehemiah Chapter 8.  The year is 444 BC.  The city of Jerusalem lay in ruins for 140 years while God’s people were away in captivity under the discipline of God because of their unfaithfulness to Him.  But God has restored them to the city.  And the city has been completely rebuilt; the walls being the last major rebuilding project, was rebuilt in a record 52 days.  

Last Friday we saw how revival began to break out as the gathered people of God asked for the man of God to bring out the Word of God.  They said to Ezra, “Bring the Book!”   Ezra brought out the Scriptures and read to the people the Word of God.  It had been some time since they heard the Word preached.  Perhaps as many 50,000 people gathered in the open square!  And they gathered eagerly to hear the Word.  They listened attentively.  They were standing for 5 or 6 hours as the Word was explained. They gathered responded accordingly – The Word changed them; they turned to God in repentance.

We left off at verse 12 of Chapter 8, a verse that recounts the joy of the people in their understanding the Bible.  They had stood there for a six-hour Bible Conference, and after it was all over, verse 12 says, “And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”  Verse 13 tells us about more study of the Word and how they learn about a long-neglected festival they should be observing, a holiday called, “The Feast of Booths.” 

This sounds like a strange feast, doesn’t it?  The Feast of Booths was one of the great pilgrim feasts, or festivals prescribed by God in the Law.  Leviticus 23 tells how this feast is to be observed.  God’s people were to build little booths all over Jerusalem and they were to celebrate and eat in these little booths.  It is sometimes referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles.  God’s people were commanded by God – through Moses – in Leviticus 23 to construct these temporary shelters, booths, tabernacles, huts, temporary homes, and they were to live in them all week.  They were largely made out of olive branches, palm branches, and other vegetation.  The people of God would live inside these temporary shelters for seven days to remind them of how God had provided for them during the Exodus wanderings.  For 40 years in the desert, living in temporary housing, God cared for His people, ultimately bringing them into the Promised Land.  For centuries God’s people have celebrated the Feast of Booths.

This feast continues today.  Our Jewish friends call it Sukkot (“Suh KOAT”).  The Feast of Sukkot.  The word “Sukkot” is the Hebrew word, plural form of “booth,” or “tabernacle.”  The modern Jews celebrate Sukkot in late September or early October, depending on where it falls on the Hebrew calendar each year.  It lasts a full week with lots of eating, dancing, and celebrating.  The faithful Jews will celebrate Sukkot wherever they are, all over the world, and of course in Jerusalem. This is a celebration, a party, a seven-day party!  There is an old rabbinical expression that says: “You’ve not seen joy until you’ve been to the Feast of Booths at Jerusalem.”

We looked at that popular verse last week, verse 10 that says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength,” a verse that does not refer to our joy, but to God’s joy, Yahweh’s joy.  It is the Lord’s joy in you that gives you strength.  God’s joy . . .

  • His delight in creating you.
  • His joy in forgiving sin.
  • His joy in bringing back a wayward people,
  • His joy in restoring them to Himself.
  • His joy in atoning for their sin through Jesus Christ.

It is God’s joy to do that for you.  When you know that God delights in you as His child, you are strengthened!  The knowledge of God’s joy in us strengthens us.  God’s joy leads to our joy.

There is a phrase I like in today’s passage.  As the people celebrate the Feast of Booths it says at the end of verse 17, “And there was very great gladness.”  I like that!  Very great gladness, or very great joy.  I want us to look this morning about what this means to you and me. 

Verse 13 states, “Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law.”   You might think God’s children had “gotten their fill” of the Word from the day before, with 5 to 6 hours of standing to hear the Bible taught, but they are back at it the next day! 

A genuinely converted man,

The authentic Christian,

Can never get enough

Of God’s Word!  Never!

Verse 13 teaches that the dads of the families gathered together the next day to study the Word.  It was their responsibility to teach God’s Word to their families.  In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 God declares, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

Here is an important truth for parents today – Read the Bible to your children.  Open the Book and read.  You do not have to be a scholar.  Anyone can do this.  Just open the Book and read.  Read a Bible story to the kiddos at night when you are tucking them in.  You cannot read about David and Goliath, Jonah, and Daniel enough!  Tell them and show them how big God is and how they can trust in Him and live in Him through Jesus Christ.

Verse 14 says, “And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month.”  The way this verse reads, it appears as if the readers are just reading the words of the law and realize they are, in fact, in the seventh month.  So they’re like, “Look, we’ve read here in the law about the feast of booths, it’s supposed to occur during this month, let’s get to it!”  They read what they haven’t been doing and they respond to God’s Word, by doing what it says.

James 1:22 says we are to be not just hearers of the Word, but doers of the word – Doing what it says.  

The genuine believer has

A desire to know and

Obey the Word.

It is just that simple.  If you have no desire to obey the Bible, it is hard to defend that you are a Christian.  Got a desire to do what God says?  That is evidence of a new nature.  God has taken out your heart of stone and given you a heart of flesh – A spiritual heart that receives gladly the Words of Scripture because they come from the One who gave us that heart.  

They read that they are supposed to be building these booths and living in them for a week.  For seven days, living in “Temporary Housing.”   A shelter in the wilderness.  A booth in the desert.

What did these booths look like?  Verse 15 tells us, “And that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.’”  This was all to remind them of those trees in the desert and how God provided for them as they gathered those branches.  The intent of this instruction is to lead them to think every time they picked up a branch about those years of wandering and how God brought them through the difficulties.  As they spent that week inside the booths they would remember how they had lived in similar structures during those years in the desert.  

This is an exercise that is a bit like our modern Thanksgiving.  To be sure, families today gather together in more permanent dwellings, and we have big TVs on which we can watch football games as we sit in our “booths.”   But we are wise to reflect during that one day, let alone seven days, to thank God for His abundant provision and protection.

Verse 16 says, “Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim.”  What a reminder!  God’s people during this week of booths were continually reminded of God’s care.  Picture this in your mind!  For seven days everywhere an Israelite looked – on top of houses, in the courtyards and in the open square – there were little booths scattered everywhere . . .

Each one a compelling visual reminder

Of God’s provision and care. 

Living in those booths for seven days

Was also a reminder of their

Continual need for Him.

What better way to remind us of the frailty of our lives than by living inside a rustic tent of myrtle branches and palm trees, the wind passing through the leaves and onto our little makeshift beds, the drip of rain and tiny little creatures crawling all around.  Flimsy little tents reminding us of our flimsy little lives.  A tent is temporary and so is our life.  The Bible says in James 4:14, “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”  A vapor, like the steam rising up from your morning coffee.  Now you see it, now you don’t.  Temporary existence.

We cannot help but think that the Israelites in Nehemiah’s day . . .

Were even more pointedly reminded

Of God’s provision and care as they

Reflected back not only upon God’s care

Centuries earlier during the Egyptian

Captivity of the Exodus years, but also

During the Babylonian captivity from which

They had been more recently delivered.

This more recent history was something of an “Second Exodus.”  God’s people exited Egypt during Moses and Joshua’s time and they exited Babylon during Ezra and Nehemiah’s time.  God delivering them from bondage.

Verse 17 says, “So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so.  And there was very great gladness.”  The Feast of Booths had been celebrated in more recent history (cf. 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Chronicles 7:9; Ezra 3:4), but not like this.  Not with all the people celebrating, all the people actually camping out like this in booths scattered everywhere.  There was “very great gladness.” 

Then verse 18, tells us the people had even more hunger for the Word, “Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he (Ezra)read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner.” 

The Scriptures became

Central

To the people of God.

They heard from the Word each day of the seven days, day by day, from the first day until the last day.  God’s people can never get enough of God’s Word.

I shared with you earlier that I was struck by that phrase at the end of verse 17, “And there was very great gladness,” or very great joy.  It seems to me most people want that kind of joy.  The Bible teaches that every believer can have that kind of joy.  Let me suggest three things ways this kind of gladness comes about . . .

1. We Obey His Commands.

The phrase, “And there was very great gladness” occurs after the people of God obeyed the Word of God.  When God’s people do what is right, there is very great gladness, great joy.  Doing the right thing, obeying God’s Word, God’s commands, brings joy.  You can do the wrong thing and get an immediate happiness.  The Bible says there is “pleasure in sin for a season,” but it is a season that ends in emptiness and death. Joy – real joy – occurs when we do the right thing, the correct thing, the true thing. 

Know the truth,

Do the truth,

Receive the Truth,

And joy follows.

Joyful obedience to God’s Word results in very great gladness.  

When we talk about obedience . . .

It is so important that we not confuse

The joyful Gospel-motivated obedience

With the slavishly religious works-based obedience.

Obedience is not what we do to become

Accepted by God or “acceptable” to God. 

That is religion – Obey so you can be accepted by God.  We often say . . .

“Christianity is not a religion,

It Is a relationship,”

A relationship built

Upon the Gospel.

I want to share with you some statements that contrasts “religion” with “the Gospel.”  What is the difference between religion and the Gospel when it comes to obeying God’s commands?  These statements from Tim Keller reveals how easily we slip into self-dependence and self-reliance regarding our salvation.  My God use this to remind us of the free grace that bring salvation and probe our hearts to humble ourselves before Him.

  • RELIGION: I obey-therefore I am accepted.  THE GOSPEL: I am accepted through Christ-therefore I obey.
  • RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.  THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful love and joy.
  • RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God. THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God-to delight and honor Him.
  • RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.  THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while He may allow this for my training, He will exercise His Fatherly love and grace within my trial.
  • RELIGION: When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.  THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized, I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism.
  • RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need.  My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.  THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration.  My main purpose is fellowship bringing Him glory.
  • RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles.  If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people.  If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate.  I am not confident. I feel like a failure.  THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”-simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ.  I am so bad He had to die for me, and I am so loved He was glad to die for me.  This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time.  Neither swaggering nor sniveling.
  • RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work.  Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral.  I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’  THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the One who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me.  I am saved by sheer grace.  So, I cannot look down on those who believe or practice something different from me.  Only by grace I am what I am.  I have no inner need to win arguments.
  • RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols.  It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc.  I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God.  THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life-family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc.  But none of these good things are ultimate things to me.  None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

Secondly, we have very great gladness when . . .

2. We Remember His Care.

We sing the phrase, “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.”  This was the major purpose behind the Feast of Booths.  Booths were forcible reminders to God’s people of God’s care for them during the hard times.  God was faithful to them in the past so they knew this unchanging God would be faithful to them in the present, and faithful to them in the future.  He would never give up on them.  

God will never give up on us.  He is faithful!  God never leaves us.  Even if we turn from Him, He still comes after us like the Loving Father chasing after the Prodigal Son. 

Recalling His loving ways in the past reminds us of His loving ways in the present; “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”  Again, the joy of the Lord – God’s joy – is your strength.  God’s joy for you, His delight in loving you, is what strengthens you!  God’s joy in you is your stronghold.  God’s love for us, the love He delights to have in us, is a firm foundation, our stronghold.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.

God’s joy in you is possible only by union with Christ, by your being “in Christ,” in the perfection of His Son.  It is only when we have turned from sin and turned to Christ, dying to the old us and being raised with Christ that God looks at us differently.  He sees us clothed in the perfection of His Son Jesus.  It is like God put a special coat upon me, like the Father put on the Prodigal Son, a special jacket, if you like, that makes us acceptable to God.  Apart from Christ, God sees only my sin.  But if I am in Christ, the Bible tells me in Colossians 3:3 I am, “Hidden with Christ.”  God looks at me and sees me “in Christ,” accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6), my sins covered forever by the righteousness of Christ.  

The reason God can smile at me is because He always and forever sees me in the perfection of His Son.  He has clothed with a kind of “Members Only” jacket.  Not everyone can wear it, only those who have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  But when you do, He puts that robe of righteousness, the righteousness of Christ upon you, and it never comes off!  You may not be acceptable to others, but you are always accepted by God!  Always!

You are accepted not

Because of your performance,

But because of Christ’s perfection,

So you will always be

Perfectly acceptable to Him.

God joys in you because

Of the perfection of Christ.

Think about this: As a Christian, what could you do to decrease God’s joy in you?  Nothing!  By the same token, what could you do to increase God’s joy in you?  Nothing!   God joys in you perfectly because He joys in you through His perfect Son.  That is my stronghold!!

We have “Very great gladness” when we obey His commands, remember His care, and finally, we have very great gladness when . . .

3. We Delight in Christ.

God’s people in Nehemiah’s day experienced a kind of “Second Exodus,” having been delivered from their captivity in Babylon.  God’s people today – in Christ – also experience an “Exodus,” having been delivered from their sin.  Jesus celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7.  It is in Chapter 7 and verse 37 that John records that, “on the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink …’”  Real satisfaction comes only through Jesus Christ.  We were designed to be completely and utterly satisfied through the living waters of Jesus Christ.

The Feast of Tabernacles also reminded them of a very simple truth . . .  

The more you rely on an

Earthly thing to satisfy you,

The less satisfying it becomes.

The more you rely on

Jesus to satisfy you,

The more satisfying

He becomes.

Sin is largely misplaced joy.  It is a substitute for the “very great gladness” God wants us to have in Christ.  The more you rely on an earthly thing to satisfy you, the less satisfying it becomes.  Every addiction counselor knows that.  Addiction to alcohol and drugs begins with one small indulgence.  It is an earthly pleasure.  It does not last long and the next time you do not get quite as much satisfaction, so you need more.  One drink leads to another.  One drug to more of that drug.  The first pornographic image was relatively modest, but eventually led to an all-out hard-core pornographic addiction.  It has been said many times . . . :

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.

We were designed to delight in Christ.  Purity flows from a heart that recognizes the joy of God’s salvation as a gift more satisfying than any competing pleasure the world can provide.

If you are not a Christian, turn from your sin and look to Jesus; repent, turn from your sin and receive Jesus Christ as the all-satisfying Savior who redeems you and saves you from the wrath to come.  Turn to Him today and be saved.

If you are a Christian, remember that “very great gladness” comes only when you obey His commands, remember His care, and delight in Christ.  

And as God’s people back in the day sojourned on to the fair land of Canaan, the Promised Land, so God’s people today sojourn on to a far greater Promised Land, an everlasting city, the splendor of the eternal city of heaven – and in the final state a new heaven and a new earth – an eternal feast of booths, not temporary, but permanent housing.

As we look to Christ we recall with the hymn-writer: “He took my sins and my sorrows and made them His very own. He bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered, and died alone” … “How marvelous, how wonderful, and our song shall ever be, How marvelous, o how wonderful is my Savior’s love for me.”  As we respond to God’s Word, may God give you grace to love Jesus more than anyone or anything – knowing that in the loving of Christ we will have “very great gladness!”

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 8:1-12 – Rebuilding By the Book!

