Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Sermon on Nehemiah 3

Sermon preached by Penny Wheble

If you’ve been a Christian long enough, you’ll know that God likes to hide things. He hides important truths in places that you wouldn’t initially expect to find them - until you start to dig!
Nehemiah 3 is just one of those places!

On the surface it’s a chapter discussing different gates of Jerusalem and the specific builders that helped to rebuild them. But that’s just the surface! When we look a little deeper you find that God has hidden within those gates significant spiritual truths for both an individual’s Christian life as well as his prophetic plan for the ages.

The order and position of each gate is very specific, and gives us insight into the journey that God takes each of his children on, as well as the journey of the church as a whole until Christ’s return.
  • Gates are a walled city’s most vulnerable places. This is where the enemy would try to break into the city so they had to be kept in good repair.
  • Focus on the gates would generate the greatest excitement. The people all knew where the gates were.
  • The gates are strategic.
  • The gates are there for the protection of the people and the beauty of the city.
No one could exclude themselves from participating in the work because they were too holy or too privileged. If the high priests were involved, then everyone should be involved. Here at St Martin’s, Simon follows their example in that whenever help is needed in the kitchen or floors need sweeping or the church carpets need vacuuming, he gets stuck in!  

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

Slide of Nehemiah’s Jerusalem

In today’s talk I’m going to highlight how hope initiated the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah highlights the special work done on and around each of the gates of Jerusalem. But why are the gates important?

There were many gates around the walls of Jerusalem. In today’s reading we hear about the re-building of 2 of these gates. Nehemiah inspired this work by bringing hope and vision.
There are many interesting observations that help us see how, through Nehemiah’s God-inspired leadership, what were considered to be impossible tasks, could be completed in a short time scale.

1) The first gate mentioned was the Sheep Gate (Nehemiah 3:1-3)

“Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel. And next to him the men of Jericho built, and next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built” (Nehemiah 3:1-2).

Nothing was too holy for the priests. As they worked hard, the people took courage. If the priests got their hands dirty on this project, and this included the high priests such as Eliashib, then everyone could see a greater reason for why they should join in the work.
Towers and walls are difficult to build but when the priests finished , the work remained as a permanent symbol that leaders do their best work when they act as servants to others.

A pastor has specialised functions in the church such as overseeing the flock, but sometimes they are needed to do the evangelism, cleaning, administration, etc. Through their example the people see that every act is holy because it is done for God. However they cannot do everything by themselves. Acts 6 is a clear reminder of the importance to specialise in certain roles. Acts 6:2 says,
“And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2 )

For a while the apostles were doing ‘all’ the work, but it was not good in the long run. Changes had to come. The same is true with rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah planned and inspired the work to be started, and then stepped back as foreman and encouraged everyone to do their part in completing the task.

Now back to the reading. We hear about two other building teams going westward around Jerusalem starting from the Sheep Gate in the very north. The men of Jericho built the section next to the priests, and next to them was Zaccur the son of Imri. At this point we run into another entrance to the city of Jerusalem, the Fish Gate.

2) The Fish Gate (Nehemiah 3:3-5)

“Now the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars.

And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah the son of Hakkoz made repairs. And next to him Meshullam the son of Berechiah the son of Meshezabel made repairs. And next to him Zadok the son of Baana also made repairs. Moreover,  next to him the Tekoites made
 repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters” (Nehemiah 3:3-5).

The Fish Gate was rebuilt by Hasenaah’s family. They laid its beams and hung its doors. After that they set the bolts and bars into place. Replacing doors in some ways is much more difficult than just making a wall. The work was a joint effort, however.

Right next to the Fish Gate were adjoining walls. Once the gate was fixed, it made sense to repair the wall. So others got involved and made the necessary repairs on the walls surrounding the Fish Gate. Meremoth, Meshullam,  Zadok and the Tekoites. When it described Meremoth as the ‘ son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz’ it simply means that he was the Meremoth that was the grandson of Hakkoz. Sometimes it will even more generally refer to as the descendant of Hakkoz (which is also true). And we think we have complicated family trees!!!

In any case, we see each family making contributions. For years nothing had been done. Why is it that now they got involved? Certainly part of it was the vision from Nehemiah that the job could be done. If a neighbouring family worked hard on one part, then it was easier to see what still needed to be done. They also gained confidence that they could actually fix their own part of the wall.

