Good morning, and welcome to The Church @ Clayton Crossings.
When you walked in this morning, you probably noticed some of our Scouts greeting you and handing out bulletins. If you’re someone who follows the news, you likely heard a story about the financial state of Boy Scouts of America this week.
There are a couple of things you need to know: our Scout troop is part of a larger council of other regional troops that don’t receive money from Boy Scouts of America but instead contribute toward it. The council we’re a part of is financially strong simply because they’re managed well. Further, as a church, we get to set the tone for how we conduct the meetings and establish the curriculum for faith-based teaching.
Having said that, I have every confidence in the men and women who are leading our kids and am thrilled that we’re able to have a Jesus-centered Scout troop that leads children to grow in their faith and their character. Thank you for serving us today and may God continue to bless all you do to make our community a better place to live.
[AUDITORIUM HOSTS TO GIVE AWAY BIBLES]
This morning, we’re wrapping up our teaching series on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. If you’ve missed the last 3 weeks, you can find them on Apple Podcasts or on our website, but let me give you the highlights:
The story centers around the city of Jerusalem and by the time Nehemiah gets involved, things are really bad in Jerusalem. The city walls had been destroyed and the Israelites were forcibly kicked out of their country and sent into exile. During the intervening 70 years, the once-majestic city of Jerusalem was in ruins.
Then we meet Nehemiah, who was a normal guy, he wasn’t a prophet or a priest – just a guy who was being held against his will in a foreign land far away from the city God had given his forefathers. In the very first chapter of the book, Nehemiah received some bad news about the reality of the state of Jerusalem.
No matter if you’ve been in church for 30 years or 30 minutes, all of us know the sense of dread that shows up when we’re overwhelmed with a problem that’s so big that there’s no way we’d ever be able to anything about it.
Have you been there? Are you there right now? Join the club – the realization that there’s quite a bit of life that we can neither control nor correct is what causes lots of people to walk into church for the first time. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re in a place where you’re really hoping there is a God. Maybe you know that God is real but in the WHATEVER IT IS YOU’RE GOING THROUGH NOW, the bigness of your problem looks bigger than your God, so you need a reminder of all of the times in the past when God showed up and did the exact right thing at the exact right time. No matter where you are today, you’ll be glad you’re here and digging into this unbelievable story.
We have evidence that Nehemiah was a guy of faith – that certainly helps when you’ve got a big problem in front of you. Immediately, in his brokenness, Nehemiah begs God to help him figure out what he’s supposed to do with this burden that he just can’t seem to shake. While he was waiting for God to fully reveal His plan, Nehemiah – since he was SURE God was going to use him as a solution to this problem – did some planning of his own.
Nehemiah took a HUGE risk and wound up talking to his boss – the king with a heretofore short temper for people with issues. But God was working, even in the life of a pagan king, and allowed Nehemiah to head to his homeland with a bunch of supplies and the promise of safe passage.
Once back home, Nehemiah made an honest appraisal of what needed to be done, rallied the people, got to work, and stayed on task even when Israel’s enemies attacked because they feared that the God of the Hebrews might actually be mighty enough to let this group of people succeed.
That’s a summary of the first 5 chapters of the book of Nehemiah, so let’s pick up in chapter 6.
Nehemiah 6:15-16 (CSB) The wall was completed in fifty-two days, on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul. When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God.
A lot of work got done in 52 days, especially considering the very real threat of danger. But God was faithful and allowed Nehemiah to do what he was created to do.
Nothing has changed. You and I, as followers of Jesus, deal with opposition while we’re trying to do what God has burdened us to do. It feels like whenever we make any stride forward, someone is there, eager to push us back.
When that happens, remember the laser-focus of Nehemiah. It didn’t matter what was going on around him – he was going to complete the work God had placed before him. The best way to refute opposition is to keep on going – eventually, everybody will see the power of God.
I’ll admit, rebuilding a stone wall around a city in 52 days seems impossible. The ancient Jewish turned Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote that this project took 2 years and 4 months. I’m OK with him being wrong. How do I know he was wrong? The Bible said 52 days, so that’s good enough for me, plus Josephus wrote his account 500 years after it happened. Like I said, I’m ok with him being wrong.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind: first, the Old City of Jerusalem was about 1/3 of a square mile – 220-ish acres (that’s still a lot of land to protect). Second, this was a rebuild, not a new construction project. The rubble from the former walls were right there, so they workers didn’t have to import much of anything for the stone portions of the wall.
