My father is retired building surveyor, and one recurring memory from my childhood is seeing him head out of the door early on Saturday mornings. He would head out to survey one of our neighbour’s houses, to discuss with them what extension, alteration or enhancement they wanted done to their property – perhaps a loft conversion, a conservatory or an extra bedroom. No sensible homeowner in Dorking, Surrey would begin building work without a Saturday morning survey from my Dad!
Our passage today describes another building survey. But a survey done at night, rather than on a Saturday morning! Because before Nehemiah went public with his plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he wanted to survey the site first. He wanted to see for himself the work that needed doing, and formulate a plan for reconstructing the wall. And so he began by undertaking a discreet, night-time tour of the city.
As we look at what Nehemiah did next. I think his actions can be summarized under three headings. Three headings, which, rather conveniently all begin with a ‘C’! They are Construction, Confrontation and Confidence. To be more specific, the 3 principles we see in our passage are:
• Construction – for the glory of God;
• Confrontation – with the enemies of God’s people; and
• Confidence – in the Lord.
These are three principles we can apply to our own lives today. Three principles we can still live out under coronavirus lockdown.
Construction…for the glory of God
Firstly, we see construction for the glory of God. Verses 16 and 17 today tell us that after completing his survey Nehemiah decided to share his plan with the leaders of Jerusalem, including its “priests, nobles and officials”. He 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.”
You may remember from last week that the ruined walls of Jerusalem were a spiritual problem as well as a security risk. The state of the city walls not only brought disgrace to God’s people, they brought dishonor to God himself. And that was something Nehemiah simply could not stand, something God had laid on his heart to put right.
I hope we share Nehemiah’s passion for God glory? If we are Christians, I hope our heart’s desire is to honour the God who has made us and has saved us! Glorifying God should come ahead every other ambition. We often think about glorifying God by singing his praise in church. That’s certainly true, but sadly not an option for us at the moment.
Thankfully, there are two other great ways can glorify God today:
• Firstly, by seeking to live a godly life. If we are Christians, God’s Spirit now lives within us. It is now our hearts that are God’s dwelling place, not a Temple in Jerusalem. So we glorify God today by living for him, not for sinful self-indulgence. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to live lives of love, kindness, generosity and self-control. We glorify God the Father by seeking to imitate the example of Christ his Son. As Christians care for their friends and neighbours during this coronavirus pandemic, they are truly glorifying God.
• Secondly, we glorify God whenever we tell other people about Jesus – about who he is and what he’s done. Whenever we share this Gospel message with our non-Christian friends and family we are telling them about God’s holiness, God’s love, and God’s grace. We are telling them how God’s supremely glorified through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. To explain the Gospel is to glorify God, so let’s take every opportunity we can to share it with others, whether that’s face to face, over the phone or by sharing a Facebook or YouTube link to the “Christianity Explored” course.
On arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah’s overriding ambition was to glorify God – and it should be ours too.
Confrontation…with the enemies of God’s people
Sadly, not all of Nehemiah’s contemporaries shared his godly ambition. Not everyone was pleased to see him arrive in Jerusalem. Nehemiah experienced confrontation with the enemies of God’s people.
We saw in verse 10 last week that two influential men, “Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite”, were “very much disturbed” at Nehemiah’s plans to rebuild the wall. A third antagonist also joins the scene in verse 19 today, called “Geshem the Arab”.
Bible scholars debate exactly who these three men were. But it seems likely that they were the governors and rulers of regions to the north, south and east of Israel. So between them, these three men had Nehemiah surrounded. Their territories encircled Jerusalem from top to bottom. Humanly speaking, Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem had the potential to frustrate Nehemiah’s ambitions.
If Nehemiah was to succeed in his mission, it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. God’s servant was going to have to face up to opposition from some powerful forces.
Nehemiah had to prepare for confrontation – and so do we. If we are faithful followers of Christ today, we should also expect opposition.
The New Testament says this opposition will come on three fronts, from three different directions – from the flesh, the world and the devil.
• Our fight against the flesh is our struggle against temptation. It’s our conflict with the sinful desires of our fallen nature, our struggle against selfishness and pride. Its an intensely personal battle that we all face daily. A conflict in which we need the help of the Holy Spirit to win.
• Secondly, our conflict with the world includes the trials and tribulations that come our way in this fallen world. Whether it is temptation, persecution, injustice or COVID-19, threats to body and soul can come from all directions. Again, to come through this conflict we need guidance from God’s Word, strength from his Spirit, and encouragement from our fellow Christians.
• Thirdly, we shouldn’t be ignorant of our spiritual conflict against Satan. Just like Jesus in the wilderness, we need to know the Word of God to refute the devil’s lies. We need to be familiar with God’s words in the Bible to know truth from lies, to discern good from evil – and to have promises to hold on to in tough times.
Just as Nehemiah braced himself for conflict with Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem, we need to prepare ourselves for conflict with the flesh, the world and the devil. This side of heaven, we need to be on our guard against all three.
Confidence…in the Lord
This coronavirus pandemic has shaken people’s confidence in a lot of things, hasn’t it? Things like our career, our financial investments, our personal health and fitness, all look much less secure than they did just a couple of months ago. COVID-19 has exposed the truth that we can only have complete confidence in the Lord.
Two and a half thousand years ago Nehemiah was a man supremely confident of success. Not because he had confidence in his natural talents, his persuasive powers or his construction skills. But because he knew God was with him. Nehemiah had great confidence in the Lord.
And this confidence was clearly more contagious than any coronavirus, because Nehemiah’s enthusiasm was swiftly shared by the rulers of Jerusalem. The response his plan received from the Jewish leadership was instantaneous and positive. Yes, they say in verse 18: “Let us start rebuilding!”
If we had time today to read chapter 3, we would see that the people of Jerusalem set to work on the walls with great gusto. From the high priest downwards, Jews from across the land began rebuilding work on the walls – all the while keeping guard against their enemies.
Their confidence was well-placed, because just fifty-two days later, the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt. By God’s grace and protection, the Jewish people completed their building project in little more than a month. Chapter 6 verse 15 is wonderfully ironic. Let me remind you what it says: “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.”
You see, Nehemiah’s confidence in God had been vindicated, and in so doing, it shattered the self-confidence of his enemies.
So as I draw to a close this morning, please have the same confidence in the Lord that that Nehemiah had.
If you are not yet a Christian, then can I urge you to replace your self-confidence with confidence in Christ. Put your trust in the Lord Jesus to save you from sin, to guide you in life, and one day to take you to glory.
And if you are already Christian believer, please have total confidence that the Lord will complete the construction work that he has begun in our church, and in our own lives.
• Be confident that the Lord will build his worldwide Church. Be confident that he will continue to draw people to faith in Christ – from Ashton Hayes, Mouldsworth and across the globe.
• Be confident that our own church building project will be completed in the coming months, be confident that our new facilities will be used for the glory of God in our village.
• And be confident that the Lord will complete his work in your life personally. Don’t be discouraged by short-term sins or setbacks. He doesn’t even want us to fearful of disease or death. Be confident that our Heavenly Father will complete his work of making us more like Jesus and preparing us for the world to come.
If we are Christian believers, we can be totally sure that God will finish what he’s started. He will get us to glory, the best is yet to come. Let’s pray:
Lord Jesus, thank you that you are building your church and saving your people, just as you helped Nehemiah rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. In this world of conflict and confusion, help us to have total confidence in you. In your name we pray, Amen.
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