Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 27th - Instructions for a Perfect Church

Prayer Requests

Pastor Aaron Healing / Resignation

Christians in Ethiopia

Jennifer - Brother's Wedding

Ryan French - Broken Arm

James Band Festival

Text - Nehemiah 5

Last week we talked about the building of the wall in a hostile situation. Nehemiah commissioned several tactics to make sure everyone was ready, what were some of them? Everyone built the wall while holding a weapon, others stood back and held extra weapons in case of attack, a trumpeter would sound the call at the place of attack and everyone would rally to him, and workers were working directly on the wall closest to their homes and families.

What sort of material were they using? New or old? A little of both, one of the great lessons is that the wall was built out of the old wall, just as Christ's church is built out of redeemed people. Something sort of related that I think is cool is a quote by Patrick of Ireland, in Ireland there were and are stone walls everywhere, definitely different than the defensive wall in Jerusalem, but stone walls none-the-less. Patrick looked at one of these walls and saw a spiritual parallel in his life, he said,

"Before I was humiliated I was like a stone that lies in deep mud, and he who is mighty came and in his compassion raised me up and exalted me very high and placed me on the top of the wall."

It's a good picture of us, totally useless and then redeemed and made useful. So, moving on in Nehemiah, in chapter 4 the great danger is external enemies who want to kill and/or oppress the people of God, a lesser danger is those in Jerusalem who start to doubt that the wall can be rebuilt, and are grumbling. Now we're going to see that this internal problem goes deeper than just grumbling.

Nehemiah 5:1-5 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, "With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive." There were also those who said, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine." And there were those who said, "We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards."

Due to the enemies outside of Jerusalem, and past problems, the people in Jerusalem are running out of their personal food stores and are needing to buy it from the storehouses in Jerusalem. In order to be able to afford this food, they are making deals with those that own the grain, by mortgaging their property. A mortgage is putting up a piece of property for money, as collateral on a loan, it comes from two words in Olde English, Mort and Gaige, which mean, Death and Pledge, so a Mortgage is a death hold on you by the one you've mortgaged something to. Not a great thing to be in.

The "what" they are doing is bad, but what is worse is the "who" is doing it. The nobles in Jerusalem are the ones who are exacting these charges, as we'll see in a moment, the people are upset because though they're all Jews, it is the poor Jews who are facing the severest consequences. We often look at kings like Artaxerxes who do somewhat nice things for one or two of the Jews as good kings, but Artaxerxes was overall a pretty wicked king, and he had some pretty hefty taxes out over the lands he controlled. The Jews were having to mortgage their land to be able to pay these taxes as well, and if they can't pay the king's taxes, the payment then reverted to sons and daughters, and Persia would take them off to be slaves in some far off land.

This is extremely sad and when Nehemiah hears it he responds well.

Nehemiah 5:6-7 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself,

Let's pause here, Nehemiah is ANGRY at the sins against his brothers and sisters. Is being angry a sin? It can be, but everything can be a sin, very few things are always sins.

Ephesians 4:26-27 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Nehemiah is angry, but he doesn't sin, but he is also very careful to check why he is angry, it says, "I took counsel with myself." I believe he paused for a moment to consider why he was angry and to think about some scripture, and especially how to best approach the problem. He could have just freaked out and said, "That's it, I'm leaving you and going back to my cushy job in Susa, deal with your own fool problems!" But he remembers some Bible verses and he decides that if these people really want to honor God, then by sharing the law with them, they will repent.

Nehemiah 5:7-8 and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, "You are exacting interest, each from his brother." And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, "We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!"

Nehemiah calls Jerusalem together to stand in court against those who are breaking the law and causing so much pain in Jerusalem. He immediately goes to the Law of Moses,

Exodus 22:25 If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.

It doesn't get any clearer than that, yet the nobles in Jerusalem are exacting interest, which means they loan money expecting more money in return. It's a good way to make money, but it's also a good way to tear a community apart, and God absolutely forbids it within the people of Israel and in the church.

Nehemiah points to the opposite end of the spectrum, that many Jews were sold into slavery, or sold themselves into slavery, during the exile, and many of the people, including Nehemiah, had been making every effort to buy their freedom and bring them home. This is one reason Nehemiah is so angry as well, because what the nobles are doing is in effect making people slaves in Jerusalem, people who had just been freed from the Babylonians.

Proverbs 22:7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Americans are not my brothers and sisters, but I am still furious when I see commercials like the "J.G. Wentworth" ones where the lawyers are offering to buy annuities. They don't say so, but I'm sure they're offering less than 75% of the value, it is a great way to prey on the poor. The "Title-Pawn" and "Payday Loan" places are the same, exacting huge amounts of interest on the poor so that they are poorer at the end of the week than if they had just had no money. As you grow up, whichever industry you get into, please please please don't let it be one where you exploit the poor and drive them farther into debt. God absolutely hates it, many passages attest to this fact, this one in Nehemiah is especially clear.

Avoid getting into massive debt as well, because this makes you a slave, it shackles you to possessions and makes money more important in your life than it should be.

1 Corinthians 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.

There is good news though, Nehemiah's rebuke of these sinning nobles has an effect,

Nehemiah 5:8 They were silent and could not find a word to say.