Third, this was their homeland, so they were motivated to work hard to protect it. There is no doubt that Nehemiah’s passion and work ethic were infectious. Lastly, Jerusalem isn’t the only ancient city to see its fortifications rebuilt quickly. The wall around Athens was rebuilt in a month. What we’ve been reading should not be reduced to a myth – the Biblical account is true and evidence keeps mounting that God’s Word is completely trustworthy. Archaeologists in 2007 discovered a section of this wall, and somehow it showed signs of having been built in haste.
But at the end of 52 days, the Bible said that Israel’s enemies were intimidated and totally lost their confidence. I’m sure they were hoping that the Hebrews would fail. Perhaps you’ve known people who wished the same for you when it first appeared that you were open to God changing your life. You heard whispers of, “You’ll never change.” Maybe you believed them until you realized that God doesn’t hate you but He loves you and wants to experience joy and fulfillment through Him. Gradually, you began to trust Him – now you know that He always keeps His promises. But why would someone be rooting against God’s work in your life? Why would Israel’s enemies work so hard to dissuade the people of God back in Nehemiah’s day?
Here’s what I think: if someone can allow for Divine Intervention, if someone can acknowledge that God is doing something, then that admission carries with it a recognition of God’s power. Without any power or result, it’s easy to remain in indifference or unbelief. But it’s hard to argue with results, isn’t it? It’s impossible to ignore the impossible – that’s God’s specialty, after all, whether He’s rebuilding a city or if He’s rebuilding a life.
That’s one of the reasons I love the image of baptism – it’s a picture of a life that God has rebuilt through Jesus.
Nehemiah 7:1-2 (CSB) When the wall had been rebuilt and I had the doors installed, the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were appointed. Then I put my brother Hanani in charge of Jerusalem, along with Hananiah, commander of the fortress, because he was a faithful man who feared God more than most.
Nehemiah again showed qualities of good leadership in delegating authority. He was careful to select men of integrity who feared God in positions of leadership – not to lord authority over anyone, but instead to be the ones who rolled up their sleeves and got to work first. That’s how Jesus intended for His church to function, too.
The strength and integrity of a community exists in its ability to maintain its strength and integrity. In the ancient city of Jerusalem, its walls were near useless without the men to defend them. The city may have seemed huge with so little residents initially, but its sparseness made it weak.
As a community of faith, our church could make grand plans to increase our space and spend copious amounts of money, and not increase in strength or effectiveness. Instead, we find our strength in God’s favor and blessing as we accomplish His mission for our church – where all of us are willing and ready to do whatever it takes to help people find and follow Jesus. If then that means we need to increase our space and spend copious amounts of money, so be it – but only after we’re assured that’s where God is leading us.
Nehemiah’s work is done – he has completed the task God sent him there to complete. You’d think that this is the end of the story. Like I told you on the first Sunday we looked at Nehemiah, the rebuilding of the infrastructure of Jerusalem wasn’t the story – God was rebuilding His people by allowing them to renew their covenant promise with Him. The story of Nehemiah has very little to do with walls and gates; it has everything to do with a people’s trust in their God.
With the walls of Jerusalem completed, Nehemiah and the other leaders turned their attention to the most important aspect of God’s people being gathered back together. It was time, actually, the Israelites were long overdue for a spiritual renewal.
Nehemiah 8:1-3 (CSB) When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people gathered together at the square in front of the Water Gate. They asked the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses that the Lord had given Israel. On the first day of the seventh month, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law.
After the completion of the walls and gates of Jerusalem, Ezra, a priest and teacher of the Law who had led the second rebuilding efforts in Jerusalem roughly thirteen years earlier, brings out the scrolls of the Law of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament).
Ezra read the Word of God, with all of its fulfilled promises, to a massive crowd of people. Scholars estimate the number of people there to be between 45,000-50,000. The people were captivated.
Nothing has changed – God’s Word is still powerful and is authoritative for us as a church. Just like it was back in Nehemiah’s day, we prioritize the reading and teaching of God’s Word. It is a powerful and the most important form of corporate worship. That’s precisely why we give away Bibles in here every week.
Nehemiah 8:8-12 (NLT) They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” And the Levites, too, quieted the people, telling them, “Hush! Don’t weep! For this is a sacred day.” So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.
While the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, the reading and teaching of God’s Word wasn’t practiced by the majority of Jewish people. It’s no wonder they were overcome – for some of them, they were crying happy tears because they were hearing very good news for the first time. There really is a God! He really does love me! He really does keep all of His promises! He has good things in mind for me! Where has this been all of my life?!
