Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17th - Biblical Open Air Preaching

Prayer Requests
Youth Pastor Candidate

Dave Sloan Preaching

Summit Sanctification

Big Shanty Festival Outreach

Easter Outreaches

Ian Health

Tyler Allergies

David's continued sanctification

Jennifer's dad's safe travels

James - Camping Scouts

Text – Nehemiah 8

Nehemiah 8 is the main reason I started going through Nehemiah. This is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. A lot of times when I’m open-air preaching I get pseudo (name only) Christians saying, “Open-air preaching isn’t biblical!” Can you give me some examples of open-air preaching in the Bible? Noah, Jonah, Ezra, Paul, Peter, Stephen, and one more major example, Jesus. Open-air preaching is profoundly biblical, it is one of the major ways that Christianity has spread, great preachers of the past included Patrick, Boniface, John Knox, George Whitefield, and Charles Spurgeon, to name only a few of many.

Sometimes open-air preaching is done evangelically, to take the gospel out to people who normally wouldn’t listen, other times, like with George Whitefield and John Flavel, it was because they had no church to preach in. Whitefield was disliked by the Anglican Church, and Flavel was a Puritan, outlawed by the Anglican Church from mentioning his Christian beliefs. We’ll see today that often an open-air meeting is to accommodate massive numbers of people.

This passage has also been used heavily to drive the liturgy of the church. What is liturgy? The way we do church. It’s the way we sing, read the Bible, pray, and the actions we take during these things. There are lots of different liturgies between different denominations, I think it would be very foolish for us to try to say one way is the only right way, the important thing is that our motives are pure in how we do church. We’ll see some great things in Nehemiah today, but there are lots of other ways described throughout the Bible. One of my favorite examples is when Hannah prays silently but her mouth is moving, and it’s so weird to the priest that he accuses her of being drunk. Was she wrong? No. Can you pray silently or outloud? Yes, whichever seems most appropriate for the situation.

Let’s do some review real quick, what major even has just been completed in Nehemiah? They have just finished the wall and set the gates. The city of Jerusalem is now well on its way to restoration, but the spiritual side of Jerusalem is still pretty wrecked. How many days did it take to rebuild the wall? 52, was that quick? Yes, everyone who saw it had to agree that it was accomplished because God was with them, even in the face of severe persecution. So, let’s now take a look at the restoration of the spiritual state of Judah.

Nehemiah 8:1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.

Ezra wrote down the history of Jerusalem from the end of the Babylonian Exile to right before Nehemiah came to town. They call on him to read the Law, or more specifically the word here is Torah. What is the Torah/Law? It is the first 5 books of the Bible, the 5 books of Moses. What are they? Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. There was a law, which the Jews had forsaken for at least 160 years, to read the Torah to all of the people every seven years. Some people believe that this was all five books, but most really good scholars believe this was just the book of Deuteronomy, which is really a great summation of the whole Torah, plus there is a verse that makes it sounds like just Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 31:10-13 And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”

Ezra was called to read it, he was a scribe, it was his job to make copies of the Old Testament, this would make him especially well familiar with the Bible. Here is something you can consider doing that I have been doing for a while. I make a copy of one chapter of the Bible every week, it really slows me down and makes me think. It’s not the only way to make sure you pause to think on your Bible, but it is a great way.

Nehemiah 8:2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month.

Here is an important point throughout church history until about the 1950's onward, that youth ministry was unheard of. If you were old enough to understand, you stood in the congregation and learned with the adults.

Nehemiah 8:3-4 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand.

This is five or six hours of reading, and we see that they were attentive, they paid attention to the reading. This wasn't all reading, as we'll see in a bit, there was explanation of what the text meant and even translation for those who didn't have a strong grasp of Hebrew, as many in attendance grew up speaking Chaldi, or the language of the Babylonians.

Nehemiah 8:5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood.

Speaking of liturgy, do you even wonder why the pastor stands on a stage? In recent years I think that many churches have utterly lost this concept and have turned the pulpit into nothing more than a stage for entertainment and self agrandizement. The reason for an elevated pulpit is for the main purpose that people can see and hear the one speaking. A secondary purpose is that it shows authority, and hopefully gives reverence to the message.