Grace For The Journey

  We are a series of messages in the Book of Nehemiah.  The year is 444 BC and Nehemiah has completed one of the greatest rebuilding projects in the history of civil engineering.  He has led the people to rebuild the broken-down walls around the city of Jerusalem.  The walls had been lying in ruins over a hundred years since being knocked down by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity.  You will remember God disciplined His children for their unfaithfulness and idolatry, allowing them to be carried off into captivity. 

The time of discipline has ended and

God works through the events of history

To get His people back into Jerusalem.

He raises up several people to do this.  One of them was a man named Ezra, the priest.  He is a contemporary of Nehemiah’s which means he is right there in Jerusalem along with Nehemiah.  Ezra leads the rebuilding of the temple and then God brings Nehemiah down from Susa, 1,000 miles away, bringing him to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.

A point I have made from the very first study in our series is that . . .

The Book of Nehemiah is not just about

The physical rebuilding of walls,

But about

The spiritual rebuilding of people.

The fact that Nehemiah did not just finish the wall and then go back to the king’s palace in Susa indicates that he was concerned about more than a physical rebuilding project.   

He was genuinely concerned about

The spiritual welfare of God’s people.

Physical structures are not,

In and of themselves,

The most important thing. 

It is what the people

On the inside are doing. 

I have often noted that the church is not a building, but a Body.  Sometimes a visitor will come and look inside the sanctuary and say, “What a beautiful church!” and I will correct them by saying, “Yes, it is a beautiful sanctuary.  The church is beautiful, too; a beautiful Body of brothers and sisters.”

From the opening study I have noted that the Book of Nehemiah can be divided into two main sections, two main divisions . . .

Two (2) Main Divisions of Nehemiah: 

I. Reconstruction of the Walls [Chapters 1-7]

      [Physical Rebuild]

II. Reinstruction of the People [Chapters 8-13]

      [Spiritual Rebuild]

Rebuilding people takes more time.  How many days did it take to rebuild the wall?  Just 52 days to build the walls.  But rebuilding people takes a long time.  I am sure you are familiar with the song, “He’s Still Working On Me” . . . 

He’s still working on me

To make me what I need to be

It took him just a week to make the moon and stars

The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars

How loving and patient He must be

‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me

How do you go about rebuilding a people spiritually? 

You bring out the Book.

That is the focus of the passage before us today. 

From reconstruction of wall

To reinstruction of the people. 

Re-instruction through the Word of God.

If there is one thing that stands out in this passage it is . . .

The centrality of the Word of God

Among the gathered people of God.

The Word of God, the Bible,  must be central to the gathering together of the people of God.  True revival has always followed the regular systematic teaching of the Word of God.  True revival.  Not revival that is scheduled or calendared.  But true revival is not something that is scheduled. 

True revival is when God shows up

When He pleases to awaken His people,

Reviving them to love Him and live for Him.

I saw a church banner outside a church that read, “Revival is Coming.”  I thought to myself, “Boy, I sure hope so.”  Because if revival comes to that church, revival will come to us, as well. 

Martyn Lloyd Jones in his book entitled, Preachers and Preaching, notes that “the primary task of the church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.”  And he makes this statement about revival: “The decadent periods and eras in the history of the Church have always been those periods when preaching had declined”… “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival?  It is renewed preaching”… “A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the Church.”

And by “true preaching,” Lloyd-Jones means the kind of preaching that is going on here in Nehemiah 8. 

The reading of the Word,

The explaining of the Word,

And the people’s

Responding to the Word. 

True preaching is that

Which demonstrates a confidence

Not in the speaker, but in

The Scripture;

An absolute confidence

In the sufficiency

Of Scripture

To change lives.

During the Protestant Reformation, for example, there was a renewed emphasis upon the teaching of the Bible.  Going through Books of the Bible and explaining the meaning of the passages.  The Reformers such as Luther and Calvin believed in the systematic exposition of Scripture.  In fact, when Calvin was banished from the city of Geneva, he left on Easter Sunday in 1538, banished from Geneva by the city fathers.  Three years later when he was allowed to return in September of 1541 he entered into the church and into the pulpit and on that first Sunday back he began to preach at the very place where he had left off three and a half years earlier!  Such confidence in the power and sufficiency of the Word to teach the gathered people of God.

In our study this morning we will see what happens when God’s Word is central to the church . . .  

1. God’s People Gather Eagerly.

Verse 1 tells us, “Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel.”  There are tens of thousands of people now gathering together back in the city of Jerusalem.  They have not as of yet been able to gather in this fashion because the walls were broken down.  There was no defined city of Jerusalem until the walls were built back up.  Now that they are up, the people of God gather together to hear the Word.

They gather together “in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate.”  They are not gathering near the altar of the Temple.  They are gathering in the open square because congregational worship is not about animal sacrifices, but about the Body coming together, gathering around the Word of God.

The Bible says in verse 1 that they “gathered together as one man.”  That simply means, “there is unanimity in their interest in hearing the Word of God, they are united around the Word.”  They are very eager to hear the Word! 

This would have been a scroll.  Codices or books as we know them today did not become in use until after the time of Christ in the early Christian centuries.  Ezra likely pointed to various portions of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and read from them as he preached to the people.  

It is the people themselves

Who are calling for Ezra

To come read the Word:

“They told Ezra the scribe

To bring the Book

Of the Law of Moses,

Which the Lord

Had commanded Israel.”

The people were eager to hear the Word.  God’s people love God’s Word, amen?  I heard about a little boy who asked his daddy, “Daddy, is this book God’s book?”  And his dad said, “Well son, of course it is.” He said, “Well then we had better send it back to Him, because we never use it.” God’s people love God’s Word.  The Word of God is food for our soul!  I get up in the morning get the Word out and just pray . . .

“God, open

Your Word to me

And open me

To Your Word,”

And He does!

I find myself often just pausing as I am reading and saying, “God, I love Your Word.  Thank You!”  Can you relate?  Like the Psalmist in Psalm 19:10, The truths of Your Word are “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”

Verse 2 says, So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.”  Note that: “men and women and all who could hear with understanding,” that is children who were able to hear with understanding.  Never underestimate the capacity of children’s ability to understand the Word preached.  Sometimes children get more out of the preaching than adults!  When God’s Word is central to the church, God’s people gather eagerly. 

Secondly, when God’s Word is central . . .

2) God’s People Listen Attentively.

Verse 3 states, “Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.”  They were attentive.  When the Word is central to worship, God’s people gather eagerly and listen attentively.  Proof of their listening attentively is provided in the first part of verse 3.  How long were they listening to the Word?  From morning until midday.  That is from the first light of day until noon.  That is a five-hour, perhaps six-hour meeting.  We will note in a moment that the people are standing the entire time the preaching is going on!  No coffee breaks.  Five to six hours of teaching the Word.

Adrian Rogers used to say to his congregation, “I came to preach; I trust you came to listen; and you ought not to get finished listening before I finish preaching!”  Some preachers have capitulated to worldly standards of time, looking to the toastmaster speech model or little “sermonettes” of 10-20 minutes to keep people’s attention.

We have a much more

Important task here! 

We are not giving talks,

We are presenting

The very Word of God. 

To listen attentively is

To prepare diligently. 

We come prepared to hear

The very Word of God.

We come believing God is going to speak to us in His life-giving, life-changing Word of God

James Hamilton notes there are three good reasons to listen attentively to the reading and teaching of the Bible . . .

  • It honors God.
  • It is good for your soul.
  • It encourages the preacher.

That is so true.  I look out as I preach, and I find myself more likely to look at the people who are engaged!  Listening!  Bible open!  It encourages the person who is preaching. 

Verse 4 and 5 say, “So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.  And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.”

That is what happens as our church family gathers every week!  It is not mandatory to do this.  The verse is descriptive, not prescriptive.  It is merely describing what took place, not mandating the standing up, but it a way to honor the reading of the Word.  It reminds us that we are in the presence of God Himself who will now speak to us from His very Word.  It is an aid to our listening attentively.

Ezra is preaching the Word and he is accompanied by these 13 others with him on the platform, six on one side, seven on the other.  Maybe they took turns reading from the Word.  Ezra is the primary preacher as indicated in verse 6, “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”

This is genuine worship of the One True and Living God . . .

As the man of God

Brings the Word of God

To the people of God

For the glory of God.

They are bowing their heads in contrition, worshiping at times with their faces to the ground.  Other times they speak.  They say things out loud!  They say, “Amen, Amen!”  They lift up their hands.  It is biblical.  Some of us do not know what to do when people say amen or lift their hands.  Like the guy who visited one of those cold churches and sat in the back.  And the preacher got up and preached and read from the Bible and the man said, “Amen!”  And everybody turned around and looked at him.  Later on, same thing, the man said, “Praise the Lord!’  And people raised their eyebrows.  Finally, the man again said, “Amen!”  And an usher went over to him and tapped him on the shoulder to quite him down.  The usher said, “What’s wrong with you anyway?!”  The man said, “Well, I’ve just got Jesus!”   And the usher said, “Well, you didn’t get Jesus here!  So tone it down a bit.”

Verse 7 states, “Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place.”  These individuals are a different group of guys than the ones on the platform with Ezra.  These are Levites who apparently are scattered among the people listening.  The Levites are tasked with helping people understand the Word.  You see that there in the latter part of verse 7, “the Levites helped the people understand the Law.”  Most scholars believe that the way this worked was Ezra was preaching and teaching the Word of God from the platform, and the Levites among the tens of thousands of people made sure that everyone understood what they were hearing.  There would be the reading and teaching of a text and then a pause as this further teaching would take place among the crowd as the Levites moved among the congregation.  It may well be, too, that some of the folks needed a little help with the language being accustomed to the Babylonian language and maybe a little rusty on their Hebrew.  

Verse 8 says, “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.”  Here is the preacher’s task week after week. 

  • To “read distinctly from the book,”
  • To “give the sense,” the meaning, teaching the Word,
  • To “help them to understand the reading.” 

Biblical preaching is teaching.

I read about a time when William Still, a preacher from Aberdeen, Scotland had a man visit his congregation.  He met him at the door after his sermon.  The man said, “You don’t preach.”  William Still said, “What do you mean?”  He said, “Well, you just read the Bible and explain it.”  And Still said to him, “Sir, that is preaching.”  And that is precisely what is going on here.  The teaching and explaining of the Word of God.  Notice the stress on understanding in this passage: It is mentioned in verse 2, verse 3, verse 7, verse 8, and we will see in verse 12. 

There is a sense in which we may identify a precedent here for the importance of both big groups and small groups.  We have big group like this, the gathered body for the corporate teaching of the Word, and then small Bible Study groups that we provide on Sunday morning and evenings.  The smaller more intimate gathering for the teaching of the Word, making sure everyone understands.

The best Bible Study classes are those that both edify and multiply, edifying those who gather through careful instruction of the Word, and starting new groups of classes so that more people can learn in a more intimate setting.  Edify and Multiply.  When was the last time your class started a new group?

When the Word is central to worship, God’s people gather eagerly, listen attentively, and thirdly . . .

3) Respond Accordingly.

Every time God’s Word is proclaimed, it calls for response.  When the people understand the Word, they respond accordingly.  We see that here in the following verses:

Verse 9, “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.”  They understood the Word and it caused them to weep.  There was brokenness which suggests repentance.  And it is this brokenness then, that opens the door to rejoicing.  Verse 10:

Verse 10, “Then he (Nehemiah)said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’”  That phrase, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” is best translated as “The Lord’s joy,” or “the joy that belongs to Yahweh.”  It is God’s joy that is your strength.  It is God’s joy in disciplining His children, forgiving His children, moving the hearts of kings to get His children back to Jerusalem. Jerusalem.  It is God’s joy in doing all of this – and giving them understanding of that truth – that serves to strengthen them.

God has given His children favor in their being brought back to the land, their sin forgiven, and their being restored.  It is good that they understand their past sin and the hearing of God’s Word has reminded them of the guilt of their sin which it has been forgiven.  It is the joy of the Lord to do what He has done to get them back to their homeland.  This is a day of rejoicing.

Verse 11 says, “So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.’”  God loves His people!  He delights in His people.  If you are a Christian, you are among His people!  You are loved perfectly in Christ and God delights in you!  Like God’s children in Nehemiah, you have sinned and you feel the weight of guilt and the burden of sin, but in Christ Jesus, you are forgiven.  It brings God joy to forgive you of your sin.  The joy of the Lord is your strength!

Verse 12 states, “And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”   The people rejoiced.  They rejoiced “greatly” because “they understood the words that were declared to them.”

If you are not a Christian, God wants you to know Him.  He is has chosen to reveal Himself to you through His Word.  It was His Word that spoke creation into existence.  It was His Word that became flesh in the God-Man Jesus Christ.  His Word points to the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.  The most important response you can make today is to respond to God’s Word by receiving the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, as your Lord and Savior.  Turn from your sin and turn to God and be saved from the wrath to come.  Trust Jesus today as Lord and Savior.

If you are a Christian, know that you have far more cause for rejoicing than the people of God in the Book of Nehemiah!  You have far more of God’s Word than did they.  Do you gather eagerly to hear the Word?  Do you delight to hear it in your Daily Quiet Time, and do you delight to hear it Sunday mornings worship and in Sunday Bible Study groups?  Do you gather eagerly, listen attentively, and make intentional preparation to hear from God?  One writer asks, “If you are bored by God’s Words, then whose words excite you?  The words of your friends or family members, your teacher or coach?  What would need to change in order for God’s Word to stir your heart in the same way the words of other people can?”

The hymn-writer says . . .

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said,

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

The hymn goes on to extoll all the wonderful truths of God’s Word.  Like, “Fear not, I am with thee,” I’ll strengthen and help thee, and so on. 

I heard about a preacher who used to say nearly every week, at the conclusion of the sermon, that it was his desire when he preached that people not say, “What a wonderful sermon,” but, “What a wonderful Savior.”  I agree with that sentiment.  Preachers are not here to impress, to entertain, to desire that you remember only how skilled they were in speaking, or in telling memorable jokes or stories.   At the end of the sermon, may it always be, “What a wonderful Savior.”

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 8:1- – Lord, Send A Re-Bible

An anonymous author penned these words: “The paradox of our time in history is that . . .

We spend more, but have less;

We buy more, but enjoy it less;

We have bigger houses and smaller families,

More conveniences, but less time,

More medicine, but less well being;

We read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions,  But reduced our values.

These are times of tall men, and short character;

Steep profits, and shallow relationships.

These are the days of two incomes, But more divorce;

Of fancier houses, but broken homes.

We’ve added years to life, not life to years;

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life.

One magazine article I read put it this way: “There is much to celebrate.  We now have, as average Americans, doubled our incomes and what money buys.  We own twice as many cars per person and eat out two and one-half times as often as our parents did. We have espresso coffee, the World Wide Web, sport utility vehicles, and caller ID.  New drugs are shrinking our tumors and lengthening our lives.  Yet, at the same time, our divorce rate has doubled.  Teen suicide has tripled.  Violent crime has quadrupled. We have increased, by six times, the number of babies born out of wedlock, and cohabiting couples have increased from 500,000, twenty years ago, to 4.2 million today.”