This is exactly what is supposed to happen when we preach the law to lawbreakers, showing that they have sinned against Heaven.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Now that they know they are sinning, Nehemiah drives for the correction,

Nehemiah 5:9-12 So I said, "The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them." Then they said, "We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say."

Nehemiah calls for a complete correction, a complete adherence to the law, not some compromise or a slow change, but he says, "This very day!" Hey says, stop charging them interest, he says, give their land back, and give their past interest back. Interest back then would have been just as today, a percentage of the loan added to the loan, except back then it wasn't just on money. If I loaned you a hundred pounds of grain, I'd expect a hundred-ten pounds back, if I were to charge you interest.

These nobles can't argue with the law of God, so they promise to repent, Nehemiah then wants to make sure they hold to it,

Nehemiah 5:12-13 And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, "So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied." And all the assembly said "Amen" and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.

The priests administered an oath and Nehemiah gave the example, saying basically, if you don't do what you've promised, may God do bad things to you. This is reminiscent of the Law of Moses promising curses for law breakers. Let's pause here just momentarily, because we've all broken the law of God, and not just a little, but quite spectacularly. This law that the Jews are under here is a good law, and it is meant to cause them to live long and happy lives together, but it is so perfect that often times we fall from keeping it,

Romans 7:10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

So let's see how we are redeemed from under the curse of breaking the law:

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree".

So that leads to probably our most important application, that we are NOT saved by the law, we are saved by Jesus Christ. But then, should we abandon the law all together?

Romans 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

This law leads for happy congregations, even if it can't save our souls. All of the people in attendance are happy with this new law and say, "Amen", which means "Truth" and is affirming that the law of God is good, then they praised the Lord for giving such a good law.

Nehemiah now is going to step out of the chronology of the book real quick to preach at us. I love this little addendum because it shows that Nehemiah really understood his role as proto-savior of Israel, or the one who was delivering the Jews from both external and internal dangers. Christ fulfilled this so much more perfectly, but Nehemiah does it about as well as a man can.

Nehemiah 5:14-15 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God.

Nehemiah looks back over twelve years of service, well after the events of the Book of Nehemiah are over, and is able to affirm his words with his actions. We're not 100% sure when Nehemiah was made governor of Judah, my guess is right after the walls were finished, but the exact details are not given. But for twelve years he was the governor of Judea and he had certain rights as governor. One of those rights was to live like the king of Judah, but he didn't, and one of the reasons was because the past governors, from right after Zerubbabel died to when Nehemiah showed up, required the full food allowance, asking for all manner of food and wine daily, which greatly taxed the people. Nehemiah knows that one of the reasons a leader should fear God and follow his commandments is because those under him will follow his example, just as the evil governor's servants were mean to people as well.

We've read this verse a lot of times, but it is such a wonderful verse, lets read who we should imitate so we can point people at our lives and likewise tell them to imitate who we're imitating:

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

During all of this time, Nehemiah IS getting paid, by Artaxerxes, and Artaxerxes is able to pay him because Artaxerxes is taxing the people. If Nehemiah had taxed them, they would have been doubly taxed. Our government is a terrible example, but just so you know, the fewer taxes the better, even if that one is big, because then it's easier to know where your money is going and to keep track of it. Let's see what Nehemiah did with his pay,

Nehemiah 5:16-18 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people.

Nehemiah had a lot of people to feed, but he did it out of his own paycheck, even though he could have made the taxpayers foot the bill. One of my favorite verses in the whole Bible is in Psalm 50, it tells us that God likewise is not demanding from us money or possessions, but something so much more valuable,

Psalm 50:12-15 If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."

So if you are put in a position like Nehemiah, where you make a ridiculous amount of money, don't think it's because God loves you more, for we saw on Friday night that God loves all of his saints equally as he loves his beloved Son Jesus, but that you ought to be using whatever money you have to invest in his kingdom and alleviate the suffering of the poor and to glorify his name. Know that if God has given you an abundance, it is so you may give out of that abundance.

2 Corinthians 8:14-15 Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack."

Nehemiah is a great writer, if he had just left it at that, we may be able to say all sorts of strange things about his motives, but he tells us exactly why he does what he does:

Nehemiah 5:15,19 ...because of the fear of God... Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

Let me give you the New Testament Parallel real quick as we're running out of time, Luke 19:

Luke 19:1-2 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.

Tax collectors were the chief of sinners in most peoples' eyes, they were sell-outs to Rome and also greedy, as we see that Zacchaeus is rich, it confirms the stereotype, which is almost always true.

Luke 19:3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature.

Not only does this refer to Zacchaeus' literal height, and also to how most people saw his character.

Luke 19:4-7 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner."

It looks as though Jesus is mingling with the worst sinner in Jericho, which he definitely did on occasion, but here is not what he is doing,

Luke 19:8-10 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."

Zacchaeus was wealthy, but he was also using that wealth for great good, and very careful not to defraud anyone, but if by some chance he did, he made sure to pay it back twice what the law required. Jesus goes on to tell a parable about how some people are rich and others are poor, and that richness or poorness are not indications of sin or blessing, but are entrusted to people by God to use for good.

