All Together Now
Blog Post 39
Sermon October 11, 2015
All Together Now: Nehemiah 3
Introduction— being a follower of Jesus means also being part of his church.
Last week as I looked at the sky I worried about how the rain would affect my plans for visiting my daughter at college. The clouds formed part of a spiral that twisted across the horizon and I realized that I was looking at the last part of a spiral arm that probably started over the Carolinas. The rain I worried about was part of Hurricane Joaquin an enormous storm that was battering the East Coast. My rain clouds were part of a much bigger storm system. I felt both small and included.
Becoming a Christian can have a similar feeling.
Transition: many of us seek God because of our own personal needs for meaning, for forgiveness, or for belonging. But whether you are seeking it or not, making a commitment to Christ is like joining a world wide family. You come to realize that you are part of something greater than yourself. Today in Nehemiah we will see two ways that we respond to that offer.
Like Nehemiah organizing the people our spiritual gift will bless the kingdom of God exponentially.
In Nehemiah 3 we see a great movement of people all cooperating together to build something significant. To properly understand what is happening we have to put it into its larger biblical and historical context.
• Moses led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea and into the wilderness. There they received the Law, the Torah, and became a nation.
• Joshua led the Jews into Palestine and established them as a nation.
• After some ups and downs David became there king, which was the golden age of Israel. They had national security and prosperity as well as a king who obeyed God’s law.
• After David death the nation started to become unfaithful. They no longer followed God’s Law which was designed to make them standout on the international scene. Without obedience the nation lost the protection of God which led to civil war. This made them vulnerable to the nations around them and eventually they were conquered. Israel, the northern part of the old kingdom, was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC. Judah, in the south, was conquered by Babylon 538 BC. There destruction was a direct result of their disobedience as a nation. But God promised, even before they were conquered, that one day he would bring them back to the land of Abraham and David to be a nation again. Nehemiah is part of the “return from exile.” The people were allowed to return 70 years after their destruction. Nehemiah was probably born in exile and lived his whole life in Babylon. He had a good job as cupbearer to the king but in November 446 BC Nehemiah heard that the wall around Jerusalem was still in disarray, leaving the city vulnerable. He was so moved by this that he realized he must do something. Asking the king for a leave of absence (Neh. 1) he went back to Israel and examined the rubble (Neh. 2). Chapter 3 tells how the people worked together to rebuild the wall.
In chapter 2 after examining the ruins Nehemiah calls the people to action:
2:17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work…
Chapter 3 then Chronicles the amazing cooperation and diligence of the people as they begin to build a wall around Jerusalem. The description begins with the people building in the northwest corner of Jerusalem and moves counter clockwise around the perimeter of the great city. People of all types help with the consruction.
3 Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zakkur son of Imri built next to them.
3 The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place.
4 Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. 5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.[a]
6 The Jeshanah [or old] Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. 7 Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah—Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth—places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. 8 Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section. 10 Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. 11 Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.
13 The Valley Gate was repaired by Hanun and the residents of Zanoah (13 miles SW from Jerusalem). They rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. They also repaired a thousand cubits [1500 feet] of the wall as far as the Dung Gate…
The account continues through chapter 3. We might ask how this was done so quickly. Where were all these people before Nehemiah got there? How did they get so organized? Why were they so willing? I think that this account reveals that Nehemiah must have had a spiritual gift of leadership and administration. I don’t think Nehemiah knew that he has this gift when he left Babylon for Israel. He was responding to an ache in his heart to help protect the people of God. He did not know what to do but after examining the wall, it was clear they needed to rebuild it. As he began to lead and organize, the people responded. It was a large complex project, but Nehemiah managed to keep everyone pointed in the right direction working for the greater good.
A spiritual gift is an ability that God gives to ordinary people who belong to him. When we exercise our spiritual gift God does much more than we could have done on our own. That is one of the ways we know it is a spiritual gift. It can be a natural talent, or it can be something that you did not posess until after coming to Christ, but either way it is something that both gives you great joy and that God chooses to use for his glory.
So here is the good news: when you make a commitment to follow Christ you are given a spiritual gift by God. The Holy Spirit is with you because you are a forgiven follower of Christ and one of the things he does is give you a gift, a way to serve, that will bless the larger body.
Look at 1 Corinthians 12:
12 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed…
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many…
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Each follower of Christ has a gift. Paul calls it a manifestation of the Spirit, to use for the common good. Whether you feel gifted or not, you have an ability, an empowering, that allows you to have the kind of impact Nehemiah had. It might not be as visible, since his gift involved leadership, but it can have equal effectiveness for the kingdom.
There are two big warnings: first, that the kingdom is all up to us and second that the kingdom is all about us.
One – When we see Nehemiah’s effectiveness we can focus on the organization, the recruiting, the crowds and the visible results and conclude that growing God’s kingdom is all about us and our efforts. This will lead to burn out as we seek to solve all problems and guarantee success on our efforts alone. It is important to remember that we serve a God who has a mission to reveal himself to the world and call all people to repentance obedience. It is his mission and we are invited, through our own conversion and spiritual gifting to participate with God in what he is doing. But our salvation, our gift and our calling are all of grace.
The second — We can begin to think that Jesus is here to help us grow ourselves. This subtle change in focus makes the kingdom all about us instead of about God. God welcomes us to join him in his mission. We don’t ask him to bless our misson. He gifts us so that we can serve him, not ourselves, by his power. Many people who volunteer with non-profit organizations do so because it makes them feel good. They like what it does for them. But we serve our Lord who gave his life for us. We are no good at changing ourselves. We gave that up when we surrendered ourselves to follow Christ.
Transition: One antidote to this self-focus is embedded in Nehemiah 3. Notice that Nehemiah does not call people here to find their spiritual gifts. He calls them to build a wall. This is significant.
Like the goldsmiths, priests and perfume-makers, we are also called to help out where we are needed to serve a kingdom bigger than ourselves.
As important as it is to discover and use your spiritual gift we also have to realize that in this case Nehemiah did not ask anyone about gifting. He called people to serve. There was a need and people responded. Perfume makers and goldsmiths served alongside nobility and priests because the project was bigger than all of them. In this way they looked beyond their own “gifting” and did what needed to be done. This willingness to serve “wherever needed” is a helpful balance to our desire to find that gift that we love to use. Serving “wherever” grows out of love for God’s kingdom and humility before the Lord. This humility will in turn help us both find and use our gifts. As we serve we will begin to see how God works. Others will affirm our gifting and it will be easy to find our calling.
Often a willingness to serve will lead to an understanding of our gifts. So serve wherever you can out of love for God and love for others. Serve expecting nothing in return and God will be able to use you. And as he does you will discover the joy of being part of his mission, not to build a wall, but to build a kingdom of forgiveness and restoration all over the world.