Stephen Caswell © 2000
Commitment - The Mule And The Ox
For many days an old farmer had been plowing with an ox and a mule together and working them pretty hard. The ox said to the mule, let's play sick today and rest a little while. But the old mule said , no we need to get the work done, for the season is short. But the ox played sick, and the farmer brought him fresh hay and corn and made him comfortable. When the mule came in from plowing, the ox asked how he made out. We didn't get as much done, but we made it all right, answered the mule. The ox asked, what did the old man say about me? nothing said the mule. The next day the ox, thinking he had a good thing going, played sick again. When the mule came in again very tired, the ox asked, how did it go? The mule said, all right, I guess, but we didn't get much done. Then the ox asked, what did the old man say about me? Nothing to me, was the reply, but he did stop to have a long talk with the butcher.
Last Sunday we saw Israel renew their covenant. Their actions proved that their repentance and recommitment were sincere. They Submitted To God's Word, Separated As God's People and they Supported God's House. After the people had dedicated themselves to God they dedicated their city to him as well. John F. Kennedy said, We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation. Nehemiah followed the same philosophy. He knew that the nation of Israel could never be strong as long as Jerusalem was weak. But Jerusalem could not be strong unless the people were willing to sacrifice. Nehemiah called on the people to present three sacrifices to the Lord for the sake of their city, sacrifices that God still calls His people to give for the sake of the church He is building today.
I. We Must Offer Ourselves To God
II. We Must Offer Our Praise To God
III. We Must Offer Our Gifts To God
Firstly We Must Offer Ourselves To God
Now that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were restored, it was important that the Jews inhabit their capital city and make the population grow.
For one thing, people were needed to protect the city; for they never knew when the enemy might decide to attack. It may have been safer for the people to live in the small outlying villages that were no threat to the Gentile society, but somebody had to take the risk and move into the big city.
But most of all, God had brought the remnant back home because He had a special job for them to do; and to abandon the restored city was to obstruct the working out of God’s will through Israel. In other words, God needed people, live bodies, in the holy city. Never underestimate the importance of simply being physically present in the place where God wants you. You may not be asked to perform some dramatic ministry, but simply being there is a ministry. The men, women, and children who helped to populate the city of Jerusalem were serving God, their nation, and future generations by their step of faith.
Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem; the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city, and nine-tenths were to dwell in other cities.
The nation's leaders dwelt in Jerusalem. But this wasn't enough for the city to function properly. The people had promised to tithe their produce, so Nehemiah decided to tithe the people; and 10 percent were chosen by lot to move from their villages into Jerusalem. By casting lots the people recognized that God would overrule the outcome. Since there were few residents in the city and since the housing situation was bad, it isn’t surprising that many of the Jews were unwilling to move. However they obeyed the call to move there.
Nehemiah 11:2 And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.
Some folk volunteered to live in Jerusalem. They were committed to God's work there and willingly offered themselves to move there. What joy these men must have brought to Nehemiah. Just imagine how much more joy we bring to God when we willingly serve Him rather than doing it because of obligation or duty. The people blessed these men for their dedication to the Lord. Their heart was in the right place. Let us follow their example.
We have grown accustomed to Nehemiah’s practice of listing the names of the people involved in his projects. In listing these names, Nehemiah was giving evidence of his sincere appreciation for each individual who assisted in the work. It also reminds us that our Father sees and records what His children do as they serve Him. Even if others don’t appreciate your ministry, you can be sure God knows about it and He will reward you accordingly.
A variety of people were needed for the temple ministry that was so important to the Jewish nation. The priests officiated at the altar, and the Levites assisted them. Some supervised the maintenance of the building while others ministered with prayer and praise; and both were important. There were nearly 300 men appointed to guard the temple. Since the tithes and offerings were stored in the temple, it was important that the building be protected. Some folk served as gatekeepers and watchmen. All had an important part to play. It took many people, with many skills, to maintain the ministry in Jerusalem.
Pastor Weirbse's Ministry Team
When Pastor Warren Weirsbe ministered at Calvary Baptist Church in Covington, he listed the people, seen and unseen, who helped make his pulpit ministry possible. Whilst preaching there were three technicians running the controls in the radio room, half a dozen men patrolling the parking lots, ushers at the doors and walking through the buildings to see that all was well, maintenance personnel keeping the equipment going, and an efficient pastoral staff backing him up. The musicians led the congregation in praise and helped prepare them to hear the Word.
During the previous week, scores of Sunday School workers had contacted hundreds of people, church members had invited many visitors to the services, the office crew had kept the organizational machinery running smoothly, church officers had encouraged and counseled, people had prayed — and all of this so that the pastor might be able to glorify Christ by proclaiming the Word of God! He said it was a humbling experience that made him want to do his best for the Lord and for these wonderful people.
