We began this year discovering what God has to teach us from the Book of Nehemiah.
- Where we find a calling I believe is appropriate for this new year; a calling to fresh starts… fresh starts for the unfinished walls of our personal lives and the vision God has given us as a fellowship... in this time and place.
- As you may remember, the book of Nehemiah is set at a point in the history of Israel, the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and a majority of the people taken into captivity by the Assyrians.
- A remnant remained and had previously rebuilt the temple but the walls of the city… the kingdom… were still rubble…
- THE PEOPLE HAD GROWN FAMILIAR with unfinished work they lived in.
- You can imagine how they might have wandered in and around the slabs of broken wall day after day…
- After a while they likely grew more accustomed to the reality of rubble than restoration; more accustomed to the work of familiarity than the work of faith
- A condition that we can all face…
Nehemiah recognizes what God set forth has been left unfinished. He has a ‘holy discontent’, not born of regret but of faith to see the establishment of the temple… city… Kingdom of God.
All this stands as a dynamic parallel and preview of the Kingdom of God being established in and through our lives
- Christ said he came to proclaim the Kingdom of God; and that the Kingdom of God was to be born “within” us; that is the reign of God in and thru us.
- The Holy Spirit has been sent to us as a Comforter even as Nehemiah came as the Comforter of God. The Holy Spirit is dent as the divine Reminder… and Restorer… even as Nehemiah was.
SO IT IS THAT IN NEHEMIAH WE DISCOVER WHAT IT MEANS TO FIND A FRESH START IN FINISHING THE WORK OF GOD IN OUR LIVES.
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” (Nehemiah 4:1-3)
- Now there’s some encouragement! We’re reminded that the Israelites didn’t really have a home team advantage here.
- We find these two men in particular, Sanballat and Tobiah, stand as figures of opposition throughout the rebuilding under Nehemiah. Both were influential. Sanballat was a ruler in Samaria (a document dated 407BC refers to him as governor of Samaria. Tobiah is a Jewish name… and history points to him as likely as Jew who had grown resentful of his own people. (Sometimes our detractors can be those within our own circle or family.)
- Back in chapter 2… verse 10 we read, “When these two heard about Nehemiah coming back to initiate the rebuilding, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.” They were threatened… their power to rule over the people was threatened.
1. WHEN I’M ACTIVELY RAISING THE WORK OF GOD MY LIFE WILL DRAW SPIRITUAL OPPOSITION.
- As your life is the temple of God thru Christ… the Kingdom within thru Christ…
your life is a threat to the spiritual powers separated from God.
- And the Church as the living body of Christ—a corporate manifestation of the kingdom of God—is a threat
> Part of a fresh work of faith in our lives and ministry is simply a fresh awakening that we don’t live in a neutral world.
- Just as the Spirit of God is constantly at work to help us; there are also powers at work to hinder us.
- Most of us may conceive of this on a cognitive level, but on a conscious level… day to day… we may more easily accept mere the idea of obstacles rather than opposition
- Christ defeated evil and evil powers on the Cross, inaugurating the Kingdom of God, but the fulfillment waits so that God’s redemption can go forward.
- In this period, there lies a spiritual opposition for which there’s no truce… no demilitarized zone… no conscientious objectors.
2. THE GREATEST OPPOSITION IS THAT WHICH AFFECTS OUR INNER DISPOSITION
- No weapons are wielded here… words are! Words looking for a home in the human heart; for there they have the potential to sow discouragement, doubt, distraction.
- So with you and me, the enemy can really never destroy us if in Christ we’ve been born again as Children of God into the eternal Kingdom of God; but he can defeat us within by attacking our disposition
- What God calls forth in us is not simply a humanistic-positive thinking, but a spiritually based, positive disposition.
o The relationship between heart and faith… we don’t overcome opposition by changing reality but by incorporating the full reality of God; this involves connecting our hearts with faith.
- Just as God desires our hearts, so the enemy wants our hearts
- Proverbs 4:23 ‘Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”
- WE NEED TO GUARD THE WORK OF GOD IN US. FROM THE DISCOURAGMENT, DOUBT AND DISTRACTION.
