Nehemiah 3

REBUILDING THE COMMUNITY OF CHRIST

This morning we won’t read the whole chapter because it is quite long and involves a lot of difficult names, a bit like a genealogy. So I will give a brief overview.

The chapter speaks of the rebuilding of the city walls and repairing of the gates and how everyone from the leaders and priests to the servants was involved in the project.

So here we have all the people of God working together to rebuild and repair the broken community of God on earth

I want us to look at this as a picture of the community of God’s people today. The church.

Is the church is NZ broken? Does it need to be rebuilt and repaired? I believe the answer to both questions is, “Yes”.

And from this passage I want to show you how we are broken and what we need to do to rebuild and repair the community of Christ in this land.

There is disunity – restore relationships.

There is a loss of identity – rebuild the walls of witness.

There is infiltration by the enemy – repair the gates of protection.

 

DISUNITY – RESTORE RELATIONSHIPS

The walls of Jerusalem could never have been rebuilt unless the people put aside their differences, joined together and worked together. And this whole chapter is about how that happened to such a degree that they finished the walls in 51 days.

It was working together in unity with a common purpose that brought about this amazing result.

I believe that God weeps over the disunity He sees among His people. Jesus pleaded with His disciples and prayed for his followers that they should love one another and be united just as He and the Father are united. This is a biggy as far as Christ is concerned. He said it is by our love for one another and our unity that the world would know we belong to Christ and would take our message seriously.

And yet so many Christians behave as if this was not important to God. We might have occupied a lot of positions in the church, done a lot of good works, we may be very gifted, we may have an excellent knowledge of the Bible but if we have failed in the area of love, we have achieved nothing in God’s eyes.

I think it is so sad the way some Christians criticise and misjudge one another. They get so easily offended and hold grudges. They refuse to forgive and keep stewing away over some minor slight or grievance. 

Ill. A pastor friend of mine was called to a church where there had a been a disagreement that split the congregation. The 2 factions sat on either side of the church and wouldn’t speak to each other. On the wall behind the pulpit were the words of Paul in 1 Tim 6:12. “Fight the good fight”

When I consider how much I have been forgiven and continue to be forgiven by God and at what a cost, I cannot hold onto ill-feeling towards another believer. If you are doing that this morning you are actually rebelling against Christ. Refusing to obey His commands.

I would urge for the sake of Jesus, Repent of that unloving attitude and as much as you can, work to repair the relationship. There is something far bigger at stake here that our hurt feelings and wounded pride, the reputation of Jesus and the advancement of the Kingdom of God on earth.

  1. They united together to build the wall. I have found that one of the things that really helps bring us together and hold us together is when we have a God given common project, purpose and vision. They all wanted to see the walls and the city rebuilt, and the nation re-established under God.

 

LOSS OF IDENTITY – REBUILD THE WALLS OF WITNESS

Most of you know that the terrain around Jerusalem is rocky. There are rocks and stones everywhere. In 586 BC the Baylonians reduced the city and its walls to a heap of rubble and it lay like that for over 70 years. In fact there was no difference between the city and the surrounding area, one couldn’t see where the city started and where it finished because in ancient times it was the walls that defined the city. But after the walls had been destroyed, the city just blended into the surrounding countryside.

There was nothing to define, to identify Jerusalem.

The question I ask this morning is, “Has the church in NZ lost its identity? Have we allowed ourselves to so blend into the surrounding culture that there is little if any difference? What marks us out as followers of Jesus in our culture? How many of the people we have dealings with, know that we are Christians because they can see it in our behaviour and attitudes and because we have spoken to them about our faith?

President Jimmy Carter once said, “If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

What should identify us as Followers of Jesus?

Ill. When I was a young Christian an older man in the church said to me that he witnessed for Christ in his workplace and I asked him how he did that. “I don’t swear or laugh at the dirty jokes, I don’t smoke and when they have a social function I don’t drink alcohol.” He identified himself as a Christian by what he didn’t do.

The Pharisees were like that. They didn’t mix with sinners, they didn’t eat with unwashed hands, they didn’t swear by the temple, they didn’t help anyone on the Sabbath day, in fact they had a list of 1100 things they didn’t do on the Sabbath day. They identified themselves as God’s people by what they didn’t do.