So to our application, you may be like Nehemiah and Zacchaeus, hugely wealthy, and that's great, but know that much is required of you. Or you may be poor, and in that case you must know that much is required of you. Jesus is our great example, I think we've read this verse recently, but it is such a great verse that I'd read it everyday if I could,

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Your second application is that Jerusalem was being rebuilt, it was going to be beautiful, but who cares how beautiful the city is if the people are all slaves and miserable inside. We must seek to build the church, but we must hold to the laws and joy of Jesus Christ so that we are not defrauding or mistreating our brothers and sisters. Who cares how massive the church is if we're no better off inside than outside? If the Son sets us free, we shall be free indeed.

We could go on to read passages like 1 Corinthians 3, 5, and 6 where sin inside of the church at Corinth is tearing it apart, cliques are formed, sexual abuse is tolerated, and Christians are suing and defrauding one another. It is a miserable church and one we must strive not to be. As Christ has forgiven you, let us also forgive one another, as Christ has set us free, let us not enslave one another, but let us love one another as Christ has loved us.

If we do so, we will have the perfect church.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20th - Ministry in a Hostile World

Prayer Requests
Pastor Aaron Preaching / Resignation / Future
Summit Members in Foreign Lands
Christian Missionary in Sendai
Jennifer - Burn, Witnessing, Brother's Wedding
James - Band Festival
Mason - Lacrosse Game
Ben - Great Grandmother Health

Text - Nehemiah 4

Last week we talked about Nehemiah 3 and the beginning of the rebuilding of the wall when everything was going pretty smoothly. What are some things we can learn from chapter 3? It doesn't matter where you are in society, you have a roll to be playing in doing the work of God. If you want to see a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, what is the best way to do so? Strive to build up the church (1 Cor 14:12).

1 Corinthians 1:26-27 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.

Last week in Nehemiah was the rebuilding of the wall during a time of peace, but this week we add a new element and one that will greatly edify us, it is doing ministry in a hostile world. If you desire to live a godly life in Christ, will you be persecuted? 2 Timothy 3:12 promises it.

So in Nehemiah 3 they are rebuilding the wall, and they are cruising to set a new record in wall building, but in chapter 4 we see the persecution begin.

Nehemiah 4:1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews.

Sanballat is a high up official, probably a governor of a neighboring town to Jerusalem, likely in Moab across the Jordan River. He has never been happy to see someone helping Jerusalem, for at least two reasons, one, because with Jerusalem in shambles, Judah is free for the plundering, and two, because Sanballat is an idolater and hates the Living God.

His name is likely Egyptian, and it means "God of Sin, alive." This is a telling name, because it is obviously directly against the God of Righteousness. I don't want to press too far to try to say this is an incarnation of Satan, though he definitely is a type for Satan (which means Adversary), just as when Moses and Joshua were on the home stretch in coming into the promised land and a similar man named Balak (Destroyer) stood against them. The reason I don't want to press too far and say that Sanballat represents Satan is because he may also just represent sin, and how much sin hates it when you seek to build a wall to defend from worldly influences. One of my friends on facebook pointed out that in the war that rages continually in our soul between our sin nature and new nature, that our sin nature HATES reading the Bible and so we must push to overcome and read the Bible anyways.

Romans 7:21-24 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Sanballant moves around a lot during the book of Nehemiah, sometimes he's in Jerusalem, sometimes he's in Samaria, which is North of Jerusalem. Where-ever he lives and whatever his job title is, he is well familiar with Jerusalem, and prefers that it is in shambles.

Nehemiah 4:2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?"

We see in this passage that Sanballat has found or called together an army, and in a bit we'll see that it's not the only one. We see in this passage one of the main reasons he's mad, he asks, "Will they sacrifice?" His audience here is telling too, because the Samaritans at this point had built a temple on Mt. Gerazim to say that that was the correct place to worship God. Sanballat was from Bethhoron, or the "House of the god, Horon", Horon being a mytical god of the underworld, so both the Samaritans and Sanballat were against worship of the true God.

A neat part about the rebuilding of the walls is not just that the Jews are doing it so fast, it is the material they are using. They have some brand new material, but the wall is being largely built out of redeemed material that was greatly damaged in the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC. Stone doesn't burn, but when it fell it would have been greatly damaged and then when the wood and other combustibles burned, it would have left these stones charred and looking unusable. But God is able to use the least of materials to build great things, just as he uses broken people to build a great church.

1 Peter 2:4-5 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Because of the nature of the wall, though it is thick and well built, because of the craftsmen building it, it receives derision:

Nehemiah 4:3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, "Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!"

Tobiah, who we'll see in a few weeks is an exceedingly wicked dude, looks at the wall and says its so flimsy that it will never stand long. Nehemiah at this point does the best thing he could do, instead of going out and thumping these unbelievers on the head, he prays to God to intervene. Before we read that though, I want you to see that in chapter 2, Sanballat and Tobiah were in Jerusalem, but now they are not, the first step towards separating from these sinners was to put them outside of the city of God.

1 Corinthians 5:11-13 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."

Nehemiah has an absolutely amazing prayer against these sinners,

Nehemiah 4:4-5 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.

This is called an "imprecatory" prayer, or a prayer asking God to do violence against someone. They are not at all rare in the Bible, in fact 90 out of 150 Psalms contain imprecatory language. Look at what Nehemiah asks for, both physical action, that they would be taken captive, and spiritual action, that God would hold their sins against them. Jesus prays a very similar prayer on the cross in Psalm 69:22-28, for time's sake let's just read verse 27:

Psalm 69:27 Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you.

