Nehemiah: Renewing A Passion For God's Glory

Back to Square One




Back to Square One

And they all lived happily ever after. It would be nice if that was how the last verse of Nehemiah 13 read. But instead we find an ending to this book that is all together different. It’s unlike most Hollywood movies. It doesn’t resemble most paperback novels. It’s anticlimactic. It has nothing of the predictable storyline that runs throughout most Lifetime movies. Having experienced a revival of great proportion, the people of Jerusalem take ten steps backwards and revert to their old ways. Whereas they has experienced a spiritual renewal, the book ends with the people of God once again in spiritual decay. What we’re going to see in this chapter is that all of the promises and all of the commitments that were made in chapter 10 have now been broken. They are, in a very real sense, back to square one.

 But how does something like this happen? How did the people of God move from renewal and revival to spiritual decay? And that’s an important question because the experience of the Israelites is not foreign to us. In fact, you don’t have to be a Christian very long before you become familiar with the ups and downs. The Lord may bring a season of renewal in your life. You’ve committed to live according to his Word. You’ve begun to see old habits put to death. But before you know it, the very things you said you would never do again…well, you’re doing them again. The reality is that even when we experience seasons of great revival, either personally or corporately, ew haven’t made it home yet. And there is an ever present need for us to persevere until the coming of our Lord Jesus. J.I. Packer rightly puts it this way, “Where God has sent reformation, Satan will work, behind the scenes if not overtly, for deformation of all that was made new.”

 So as we read chapter 13, I want us to not view it as a disappointing end to the story. Instead, let’s look at it as a sobering warning about the nature of sin. A reminder that we are a people in constant need of revival. A reminder that we are prone to drift. And yet, a people whom God has been very gracious too.

Great Sacrifice and Great Joy




Great Sacrifice and Great Joy

What do we do with the lists? Well, for most of us we skip over the lists of names because they seem insignificant and unexciting. If you walked in this morning excited because you knew chapter 11 and 12 contained long lists of name, you’re probably in the minority!

 Now there’s a reason why these names seem insignificant and unexciting (besides the fact they are difficult to pronounce). It’s because these are ordinary people. They’re not celebrities. There’s no glam. They’re ordinary people, who worked ordinary jobs, and lived ordinary lives. In a sense, they’re just like us. Ordinary people, ordinary jobs, ordinary lives. But that shouldn’t come to use as a Debbie Downer. One of the major themes that runs throughout Nehemiah is that God is fulfilling his promises. Think of Nehemiah as the unfolding of what God specifically said he would do through his people. It’s an integral part of the redemptive story line of the Bible. And as God has been rebuilding a broken city, His city, he’s done every bit of it through these ordinary people.

 God is still at work in the world. But instead of building temples and walls, he’s building his Church. He’s building the kingdom of God. And brick by brick, the kingdom of God is growing as people come to faith in Christ, as the body of Christ is built up and edified. And guess who the Lord is using to make that happen? He’s using ordinary people, with ordinary jobs, and ordinary lives. God’s intention for building his kingdom is to use you. Of course, our being used of God doesn’t come without great sacrifice. But, as we’ll see in our text this morning, it also is accompanied by great joy. In fact, it was so great, the text tells us that the “joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” So what kind of sacrifices did they make, that they would experience overwhelming joy?

Covenant Renewal




Covenant Renewal

Why is it that for some many, change rarely takes place? If I asked you individually, many of you could tell me about changes that need to take place in your life. You’re probably aware of sinful habits that need to die and priorities that need to be reordered. And yet, for so many, there is so little progress in our spiritual lives. It’s not enough to recognize that change needs to happen, you have to want it to happen. There has to be a commitment on the part of God’s people. James Boice, the late presbyterian pastor wrote that “There must be commitment to something different or bigger or grander than ourselves if we are to make progress in our lives.” A renewed life, requires nothing less than a radical commitment to God and his glory. And we see something of that as we open God’s word this morning as we turn to Nehemiah 10.

 Let me remind you, we’re picking up in the midst of a revival. The city has been built. The construction campaign is over. But now the more difficult work of rebuilding the people has begun. You see, more important than the wall around the city or the temple, is that God’s people are living in right relationship to Him. But once you’ve been estranged from God - as the Israelites had been at this point in history - how does that happen? How do you experience a genuine revival?

 Over the last few weeks we’ve seen it play out in this way: First, there has been a return to the Word. In chapter 8, the people come together and ask Ezra the priest to bring out the book of the law. He reads and teaches from it for six hours. The people listen intently. They Levites made certain everyone understood it and knew how to apply it. It caused an awakening of sorts to stir within. All of a sudden, they had been awakened to the gravity of their sin. For the first time in years they came to see in the beauty of God’s law, the ugliness of their sin.

 But second, after a return to the word there is a genuine brokeness. In chapter 9, the longest prayer in the Old Testament, is a prayer of confession. In fact, they confessed their sins for three hours. The rehearsed how over and over again they rebelled against God, only for their rebellion to be met with a greater outpouring of God’s mercy on them.