The unbelieving world is not impressed by religious people who don’t do this and don’t do that and condemn those who do. But they will sit up and take notice of those who show love, compassion kindness beyond what is expected.

Ill. Malcolm Muggeridge was a cynical atheist who publicly argued with people of many religions but was unconvinced by them all. “Until the day I witnessed Mother Teresa giving her life for the destitute and dying on the streets of Calcutta.” That was turning point to Malcolm who became a passionate follower of Jesus.

One of the best commentaries on Jesus life is found in Acts 10:38, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and he went around doing good.”

What identifies us as Christians should not be what we don’t, but what we do. I believe that that involves showing more of the love of Jesus to one another and to those around us.

IIl.Buddha felt that he had reached a stage where no emotion could touch him. He said, “He who loves 50 has 50 woes, he who loves 10 has 10 woes, he who loves none has no woes.”

I mentioned this in the last editorial I put in the newsletter. I believe that we Christians have got to out-love the people in our culture. By that I mean to live out the sermon on the mount to love and bless those who oppose us, to give more than is expected, go the second mile, put ourselves out to help those in need. These things should identify us as Christians. And when the opportunities arise to share our faith with others.

Ill. Ralph Neighbour once visited a Pastor in a certain town where there was a very wealthy business man who was also dealing in drugs. The Pastor resented this man deeply because of what he was doing and opposed him every chance he got. Ralph shared the scriptures with the pastor about loving our enemies and praying for them, even serving them and encouraged the Pastor to do that with regard to this crooked businessman. “I can’t love him, pray for him and I could never serve him after what he has been doing in this town.” The Pastor knew that God’s Word had told him to do this but he did not want to obey. He struggled away with his conscience that night until 1am and finally he said to God, “Okay Lord, I will obey. “

Immediately he was filled with joy and peace beyond description.

“How do you want me to show love towards him.”

“Show kindness to those who hate you…serve him.”  “How?”

The business man had the flu and was unable to mow his lawns, so the pastor took his lawn mower around and mowed the man’s lawns. The man came out on his terrace and couldn’t believe his eyes. This Pastor who had opposed him so strongly mowing his lawns. Next Sunday he was at church.

These are the walls that mark us out as the community of Christ and these are the walls that need to be rebuilt.

 

INFILTRATION BY THE ENEMY – REPAIR THE GATES OF PROTECTION.

The gates of Jerusalem had been burned and although the wall had been rebuilt, the city was still vulnerable. The entry and exit points were unprotected. The enemies of God’s people could still sneak into the city.

It’s one thing to rebuild the walls that identify us as God’s people, but we need to repair the gates to monitor what comes into the community of Christ and what needs to be taken out.

In this chapter we read of 10 gates that needed to be repaired. We won’t have time to look at the significance of all these gates so I have just picked out 4 gates this morning.

  1. The sheep gate

This was where the sheep were brought into the city for sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus, the lamb of God, on the cross for our sins is absolutely essential to message of the church. Take that away and we have nothing to say and no real hope to offer anyone.

Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 2:2, “I was determined to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And again in Galatians 6:14 “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Christ Jesus Christ.”

The enemy, Satan, hates the message of the cross because his power over mankind was smashed at the cross and he has been trying very hard to get Christians to avoid speaking about the cross. To proclaim a Gospel without the cross. Without the blood of Jesus we have no power over the forces of evil. Rev 12:11 “They overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb and word of their testimony.

  1. The fish gate

This was where the fishermen from Galilee brought the fish into the city for the market.

Jesus said to His followers, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.

As a church we must never ever lose sight of our Christ given mission which is to reach others for Christ.

The enemy wants us to become so wrapped up with our programmes, meetings, fellowship and our own needs that we ignore those around us who are lost and hopeless and heading for a godless eternity. We have to constantly guard against this.

I get feel really sad when I hear Christians complaining about the music being too loud or the pastor being too long winded or this one who upset me or that one who doesn’t agree with my interpretation of some minor doctrine. The world out there is going to hell and we are quibbling over petty and trivial things.

