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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God’s People Rebuild Jerusalem’s Walls
Text:Nehemiah 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-09-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 87:1,4,5                                                                                

Ps 51:6,7

Reading – Nehemiah 2:11-20

Ps 48:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Nehemiah 3

Ps 122:1,2,3

Hy 52:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord Jesus, are you a church builder? Do you see it as your personal responsibility to develop and strengthen and expand the church of Christ? You should, because that’s the calling given you by the Holy Spirit!

Sometimes we like to leave church-building work to the experts. Not just when it comes to the physical aspects of the church—the roofing and lighting and flooring—but where the spiritual side of things is concerned too: the encouraging, the exhorting, the admonishing and helping. “That kind of thing,” you might say to yourself, “is really up to the office bearers, the minister and elders and deacons. They’re the experts, after all. I’m young, inexperienced; I’m a widow; I’m not educated—what could I ever do?” But we’re all church builders, involved in the holy task of advancing Christ’s church.    

This is seen so clearly in Nehemiah. It’s a book set in the time after the exile, when God’s people are trickling back into the land, attempting to rebuild the nation. In this book we meet Nehemiah, an Israelite still living in Persia and serving as cup-bearer to the king.

Though he was in a high earthly position, Nehemiah hasn’t forgotten his people, and Jerusalem. So he’s really troubled to find out one day that even though the exiles have been back in Judah for nearly 100 years, the city’s walls are still in ruins. Nehemiah grieves before God, confesses the sin of his people, and concludes that something must be done. Those walls have to be built, and soon!

Now, there was a serious risk to Nehemiah in taking up Jerusalem’s cause. His master, King Artaxerxes, had given the order that building operations be stopped because of the allegation that this was a rebellious city. Nehemiah would basically be asking the king to reverse his decree, and to allow the Israelite revival to continue.

It was risky, but Nehemiah gets the king’s permission to return to Jerusalem and see what could be done. He’s even appointed governor of Judah and given full authority. Yet Nehemiah remains a humble man of God: devoted to prayer, courageous in his faith, and zealous for the Lord’s work. He’ll answer the call of the Spirit, and he’ll lead the Israelites in building up the city of God. This is our theme from Nehemiah 3,

God’s people rebuild Jerusalem’s walls:

  1. a significant job
  2. a diverse work-crew
  3. an accelerated project

 

1) a significant job: If there’s ever a disaster like an earthquake or hurricane, it doesn’t take long for people to start thinking about restoration. How can all this be repaired and rebuilt? And more than just the buildings, there’s concern for the people: Can they recover from this disaster? Can the population regroup and carry on?

So it was in Jerusalem. After the disaster of the exile, there’d been a slow restoration of the city, its walls and buildings and temple. But there was also concern for the people! With new populations living in the land, the foreigners and neighbours who’d settled there while Israel was away, it became a thorny question: Who is the true nation of God? Who really belongs here?

This concern explains Nehemiah’s passion for building the walls of Jerusalem. For walls don’t simply keep out your unwanted guests. In ancient times, walls set boundaries for a city; walls defined a people. And Jerusalem—the city of David, the place God had chosen for his Name to dwell—had become the ultimate symbol of Israel’s identity. Israel was to be a pure people of God, worshiping at a holy temple, dwelling in a consecrated city.

This is why Nehemiah is so grieved when he hears that Jerusalem’s walls are still in shambles. For what did that say about the people? What did that mean for their separation from the surrounding nations? Were they not the holy people of God anymore, unique and set apart?         

What Nehemiah was undertaking was a job of first importance for the strength and unity and future of God’s people. And you’ll see he takes this job very seriously. For he begins by making a survey of the work that needs to be done at Jerusalem. He finds out quickly that the bad report he received in Persia was true—maybe it was even worse: “I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire” (2:13). At one point, the piles of rubble were so bad that the animal he was riding on was not able to travel any further. The walls were a total mess.

