Nehemiah Week 4:
Pastor Tim Inman
We are on week 4 of a series about rebuilding based on the book of Nehemiah. It has been strikingly appropriate as we consider the position our nation, christian churches, and we individually find ourselves in. It’s time to rebuild.
Rebuilding can be difficult. Consider the story of the Freedom Tower, One World Trade Center in New York. Rebuilding on the site of the September 11 attacks became an important symbol for the ability of our nation to rebuild, and it wasn’t easy. After a vigorous debate, construction began in 2004 with the laying of a cornerstone. For two years the project languished due to disputes between the port authority and the builder, Tishman Realty and Construction. At one point the cornerstone was even temporarily removed. With all the emotionally charged debate, Americans wondered if it was even possible to rebuild at Ground Zero.
Finally, the project got started. It took two years to reach ground level and another year to build the first floor above ground level. It was already 2009 and hitting a target of finishing in 2012 with 103 stories to go seemed impossible. 2010 was a productive year. “ The Port Authority announced on December 16, 2010 that 1 WTC had reached the 52nd floor, and had risen to over 600 feet (180 m), marking the halfway point for the construction of the building's steel frame.” Even after this there were weather related delays, design changes and other challenges, but on December 12, 2012, the spire was being lifted atop the 104th floor and the building opened for business in 2014. Rebuilding and moving forward in our lives can feel like a daunting task. Initially there may even be a hesitancy to admit a need to rebuild. If we face the music and take inventory, the task can seem so daunting that we avoid getting started. And difficulties can arise which challenge our commitment to finishing. Whether we are talking about recovering from grief, moving on after a divorce, or just moving forward with God’s plan in our lives, we can learn from Nehemiah and the Jews struggle to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
I need to briefly cover some background information to bring us all up to speed to what’s going on in chapter 4 of Nehemiah. Hundreds of years earlier, God had made a covenant of friendship with Abraham and his descendants. He would bless and protect them so long as they remained loyal. He would be their God and they would be His people. These people, the Jews, were called God’s chosen people, not because He loved them more but because they were chosen to be a spectacle of God’s love to the world. He said “I am going to make you great and the nations of the world will be blessed through you. But most of the time, Abraham's descendants failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Over the span of hundreds of years, God had sent his prophets to remind the people and their kings of the covenant. They needed to get rid of their idols and wicked ways to stop making unhealthy alliances with foreign powers. They were supposed to be an example of God’s love to the world, but they were living as if He didn’t matter. He warned that if this continued, he would remove His hand of protection. Eventually they would face the music. When He finally did, Israel fell first and then Judah. In the sixth century BC, Jerusalem was ransacked and destroyed Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. It’s people were carried off to live in Babylon as exiles. About seventy years later, in His mercy, God moved the heart of a new ruler, Artaxerxes to allow the Jews to return to their homeland to begin rebuilding, but travelling back to Jerusalem was the easy part. Their city was in complete ruins with no security in hostile territory. And this is where our series in Nehemiah begins.
Defensive Security for a city/state like Jerusalem in those days was entirely based on one thing: A continuous, impenetrable wall surrounding the city.
If the remnant want wanted to stay in Jerusalem, they were going to have to rebuild that wall.
1. Getting Started is Half the Battle
When God has put something important on your heart to accomplish, it may seem the whole world is conspiring to keep you from getting started. You know what I’m talking about. When that one thing you know you must do is the only thing you can’t seem to do. Catch up on homework.
As we start today’s passage, Nehemiah and the townspeople had already conquered the single biggest obstacle to achieving success in actualizing God’s good plan: They got started.
Verse 6 says:
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart."