“Lord forgive us and help us to see those outside the church as you see them and give us a powerful desire to help them find Jesus.”

  1. The old city gate

This was where the elders would sit and give counsel and wisdom to the people of Jerusalem.

Before J O Sanders the well known missionary statesman died he said, “The greatest need in the church today is men and women of spiritual maturity.”

Spiritual maturity has nothing to do with how old you are or how much you know. There are a lot of people who have been Christians for years and who know their Bibles back to front but they still behave like immature babies…bad tempered, easily offended, proud, critical, intolerant and so on.  Paul spoke about this in 1 Corinthians 2.

Spiritual maturity is seen in character and in fruitfulness. It’s seen in how we respond or react to difficult people and situations. It’s seen in the fruit of the Spirit that is evident in our attitudes and behaviour. It’s seen in how we seek to live out the teaching of Christ in our lives and relationships.

The church of today needs believers like this to counsel and advise us as the Elders of Israel did.

The other gates are : Valley gate, Dung gate, Fountain gate, Water gate, Horse gate, East gate [golden gate], Inspection gate

4.  I just want us to look at the dung gate

This is where all the filth and the rubbish of Jerusalem was taken out.

The gates were not just an entry point in the walls but they were an exit point as well. And it was just as important to monitor what went out as what came in.

I truly believe that we have got stuff in our lives and in our churches that we need to get rid of.

And when I think of dung, I think of Paul’s words in Philippians 3:7-11.

Paul spoke about his Jewish ancestry, his religious achievements, his moral attainments and his Biblical knowledge. He was proud of these things and he felt that it gave him a good standing before others and God.

When he came to Christ he said,

“Once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as dung, excrement garbage, so that I could lay hold of Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

There are Christians around today who claim to know their Bibles inside out, who believe their interpretation of scripture is right and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong, they are quick to write off anyone who thinks differently to them, they give the impression they have got it all together spiritually, they won’t listen to any other point of view, they are unteachable, critical and judgmental.

Spiritual pride. Over the years I have found it is the most difficult thing to deal with in the church, because those who are like this refuse to see it or admit it.

It was the most difficult attitude Jesus had to deal with. Attitude of the Pharisees.

As Paul looked back on his life as a Pharisee he was so disgusted his spiritually proud self-righteous attitude and behaviour that he called it dung, excrement, and knew that the only factor worth boasting about was Jesus.

This morning if you can see this stuff in your life, you will find it very hard to admit it because to do so may involve confessing that you have been wrong because you have always had to be right, it may involve losing face in the eyes of others and it definitely will involve humbling yourself before God and before those you have criticised or written off.

You need to bring this stuff to the dung gate and dump it. And with those empty hands lay hold of Jesus who alone is your source of righteousness, knowledge and wisdom.

A dear old Christian friend of mine once said to me, “Hold tightly to Christ and hold lightly to everything else.”

God opposes pride more than anything else in a believer. It is one of the main sins that has prevented God from pouring out His Spirit upon the church and stifled the work of the Spirit in the church.

Ill. In 1904 a Christian man in his 20s, Evan Roberts was attending a prayer meeting in Wales. They were praying that God would pour out His Spirit upon the nation. As Evan stood in the meeting God showed him that his heart was full of spiritual pride. He was proud of his Bible knowledge, proud of his standing in the church, proud of his spiritual experience and God said to him, “If I am to pour out my Spirit up Wales, you have got to be willing to humble yourself before me and your fellow believers and confess your pride.” Evan struggled with that thought for some time and then he cried out aloud, “Bend me Lord, bend me” and he fell on his and broke down.” That is where the 1904 revival in Wales began. A revival that impacted not just Wales but countries all around the world. In Wales, a nation of just over 2 million people, 100,000 people came to Christ and joined the churches within 6 month. The judges in the courts ran out of work because there were trials, the pubs closed down and the theatres packed up and left the country because people would rather go to Christian meetings. That revival sparked other revivals in America, Korea, Africa and South America. 

I was talking to the pastor at Discovery church recently and he said to me, “Geoff, we desperately need a mighty move of the Spirit of God to revive the church and save our nation.”

300 years ago God said to King Solomon. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”