So that leads us to the question of whether we should pray prayers like that today. I would say yes, with a minor caveat, because unlike Jesus, and God's prophets of the Old Testament, we don't know who will repent of their sins, so I always temper my imprecatory prayers with, "God, please crush or convert them, but don't let them keep working such evil."

We remember that in action we always love our enemies and we leave all action up to God, for vengeance belongs to him.

Nehemiah 4:6-8 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.

Just when things were going well, persecution arises and now we've got even more enemies standing against Jerusalem than we had just a few days ago. Their goal isn't to wipe out the Jews, because they like having them as slaves and targets of plunder, but to make sure they can't defend themselves. They want to cause confusion, to keep the people from focusing on the task at hand. Here is our first major lesson,

Ephesians 6:16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one...

We know that if God is for us, no-one can possible stand against us in any sort of capacity. So by trusting in God, this trust becomes a shield to protect us from confusion and it keeps our minds set on the task at hand, which is building the kingdom. That's exactly what Nehemiah does:

Nehemiah 4:9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

We see both a trust in God, and an action. But the efforts of the enemy are having a small effect, Nehemiah needs to strengthen his people,

Nehemiah 4:10-11 In Judah it was said, "The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall." And our enemies said, "They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work." At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, "You must return to us."

Some of the greatest damage done to the wall building effort comes from within the camp, doubters who think the work is impossible, others who are afraid of what men can do, and then verse 12 is somewhat hard to translate, but it seems to say that Jews not involved in the wall-building effort are saying, "Stop doing what you're doing, let's just live the way we've always lived, it's better than dying." These doubters are causing a lot of damage and strife to the efforts, so Nehemiah comes up with an ingenious plan, where-as during peace we had people working all over the city, now Nehemiah is going to strategically place them for ministry in a hostile environment.

Nehemiah 4:13-14 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes."

Nehemiah places the men in front of their houses and families, so they aren't just defending Jerusalem, but they are defending their whole world. It gives them a personal stake in standing firm. I love the whole church of Christ, but beloved, I love this church more than I love churches in far off lands, I love you more than I love Christians I don't know and/or am only faintly familiar with. This should be us as well, loving the whole church, but loving our own body of believers to the extent that we would rather die than see danger befall them, physically, and more importantly spiritually.

Because of this concerted effort, the plan of the enemy fails, and work can resume.

Nehemiah 4:15-17 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other.

The Jews can no longer work like there is no threat, they are prepared for war, but they are still doing the work on the wall. It is important to remember that a good defense is often the best offense. A solid wall will keep Jerusalem safe from invaders. One of my favorite quotes, and one that is failing all over the world, is that we seek "Peace through Superior Firepower." When you are weak and easily conquered, everyone will come against you, but if you're bigger and stronger and your God is so much more powerful, then you're safe without having to fire a shot. We'll see that the Jews never do have to fight, because they are prepared.

We likewise must put on the full armor of God, having the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word, ready as an offensive weapon, clothed in righteousness and truth, secured in salvation, and defended by the God of Peace. We must be ready and willing to war, not physically, but spiritually, and not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces.

Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Our goal is to build the church and see captives of the enemy come to Christ to receive forgiveness and reconciliation. It has been said that evangelism is, "One beggar showing another beggar where to find bread." It is so much more violent and dangerous than that, it is two armies standing against each other, an army of light and an army of darkness, the army of light made up of traitors to the darkness, and evangelism is those traitors boldly coming into the camp of darkness to proclaim that the King of Light is prepared to make peace if the soldiers of darkness will surrender completely. It is dangerous beyond dangerous, and the enemy soldiers are more than willing to kill the ambassadors of Christ. It is estimated that 100,000 Christians are martyred every year, and many more are mistreated. Let us be ready then to rush to the battle, where-ever it rages,

Nehemiah 4:18-20 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us."

Boniface, missionary to Germany in the 700's, said it better than I can, "I yearn to go forth where the dangers are, not because I particularly enjoy those dangers, but because I know it is there that the battle rages for the souls of men and nations. God set me before the front lines. Let me not end my days in comfort and complacency!"

Let us rally to the spiritual battle for souls, not being complacent or pretending no war is raging, but always ready to build the church and defend the truth. The men under Nehemiah were always ready, let us likewise always be ready,

Nehemiah 4:21-23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.

This is another difficult Hebrew verse to translate, it likely says that the only time they were not in full battle gear was to wash, though the minutiate of this verse is not particularly important, because we see that they were always prepared. Let us likewise always be prepared, fully clothed in the righteousness of Christ, washed in his blood, having the Sword of the Spirit always at our right hand. We'll see that this wall was then completed, 52 days total, and that each person in Jerusalem had a share in building it, and each received the blessing of completing it.

It is hugely important that you take a portion of the church to build, pick a part that you care about deeply, either youth, or evangelism, or senior citizens, or whichever, find something you care about, and go forward with full strength. When the Pilgrims settled among the Massachusetts people, the first two years they had communal fields to plant and harvest, and they had a huge issue getting people to work hard and the harvests were sparse. On the third year they assigned each family a portion of the fields with the understanding that what grew belonged to that family. The effort put forth then was considerably better and the crops were bumper.

