UNFINISHED HOPE | Week 11: Ruined Opposition
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Nehemiah 2:9–6:16
Christopher Rich – December 3, 2017
UNFINISHED HOPE | EZRA-NEHEMIAH | Wk 10
Ruined Opposition | Nehemiah 2-6
Introduction | From Ruin to Real Progress
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we continue UNFINISHED HOPE - Our Ruins His Restoration our sermon series looking at the books of EZRA-NEHEMIAH. In this series we have seen cycles of ruin, return to God, renewal, and regression as God’s people have moved from exile, be set free by God for the purpose of restoring worship of God by God’s people for God’s glory and their joy. Zerubbabel led the first cycle back for the purpose of renewed worship, they laid the foundation of the temple, but the tangible presence of God did not manifest. Several generations pass, and Ezra comes leads a mission to restore focus on God’s word being studied, practiced, and taught. This was/is a necessary part of how God has set about renewal to reorient His people to His word as a framework of Flourishing. Sin is recognized and confessed, but then is addressed in way that leads to more separation, not more restoration of relationships. In these cycles we are reminded of the fundamental truth that our efforts are never enough to overcome our ruins. We are now 13 years after the return of Ezra and His crew going to Jerusalem. The third cycle has begun with Nehemiah (a man of great influence) hearing of the Ruined City. He responds with mourning, prayer, planning, and petitions the king to be commissioned on a mission to rebuild what has be left unfinished. He is granted favor because of God’s work on his behalf and he goes. We know already that the wall and building were eventually completed, an internal culture was established that helped facilitate fruitfulness, but there is still more to glean from this narrative of the process on how we get from ruins to real progress towards restoration. There are challenges to overcome.
PART I | Opposition is Real | 2:9-10
9 Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.
Nehemiah has been commissioned and equipped for a specific mission. We have been commissioned and equipped for THE mission of making disciples of all nations and each of us has been given a specific part, scope, and role, in that mission. Everyone is made for a purpose, all of us exist for God’s glory and from that our joy. When we become aware of this universal purpose we need to individual and corporately respond with repentance of living for ourselves, Trust Jesus who has lived perfectly in our place, and live new lives for Him leading to flourishing for ourselves and others. This means we embody the kingdom culture where people, participation, and protection is required while remembering we are not yet perfect. We will have to deal with our own internal sin and the effect of sin from others. But just because we have been called, commissioned, made new, even equipped, doesn’t mean we can our should expect immediate fruitfulness, or that every new endeavor of reconciling restoring relationships is going to be smooth sailing. While we are not capable on our own to restore our ruins and we can be our own worst enemy, we have to recognize there is also external opposition that actively seeks to thwart progress of the mission. We need to know this reality, understand how we address this reality, and have hope we can endure this reality, knowing there is one greater who has already overcome to restore and see Ruined Opposition.
Rebuilding and restoration of something fallen into disrepair or corruption is distinct from creating something where there was previously nothing. The people of God are going to face more outside resistance to rebuilding because external forces and factions have grown comfortable with the City of God (which is a symbol of the church) being impotent. What is the mission Nehemiah (and the church) is to be on? “the welfare of the people” (v.10). Why are Nehemiah’s opponents displeased? Because, they are not truly FOR the people. Opposition to the mission is saying “Not only do I not want to actively seek the welfare of the city/people, I don’t want anyone else to. This type of opposition is not neutral or benign, it’s wicked and potentially destructive. Many will not want to see the church flourish, and some will actively work against our mission. Wisdom and conviction of God must be exercised in handling outsider opposition.
PART II | Schemes of the Enemy | 2:17-20
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”
The rebuilding has a process. Nehemiah arrives, surveys the condition at night to see the depth of ruin. After years of little progress restoring the city, even regression, he arrives and initiates a new season of mission. The people are rallied to this new endeavor, God’s hand is in and through this “for good”. They respond with resolved to “rise up and build” with strength for good work. What’s the first progress report?