Only after confirming the worst does Nehemiah share with the citizens his purpose in coming to the city. “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste… Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach” (2:17). Notice the last phrase; when Nehemiah challenges the Israelites, he calls them to consider their reputation with the surrounding peoples: “that may no more be a reproach.” The godless populations nearby were laughing at them, and mocking their efforts at nation-building—what kind of people lives in a city that has no walls?

What’s more, what did these ruins say about the LORD? It reflected badly on him. Was this why God had brought them back, to live in a slum? Was this really the LORD’s covenant people? The LORD is always keen to exalt the honour of his Name, and God loves to do so through his church. A vigorous people brings glory to God. A cohesive congregation resounds to his praise. But one in shambles brings him shame. So Nehemiah assures them that God’s favour is upon this project, that He will prosper it to his glory.

There is no hesitation in the people’s response: “Let us rise up and build” (2:18). And, “they set their hands to this good work.” They knew it had to be done: for themselves, their children, and for the Lord. God exhorts us in Psalm 122, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces” (vv 6-7).

Brothers and sisters, this is still our prayer today in the church of Christ. Let’s be clear that it’s not about building walls in the same way, and with the same intent. We don’t want to keep people out, but actually, we’d like to bring them in!

We’re seeking to be a strong, a unified, a holy church of God. We seek the “peace of Jerusalem,” for it’s worth every investment of time and energy and even money. Think of how much it’s worth: Christ gave his own life for the church. It’s an investment we need to protect and build up, for the glory of God’s Name.

The job’s importance is also seen in how Nehemiah organizes it. He wants it done quickly, but he also wants it done well, so he assigns the workers to strategic points along the wall: at this gate, that gate, this buttress and that tower. Think of the confusion if everyone was crowded at the same spot. No, each work-crew was given an assignment, beginning at the Sheep Gate, on the north wall. From there, the list of gates proceeds in a counter-clockwise direction, until you end up back at the Sheep Gate. Section by section, Jerusalem’s wall will be built. 

Now, when we read over our chapter, we don’t find any direct reference to Nehemiah. Does this mean he exhorted the people to begin the work, gave them directions, and then left them to it? Was he one of those foremen who shows up at the jobsite for a couple minutes, then retreats to his office? By no means; the detailed records of this chapter suggest that he was on the job day after day, supervising, providing hands-on leadership. He knew exactly who was there, and on what portion of the wall. This job was too significant to neglect.

Church-building and congregation-nurturing should not be left to the experts alone, but nor is it to be done without the guidance of faithful leaders. When the leaders are diligent, and when all the people are devoted—when everyone realizes the importance of the task—then the work will be carried out well.

 

2) a diverse work-crew: When we read this chapter, you surely noticed the long list of names, some of them difficult to say. This long list may be boring to the ears of some, but a closer look actually reveals some key principles about this project.

First is that Nehemiah sought to organize this work-crew according to the normal structure of things; namely, the family unit. Recorded here are the names of nearly fifty individuals, but all working within his family or community group. He didn’t decide to gather all the bricklayers into one team, and all the woodworkers into another. That might’ve led to division or rivalry, or lopsided results. But this natural division—by family—would bring a sense of unity. It comes as a refrain in this chapter, “Next to them was so-and-so… and next to them was… and next to them…” The families were doing it together, side by side.

A second thing is that Nehemiah seems to have assigned at least some to their own, local section of the wall. Take verse 10 as just one example, “Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph made repairs in front of his house.” People were placed where they’d have a personal interest in the strength of the wall, where they’d be sure to do it well.

Is there a lesson in that? It’s that God calls you to do the work that’s nearest you, those responsibilities that are within your reach. Being involved in building the church today doesn’t mean that God calls us all to do heroic things like becoming a missionary in PNG, or getting involved with smuggling Bibles into China. Sure, some are called to do that, but for most of us, church-building means being faithful in the place that He’s already assigned us.

