Summary: In Nehemiah 11, the people are faced with the challenge of re-populating the holy city of Jerusalem. Since the walls and gates of Jerusalem were now restored, it was important that the builders inhabit their capital city and make the population grow. Now
Nehemiah 11:1, 12:26
In Nehemiah 11, the people are faced with the challenge of re-populating the holy city of Jerusalem. Since the walls and gates of Jerusalem were now restored, it was important that the builders inhabit their capital city and make the population grow. Now some voluntarily chose to move back into the city. Chapters 11-12 is about giving special recognition to the people who moved back into the city to live. These folks were counted as heroes and had a special praise given to them for their commitment to the city and to Israel. Why? Well the answer is simple. Jerusalem is the key for the nation of Israel and its freedom. As long as Jerusalem stands, and the temple is in operation, Israel is a nation and they can worship God as they should. If Jerusalem would fall into the hands of their enemies, and the temple worship should cease, then Israel would fall apart as a nation and go back into slavery. Therefore, the city of Jerusalem was always, and still is to this day, the central focus and the first objective of any outside invasion of an enemy army. Those who lived in the city would always bear the brunt of every invasion. They would always be the first to fight, the first to die, and the first to be taken away as slaves if they were defeated and captured. They would also be the ones who suffer greatly should any invading army decide to lay siege to the city and try to starve them out. Those who did not live in the city would live in relative peace as their homes would never be the main focus of any attack and they would always have the opportunity to run and hide, escaping the slavery that the city dwellers would face. Nearly all of those Jews who had escaped being carried off into Babylon were those who lived outside of the city. They were left alone to till the land and pay the tribute taxes to their conquerors. They lived under the control of their enemy but they weren’t nearly treated as badly as the slaves who were led away captive.
There are several lessons we learn from today’s Scripture. First and foremost, this passage teaches us we are here for one purpose and that’s to be revolutionary. Revolutionary means to go against the accepted norm of the day. We are "revolutionary" because the church is to be the force of God in the world that is infiltrating the forces of darkness and bringing the kingdom of God into our midst in a world which often fights and resists such endeavors. We are revolutionary servants of God carrying forth the mission of God in the world.
Will Willimon, was a long-time professor at Duke University and now is a bishop, wrote a book years ago called "Resident Aliens". The premise of the book is that you are and I are resident aliens, called to be and live differently from the world and yet called also to live in the world. As resident aliens we are called to offer an alternative way of life to the world, one that is so attractive that the world would be attracted to living for Jesus. In other words, we are to be salt in a bland world, light in a world filled with darkness to show the world, there’s a better way.
Second, we are servants. Most religious people suffer from the fortress mentality. We build luxurious church buildings and we really enjoy these buildings, spend most of our time and our money taking care of them. We hang out together and have dinners and bazaars. There’s just one problem: Jesus didn’t die for buildings, potlucks or bazaars. Have you ever noticed when Jesus, God incarnate, came in the flesh, the people with whom he struggled the most and had the most problems was inside the fortress of the religious institutions? From the traditional religious standpoint, Jesus hung out in places you wouldn’t want your children to hang out in today. If Jesus were here today, he would be in bars and clubs and have the same kind of friends like he had then - prostitutes and sinners. Those people didn’t have a problem with Jesus hanging out with them but the church leaders sure did! It seems that the only place Jesus got into trouble for breaking the rules was in church! The religious institution.
Jesus doesn’t want you to stay in the church. He’s wants you to move out to infiltrate the territory of darkness with the light of the kingdom of God. We see that in Acts 8:1, "On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." The Apostles were religious professionals. Look at verse four, "Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went." Is the truth of God going to get out into the world by all of you going to seminary and learning how to become religious professionals? No, you’ve got to be butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, teachers, dentists, tool makers, whatever your profession, and whatever you do, you are called to be salt and light for the world. That’s your full-time ministry. It’s not about being set apart for fulltime ministry, it’s about being in fulltime ministry in whatever you do. It’s about serving God in everything you do. Serving God is the measure of faithfulness. Those who chose to live in Jerusalem were choosing to be fulltime servants of God by living in the city, working in the city and playing in the city. And our identity is that of being a kingdom servant. Look at 12:26, "They served in the days of Joiakim son of Joshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law." They served - it didn’t say they worshiped…didn’t say they sang songs… and it doesn’t even say they were in a Bible study. They served.