God uses many people with different gifts and skills to get His work done in this world. The important thing is that we give our bodies to the Lord so that He can use us as His tools to accomplish His work. Each person is important and each task is significant.
At West Orange Baptist many people serve the Lord. Musicians help us praise the Lord. Others prepare bulletins, work the P.A. system, clean the Church, or serve as door stewards. Some folk help with cleaning, preparing communion and mowing the lawns. All of these things are important. Yet there is always a need for more workers. There is a need for leaders to help with the Young People's work. A number of people have suggested that an Adult Sunday School class would be a blessing. But at present there is no one to lead it. Prayer is vital to the Church ministry and is not limited to any one age group. I would love to see a Kids Club ministry or Awana start up after school. Perhaps you could serve the Lord in one of these areas. In today's world everyone is busy. But are we busy in the Lord's work or our own? Do you have a gift to offer to the Lord? Israel offered themselves to the Lord! Will you willingly offer yourself to the Lord?
Secondly We Must Offer Our Praise To God
a. The Diligent Preparation
The people had been dedicated; now it was time to dedicate the work that the people had done. This is the correct order, for what good are dedicated walls and gates without dedicated people? Note that the emphasis was on joyful praise on the part of all the people. Singing is mentioned eight times in this chapter, thanksgiving six times, rejoicing seven times, and musical instruments three times. The people diligently prepared for this dedication service. Firstly they met together to practice their ministry. Secondly they purified themselves and the people.
Nehemiah 12:27-29 Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. And the sons of the singers gathered together from the countryside around Jerusalem, from the villages of Netophathites; from the house of Gilgal, and from the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had built themselves villages all around Jerusalem.
Firstly, the Levites were called to Jerusalem to prepare for the dedication service. The Levites were given the charge of the temple worship. They organized things.
Although the Scriptures encourage us to make a joyful noise to the Lord, preparation enhances our worship so much more. These musicians ministered in the temple. In fact David had established a roster system to enhance this. The singers were gathered together from the areas surrounding Jerusalem. I am sure that they practiced together beforehand. We see that they were divided into two choirs later on. Cymbals, stringed instruments, harps and trumpets played during the dedication service. I am sure that they practiced together beforehand. The Levites prepared the musicians and singers for the dedication service.
Nehemiah 12:30 Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall.
The Levites also prepared the people. They performed ceremonial cleansing for themselves and all the people. Then they purified the gates and the wall too. This was done no doubt by sprinkling the blood of sacrificed animals. This might seem insignificant. But it's not. Before we can minister in the Lord's work we must be clean. This involves examining our hearts and confessing all sin. For God's blessing to flow through us we must be clean vessels. Sin prevents God from pouring His blessings upon us and through us. The Levites are to be commended in this. 1 Peter 2:9 highlights this: But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people; that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light:
b. The Dual Procession
Nehemiah 12:31, 38, 40 So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate. The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall, going past the Tower of the Ovens as far as the Broad Wall, So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me;
The order for the dedication service was unique. The leaders and singers were divided into two groups, with Ezra leading one group and Nehemiah directing the second group. The processions started probably from the Valley Gate on the west wall, marching in opposite directions. Ezra’s company went south on the walls to the Dung Gate, then to the Fountain Gate and the Water Gate on the east wall of the city. Nehemiah’s company went north past the Old Gate, the Ephraim Gate, the Fish Gate, the Sheep Gate, and the Muster Gate. Both groups met at the temple area where the service climaxed with sacrifices offered to the Lord.
Why did Ezra and Nehemiah organize this kind of a dedication service? Why not just meet at the temple, let the Levites sing and offer sacrifices to the Lord, and send everybody home?
Firstly, the walls and gates were being dedicated; and it was only right that the people see and touch them. Secondly, The people were bearing witness to the watching world that God had done the work, and He alone should be glorified. The enemy had said that the walls would be so weak that a fox could knock them down, but here were the people marching on the walls! Thirdly, by marching on the walls, the people had an opportunity to see the results of their labors and realize anew that the work had not been done by one person. Many people helped build the wall but it belonged to God who enabled it to be built.
Finally, Let me suggest another reason for this march around the walls: It was a symbolic act by which they stepped out by faith to claim God’s blessing. In that day, to walk on a piece of property meant to claim it as your own. God said to Joshua, Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you.
c. The Devoted Participation
Nehemiah 12:42b-43 The singers sang loudly with Jezrahiah the director. Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.
But the most important thing about this dedication service was not the march around the walls. It was the expression of joyful praise that came from the choirs and the people. The choir was directed by Jezrahiah. I am sure that their singing was beautiful. But it was not only the professional musicians who expressed praise to God, for the women and children also joined in the singing. We must never permit the accomplished ministry of worship leaders to take the place of our own spontaneous celebration of the Lord’s goodness.