I find in open-air preaching that if I am standing even a few inches above my audience, that my voice carries farther, and people will stop and listen. I have preached from street level on occasion and have had much less visible evidence that people were listening than if I stand on a box or a wall.

Everyone could see Ezra opening the book, the Hebrew word here is cepher, it really ought not be translated "book", what Ezra opened here was a scroll.

When he opened it, all of the people stood in reverence. It was tradition to stand during the reading of scripture for much of the Dark Ages; during the Reformation, many traditions like this were outright done away with. There were a lot of other weird things people were doing that you can't find in the Bible, like reading the Bible in Latin to people who didn't speak Latin, or clothing to set the priests apart from the laity (called sacerdotalism), and all sorts of strange rules about things like communion, baptism, "crossing" yourself when you came before a crucifix, or bowing a certain number of times during the service. The Reformation did away with many of these things as Popish superstition.

Not all of it was unbiblical though, such as we see here the standing in reverence when the Law of God is opened. Here is where it can be wrong though, if the standing is just tradition or is mandated. It is better that you stay seated and give reverence to the hearing of the Word, than stand because everyone else does and ignore what is being said; not ignoring in hearing, but ignoring in believing and acting on.

Nehemiah 8:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Here is one place we get the idea of praying before the scripture is read. Praying is always good, but again, if you just do it to do it, you're doing it wrong. We don't have it recorded in the Bible, but Jewish tradition has recorded what Ezra's prayer could have been. In order to break with tradition of only praying at the beginning and end of a lesson, lets pray Ezra's prayer now,

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the world, who hath chosen us out of all people, and hath given us his law; blessed art thou, O Lord, who hast given us the law; and all the people answer, Amen.

The Amen at the end literally means "Truth", and it is an affirmation of what has just been prayed. Yesterday at the Big Shanty Festival a very flamboyant person came up and asked to pray with us, it was awkward to say the least, at the end of his prayer, which was charismaniac goofiness, I was very reserved to give an "amen."

One thing which we don't often do is what they did, lifting their hands towards Heaven. I think one of the reasons we shy away from this is because it has been hijacked by the emotionalistic bents of christendom that want to "feel" something in worship, and their handraising is often almost cultish and very mystic (feelings based). But we have to remember that we don't reject biblical truth just because someone is doing it wrongly. Check out what Paul says,

1 Timothy 2:8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;

This is the method of Psalm 134, calling us to reach towards Heaven, moreso spiritually than physically, but also physically, when we are in need. We'll read a verse in the sermon on the mount in just a moment that will show us why, but before we do, can someone please read Psalm 134...the whole thing, if you're able:

Psalm 134:1-3 Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD! May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!

So then, they read the Law, what do we do if someone doesn't understand what it means, or even what it says? That's verse 7-8,

Nehemiah 8:7-8 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

They explain what it means, I love that it says they "read clearly", and I'd encourage you to know what a passage says before you stand to read it. I hate it when a preacher stands up to preach and it sounds like he's reading the passage for the first time as he begins his sermon. If you're going to read the Bible to other people, I beg of you, practice being a good reader. Several commentaries also say that the Hebrew words used here give an indication that the Law was also translated into other languages so that people whose first language was not Hebrew would get a perfect grasp of what was being said.

The Law is good, it is wonderful, it is a textual representation of who God is: holy, perfect, undefiled; but the Law is directly against us, when we sin it stands as a witness against us. When the people heard how perfect God is in the Law, it caused them to mourn, as we'll see in the next passage,

Nehemiah 8:9-12 And 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 wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved." And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

They are weeping over their sin, and it would have been rightly so, if it had not been during a festival (we'll see it in a minute), and all of the festivals pointed to the faithfulness of God towards a repentant people, which these people were.

Numbers 10:10 On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the LORD your God.

So Nehemiah sends them off not to mourn, but to feast. These sacrifices pointed forward to Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice,

Hebrews 7:27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.

This is why Nehemiah and the priests could tell the people not to mourn, but to celebrate, even though they saw that they were great sinners. This is why Jesus could make an extremely audacious claim in the Sermon on the Mount,

Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The Hebrew people in Nehemiah 8 had no idea (or very little idea) how that was going to take place, but they trusted that God was faithful, and because they trusted in God, they did their best to keep his laws. Which is our next section.