- It is easy to let our minds wander from what God gives us; that’s why we need to actively guard our inner disposition
o Hebrew word for meditation implies reflection but also ‘self-talk’
o Paul talks about “taking all thoughts captive in Christ” (Malcolm Muggeridge once said Mother Theresa never reads the newspaper, listens to the radio, watches the television, so she’s got a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the world.)
o Paul says “Faith comes from hearing God’s Word…” not ours.
o Interesting, when God called his people to march around Jericho… he also called them to be silent.
… and so Nehemiah led the people in faith to overcome opposition.
“Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their height.” (Nehemiah 4:4-6)
3. THE SIMPLEST STEP TO SUCCEEDING IN ALL GOD HAS IS SIMPLY GOING FORWARD… NOT GETTING SIDETRACKED OR SIDELINED.
- In prayer they seek God’s defense; turning the insults back on their source, and stay focused on what God has set forth for them.
- Then comes the simplicity of v. 6… which shows the power of faith to shrink the opposition down to size.
- So often we might equate our sense of spiritual strength with our intelligence… or our feelings… but what the enemy fears is simply our faith
- THE KEY IS OFTEN JUST THE ABILITY TO KEEP LOOKING FORWARD
o Rear-view mirror… good for a quick check… but use the windshield to drive.
o Jesus said if a man puts his hand to the plow… he shouldn’t look back… if he does, he’s not fit for the kingdom… which by nature calls us to go forward.
o First to break 4-minute mile, Roger Banister, 2nd was New Zealander, Landry. Canada sponsored "Miracle Mile" with both. Banister was ahead but looked over his shoulder and Landry shot past him. Don’t look back.
… having lost ground, the opposition now adds fear of physical threat, to which Nehemiah replies…
But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (Nehemiah 4:9)
Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest point of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that god had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work. (Nehemiah 4:12-15)
4. COMPLETING GOD’S WORK IN MY LIFE AND MINISTRY IS NEITHER A PRESUMPTUOUS OR PASSIVE VENTURE; IT REQUIRES BOTH GOD’S POWER AND MY PREPARATION.
- So often we can find ourselves tugged by two seemingly competing ideas about responsibility in our lives:
o Let Go and Let God
o God helps those who help themselves
- Here is the clearest picture of their mutuality and balance
- Derek Kidner ‘The faith of Nehemiah lies in a partnership between heaven and earth.’
- Our confidence is in God alone; but not without our participation
- Jesus said “The fields are ripe… pray to the Lord of the Harvest… for what? For the laborers! For themselves!
Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” (Nehemiah 4:19-20)
5. THERE IS SPIRITUAL SAFETY IN MY CONNECTION TO FELLOW BUILDERS
- Nehemiah has great perception, he sees the vulnerability of distance, of disconnection.
- When I first came to know Christ…I felt so strong in my faith… felt invincible… then in my senior year of High School… a job got me in another circle of people… fell away.
o I learned that while my faith couldn’t be contingent on the fellowship of others, I was vulnerable without it.
- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen those who get isolated… become spiritually vulnerable. That’s why we seek to build our life as a fellowship through primary fellowship groups.
So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and workmen by day.” Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water. (Nehemiah 4:21-23)
6. DEDICATION WILL CALL FOR CONSTANT ALERTNESS.
The Winter 1991 issue of the "University of Pacific Review" offers a chilling description of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster:
"There were two electrical engineers in the control room that night, and the best thing that could be said for what they were doing is they were ’playing around’ with the machine. They were performing what the Soviets later described as an unauthorized experiment. They were trying to see how long a turbine would ’free wheel’ when they took the power off it.
"Now, taking the power off that kind of a nuclear reactor is a difficult, dangerous thing to do, because these reactors are very unstable in their lower ranges. In order to get the reactor down to that kind of power, where they could perform the test they were interested in performing, they had to override manually six separate computer-driven alarm systems. One by one the computers would come up and say, ’Stop! Dangerous! Go no further!’ And one by one, rather than shutting off the experiment, they shut off the alarms and kept going. You know the results: nuclear fallout that was recorded all around the world, from the largest industrial accident ever to occur in the world."
Will you stay awake… alert… to the danger of that which seeks to overtake you.