A famous Chinese Proverb states that, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If God has put a dream in your heart which seems a thousand miles away, I want to encourage you to do what Nehemiah and the remnant of Jerusalem did: they got started. Get started. The wall was now 50% complete at it’s lowest points and
the lowest points are what matters. A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. God had answered the remnant’s prayers and they had the proof of their own hard work. It was reason to celebrate. If they did celebrate, it didn’t last for long. Why not? Immediately their enemies took notice. If you plan to undertake a new discipline of praying in the morning, if you decide to forgive a family member or get baptized or start reading the Bible, you might as well know: You have an enemy, the devil, and he is going to be
2. Don’t be surprised by push back
Nehemiah and the remnant had to learn how to respond to the enemy’s push back. Rather than solve their problems, as often happens in life, their success revealed new problems to solve. Have you ever heard the expression ‘ They were a victim of their own success.’ People often imagine that achieving some goal in the future will solve their problems and make them happy. Maybe at times you have felt like a victim of your own success. Just
when things seemed to be turning around another ball drops. We shouldn’t be surprised by push back when we are taking territory for God in our lives. Jerusalem’s problems seemed to be multiplying. There were plots from the outside the city:
7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. There were doubts growing inside the city: 10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
Even now, after God’s provision, the king's favor, and seeing the walls 50% complete, they were doubting their ability to complete the job, considering throwing in the towel. Have you been there? Their enemies insults had upgraded to threats:
11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” 12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” How did Nehemiah and the remnant respond to this fresh set of challenges? Nehemiah encouraged them in the Lord: He encouraged the people in the Lord: 14 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 families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
If we are going to successfully rebuild, we must also learn to find
encouragement in the Lord.
3. Find Encouragement in the Lord
In the story of the life of David we find this principle, several times, his best friend Jonathan traveled to him to encourage Him when he was at his lowest. But there were times when Jonathan was unavailable. Scripture tells us that during those times, David encouraged himself in the Lord. Do you know how to find encouragement in the Lord?
Through prayer, through reading his word? What did Nehemiah tell the people to encourage them? He reminded them of God’s greatness and challenged them to push forward. When your situation seems impossible, it might be time to do a little historical inventory. What has God accomplished in the past? How has he demonstrated his love and power in your life? Finally, Nehemiah taught them how to work together and protect one another.
As Christians, God has built in an amazing asset for us to call on in our quest to please Him, that asset is one another.
We are instructed to bear one another's burdens, to pray for each other, to confide and confess to each other, to challenge, to instruct, and encourage, to prefer and submit to one another. Our enemy is not stupid. If you are going to succeed at this calling, you need more than an one ally, you need a squad, and that’s exactly what church is designed to be. I have to tell you though, it’s tough to get that kind of support on a Sunday morning alone. We have a host of small groups Celebrate Recovery, Cleansing Stream, and many more. You need a pack to run with sound people who will listen, pray with you, and speak up when you need to hear it, and there’s someone who needs your input.
Back in Jerusalem the threat of attack was met by the men working together as a team. Each man taking care to complete his own task while looking out to help one another: At this point, Nehemiah got strategic. He put half of the men on armed guard duty, stationing them at the lowest points in the wall. Officers stood guard while workmen worked, and even the workmen were armed. A trumpeter stayed with Nehemiah, to sound an alert for backup if necessary.
And it worked:
15 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 our
And they remained vigilant:
21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. 22 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 as workers by day.” 23 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.
That’s fine, but what relevance does that have to our struggles. It just so happens that Nehemiah’s challenge was a physical threat. Ours come in many shapes and sizes, financial, office politics, relational blows, etc. What we have in common with Nehemiah is that there are spiritual forces behind opposition to God’s plan in our lives.
Ephesians 6 details what kind of armor and weapons are suited for these battles:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,which is the word of God.
If you are trying to build something. First you have to get started. Then, expect Pushback. Find Encouragement and support, and finally you’ve got to guard your life: stay vigilant. Most of us are in some stage of building or rebuilding. Maybe you identify with the immense struggle of just getting started or getting back up after a setback. There is no time like the present. It’s time to shut out the haters, give your plans to God and seek his help. The Lord wants to help you stay the course, to find your encouragement in Him and seek out the help of fellow Christians. Sometimes I wonder if we face challenges for the express purpose of learning to rely on the strength of a team.
Whatever the application, the Lord hasn’t put us here to languish and fail. We serve an awesome God who also cares deeply about us.