Nehemiah 8:13 On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law.

Pause here really quick, in Nehemiah 8 we see both corporate worship and private study. A church is much blessed when it has godly leaders who study and believe and act on their Bibles.

In it they discovered a law that they were forsaking, and called people to honor it:

Nehemiah 8:14-18 And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, "Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and 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. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.

Let me sum this up for your real quick since we are quickly running out of time. The Feast of Tabernacles, or Feast of Booths, was a one week celebration where the people would live in "tents" made of palm fronds and other leafy branches. It commemorated a time in the desert with Moses when God dwelt in the midst of the people, not in a temple, but in a tent, and they could see his glory, for he was with them. It was meant to be a reminder of God's faithfulness in calling his people out of slavery into the promised land. Unfortunately the Jews had done a very bad job of commemorating this event, after all, it took a long time and a lot of effort, and was quite uncomfortable. It would be like me saying, next week don't go sleep in your own beds, we're going to camp in the parking lot. It was celebrated on and off since Joshua, but here it tells us that it was celebrated with more joy and more correctly than it had been since his time.

Jerusalem must have looked pretty weird during this time, with homemade tents all over, on roofs, in front yards, in two of the major open places, on every street. But the people were celebrating that God was faithful, that he would once against dwell with them, that they would once against see his glory.

I wish we had time to read John 7 and really look at it, but I want to point out really quickly that Jesus went to the Feast of Tabernacles and revealed himself as the purpose of the feast, but look at the last verses of that passage (which is actually the last verse of chapter 7 and first verse of chapter 8),

John 7:53-8:1 They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

So here-in is our conclusion, that Jesus Christ is the reason that the people were not to mourn over their sin, that the Law pointed towards him, the Feast of Tabernacles pointed towards his faithfulness, that he would dwell with his people and make them right with God. In John 7 they missed him altogether, beloved, I pray that you will not miss this Godman who dwelt among us.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

So beloved, testify to him, show the glory of God through the man who died on a cross but yet lives, who is the one who can say to those who mourn, you shall be comforted. Do so in public, or in private, study his word, tell people about him. Give full reverence to his Word, but moreso to him, do nothing from vain tradition, but out of respect to the Righteous and Resurrected One. Lift your hands and your soul towards him in recognition of your great need for his salvation and his blessings, and in that, I pray that he may bless you, he who made heaven and earth.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 10th - Our Personal God

Prayer Requests

Summit Sanctification

Whoever’s Preaching

Jerusalem Project Results

Braves Outreach Results

Swift Cantrel Witnessing

Todd Love Homecoming

Barton's Grandmother's Health

Jennifer's Aunt's Health

Jennifer Swim Team and Play, Dad's Job

Praise-Greyson's Dad's Job

Text – Nehemiah 7

Today we come to the only chapter in Nehemiah that made me almost not teach Nehemiah. This could be the most boring lesson ever taught if I just went name by name and tried to tell you something about each of these guys, but I think there is actually much to be learned here. This is going to be more of a topical lesson today than an expositional lesson.

Let’s talk about topical versus expositional real quick. Expositional preaching is where you “expose” the meaning of a text, to let the text speak on the topic or topics it is going to speak on. This is the preferred preaching method and the reason I go verse by verse through various books of the Bible, because then I don’t choose what you should learn, God has already written it out. A topical lesson on the other hand, is where we look at topics in the Bible instead of a single passage. It’s like if we wanted to look at God’s love or wrath, or one of Dave Snyder’s better jokes was his upcoming book, “Birds of the Bible.” Topical sermons can be very edifying, but their danger is that the preacher may be cheating you out of topics that you might never look at in topical sermons, like last week we looked at an imprecatory prayer, something no topical preacher would ever choose, or what has gotten me into more trouble than any other topic, how to confront false teachers.

There is a new phrase that has been coined called, “Topositional”, a topical lesson based on chapter by chapter preaching of the Bible. This lesson will be a topositional sermon, we’ll be looking at three topics pulled from Nehemiah 7. The first will be that God cares for us individually; the second will be how people before Jesus were saved; and third will be an apologetic look at God’s order and the historicity of the Bible, and maybe even talk about some numerology. These three won't necessarily go in order.

