Throughout our journey this month to rediscover The God of the bible, we have seen a consistent pattern among God's people, this nation He was building. They would come to God and enjoy the blessing of relationship with Him. Over time, however, the people would turn away, even reject God. After this cycle continued for Generations, God allowed the Babylonians and Assyrians to take his people, the Jewish people, the entire nation captive.
Through a series of events that only God could orchestrate, a teenage orphan girl by the name of Esther was in the right place at the right time to be used by God to save the Jewish Nation from complete annihilation. And now 20 years later, God's people return home to Him, they return home to Jerusalem under the leadership of a priest by the name of Ezra, and they begin to rebuild not only the temple and walls around the city, but rebuild their lives. This is when we are introduced to Nehemiah.
Nehemiah is a cup bearer to King Artaxerxes. His job is to drink the king’s drink and eat the king’s food before the king does. Sounds like a great job, except for the reason for the job is that if someone wants to take out the king, often times they would try to poison the food or drink. And so the king looks over to see how the cup bearer is doing after he takes the first few drinks or bites of food. If he's still going, it's ok. But if he dies, the king holds off on dinner.
Nehemiah hears from his brother, who was part of the group returning to Jerusalem, that the temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, but the walls around the city are broken down and the gates have been destroyed by fire. And in a sense, the walls around the city of Jerusalem were a shameful reminder that due to the sins of the people, God had allowed that city to be destroyed. The broken walls around the city of Jerusalem looked like the lives of the people who once lived there - broken.
Nehemiah chapter 1, verse 3 says: "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven."
Nehemiah goes into work the next day, he is sitting beside the king tasting the wine before the king drinks it, and King Artaxerxes notices he doesn't keel over, but he also notices that something isn't right with Nehemiah. So in verse 2, the king asks: "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart." And Nehemiah, although he was very much afraid, later writes to us saying: "but I said to the king, why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” And then the king asks; "what is it that you want?" And Nehemiah says - "Let me go home and rebuild the city."
God's desire is for me to be home. He will make a way.
The New Testament says that "God is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to (come home) come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9b)(NIV) God is "Patient". For those of you who are parents, you understand the significance of this word. It is alive with meaning. It is enduring pain without complaint, it is persevering, it is activity seeking to restore. God is calling us home and so He will use our current captivity, the experience of living in exile in a world that is riddled with cancer and injustice, He will use the situation that has left us brokenhearted. He will use it all so that you and I will turn to Him, return to Him, and come home.
In vs 6, the King and Queen give not only their blessing, but send with Nehemiah letters to the governors of the land that he will be granted safe passage but also the resources that he needed to rebuild the walls and gates. Now, if God can move the heart of a pagan king, God can make a way in your life and mine for us to come home and rebuild our life with Him.
The first thing Nehemiah does when he returns to Jerusalem in Chapter 2, verse 11, is he privately set out with a few good men and explored the broken wall and gates.
My life is best rebuilt when I examine my life honestly against God's word. Maybe you've been checking out the lives of some of the people we've read about who lined their lives up with God and you know that's the kind of life you want to have, and this has brought a renewed interest in God's word. In Nehemiah chapter 8, verse 1 we read: "All the people assembled as one man in the square.... They told Ezra to bring out the book of the Law of Moses which The Lord had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand and he read it aloud from daybreak till noon. And all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.
Verse 6 says "Ezra praised The Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped The Lord with their faces to the ground." The word Amen? meaning: "Let it be just as you have said in my life."
Early in my preaching, I discovered that when I would preach on topics like tithing, marriage, raising children, the crowd would be pretty silent...until I got the part about marriage being between one man and one woman and then the crowd would liven up a little with a few "amen's". Why would we sit silently on some issues yet shout out Amen on the others? Because it is easier for us to see where other people aren't aligning their life with God's word and overlook the areas in our life that we are resistant to His word on.
For your life and mine to be rebuilt, this requires that we line our relationships, our finances, our priorities, our lives in direct obedience to God's word.
At the reading of God's word, Nehemiah says, the people bowed down and worshipped because they remembered, and they repented, they longed to be restored.
Chapter 9, verse 2, They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They stood where they were and read from the book of the law of The Lord their God for a quarter of the day and spent another quarter in confession and in worshipping The Lord their God.
We also see that in their reading of the law, that there were some things they didn't know they were supposed to be doing. Ever done that? I know I have. For the Israelites it was the Feast of Tabernacle (which was set forth by God in Deuteronomy as a time when the people would appear before God at a place of his choosing to celebrate his provision. Thousands would come to the temple with their tithes and offerings, it was a joyful scene. It is the same feast that Jesus stood in the street and said "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink and he will never thirst again") and so in Chapter 8, verse 16 they took the next week to engage that feast and it says that from the days of Joshua until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great!
James 1:22 tells us: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it- he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:22-25)(NIV) God restores our broken lives as we align our lives with His word.
Second, My life is best rebuilt within a community of other believers.
After Nehemiah and his small group of men privately inspect the broken walls and gates, the work of rebuilding began. Throughout this chapter you will read of groups of people working together on the various gates and walls. It had to look like one of those Extreme Home Makeover episodes. Every verse mentions another group working on another gate, room, bolts, bars, and a section of wall 1500 feet long or more until the job was done in record time.
One of my best memories here at MCC was that 2nd year of our time here. Just as it is today, there were folks coming each week that had been out of church for several years. There were teens who don't remember ever being in church, and we knew we needed to begin making more room. The back 17 feet of the worship center was offices and so a group of us guys began working to tear those out, construct the cry room for the now young moms and babies that were beginning to attend here and we added 80 seats. But the best part was sharing afternoons and evenings with a dozen or so men who not only shared the same interest in the church, but we got to share details of our life that we otherwise wouldn’t have shared.
