Nehemiah 2-3 provide three reasons why it’s worth pouring our lives into building up the church and strengthening our gospel culture: 1. God’s good hand is on us. 2. God has put a good work in our hearts. 3. God rebuilds through each of our hands.


Citylight Manayunk Service | January 17, 2021 from Citylight Church on Vimeo.


Nehemiah 2-3
NICOT commentary on Nehemiah
Tyndale commentary on Nehemiah
ESV Study Bible

Sermon Transcript


Over the holiday break, Andrea and I continued our long range DYI home project: remodeling our kitchen, together, ourselves. Phase one redoing our old cabinets together was behind us, and it was now time for some serious heavy lifting: tearing out and replacing all our old tile backsplash. Despite the inevitable conflicts that come from remodeling together ourselves, Andrea and I like to work together. We have different skills. Andrea is the brains. She loves to plan out the project, do the detailed tile cutting, and make sure every tile lines up just right. I like the demo, hanging the new drywall, slapping on the new adhesive, and generally letting Andrea do all the thinking for us. Remodeling our kitchen has taught us a profound lesson: the only way we can remodel is together. And that’s the message of Nehemiah chapters two and three.

By way of review, The man Nehemiah was part of the nation of Israel, the people to whom and through whom God chose to reveal Himself before the coming of Christ. Israel had been attacked and taken into exile in Babylon, which had then been conquered by Persia. Under Persia, however, God worked in the king to start sending the Israelite people back to their former capital in Jerusalem. Nehemiah remained in Persia as cupbearer to the king. In Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah learned that God’s people in Jerusalem were sitting ducks because their city wall had been broken down, and they had lost their identity as the people of God because they weren’t even trying to rebuild. In chapter 2, Nehemiah travels to Jerusalem to help the God’s people rebuild together. At the heart of our passage is a speech that Nehemiah gives to God’s people in Jerusalem: 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…And they said, “Let us rise up and build” (Nehemiah 2:17-18). That brings us to the big idea of our passage this morning: Let us rise up and rebuild together.

Now, you may be thinking, “Ok, I see that they were rising up to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall together, but what exactly are we rebuilding together?” Jerusalem is where God dwelt with his people, and Jerusalem was the center of Israel’s worship, community, and mission. Nehemiah wasn’t just rebuilding a wall; he was rebuilding the people of God. Now that Jesus has come, the church, everyone who truly confesses Christ as Lord, is the new people of God. Therefore, the way that we embrace the call to rise up and rebuild together is by rising up to build up the our local church together. Let us rise up and give our lives to being so empowered by the grace of God in the gospel that we build up worship, community, and mission together. Let us rise up and strengthen our gospel-culture together so that we can show the world what it’s really like to belong to Jesus. Nehemiah 2-3 provide three reasons why it’s worth pouring our lives into building up the church and strengthening our gospel culture: 1. God’s good hand is on us. 2. God has put a good work in our hearts. 3. God rebuilds through each of our hands.


After four months of praying, Nehemiah finally gets his chance to ask the king for permission to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the people of God. In verses 1-8, the king was throwing a festival and Nehemiah was bringing the king his wine but was visibly distraught. Nehemiah had never looked depressed in front of the king before and the king took notice. In verse 2 it says that at this point, Nehemiah was incredibly afraid. Nehemiah had multiple reasons to be afraid. First, Artaxerxes was throwing a festival and Nehemiah’s is intentionally getting the king’s attention by looking depressed. The king to take offense at Nehemiah souring the mood and punish him severely. Just looking distraught was a huge risk. Second, Nehemiah was afraid because he knew that the moment he’d been praying for for months had finally arrived, and he wouldn’t get another. Finally, Nehemiah was almost surely aware that the king had years earlier forbidden the rebuild of Jerusalem’s wall, and Artaxerxes was not known for changing his mind. Nehemiah is understandably shaking in his boots. Nehemiah quickly says a silent prayer, tells the king everything that’s going on with his people, and asks the king permission to go and rebuild it. Shockingly, the king is willing to let Nehemiah, one of his trusted royal servants go, and even sends Nehemiah with a royal escort and papers permitting him to cut down timber in Judah’s forest to rebuild the gates of the fortress of the temple. No one would have expected this kind of favor. What’s going on? Nehemiah 2:8b: And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. Nehemiah had the king’s favor because the good hand of God was on Nehemiah. God who called Nehemiah to rebuild, and God empowers what he commands with his good hand. In the face of great fear, Nehemiah will call the people to rise up and rebuild together because God’s good hand is on him.