So beloved, find a portion of the church to work on, know that there is a reward in Heaven, know that you are working for your King, and know that your labor is not in vain.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13th - Building the Church

Prayer Requests
Pastor Aaron Preaching / Resignation
St. Patrick's Day Witnessing
Swift Cantrel Witnessing
Summit Members in Foreign Lands
Japan Evangelism and Safety
Cassandra Feeling Better
Etowah High School, loss of student
Jennifer finishing Magnet applications
Ben's Great Grandmother Rest
David Master's College Scholarship
Students Teaching Friday

Text - Nehemiah 3, 1 Corinthians 12

We embark today on an absolutely amazing chapter of the Bible, but one which I could also make the most boring lesson in the Bible. It could be called a "baby-name chapter" because it contains some absolutely great names for babies when in a decade you' re looking, I especially like Hashbneiah (thoughts of God), Harumaph (Snub-nosed), and Shelemiah (thankful to God). We're not going to spend a whole lot of time in Nehemiah 3, because I want to look at the New Testament Parallel in 1 Corinthians 12.

Let's do some context in Nehemiah 2 Nehemiah leaves a very cushy position and travels to Jerusalem to seek the wellbeing of his people. How does this parallel Jesus Christ? Jesus stepped out of Heaven to be born into abject poverty to seek the welfare of his people.

2 Corinthians 8:9 You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Something that I've read to you before, but is definitely worth reading again, is John Flavel's presumption on how the conversation between Jesus and his Father may have gone as Jesus left Heaven to rescue his people.

Father: My son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls?

Son: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

Father: But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

Son: Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, yet I am content to undertake it.

Nehemiah 2 is also a great look at Nehemiah leaving the world to endeavor something huge for God and his people. How does Jerusalem look at this point? It's in ruins, the walls are torn down, it is open for attack on every side, it is a sad place to live.

Here we see another parallel to Jesus, that he immediately started building his church after he was raised. We see this to a much smaller extent in Nehemiah as he starts to rebuild Jerusalem. There is much to learn in this passage and I struggled with how much we should read, I've decided we should read the whole chapter for the sake of knowing that the Bible it totally the Word of God and we shouldn't skip anything.

This passage shows us that the book of Nehemiah is a historical book, it's not just an allegory or a neat fictional account, but that it actually happened. Some people here are mentioned nowhere else, but in their faithfulness to God they are recorded for our edification and we should always remember that God takes notice even if others don't.

Nehemiah 3

The actual geography of Jerusalem is of a little value, I actually heard a whole sermon on the different gates trying to find a superspiritual hidden message in them, but the greater value is that we look at how everyone worked together. Though for geographies sake, the way this chapter is written works its way around the city from the Sheep Gate to the Sheep Gate, if you see in verse 1 it starts here, and in verse 32 it ends here. There is no greater importance for who is named in order, other than who is named first, the others are just in order of where they were on the wall.

The first people we see working are the priests led by the high priest, Eliashib. There is a community of people found in Georgia called the Mennonites, they used to be closely related to the Amish. They do a lot of weird things, but one of the weirdest is that they believe only their pastors should share their faith. The biblical model is that everyone should be doing the work of God, but that this should be led by the religious leaders. Where a pastor puts his emphasis is where the church will put their emphasis. You can see that with me that my emphasis is on evangelism and Bible memorization and growing students into capable disciples. You can see it in David Platt's church where one of his big thrusts is giving money for world missions and sending world missions, and his church is doing a mighty work in that.

So the priests are setting the example and everyone else falls in line, check out how Paul would say this,

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Another important thing we see in this passage is who is working. Look at verse 1, it's the high priest and lesser priests, verse 8, it is skilled laborers the goldsmiths and perfumers, throughout the passage there are noname people who seem to have no skill, just working, verse 12 a mayor/governor of Jerusalem and his daughters, so now we've got girls involved, verse 13, people from outside of Jerusalem join in, and in verse 30 we see a "sixth son" which is a son with little to gain in inheritance, but he's working for God, not worldly gain. The important thing to see about this passage of scripture is how many people are working and how diverse they are.

Not everyone is working though, look at verse 5, the nobles of the Tekoites would not help, they wouldn't stoop, to lowly levels, to serve God. There are many people I run into in Christendom today who will do things for all sorts of reasons, but won't dare to open their mouth to talk about Jesus Christ. They think they're serving God, but many of them unfortunately are not. Sometimes the most menial tasks can be the most important, while the most grandiose accomplish the least. Like yesterday Kyle was faithful to preach the gospel in Atlanta, maybe two-hundred people heard him, but I guarantee you he did more good yesterday than Joel Osteen will do today even though 2 million people will hear Joel Osteen. Stoop, beloved, to serve your Adoni, your Lord.

Two more things I want to show you before we move to 1 Corinthians 12. Look at verse 4, we've got this priest Meremoth working on the wall near the Fish Gate, which just for trivia is the gate that fish from Tyre would be brought through and where the fish markets were, but we see Meremoth working, and he must have finished his job. Instead of going and sitting down, he goes to verse 21 and finds another job to do, he repaired another section on the door of Eliashib's house.