 And now we come to the third step in chapter 10. A revival is not complete unless the people of God commit themselves to live differently. Revival has not taken place unless there is a renewed commitment to live for the glory of God. And when there is that sort of commitment, then and only then can we make progress in our lives.

An Awakened Conscience




An Awakened Conscience

What do you do when things accumulate? Unless you happen to be the world’s cleanest person or you hire a maid service to come to your house, you know what I’m talking about. The laundry easily accumulates and you never feel caught up. There always seems to be an accumulation of dishes in the sink - especially after dinner. No matter how many times you take out the trash, it’s not uncommon to find it overflowing. Well, when those sorts of things accumulate we know what to do. Throw the clothes in the washer. Scrub the pots and pans. And walk the trash to the curb.

But laundry, trash, and dishes aren’t the only things that accumulate. Think about your sin. Think about your transgressions. Picture with me for a moment, that over the course of your life sin has piled up on sin. Imagine that your sin, over the years, has amassed into something of a personal landfill. It’s dense. It’s massive. It’s weighty. And it stinks. It hangs over your head with the potential to crush you at any moment. Yet, the mercy of God is the only thing keeping it at bay. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).

What do you do when your sin accumulates? We pick up in Nehemiah 9 this morning. And in this scene the people of God begin to rehearse the accumulation of their sin. It’s been about three and half weeks since the revival at the Water Gate. In chapter 8 there was a recovery of what it meant to be a people under the Word. The Book of the Law was opened for the first time in years. They gave their full attention to it. And as the Word was read, explained, and applied, they wept. That’s what happens. When you and I begin to take the Word seriously. When we learn to interpret the Scriptures, the Scriptures begin to interpret us. We are brought face to face with our sin as it’s exposed by the Word. And in a sense, our conscience is awakened. 

In fact, think of revival as happening in three parts. #1, there is the preaching and hearing of the Word of God. We saw that in chapter 8. #2, there is sorrow for sin and repentance. We’ll see that in chapter 9 this morning. And #3, there is a recommitment or renewing of the covenant. And we’ll see that next week. 

Bring Out The Book




Bring Out The Book

“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Those are the words of David in Psalm 85:6. And those are the words that I hope are on our lips by the time we conclude our study this morning.

 It is not uncommon for believers to at times drift into periods of weakness and indifference. For there to be stretches where there is little passion for the things of God, and little concern for how we might live for the glory of God. There are times when when we would best describe our spiritual life as dry, stagnate, and lifeless. And yet, the believer is not ok with this. The heart inevitably speaks, “Will you not revive us again?

 My guess is that some of your are in that very spot. The things of God do not interest you much like they used to. Bible reading is a chore that never gets done. Serving in the body is a burden. Old habits are becoming regular again. And your interest in the truth has wained. And what you need more than anything else is a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit. You need a revival.

Now when I say the word “revival,” for some, that word conjures up images of big tent meetings with a preacher who can raise their voice a lot more than I can. Scheduled meetings where special services are held for a week, maybe two. People going door to door, handing out tracts. And that’s all well and good. But in Nehemiah 8 we see a revival of a different kind. There’s no tent. There’s no fiery evangelist. Instead, there’s a recovery of - and return to - the Word of God. Up until this point, the focus in Nehemiah has been on the re-building of the walls. But now, the story takes a decisive shift and it’s no longer about physical restoration, but spiritual restoration. The first six chapters are about the building of walls, and now the rest of Nehemiah is about the building of people.

 And what happens in chapter 8 is unique. It had been two hundred years since something like this had taken place. The last time would have been during the reign of King Josiah and the scribe Shaphan found the Book of the Law. Keep in mind that al these people who had returned to Jerusalem had been spent the entirety of their lives in captivity. They’ve lived with Babylonians, without a real awareness of what it means to be the people of God. Life for them was not the same as it had been for their ancestors. They knew they belonged to God but they were literally starving because what was missing was the Word of God. And so, as J.I. Packer so aptly says regarding this chapter, “God broke in.”

Pressing On




Pressing On

The famous Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe was no stranger to adversity. Growing up in the early 1900's as a Native American, Jim experienced the horrors of racism and prejudice. Not only that, he had to deal with the reality of death at an early age. His twin brother died when they were only 9 years old. And before he reached adulthood, both of his parents also died, leaving Jim an orphan.

 But God blessed Thorpe in one particular way—his athletic ability. He was one of the first players to ever play professional baseball and football. He was one of those rare athletes that excelled at whatever sport he tried. And among all of his accomplishments, perhaps his greatest was his two Gold medals in the 1912 summer Olympic games in Stockholm Sweden. Shortly before he was to start in the pentathlon, someone stole his shoes. Instead of giving up, Jim went to the trash and found two shoes … of two styles. One was an athletic shoe and another was a loafer. Each shoe was a different size. He compensated by adding an extra sock. He was determined to run the race that he had been asked to run. His perseverance and resolve to finish the race is what enabled him to run it. Jim was determined to run the race set before him with no excuses.

