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The Work Envisioned

How God Builds Churches: Shoulder to Shoulder with Nehemiah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

<<TURN TO NEH; CHILDREN’S WORSHIP>> LIGHTEN UP
This is week three of our series, “How God Builds Churches: Standing Shoulder to Shoulder with Nehemiah.” Today’s the first day we’ll be in the book of Nehemiah, though. We’ve spent the last two weeks in , exploring what it means to “build our church on Jesus.” Paul had identified a dangerous trend in the church at Corinth - they had started factions. Some said they followed Paul, some said Apollos, some of them said they followed Peter, and if you really thought you were clever, you’d say, “I follow Christ.” The implication was “I follow Paul… and YOU DON’T! I follow Christ… and YOU DON’T.”
So Paul reminds the Corinthians - Paul and Apollos had different roles, but they were nothing but servants, and they were serving the same Christ. He says,
1 Corinthians 3:7–9 ESV
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:7–8 ESV
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.
1 Cor 3:7-
There’s only one Mission for Paul and Apollos, and for you and me: Work the field. Build the building. Make disciples.
Matthew 28:18–20 ESV
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Last week, in , we focused on the call to build on the right foundation - Jesus Christ. Any church that’s not built on the person and work of Jesus Christ isn’t God’s Church.
In God’s Kingdom, all human activity is interdependent - he who plants and he who waters are one - and all human activity is dependent - it’s dependent on God. It’s His field, His building.
Last week, in , we focused on the call to build on the right foundation - Jesus Christ. Any church that’s not built on the person and work of Jesus Christ isn’t God’s Church.
1 Corinthians 3:10–14 ESV
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.
says that each one should take care how he builds upon the foundation. In other words, this isn’t just a word for church leaders. Each of us is called to build. And the quality of our work will be shown in the Day of Judgment. What’s going to last? Only what is built on Christ, for the building up of His building - and you are that building.
In other words, instead of breaking up into factions, we should pursue Christ together, with Him at the center of all our work, motivated by gratitude for what Christ has done for us. That’s how we can build on the foundation of Jesus Christ for eternity.
So that’s the theological starting point. But where do we go from there? Nehemiah’s going to help us with that.
But where do we go from there?
Have you ever thought about what Jesus has called His Church to do, or felt convicted that you haven’t been much of a witness for Christ, and just felt paralyzed? Maybe last week had you wondering, “How am I supposed to build on the foundation?” This is what Jesus has called you and me to:
Matthew 28:18–20 ESV
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Have you ever thought about a tremendous need in the city of Chicago and wondered how anyone could hope to help? It’s a pretty common thing - you’re confronted by the need, and you want to do something, but the magnitude of the problem is paralyzing.
That’s what it means to build the Church on Jesus Christ. Make disciples of all nations. That’s a daunting task.
Q. How can we possibly build something for God? How should we start a Kingdom work?
That’s the kind of challenge Nehemiah finds himself facing in today’s text, too.
>>Have you ever thought about a tremendous need in the city of Chicago and wondered how anyone could hope to help? It’s a pretty common thing - you’re confronted by the need, and you want to do something, but the magnitude of the problem is paralyzing.<<
That’s the kind of challenge Nehemiah finds himself facing in today’s text, too.
The book of Nehemiah opens in 445 BC
Now, this is week 3 of our Nehemiah series, but we’re just getting to Nehemiah. Pastor Keith spent the last two weeks with us in .
Last 2 weeks
Intro to Nehemiah - include 1-2 Chron, Zechariah, Ezra, Esther
Neh a man of prayer, a leader, unsung hero of OT, a man of action whose knees were as sore as his feet, who knew how to run a Persian province and knew the OT
2 Divisions - - Rebuilding the Walls // - Restoring the People
N & Ezra - Politician & priest, both knew the Word
In , the answer takes shape for him, but this Word is for us, too. We’ll move through three portions of the chapter, and then we’ll find the conclusion and the answer.
In , the answer takes shape for him, but this Word is for us, too. We’ll move through three portions of the chapter, and then we’ll find the conclusion and the answer.