That brings me to the next point. Eliashib wasn't working on his own house, which would have shared a wall with the wall of Jerusalem, he's working on another project somewhere else. But look at verse 23, here we've got people working on their own houses. I just want to show you that it's great to reach out, it's also great to be helped as well. They all knew that they were building the wall together and that it would get done, they trusted the efforts of their brothers and sisters. We should be doing likewise in the church, not saying, "Ok, everybody come work on my project." We're building the church together, and together it will get done by the work of the Holy Spirit.

So that brings us into the New Testament. There are all sorts of churches this morning that will be throwing wiz-bang services with crazy loud music, light shows, amazing computer animations, motorcycles jumping over the pastor, weird gimmicks, animals on stage, preachers dressed up, speaking in tongues and dancing like crazy and really trying to feel the Holy Spirit. Steve Lawson preached on Friday at John MacArthur's church and he made an excellent point that these are the "bland leading the bland", these churches, though alive in appearance, have no clue as to the power of the life giving Word of God, and are dead in their sin and trespass. We don't do that to try to feel the Holy Spirit, let's read

1 Corinthians 14:12 Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

The way the Holy Spirit works is not by giving you a warm-fuzzy feeling inside, but by growing you in holiness, giving you boldness, enlightening the word, making your efforts fruitful, giving you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. If you want these things more and more, then strive to build up the church.

And how do you do that? Can you only do it if you're a pastor or elder or teacher? By no means, let's go back to chapter 12.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

The simplest summation of this passage is that you're not all goldsmiths, you're not all religious leaders, you're not all nobles, you're not all governors, but that you all have a place to work in God's building of the church.

Let's take a closer look at these, this is not a comprehensive list by any means, I think there are at least a few other gifts not here mentioned, like I believe I have a gift of boldness, of not caring what people think of me because I care more about what Jesus Christ thinks of me.

Utterance of Wisdom - This probably makes more sense to us if we see it as "ability to speak well with instructing words." This is the ability to teach application so that the hearers can more easily apply it.

Utterance of Knowledge - This is the ability to teach deep truths so that many understand.

Faith - The ability to persevere in the face of great adversity. Some are easily blown about in a sea of doubt, but others have a steadfast anchor, which can be used to moor others to the truth.

Healing - Either the ability to understand medicine better than most, or more probably to pray for sickness and have better than average results. It is not God's will that you are healthy and wealthy, because he uses the opposite for his glory, but there are definitely no lack of stories of people being healed through prayer. It is said that Charles Spurgeon had this gift and that 3 out of 4 people he prayed for got better. He always sought to point people at eternal healing rather than temporal healing though.

Miracles - This is the working of power, doing things much bigger than seems possible.

Prophecy - This is the public proclamation of the Word of God. In the Old Testament prophets spoke new revelation, in the New Testament we speak revelation that has been given to us in the Bible.

Discernment - The ability to tell what is God glorifying and what is not. Here is a good point to pause and let you know that all of these should be sought and strived for, that they are gifts by the Spirit, but we can definitely grow them.

Hebrews 5:14 Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Tongues - The ability to speak other languages, to learn them easily. Anyone can learn a language, but some people have a supernatural gift to easily learn another language.

Interpretation - The ability to translate the one language into different languages. William Carey, a famous Baptist missionary to India, translated the New Testament into 27 languages, he had this gift.

Other gifts mentioned in the Bible are serving, exhortation, giving, mercy, and leadership.

1 Corinthians 12:14-31 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And all of this is led by the head, who is Christ. Where the head goes, there goes the church, we follow him, he's leading us and working in us. Here is our major application, that as you grow into leaders it is absolutely imperative that you preach the true Jesus, because if you preach a squishy or lop-sided Jesus, your disciples will follow that error. You must strive to be good teachers, rightly representing the head of the church, so that the whole body will be healthy.

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

And finally, we build this church, knowing that our labor is not in vain:

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

March 6th - Separation From the World

Prayer Requests
Whoever's Preaching
Swift Cantrel Witnessing
Eve and David - Salvation
Friend from work - Salvation
Ian's health
Tyler Mc's collarbone
KSU students going to Jordan
War in Tripoli/Believers safety
Praise - James' great band camp

Text - Nehemiah 2

Let's do some review, we're in Nehemiah 2 today, so first question, who is Nehemiah? Nehemiah is a Jewish man living in Persia in the year 445BC. He is probably up in age, very wise and in the most trusted position under the king of Persia. In chapter 1 his brother Hanani comes to visit him in Susa, and Nehemiah asks how things are in Jerusalem, how are they? Not good at all, the walls are torn down, and they are greatly oppressed. How did Jerusalem get that way? Over a hundred years prior it was destroyed by the Babylonians. How long have Jews been living in Jerusalem like that? Almost a hundred years. Why is Jerusalem such an important place, why did Daniel pray towards Jerusalem? It was the official dwelling place of God on earth. Why don't we pray towards Jerusalem today? Because God dwells in Heaven, his Spirit dwells in each of us, we seek a city to come, here we have no lasting city. But in Nehemiah's time it was imperative that they return to Jerusalem to be in the presence of God, but right now it is in rough shape.