Our economic good time has become dwarfed by our moral recession.  One civic leader correctly stated the problem, when he said, “The accumulation of material goods is at an all-time high, but so is the number of people who feel an emptiness in their lives.”

Pollster George Gallup, Jr. detected the same thing as he wrote, “One of the two dominant trends in society today is the search for spiritual moorings” . . . Surveys have documented the movement of people who are searching for meaning in life with a new intensity.”

At the very time when the church of Jesus Christ can step up to the microphone and announce that it has the answer in a personal Redeemer named Jesus Christ, it has, instead, lost its voice.  One author compiled a list of clippings and mailings sent out by a number of churches that, by the way, are often attended by thousands of people . . .

  • One pastor commented, “There is no fire and brimstone here. No Bible-thumping. Just practical, witty messages.”
  • Another said, “Services at our church have an informal feeling. You won’t hear people referred to as sinners. The goal is to make them feel welcome.”
  • And another, “Our answer is God – but we slip Him in at the end, and even then, we don’t get heavy. No ranting, or raving. No fire, no brimstone. Our pastor doesn’t even use the h-word. Call it Light Gospel. It has the same salvation as the Old Time Religion, but with a third less guilt.
  • Another, “The sermons are relevant, upbeat, and best of all, short. You won’t hear a lot of preaching about sin. Preaching here doesn’t sound like preaching. It is sophisticated, urbane, and friendly talk.”

The church of our generation promises that the consumer will be satisfied rather than that God will be satisfied.  If this is true, then God is no longer the audience of our worship, the audience has become god.  The church is feverishly trying to make this new god happy, comfortable, and satisfied.

I have recently heard of one church that has as their motto the words, “It’s all about you.”  My friends, church is not all about you, and it is not all about me – it is all about God.

Our mandate

From God is,

Not selfishness,

But surrender that

Leads to servanthood.

It is about giving ourselves to the mission of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It is about becoming passionately committed to the fact that man is sinful and on his way to hell.

The church has the answer in the Gospel of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We communicate that Gospel to our world as if we were throwing life preservers to drowning people.  We do not warm the water to make them more comfortable; we do not offer lessons on how to float; we do not give self-help tips on how to manage the water.  We tell them they are going to drown, if they do not come to the Savior.

The church has lost the moral courage to communicate that message.  It makes people

uncomfortable.   The church has lost its moral convictions as well.  In our generation, the materialism of the believer matches the world.  The promiscuity and unfaithfulness of the believer mirrors the world.  The self-centered believer mirrors the world.  The values and plans of the believer are the same as the world’s.

At the moment of greatest need for an answer of our generation, many churches does not have the answer.  It is in need of revival.  So were the people of Jerusalem.  They had finished the walls.  They were secure behind gates and gatekeepers.  But there was a spiritual void in Jerusalem.  They had everything but a right relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Today we are going give our attention to a revival meeting.  It is found in Nehemiah, chapter 8.  In these verses we will discover Six Ingredients of Revival.  As we study through this chapter, I want to provide at least six characteristics, or ingredients, of true revival.  And by the way, revival has nothing to do with unbelievers.  

According to Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 1, an unbeliever is, “… dead in [his] trespasses and sins.”  In other words, his spirit has not been brought to life by regeneration.  He is spiritually dead.  He does not have a revival because you cannot revive a corpse.  You revive a living person who is unconscious, out of it, in a coma, who has been under water or without oxygen for some time.  You revive someone whose heart may have even stopped beating, but the possibility of resuscitation is still there.  He can be revived because he is not yet dead. 

Revival has nothing to do

With winning the unbeliever;

Revival is warning the believer

Who is living like an unbeliever.

Their heart for God has stopped beating.  They have grown cold in their affections for God.  They need resuscitating and reviving.

Like David, in Psalm 85:6, we plead with God, “Will You not revive us again?”  Can we pray like David, in Psalm, chapter 119, verses 33 through 34 and verse 37, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes” … “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with all my heart” … “Revive me in Your way.” 

There was a great revival in Nehemiah’s day, and it began with the first ingredient to any revival . . . A true revival is revealed . . .

1. By A Revived Appetite For The Scripture.

Verse 1 says, “And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel.”  Did you notice the reappearance of Ezra, who was, by now, an old man?  He had led a group back to Jerusalem years earlier, and they had rebuilt the temple.  Ezra will become the preacher, as you will see in a moment, reading, translating, and applying the text of the Law.  Notice what the people of Jerusalem have asked Ezra “to bring the Book of the Law” which God gave their nation through Moses!  Verse one tells us this was their unified cry!

When a person, a group of people, a family, or a church begin to demand the Scriptures, revival is soon to happen.  A native of India, writing to a friend about a revival they were having, wrote, “We are having a great re-Bible here! “  What a perfect slip of the pen.  A revival is indeed when people are “re-Bibled.”  They hunger to hear, read, learn, and live by the Word of God. 

Verses 2 through 4 tell us, “So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.  Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.  So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand …” (then the Bible mentions all the other priests who were present with him).

For six hours they listened to Ezra read the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, the book of Moses, the book of the Law.  In verse 5 we read, “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.”  They listened for six hours standing up. And, by the way, this will continue every day for an entire week. Imagine that kind of hunger to hear the Word of God!

The second ingredient of revival is revealed . . .

2. By A Respectful Attitude Toward God.

Verse 6 says, “Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God …”  That is, he praised God for who God was – the great, the awesome, and sovereign God.  There is no revival if you have a little god – A small god who can be coerced and bribed; a petty god who exists to do your will and fulfill your every wish; an understandable god who is not mysterious or transcendent; a weak god who can barely keep up with his creation.

If you want reviving,

You need a great God.

Isaiah described his great God, in chapter 40 of that book, starting at verse 15, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.”  Verse 18 says, “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?  Verses 22 and 23 declare, “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.  He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.”

Verses 25 and 26 proclaim, “To whom then will you liken Me that I should be his equal?” says the Holy One.  Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one of them is missing.”

 And verses 28 through 31 state, “Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired.  His understanding is inscrutable.  He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

The word “wait” is a reference to contemplating or meditating on God’s character; trusting in His attributes, relying on His power and provision.  The believer who is given strength is the believer who has Isaiah’s perception of God.  Believers who have a small god run out of gas, but those who contemplate the awesome character of God, as described in Isaiah chapter 40, have strength for their daily walk.

Revival comes on the heels of an appetite for Scripture and an approach toward God based on the great and sovereign God that He is. 

Verse 6 continues by saying, “And all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’”  That sounds like a lot of Baptists I know.  “Amen” is a word that means, “so be it; let it be so.”  The verse continues on by saying, “… while lifting up their hands.”  That sounds like some Pentecostals I know.  The verse concludes with, “… then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”  I do not think any denomination does that.  The issue was not how they revealed their respect for God, that will vary from culture to culture and from generation to generation.  When I went on a mission trip to Johannesburg and Swaziland, South Africa, they worshiped their great God differently than I do.  The point is the same for people in Africa and France and Romania and America as it was in Nehemiah’s day.  

The people in chapter 8 showed respect to God; and

Ultimately, like so many people throughout Scripture

Who have an encounter with God, they ended up

Flat on their faces on the ground.

If you want to say, “Amen,” and raise your hands, go ahead.  Are you willing, as well, to lie flat on your face in the dirt, so moved out of deep respect for your sovereign God that you dare not whisper or even look upward?!

Revival comes from a revived appetite for the scripture, a deep reverential approach to God, and the third ingredient . . .

3. By A Radical Application Of Biblical Truth.

Verse 8 says, “And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.  You ought to underline the word “understood.”  It appeared in verse 2 and verse 3, and it will show up again in verse 12.

Why would they need to explain anything?  Attempt to the following translation of Matthew 11:28-30 by John Wycliffe.  It happens to be the first English translation put into print, in the year 1382 – “Alle ye that trauelen & ben chargid come to me & I schal fulfille you. Take ye my yok on you & lerne ye of me for I am mylde and meke in herte; and ye shulen finde rest to youre soulis for my yok is softe & my charge liyt.” 

If you try hard enough or have it memorized this passage, you can make some sense of most of the words.  Approximately six hundred years separate us from John Wycliffe’s English world.  Six hundred years have brought a lot of changes to our English vocabulary.  Consider the fact that between the time of Moses writing the book of the Law and the time of the people of Nehemiah’s day was a span of, not six hundred years, but one thousand years.  Consider, also, the fact that these people no longer spoke or understood Hebrew.  They had Hebrew hearts but Babylonian ears.  They simply needed to know what the words meant.

But that was not all.  Notice verse 13, “Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests, and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law.”  The word “insight” is translated from a Hebrew verb that means “to be wise or prudent.”  In other words, they wanted to understand the Word so that they would have the insight or wisdom in how to apply the Word to their lives.

In Mark’s Gospel, the Lord breaks the fish and loaves and feeds over five thousand people.  He shows His miraculous ability over the elements of nature by creating fish and bread.  A few hours later, the disciples are terrified in a storm.  Eventually,

Jesus walks on the water to where they are and climbs into the boat and the storm ceases and the wind stops. Chapter 6, verses 51 and 52, say it all, “… and they were greatly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves . . .”  They had seen Christ’s power demonstrated earlier, but they had not connected it with how they should live and act because of it.  

Some people go to church nearly every Sunday, even attend a Bible study and go to a conference or two, and nothing about their lives changes.  My friends, there is a vast difference between biblical input and biblical insight.  Guess what happened when they gained the insight and applied the meaning of the Bible to the way they were living?

But that is not all, there is a fourth ingredient that contributes to revival taking place . . .

4. By A Repentant Awareness Of Sin.

Verse 9 tells us, “Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’  For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law.”  They heard the words of God’s standard, and they began to mourn and weep.  We avoid the Word because the Word convicts and challenges us to the very core of our being.  Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” 

George Bernard Shaw, the British playwright, once had a Bible.  Four years before he died, in 1950, he sold it to auctioneers, who, in turn, sold it for fifty dollars after Shaw’s death.  One of the selling points was an inscription on the flyleaf by the playwright

himself, “This book is a most undesirable possession” . . . “I must get rid of it. I really cannot bear it in my house!”  The Bible is a penetrating sword and he could not stand the guilty verdict that pierced his heart! 

Eventually Nehemiah stood and told the people to stop mourning and begin rejoicing.  It was the day the Feast of Tabernacles was to begin.  Notice verses 10 through 12, “Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.’  And all the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.”

The final ingredient that contributes to revival is . . .

5.  An Attitude of Joy.

Matthew Henry wrote a century ago, “Holy joy will be oil to the wheels of our obedience.”  Notice how the people of Jerusalem obeyed.  Verses 14 through 17 state, “And they found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that,

the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month.  So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches, and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.’  So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate, and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them.  The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day.”  And there was great rejoicing.”  God said for them to build little shanties and lean-to shacks out of sticks so they could remember their journey in the wilderness.

It does not make much sense.  They need to be rebuilding their homes inside the newly constructed city walls.  But God said, “Build a booth.”  So, they built a booth.  And guess what?  There was great rejoicing.  Insight led to obedience and obedience led to joy.

Let me draw a few points of application.  When “re-Bible” occurs, the following happens . . .

  • Excuses Are Replaced With Confession.

In 1992, the Texas educational bureaucracy reviewed and approved a new set of history textbooks for the public school system.  A group of parents, concerned about the information their children were coming home with, conducted their own review.  They found two hundred thirty-one errors.  The textbook reported Napoleon actually winning the battle of Waterloo, President Truman dropping the atom bomb on Korea, and General Douglas MacArthur leading the anti-Communist campaign in the 1950’s, instead of Senator Joe McCarthy.  When called to account for these errors, the Texas officials studied the texts again.  They found more than the two hundred thirty-one errors the parents first found.  Then the parents found more, until the tally stood at five thousand two hundred mistakes in texts published by Prentice-Hall, Houghton Mifflin, Rinehart and Winston.  How did the publishers react to this mess?  The publisher’s spokesperson argued that, “Except for the errors, these were the finest textbooks they had ever seen.”

The believer who wants revival throws away the list of favorite excuses for his, or her, sin.  Excuses are replaced with confession.

  • Selfishness Is Replaced With Servanthood.

When we confess and forsake our sin, we no longer have to focus our attention of hiding our sin, or being concerned about obeying and pleasing anybody but God.  Confession opens the door for compassion and allows us to be concerned about what God can do to help us carry another’s burden, walk with someone to encourage and strengthen their faith, or show God’s kindness and care to others in tangible ways.

  • Compromise Is Replaced With Commitment.

You might say, “I’ve confessed and tried and failed and tried again, but revival does not last.”  Someone once asked evangelist Billy Sunday, in the early 1900’s, if revivals lasted.  He replied, “No, neither does a bath, but it’s good to have one occasionally. If you want friends, you probably ought to bathe every day; if you want fellowship, you need reviving every day as well.

  • Complacency Is Replaced With Devotion.

You might say, “Oh, but my love for God ebbs and flows; it seems to come and go.  My devotion and affection for God is affected by my inconsistency, brokenness, and sinfulness.”  I know.  The Bible says of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:15-19, 24-25, “For what I am doing, I do not understand.  For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.  If, them, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.  But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.  For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.  For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice!” . . . O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  I thank ‘god – through Jesus Christ our Lord! …”

Someone wrote, “The only way to keep a broken pot filled with water is to keep the faucet running.”  To have a revival:

  • Approach God with due respect and adoration.
  • Be willing to apply what you learn.
  • Repent, repent, and repent some more.
  • And, know that obedience will lead to joy.

It is always in that order.  But it does not end there . . . We must stay under the faucet – of God’s Word – of God’s Spirit – of God’s wisdom – and in the company of God’s people.

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.”

Rebuilding: Nehemiah 7:4-73 – Each Of Us Have A Name . . . Praise To His Great Name

Grace For The Journey

Nehemiah Chapter 7 is this long list of names.  Just names.  Chapter 7 is like preaching through the Jerusalem phonebook.  The names of gazillions of the men of Israel and their sons.  As we go through these verses, I am praying that . . .

What we know not, teach God will teach us;

What we do not have, God will give us;

What we are not, God will make us . . .

All through Christ Jesus our Lord and for His sake!

Have you heard of Jim Croce?  He was an American folk and rock legend in the late 1960s early 1970s.  He died in a plane crash along with five others 1973 at the age of 30, tragically at the height of his popularity.  Many of you know his song “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown.”  His song, “Time in a Bottle,” was an artful writing, thought-provoking lyrics, sung with ease on a simple acoustic guitar.  The day after he died, the lead single to his fourth album was released and became another hit.  It was the song, “I’ve Got a Name.”  Do you know the lyrics?  Those of you my age and older probably do?  I don’t what.  All the good music ended with the 80s!

