Rebuilding requires finishing well
Series: Nehemiah: Rebuilding Together
How do we finish well? 1. Stay on the wall 2. Maintain your integrity 3. Remember the people
NICOT commentary on Nehemiah
Tyndale commentary on Nehemiah
ESV Study Bible
Jim Peters was undoubtedly one of the greatest distance runners of the 20th century. In the 1950’s, he broke the world record for the marathon four times. The two-time Olympian was also the first person to ever break 2:20 in the marathon, a feat that was equated to breaking the four-minute mile barrier. Sadly, in the running world Jim is equally famous for his collapse in the 1954 Commonwealth Games marathon. After running all but 400 meters of the 26.2-mile race, Peters entered the stadium 17 minutes ahead of the next runner and 11 minutes ahead of the world record. The final 400 meters of a marathon would typically take Jim no more than 60-seconds to complete. But in his last steps, Jim collapsed repeatedly, never finished the marathon, and never raced again. Peters is a living, breathing embodiment of the old cliché, it’s not how you start, but how you finish that really matters. Today we come to chapters six and seven of our journey through Nehemiah. Nehemiah is all about rebuilding together after hardship and the heart of our passage is Nehemiah 6:15: So the wall was finished… And that brings us to the big idea of our passage this morning: Rebuilding requires finishing well. I want to clarify two things about this big idea. First, what exactly are we, Citylight, rebuilding? For us, rebuilding means building up the church; building up one another in love for God, our love for one another, and love for our neighbors all in response to the gospel of grace. We rebuild by doing things like praying regularly for the church and one another, by pursuing personal holiness and intimacy with God in word, prayer & repentance, by being regularly present with one another when we gather for worship on the Lord’s Day and in our Citygroups. We rebuild by doing intentional spiritual good to each other (discipling), by praying with one another, studying Scripture with one another, discussing the sermon with one another, and by meeting or calling to encouraging one another in Christ. We rebuild by speaking the truth in love to one another when we notice one another sinning. We rebuild by responding to truth with humility when we’re confronted. We rebuild by forgiving one another and uniting with one another in love even when we disagree about things that aren’t sin but are really secondary matters. We rebuild by sharing the gospel and our lives with non-Christians. Rebuilding means building each other up. Second thing I want to clarify about the big idea: when are we finished? We are not rebuilding a wall; we are participating with Jesus who is building his church. In perhaps his final letter in the New Testament, Paul tells us when we’re finished and have finished well. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Tim. 4:7-8). We are finished when we draw our last faithful breath. With that said, let’s move into our passage. How do we finish well? 1. Stay on the wall 2. Maintain your integrity 3. Remember the people
STAY ON THE WALL (6:1-9)
Nehemiah 6 opens with Nehemiah’s familiar enemies, Sanballat and Tobiah, reaching the point of utter desperation as they see that Jerusalem’s wall is nearly rebuilt. They realize that their only hope to keep the job from being finished is to eliminate the man who had been responsible for the whole project, Nehemiah himself. So, Sanballat and Tobiah request a meeting with Nehemiah. The scene is like a mob movie when someone gets invited to a meeting under the pretenses of a truce, but in reality, the person gets killed. Nehemiah suspects the foul play, but he knows that at best the meeting is a distraction from his ultimate purpose of rebuilding God’s people and God’s city. Nehemiah 6:3: And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” In the face of potential distraction, Nehemiah stays on the wall. Unfortunately, Sanballat and Tobiah won’t take “no” for an answer, so they try a different tactic. They make a false accusation against Nehemiah, saying that Nehemiah is rebuilding the city so that he can be king, and then invite him to a meeting to clear up the charges. But, once again, Nehemiah finishes well because he stays on the wall. Nehemiah 6:8-9: Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands. In the face of distractions and accusations, Nehemiah finishes rebuilding by staying on the wall.