That’s why I’m excited about Phase 1 of our Above and Beyond project that will expand our lobby, add classrooms and offices, a new kitchen and restrooms allowing us to completely gut the lower level and assemble a state of the art Children's ministry area... IT is a great opportunity for us to work together and share life. As we’ve said many times, it is in enjoying times like this that we build relationship so that when hard times come we are then able to comfort each other.
There are believers who move from church to church within the same community. If there is a problem they leave. If people don't invite them over, they leave. If the preacher talks too much about a topic that doesn't get a good political Amen they leave. But those who stay, those who reach out and build lives with others, who share in common goals and projects - sure there are different methods, sure there are different ways to stack a rock, yes we may get tired and a little ruffed up when someone drops a stone on our foot or doesn't carry their share of the load, but this is where we grow, this is where we understand grace, this where our lives are shaped and refined....
Third, My life is rebuilt through faithfulness in times of opposition. From the very beginning, In Chapter 2, verse 19, even before the rebuilding of the wall began, the Horonites, the Ammonites and Arabs heard about it and mocked and ridiculed Nehemiah. "What is this you are doing? they asked. Are you rebelling against the king?" Verse 20 says: "I answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding." In chapter 6, after the wall was built, the same surrounding enemies called for a meeting. But God gave Nehemiah insight that they were scheming to harm him and so he didn't go. In verse 5, One of them started a rumor that the Israelites, now that they had a fortified city again, were plotting to revolt and that Nehemiah would become their King. In verse 10 one of Nehemiah’s own wanted to meet with him inside the temple, but Nehemiah realized that he only wanted to try to get him to sin and discredit Nehemiah.
Here's something you and I discover during times of opposition. God wants us to come home, he makes a way for us to come home, and God gives me His complete protection as I rebuild my life around His purpose and commands.
The benefit of building our lives around God's purpose and commands is that we have his complete protection. Yes you will have opposition, you can count on it. Jesus said "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)(NIV) John later wrote: "Greater is he that is you, than he that is in the world." (1 John 4:4)(NIV) There is opposition from old friends, there is self-doubt and issues from our past, there is our enemy, the accuser, who wants us to go back, not forward. But we have God on our side, fighting for us, empowering us, protecting us if we will stay within the shelter of his care.
Chapter 6 verse 15 says "the wall was completed in 52 days." 52 days. The temple - took more than 17 years - 16 of those years - nothing happened because of opposition, because of failed priorities. But there is more, not only was the wall completed in 52 days because the people rebuilt as a community, but "when the enemies heard this.. all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God."
Listen, this is the whole purpose, this is God's hope, his desire. He strengthens us, he leads us, rebuilds our lives not because we are perfect, but He does this in our faithfulness, and he does it so that He will get the glory, that the people around us will be pointed to Him. The blessing for us in all of this, is that we have honored him by the way we love, the way we parent, the way we work, the way we give, our humility, grace, patience, kindnes. It all comes from Him and it all points back to Him.
Through the Prophet Malachi, God gives us one additional instruction on rebuilding relationship with Him. Malachi warns us against the opposition we face within ourselves - hypocrisy - "saying we believe one thing and doing another". We cannot have relationship with God when we choose to live a lie, live in disobedience to the truth of His Word.
Throughout the last 4 chapters in the Old Testament, through Malachi, God speaks these words: Chapter 1 - "You have walked away from me." verse 6 "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master where is the respect due me? says The Lord Almighty. Hypocrisy dishonors God. Chapter 2, verse 11: "You have broken faith with each other." The men were treating their wives in a way that wasn't honoring to God and wondered why God wasn't pleased with their worship. Chapter 3, verse 8 "You have stolen from me." "Will a man rob God, yet you rob Me. But you ask, how do we rob you? In tithes and offerings, and you are under a curse because of it. So "Bring the whole tithe into the store house that there may be food in my house. Test me in this says The Lord and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing you will not have room enough for it."
It's the final lesson we learn when rebuilding our lives. Hypocrisy only brings separation in the end. Psalm 1 says: "Blessed is he who delight is in the law of The Lord and on his law he meditates, he lives, by day and by night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf doesn't wither. Not so with the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. For The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." (Psalm 1:1-4,6)(NIV)
Over the last six weeks, this has been the message - God wants relationship with you and me. God's purpose from the very beginning was to come and create a perfect place where he could walk with us, talk with us, enjoy life with us and us with Him in an environment free from sin, disease, dysfunction and death. The entire Old Testament exists to reveal not only God's plan to restore this relationship, but the length that God will go in order to do it. And here in what is the final book of the old testament, Malachi points us to God's next move. He tells us that the next prophet who is going to speak for God is going to introduce us to the One we have been waiting for, the One who will provide the once-and-for-all solution for getting us back to God. He is going to introduce us to One Savior, God in the Flesh who has come for us, Jesus Christ.
That messenger is John the Baptist - His message? "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near, prepare the way for the Lord". The same as Ezra, the same message as Nehemiah, "Repent..." Only this time God is coming himself..
God comes Himself to meet me right where I am and begins restoring me. God reaches out his hand, he offers us not just a 2nd chance, but a new beginning. He takes our past and separates it from us. And he lifts us up and says "here is my son, here is my daughter that I love, let's celebrate for this child that was lost has come home."
I hope you will come out this weekend for worship. Saturday night at 5:30 pm is a great time to start. I hope to see you here! Dave