I had a terrible time deciding if we should read the whole chapter, let’s start by reading the part I know we should read,

Nehemiah 7:1-4 Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many. And I said to them, “Let not the gates ofJerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.

Remember that in the last chapter the walls were finished, but the doors were not installed yet. Here in the beginning of chapter 7 the doors are put in place, and we see a ceremony to open and shut them for the first time. During this time, Nehemiah officially turns the city over to two godly men, his brother, whose petition had started the rebuilding process, and a man we know very little about named Hananiah (an especially popular name in the Old Testament) who though Nehemiah chose for being an exceptionally godly man. Our first application is that we ought to strive to have someone be able to say the same about us!

So they wait until the sun is up and it is hot out, partly so they can see any enemies approaching, and also so any enemies would be dissuaded to fight due to the heat. It was an ingenious way to avoid a fight. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses,

Hebrews 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Nehemiah looks around the city, which was quite large, a little more than six miles around, and sees that for the most part it is very sparsely populated. So that brings us to the rest of chapter 7, I decided we should read it, except we’re going to skip the numbers.

Nehemiah 7:5 Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it:

Wait, stop there for a moment. Look who put it into Nehemiah’s heart, not just God, but “my God”, we’re going to see in this chapter that God cares for his church as well as the individuals in his church.

The list we’re going to see was compiled by Ezra, you can find almost the exact list in Ezra 2, but they are not exactly the same, sometimes the numbers are quite a bit different. You can find this is various other lists of names in the Bible, usually there is a logical answer as to why they are different, like look at verse 10, it says in Nehemiah’s list there are 652, but in Ezra’s list there were 775, and verse 11, Nehemiah’s list says 2818, but in Ezra’s list there are 2812. The logical answer is that in one case more said they would leave Babylon than made it to Jerusalem, some may have died, others may have changed their mind and stayed back. The cooler example is when there are more in Nehemiah’s list, because that means they originally didn’t return to Jerusalem, but later did decide to return. We don’t have time to look at the parable, but Jesus makes it abundantly clear that it is better to be obedient after saying you’ll be disobedient than to be disobedient after you say you will obey. (cf. Matthew 21:28-31)

Another option, which seems right in a few places, though I’m not sure, but is likely not true for this example, is what is called “copyist errors”, where someone was supposed to write 3000 but only wrote 300. Whether these are errors or not, and I believe they are not errors but have good explanations for appearing to be errors, it actually shows us something amazing about the Bible, that for more than two-thousand years the Bible has not been edited. Sometimes people claim that the Bible has been changed year after year and it’s no longer a reliable copy of the original. But if the Bible were being edited, the first thing people would have done is tried to take out the supposed errors, but we see that they haven’t, and the Old Testament we read today is the same Old Testament that Jesus read, is the same Old Testament that Nehemiah and others wrote down.

Confusing enough? In the early 1900’s, the oldest copy of the Old Testament we had was from about AD1100, more than a millennia after the New Testament was written. Some people doubted the age of the Old Testament, and this hurt the prophecies of the Old Testament, because people thought, of course the prophecies are perfect if the Old Testament was written after the New Testament. Well, this drove an effort to do what is called “Biblical Archaeology”, or to find some of the sites the Old Testament describes, like the old city of Jericho, which they found in ruins just like Joshua describes it. In 1946 they found what has since been called the “Qumran” or “Dead Sea Scrolls”, which were copies of the Old Testament dating from ~150BC. These copies were identical to the copies that were much later, showing that no editing had been done, even on supposed “errors”.

So, there are logical reasons why the numbers don’t match up, but also let this strengthen your faith in the transmission of the Bible that the Old Testament we are reading today is exactly the same Old Testament that Jesus read 2000 years ago.