I. The mission seems impossible (vv. 1-4)

Nehemiah is confronted in verses 1-4 with a devastating report from his brother and the Judahites. To understand this, we need a little historical background. This is the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, King of Persia. That puts us at 445BC.
The Kingdom of Israel had reached its zenith with King David and King Solomon, over 500 years earlier. But because of Solomon’s idolatry and his son’s foolishness, only a few years into his son’s reign, 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel rebelled, and there was never a single united kingdom of Israel again. The ten tribes to the north called themselves Israel, and Judah and Benjamin, to the south, were the Kingdom of Judah. So by Nehemiah’s time, Israel has been fractured for almost 500 years.
So first, in vv1-4, we see what Nehemiah is up against. These events took place in 445BC.
But after rejecting all the prophets’ warnings and nonstop idolatry, the northern kingdom was completely destroyed by Assyria in 722 - almost 300 years before Nehemiah chapter 1.
Starting a hundred sixty years before , Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon spent 20 years running the bases in Judah, sending waves and waves of Jews into captivity in Babylon, stealing all the wealth of Judah and all the golden furnishings from God’s Temple, culminating with him sending the armies of Chaldeans to demolish the walls of Jerusalem, to tear down the city gates, and finally burn down the Temple of God in Jerusalem. That was 140 years before .
Now, in fulfillment of God’s promises, 70 years after the first exiles were taken to Babylon, Cyrus the King of Persia allowed the people to begin returning to Jerusalem. He even allowed them to rebuild the Temple. But they faced opposition at every step. Egypt, Moab, Edom, Assyria, Babylon, Persia - every neighbor and every major power had reason to oppose and hate the Jews. By Nehemiah’s time, the rebuilt Temple has been complete for 70 years. But there are still no walls.
The Kingdom of Israel had reached its zenith within two generations. You had King Saul, then David and Solomon. A bad start, and then the two kings that everyone looked back on as the standard. Solomon reigned around 970-930 BC.
If you know the story of Esther, if God had not set Esther where she was in the days of Xerxes, where she overthrew the plot of Haman to trick Xerxes into killing all the Jews, who knows what would have happened? That was just 35 years before .
By around 925, the Northern Kingdom had already broken away from Judah. Almost 500 years since there was a united Kingdom of Israel - Almost immediately after Solomon’s son took the throne, the 10 northern tribes rebelled against the King, so you had “Israel” in the North, worshiping false Gods at a false temple in Samaria, and Judah and Benjamin in the South, with the Temple but not much else going for it. Israel hadn’t been a united kingdom for almost 500 years by Nehemiah’s time.
Over the years, after David had victory over all Israel’s enemies and Solomon had tributes coming in from vassals and allies all around, the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah constantly faced opposition, harassment, and threats from every side.
In every generation, for hundreds of years, Nehemiah’s people have faced opposition, harassment, and threats of annihilation. Nehemiah has never known a time when his people’s identity and their very lives were not held by a fickle foreign power.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel was completely destroyed by Assyria in 722 - almost 300 years by N’s time. It’s been 140 years since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the walls of Jerusalem & burned the Temple to the ground, and took the people of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, into exile.
Now, in fulfillment of God’s promises, He delivered the people from their exile after 70 years. 70 years after the first exiles were taken to Babylon, Cyrus the King of Persia allowed the people to begin returning to Jerusalem. He even allowed them to rebuild the Temple. But they faced opposition at every step. Egypt, Moab, Edom, Assyria, Babylon, Persia - every neighbor and every major power had reason to oppose and hate the Jews. By Nehemiah’s time, the rebuilt Temple has been complete for 70 years. But the people are still vulnerable.
n Ezra chapter 4, we read that opposition to building the Temple and opposition to building the city walls never stopped, with opposition to the building of the Temple in the days of Cyrus to Darius, and opposition to the wall from Xerxes to Artaxerxes.
If you know the story of Esther, if God had not set Esther where she was in the days of Xerxes, where she overthrew the plot of Haman to trick Xerxes into killing all the Jews, who knows what would have happened? That was just 35 years before . In Ezra chapter 4, we read that opposition to building the Temple and opposition to building the city walls never stopped, with opposition to the building of the Temple in the days of Cyrus to Darius, and opposition to the wall from Xerxes to Artaxerxes.
Nehemiah has never known a time when his people’s identity and their very lives were not held by a fickle foreign power.
Now, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes king of Persia, news comes from Judah: the remnant that made it back to Jerusalem after the Exile to Babylon are in trouble and shame. Trouble, because without a wall, the Temple of God and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were vulnerable. A common saying at the time was that a city without walls was no city at all.
Shame, because after 70 years back in the land, they were still living in the ruins demolished by Nebuchadnezzar.
The men and women who had returned to Jerusalem had found it a ruin. Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem was total. The remnant of the people of God, who had returned to rebuild the Temple, were living in ruins.
Aleppo?
Shame - After 140 years back in Jerusalem, after 70 years with the Temple, they still were living in ruins.
Surely this was not news to Nehemiah. But diff between knowing about a great need and knowing the ones in need
Illustration: Short-term missions
The need is clear: Jerusalem needs a wall.
Must have seemed impossible, based on Nehemiah’s instant response - notice in v4 - instant, intense, extended <<READ v4>>
Must have seemed impossible, based on Nehemiah’s instant response - notice in v4 - instant, intense, immediate
NT App - , , ; connection - - how could we participate in such a work?
ADD MORE APP HERE
How does Nehemiah respond? Prayer (come back to that). Note how he prays &… note that he prays because … <<II>>
X-Refs: <<re: Susa , >> <<re: prayer , >> <<re: weeping ; , >>

