Summary: This sermon is part of a series I preached on Nehemiah’s one holy passion, the glory of God.
One Holy Passion
May 27, 2001
“All too easily, an ugly thing becomes tolerated, even viewed as the possibly useful thing, then the permissible thing, and finally the attractive thing. It does not happen in a moment. Standards are lowered gradually and imperceptibly. Sin becomes known by another name. We accommodate at one stage of life things which earlier would have been totally unacceptable.”
When we left the people of Jerusalem in chapters 9 & 10, they had separated themselves from the pagans in their midst, and humbly come before God in a solemn assembly to confess their sins and claim God’s forgiveness. More than this, they had pledged themselves to some very resolute and concrete promises, committing themselves to the observance of the Sabbath, the support of God’s work, purity in their marriages, etc. The temptation might have been for Nehemiah to end his book on this high note, with everything rolling merrily along as the people praise God and serve Him. But, as Raymond Brown says, “there is an obvious realism about Scripture.” We find little romanticism in it. Abraham attempts to deceive; Jacob cheats; Moses loses his temper; David commits adultery and murders; Peter lies. And the truth of the matter is that when we get to chapter 13, we find that the most spiritual of communities can find its standards subtly eroded as it accommodates to the pressures of contemporary worldliness. The people of Jerusalem did not exactly live happily ever after, but their experience is hardly uncommon.
I’m reminded of a story Tony Campolo tells of his experience in a church of the more Pentecostal bent. He tells of a man who, in the throes of spiritual involvement, began to call out in a loud voice, “Fill me, Lord! Fill me, Lord! Fill me, Lord!” To which finally an older woman in the congregation who could control herself no longer replied, in loud voice, “Don’t do it, Lord; he leaks!” But that is true for all of us: we leak. The analogies are many: like a top wound tight, we might spiritually run well for awhile, but due to the gravity force of our sin natures, we like tops naturally wind down. Sometimes we are ablaze with spiritual commitment, but fires burn down to embers over time. The people of Jerusalem had experienced real spiritual “highs”. Chapters 8-9 present such promise; Chapter 10 tells of bold promises made to God. Chapter 11 involves the determination on the part of the people that Jerusalem will truly be a holy city. In Chapter 12, the people dedicate the newly rebuilt walls, and pledge support for their spiritual leaders. Even in the first verses of Chapter 13, we see them taking a bold step on the basis of their fresh understanding of the Word. But later in Chapter 13 we see that they became guilty of “inching away” into a comfortable compromise with a pagan world. This past Wednesday in Business Conference I was happy to report the excitement I sense at FCC right now, but the message for us today is that we must be on our guards lest we give in to the natural tendency to do the same: to “inch away” into lives of compromise and complacency.