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Nehemiah 4 - The Work and the War of the Kingdom

September 22, 2013 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Re:building

Topic: Church Life Passage: Nehemiah 4:1–23

The Work and the War of the Kingdom

Re: Building

Allen Snapp Grace Community Church

Sept. 22, 2013

Turn with me to Nehemiah chapter 4. By way of reminder Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king in Persia when he got a report that the city of his people, Jerusalem was in bad shape with its wall and gates in ruins. Nehemiah was moved to prayer and then to action and so he travels the 800 miles to Jerusalem and rallies the discouraged Jews to rebuild the walls and gates. Last week we saw in chapter 3 how the Jews worked side by side, each family working on the wall in front of them, and next to them their neighbor worked on the wall in front of their house. There is this sense of unity and momentum and the wall begins to rise. And that’s when the trouble begins... lets read Neh. 4

The Jews have some very real enemies who are angry that the walls are being rebuilt. On a natural level these surrounding countries have been exploiting Jerusalem’s weakness for their own profit and they don’t want Jerusalem to become too strong to push around. But there’s a spiritual component to their anger. See, this book isn’t just about walls and gates. It’s about God’s people being unified to do God’s work with God’s blessing. It’s about Jerusalem once again being a city that displays the glory of God to the nations and proclaims the Name of God, His greatness, holiness, and faithfulness to the world. Sanballat probably doesn’t know it, but the anger that seethes in him is fueled by God’s mortal enemy Satan who isn’t just a metaphor for all that is bad in the world, he is a real and powerful being who hates God, hates God’s glory, and hates God’s people. By engaging in the work of God, the Jews suddenly find themselves locked in mortal combat with the enemies of God. This theme of work and war is really throughout the Bible and comes into vivid focus in the NT. When Satan lured Adam and Eve to disobey God’s one command and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was enlisting them to his side. Man has been in rebellion against God since. Jesus came as the conquering king, but he didn’t come to kill his enemies, but to win his enemies back to his kingdom. On the cross he took the punishment for rebellion against his own kingdom, so that we who are the ones who rebelled might be forgiven and plugged back into the kingdom through reconciliation with God. Jesus said, “I will build my church (work) and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (war).” He started that work on the cross, and dealt the death blow to the devil on the cross, so the war has been won (hell will not win against the church) but the war goes on, and every man, woman and child who becomes a follower of Christ follows Jesus into his work, and his war. Our work is centered on people – the job Jesus left us is the Great Commission, which is to make disciples of all nations (all peoples) and our war isn’t against people – it’s for the souls of people. Even our enemies aren’t our enemies because Jesus said to love our enemies and pray for them. Paul tells us we don’t war against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers of darkness. And they are hell bent on stopping us. Spurgeon wrote: The powers of evil are mad against the people of God...No arrows will be left in the quivers of hell while there are godly men and women at whom they can be aimed. Satan and his allies aim at our hearts every poisoned dart they have. That is still true today and God gives us an important reminder in chapter four that we are at war, and He gives us some timeless truths about how we should fight the war in the example of Nehemiah and the Jews. So let’s look at the objective of Sanballat and his allies’ attacks and the strategies they use to achieve that objective, we’ll see the strategic countermeasures that Nehemiah leads the Jews to take, and then I want to bring this home for us and look at some ways this works out in our lives and in our church, especially as we walk through some transitions in the next year. 

Objective: stop the work.

Strategy: find and breach the gaps in the wall Sanballat and his allies really only have one objective: to stop the work on the wall. That’s it. But their attacks reveal that they are strategically looking for the gaps in the wall that are vulnerable to attack. So they begin with ridicule. And he [Sanballat] said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” They know that only a few days ago the Jews were disheartened and disunified and their hope is that by ridiculing them publicly, they can help them get disheartened and disunified again. They mock their ability as feeble, their goals as impossible, and the materials they have to work with as rubbish. Tobiah mocks them with the prediction that if they ever do finish the wall, it won’t take a mighty army building siege works to bring it down, the weight of a stray fox running along the top will bring it all down. The painful thing about their ridicule is that it is pretty much true. That’s what stung. But Nehemiah prayed and the people ignored their taunts and kept working, and so they looked for another gap in the wall. This time they decided to scare them with the threat of terroristic death. So the nations surrounding Jerusalem – armies of Samaria (north), Ammonites (east), Arabs (south) and Ashdodites (west) conspire together to enter the city by stealth when the Jews least expect it and kill them. Even the Jews in the towns outlying Jerusalem heard this and began to urge the workers to play it safe and come back home. I don’t think we can even imagine how terrifying this threat would be. We live in a peaceful country and most of us live in peaceful neighborhoods. You go to bed at night, probably locking the door (maybe not), but you don’t expect your neighbors to try to break in to kill you. There are people who live in war torn countries or under genocidal regimes where their safety each night is far from guaranteed. How wearying and disheartening it must be to fear for your life every hour of every day and night. That’s what these Jews faced as their hostile neighbors surrounded them with threats of killing them.