Like the pine trees lining the winding road

  I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name

Like the singing bird and the croaking toad

  I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name

And I carry it with me like my daddy did

  But I’m living the dream that he kept hid

It is a song that inspires gratitude for the gift of life and the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest, grateful for the blessing of our ancestors and how we are shaped by their legacy.”  

Nehemiah 7 is a list of the names of men and the names of their sons.  There is a legacy of faith here in chapter 7 . . .  A heritage of faith . . . A tradition of families . . . of following the One True and Living God and their names are recorded here in Scripture.  At first glance, we see a list like this, and we want to just skip over it.  More names we think!  But imagine if you had a personal interest in this list.  Imagine you are a Jewish family living hundred years later and you gather together with your family one evening.  You are all huddled there in your home next to a small oil lamp that’s burning and giving off just enough light to your spouse and kids seated around the table.  Your family nudges a little closer together as you unroll a scroll there in the dark.  You carefully unroll the scroll of Nehemiah and you open it up to this chapter and slowly trace your finger through the lines and stop and read your family name aloud.  Your kids are wide-eyed and the family smiles as they see the name of your father and their grandfather and know that they are one of the “sons” numbered in this list.

Long before ancestry.com God’s people painstakingly recorded the names of family members and their connection to other families in the greater family of God.  Genealogy was an especially important work for these many descendants of Father Abraham.  It is from these descendants God’s Promised Seed would come – the promised Messiah we know by the name of Jesus Christ.  Names matter.  

That is what we are going to talk about this morning – How names matter . . . How your name matters . . . How my name matters.  What we are going to do is study this passage and think of it along the lines of how our name matters in two main areas . . .

The life we lead

And

The legacy we leave.

We start our study in verse 4, “Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few, and the houses were not rebuilt.”  Before the walls were completed God’s people were living here and there around Jerusalem or in nearby towns.  They were not living inside the city because there was no inside.  There was only outside.  The walls are finished now, and Nehemiah is wanting to get folks inside the city gates, repopulating the city.  This will take some time because we are told in verse 4 that “the houses were not rebuilt.”  They are going to need to get those houses built and then figure out who can live inside the city as the houses are going up.  When we get to Chapter 11, we will see that Nehemiah has a plan for this – He is going to have the folks cast lots to bring in one out of every ten to live in the city and the other nine out of ten will remain in other towns.  Nehemiah gets a list of names together to figure out who all is scattered around Jerusalem. 

Verse 5 tells us, “Then my God put it into my heart to gather the nobles, the rulers, and the people, that they might be registered by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of those who had come up in the first return, and found written in it.”  That phrase “the first return” refers to the people who returned from exile after King Cyrus allowed God’s people to go back to Jerusalem.  Remember God’s people were exiled during the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires.  They were taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC and then the Babylonians in 586 BC.  God was behind this.  He was disciplining His children because of their sin of unfaithfulness to Him.  And after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, God caused the Persian King Cyrus to issue a decree in 536 allowing the people to return to Jerusalem.  The Persian People Group are a people whose lineage can be traced to King Cyrus, King Artaxerxes, and in the Book of Esther King Xerxes and Queen Vashti.  The Persian People Group; only 2% Christian today.

In the last part of verse 5 again, the phrase “those who had come up in the first return” refers to the first of three waves of God’s people returning to Jerusalem.  You can read about this in the Book of Ezra.  In fact, Ezra chapter 2 gives a list of names that is essentially this list here in Nehemiah.  The list was most likely updated a bit from the list in Ezra to allow for births and deaths since the original list.  

Before we proceed in out study, it is interesting to see how Nehemiah was led to get this list together.  It was not his idea.  The first part of verse 5 tells us, “Then my God put it into my heart…”  Notice those two phrases that Nehemiah says, “.. my God”“my heart.”  Nehemiah has a very close, personal walk with the One True and Living God!   He saw God at work all the time, God’s hand moving through circumstances, God’s hand moving through His prayers.  Nehemiah is a man’s man, but Nehemiah walked with God.  Some of us men need to spend more time with God.  Taking time to pray; taking time to read God’s Word.  Reading God’s Word to ourselves, reading God’s Word to our wives, reading God’s Word to our kids, to our grandkids.  Real men love the Lord and spend time with Him often. 

Nehemiah finds this registry of names and verse 6 introduces the list, “These are the people of the province who came back from the captivity, of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his city.”  And then the list of names.  I hope you will take time later to read these names.  It does not seem fruitful to do so this morning given our limited time together, but remember when you read them later how meaningful it would have been for these folks to have their name literally in print in both the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Warren Wiersbe . . .

“The important thing is not

To count the people but

To realize that

These people counted.”

And your name counts.  Your name matters.  You were created in God’s image.  You matter to God. 

The big question we want to answer today is, “How Do I Make My Name Matter?”  Let me suggest two areas where your life matters . . .

1. The Life I Lead.

    a. My Living.

There are so many names here in this list, names of just regular folks here who walked with God and lived their lives for Him.  Names of believers.  

How many of you got up this morning and thought about how the way you live your life today will affect others?  Our living will have some effect – good or bad – upon others. Your name matters.  Your name matters in the life you lead – your living . . . but also your giving.  

    b. My Giving.

When people mention your name, do they think of you as being generous?  We have talked about the generosity of God’s people before in Nehemiah and we come to it again in this passage.  Look down at verses 70 through 72 where it says, “And some of the heads of the fathers’ houses gave to the work.  The governor gave to the treasury one thousand gold drachmas (that’s like 20 pounds of gold), fifty basins, and five hundred and thirty priestly garments.  Some of the heads of the fathers’ houses gave to the treasury of the work twenty thousand gold drachmas (several million dollars by today’s standards), and two thousand two hundred silver minas.  And that which the rest of the people gave was twenty thousand gold drachmas, two thousand silver minas, and sixty-seven priestly garments.”

There is a lot of giving here!  Our names should evoke gratitude for our giving and generosity to the work of God.  Think of it: your money helps people come to Jesus, has helped people get their names on the list of those who are in heaven.  It is an investment that never goes south!  It never loses value.  It is an eternal investment that yields eternal rewards.

Secondly, your name matters in . . .

2. The Legacy I Leave

    a. My Family.

Each church exists to develop generations (note that) of God-glorifying disciples who make disciples from our communities to the continents.  The road map to fulfilling that vision comes from our mission of strengthening the family in the Word and in their walk.  The greatest impact we will make is on our family, and future generations of those who have our name.   We are talking about a legacy of faith.

That is why when we date others or court someone for marriage we are not interested in just anyone, amen?!  Not just anyone.  We want someone who loves Jesus, who is surrendered to His will and purpose.  Rather than physical appearance, scholastic achievements, social prowess, or talents, the real issue should be – Does they love Jesus, will they a godly person, are they living for just this earth or eternity? 

You are going to leave a legacy,

So let the Lord make it a good one.

Some of you were raised in Christian homes.  Some of you were not.  If you were not, then be the one who says, “It will start with me.  I will be the person who starts a legacy of faith.  And I will read the Bible to my wife and kids and we will build our lives upon the rock of Jesus Christ.”

Are you divorced or abandoned, hurt or hurting, has your life crashed and burned through sin?  Remember: it is never too late for a new beginning.  God will take the rubble from your past and rebuild you in the present.  From this point forward say, “I am following Jesus and doing all I can to ensure that my family lives for the Lord.”

  1. My Future

Are you living with the eternity in mind, your eternal future?  Hebrews 13:14 has a great word about that, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one to come.”  Here, in this life, we have no lasting city, no continuing city – it will be gone when we die and it will eventually fade away when God creates a new heaven and new earth.  Here we have no lasting city, but we see the one to come!  Heaven!  If you are living merely for this world, you are a fool.  Jesus says that.  Look up the parable later of the man who wanted to build bigger barns for his grain.  Awaken to the need to live with the future in mind, your eternal future.

Nehemiah is going through this list, establishing who the Jewish citizens of city of Jerusalem are.  He is doing this to find out who is allowed to live in Jerusalem; who will be able to move in from the surrounding towns.  Only those whose identity was validated as pureblood Israelites, the “authentic people of God” were permitted entrance.

I was struck by mention in this list of some priestly folks who were in a bit of jam as they could not prove their Jewish ancestry as priests.  In verse 64 we are told, “These sought their listing among those who were registered by genealogy, but it was not found; therefore they were excluded from the priesthood as defiled.”  They could not locate their family records, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.  Their names would not be included on the list of those who could enter the city.

Do you see the spiritual implications here?  Who is allowed to enter heaven? Revelation 22 tells us – only those whose names are written in the Book of Life.  Only true believers are given access to the eternal city.  Only those who are followers of Jesus, whose “identity” are those who are “the people of God” who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  In Luke 10:20, Jesus says, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

This is why church membership is so important.  Only those who are truly regenerate, new creations in Christ, comprise the spiritual Body of names that enter into heaven, those who have been saved and are growing in the faith in Christ.  These are the only ones who are allowed “in” the eternal city.  And all others are excluded, they remain “outside.”  There are only two groups of people, those who are in and those who are out.  You cannot be both – You are either in or out . . . Lost or Found . . . in Light or Darkness . . .  have Life or Death.  One of the main purposes of the church is to bring more people “in” to the body of Christ.  Many are still “out” and God has given us the mission to bring them in.  Jesus says in Luke 14:23, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that My house may be filled.”

There are so many people we walk right by.  We will walk right by maybe a couple hundred people before the day is over.  People who have names.  People who are “outside.”  People God loves and wants to bring “inside.”  We have neighbors who are “outside” the kingdom of God.  People in the highways and hedges of work and play.  People we need to compel to come in.  There are people whose names are not written in the Book of Life.  People you will sit next to you in class this week.  People in the office cubicle next to you at work.  People working the line at the warehouse.  What are their names?  People who need Jesus.  Churches must both edify and multiply because of names.  Names of people who are outside and need to be brought inside.  Get to know the names of the people you see this week.  Talk to them about the name of above all names, the great name of Jesus Christ.

Nehemiah knew God.  Nehemiah knows God by name.  Verse 5 tells us that Nehemiah called God, “My God.”  Do you know him?  God has a name.  He is personal.  He is not some impersonal, generic higher power or force.  He has a name.  He has a name above all names.  He is Lord.  His name is Jesus Christ.  

If you are “out” you can be “in” today.  The Gospel means Good News.  The Gospel means that you can go from being an outsider to an insider; you can go from being lost to being found; you can go from being “in sin” to being “in Him;” united together with Christ through glorious union such that God is in you and you are in God. 

This is far better than getting into an ancient city with newly rebuilt walls around it.  Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one to come.  You can live in the city to come even now in the sense that you can enter into the spiritual realm of God’s reign.  The kingdom of God is both now and not yet.  Enter into His reign now and live with the future in mind when you will live with him in a literal kingdom forever and ever.

There is a list in heaven.  Is your name on that list?  The only way to make sure our name is written down in the Book of Life is to place our name under the great name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus is calling you to follow Him.  Repent of sin and turn to Him.  Tell Him you are a sinner and ask for His forgiveness. 

Thank God for His love for us.  Thank Him for giving us this day to live.  Thank Him for loving us so much that He gave His Son Jesus to live for us – fulfilling the laws that we have broken – and to die for us – taking our punishment for sin upon Himself, drinking the entire cup of wrath that was meant for us.  Thank God that on the third day He arose from the grave in a demonstration of life and the life that we can have if we will place our name under His great name.  It is true: ‘the lost are saved, and find their way, at the sound of Your great name.’  We rejoice in His great name!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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

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

Rebuild: Nehemiah 7:1-73 – Roll the Credits: Doing Noble Work For God

Grace For The Journey

Eugene Petersen wrote these provocative words in his book entitled, Run With the Horses, “There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture. We have celebrities, but not saints. Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness gets headlines. If, on the other hand, we look around for what it means to be a person of integrity, we don’t find much.  They aren’t easy to pick out. No journalist interviews them. No talk show features them.  They’re not admired. They’re not looked up to. They do not set trends. There is no cash value in them. No Oscars are given for integrity. At year’s end, no one compiles a list of the ten best lived lives.”

The world does not notice lives that ought to be noticed. The truth of the matter is, neither does the church, most of the time.  Frankly, part of our fallen nature, as people, is to take each other for granted and to ignore the accomplishments and service given to us.  They are all around us, but we rarely notice.  Take moms, for example. I recently read the following story, “A man came home from work to find total mayhem in his house.  His three children were outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the dirt, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.  The door to his wife’s minivan was open, as was the front door to the house.  Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess.  A lamp had been knocked over and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room, the TV was loudly blaring, and the family room was littered with toys and several items of clothing.  In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door. He quickly ran up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife, worried that she was ill or that something serious had happened.  He discovered her in the bedroom, still curled in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel.  There was a half-eaten bagel and a couple of coffee cups on the bedside stand.  She looked up and asked how his day went. He looked at her, bewildered, and asked, ‘What happened here today?’  She smiled and answered, ‘You know, every day, when you come home from work, you ask me what in the world did I do all day?  Well, today I didn’t do it!” 

The truth is, even those closest to you will never fully comprehend the scope of your labor and toil!   Unfortunately, most of us do not take the time to discover it.  Think about it – when was the last time you watched a movie and then stayed around to watch the credits as they rolled by?  That musical score that moved you so much and you thought was so beautiful – did you look to see who composed the music?  No!  The show is over . . . on to the next event, please.

I find it absolutely fascinating that at the end of Nehemiah, chapter 6, when the show is over so to speak, and the walls are built, that Nehemiah rolls the credits.  The list is long and most of the names are unpronounceable.  Yet, there are some gems tucked inside these credits that God considers profitable for every student of the Bible.  Before you are tempted to pack up your popcorn bucket and candy wrappers, let us take time to notice some of the men and women who made it happen.

As we go through this list of names and numbers, remember that it is a part of God’s divinely inspired Word – all representing many people who, behind the scenes, made Jerusalem thrive.

As we go through these verse we will unfold these powerful truths . . .

1. Enlisting – Singers, Levites, Gatekeepers, Guards, And Leaders.

The first group of people enlisted and mentioned in the credits by Nehemiah are found in verses 1 and 2, “Now it came about when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, that I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem . . .”  In Nehemiah chapter 11, verses 22 and 23, Nehemiah explains further the significance of this list of names, “. . . the sons of Asaph, who were the singers for the service of the house of God.  For there was a commandment from the king concerning them and a firm regulation for the song leaders day by day.”  Remember, for years the people of Israel had been in captivity, and then, for a century beyond that, had been in a foreign land.  There was not much to sing about while in the Babylonian captivity. 