So then, let’s read Nehemiah 7, sans numbers,

Nehemiah 7:6-73

These are a lot of names, and beloved, I can tell you less than a sentence about most of them. But check out:

Luke 12:6-7 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

It doesn’t matter if you are super famous or totally unknown, God knows you, even infinitely tiny details about you, and he cares for you. None of these people who are utterly forgotten to us are forgotten to him. This list would have made way more sense to us if we were living in Jerusalem in 445BC, but now even the places are foreign to us, for example, he says, “The other Nebo”, we don’t know where either Nebo is, but the original audience did. It’s likely, if the world lasts another thousand years, that nobody will have a clue that there was a Summit Baptist Church or a Canyon Shearer or (insert your name), but God will, and you know who else will? Anybody who you preached Christ to, whether they are in Heaven because they repented, or whether they are in Hell because they held to their sin.

So what do you think happened to these Jews here who were trusting in the faithfulness of God (we’ll see in chapter 8 and 9 that they were), did they die and go to Hell because they didn’t believe that Jesus died on a cross and rose again? How could they possibly believe in something that had yet to happen? Throughout the Old Testament there are references to people going to be with God, having their sins forgiven, and having an eternal happiness. How can that be?

Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."

These Jews were saved by believing that someday, in some way, God would rescue them and put their sins away.

Ephesians 4:7-8 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men."

These Old Testament saints were not allowed into Heaven, but neither were they forsaken, and when Christ defeated death, ascended to Heaven, and opened the gates, they were allowed into glory. They were saved not because they believed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but because they trusted that God would save them. The gospel is that God saves those who trust in him, Jesus Christ is the way he made that effectual. I often tell atheists, "I don't believe in God, I know there is a God, I believe he will save me from death when I step out of this world." Then I explain to them how I know that he is able to do that, having forgiven my sins, nailing them to a cross, and by raising Christ from the dead.

Does that make sense on how God saved people before Jesus? Think about this point as well, that many people in the Old Testament are currently in Hell. In 1 Peter 3 it says that Jesus preached through Noah to people who are now in Hell.

Alright, so we've seen that God cares for us individually as well as corporately, we've seen how Old Testament saints were saved by their faith in God, just as we're saved by our faith in God, accomplished through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, proven by an empty cross and an empty grave. Now we're going to look briefly at the order of God and a quick look into numerology, or a study of biblical numbers.

1 Corinthians 14:33,40 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace...all things should be done decently and in order.

There are a surprising number of people today, even within Christianity, who think that there is power in certain numbers and evil in others. For example, what is an unlucky number? 13, right? No! There are no unlucky numbers, there are no lucky numbers! Numbers are neutral.

There are preachers today who say that 40 is a special number, that if you do 40 days of something, you'll be blessed. Another preacher says that Satan hates the number 7 and by speaking in 7's you can hide your intentions from the Devil. Others play with the years, saying that 2011 is the beginning of a new decade and that you need to give them even more money so the rest of your decade will be blessed. None of these is true, the universe is put together very mathematically, but that doesn't tell us that God can be manipulated through numbers, it says that God is very orderly and the operating principles of the universe show that he is faithful. Every time science does an experiment they affirm God's faithfulness, expecting the outcome to be measureable and repeatable.

A quote that I like is "Science is thinking God's after him." Remember, it's not science versus God or the Bible, it is God and science versus sin. I'd love to camp out on this idea, but we're running out of time and that was sort of a rabbit trail.

There is a present day antichrist leading people away via radio named Harold Camping, he is basically a present day Joseph Smith (who started the Mormon cult) and the major way he is leading people astray is by messing with some numbers in the Bible and determining that the end of the world is for sure going to happen on May 21st, 2011. We have a little more than a month left, if he's right. Do you think he's right? We talked about this a bit when we looked at the 2012 end-time date. No, they are obviously not right,

Matthew 24:36 But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

So, here is our final application, we sort of got off track, but I wanted you to know the things we got off track on, which is the beauty of a topical lesson. God is a God of order, he knows both the number of people in his church, as well as each individual personally. We see this list that Nehemiah has as a precursor to a much more important list in the New Testament. Nehemiah's roll is just the membership of Jerusalem, and none of our names were on it, what we are much more concerned about is the membership roll of Heaven,

Revelation 21:26-27 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

So, cast your cares on Christ, know that he cares for you. Know that your Bible is trustworthy, know that there will be a great number of saints in Heaven from both before Christ and after Christ, and be hastening his return by preaching the gospel calling people to flee to the Lamb who was slain, who is alive forevermore. Know that no-one knows the day or the hour of his return, so don't fixate on any given date, just know that this present evil age will not last forever. In everything, know that God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, so let everything you do be done decently and in order.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April 3rd - Redeem the Time