Question: what frightens you about rebuilding? We know why Nehemiah was frightened. When it comes to rebuilding worship, community, and mission, I think that it’s rebuilding mission that frightens us the most. Though intellectually we believe that our friends, family, and neighbors can only experience the fullness of eternal joy in Christ, and though intellectually we believe that without receiving and resting in Christ alone for salvation, our friends, family, and neighbors will experience eternal judgment, we often find ourselves paralyzed with fear when it comes to speaking the gospel with the aim to persuade others to believe. Our inner lawyer rises up and convinces us that we don’t know enough, aren’t eloquent enough, or aren’t sure enough to live as witnesses. Our inner lawyer convinces us that potential embarrassment, cost of time, or loss of position is worth remaining silent about the most glorious news in the universe. We too are afraid. But I have wonderful news: God puts his hand on what he loves, and he loves to strengthen gospel-cultures, known as churches, so that it becomes our delight to share the gospel and our very selves with others. We can rise up and rebuild our mission together because the good hand of God is on us in the midst of the fear. Our daughter Sage is three years old and is solidly afraid of the dark. Our typically aggressive and athletic daughter freezes up out of fear in the dark. But it’s pretty amazing, if I put my hand on her shoulder she calms right down and walks right through a dark room. She knows I’ll take care of her. Friends, let’s rise up and rebuild together, no matter the frightening cost or u-turn we may have to make, because God’s good hand is on us. The second reason to rise up and rebuild together is because…


After Nehemiah receives the king’s permission to travel to Jerusalem, he quietly inspects the state of the city and the wall night. Nehemiah 2:12b: And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. Nehemiah inspects the city at night because many of Israel’s neighboring enemies do not want the city rebuilt, so he wisely inspects in secret. During his mid-night inspection, Nehemiah quickly discovers that what was reported to him is true; the walls and gates in Jerusalem were torn down and destroyed by fire. Once Nehemiah completes his inspection and establishes his plan, he finally calls together God’s people. Nehemiah 2:17-18: 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. Nehemiah and the people rebuilt together because it was a good work that God had put into their hearts; it’s exactly what the people of God needed. Citylight, we rise up and rebuild gospel-empowered worship, community, and mission because it’s the greatest need in the world. We rise up to strengthen our church because our church is meant to portray the very beauty of Jesus to a watching world. It’s no exaggeration to say that the church is the hope of the world.

Several weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast about the FedEx truck that transported and delivered the very first COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. It was almost poetic as they described this ordinary FedEx truck that had become, as they described it, the hope of America because it was the vehicle for taking the COVID-19 vaccine to the nation. Citylight, the local church is the true hope of the world because the local church is the vehicle, the FedEx truck, that delivers the gospel to every neighborhood and nation around our world. The local church is the trophy case that puts on display the power of the gospel to unite diverse people in love and the local church is the vehicle that delivers the eternal life-giving gospel to the world. Nothing could be more urgent or significant than pouring our lives into building up our worship, community, and mission. Nothing could be more urgent than building our lives around the consistent, weekly worship of God’s people on Sundays. Worship is our identity as a church. Though some of us have grown strangely comfortable with the isolation or slower social schedule of the last year, as Citygroups begin meeting again this week, nothing could be more urgent than uniting with one because the world will know that we belong to Jesus by our love for one another. The local church is the hope of the world. Let’s rise up and rebuild together because building up the church is a good work that God has put in our hearts. Finally, let us rebuild together because…


After Nehemiah and God’s people strengthened their hands for the good work that God’s hand put into their hearts, they begin to work. Nehemiah chapter three records in incredible detail the rebuilding work that Nehemiah and God’s people did on Jerusalem’s wall. There are two things that strike me as profound in Nehemiah 3. The first is the unity in the midst of diversity. In Nehemiah 3, we read that rulers, commoners, craftspeople, and priests, a wildly diverse group of God’s people, worked together in profound unity in order to rebuild together. In our terms today, this is like elected government officials, local artists who sell their stuff on Etsy, white-collar and blue-collar workers, and pastors all uniting to work together on the same project! The second feature that is striking to me is that each individual member played their part. No one’s work was insignificant, everyone’s work was profoundly important, and every member of the community was critical because God rebuilds through each of our hands.

Nehemiah 3 reminds me of the way that the New Testament describes what a local church ought to be like. 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of …speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11-12, 15-16). You’ve probably heard the old nursery rhyme, “the toe bone’s connected to the foot bone…” I’ll spare you, but the linked chain of bones makes up your skeleton. That’s why if you injure your left ankle and start limping, you might develop bursitis in your right hip. For the body to work properly, every member has to do its part, and this leads all of us to an important question: what’s your next step in taking your dignified place in rebuilding together? To help answer this week in our Citygroups, we are going to take some time to try to identify our spiritual gifts and learn how to use them to build up the church. Don’t miss that!

The ultimate reason why we rebuild the wall together is because the Lord Jesus Christ gave his blood to break down the walls that divide us so that we can build together. The Lord Jesus Christ live the life we have failed to live, died the atoning death we need, and rose victoriously so that we can be truly one. Jesus died and rose so that our identity as the people of Jesus would outshine our commitment to any affinity or tribe. Jesus lived, died and rose to unite us as one body, to guarantee that he will build his church, and he invites us to rise up and build together. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Ephesians 2:14, 16). Through the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God by grace and united us to one another in one body and family. Receive and rest in Jesus. Be reconciled to God and another. Let the grace wash over you and strengthen you to rise up and rebuild together.