Others in the crowd were mourning. Their tears may have come from regret over their past. “How could I have walked away from God so willingly? How could I so easily ignored God’s grace and mercy?” To them, Nehemiah and Ezra told them that their Holy God had more than enough capacity to forgive and rebuild their lives. Because of that, this would be a day of celebration.
Nothing has changed. What is the cause of your tears when you encounter the truth of God? Are they tears of gratitude and thankfulness or tears of regret? God invites you to celebrate His goodness and bask in the weightlessness of freedom – all can be forgiven.
Why should we celebrate? As Nehemiah said, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” That’s a pretty famous phrase, and you may never have realized its origin. The word for strength used here in the Hebrew language is used 34 times in the Old Testament, but Nehemiah 8:10 is the only time it is translated as “strength.”
Every other time it appears it refers to a mountain or gigantic fortress. Nehemiah is saying, “No matter the size of the obstacle or problem in your life, you’ve got a mountain-sized God who’s got your back. Dry your eyes, relax, breathe, and celebrate – look what God just did! In spite of your sin, and in spite of your past, your reason to celebrate is found in God’s joy of restoring His people. Look around – this is what restoration looks like!”
Nothing has changed. When you and I fail and live outside of what God says is best, our guilt and regret can be totally wiped away because God still delights in restoring His people. He rejoices over that. But the people back in Nehemiah’s day forgot that. How? They ignored His Word – the results in disaster. Here’s how God said it to the prophet Hosea:
Hosea 4:6 (CSB) My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from serving as my priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your sons.
That warning, by the way, isn’t for you – it’s for me. It’s for our other pastors here. That warning is for our elder leadership team. That’s why we work so hard to highlight the primacy of God’s Word and work really hard to teach it so everyone can understand it. Without a healthy diet of God’s Word, without actually living according to what it says, we’re destroyed.
You know that’s true. Think about your own life. When were you in the biggest dumpster fires of life? When you ignored God’s Word. As Ezra read the Scripture, they were reading and experiencing their story as God’s people. Their identity was being rebuilt. Knowing what God says to us and about us, about our identity as His sons and daughters, is essential for our spiritual growth and health. When we know the story of what God has done for us and the truth of our spiritual identity, we can’t help but be overcome with joy and gratitude and respond to God in obedience.
Here’s a picture of that:
Nehemiah 12:47 (CSB) So in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the singers and gatekeepers. They also set aside daily portions for the Levites, and the Levites set aside daily portions for Aaron’s descendants.
What we’ve been experiencing as a church is tied to our willingness to be obedient to God. God commands us to give back to Him – when we do, we have the privilege of seeing lives and even communities transformed. Our community group Bible studies are wrapping up a deeper dive into the discipline and benefits of generosity. I’ve heard story after story of new and renewed passion for generosity and the immediate results of being able to see God’s promises fulfilled as a result.
Don’t let your lack of trust in God or your greed keep you from joining God in what He’s doing. I know it’s a hard habit to begin, but it’s the only command in Scripture with a promise of blessing.
The Ezra-Nehemiah story begins with great hope—the return of Israel from exile and the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem. But the story ends with a bit of disappointment—the Temple neglected, the Sabbath dishonored, the Law of God ignored. The book of Nehemiah reminds us that no matter the social and political reforms we introduce, something greater must be present for true and lasting change to occur.
This story points forward to the hope of what the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel declared God would do. Just before the exile and all of this mess that the Israelites found themselves in, God promised a new covenant, which was different from the first covenant that was broken by Israel. This new covenant will involve God writing His law on our hearts.
Ezekiel promised a day when God will give us a new heart and put his Spirit within us. This new covenant, this new heart, and God’s Spirit in us were fulfilled when God sent His Son Jesus into our world.
God sent Jesus as the fulfillment of this new covenant. God offered Jesus as a permanent solution to your problems because He knew that there’s quite a bit of life that you can neither control nor correct.
He knew that you’d need to know that there really is a God. There really is a Son of God who was seen by hundreds of people after His resurrection – you can know that it’s all true. That there really is a God who keeps His promises.
You need to know that because what your going through right now, the bigness of your problem looks a lot bigger than your ability to handle it, so you need to know that a God exists who consistently demonstrates an uncanny ability to show up to do the exact right thing at the exact right time.
Through Jesus, the ultimate rebuilding and restoration is occurring for those of us who have trusted God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. God delights in restoration – He did it for a city and He wants to do it for you.
Nothing has changed. We can have the assurance of the hope that Nehemiah had:
Nehemiah 13:31b (CSB) Remember me, my God, with favor.