Prayer Requests

Pastor Aaron preaching and resignation

Swift Cantrel witnessing

Students traveling for Spring Break

Easter Baptism Outreach (in the works)

Balfours camping

David - Job and School

Mason - Job

Gavin - Teaching

Jerusalem Project

Text – Nehemiah 6, Ephesians 5:15-16

This week I was going to step out of Nehemiah 6 briefly since many of our students are heading out of town for the week, but as I examined it, it seemed that our class would be intact, at least those who are following us through Nehemiah, so I decided to stay with Nehemiah, and the lesson I was going to teach is actually going to fit in pretty well.

So last week we saw some instructions for a perfect church. How should we treat our brothers and sisters within the church when they are in need? We should, out of our own abundance, fulfill their lack. Should we charge them exorbitant interest? No, we shouldn’t charge interest at all within the church. Nehemiah was a great example in this, but who is our greatest example? Jesus Christ.

Now we’re in chapter 6, here the wall is just about done, actually the wall portion is done, but all of the gates are not yet installed, and the enemies of Jerusalem are getting pretty desperate and sneaky to stop the completion. We’re going to see what they sought to do and how it relates to our life. So let’s go through it as a narrative:

Nehemiah 6:1-2 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm.

The plain of Ono is about 25 miles away from Jerusalem, it would take at least a few days for Nehemiah to go and get back. Nehemiah clearly sees that they want him to go so far so they can murder or detain him in Samaria. There is nothing wrong with avoiding someone who intends to do you harm, nor is it wrong to stand against evil, the event and your conscience must drive your response. Let me give you an example from Acts where the response was fleeing.

Acts 14:5-7 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.

Alternately what was Esther's response in the face of danger for God's sake? (I think we're going to look at Esther next) If I perish, I perish.

But saving his own life was not Nehemiah’s reason for not going, for he trusted in God and would have no problem walking into danger, but what he was interested in was good stewardship of his time,

Nehemiah 6:3 And 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?”

Nehemiah knew that his example was driving the work of the wall, he was instrumental in the building of the wall. If he left, he had reason to believe the building effort would fall apart. It would be very easy for me to say to you that this applies to all leaders, but that would be wrong, else we would expect our church to fall apart today as Pastor Aaron leaves, or when I leave sometime next year, but that’s not the case. Any guesses as to why Nehemiah was instrumental in the building of the city of God and we aren’t? Nehemiah was a type for Christ, and Christ is absolutely instrumental in the building of his church; who is in charge of building the church?

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Considering Nehemiah to be a type for Christ, I need to follow a rabbit trail real quick so you see almost the exact thing happening, when Christ was doing a great work and scoffers opposed him:

Matthew 27:42 He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.

On the cross Christ was doing an infinitely better work than Nehemiah was doing in Jerusalem. Nehemiah was only saving men’s lives, Christ was saving men’s souls, he was doing a far greater work than Nehemiah, yet both their detractors wanted him to come down from the work they were doing.

As we near Easter, I don’t think we can emphasize enough that Christ was tempted more in his life than any of us have even been tempted, coming to unbelievable levels on the cross, where he had legions of angels at a moments notice to rescue him from death, taunting, beating, and reviling, as he absorbed the full cup of his Father’s wrath for our sake. Yet he pushed through and those who hope in him are saved. Let this next verse be our favorite in the Bible, our battle cry, knowing that Christ accomplished his work first, giving us an example to follow in our lives,

Psalm 69:6 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.

The call to Nehemiah was not a one-time taunt, but was repeatedly,

Nehemiah 6:4-5 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand.

They are about to resort to blackmail, seeing that they cannot lure Nehemiah away. Let’s look at this letter:

Nehemiah 6:6-7 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.”

The claim is once again to a higher authority, to tell King Artaxerxes that the Jews are about to rebel. These are serious claims if they were true, but they’re not. We see Jesus in this as well, that though the main reason they crucified him was because he claimed to be God, the Romans saw him as a rebel trying to be king over the world. Jesus answered,

John 18:36 “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Once again we see that if we trust in God, then the truth is our best option, and Nehemiah knows that as he holds to the truth, God will bless their efforts.