So Nehemiah does what when he learns this? He mourns and prays and fasts. Do you remember how long he prays? Four months; a long time. At the end of four months, after he's counted the cost, he decides that he would rather please God than men. Here is our first application nice and early, let's read Paul's similar conclusion:

Galatians 1:10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

So Nehemiah sets his heart towards home and prays to God to get him out of his current job as the Cupbearer to the king, which is generally not a position a person can get out of. Nehemiah has a very basic plan, he'll pray and then go before the king. I don't think Nehemiah had the faintest idea what he would ask, because his request was impossible, he couldn't get himself out of his current state through any effort of his own, so he goes trusting God.

Nehemiah 2:1-2 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart." Then I was very much afraid.

Many different kings in history have made it a law that you're not allowed to be sad when you're around them, everyone should always appear happy and like everything is super-wonderful all the time. Apparently Artaxerxes had the same law, because Nehemiah here feels like he's made a fatal mistake. Here is another application, that the kings of Persia called themselves, "King of kings", and they wanted it to appear that to be in their presence was pure joy. Our God, on the other hand, who genuinely is the King of kings, welcomes our weaknesses and sorrows, he tells us to come with boldness into his presence even if we're sad, he tells us to cast our cares on him, for he cares for us. He is such a better King than anything this world has ever produced.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

It was a great sign of disrespect to stand in front of Artaxerxes with a sad face on, but Nehemiah relies on God to give him the words to speak and carry him through this perilous situation.

Nehemiah 2:3 I said to the king, "Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?"

Nehemiah does the best thing you can ever do if you're trusting in God, he tells the truth. There are times in this world that if you're against God, it might be beneficial to tell a lie to keep yourself out of trouble, but we're not against God, we rely on the God of Truth, and so we should always be truthful both to rightly represent his both his truthfulness and our reliance on his Sovereignty.

Nehemiah tells Artaxerxes that his sadness is caused because Jerusalem is in shambles. This isn't just a statement, apparently, because the king hears it as a question.

Nehemiah 2:4-5 Then the king said to me, "What are you requesting?" So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it."

I love the verse where Nehemiah prays to God, it doesn't say he prayed it out loud, and by the context it clearly couldn't have been a long prayer. The shortest prayer I ever prayed was, "Help!" on the freeway when a car almost hit us in the shuttle. The important thing here is a complete reliance on God's sovereignty.

Nehemiah asks to be sent by the king to Judah, to rebuild Jerusalem. This is an exceptionally bold prayer, but if God were not with Nehemiah, he would already be in huge trouble for standing before the king in sadness.

Here's another application, God calls us to do bold things by his strength and in his power. None of these things are ever easy, if they were easy we would miss the power of God in them. It is amazing when a doctor helps a sick person get better, and while God is definitely in that, it is so much more amazing when God raises a person from the dead, something no man has ever or will ever do. The more difficult it is for us, the more it shows his power.

God is more than capable of doing it the easy way, but sometimes (most of the time) he does it the hard way so we grow in grace and we see his hand more clearly.

Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

God could have put it in Artaxerxes' heart to send a messenger to Nehemiah saying, "Pack your bags, I'm sending you to be governor of Jerusalem." But there is very little miracle in that, we want a big miracle, and here it comes.

Nehemiah 2:6 And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), "How long will you be gone, and when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.

The impossible just happened, the king let his most trusted adviser go, the time is uncertain, probably a few years at least, we'll see Nehemiah return in a few chapters. The reason Nehemiah doesn't give the time is because he wants you to focus on the miracle of his salvation from a foreign kindgom instead of the logistics of it. I don't have the faintest idea why it says the queen was sitting beside Artaxerxes, there is probably a big theological reason, but we'll have to wait to Heaven to find out why.

Once we see that God is definitely working, it gets a little easier to be bolder. When I open air preach I remember that I have to say the first word, then the Holy Spirit will take over. The first word is almost impossible to get out, but afterwards preaching is easy. We see Nehemiah felt the same thing, his next request is pretty bold.

Nehemiah 2:7-8 And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy." And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

Now Nehemiah has the permission of the king, the blessings of the king, and even papers that are worth a ton of money. And we see in the end of verse 8 that Artaxerxes didn't do it out of the goodness of his own heart, but because God had directed his heart to do so.

So Nehemiah sets off, leaving the life he has always known, leaving safety and great riches and prestige, stepping out on faith to accomplish something that is definitely going to be very hard. Here's another application, go out and attempt something hard for God, he has used everyone from teenagers to old people, know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain, ask him to glorify himself through you.

Nehemiah 2:9 Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.

Let's pause here so I can make a correction. Last week I told you that the province called Beyond the River was beyond the Jordan River, but it's actually beyond the Euphrates River, it's a lot more than just Judah, it's modern day Syria and Jordan and much of Iraq. This was a long and dangerous hike, and we see that the king cares so much for Nehemiah that he wants to make sure it's safe for him, he doesn't want to lose him to bandits. A great evangelist to Germany, named Boniface in the 700's, was murdered late in his life because bandits thought his caravan was carrying money, when it was actually carrying books and Bibles. Here is your next application, you have an appointment with death, you will not be late, and you are invincible until that day, so don't fear men.

2 Thessalonians 3:3 The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.

Psalm 91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

This next verse is pretty wild, because Nehemiah didn't announce his intentions, but the word has gotten out somehow.