Psalm, chapter 137, tells us that they sat down and wept by the rivers of Babylon. They hung up their harps on the branches of the willow trees.  Yet, in the book of Nehemiah, they are tuning their instruments.  In the book of Nehemiah, there are eight references to giving thanks to God.  There is a need for musicians to sing of God’s faithfulness at the temple.  Music is not incidental to worship, it is essential to worship. 

On the occasion of Dallas Seminary’s fiftieth anniversary, the seminary published a special hymnal called, Hymns of Jubilee.  Dr. Edwin Deibler wrote, in the prologue of that hymnal.  His words, quoted in Nehemiah, God’s Builder, were, “From earliest times, the people of God have employed music to give expression of their adoration of the triune God.  Succeeding generations of Christians, to our present day, have adopted poetry set to music to express their adoration, praise, aspirations, and prayer.  Often, perhaps nearly always, such expressions have exceeded in intensity the actual life-styles of the congregations who employed them.  If Christian experience were, even for a period of one week, brought to the level of Christian hymns, a great revival would sweep over the world.”

I find it fascinating . . .

That before revival occurs

In Nehemiah, chapter 8,

The musicians and choirs

Are “re-formed” in chapter 7. 

While the singers

Provided the praise

For the city of Jerusalem,

The gatekeepers provided

Protection for the city.

They are mentioned in chapter 7 and in chapter 11.  Notice verse 19 of chapter 11, “Also the gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon, and their brethren, who kept watch at the gates, were 172.”  Akkub and Talmon, opened and shut the gates and watched to make sure nobody gets in who shouldn’t.  I found it interesting to learn that the Great Wall of China was breached by invaders at least four different times.  Each time the Chinese guards were bribed.  Gates are only as good as the character of the guards.  By the way, every believer is a gatekeeper.  John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, also wrote a book called, The Holy War.  In that book, he talked about “Mansoul,” a city that had five gates.  The gates were:

• the Ear Gate,

• the Eye Gate,

• the Nose Gate,

• the Feel Gate,

• the Mouth Gate.

The enemy of Mansoul would, daily, attack at one of the gates.  He would speak through the Ear Gate or paint vivid and alluring pictures to the Eye Gate.  The interesting thing is that Mansoul, in Bunyan’s allegory, could never be toppled by outside attacks.  The only way the enemy could conquer the city was if someone on the inside opened one of the gates to the enemy.  

The Bible says Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”  In other words, guard carefully what you allow through the gates of your life that will, ultimately, impact your heart and soul.  Nehemiah knew that he needed help leading the city of Jerusalem, so he chose two men. In Nehemiah 7,Verse 2 we read, “. . . I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem . . .”   At this point, the walls are up, the doors are hung, and now, Nehemiah needs someone to help him lead the city government and its people. Whom do you look for?  You would look for a person with experience.  That makes sense.  You would look for someone who has the stature and bearing that people

automatically follow.  If you are looking for someone to command, you need someone who knows how to be a commander, right?   Wrong.  Notice the two qualities Nehemiah was looking for, in verse 2b . . .

“. . . For he was a faithful man and feared God more than many.”

The Hebrew word, translated “feared,” comes from “yare,” which means “to reverence or to honor.”

What a great lesson for the church and any other missionary enterprise.  We tend to follow the world’s leading in looking for people to fill the positions, appointments, and ministries.  We look for people who tend to be experienced, who look good on the outside, who can communicate and articulate the party line, and who have a natural bearing about them that draws attention to their winsome personalities and natural abilities.

Notice that the two qualities Nehemiah mentioned had nothing to do with what you could see?  They were inner qualities of dependability and reverence for God.

Another truth seen in this list of names and numbers is . . .

2. Registering – Citizens And Priests.

The next part of chapter 7 finds Nehemiah registering the citizens.  They were identified by family, clan, or tribe, and they were counted.  Notice just a few of them in verses 8 through 12, “The sons of Parosh, 2,172; the sons of Shephatiah, 372; the sons of Arah, 652; the sons of Pahath-moab of the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,818; the sons of Elam, 1,254.”   Why count them so carefully?  

They were counted by God,

Because they counted to God.

If there was ever anyone interested in the credits, anyone who read the credits – in fact, He is the original author of credits – it is God Himself.

In verse 39, the priests are accounted for and counted.  They had to prove their lineage to Aaron or they would not be allowed to serve in the temple.  In fact, look at verse 61 and then at verse 64, “And these were they who came up from Telmelah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses or their descendants, whether they were of Israel . . . These searched among their ancestral registration, but it could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood.” We also see that the people were excluded from living inside the city, if they could not trace their family heritage back to pre-dispersion Jewish people.  The priests were excluded from serving in the temple if they could not prove their ancestry.

God had a standard for owning land within the city of Jerusalem and for serving within the temple.  You had to have Jewish blood flowing through your veins – and you had to have written proof of your genealogy.  Without it, you could not live in Jerusalem and you could not serve the Lord in the temple.

When we think about that, what right do we have of ever living within the New Jerusalem?  The book of Revelation tells us that only those redeemed by Jesus Christ will be able to dwell in the Holy City of heaven.  Will you be able to trace your lineage back to the family of God?  Are you a part of the family of God?  You might ask, “How do I become a part of God’s family?”  First you have to understand that you are not.  Jesus Christ, as recorded in Matthew, chapter 7, verses 22 through 23, said, “Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you . . .”

The pressing question in Nehemiah, chapters 7 and 11, was, “Were they related to Israel?  Could they prove their blood relationship to the nation of Jews, the people of the God?”  The pressing question in the last day of human history, as we know it, will be, “What have you done with Jesus?  Have you accepted His gift of eternal life that He purchased for you on the cross?”  God is keeping a list of names.  It is called the Lamb’s Book of life.  In the book of Revelation, chapter 20, verse 15, it tells us, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  You might ask, “How can I get my name registered in the family of God?”  The book of John, chapter 1, verses 12 through 13, gives the answer, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God” . . . “who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  When you receive Him, then you are born again into the family of God.

A third truth seen in this list of names and numbers is . . .

3. Donating – Some Who Gave.

In verses 70-71, we find the people making donations, “And some from among the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work. . . . And some of the heads of fathers’ households gave into the treasury of the work . . .”   I think the saddest word in chapter 7 is the word “some.”  It appears two times – once in verse 70 and once in verse 71.  It ought to read “all.”  You may have noted the problem of chapter 7, verse 4, which says, “Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built.”  There is this big city with finished walls, but hardly any people on the inside!  

The problem was solved in two ways . . . which are the fourth and fifth truths in this list of names and number . . .

4. Drafting – One Out Of Every Ten.

There was a draft. In chapter 11, verse 1, where we read, “Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities.”   About a million people lived around Jerusalem.  About 100,000 of them were drafted to come and live within the city walls. 

Now I am sure, as with any draft, there were some draft dodgers hiding out in the hills. But, at least here, I would imagine that most of them moved their families and their belongings to Jerusalem.

5. Volunteering – Noble Ones.

There is a second group of people also.  Verse 2 tells us, “And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.”  The Hebrew word for “volunteer” is an absolutely wonderful word.  It is the word “nadab,” and it means, “to be impelled by an inner urge to stand, to be compelled to be courageous.”  It can be translated to read, “to be noble.”  They stepped forward and said, “We will leave our countryside. We will uproot our families.  We will leave our homes and relatives.  We will move to the city of Jerusalem and see to it that the holy city thrives.”  What better word is there to describe them than the word noble?

The final truth in this list of names and numbers is . . .

6. Praying – Thanksgiving.

Among the noble ones was someone known for his praying.  There is a special mention of a man named Mattaniah in verse 17 of chapter 11, “And Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer . . .”  I love this entry in the long line of credits.  Who was he?  We do not really know.  What did Mattaniah do?  He was just the one who started the prayer.  He was the Levite who stood up at the appropriate time and began the prayer of thanksgiving. The only time he is ever mentioned in the Bible, this noble man is praying.

Let us tie our thoughts together with two final principles of application . . .

1. Most Of The Noble Things You Do Will Never Be Recognized On Earth.

In fact, there may be those who notice but do not appreciate what they do see you doing.  One pastor, from Lubbock, Texas, told of a funny story that illustrates my point.

For twenty-five years he held services at a nursing home.  When he began holding these meetings, as a young pastor, he noticed that one of the regulars, who came, would bring her television remote with her.  Periodically, while he preached, she would scowl, aim that remote at him, and push the buttons.  This went on for several months or so, until he finally stopped one service, laughed good naturedly, and said to her, “Ma’am, you can’t turn me off with that.”  She just snapped back, without blinking an eye, “I’m not trying to turn you off.  I’m just trying to get a different channel.”  

Frankly, I happen to feel appreciated every Sunday.  So many say, “Hello,” and something kind or encouraging.  I wonder how many people will serve today and not get one “Hello” or an encouraging word?  How many nursery workers will hand a baby over the counter to their parents without ever hearing, “Thank you for volunteering”?  How many Bible Study teachers, musicians, greeters, ushers, etc. will come and do noble things and never be noticed?

The city of Jerusalem flourished because of the gatekeepers and guards, the maintenance workers and grounds keepers, the singers, priests, farmers, shepherds and other contributors to the city who pulled their weight.  The truth is, that ancient city and the church today have a lot in common – neither one came make it one day without noble people who make it happen.

I can tell you, from my own ministry, I am surrounded by a staff and volunteers of highly dedicated men and women who pull it all together.  Every church, missions organization, ministry, and Christian cause is moved forward, not by a few of us who are seen, but by an unseen labor force of staff members, prayer warriors, and volunteers throughout the congregation whose hearts have moved them to do noble things.  These are noble things that will probably never be fully calculated and rewarded on earth.

That leads me to my second point of application that is especially designed for everyone who serves someone else.

2.   None Of The Noble Things You Do On Earth Will Go Unrecognized By God In Heaven. 

The writer of Hebrews addressed this when he wrote, in chapter 6, verse 10, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work . . . in having ministered . . . to the saints.”  People forget; people do not say, “Thank you;” people overlook you, but God never will.  He always reads the credits.  Better yet, He is in the process, at this very moment, of writing them.

So, let us roll the credits and read of noble ones who . . .

  • Change the diapers and sweep those floors;
  • Answer the telephones and mow the grass and pull the weeds;
  • Arrange meetings and teach the Bible lessons;
  • Prepare the children’s games and “juice up” the sound board;
  • Clean the bathrooms and count the offering;
  • Practice the music and type the letters;
  • Pray through that list and visit those guests;
  • Cook the meals and teach the class;
  • Dust the furniture and greet those who come through the door;
  • translate the sermon and duplicate the tapes;
  • Park the cars and get the coffee made;
  • Disciple that teenager and lead a child to the water fountain;
  • Design the brochures and stuff the Communiqués with inserts;
  • Crawl on the floor with toddlers and set up chairs in the classroom;
  • Wash and dry the nursery linen and clean the table and dishes after a church activity;
  • Recruit even more volunteers or thank those who do;
  • Plan class activities and counsel at summer camp;
  • Listen to memory verses and stack the tables and chairs;
  • Unload all the equipment and then load it back up again, only to be unloaded and then loaded up again, and again, and again.

Know, as you do it all, that it is all noble work.  It is noble work for the people and ministry of Christ that may go unrecognized on earth, but, one day, will be rewarded in heaven.

The question is, “Who are you doing it for anyway?”  If it is for the attention of people, forget it, they will never sit still long enough to read the credits.  If it is for the glory and pleasure of God, take heart, He has not overlooked even one noble deed!  It was said of Jerusalem, in the days of Nehemiah, that some gave of themselves.  Let it be said of us, that we all gave of ourselves, that all of us were noble sons and daughters 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.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 6:14-19 – Principles And Practices That Will Help Us Finish Well

Grace For The Journey

  We continue our look into Nehemiah chapter 6.  In today’s verses, we will discover further principles that will help us as we move on in our faith walk to finish in a way that further God’s kingdom and bring honor and glory to Him.  It will be a rewarding and beneficial study.

Perhaps you were first attracted to the idea of becoming a disciple of Jesus because you thought that was the road to an easier life.  You were led to believe that if you just prayed a certain prayer to Jesus, that would keep me out of hell one day when I died.  That sounded like a pretty good idea to you at the time so you went ahead and prayed that prayer.  For others, perhaps you were enticed by the idea that becoming a Christian was your ticket to financial prosperity or to a blessed life.  There is certainly no shortage of people teaching that idea in our culture today.  Some of you were promised, perhaps by some well-meaning person who really did have your best interests at heart, that if you committed your life to Jesus, all your problems would go away.  But, if you have been a follower of Jesus for any time at all, I am pretty sure that you have learned that our life as a follower of Jesus is not always easy.  As a matter of fact, it is a battle from beginning to end.

That is certainly what Nehemiah discovered when he embarked on his endeavor to lead the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.  He prayed, he planned, and he handled opposition from without and conflict from within.  But more than anything, Nehemiah was successful because he finished well.  He persisted in spite of all these obstacles.  The further we get into the book of Nehemiah, the more I am convinced . . .

The reason he was able to do that

Is that he understood that the struggle

He faced was not just a physical struggle,

It was primarily a spiritual one.

The Bible warns us that we also face that same kind of spiritual battle.  It says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  These same invisible enemies that confront us daily in our walk with Jesus were also present in the book of Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago.  As we study the book of Nehemiah . . .

We are given a glimpse into the tactics

That these powerful forces employ

In their effort to keep us from finishing

The work that God has given us to do.

Even more importantly . . .

We see how we can respond effectively

To those attacks so that,

Like Nehemiah,

We might finish well.

We will also see that Satan uses two main tactics in that battle. The purpose of both of these tactics is to . . .

Distract us from doing what we need to do

In order to persevere in our journey to

Become mature disciples of Jesus:

Those two tactics are . . .

• Fear.  

Fear is the opposite of faith.  Satan knows that if he can get us to take our eyes off of God, he can cause us to be hindered in our spiritual walk by our fear.  That is why Peter compared Satan to a roaring lion who is seeking to devour us in 1 Peter 5:8, “Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

• Deception.

If Satan cannot get us to fear him, then he will try to deceive us.  And no wonder, for the Bible tells us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).  Today we will see Nehemiah’s enemies, who are unknowingly being used by Satan to attempt to thwart the work of God, use both of these tactics as they attempt to keep Nehemiah and his fellow Jews from finishing the work that is almost complete.

In chapter 5, Nehemiah had just handled some internal conflict within the Jewish community that threatened to keep the people from completing the task God had given to them.  Once Nehemiah led the people to repent and make restitution, the work continued.  Now in chapter 6, we find that work is almost complete.  Because Nehemiah’s enemies sense they have one last chance to keep the people from finishing that work, they use fear and deception to make one final attempt to stop the rebuilding project. 