An interesting statement is made in verse 5, “Moreover, next to him the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters” (Nehemiah 3:5). Did this mean that certain rich and influential men did not financially support the work or were just unwilling to personally help out? Probably both I guess!

It is possible that “..these nobles..”  refers to certain city politicians. In any case, they had the money. They weren’t going to get involved. It doesn’t say why, but they likely had connections with others who didn’t want the wall rebuilt. Never the less, the Tekoites didn’t allow this to deter them, but continued with the work until it was complete.

Without the support of the “noble” people of society, the truly faithful will continue until completion. This reminds us that we do not have to wait for everyone to help before we set our heart on some specific tasks. We might think it can be done with someone else’s help, but if God wants it done, he can do it without the participation of those so-called ‘key’ people. Nehemiah stood as an example that this task could be done (Nehemiah 2:18). God used his example to motivate almost everyone to participate. This story may sound familiar!
That’s Not My Job

We are also reminded that we might be one of those leaders, either in the church or elsewhere. We need to be careful not to focus on our own will but on God’s. The nobles lost their privilege to join in God’s work. We must think beyond our own position and for what reason God gave us these positions and wealth. We must be like the men of Issachar mentioned in the book of Chronicles. They knew the times and lived with a greater understanding of what God was doing.

“And of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, …” (1 Chronicles 12:28)

Let’s now look at some observations on this part of Nehemiah 3  
1         Believers need to work together to accomplish something
It pleased God to see his people working together with one heart and one mind. God puts us into situations where we must work together, and learn how to lead, how to follow, and how to work together with one heart and mind.
The wall was continuous. Any gap compromised the entire structure, so every space at the wall was important – even if someone didn’t think so. As well, the wall would never be strong if someone was tearing it down at a different section.
2         The work done was a reflection on the family – almost everyone mentioned is referred to as the son of someone.
It’s in the family our children learn to work, and parents must be committed to teaching their children how to be hard workers. In a spiritual sense, our hard work, or lack of it – is a reflection on our spiritual family. Each Christian should be a good reflection of their spiritual family.
3         Evidence of Nehemiah’s leadership
Nehemiah was an effective leader because he made each man accountable for his work. Each man had a section of wall that he was responsible for, and it was known to others that he was responsible for it. By giving each man a sense of responsibility for his work, they helped ensure that the work would be done properly,- nobody wanted it to be seen that they were a poor worker in God’s cause.

We can see that Nehemiah was a gifted leader who was able to motivate others, but a job usually gets done because of prayer and unity among believers. This is mainly because vision is spiritual and not material. When there is a lot of mundane work, like repairing a badly damaged wall, there must be unity for the job to be done. People need to feel that they are part of the decision and the process. To miss this step of getting people on board and owning the vision usually leads to failure. Unity should be a distinctive mark among Christians.

Sadly, many people, even Christians, live only to make a good impression on others or to please themselves. But this selfishness brings discord. Paul, in our Philippians reading, stressed spiritual unity asking the Philippians to love one another and to be one in spirit and in purpose. When we work together, caring for the problems of others as if they were our own, we demonstrate Christ’s example of putting others first, and we experience unity, so we shouldn’t be so concerned about making a good impression or meeting our own needs that we strain relationships in God’s family.

So what can we learn from this? Each one of us fits in somewhere; every one of us has a part to play. All these different people were working together with one purpose in mind - to rebuild the wall. So it should be amongst Christians. Our one overriding purpose should be to build up the church of Christ and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19 the Great Commission). And Christ has assigned each one of us our ‘section of the wall’ (Rom 12: 3-8; I Cor 12: 4-27)

“None of us have got it together but together we’ve got it” (J.John)
I’d like you to ponder these questions:
How do you feel when facing what seems to be an impossible task – especially when there doesn’t seem to be the same commitment from those you are working with?

How has co-operation played a significant part in this church or your Homegroup’s success (or otherwise) in ministry?

Do you feel you are as motivated to work in this church as the people building the gates were? Why? Or Why not?

Finally, ask the Lord to give you a helper or prayer partner and ask them to help you learn to work together.

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