Remember, we are rebuilding by building up the church as an attractively different gospel culture that shines like a light in the world. We do this by worshiping together, loving and discipling one another, and sharing the gospel and our very lives with non-Christian friends and neighbors. Question: What distractions or accusations tempt you to come down from the wall? Let’s start with distractions. Perhaps for some of you, it’s politics. Maybe you used to study Scripture fervently, disciple God’s people joyously, evangelize urgently, and gather for worship regularly, but now you find those things crowded out by thinking and talking about important but secondary political concerns than about Jesus and the gospel. Stay on the wall! Perhaps for others, it’s wealth and success. You used to pour your life into God’s people, especially in discipling your spouse and your kids, but that’s getting crowded out by your pursuit of more. Stay on the wall. Perhaps for you it’s comfort and entertainment. You want to love God with all your heart, but your phone crowds out God’s word. Stay on the wall. Perhaps for you, it’s your kids. You used to be deeply involved in the life of God’s people and shared the gospel with your neighbors, but now your kids have crowded that out. One of the best things you can do for your kids is teach them how to be part of the people of God, not drift from them. Stay on the wall! Perhaps for some of you, it’s fear. I realize that some of you are looking at the current political climate and our cultures increasing hatred for Christians and the things we believe and you’re afraid. I feel, understand, and share your concerns. Don’t pretend you’re not afraid. Fix your eyes more on Jesus than current and potential persecution so that you stay on the wall. What’s distracting you? Stay on the wall! Let’s think for a moment about accusations. Specifically, what accusations keep you from building the church by evangelizing: speaking the gospel with the aim to persuade others to follow Christ? Evangelism is the central way that we build up the church with new members. What accusations keep you from building? One accusation is that it’s narrow or bigoted share the gospel with the aim to persuade someone of a different faith to follow Christ. In 2019, Barna reported that nearly half of practicing Christian millennials believe that it’s at least somewhat wrong to share their faith with someone of a different religion, in hopes that they’ll follow Christ. That’s a tragedy; Christ is our only hope in life and in death. Stay on the wall. Another accusation that can stop us in our tracks is the accusation that Christians hate gay people. Believing what Jesus says about human sexuality is the most loving thing we can ever do. Stay on the wall. Still another accusation that can stop us is that Christianity is the white man’s religion. Jesus was a middle eastern Jew and that the gospel spread to Africa before it went to Europe. Stay on the wall. No matter the distraction or false-accusation, remember the greatness of you work and stay on the wall. That’s the first way that we stay on the wall.
MAINTAIN YOUR INTEGRITY
Once Sanballat and Tobiah realize that they can’t stop Nehemiah with distractions or accusations, they change strategies and launch a last-ditch effort to stop the wall from being completed. Instead of trying to take Nehemiah’s life, they try to get him to compromise his integrity, lose his credibility as the leader for God’s people, effectively halting the rebuilding effort before it’s finished. Here is what they do: Sanballat and Tobiah bribe Shemiah, one of Israel’s prophets, into telling Nehemiah that Nehemiah’s enemies are coming to kill him. Shemiah then says to Nehemiah that the best way for Nehemiah to avoid being assassinated is by hiding in the temple. There are two problems. First, it’s unbecoming of the man of God called to lead God’s people to run for his life in the face of danger. Secondly, Nehemiah was not a priest who could simply enter the Temple and hide. Nehemiah was a layman who, according to God’s word, would be sinning to enter the temple itself. Nehemiah knows that seemingly small sins are what compromise our ability to rebuild and finish well. He maintains his integrity.