Today, after we review verses 1-13, we will discover in verses 14-19 how Nehemiah deals with fear and deceit in order to finish well.  Then we will apply what we learn to our own walk with Jesus.  

First, let’s review the verse we looked at on Monday. 

The wall itself is now complete and the only remaining task is to set the doors in the gates.  Sensing they have only a small window of opportunity left to stop Nehemiah and his fellow Jews, Sanballat and Geshem change their tactics.  You will notice that they have now focused on Nehemiah personally rather than the Jewish people as a whole. That is exactly the same method that Satan uses today. If he can’t defeat the entire body, he goes after their leaders.

These enemies invite Nehemiah to meet them in Ono, which was located on the coast, about 25 miles from Jerusalem.  On the surface, it seemed like these adversaries were willing to bury the hatchet.  They wanted to make it appear that they just wanted to get together with Nehemiah for a religious conference to discuss what they had in common. They were trying to use deception to distract Nehemiah from the task God had given him to complete.

But Nehemiah countered that deception with discernment, sensing that Sanballat and Geshem’s motives were to do him harm, not to make peace.  Since Nehemiah did not want to be distracted from the task God had given him, he just said “no” to “Ono.”  But Sanballat and Geshem did not give up easily, so they made the same invitation four times, but Nehemiah refused to give in to their attempts to keep him from completing the task he had started.  So Sanballat and Geshem change tactics once again in their efforts to distract Nehemiah:

Verses 5 through 9 tell us that Sanballat sends an open letter to Nehemiah.  While some commentators suggest that sending an unsealed letter to an official like the governor was an act of public disrespect, the main reason the letter was open was so that its contents would be known to the general public.  In that letter, Sanballat attempts to slander Nehemiah by making a bunch of false claims about Nehemiah’s intentions. This is an attempt to use fear to stop Nehemiah.

That slander begins the way it often does – by reporting what someone else supposedly said.  Sanballat begins by saying “it is reported among the nations …”  That is the same kind of vague accusation that we often face when people will say something like “everyone is saying …” or “a number of people are talking about this …”  Then Sanballat tries to bolster his attacks by claiming that Geshem is also saying the same thing – as if he were a reliable witness.

I love how Nehemiah responds to Sanballat here. He does not waste his time by going into some long defense or by trying to disprove Sanballat’s claims point by point.  He merely denied the accusations in no uncertain terms and then moved on.  He understood that . . .

Dwelling on these false accusations

Would just give them more credibility

And waste his time in the process.

Knowing that these claims might put fear into the people and might even distract him from his God-given task, Nehemiah does exactly what we expect by now – he prays.  He asks God to strengthen his hands so that he will be able to finish well.  But just like Satan is persistent in our lives, these enemies of Nehemiah are not ready to give up yet. They have one last trick up their sleeves.

Verses 10-14 tells us that Tobiah and Sanballat employ Shemaiah in their attempts to stop Nehemiah.  There is some evidence that Shemaiah was a priest or at least a member of a priestly family.  We learn that he was confined to his home, probably a chamber adjoining the Temple.  There are a couple of possible reasons he was confined there.  Perhaps he was secluding himself in an attempt to appear religious, as is frequently the case with those who claim to have some special revelation from God. Or possibly he was attempting to give the impression he feared for his own life in order to give more credibility to what he was going to tell Nehemiah.

What Shemaiah said made a lot of sense logically.  It was not a stretch to believe that there were those who were trying to kill Nehemiah.  He certainly would be safe if he hid in the Temple.  But once again, we see Nehemiah’s enemies are using deception to try and distract him from his task.  And once again, Nehemiah uses discernment to overcome that deception.  He knew that, according to God’s Word, only the priests were allowed in the part of the temple where Shemaiah wanted him to hide.  I am sure he was aware that earlier when Uzziah tried to take the place of the priests and entered the Temple to burn incense to the Lord, God struck him with leprosy.  He knew right away that Shemaiah could not possibly be a prophet of God since he was telling Nehemiah to do something which violated God’s commands. Nehemiah saw right through this scheme and knew that the whole thing was a plot by Sanballat and Tobiah.  He refused once again to be distracted from his God-given task of rebuilding the wall.  And once again, just as we would expect, Nehemiah responds to the entire situation with prayer – Asking God to deal with his enemies rather than trying to take things into his own hands.   

Now let’s look at the rest of these verses in chapter 6. 

Because Nehemiah had confronted the fear and deception with such skill, verses 15-16 tells us He and his fellow Jews were able to finish well.

To be able to complete

The rebuilding of the walls

In just 52 days

Was an amazing feat.

When the people from the surrounding nations saw what had been accomplished in such a short time, they knew that such an achievement could only have been done with God’s help.  Because of that the other nations were in awe and fear of God.

Now that work was done, we would expect Nehemiah’s enemies to finally leave him alone.  But that is not the case.  Verses 17 to 19 tells us, “Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.”

Apparently over the years Tobiah had developed business relationships with some of the Jewish nobles in Jerusalem, relationships that had been facilitated by intermarrying with members of those families.  Tobiah was trying, without success, to use those relationships to use the tactic of fear once again.  So essentially some of these nobles were saying to Nehemiah, “Hey this Tobiah guy is really not a bad guy at all.  He has been good to us and our families.  Why don’t you cut him some slack?”

This may very well be

The most practical and

Important chapter

In the entire Book

Because it is so

Relevant for all of us.

As I mentioned earlier, we are all in a spiritual battle in which we constantly face fear and deception that threaten to keep us from persevering and finishing well.  Nehemiah shows us how we can deal with those tactics of the evil one in an effective manner. Here in this chapter . . .

We find both the overall principles

That ought to guide us in this battle

As well as some very practical practices

In which we can engage in order

To live according to those principles.

Let’s begin with . . .

1) The Principles That Ought To Guide Us In This Battle.

Nehemiah understood how to overcome the two tactics we identified earlier that are the primary ways that Satan tries to keep us from finishing well – fear and deception.

a. I Overcome Fear With Biblical Faith.

Throughout his journey, Nehemiah was constantly confronted by enemies who attempted to instill fear in his life and in the life of his fellow Jews.  But Nehemiah consistently combatted the tendency to be distracted by fear, by responding in faith.  He knew God well enough to trust that since God was calling him to the task of rebuilding the walls that God was going to protect him and provide for him and his people during that project.

b. I Overcome Deception With Biblical Discernment.

Nehemiah’s enemies constantly attempted to stop the work by deceiving Nehemiah and his fellow Jews.  But Nehemiah consistently exercised great discernment that allowed him to see beneath the surface and detect the underlying motives of his enemies.

If faith and discernment are the primary tools we need to develop in order to stand firm against the schemes of the evil one, exactly how do we do that?  We can answer that question by looking at several consistent practices that were a part of Nehemiah’s life and should be a part of ours as well.

2) The Practices That Help Us Develop Both Faith And Discernment In Our Lives.

a. Practice Perspective.

Nehemiah was able to withstand the attacks from his enemies because he had the proper perspective on the work he was doing.  He knew he was leading more than just a building project.  This was a God-given task that God was using to rebuild His people even more than He was using it to rebuild the walls.  Because he understood that he was doing God’s work and not just his own work, he was able to ignore the distractions which threatened to keep him from finishing this project.

We need to remember that God has also called every one of us to a great task.  That is true whether you are a new believer or whether you have been a follower of Jesus for many years.  God has called us to live our lives to the very end in a way that will cause people to look at our lives and see that God is at work and cause them to esteem, praise, and properly fear God.

We have been called to live a life

That is different from the world around us,

Not only because that is what

Is best for us personally

But because through us

God wants to show

The people around us

That there is hope

In the midst of a world

Where there often

Seems to be no hope.

Like Nehemiah we need to remember that this life we live is more than just about us.  It is about furthering God’s kingdom right here and now and for eternity.

Like Nehemiah we also need to remember that there is no distinction between the “secular” and the “spiritual” in our lives.  What Nehemiah did while building the walls was just as much worship as we will see in Nehemiah 8 when the people come together for a corporate gathering of worshippers.  

Everything we do in our lives

Is part of this great task to which

God has called all of us.

b. Practice Responding With Biblical Principles.

We see evidence time after time that Nehemiah was intimately familiar with God’s Word.  In chapter 1, he recalled God’s promises to Moses.  In chapter 5 we saw that he was familiar with the God’s laws regarding lending and charging interest.  In chapter 6, we see he was familiar with God’s commands concerning the Temple.  Throughout the book, Nehemiah consistently demonstrates his knowledge of God and His character.

God’s Word is absolutely indispensable

To developing both faith.

A fact that is confirmed by the Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance (The solid, unshakable response to truth) of things hoped for, the evidence (realization, proof, conviction)  of things no seen.”  How do we develop that assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen?  

By getting to know

God in His Word.

As we read the Bible and see how God is faithful to do what He has promised over and over throughout history, our faith is strengthened.  We also see in the Bible the accounts of those who had faith in God and how God enabled them to overcome the obstacles in their lives because of that faith.  Hebrews 11 is a great summary of the faith of many of those people.  Our faith is strengthened as we read and consider how God worked in their lives.

God’s Word is also

The most important thing

We can do

To develop discernment:

The Bible says in Hebrews 5:12-14, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Notice here that discernment is developed as we move from milk – a very basic understanding of the Bible – to solid food – a more mature understanding of God’s Word that only comes from constantly partaking of that word and applying it in our lives on a consistent basis.

c. Practice Prayer.

I probably do not need to say a lot here other than to remind us that Nehemiah consistently engaged in prayer.  As we saw back in chapter 1, when he prays . . .

It is not to get something from God,

But rather to seek God’s heart.

That kind of prayer is essential in developing both our faith and our discernment. 

It is also important to note here that Nehemiah does not spend a whole lot of time defending himself or trying to rebut his enemies.  Instead, he entrusts their judgment to God through his prayers.  I cannot help but think about how much time we waste and how distracted we get from our God-given tasks trying to defend ourselves against those who slander us and make false accusations against us.  Although there are obviously times when we must directly refute false allegations, I think in many cases we would be wise to follow Nehemiah’s example and just move on and let God deal with those people.

d. Practice Participation.

We do not need to spend a lot of time here either since we have covered this pretty well in the past few weeks.  Nehemiah’s faith and discernment were not developed in isolation.  As he participated in the life of the faith community there in Jerusalem, his interaction with others in that community were an indispensable element in his spiritual development.

e. Practice Persistence.

Like Nehemiah, we face an enemy who will not give up easily.  When one form of attack failed to deter Nehemiah, Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem just changed tactics over and over, seeking to find an area where Nehemiah might be vulnerable.  But Nehemiah was even more persistent than his enemies.  

And over time as he saw how God

Was at work in his life protecting him

From those enemies, Nehemiah’s faith

Was strengthened even more.  

As the attacks of the enemies

Got more and more deceptive,

Nehemiah’s ability to discern

Their motives got even sharper.

If we are going to combat the tactics of fear and deceit with faith and discernment, then we, too, must persevere and not give up.  Every time we do that, our faith and our discernment are developed in a way that they become even more effective tools for us as we take our stand against the evil one.

Becoming a mature disciple of Jesus is not easy because we are in a spiritual battle in which our powerful enemy attempts to keep us from finishing well.  The good news is that if you have committed your life to Jesus, then the One who has already defeated our enemy lives within you.  The Bible says in 1 John 4:4, “You are of God, littler children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  And as we develop our faith and our discernment through practicing perspective, partaking, prayer, participation, and persistence, we get to experience the victory that is already ours in Jesus!

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.”

Rebuilding: Nehemiah 6:1-14 – Not Fearful, But Faithful

Grace For The Journey

In our study of the book of Nehemiah, we have observed the Devil, the Adversary, the roaring Lion, the Liar, and the Father of Lies attempt to stop Nehemiah from rebuilding the city of God. The attacks have come from the outside in the form of ridicule, fear, and discouragement. The problems have come from the inside with division, anger, and betrayal.  Now, in chapter 6, Satan pulls out all the stops and launches one attack after another. They are painful, heart wrenching, and discouraging to Nehemiah. The attacks will come from both outsiders and insiders.  It will be the loneliest and most fearful moments that Nehemiah will encounter.

There is one piece of armor that seems to get less attention than the others and yet, it is this piece, above all others, that protects Nehemiah, and every follower of God, against the assault of the enemy.  

It is that piece of armor,

For the New Testament believer,

Called the helmet of salvation.

The helmet protects

The mind of the believer.

Someone has pointed out that there are three areas in the believer’s life that Satan attacks regularly and that each of the three areas relate directly to our relationship to the three Persons of the Godhead . . .  

  • Our relationship with God the Father gives us a sense of belonging. We are sons and daughters of His family and we are secure in our Father-child relationship.
  • Our union with Christ, the Son of God, gives us our true sense of worth. In other words, God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins. With our redemption accomplished, we actually become joint heirs with Jesus Christ. This shows us our incredible worth and value to God.
  • The Holy Spirit’s indwelling empowers us to live for Jesus Christ. We are made equal to every task.  This gives us our competence to fulfill whatever God designs for us to do. 

Our belonging, our worth, and our competency are directly related to our union with God.  Satan loves nothing more than to attack us on those three fronts . . .  

  • He attacks our sense of security or belonging.
  • He attacks our sense of worth, or value, to God and the church.
  • He attacks our sense of competency, so that we are paralyzed by doubt and fear.

The piece of armor that

Combats and protects

Is the helmet of salvation.

Reflecting, remembering, and acknowledging the biblical truth of our redemption and our relationship with each Person of the Godhead protects our minds against these lures of Satan.

Nehemiah will face his most difficult battles because . . .

They are primarily battles that

Will require biblical thinking.  

It will require that emotions and will

Be saturated by what he already

Knows is true about who

God is and who he is.

It will be his toughest battle yet.

As we move through our study in Nehemiah chapter 6 today we will see Satan’s final to derail God’s work among the people.  Let’s notice what Satan attempts to do . . .

1. Satan’s First Attempt Was To Trick Nehemiah.

Verses 1 through 4 say, “Now it came about when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab, and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, that Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, ‘Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.’ But they were planning to harm me.  So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.  Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?’  They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way.”  It is important to notice the timing of this request.  Verse 1 tells us that the walls are finished, but the gates have not been hung.  It is the last possible moment for the enemy to stop the work from being completed.  It is also the best time for Nehemiah to feel somewhat confident that the project is going to actually be completed.  The request from his enemies comes in the form of a polite invitation to begin dialoguing together

Ono happened to be an oasis – a retreat location for the wealthy.  It had fertile land with trees and water.  Four times they asked if he wanted an all-expense paid vacation at the Ono Resort and Conference Center.  Four times Nehemiah said the same thing, “No. No, to Ono.”  Nehemiah ran the risk of looking cold and heartless.  While he discerned that they were trying to trick him, no one else realized that.  It was an attempt to create confusion.  On the surface, it looked like they wanted to make amends, talk it over, and reach an agreement.  They have been doing that in the Middle East for centuries now. But underneath, as Nehemiah writes in his diary, in verse 2b, “. . . But they were planning to harm me.”