 You and I, have a race set before us. In fact, more than once the Bible uses this kind of imagery to describe the Christian life. The Apostle Paul, when nearing the end of his life said this: [7] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). His life was focused on the one event which truly mattered - the mission that God had set out for him. Or consider what Paul said to the church at Galatia: [7] You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 5:7). You see they had believed the truth of the gospel, they were applying that belief to their behavior - but someone had hindered them. An obstacle had been thrown on the track.

 If the Christian life is akin to running a race, the obstacles are endless. We get begin to run well after righteousness, and yet find ourselves sidetracked by a besetting sin. We begin to run well seeking to know the truth of God, and yet find ourselves floundering to read the Bible. We begin run well living out the gospel in our lives, and yet find ourselves sidetracked by the schemes of the enemy.

An Internal Threat




An Internal Threat

Mortgage crisis. High lending fees. Foreclosures. Payday loans. Oppression. Corporate greed. One might think I grabbed those words from headlines in the news this week. But in reality, they’re an excellent way to summarize the problems in Nehemiah chapter 5. And at the same time, I doubt anyone would argue the contemporary nature of those problems. Once again we see that the book of Nehemiah, although removed from us by time and culture is in fact a very applicable book.

 As we resume our study this morning, let me remind you of where we’ve been. The people of God spent a good number of years in exile as a result of their disobedience. God had warned them time and time again. They ignored his warnings and broke covenant with him. But even in the midst of God’s just punishment, he promised to one day bring the scattered people of God back together to rebuild the city of God - as well as their lives. And because God is always faithful to his promises he does just that. He raises up Nehemiah. A man who studies his Bible and prays. A man with a passion for the glory of God. And he uses Nehemiah to lead the people in the rebuilding effort. And they get to work building the walls of the Jerusalem.

 But what proved true for Nehemiah and the people - what is always true for us - is that opposition is inevitable. Anytime you do something good for God, opposition will come. We’ve saw that chapter 4 especially as they people of God face verbal abuse and physical threats. But they didn’t give up. Nehemiah led them to work hard and trust hard. But what we’re going to see today is that the opposition continues in chapter 5. And this time it isn’t opposition from the outside - its opposition from the inside.

Adversity And Sufficiency




Adversity and Sufficiency

Sometimes the most difficult task is not getting started, but keeping going. One of the more arduous projects I have ever taken on was the finishing of the lower level in our home in South Dakota. I did some extensive tiling in the downstairs - about 600 square feet of flooring and a shower. Getting started wasn’t the hard part. I bought the supplies. I watched YouTube videos, and probably annoyed the flooring guy at Home Depot with all of my questions. But while getting started wasn’t that difficult, finishing it was. What I thought would take a few weeks turned out to be six months. I ran into all sorts of set backs I wasn’t expecting - uneven spots in the floor, warped tiles, tight corners, mortar drying too fast…let’s just say I was ready to quit more than once.  

Of course, Christians face adverse situations that are far more serious than mixing mortar and laying tiles. If there is something you and I know, it’s this: adversity and setbacks are common to the Christian life. In fact, the book of Nehemiah along with other parts of the Bible remind us that every time we are living for the glory of God in all things, we will face adversity and persecution to one degree or another. As we mentioned last week, the Apostle Paul once told Timothy that all who desire to live a godly live in Christ will be persecuted. When an individual Christian, as well as the corporate church, move along the path of faithfulness - there will be opposition and adversity to be certain. The question is what are we going to do about it? Let’s turn to chapter 3 and chapter 4 of Nehemiah. I won’t read chapter 3 right now. We’ll refer to it as we move along.

Acting Under The Providence Of God




Acting Under The Providence Of God

Which is better? To pray or to act? If you fell terribly ill, should you pray or go to the doctor? If you were unemployed, should you pray or work hard on your resume? If you’re a parent having difficulties with your son or daughter, do you pray or start making changes in your household? For most of us, it doesn’t take much pondering to realize that we should do both. If we move to action without prayer, we essentially take matters into our hands. But just because we’ve prayed, does that mean we should be sitting on our hands waiting for a miracle to happen?  

The story of Nehemiah, like so many great stories of the Bible, introduces us to the doctrine of divine providence. The providence of God tells us that God is always at work. Whether we see it or not, God is directing all things in the universe. He is in complete control of all things. He governs the world with wisdom and love. And nothing happens by chance or fate.  

Listen to how Tony Evans describes this attribute of God:

“Providence is the hand of God in the glove of history. It is the work of God whereby He integrates and blends events in the universe in order to fulfill His original design for which it was created. It is God sitting behind the steering wheel of time. Providence refers to God’s governance of all events so as to direct them toward an end. It is God taking what you and I would call luck, chance, mistakes, happenstance and stitching them into achieving His program.” 

So what does it look like to live in light of God’s providence? As we move along in our series Nehemiah shows us what it means to pray and act, all the while having a keen awareness that God is always at work. Last week when we left him, he was broken man. Weeping and praying over the ruined state of Jerusalem. We listen to him plead with God to lead in an effort to see the Holy City of God rebuilt. And in a very real sense, this story illustrates how the damaged and ruined areas of our lives need to be rebuilt.