One accusation that is often leveled against Christians that can hamper our ability to build the church is that we’re all a bunch of hypocrites. If you’re a visitor this morning, perhaps you’ve thought that about us Christians. And, in a sense, you’re right. None of us lives up to God’s law in thought, word, or deed. That’s why our only hope in life and in death is not our morality. Our only hope in life and in death is that we are not our own but belong to Jesus who has forgiven our sin and cleansed our unrighteousness. According to the Bible, hypocrisy isn’t sinning; hypocrisy is unconfessed sinning (1 John 1:8-9). It’s unconfessed compromise that keeps us from finishing well. Question: Where are the unconfessed compromises in your life? The world has no right to expect perfection from us, but they have every right to expect to see sin us, to be sure, but also open confession, humble repentance, and a falling into Jesus strength for fresh obedience. When it comes to rebuilding and finishing well, our integrity really matters. Let me make it plain. If you’re going to sleep over at your girlfriend’s house, you might as well quit trying to share your faith with your neighbor or co-worker because they’re not going to take you seriously. You’ve compromised your integrity and gospel witness. If you’re going to berate your employees, gossip about your boss, destroy people from the safety of your keyboard, or cheat on your taxes, just quit trying to share your faith. No one will listen because your unconfessed compromise is gospel compromise. Instead, turn to God in repentance, you’ll find your Father with open arms, not pointed fingers. He’ll forgive you, love you, and strengthen you to sleep in your own bed. There is perhaps no more powerful witness to a non-Christian as when, in honest integrity, you apologize to them for something that they might not even think is wrong and you tell them that it is because it’s a compromise of your faith. Maintain your integrity.
REMEMBER THE PEOPLE
As we step into Nehemiah 7, we read that the rebuilding work on the wall is finally finished. Interestingly, we’re only halfway through the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah 7 is the transitional chapter in the book and the transition is made plain in Nehemiah 7:4: The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. For Nehemiah, finishing the wall was not the same as finishing the job. In chapter seven, Nehemiah’s focus shifts from rebuilding God’s city to rebuilding God’s people. Nehemiah’s first step in rebuilding God’s people is to, so to speak, clean out the membership rolls. Nehemiah wants to rebuild the people of God by formally counting up and marking them off as separate from the world around them as the unique people of God who shine as lights in the world. We do this today through church membership, our way of officially affirming and overseeing one another’s membership in Christ and his kingdom. Rebuilding and finishing well requires remembering the people.
As a pastor, one of the best questions I receive from people in our church, “how can I serve the church?” “What can I do to strengthen the gospel culture here at Citylight.” The absolutely best answer that I can give you is remember the people. Remember that we rebuild by building up the church. The church is not a building or a place, but a people. We build up the church by remembering the people. Remember the people by formally joining them in covenant membership so that we can all help oversee one another’s membership in Christ and his kingdom. Remember the people by praying regularly for your church. Remember the people by being present week in and week out in one another’s lives on Sunday and in Citygroups. You can’t remember people you’re with occasionally. Remember the people by opening your homes to one another in ways that fit your convictions about personal and public health. Remember the people by discipling one another, being trained to shepherd one another in Citygroups, and watching over one another. Remember the people by sharing the gospel and your life with non-Christians. We rebuild and finish well by remembering the people. What might it look like for you to remember the people?
In Nehemiah the people of God finish the job because of the steadfast leadership of Nehemiah. How much more can we rebuild to the very end because we follow Jesus Christ, the true and great Nehemiah. Nehemiah withstood the test of his enemies when they tried to distract and accuse him, but the Lord Jesus Christ was offered all the kingdoms of the earth by Satan himself and yet resisted by the word of the Lord. Nehemiah maintained his integrity under the threat of death. But our Lord Jesus Christ was tempted in every way we are and yet always maintained his integrity not only under the threat of death, but to the point of death in our place for all of our lapses of integrity. Nehemiah couldn’t enter the Temple, but through his death Jesus tore down the curtain in the temple, symbolizing our separation from God. Nehemiah numbered the people to set them apart as the people of God, but the Lord Jesus was numbered among the transgressors to make sinners like you and me the new people of God by grace alone through faith alone. The Lord Jesus Christ is the author and perfector of our faith, and as we fix our eyes on Him, we run with endurance to the very end because he’s carrying us all the way through. By the grace of the gospel, we rebuild until we breath our last and come off the wall to enter into his eternal rest. Come to Jesus today, for the first or the thousandth time. Receive rest from the burden of thinking you have to do enough and be enough for God to love you. Come to Jesus who through his life, death, and resurrection will give you rest for your weary soul so that you can rebuild to the end when he will welcome you into his eternal rest. Eternal rest is coming, but for now we rebuild to the very end. We finish well because on the cross Jesus said “it is finished.”