The truth was, it was a pseudo-peaceful sounding invitation, but the bottom line was deceit.  For reasons known only to God, Nehemiah was able to discern that this was a trap.   His answer, four times, was, “No. No. No. No.”  That is a wonderful word to learn how to say.  You should say, “No,” more often to your children. You need to say, “No,” to television commercials. You need to say, “No,” to temptation.? 

Satan’s second attempt was an attempt . . .

2. Create A Scandal.

Verses 5 through 7 state, “Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand.  In it was written, ‘It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.’”  If they cannot trick Nehemiah, they will seek to discredit him.  They started a rumor, and sent it in a letter, telling everyone that Nehemiah wanted to rebuild Jerusalem just so he can sit on the throne and be the king.  This was a bombshell of a letter.  This rumor that could destroy the credibility of Nehemiah.  And that was the point, that was their hope.

Can you imagine how this news spread through the camp?  Frankly, the more interesting the gossip, the more likely it is to be untrue; and yet, the faster it will travel.  There is something about all of us that causes us to believe things that are whispered to us.  Any sentence that begins with the words, “Hey, have you heard?” is a sure way of getting the full attention of the other person.  And, once it is out, it is out.  Many times, the damage is irretrievable. Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to un-ring a bell.  It is no wonder that of the seven things we are told in the book of Proverbs that God hates, three of them have to do with the tongue.

My friend, if you have ever been gossiped about or rumored about, you can learn a lot from Nehemiah’s response.  We are given that, starting with verse 8, “Then I sent a message to him saying, ‘Such things are you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.’”  That is it. There was no self-defense, no long letter in return, no self-vindication.  There was just simply, “It’s not true. You’ve made it up.”

Notice how Nehemiah stays focused on the real issue?  Verse 9 continues his response, “For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.’”  Unfortunately, the gossip spread, and many in Jerusalem become suspicious of Nehemiah.  In fact, later in this chapter, you discover that the leaders of the tribe of Judah believed the rumor and added to the discrediting of Nehemiah.

There is no insurance policy for word of mouth.  This so hurt Nehemiah that he did not pray about the invitation to come to the resort town of Ono.  He did not pray when they threatened, in the previous chapter, to fight him with swords and spears.  But, after being accused of having deceitful motives and proud ambitions, he prays in verse 9b, “. . . But now, O God, strengthen my hands. “O God, strengthen my hands!”

Nehemiah, with his tough exterior and “nothing is too big to tackle” attitude, is deeply hurt.  He writes here in his journal, “O God, strengthen my hands.”  Someone wrote about the devastation and destruction gossip can bring into a person’s life, “I have no respect for justice.  I maim without killing, I break hearts and ruin lives. I am cunning and malicious and gather strength the older I am alive.  The more I am quoted, the more I am believed.  My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me, because I have no name and no face.  To track me down is impossible.  The harder you try, the more elusive I become. I topple governments and wreck friendships.  I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights and heartaches.  I make innocent people cry in their pillows.  Even my name hisses.  I am called Gossip.  I make headlines and headaches.  I am nobody’s friend.”

How do we protect our church, our families, and our work ethic from the erosion brought about by the tongue?  Alan Redpath, who once pastored the large Moody Church in Chicago, wrote how he encouraged the members of his church, during a particularly stressful time in their church history.  He counseled them to subscribe to a simple formula before speaking.  He wanted them to think before speaking, so he gave them an acrostic – T.H.I.N.K.

T – Is it true?

H – Is it helpful?

I – Is it inspirational?

N – Is it necessary?

K – Is it kind?

If it does not pass the T.H.I.N.K. test, it is not to be spoken to another person. That is good advice for the church, but it is good advice for life.  If you are running down your coworkers or your boss, you are wrong.  As a believer, you have no business working with that attitude. The T.H.I.N.K. test will revolutionize your work environment, and it just may revolutionize your home and your church environment as well.  

The third attempt was an attempt . . .

3. To Create Compromise.

Since Satan cannot trick him or discredit him, he now tries to tempt him to sin.  Verse 10 says, “And when I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, he said, ‘Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.’”  It sounded good – coming from a priest.  In fact, he was a prophet and a priest.  The English translation obscures the fact that this is in the form of a prophecy, as if it came from God.  Imagine somebody telling you, “Listen, I got word that some of your enemies are coming over some night and they are going to kill you.  You’d better hide.”  Imagine trying to sleep after hearing that.  You would hear every noise, every dog bark, and every rustle of the bushes.   This priest says to Nehemiah, “Come over to the temple and let’s hide out together in the Holy Place.”

But Nehemiah saw through this phony prophecy, as we are told in verses 11 through 13, “But I said, ‘Should a man like me flee?  And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life?  I will not go in.’  Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.  He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me.” 

  • Was it sin for Nehemiah to be afraid?  No.  
  • Was it sin for Nehemiah to hide during the night?  No!

If you look closely, you will notice that Shemaiah proposed that they hide in the Holy Place – where only priests could enter.  To go in there, even though it would mean being rescued from assassins, would violate the Law of God.  We see the great consecration and courage of Nehemiah here.  He would rather lose his life than sin.  How much sin will you allow in your life before you become even a little bit bothered? Here is a man who would rather risk his life than risk losing the pleasure of God on his life.

These verses provide great insight as to how to determine good counsel from bad.  They give us three things to ask ourselves:

• Does the counsel violate your character?

• Does the counsel contradict Scripture?

• Does the counsel hinder your commitment?

Satan’s fourth attempt was an attempt . . .

To Create Division.

If he cannot trick him, or discredit him, or tempt him, he will seek to frighten him into quitting.  Verses 17 through 19 state, “Also in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.”  I personally could not take a week of this, could you?  But Nehemiah endured it for months and even years!  Tobiah was the enemy of God’s work, but here you have prophets, a prophetess, and leaders in Judah who were constantly telling Nehemiah what a great man Tobiah was, as we are told in verse 19.  In other words, the people were saying that Nehemiah needed to get over his problem with Tobiah.  They believe he was really doing them all a favor.  They thought they needed him around!

Yet, all the while, according to the last part of verse 19, Tobiah is sending letters to Nehemiah trying to scare him away.  You could circle a word that appears throughout chapter 6 – the word “frighten.”  They constantly tried to frighten Nehemiah into quitting. But he just would not quit.

Verses 15 and 16 say, “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And it came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”  Can you imagine any sweeter words than these?  The wall is finished: Put away your tools, take down the scaffolding, swing the massive gates shut, and bolt them tight – We are finished!

Application:

When believers resist the attempts of Satan and keep on building, two things eventually happen . . .

1. God’s Work Reaches Completion.

Think about it – for ninety years they had not been able to do it.  But this time, the people had their hearts in the work and had a leader who would not quit.  I can only imagine the celebration as the nations around them realized that all their plotting, planning, intimidating, and rumor mongering had ultimately failed.

2. God’s Name Receives The Glory.

Look back at verse 16 again, “And it happened, when all our enemies heart of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, they were very disheartened in their own eyes” Why?  “For they perceived that this work was done by our God.”

Was it because of Nehemiah’s leadership?  Was it because the people were skilled at building?  Was it because conditions were favorable and the king of Persia had provided lumber for the gates?  NO! 

It was because of God!

Nehemiah trusted God to do the work.  Nehemiah leans on the providence of God, the God who had turned the heart of King Artaxerxes such that he would be favorable to Nehemiah’s plan.  Nehemiah trusts God to work in such a way as to turn the enemies’ plans upon themselves! 

These unbelievers knew that someone supernatural had to have been involved in order for the walls to have been rebuilt in just fifty-two days.  What a way to live.  It should be an encouragement to us to stay at the hard labor of building families, marriages, homes, and a church, so that those around us can only explain us in terms of God’s involvement.  That is vindication enough!   God is glorified and His cause advanced.  

Is it any wonder then, that Satan battles whatever God builds?  Is it any surprise then, that there are no opportunities for the kingdom of heaven without opposition from the kingdom of hell?  Expect it.  Be alert to it.  As the Bible says in Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

So, keep building the walls of your character, your marriage, your personal walk with Christ, your friendships, your relationships, and your testimony to unbelievers and know, all the while, that the Satan will continually drop the lures into the waters of your life.

Dudley Tyng was a well-known speaker in the 1800s.  He was a young man who lived on a farm. In 1858, he had just finished speaking to five thousand young men at the Young Men’s Christian Association, or the YMCA, as we know it today.  After he preached, one thousand of the young men accepted the free gift of salvation.  That day, he returned to his farm and decided to go to the barn to watch the men shelling corn.  He got a little too close to the machine and his jacket was caught.  His arm was pulled into the grinding gears of that machine and was lacerated beyond repair.  In a few hours, he would die.  Medicine was so primitive at that time, and the loss of blood was too great.  His father was there and reminded Dudley that thousands of people were gathering to hear him preach again that evening.  What did he want said to them? Dudley Tyng strained to get the words out of his failing lips, and said, “Tell the people to stand up for Jesus.”   That night, the assembly hall was packed with people expecting to hear Dudley preach.  But, instead of hearing him preach, they learned of his accident and death.  Then, they were given the words of his final message.  George Duffield heard those last words and sat down and composed a poem.  The poem was put to music and we know the hymn as . . .

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross;

Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss;

From victory unto victory His army shall he lead,

Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;

The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own;

Put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;

Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

Stand up stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long;

This day the noise of battle, the next, the victor’s song;

To him that overcometh, a crown of life shall be;

He with the King of glory shall reign eternally.

In other words, just keep building and battling.  Let the finished walls answer the Devil. Build to the glory and honor of God, our faithful Father and our sovereign Lord!

1) Who Are The “Sanballats” Trying To Hinder You?  

There are some who delight in construction

And there are some who delight in destruction.

Always remember that our enemy, the devil, will do all he can to hinder you.  He will do all he can to get you to “come down from the wall” of your work for the Lord.  He will try to instill fear in your life.  Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Beware of the Sanballats who try to hinder your work of sharing the Gospel this week, inviting a neighbor to join you for worship, walking in holiness, and living for Jesus in purity and obedience.

2) How Does Your Knowledge Of The Bible Prepare You For Deception?

Nehemiah knew that Shemaiah was not sent from God because Nehemiah knew his Bible.  He knew the Scriptures warned against going into the temple when you are not a priest.  He knew the Scriptures warned against false prophets so he was not deceived by the enemy to compromise his faith.  

Jesus, Paul, and John all promised that false prophets would come (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29-31; 1 John 4:1).  There are false prophets in every age.  We need to know the Word to counter the false teachings that may hinder us and deceive us.

Someone gives you advice that goes against the Bible, do not listen to it!  That person is of Satan and does not speak for God.  The only way you can know whether someone is giving counsel that goes against the Bible is to know the Bible!

God will guide you if you read His Word.  Want to know God’s will for your life?  75% of God’s will for your life is already revealed to you in the Bible.  Read it daily.  

3) What Distractions Are Keeping You From God’s Work And A Growing Relationship With Jesus Christ?  How Will You Respond To These Distractions? 

Nehemiah was “doing a great work.” It was not great in the eyes of the world.  The world would have valued Nehemiah’s role as the Persian King’s cupbearer as far more significant, a far greater work.  Nehemiah’s work was greater because it involved more than merely moving stone and mortar.  He was not just building a wall, he was building for the name of the Lord, using his gifts and talents in service to the Lord, building the kingdom of God.  He was doing a great work in your living for the Lord.  Nehemiah’s work would live on long after he was gone.    

What about you?  The work you do this week, the work for the Lord is a great work: sharing the Gospel, encouraging a brother or sister in Christ, praying with a hurting friend, giving financially through your tithe to the church, or giving a special gift to the homeless and downtrodden you meet.  That is a great work.  It is always about God’s name.  God’s name is at stake each week in our lives.  We bear the name of Christ.  We want to live in such a way as we adorn the Gospel, that people are attracted to Christ because of our love for them.  

Beware the enemy of distraction!  Beware the multitude of Sanballats, Tobiahs, and Geshems that would distract you from the work in order somehow to bring shame upon the name of Christ.  Distractions are everywhere.  

  • Someone tempts you to follow them into sin you respond, “I’m doing a great work and cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3).
  • Someone tries to gossip with you about another Christian or tries to pull you into their hatred for another church member.  You say, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down.”

When past failures distract you from your serving the Lord today, do not quit.  Some of you may say, “Well, I goofed up.”  Nehemiah said, “O No,” but I said, “O Yes.”  I went down “to the plain of Ono” and made a mess of my life.  Well, be encouraged!  You arere not alone!  We have all sinned and have gone down to Ono a time or two.  It is never too late for a new beginning.  Turn to the Lord.  Trust in Him.

When the devil whispers in your ear that you will never make it, that you are all washed up, that forgiveness applies to everyone else except you, you go to Jesus and you stand on the solid rock of Christ!  You tell the devil, “My hope is build on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness!”  Go forward not fearful, but faithful!

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.”

Rebuilding: Nehemiah 5:14-19 – A God-First Life

Grace For The Journey

  As we have moved through the opening chapters of Nehemiah we have seen the people face derision, discouragement, danger, and division.  Wednesday we read about that division.  The haves and the have nots.  The unrighteous rich oppressing the righteous poor.  Unrighteous rich nobles and rulers among the people exploiting and oppressing the poor.  Chapter 5 reads like a modern-day account of corporate greed – dirty money, burdensome mortgages, exploitation, high interest rates, taxes, financial bondage, and insufferable debt.

We left off at verse 13 and we note a contrast: Verse 14 to the end of the chapter, the generosity of Nehemiah with the oppression of verses 1-13. 

Nehemiah is an example

Of the righteous rich

Who use their wealth wisely.

This is a reflection of Nehemiah.  He has written in his journal or memoirs.  These verses recall the 12 years Nehemiah served as governor of the people.  We are not sure exactly how Nehemiah became governor, but he was likely appointed governor by King Artaxerxes in Susa and, unlike previous governors who oppressed the poor, Nehemiah is a good governor who is generous to the poor. 

We will not two basic truths that will help lead us to live a God-first life . . .

1) Nehemiah Was An Example Before The People!

Nehemiah lived His faith.  As he did, two things became very clear . . .

a. He Lived In An Unselfish Way Before The People.

The rest of the chapter gives us Nehemiah’s personal example of unselfish service before the people.  Verses 14 through 16 state, “Moreover, from the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, for twelve years, neither I nor my kinsmen have eaten the governor’s food allowance.  But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God.  And I also applied myself to the work on this wall; we did not buy any land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work.”

Do you get the picture here?  Nehemiah was no ordinary ruler who lived off the labor of his subjects or took advantage of his position.  He had every right to kick back in some ivory palace.