II. The obstacles seem immovable (vv. 6-8)

<<READ vv5-8>>
There’s a much bigger problem than the human opposition to the rebuilding of the wall - Nehemiah knows that the reason his people went into exile in Babylon in the first place was because of their sin.
Nehemiah knew his Bible. This prayer echoes the book of Deuteronomy in every verse. <<note later same true of Ezra & Daniel>> Nehemiah knows that God had warned Israel through Moses that if they broke His covenant, they would be scattered in exile.
And that’s exactly what had happened.
In verse 5, Nehemiah addresses God as “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.”
But Nehemiah and the people of Judah are where they are precisely because they haven’t kept God’s commandments.
One of the things that characterize people from every era is that, generation after generation, we make bad choices because we think the consequences won’t catch up to us. Or we convince ourselves that we can hide our wrongs. Or we figure we can fix it later.
Time after time, we realize after the fact that there’s no real way to take back a hurtful word. I can’t undo it. I can ask for forgiveness and perhaps the other person will grant it, but I can’t actually take it back. When a young man steals from a neighbor, he thinks he can hide it from everyone, but he can’t stop worrying that someone will know. The adulterer plans a liaison, having deceived himself or herself into thinking that no one is getting hurt. But you know how this ends. You can’t undo what you’ve done.
Sin is deceitful.
It’s like getting suckered into a deal that’s too good to be true. We treat it like a teenager treats a credit card. I get everything I want, and maybe I have to pay a little minimum payment every month. Well, eventually you realize that you have no hope of paying it back. You pay for that fancy dinner 5x over and you owe more than you started.
Sin promises pleasure but adds poison. It offers bliss but delivers slavery.
Israel and Judah had chosen to worship the Baals and the Ashtoreths and all the gods of Canaan. They’d promised to serve only the LORD who brought them out of Egypt, but they’d been cheating on Him before they even left Mt Sinai.
Nehemiah and his people couldn’t claim a single right before God. They didn’t deserve redemption. And they couldn’t wipe away the sins that landed them in Babylon. “We haven’t lived up to this standard that you’ve set.”
<<NATURE OF SIN, Eden, >> <<INTRO GOSPEL & MISSION HERE>>
Eden - From the moment Adam & Eve sinned against God, shame. Fear. Hid from God.
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
Isaiah 59:1–2 ESV
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
Nehemiah knew that greatest need was for sins to be taken away
Sin is an immovable obstacle. But not for God. Look at verse 9 with me.
<<Later note “sufficient for these things” re 2 Cor 2>>