As if this wasn’t enough, there are people from Judah who are pointing out how weary and inadequate they are which was true enough, but there’s reason to question the motives of the Judean’s discouraging remarks because in chapter 6 we read Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah (the dude mocking the work), and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah... So it is very possible that the reason the Judeans were telling them how weary everyone was because they were put up to it by Tobiah to whom they were bound with an oath. Ridicule leading to discouragement, threats leading to fear, discouraging remarks leading to hopelessness – they looked for any gap in the wall through which they could attack, with one objective: to stop the work. 

The enemy of our souls knows us. He knows you. He knows me. He studies us and he knows our weaknesses. He won’t attack you the same way he will attack me. He looks for the gaps in the walls in order to exploit them. For one it might be discouragement, for another fear, for another it might be temptation to immorality, for another it might be pleasure or recreation. He has many strategies but really only one objective: to get you off the job. To get us to punch out and go into early retirement. To get us to live our lives for tiny, insignificant things like money and promotions and more stuff or acceptance and approval and everybody likes us – instead of the eternal work of the kingdom of Jesus. That’s the objective, and he will use any strategy that will work. How do we counter an enemy that is constantly sizing up our weaknesses and knows exactly where we are vulnerable? Nehemiah gives us a great example to follow. II. Nehemiah’s countermeasures: pray to God, post a guard, and keep working! We can sum up what Nehemiah leads the Jews to do and then break it up into three points: he prays to God, posts a guard, and keeps working. Let’s unpack that.

a. Nehemiah and the Jews pray

We see prayer threaded throughout this chapter. Nehemiah prays when they taunt the Jews, asking God to redirect the missiles of their insults back on their heads. (vv. 4-5). When they plotted against the Jews, verse 9 says, and we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. Prayer is the believer’s first weapon to frustrate the enemy’s attacks against us. I didn’t realize how important supply lines are to an army that is invading another country until I read Albert Speer’s memoirs Inside the Third Reich. Speer was the Minister of Armaments and War Production in the Third Reich and he notes that it was really when the British and allied forces began to concentrate on destroying the supply line armaments that the war began to tilt in the allies favor. An army in a foreign land needs a supply line to keep them supplied with food and fuel and armaments and medical supplies and reinforcements. You can destroy an army by cutting off its supply lines. Prayer is our supply line connection to God. John Piper has made the point that prayer isn’t a domestic intercom to call a servant to bring us another pillow, it’s a walkie talkie used in war to call the Field Commander Jesus for more supplies. Through prayer we call in the air cover of the Spirit to aid us in the battle when we are weak. Through prayer we call a fresh supply of the promises of God’s word, claiming them and owning them as our own. When we are witnessing to someone about Jesus, we need to pray for them, that God would open their eyes and hearts to believe. Do you feel discouraged? Weary? Disheartened? Pray. God can lift your heart and encourage you to keep going. Are you frustrated that that child, or family member or friend you’ve been witnessing to hasn’t come to faith in Christ? Pray. Is there some area of temptation that you’ve been getting beaten by time after time after time? Get on your knees and ask God to help you win the victory. If our supply line of prayer is cut off, we won’t have the munitions and supplies necessary to fight the fight, but the good news is that God is listening for us to cry out to Him in prayer.

b. The Jews go on high alert

This is a pretty macho part of the Bible - they strap on swords and spears. If they have the kind of grunt work job that I would have on a construction job, then they carry bricks with one hand and carry a sword in the other. If they need both hands to do their job, then they strapped a sword to their side so they were ready to fight at a moments notice. They were on wartime alert. There are many scriptures that tell us to be vigilant and on our guard. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Pet. 5:8 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Eph 5:15-16 Are we watching out for our souls? Are we watching out for gaps in the wall where the enemy can get a foothold in our life or our loved ones? God’s word calls us to be vigilant because there are countless gaps through which the enemy can try to breach the wall. Pornography – opens the door for the enemy to enter in and destroy your soul and relationship with your spouse or future spouse. Marital unfaithfulness – opens a gate wide open for demonic hordes to destroy families. Laziness lets the wall fall apart from neglect – how many lives are destroyed by the slow process of neglect? We don’t live in a neutral world – we can’t leave things be and think they’ll stay ok. Guys, this is especially important for us as men, as husbands, as fathers to keep in mind. We need to tend the wall of our marriage or it will suffer some sort of deterioration. We need to tend the wall of our children or they will pay a big price for the absence of our leadership. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (vs. 14) But maybe these aren’t where your gap is. Maybe you’re on top of everything at home. Maybe you keep everything pure. But maybe the gap in your wall is pride. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Especially when you compare yourself to all those poor slobs around you. Man, the enemy can drive a truck through the gap of pride and do serious damage! If pride is the gap, we need to put some bricks of humbling and repentance in the breach.

c. They keep working!