That is the way our culture is –

Success is revealed by

How many people serve you.

So, take advantage of the perks, if you have them coming.  Remember, life revolves around the theme, “Me, myself, and I”. 

Verse 16 makes it clear that Nehemiah is mixing mortar and hauling rock, right along with the rest of them. That was rare.  Before the people, Nehemiah unselfishly served.  Unselfish people are like lighthouses – they do not blow any horns, they just shine.

The second thing that becomes clear is that Nehemiah

b. Lived His Faith Before the Lord In An Unwavering Way.

This is more important than what he did before the people, because . . .

His living before the Lord

In an unwavering way

Was the only possible way

He could be unselfish.

Verse 19, “Remember me, O my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.”   

Worship seeks the pleasure of God over all else.

Selfish people want to be noticed by people.  Nehemiah wanted to be noticed only by God.  Notice that Nehemiah did not say, “Oh God, make those people around me appreciate my work.” Or, “Lord, make my family respect my decision to live for you.” Or, “God, make my friends and coworkers admire the decision I have made to walk a holy life for Your glory.”  No. He said, “Oh my God, if you remember what I am doing in obedience to You, that is enough for me.”

Dr. Campbell, former president of Dallas Seminary, told the story of a young man who once studied violin under a world-renowned master.  Eventually, the time came for his debut.  The concert hall was filled with expectant observers and the media.  The performing arts center was packed.  Following each selection, despite the cheers of the crowd, the young man seemed dissatisfied.  Even after the last number, when the shouts of bravo were the loudest, the talented violinist stood looking toward the balcony. Finally, his teacher smiled and nodded in approval.  Immediately, the young man relaxed and beamed with happiness.  

The applause of the crowd

Had meant nothing to him

Compared to the approval

Of his master teacher.

Oh, if we would learn to live like Nehemiah – to yearn for the Lord’s approval above anything else, then, the selfish desires of earth would fade and lose their appeal.  And, Satan would be defeated once again.

Some years ago, I had a lightweight jacket with a zipper that always came undone.  I would zip that thing up only to discover later that the zipper was slowly coming undone from the bottom up.  That happened a lot because it was easy to throw it on quickly, zip it up, and rush out of the house without it actually being zipped up correctly.  In fact, I would not have ever known there was even a problem until later when looked at it carefully.  I saw that the zipper’s first and second teeth were not correctly in place the whole thing would eventually come apart.  Only when I took that jacket and carefully ensured that the first and second teeth were carefully in place could I be sure that all the remaining teeth of the jacket would stay together.

A Pharisee once approached Jesus and asked Him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”  Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40).  Jesus taught that if a person loves vertically and horizontally he or she would, in essence, live according to God’s will and way.  Like the first two teeth of a zipper, get those to right and everything else will follow, everything else will be secure and hold together.

Nehemiah lived that way, he lived a God-first life, he loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind – God first – and his neighbor as himself.  Nehemiah lived a “God-First Life.”   As we study these verse today, we will see the distinguishing marks of a God-First life.  I have grouped the verses under three headings . . . 

1. Integrity – Verses 14-16.

It is often said that . . .

Integrity is who you are

When no one is looking.

It is easy to have integrity when we are aware of the presence of others.  We are model Christians when others are watching.  But who are you when you are all alone?  Integrity is who you are when no one’s looking: Holiness . . . Purity . . . Honesty.

Verse 14 says, “Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year(that is 445-433 BC)of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions.”  Nehemiah was governor and led God’s people there in Judah for 12 years and he says “Neither I nor my brothers – his close officials – ate the governor’s provisions.”  The governor’s provisions refer to a generous food allowance available to them that was raised by taxing the people of the land.  We have members in Congress who seem to think that we can just give away things as though there is an endless supply.  Free this, free that.  They govern with no thought of where that revenue must come from.  There is a cost, an expense, behind those things that the people of the country must pay.   Nehemiah knows that if he took “the governor’s provisions” it would hurt the local people financially.  There was a cost involved and they would be hurt.  As a matter of integrity, he denies himself of this right – unlike previous governors as the verse indicates, “But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on(taxed!)the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver(as a daily ration). Yes, even their servants bore rule over (tyrannized!) the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.”

Unlike “the former governors who were before” him, Nehemiah chose not to tax, take from, or tyrannize the people.  He regarded them as equal brothers and sisters and worked right alongside them.

President Harry Truman once joked that . . .

Leaders are people

Who can get others to do

What they do not want to do –

And make them like doing it!

Nehemiah was a God-first leader.  He loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbor as himself.   This caused him to be a servant-leader above all else.

Verse 16 states, “Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land.  All my servants were gathered there for the work.”  Nehemiah did not think of himself more highly than he ought (Romans 12:3) but served right alongside others.   Though he could have profited by buying up land during the rebuilding of the wall and city he chose not to use his position for gain. 

This leads to the next mark of a God-First life . . .

2. Generosity – Verses 17-18.

Nehemiah was a very generous person.  Not only did he refuse to selfishly amass wealth for himself at the cost of others, but he used the wealth he already had to bless others.  The next couple verses indicate that God had prospered Nehemiah through his position as cupbearer to the king.   Verse 17 says, “And at my table were one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us.”  Nehemiah is telling us that each day he served as governor it fell to him to meet, greet, and entertain a number of leaders and visitors.  The phrase “at my table” refers to his eating with them and sharing with them.  The phrase “one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers,” refers to an entourage of civil servants apparently serving under Nehemiah.  The phrase “those who came from the nations around us” identifies a host of traveling foreign dignitaries.  As governor, it fell upon Nehemiah to show hospitality to these travelers on their way perhaps to the capital of the Assyrian Empire.

Verse 18 states, “Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep.  Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor’s provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people.” 

Now get a sense of the situation . . .

Nehemiah has already told us that he did not eat “the governor’s provisions” the food allowance that was rightly his by Persian law.  He repeats that here in the last part of verse 18.  He does not appropriate the food allowance in order to feed all these people who are around him every day.  Yet they had to eat!  And if you do the math here it really is astronomical.  Verse 18 tell us that what was prepared daily was one ox, six sheep, and fowl or poultry.  This is daily provisions over a period of 12 years.  The math works out to over 4,000 oxen and over 26,000 sheep.  That is a lot of food!  Either Nehemiah had a herd that large that came with him from Susa or he had the financial means to acquire that many animals. 

The point is he had it

And he used his own money

And material things

To bless others.

He could have lived very comfortably by using the “the governor’s provisions,” that tax upon the people, but he does not.  He gives out of his own pocket. 

Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish historian and writer said, “Adversity is hard on a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity.”  Carlyle was being ironic.  He was saying . . .

That in many ways

It is easier to face

Adversity than prosperity.

Many people maintain their faith through times of adversity, but few people successfully maintain their faith in times of prosperity.  They collapse under so much wealth and gain.  They give in to temptation and bring financial ruin upon themselves.  Or they hoard and become self-focused and reclusive.  But . . .

Nehemiah lives a God-First Life. 

He is a man who loves God

With all his heart, soul, mind,

And his neighbor as himself. 

He believed that God has given

Him favor in order to bless others

And advance God’s kingdom,

Not to rule over them, and

Become rich off of them, and

Build their own little kingdom.

The third mark of a God-First Life is . . .

3. Reverence For God – Verse 19.

Verse 19 shows us what Nehemiah’s prayer was, “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.”  Nehemiah is a man of prayer.  He has a love for God that motivates his godly character.  Put another way . . .

His integrity and generosity are

Fueled by his reverence for God.

What makes Nehemiah a man of integrity and generosity is his love for the One True and Living God.  Recall in last part of verse 15 Nehemiah said that he did not want to place a burden on the people because, “of the fear of God.”  Nehemiah has a relationship with God.  He is a God-Fearer.  God was always before Nehemiah’s eyes.  He lived in the awareness of God’s presence. 

He prays in verse 19, “Remember me, my God.”  Note that the phrase “my God.”  Nehemiah is not giving in order to gain favor with God, to earn his salvation – Giving all of this stuff as though he could earn a spot in heaven.  No.  He is already God’s child by grace through faith.  He addresses God in a personal, covenantal way.  He is simply praying . . .

“Lord, remember what I have done,

Take note of my actions;

All that I have done for this people

Has grown out of my relationship with You.”

It is a bit like David’s prayer at the end of Psalm 139, verses 23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there is any wicked way in me …”  That is the idea: “See what I have done, Lord, and remember me.  Take note of it.  I have got my eyes on the kingdom.  I am living with a view to the future.  Take note, Lord, because I love You and I want to do right, and I know You reward those whose heart is set on You.”  I wonder if you would be comfortable praying a prayer like that?  “Remember me, my God” … “Take note of how I am living” … “Reward me according to the way I treat others …”

Nehemiah is a man of great piety.  He is faithful to God . . . He walks with God . . . He lives with an eye toward eternity . . . knowing it is far better to live by faith in what he cannot see . . . knowing it is far more rewarding than what he can see in this world. 

This is precisely what motivated

Nehemiah’s integrity and generosity.

What causes a guy to forego the privileges due him according to his position?  Why give up so much food, comfort, and pleasure?  Like our Lord Jesus in John 4 – When the disciples went into town to get food while Jesus talked with the woman at Samaria, the woman at the well?  Jesus led her to faith in Himself.  She comes to know Him as Messiah.  The disciples had gone into town to get food and Jesus is there with that woman, leading her to faith.  The disciples return and they see Jesus talking to this woman.  And they are standing there with their bags of sandwiches from Subway.  And they are like, “Master, eat!”  And Jesus says, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”  They’re like, “What?!  Did someone bring him something to eat?”  And Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.”  And that kind of food will fill you up, like a bread that satisfies your eternal hunger and water that flows from an ever-flowing well.  

That is what Nehemiah had.  That is what he enjoyed.  Nehemiah lived in the awareness of the greatness and glory of God.  He was like the writer of Hebrews, who wrote in Hebrews 13:14, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek one which is to come.”

Let conclude our study today by pointing to two timeless truths that come out of these verses . . .

1. Fear Of God Trumps Fear Of Man.

Nehemiah has a robust fear of God.  He loves the Lord with all his heart, mind soul, and strength.  He lives in the awareness of the greatness and glory of God.  Because Nehemiah fears God, he does not fear man.  This is especially significant when Nehemiah faces opposition.  This phrase sets us up for the narrative that follows in chapter 6 where we will be reading about a conspiracy to instill fear in the heart of Nehemiah.  Fear of God trumps fear of man.  

I have got a couple questions I want to invite you to ask yourself:

  • “Do I live in the awareness of the greatness and glory of God?”

Like Nehemiah, are your actions motivated by a healthy fear of God.  You actually believe that God is the author of live and truth, that truth should govern your thinking, your words, and your actions.  You endeavor to live a God-First life.  Because of a fear of God, do you seek God first thing every day?  Do you seek to think, speak, and act in a ;way that pleases Him and honors Him each moment of your day? 

Here is another question . . .

  • “What privileges am I willing to deny in order to build His kingdom?”

Nehemiah denied himself of “the governor’s provisions” so that his witness and testimony would remain strong before the people.  All of our actions have the result of either drawing people closer to Jesus or pushing them further away.  Nehemiah lives in such a way as to draw people closer to the Lord.  He denies himself of something that was rightly his, he could have taken the provisions, he could have exercised his rights, but he denied himself these privileges in order to advance the kingdom.

What about you and me?  What privileges are we willing to deny in order to advance God’s kingdom?  Putting mission before personal interest.  As we endeavor to edify and multiply in the church how can we together deny ourselves of privileges in order to reach more people for Jesus?  How can our Bible Study classes put others first by focusing not just on those who are in our class, but focusing on those who are not here? 

Living in the fear of God, aware of the greatness and glory of God.  Fear of God trumps fear of Man. 

Second timeless truth . . .

2. Joy In The Lord Trumps Joy In The World.

Nehemiah lived with an eye toward eternity.  Because of that his whole life was shaped by eternal purposes.  He found his joy in the Lord and for that reason he did not feel the pull of the world – giving-in to greed and self.  His joy in the Lord motivated his integrity and generosity.  Some questions to ask yourself:

  • “What would my friends, family, and co-workers say about where I find joy?”

Someone asks them about you.  What would they say?  Would they say, “Boy, you can tell she/he has a joy in the Lord!  She/He is living for eternity!  Her/His love for the Lord and others is evident!”   Would they say that – or would they say something else?  What may need to change in your life? 

Second question . . .

  • “How does my money or stuff reflect where I find joy?”

Nehemiah was a generous man, giving out of what the Lord had given him.  Financial giving is simply our response to the One who gives to us.  Tithing – the word means “the tenth,” returning the tenth, or 10% to the Lord – tithing is not so much a sacrifice as it is simply returning to the Lord that which is His.  Deuteronomy 8:18 says it is God who gives us the ability to acquire wealth.  Giving back to Him is not only a matter of obedience, but it reflects that we do not find joy in our money or stuff.  We are cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9).

Joy in the Lord

Trumps

Joy in the world.

Someone has asked . . .

“Do your children or those around you sense

That you are pursuing God or pursuing gold?”

And,

“What might make them think that

Money is too important in your life?”

Joy in the Lord trumps joy in the world. 

Final question . . .

  • “What sin in my life reveals what I am substituting for joy in the Lord?”

We have talked about finding joy in stuff,

But what about finding joy in sin?

Is there some behavior you are in, some habit, or some activity that reveals that you are trading a greater joy in the Lord for a temporary pleasure that ends in guilt, shame, bondage, and death.  What do you need to repent of right now?

Nehemiah’s actions point to the more perfect actions of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As God, the Lord Jesus embodies perfect integrity and perfect generosity.  Jesus denied Himself the privileges of the glory of remaining at the right hand of the Father and chose to humble Himself and enter into this fallen world for our sakes.  He delighted in doing the Father’s will.  Though He was rich, He became poor for our sakes that we through His poverty may become rich – may receive eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Look over those questions for a moment.  Look them over silently . . . Think on them a moment.  May God, through Jesus Christ, give us grace to live in the awareness of His greatness and glory.  May he help us to fear Min more than we fear man. May He grant that we would make time to be with Him in daily quiet and that we would be ever conscious of His presence every moment of the day.  Like Nehemiah, may the Lord help us think beyond ourselves, beyond our personal rights or privileges, that we may reach more people for Jesus.  May He grant that we would always remember that true joy is found in Him and not in the world.  May He help us take hold of Jesus and find life in Him.  May we turn from sin in repentance and take hold of Christ.  May the truth that God accept us not on the basis of our performance, but on the basis of our relationship with Him through Christ – May that acceptance motivate our living and prompt us to greater generosity.  When we struggle in the dark, struggling with sinful habits, sinful behaviors, may God awaken us to eternal truths, reminding us that true life, true joy, is found in Him – and not in the world!

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.”