They immediately face opposition from Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem charging him with rebellion.
Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth. -Mike Tyson
1 Peter 5:8-9 | 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
Opposition is real, it’s intense, in seeks harm, and it’s universal for all disciples, churches, and missions. Wisdom begins by recognizing there is a very real enemy prowling like a lion seeking to destroy. So don’t be surprised when you face opposition. There are real consequences when you don’t think of or prepare for opposition or when you’re blind to the fact it exists. When I worked with Starbucks in marketing in 2005-6 despite our warnings, they pretended (or didn’t want to believe) Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds wasn’t their competition. But they were, and they were actively attacking SBUX and undermining them at every turn. The result was in 2007 Starbucks profits and market share had taken such a hit they closed 600 stores. They were surprised by the opposition. Only after recognizing it where they able make plans to continue in light of this reality. You may scoff, at the idea of spiritual opposition. You might not believe there is an enemy against you, but the enemy doesn’t care he keeps opposing seeking your destruction.
Earthly opposition is not divine disapproval. Yes there is real opposition, but don’t confuse real opposition with real disapproval from God. God says do, go, and be not it’s going to be easy. We cannot assume, even with intense and present opposition, that God is absent or the one opposing. We need to be able to pursue and perceiver in endeavors that are difficult. Apathy and decay is easy to do but the results are ruinous. Renewal and restoration are difficult but the results of fruitfulness and flourish are worth it! I love how Nehemiah responds to the initial opposition. God is doing this, we’re his servants, we’re gunna keep going. More mocking and opposition ensue in various cycles of threats, accusations seeking to discourage and distract continue throughout chapters 2-6. We do well to not assume every outsider is an enemy and to remember not all opposition will be external. Because of sin we are all outsiders, it is only by the grace of God in Jesus we become part of the family. But the fact remains, Restoration will meet resistance. Sanballat and Tobiah are “displeased greatly” and “enraged” when Nehemiah seeks the welfare of the people. They use deceit inviting Nehemiah to a meeting to harm him. They practice intimidation relentlessly mocking the work of God’s people and continually pestering Nehemiah. This is how Satan seeks to attack God’s people through subversive temptation (he’ll try to lead you to sin, to give up on the mission of restoration, chose the false promises of something else rather than the glory of God) and direct accusation (you’ve failed, you sin is too big for God to deal with in Christ.) We need to be prepared for life as a disciple of Jesus and as part of a family on mission together to face great difficulty.
Brutal Ride - The second bike loop of the Coeur d’ Alene Ironman was a far different ride on an identical stretch of road. In the morning the temperature was mild, the sky was clear, with not a breath of wind. Lap one was completed in record time as I charged hills and coasted down grades. I had visions of easily exceeding all my goals. I had expectations things would be easy. Now past noon the thermometer hit 90, the sky was thick with smoke from a massive nearby fire, and gale-like winds were steady in my face. Brutal. Months of training prepared me to face my own internal opposition, I did not think the greatest enemy to finishing my race would come from outside. I assumed ideal conditions, I prepared in ideal conditions and had my expectations set based on ideal conditions. We are not guaranteed ideal anything in this life. God doesn’t say you’re saved to be on the mission of making disciples and that it’s going to be easy or ideal. All of us enter in to new seasons and stages of life with expectations of ideal (new job, new marriage, new kid, new home, city, church) but when faced with the reality of how we will respond when there is adversity and opposition we want to tap out. Or decide “meh” I don’t like this journey I’ll chose a different one. I want all the glory of accomplishment and satisfaction of completion with none of the grace fueled effort and endurance to keep going down the road we’re called to. If we were told specifically what the opposition would be how intense it would feel and how challenging it would be to overcome most of us would never take the mission on. Yet it is the one God has given us and told us we’re to be on. The journey produces something in us that will lead to greater joy and glory in the destination we’re headed towards. What is happening in your life right now that is more difficult or facing more opposition that you expected it to be? How are you responding? Tapping out, angry at God, apathetic, or resolved?
