Christopher Rich – December 17, 2017
UNFINISHED HOPE | EZRA-NEHEMIAH | Wk 13
Unfinished Disciples | Nehemiah 12:27-13:31
Introduction | Joy is experienced
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. In these cycles we are reminded of the fundamental truth that our efforts are never enough to overcome our ruins. 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. The wall goes up, but the people still crave a deep peace that can only come from communion with God. So they spend a day I God’s word, prayer, and confession leading them in chapter 10 to pledge to be better versions of themselves through greater commitment and effort. They resolve three things:
Purity in their families – Holiness – Their families are going to be aligned with the worship of God.
Recognizing the sabbath – Rest- The rhythms of their lives are going to respect God’s call for us to rest.
Participating in the mission of worship. – Sacrificial Worship – They are going to be cheerfully, intentionally, and regularly be generous givers because of the peace and provision God has granted them.
These are all good things. They are an outworking of peaceful communion with God. Their attention is now shifting from building and working in the mists of internal and external opposition to celebration of what has been accomplished and maintaining a culture rooted in peace and experiencing joyful celebration.
PART I | Gathered for Joy | Nehemiah 12:27-43 |
Nehemiah 12:27-30 | 27 And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres.28 And the sons of the singers gathered together from the district surrounding Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites; 29 also from Beth-gilgal and from the region of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built for themselves villages around Jerusalem. 30 And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and they purified the people and the gates and the wall.
They wall that had been mocked as so fragile “a fox could knock it over” is now robust and completed. Structure is done. The temple was completed and the community has spent time in some heart work. As an anatomy of the revival you have renewed worship in the temple, renewed focus on God’s word in the community and structures in place to provide a framework for flourishing. This seems to be “mission accomplished”. It’s time to celebrate what God had done for His people. You have two processions circumnavigating the city walls surrounding the city with stereo music beginning on one end travelling to the other as anticipation builds in the city. The parades are united as they ended in the temple “they house of God” quite a theatrical spectacle used to intentionally stir the people’s affections for God and point to the purpose of all they had been working on: To unite God’s people together in God’s presence. It was truly a glorious event. God being intentionally glorified by His people leads to a response of great Joy!
43 And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.
Joy is used 5 time to describe what how the people respond do what God has done to bring this mission to it’s current stage of apparent completion. Worship was liturgical, musical and sacrificial. They rejoiced with “great joy” It had to be emotional for them to remember where they have been, taken a big journey and then embarked on a great mission with opposition that actually saw tangible results. How encouraging. This is a comprehensive and unbridled joy. There is no caveat that people were wailing at what they had seen previous. Men, women, children, everyone around this even was so joyful to participate with praise. It was a joy that was broadcast out. This is what Joy does! It cannot be contained! It can only be amplified! True joy spread as those who are joyful demonstrate it verbally and tangibly. This is the high point!!
PART II | Resolved Works | Nehemiah 12:44 – 13:3
Nehemiah 12:44-13:3 | 44 On that day men were appointed over the storerooms, the contributions, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the Law for the priests and for the Levites according to the fields of the towns, for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered. 45 And they performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago in the days of David and Asaph there were directors of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers; and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron. 13:1 On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, 2 for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3 As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.
Now that the celebration and dedication of this new season is complete this new community who has been saved from captivity for a purpose of renewed worship needs to endure. Two good things happen here. Intentional Worship - There is resolve, and a system set up for the maintenance of a culture of worship. You have everyone contributing as they had pledged back in chapter 10. They are giving their tithes and offerings as God has prescribed for people to joyfully honor God with the money He has directed towards them. So you have a fully staffed temple with guys facilitating worship, teaching God’s word, and leading with administration. There was a culture of sacrificial giving and intentional worship of God.
Correction from God’s Word - God’s word was brought to bear in people’s lives and communal life responded. You have them reading, hearing, and following the law. They see where they are not living in line with God’s will and they repent. The community is in a sense self-correcting following God’s Law to remain a people pure from those who would seek to direct their worship elsewhere.