Nehemiah 6:8-9 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

As always we have both difficulties outside, and difficulties inside. There have never been a lack of false prophets in the church, one of the major ones to watch out for today is Rob Bell, who is everything but a Christian, but whom is exceptionally popular with young people today. Nehemiah goes to talk to a prophet/priest who for some reason, perhaps out of fear or appearance of fear, is hiding in his house. Here is what happened,

Nehemiah 6:10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.”

This prophet tells Nehemiah to go hide in the temple, clearly the last place anyone would look for Nehemiah, because it was illegal for him to enter the temple.

Numbers 18:7 And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”

So we see that we have a false prophet in the midst of the people, he’s just tried to kill Nehemiah. Let’s see how Nehemiah reacts,

Nehemiah 6:11-12 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me.

You must constantly be on the lookout for these false prophets, and they are more rampant today than ever before. Jesus tells us how to look for them,

Matthew 7:15-16 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

A few things we see, they look like Christians, but they don’t act or believe like Christians. I find that they are often consumed with money, gifts, strange doctrines, or sexual deviancy, though these are not the only signs. Shemaiah here obviously cared more for money than God.

Remember that every time you speak for God, you make yourself a prophet, so make sure you are speaking from his Word and with reverence towards Christ, seeking to please him rather than people or yourself. It doesn’t tell us what Nehemiah did to Shemaiah, but it does tell us that he prayed to God against them, another imprecatory prayer,

Nehemiah 6:14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.

Apparently Nehemiah knew of some other prophets and prophetesses operating against him, and asked God to do violence to them. Remember from Romans 12 that we leave all vengeance up to God. In all of this, Nehemiah did not cease to oversee the building of the wall.

Nehemiah 6:15-16 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

This was record time; it shows what good leadership and the help of God can do. We know that it was record time because the people around Jerusalem saw it and knew that it was accomplished by supernatural means.

We can see the supernatural work in the building of the church when we have people from every nation and tongue come together in perfect harmony, something that can’t and won’t happen under any other world-view, because they don’t have God on their side. The devil can counterfeit a lot of amazing signs and wonders, but he cannot produce a true peace like the gospel of peace and Prince of Peace do. In the final days the Antichrist will produce a worldwide peace, but it will be short-lived, less than four years.

In the last three verses we see a new little conspiracy forming in Jerusalem, something that we’ll talk about a lot more in chapter 13, but check out how sinners are intertwined with some of the people in Jerusalem,

Nehemiah 6:17-19 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.

All of this says that Tobiah is intermarried into the Jewish people, though he himself is not a Jew. This gives him political prowess and shows that the people of Jerusalem are not willing to divorce from the world. This is a bad thing, because it points to a sinful state, moreso spiritual than physical. I feel I would do you a disservice if I didn’t point out that the Bible is certainly not against interracial marriages, for the main reason that there is only one race, the human race. But the Bible is totally against interspiritual marriages, for what fellowship does light have with darkness?

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.

Ok, so some application now. Nehemiah did some amazing things in a very small amount of time. Before that the walls of Jerusalem had been in ruins for 141 years, 90 of those years with people dwelling in it, and they had no interest to rebuild the city. But Nehemiah, in just a few weeks was able to do amazing things.

Ephesians 5:15-16 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

There are a lot of ways you can waste your time. In the United States we have a pandemic of “busyness”, where people run full speed all the time, never stopping to think, and accomplish nothing. Beloved, be testing where you spend your time, make sure it is edifying to yourself and the church, when you feel like you’re really busy, look at what you’re busy doing.

I think one of the reasons that we make so much effort to stay busy is so we don’t have to stop and think we’re not really accomplishing anything. It is good to step back every once in a while and determine whether what you’re doing is worthwhile. Nehemiah very easily could have headed off to the meeting at Ono and said, “I have to do this and it will take a week,” but he saw that his time was best spent somewhere else.

So beloved, be redeeming your time, the days are evil, now that the work for the church of Christ is infinitely more valuable than work for things that will not last. However, in everything you do, know that you are a representative of the Living God, and so live with this in mind. Let's close with,

Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.