“The power of an air force is terrific when there is nothing to oppose it.” – Winston Churchill
PART III | Strategies for Security | 4:15-20
Nehemiah 4:15-20 | 15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah,17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20 In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
Strategy for Security – The reality of external resistance should drive us to individual diligence and communal reliance for mutual security and missional effectiveness. Individual diligence - In Nehemiah, everyone working on the mission to build the wall is armed with a sword. In the church everyone is armed with the word of God, we need to carry it with us daily. It’s not “well some guys are armed we’ll rely on them and I’ll go around exposed to attack with nothing for defense.” Are you armed? Do you carry around God’s word with you? Are you part of the community? Are you gathering regularly? Do you know people who claim to be Christians but are isolated? Have you experienced great trail and opposition without a gospel community for support? Individual diligence is not a replacement for communal reliance.
Communal Reliance - When building the wall, no one works or stands alone. Everyone is with someone. Why? So they can’t be easily picked off. Building community means no one is isolated and individuals regularly gather with God’s people. When the trumpet blasts and the alarm sounds it is time for the community to rally to help those in need. More than just the leaders or a few individuals, everyone participates and contributes to the security of the community. The community regularly prays for protection and is deployed ready to act. We act like discipleship is supposed to be an individual race/walk/journey. You have to run, go, and you have to work but you do NOT ever do so along. On my race I didn’t turn down or fly by the support stations. I didn’t assume I didn’t need encouragement from others. I kept diligent at hitting these places and taking the opportunities for rest, nourishment, encouragement and equipping for the road ahead. When have you seen community rally when someone is in need? How have you seen individual Christians “picked off” or kept from mission when they have remained isolated from the community?
God’s Victory - Ultimately, we do not protect ourselves, God does. A gospel community has confidence knowing it is God who is fighting, and winning, for us. We do not fear because our God is great! He wins!
PART IV | Steadfastness in Mission | 6:1-9
Nehemiah 6:1-9 | Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” 4 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. 5 In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. 7 And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” 8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
They attempt manipulation threatening to spread fake news and tell the King Nehemiah seeks to make himself king of the Jews. They question the motives of his mission and even hire someone to try to convince him to quit for his own safety. You cannot let the attack distract, If enemies cannot succeed in defeating the mission they will do everything they can to distract from it. The enemy wins when we stop working on what we are called to. Nothing was going to halt the building of the wall “For the people had a mind to work.” Not a mind to fight. They would defend, rally, engage when provoked or attacked but not leave the work. The focus of the mission is the construction of the City of God (Kingdom culture) not the skirmishes with opposition. We will have battles, but the mission is not in defeating enemies but proclaiming the victory of our King Jesus. The redemption of God’s elect was the primary mission of Christ that gave him focus of vision at the cross. Because of His tight grip on us as His people, we can labor with confidence at the mission He has given to us until His return! Jesus is enough, Jesus wins!
Nehemiah 6:15-16 | 15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
Later in chapter six you’ll see Nehemiah is implored to come into the temple, shut the door and hide, because the enemy was going to come at night to kill him. Nehemiah had confidence he could continue on mission knowing it was a false prophecy, it wasn’t God’s will to kill Nehemiah before his mission was completed. So Nehemiah didn’t hide or leave. He stayed and endured. Jesus is the better Nehemiah who knows it’s God’s will to crush him and doesn’t flee. He knows it’s time not to be strong and fight but to be humble and die. He was captured at night. Thankfully Jesus did not give in to the attack nor did he become distracted. He remained committed to the mission and endured the attack in our place. Because he did, we now have His power to also face attack without fear. The greatest opposition we can face to flourishing is death. But Jesus has already faced that opposition and ruined it by resurrecting. He Arises to build!
Hebrews 12:1-2 | Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus arises and builds in the face of overwhelming opposition so we can arise and build. In the midst of opposition, we continue to endure and advance as we Trust Jesus.