by Frank Luke
FCF: Walls are meant to protect us. When the walls are broken down, we must turn to God as we rebuild them.
Intro to Sermon: Ever since Pentecost, Satan has been working to destroy the church. He moved the Jewish leadership to stone and arrest Christians. After God worked in Saul’s life, Satan turned to the Romans to bring down Christianity. It failed. With every martyr, more Christians sprang up to fight the good fight. Eventually, Christianity became a legal religion and then the sole religion of Rome. Once it was established, Satan tried to enter it and bring it down. Oh, he succeeded in making this heresy or that problem accepted for a time, he has even brought it about that the three main branches have little peace between them for centuries at a time. But through it all, the Church has remained. Each generation the threats against her seem to be the largest ever and most dangerous. Christ’s bride has stood strong because the Christians who make up the bride have remained strong.
Intro to Scripture: As you turn with me to Nehemiah, remember that this is the 20th year of King Artaxerxes, the king who took Esther to wife early in his reign. This king, like no other king before him, knows that God protects the Jews. The Jews have been in exile now for decades. The city has fallen to ruin as we will see. For your city to be ruined is a disgrace. And it gets worse. For a courtier to be sad in front of the king can result in a death sentence. This is the situation Nehemiah, cup bearer of the king, found himself in. We will be reading verses throughout the sermon today.
Nehemiah 1:1-11 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” 4Now it came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “I beseech Thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 6 let Thine ear now be attentive and Thine eyes open to hear the prayer of Thy servant which I am praying before Thee now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Thy servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against Thee; I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 “We have acted very corruptly against Thee and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses. 8 “Remember the word which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; 9 but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ 10 “And they are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou didst redeem by Thy great power and by Thy strong hand. 11 “O Lord, I beseech Thee, may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants who delight to revere Thy name, and make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man.” Now I was the cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah Disgraced (Nehamiah 1)
Nehemiah begins by telling us this is the 20th year of King Artaxerxes I of Persia. This is 445 BC. He had come to power after his father was assassinated. Artaxerxes was widely respected throughout the region. He put down a revolt in Egypt. He was a clever king and defeated Greece by funding their enemies who were already warring with them. When the Athenian league was weakened and distracted, he drove them from his territory. And always one to recognize strength, he offered asylum to Themistocles, his father’s greatest enemy, as Themistocles had fallen out of favor.
One of Nehemiah’s brothers comes to see him with some men of Judah. I believe this is one of Nehemiah’s physical brothers and not merely a fellow Judean. The news is not good. Jerusalem lies in ruins. The city walls are down. The once majestic city that had been a beacon of God to all the Middle East was disgraced. Moreover, her people were disgraced. A walled city then was a treasured object. To live in a city with walls meant the city was rich and powerful. It was strong. A walled city was less likely to be overtaken in a battle. When fighting, the enemy would leave as much of the wall up as he could because taking the city meant that much less the invaders had to do when they brought their people in.
As you can imagine, to lose your city like this meant the enemy saw no use for it. To be taken from your city was disgrace enough. For the city to be ruined meant everything was upside down. Your city was your home. Even though Nehemiah has been in the king’s palace for years and become one of his most trusted courtiers, he still thinks of Jerusalem as home. Hearing that the city is ruined shatters his well being, but, significantly, it does not shatter his faith.
Many people back then believed that each people had their own gods. When two peoples went to war, the stronger god won. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians, it meant that Rostam had overthrown Marduk. The Babylonians saw it that way. However, when the Babylonians took Jerusalem, the Jews, for the most part, did not conclude that God was weak. They concluded that they were weak in their spiritual walk and that God would restore them later.
This was Nehemiah’s place. For years, he had consoled himself in exile by repeating that the walls still stood, the people would one day return, God was still strong. Jerusalem still stood as a bright city upon a hill. As long as the walls were tall, he could take comfort. This day his comfort was taken from him. He has been with the Babylonians and now Persians for years, decades even. Nehemiah could have said that the Persians were right and that Rostam was stronger that God. But he didn’t. He fasted and prayed, he wept before God.
When Nehemiah begins his prayer, he lists out the great things of God. He isn’t telling God anything He doesn’t know. He isn’t trying to butter God up. By saying these things he is getting his mind right with God; he reminds himself of who he is talking to. The God of Heaven, the maker and keeper of covenants. The God of mercy and grace to those who walk rightly with Him.