We have church-building to do at home, as we raise our children. We have church-building to do at work, as we earn a wage, and as we witness to Christ. There’s church building to do in this local congregation, and within our circle of friends, for there we must seek the good of Christ’s people, and build up communion, and serve those who have need. Do the work where you’re assigned!

A third thing we observe, the most striking thing, is how Nehemiah employs the entire available work force. Not just the strongest men, and not just the carpenters, but everyone working together on the Lord’s house.

Take note of the diversity in our chapter. Verse 1: “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors.” This was the gate where animals were brought into the city, to be sacrificed at the temple. And the priests, normally busy in such worship, saw no contradiction between sacrificing sheep and stacking stones. Because it was for God, this too, was holy work! They even “consecrated” the section they built; they set it apart in dedication to the LORD.

Or verse 9, “Rephaiah the son of Hur, leader of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs.” This leader was used to the boardrooms and council chambers of Jerusalem, but he was willing to get his hands dirty for a good cause.

Who else worked on the wall? Verse 12 tells us that Shallum and his daughters were involved in building a section. Maybe Shallum had no sons, but his family too, would be sure to do their share of the work.

Other people in this diverse work-crew: “Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths… also next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers” (v 8). And verse 32, “the merchants.” This was much harder work than the goldsmiths and perfumers were used to, but these men didn’t think they were exempt. Even if they had to leave their shops and merchandise to attend to the walls, they knew that God’s blessing on his people was more important.

And was it only the people who lived in Jerusalem who cared about Jerusalem’s walls? Certainly not! We see country dwellers doing their part too, men from Jericho (v 2); men of Gibeon and Mizpah (v 7), men from Zanoah (v 13). They would be busy for the sake of Zion, for the larger cause of the LORD and his house and his people.

Men and women, religious and civil leaders, city and country dwellers, rich and poor—they answered the call to do “this good work.” Each in his place and section, each contributing to the overall plan, each aware that his work brought the end-result a little closer. No, maybe the merchants couldn’t haul heavy stone like the others. Maybe one family had a longer section of the wall, and some had a harder section. But the sense of our chapter is that each worker was essential, each worked according to ability, and each gave to the project everything they could, ‘till it was all done.

Do you see another key lesson here for the church of Christ? There’s so much building to do, in numbers hopefully, but especially in faith, fellowship, and in obedience to the Lord. And we must not leave this church-building work to others. It’s not only the task of the theologians or the ministers. Neither do we leave evangelism to the appointed committee, or spiritual admonition to the elders, or the giving of money to the wealthy. This church has to be mobilized entirely. Everyone is needed, because all have something to contribute.

It’s a principle Paul draws out as well in his letter to the Ephesians. Remember how he emphasizes the spiritual unity of God’s people, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (4:4-6).

There’s a unity in Christ, and there’s also a diversity. This is what Paul speaks of in the following verses: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (v 7). Not everyone has the same ability to teach, or encourage, or show mercy, and that’s OK. Not everyone receives the same resources, and that’s OK. Not everyone is called to office.

Nevertheless, everyone in the church of Christ is called to faithful labour. Today we might represent the unity Christ’s body by rephrasing the words of our text: “the young people are at work in the church, and next to them the elders and deacons are at work, and next to them the children, and next to them the seniors doing their part, and next to them…” Working side by side, under one Lord. You might say we’re all “on the wall,” everyone with a task.

Paul uses the image of a human body, “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies” (v 16). Each and every member has their place, and every part must do its share: “knit together by what every joint supplies.” So what is it that you’ll do? Where’s your place in God’s diverse work-crew? How has Christ equipped you?

Getting back to Nehemiah 3, there were a few who didn’t step forward as they should. Consider verse 5, “The Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.” We can’t say for certain why these men of Tekoa don’t get to work; maybe they took the side of Sanballat and the other enemies of God’s people. Maybe they thought the work was beneath them as nobles, that their dignity and wealth kept them from the humble labour of hauling bricks and carrying wood.