Otherwise, we will become spectators instead of participants; and spectators miss most of the blessing. They rejoiced and praised God for His goodness to them. All the people united in exalting the Lord who is worthy of such worship, honor and glory. Worship means to give God what He is worth. Hebrews 13:15 says: Therefore by Christ let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. The people offered their praise thankfully, joyfully, and loudly. They were accompanied by various instruments as they sang loudly to the Lord. It was not a time for muted meditative worship. It was a time for pulling out all the stops and praising the Lord enthusiastically.
Too often, a church dedication service marks the end and not the beginning of ministry as the congregation breathes a sigh of relief and settles down to business as usual. Vance Havner once described his impressions of a dedication service at which he had spoken: The church people thought the new building was a milestone, but it looked to me like it was a millstone! If we lose our forward vision and stop launching out by faith, then what God has accomplished will indeed become a millstone that will burden and break us.
Worship - The Sheer Excitement of Knowing God -- Jim Elliot
To stand by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and to give oneself again to God, what more could a man ask? Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth. I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him.
Israel gathered to dedicate the walls. They had willingly offered themselves to God. They wisely prepared themselves for this ministry beforehand. Their dedication service was one of great joy as they remembered God's help in building the walls.
We would do well to follow Israel's example. Firstly let us willingly offer ourselves to the Lord's service. Let us purify ourselves from sin beforehand. Let us remember what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Then we will be far more eager to worship God. Worship is not a Sunday event. It is the fruit of a life lived for Jesus Christ all week long. How can we appreciate and worship God if we don't have a close relationship with Him? If we willingly serve the Lord during the week our Sunday worship will be an overflow of this joy. We will rejoice in God's goodness. Will you willingly offer yourself to the Lord? Will you allow your worship to be the overflow of a life dedicated to Christ?
Thirdly We Must Offer Our Gifts To God
Nehemiah 12:44 And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered.
The people had covenanted with God to support the temple ministry, and they kept their promises. Some of the Levites were appointed to supervise the collecting of the produce and the storing of it in the temple. Keep in mind that these tithes and offerings represented the people's support for the temple workers so that they could serve the Lord continually. The people brought their tithes and offerings, not only because it was the commandment of God, but also because they rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered.
The ministers at the temple were exemplary both in their personal purity and in their obedience to God’s Word. They conducted the worship, not according to their own ideas, but in obedience to the directions given by David and Solomon. When believers have a godly ministry that exalts the Lord and obeys the Word, the people are only too glad to bring their tithes and offerings to support it. The result of this joyful service of dedication was a plentiful supply of produce to sustain the work of the ministry. The people gave not grudgingly or of necessity but joyfully and gratefully.
Missionary leader J. Hudson Taylor used to say, When God’s work is done in God’s way for God’s glory, it will not lack God’s support.
Our material gifts are really spiritual sacrifices to the Lord, if they are given in the right spirit. The Apostle Paul called the gifts from the Philippian church an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God. Jesus accepted Mary’s gift of precious ointment as an act of worship, and Hebrews 13:16 reminds us: But do not forget to share: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
But before we can bring our material gifts to the Lord, we must first give ourselves to Him. Firstly, Israel offered themselves to the Lord. Secondly, they offered their praise and Thirdly they offered their gifts. 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes and beyond their ability they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift, and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. Our gifts cannot be a substitute for ourselves. It was a holy day in Jerusalem, a happy day because the work had been completed and God had been glorified in a wonderful way.
Giving - Dedication Of Ones Self
After a great gathering of Christian youth, the offering was being counted. At the bottom of the offering, the counters found a picture of a teenage girl. They all made the same immediate assumption. Some boy had taken a girl's wallet, taken out the picture and thrown it in the offering basket as a practical joke. That's the kind of thing teenagers sometimes do. Then someone turned the picture over. There was something written on the back. I have nothing to give, but I give myself.
Israel promised not to neglect God's house. Then they kept their promises. Do you support the house of God? Do you set aside your offering for the Lord's work each week? Do you store it up when you are away to bring when you come again? Do you support missions? Do you give in proportion to the Lord's blessings upon you? Or do you neglect God's house?
Last week we have seen how Israel recommitted themselves to the covenant. This week they had a dedication service to the Lord. God wants us to be totally comitted to Him. We saw how this involves sacrifice in three areas.
I. We Must Offer Ourselves To God - Service in God's Work.
II. We Must Offer Our Praise To God - Worship in God's House.
III. We Must Offer Our Gifts To God - Support of God's Work.
Last Sunday morning I gave out some Commitment To Christ forms. You may have been away so I would like to give you one today. These are for you to take home and prayerfully consider. I don't want them back. But can I encourage you to keep it at home as a reminder of your commitment to Christ.
Numbers 6:24-26 The LORD bless you, and keep you: The LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.