Both intentional worship and being shaped by God’s word are necessary for us as disciples who are saved by Jesus’ work and changed by Jesus’ grace. The Christian life and identity is not an onetime event that you participated in, it is in new life you walk in. Discipleship is an ongoing process We expect straight line progress. We expect ongoing faithfulness with no effort spent to maintain health or create an environment for flourishing. A grand celebration is significant not the same thing on going life with God and more than a great extravagant wedding makes a great marriage. It is in the daily enduing in faithfulness. For the people in Jerusalem the time immediately after the joyful celebration are very hopeful. They actually put words into action. This is really encouraging. This is a great place and time to end this story. God saves His people, for purpose, they rally and work as God fights. Big celebration and initial reports of a structured, well-resourced, and resilient community built on God’s word and set up for endurance. But Joy cannot be sustained by our efforts because we are not a source of joy but ones who respond to experiences of glory with joy. We are not all together glorious. It has to come from outside of us. We cannot rest on periods of success or apparent to faithfulness to be what sustains us forever.
PART III | Until it doesn’t | 13:4-29
Nehemiah 13:4-9 | 4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, 5 prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. 6 While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king 7 and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. 8 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
Fast forward 15 years after the dedication of the wall and things are not good! Nehemiah was present for a time as governor of the city/region but he needed to return to the King of Persia. (as he said he would) After likely a 12 years absence, things have deteriorated. Better a bombed out city than one built up and defiled. The temple in the OT is a pace of communion with God not a personal palace for opponents of God’s people. It’s a place that is to be pure, to be for worship is now defiled by indwelling opposition.
Each of us were made for the purpose of worship, we’ve been saved and made new we cannot let sin that opposed God and seeks to distract and distort our worship dwell in our hearts and lives. There are other things seeking to camp out in your heart of worship. They will complete with time energy and space and keep you from flourishing in worship. What’s taken up residence in your heart/mind that needs to be expelled? In what ways are you making accommodations for sin in your life? Nehemiah doesn’t just clean the chamber out to bring to and empty room but returns it to it’s original purpose of worship. Its not enough to just clean out what is defiling you, you have to replace it with a greater love and purpose.
Nehemiah 13:10-14 | 10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field.11 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13 And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. 14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.
Worship Forsaken- The temple is defiled and it’s not functioning as a place where worship is facilitated. There is no one intentionally engaged in preparing and facilitating worship. The temple workers aren’t there because they haven’t been paid! The store house was filled with the evil guys stuff. Imagine showing up to work each day and seeing Tobaih hanging around the building and trying to have a joyful attitude of worship with one of the biggest rooms in the joint reserved for the biggest opponent of the mission of God’s people and critic of all you’ve been working towards AND then you don’t get paid because there is no money or provision in the treasury. I think even with a strong sense of calling after a season you’d tap out and say, I’m just going farming from here on out. Let’s get away from people some wicked and some apathetic and just try to provide for my family. When Nehemiah discovers this he doesn’t call out the Levites for abandoning their post, they necessarily left to take care of their first church their family. He calls out the leaders of the people for being faithless and selfish in their lack of giving. In the past maybe they gave out of assumption that God would bless them superstitiously but now people held everything they were give by God and as Malachi says “rob” God by failing to give at all. In chapter 10 they said “we’ll give and never neglect the house of the Lord” but now they’re all about themselves. Rebuked and recommissioned the people begin to contribute again He sets up the finance team gets the guys back to working in/for the temple mission of renewed worship. But in all of this Nehemiah has set up great systems and structures before. They weren’t enough to run on autopilot by people who’s hearts aren’t actually for God. Systems and structures are necessary but without proper heart motivations they will fail. Strike one!
Nehemiah 13:15-22 | 15 In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. 16 Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! 17 Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” 19 As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day.20 Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21 But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.
Sabbath Ignored- They had resolved to keep the sabbath. To worship and celebrate peace with God by resting from their labors. Each week the city should be shut down gates closed for protection and commerce to pause. There is a failure in both the leadership and community to remain faithful. When there is mass ignoring of God’s commands it can be much easier for apathy and faithlessness to set in. Like previous generations they’re falling into the same patters. The gates had remained open during the sabbath for goods to go in and out so people could keep working. It was like having no walls at all. So the gates began to be closed, put people kept setting up just outside the walls like craziness of black Friday deals turning into Thursday night deals cutting into times of rest and reflecdting….not peace… not joyful celebration…relentless work. When you’re constantly working overtime one week bleeds into the next. There is no sense of completion and it’s really difficult to be joyful because you just keep running with no break. It is not the way God intended. Nehemiah threated them and they relented. He appointes people from the temple to ensure this is done properly. But we’ve been down this road before too. Strike two!
Nehemiah 13:23-29 | 23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” 28 And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me.29 Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.