You got to love the determination that Nehemiah and the Jews show in the face of this opposition. Every attack is met with their renewed commitment to build. After being ridiculed, verse 6 says, so we built the wall...for the people had a mind to work. After addressing the threat of being killed by getting armed for battle, verse 15 says, 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. And verse 21 says that they labored at the work from the break of dawn til the stars came out. They are working hard to get the job done. This is important when you think that the objective of the enemies attacks is this one thing: to get them to stop working. They meet the attacks...and keep working! The work and the war are all around us! So what does this look like in our everyday life? Honestly this talk of at “great work” and a “spiritual war” can feel very distant from our ordinary, mostly peaceful, and kind of boring lives so it’s important that we Therefore, preparing your minds for action,1 and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13 translate what all this looks like in our lives.

Here’s what I think the Lord wants to open our eyes to see: the work and the war are all around us. Most of it doesn’t happen on this great global scale, but in the small, ordinary moments of small, ordinary people. If you are a Christian, then Jesus has enlisted you for the Great Commission – that’s the work. To make disciples of all nations, but you have to work on the part of the wall in front of you. We live in a war zone – there are broken and burnt lives all around you and me who desperately need to hear that Jesus came to save them. We can’t save them, but we can tell them about the gospel and then call in Holy Spirit back up to open their eyes and hearts to believe! Are we telling people about Jesus and are we praying for them to come to faith? And then watch Jesus work. But making disciples isn’t just leading someone to Christ – it’s also helping believers grow in their faith in Christ. It’s helping that brand new believer go deeper in their faith. It’s helping that struggling believer to hold on to God’s word in the struggle. It’s helping that straying believer come back to obedience. Maybe a note or a phone call in the middle of the week to encourage someone in their walk. Janice and I received a note from a friend recently who took the time to write to encourage us – it meant so much. Praying for someone is a huge part of the work and the war. Being a godly example and a steady friend to another believer helps them in their discipleship. So many ways that can go unnoticed but have a huge effect. Work on the wall in front of you and pray and God will bless that work.

We’ve been talking a lot about the transitions we’re going through as a church. But they’re not bad transitions– I am excited and praying for what God is going to do in Sarasota as God opens another Sheep gate for people to come to know Jesus. And I am excited about what having our own church home and a steady presence in this community will mean for helping people come in the Sheep gate to come to know Jesus. It’s not about a building, it’s about increasing our ability to reach people with the gospel. Here’s what I want us to focus on and get better at doing in 2014: obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples. That’s something everyone here who is a Christian has a part in. Don’t discount your part in the work that God is doing in this church. A couple of years ago a young girl in our CM went home and God had used the teaching in CM to stir her heart and she told her mom and dad she wanted to be saved. I am not sure who was teaching that day. But I doubt they knew the eternal significance of what they were doing that morning. I get to hear a lot of the stories of how God is using this church to build people into the kingdom.

You are a part of those stories. And I think God wants you to be a bigger part of that. What will happen when Matt Slack leaves to plant a church? Will our going to one pastor mean I will have to work twice as hard. Maybe. But I’ve been saying, God wants to use you to pick up the slack! Every member here is called to be a minister. Every member is called to be a worker. If you feel inadequate or fearful or uninterested – that’s the enemy working to achieve one objective: keep you off the job. Keep you from sowing any seeds or picking up any bricks. Let’s pray and ask God that not one of us is idle when there is kingdom work to be done. What part of the work is in front of you? Go for it! Pray for it! And if you’re not a Christian, our prayer for you is for you to come to know the Jesus we have come to know. To know the forgiveness and the fresh start that we have come to know. If the Bible is true, then even if you had the perfect childhood, and the ideal teenage years, and your life is going swimmingly now – there is still a sense of hollowness in your soul. Can’t get your fingers on it, but a sense that there is something missing. Something not right. Something broken not just in the world, but in you. That broken thing is your relationship with God, and Jesus came to restore it – not by yelling at you to do better and try harder, but by succeeding where we fail, obeying God where we disobey, and dying where we should have died. God offers you a righteousness that isn’t by works but is by faith in Christ.

Will you reach out with faith right now and take it? Take the forgiveness that Jesus offers? Take the new life that he died to give to you. As I pray, if that’s you, please quietly pray with me. Dear Jesus, we are all broken but you came to put us back together and take us out of the heap of the kingdom of darkness and plug us back into the kingdom of God. Please open the eyes and hearts of anyone here who doesn’t know you, that they may come to know you. And help us to work and to war in the strength of the Lord Jesus. May we see much kingdom growth in the years to come. For it’s in your name I pray, amen.