Then Nehemiah says, “we have sinned.” He doesn’t say “they sinned in Jerusalem.” He is part of the people. “We sinned.” How does Nehemiah know the people have sinned? They’re exiled! Moses told them that if they rebelled against God, they would be exiled from the Promised Land. They had been scattered, therefore, they had sinned.
But Nehemiah also knows that there is a promise from God to return the people if they repent. If they return spiritually to God, then He will return them to their land. He will restore the disgraced people.
Nehemiah Takes a Risk (Nehemiah 2)
Nehemiah resolves to bring this matter before the King. He is the trusted cup bearer to the King. That means Nehemiah tastes the wine first and must tell king Artaxerxes if it is poisoned. If poison sneaks past him and kills the king, the cup bearer will be killed. It’s not a job for the weak of heart.
Apparently, Artaxerxes and Nehemiah are friends as well as king and servant. The king asks why Nehemiah is sad. Being sad in front of the king could cost you your life. Nehemiah explains with the queen seated next to the king. I believe this is Esther. And the king agrees to give Nehemiah safe passage to rebuild the walls. Nehemiah tells us this happens in the month of Nissan. While he does not give the day of the month, long-standing Jewish tradition is that the king granted the request on 14 Nisan, Passover.
With letters of safe passage, Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem and takes stock of the city. He doesn’t just come in and say “this is what we will do.” He makes plans. Like Jesus tells us, “count the cost” before you build a tower. How much more so the walls of a city. He goes all over the walls, even to places that he cannot get to easily.
After three days of inspections he calls the civic leaders and tells them what he plans. He tells them how God has been favorable to him. They agree to the work, except for three: Sanballet the Honorite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab. These three will go on to work against him. Nehemiah warns them that because they have ignored God, they will have no right, portion, or memorial in the city once it is rebuilt.
The Men Work (Nehemiah 3)
The third chapter of Nehemiah tells how the common people, the everyday citizens of Jerusalem, stood together to work on the wall. Listen to the names. What’s important about them? They answered the call to rebuild the wall. They had a job to do, it looked ordinary but it was from God. They stood together and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. For that, they are recorded in Scripture. They rebuilt wherever they lived. One of these men is a city official, and he rebuild the Refuse Gate. That means this noble-born man worked on the area near the latrines. Bad smell, but he did it because it needed to be done.
What is our work? Today, the church has been under attack for millenia. For the first time, the West shows strains of breaking. Look around us at the court rulings that have gone out. Abortion legal in most states. It tells us that we as a people are woefully wicked if we can stomach the thought of the most defenseless of us being murdered. Christian bakers, photographers, and florists sued for not wanting to provide a cake to a gay couple. Schools teaching less and less about educational subjects and more about safe spaces and feelings. My wife had an incident just the other night where a high schooler first didn’t know if a nickel was five cents or fifty cents. Then had to get out a calculator to figure out how much 100 of the item would be at 5 cents each. College students shouting down speech makers who dare say something the student disagrees with. I thought that’s why you went to college, to be exposed to ideas you had never heard before. To learn.
What can we do? These are the walls that have been torn down. Our society lies open to the wolves. How can we rebuild it so that we may no longer be a reproach? First, we do like Nehemiah and pray. We seek God, confessing our own sins. I don’t know your sins, so I can’t confess it. You don’t know mine, so don’t confess it either. Confess your sin before God, and trust the Holy Spirit to move your neighbor to confess his sins.
Secondly, look at what you can do and do it. We can’t all go and fight on all fronts, but each of us has a place where we can fight. You and me, common people, do what God has called you to do and let Him take care of the rest. You have a neighbor on the brink of divorce? Pray for him. Pray with him. Help that family stay together. You can talk well? Speak God’s message. You can write? Do it. You paint houses? Do it to the glory of God.
Thirdly, worry about your job and not your neighbor’s. These men fought. They rebuilt the wall with one tools in one hand and a sword strapped to their waist. Sanballet wasn’t done. He brought men to fight against the people of Jerusalem. They fought back because the work of God had to continue.
Satan will fight us every step of the way as we rebuild our homes and communities. But we know who wins in the end. All you have to do is do your job when God gives it to you.
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