Pagan Families - The integrity of God’s people has been comprised. Their shared identity is eroding as they AGAIN marry into other cultures and religions. Things are so bad the next generation of children don’t even speak any Hebrew to be able to know and be taught God’s word. They know only the words of their mothers, the fathers have apparently been absent or silent or both. This is a fundamental failure that prevents the endurance of flourishing. There is righteous anger. Like Jesus over turning the money changers in the temple Nehemiah has enough and he’s not going to take it anymore. He goes on a one-man rampage arguing the truth the “why” of purity, “even the wise King Solomon was led astray by women who didn’t love and serve God.” Things got so heated they got in to verbal and physical altercations. Nehemiah with His old man strength takes some guys out in pretty brutal ways. This is tempting as a leader to want to start this ministry at certain points. But Nehemiah cannot continually bring justice and wrath to people set on following the world opposed to God rather than faithfulness to God. Strike Three! Ruin!
Everything has been undone where Zerubbabel came to reestablish right worship and begin building the temple. Now it’s been desecrated by having Tobiah live there. People have failed to support the mission of God to restore right worship so levites are necessarily abandoning their posts. Ezra who showed up to Jerusalem teaching and doing the law reforms the people but now the city is characterized by compromise rather than steadfastness. Sabbath is ignored and identity is forsaken as men are AGAIN not leading their families to know, trust, and follow the God of the bible. Families are failing to disciple their kids. Even leadership is highly corrupt by associating with Tobiah and Sanballat. Everything that God’s people have set out to renew for a few generations (Worship, The law, Community/identity) is a generation away from being completely undone. Nehemiah has shown back up and done as well as any human leader can to keep correcting what is wrong but when he’s gone then what? He cannot be enough, and he knows it!
PART IV | Remember Me | 13:30-31
30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31 and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits.
Remember me, O my God, for good.
None of us want our work to be in vain. Nehemiah cleaned, established, provided, but he is just a man. A great man to be sure but still just a man. Nehemiah isn’t enough. He wants to see people worshipping God but he can’t make it happen all he can do is enforce the law. None of us want for our lives to be in vain or our efforts to be undone but we know this happens. His best (a dare I say great) efforts are insufficient to change the hearts of people from slipping back into ruin.
The end of this story is not the end of The Story. It it’s left open ended with an unresolved crying out for a better ending. Because even in Nehemiah’s final words there is a longing for justice for the wicked and restoration for God’s people. What Nehemiah, and Ezra Zerubbabel built was not good enough. What we can do on our own will never be good enough. We need a better builder. We need ongoing discipleship. We need perfect purity, true sabbath rest and joy that will endure even times of drought and difficulty.
We’ve now heard this 3 fold call from Nehemiah for God to “Remember me” this can translate to us as a bit self-centered ie: Don’t forget God I want to you to remember how good I was” but this not accurate. In the OT for God to remember His people is for Him to actively intervene on their behalf for His Glory and their joy. It’s isn’t prideful desire for acclimation, it’s petitioning in humility for transformation. Nehemiah Calls out to God over 400 years before the arrival of Jesus. It is in the arrival of Jesus that a better leader, priest, teacher, builder, and savior comes to the city who can accomplish a finished work that will turn our ruin into His restoration that is built to endure and the deep heart level.
We need a better builder. We have one in Jesus who says Matt 16:18 | I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
We need Jesus and the Holy Spirit to come into our heart and clean out what has been defiling us and replace it with a clean heart made to worship Him.
We need Jesus to be our sabbath rest so we can lay aside our anxious striving to achieve abundance now and know Jesus is working in and through us to bring us to completion in the time of His return.
We need Jesus to pay for our sin on the cross and purchase our adoption into the family of a perfect Father who loves His children and shapes them to look talk and act more like him.
The book of Ezra-Nehemiah is not really about Ezra and Nehemiah. It’s about everyone’s need for Jesus. The only hope we have for true, lasting renewal is the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are called to return to Him so that He can rebuild us up to be a holy temple transforming cities for his glory. We can’t change hearts and we can’t sustain change. The story leads us to the one who came to be for us to be obedient where we cannot succeed and take the just punishment we cannot deserve. Jesus calls us to return to God through his life, death and resurrection so that he can build us up and sustain us through His Spirit. He is faithful for the unfaithful. His grace to us is greater than our sin against Him. This is how good our God is to us!
God remembers us in Jesus He has acted to intervene. We responded with joyful worship when we Trust Jesus.