It’s a sad detail in our text, but realistic. Sometimes there are those in the church who hold back from doing the Lord’s work. Because sometimes there’s the attitude that “others will do it.” Maybe others view themselves as too good for certain activities, or not gifted enough to do anything. Maybe there’s a pride, or a resentment, keeping someone from working.

But thankfully, they were the exception in Nehemiah’s day—and in our day too. Why, we see in verse 27 that the other people of Tekoa made up for the failure of their nobles, repairing “another section,” an extra portion beyond what they’d been assigned. An enthusiastic spirit characterizes so much of this work-crew. Consider verse 20, where it says that “Baruch the son of Zabbai carefully repaired the other section, from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest.” The Hebrew word there has the sense of glowing red hot or blazing; the NIV says he “zealously” repaired his section. Baruch, and so many with him, were on fire to get the Lord’s work done.

Notice how some people even had to work on the Refuse Gate, sometimes translated as the Dung Gate (v 14). This was the place where the city’s rubbish and waste got carried out and dumped into the valley of Hinnom. It was probably a smelly and dirty place to work, and few were going to notice it, but the job had to be done, and these men were faithful to the task.

Individually, our efforts in the church don’t always look like much. Some jobs are hard, and messy, and some tasks never seem finished. It can be difficult to care for each other, and it’s tiring to keep going sometimes. But collectively, the effect will be certain. The church will be strengthened. Says Paul, this will “[cause] growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (v 16). Built up, for God’s glory.

 

3) an accelerated project: Our chapter doesn’t describe everything that happened in the rebuilding of the wall. Later in Nehemiah there are setbacks and opposition. This is a summary chapter; it’s meant to give an overview of the project. But reading it, one thing is clear: there is progress! Building projects are often completed behind schedule, and over-budget. But if we look at chapter 6:15, we find out that the work is completed in 52 days—just under two months.

It almost sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? An entire city wall, with a dozen gates, with bolts and bars and towers, completed in such a short time. Piles of rubble transformed into strong, smooth, fortifications.

How was it possible for this project to be completed so quickly? Just as we saw before, the people had the right attitude. Nehemiah includes an important phrase in 3:5, describing how the nobles of Tekoa went on strike, “They did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.” They did not, with the implication that everyone else did. Everyone else saw this assignment for what it really was: the work of the Lord God! They put their shoulders to it, because they saw it as their holy calling. God wanted a strong city, secure and stable—a place for his house, and place for his people—so they’d gladly work for it.

And when we work sincerely for the Lord, and we’re diligent in building up the church and praying for the peace of Jerusalem, God promises his blessing. He’ll give the wisdom for planning. He’ll give the strength for heavy lifting. He’ll give a spirit of cooperation and unity. He’ll give the words we need to say, and the gifts we need to use. We can look to Him!

Yes, it was an accelerated project, because it was God’s project. Even their opponents noticed it. We read in 6:16, once the walls are done, “When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things… they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.” They had tried hard to stop it, but they couldn’t. For when the work is done by God, who can get in the way? Even the gates of hell can’t prevail against Christ’s church!

Beloved, this is a great encouragement to be involved in the ongoing work of building up the church of Christ in this place. We know there will be opposition from our culture. We know challenges will arise from within. We’re often up against our weakness and pride. So we know the work won’t get done in a hurry, but we’ll have to be busy year after year.     

But this is what makes the difference: it’s the work of our Lord. It’s for the benefit of the church whom Christ bought with his precious blood. And that makes every sacrifice well worth it, every effort well spent. For the goal of our differing gifts is the unity, the growth, the strength, and finally, the perfection of the church—to God’s glory.

Let’s finish with the questions we started with. What about you: Are you a church builder? Do you see it as your task to develop and strengthen the church of Christ in this place? That’s the calling given to you by Christ through his Word. Today Christ our Lord is watching over his project here on earth, and He promises good things when we build in faith!  Amen. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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