Summary: Principles and practices that will help us to finish well.
Perhaps, like me, you were first attracted to the idea of becoming a disciple of Jesus because you thought that was the road to an easier life. In my case, I was led to believe that if I just prayed a certain prayer to Jesus, that would keep me out of hell one day when I died. That sounded like a pretty good idea to me at the time so I went ahead and prayed that prayer.
For others, perhaps you were enticed by the idea that becoming a Christian was your ticket to financial prosperity or to a blessed life. There is certainly no shortage of people teaching that idea in our culture today.
Some of you were promised, perhaps by some well-meaning person who really did have your best interests at heart, that if you committed your life to Jesus, all your problems would go away.
But if you’ve been a follower of Jesus for any time at all, I’m pretty sure that you’ve learned that our life as a follower of Jesus is not always easy. It is a battle from beginning to end.
That is certainly what Nehemiah discovered when he embarked on his endeavor to lead the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. He prayed, he planned, he handled opposition from without and conflict from within. But more than anything, Nehemiah was successful because he finished well. He persisted in spite of all these obstacles. And the further we get into the book of Nehemiah, the more I’m convinced the reason he was able to do that is that he understood that the struggle he faced was not just a physical struggle, it was primarily a spiritual one.
The apostle Paul warned us that we also face that same kind of spiritual battle:
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.
(Ephesians 6:12 ESV)
These same invisible enemies that confront us daily in our walk with Jesus were also present in the book of Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago. So as we study the book of Nehemiah, we are given a glimpse into the tactics that these powerful forces employ in their effort to keep us from finishing the work that God has given us to do. And even more importantly, we see how we can respond effectively to those attacks so that, like Nehemiah, we might finish well.
As we’ll see this morning, Satan uses two main tactics in that battle. The purpose of both of these tactics is to distract us from doing what we need to do in order to persevere in our journey to become mature disciples of Jesus:
• Fear. Fear is the opposite of faith. And Satan knows that if he can get us to take our eyes off of God, he can cause us to be hindered in our spiritual walk by our fear. That is why Peter compared Satan to a roaring lion who is seeking to devour us:
Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
(1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
• Deception. If Satan can’t get us to fear him, then he will try to deceive us.
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
(2 Corinthians 11:14 ESV)
This morning we will see Nehemiah’s enemies, who are unknowingly being used by Satan to attempt to thwart the work of God, use both of these tactics as they attempt to keep Nehemiah and his fellow Jews from finishing the work that is almost complete.
When we left Nehemiah last week in chapter 5, he had just handled some internal conflict within the Jewish community that threatened to keep the people from completing the task God had given to them. Once Nehemiah led the people to repent and make restitution, the work continued. And now as we get to chapter 6, we find that work is almost complete. So because Nehemiah’s enemies sense they have one last chance to keep the people from finishing that work, they use fear and deception to make one final attempt to stop the rebuilding project.
So let’s see how Nehemiah deals with fear and deceit in order to finish well. Then we can apply what we learn to our own walk with Jesus. Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Nehemiah 6 and follow along as I read beginning in verse 1:
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. 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?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.