Nehemiah 2:10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

These are likely rival governors, or at least men of prominence. Sanballat is from Moab, to the Northeast of Judah, and Tobiah, who was once a slave but has ascended to a higher position, is from Ammon, South of Moab. They are upset that someone is here to help the Jews. In my own witnessing I haven't run into this too often, but it is wild when someone knows who you are and why you're there without you telling them. I believe it is satanic for sure.

Here's your next application, if you are being obedient to God, the prince of the power of the air is going to oppose you. We'll see in future weeks how good they are at opposing God's's a spoiler though, they're not good at it.

2 Timothy 3:12-13 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

The most christlike man who ever lived was crucified, if we're living christlike lives we should expect persecution. There are some amazing parallels between Nehemiah and Jesus Christ, we'll look at them in a bit, some are blatant, some people have tried to force, we'll see a forced one in the next verse:

Nehemiah 2:11-12 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode.

Jesus was in the grave for three days, and Nehemiah was in Jerusalem for three days...I'll tell you that I don't think this is any more than a coincidence, there is absolutely no theological significance that I can find for Nehemiah; Christ lay dead for three days so we were sure he was dead. But look, we do have some parallels, Nehemiah has come to seek the welfare of Jerusalem and yet he doesn't immediately announce himself, he prepares beforehand, just as Jesus did. Jesus was doing more though, he had to fulfill all righteousness so that in his exchange for us all of our sins would be on him and all of his righteousness would be on us. He exchanged his truth for our lies, our adultery for his faithfulness, he was even baptized so he could cover the sin of those who fail to be baptized.

Nehemiah rested because it was a long journey from Susa, and he was likely old and worn out. He rode on a beast of burden I believe for two reasons, first because he was worn out, and two because he was fulfilling Zechariah's prophecy that the anointed one of God would arrive humbly riding on a donkey. Jesus would be the greater fulfillment later.

It seems that Jerusalem didn't know why Nehemiah was there, and there isn't any fan-fare to be spoken of, I believe this points towards to when the Messiah would be born four hundred years later and be mostly ignored by the very people he came to save.

So Nehemiah goes out to survey the damage. Jerusalem is a disaster at this point, piles of rocks everywhere, massive holes in the wall, no gates, it is a sad sad place to live.

Nehemiah 2:13-16 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.

He went around most of the city, some places he couldn't go due to rubble, but he got a good look at the damage. One thing cool in here, look at verse 13, he went to the dragon spring. There is some history to say that it is so named because a dragon/dinosaur lived there during the time of Lamentations when very few people lived in Jerusalem. Unfortunately we'll have to wait until Heaven to know for sure why it is so called the Dinosaur Spring, but this is just one more of many places the Bible mentions dinosaurs known by men. The best is in Job 40 and I encourage you to read it later when you get a chance.

So Nehemiah sees that there is much to be done. He has prayed, he as counted the cost, now it's time to get moving.

Nehemiah 2:17-18 Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision." And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, "Let us rise up and build." So they strengthened their hands for the good work.

These men were more than capable of rebuilding Jerusalem, of calling on the name of the Lord for help, for stepping up to action, but they had fallen into stagnancy and just accepted that they were constantly in danger from the world. Sometimes what a major project needs is just someone to stand up and say, "Let's do something!" It helped a lot that God had so worked in Nehemiah's life already and his testimony was used to motivate people. So the wall was rebuilt and everyone lived happily ever after, the end. No, not really.

Nehemiah 2:19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, "What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?"

Three people step up to try to stop the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Sanballat, Tobiah, and someone we haven't seen before, Geshem, from Arabia south of Judah. Israel, indefensible at this point, had been theirs basically, they could do whatever they wanted to Israel because they couldn't defend themselves. Now they're concerned because Israel might be able to stand up for herself. But they can't say, "We want to keep stealing your stuff, so no rebuilding the wall." They need a different excuse.

Their excuse is to claim that the work is against Artaxerxes, that the Jews are seeking to throw off his authority, but we know that Nehemiah had the full blessing of Artaxerxes. Besides the blessing of Artaxerxes, the blessing of God Almighty is so much better.

Nehemiah 2:20 Then I replied to them, "The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem."

One of the main reasons that they are rebuilding the wall is to set themselves apart once more as a holy people, to keep sinners out. In the church today it is really popular to try to build bridges to the world, to find relevancy so that they will listen to us, but the Bible says we ought to be building walls, that lest they be our brethren through regeneration, then an easy intermingling between us shouldn't be possible.

James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?! Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

We can build walls by rejecting sin, by using our language for good, by avoiding physical sins, by esteeming life as worth defending, by not giving the world even an appearance of sin in ourselves, redeeming the time and rejecting ungodly living.

John 17:14-19 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Let's look at Jesus, he was the highest official in Heaven, he looked and saw his people perishing, he was commissioned by his Father to step out of Heaven, he came to us, seeking the welfare of his saints, his people took very little notice of his arrival, and on his last week he rode in humble on a donkey. Jesus did what Nehemiah couldn't, he atoned for our sins on the cross, then he defeated death. He has commissioned the building of his church, and he has called many helpers to himself to work in that. So let us arise and build, let us share out faith, not loving the world, but calling many out of the darkness into Christ's glorious light.