III. But our God is incredible (vv. 5, 9) and His Name is unstoppable (vv. 9-11)

<<READ v9-11>>
What is an immovable obstacle for Nehemiah is at the very center of God’s plan of redemption and salvation. We cannot pay off our sins, we can’t cover up our rebellion against God, and Nehemiah couldn’t pretend he was without sin. And yet, God had redeemed his people by his great power and by his strong hand.
Nehemiah does not presume his people deserve God’s favor. <<Prayer from >> They have not kept the Lord’s commandments perfectly. That’s what specifies - complete faithfulness to the covenant. But Nehemiah knows that God has a plan that included not only the exile, but the return of the exiles to the land. So he sees his place in God’s plan of salvation.
Verse 10 says “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed,” past tense, “by your great power and by your strong hand.” Despite their sins, they are His people. The people who were first redeemed out of Egypt have now been redeemed out of Babylon and Persia.
This is why Nehemiah can have faith that God will hear his prayer.
And so this is what he asks: Remember your word to Moses - not only to scatter us for our sins, but to bring us back to the place you chose. You chose it to make your name dwell there. It is for your sake. For your glory. For your mission in the world you made. For the world to see and know that YOU are the Lord. Well, my people delight to fear - to awe and reverence - that name. So, hear my prayer and the prayer of these your people, and give me success and mercy in the sight of the king of Persia.
, hear my prayer and the prayer of these your people, and give me success and mercy in the sight of the king of Persia.
In verse 5, look how he began his prayer. “O LORD God of heaven.” The Hebrew word isn’t just the word like any nobleman might be called a lord. When LORD is spelled with small capital letters, it’s translating the Hebrew name that God used when He met Moses and promised to deliver Israel from Egypt. In that moment, in , God declared to Moses that His Name is YAHWEH, I am that I am, the LORD. His Name is connected to His promise to save, and to His covenant with Israel. The covenant is the Lord’s commitment to Israel. He brought them out of Egypt, and promised to bring them into Canaan as their possession. They would be His people, and He would be their God. If they obeyed His commandments, statutes, and rules, they would enjoy lasting blessing in the Land. ((Dt a statement of the Covenant))
But in God’s covenant with Israel, He promised that in exchange for their obedience, they would remain blessed in the land of Canaan and He would be their God. The book of Deuteronomy is a statement of God’s covenant with Israel.
So when Nehemiah uses God’s Name, the LORD, and then mentions His Name in verses 9 and 11, our ears should perk up. What should we remember? We should remember the founding of the covenant.
At the time of the Exodus, Egypt was at its most powerful. Israel was in bondage to the most powerful empire the world had ever known. The LORD delivered on his promise. Through the ten plagues, God demonstrated that He, and not Pharaoh, was king over the Nile, king over the weather, king over light and darkness, king over life and death. He rescued Israel without a single Israelite drawing a sword or a bow. He parted the sea and went before Israel with a pillar of cloud. No word from Pharaoh could stop Him.
Now, a thousand years later, this incredible God had kept all His promises. So here’s a question: If God wanted to rebuild Jerusalem, what could Artaxerxes do to stop Him, if Pharaoh couldn’t stop Him?
God was faithful, even when Israel was not. And He is
Greatest slave release
When we started this morning, I said the mission seemed impossible. We asked the question, How could we possibly build something for God? No one had managed to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in a hundred and forty years. How could Nehemiah hope to do so?
The mission seemed impossible, and the obstacles seemed immovable. But our incredible God has a mission - for His Name to dwell on Mount Zion. And nobody can stop him.

IV. And He has called us by His Name (vv. 5, 9-11)

Well, that’s a lot of history. Maybe you’re wondering what it’s got to do with us.
Well, Chapter 1 ends in a cliffhanger, but I’m not going to say much about it. Nehemiah, it turns out, moved in the highest echelons of political life in Babylon. He’s got the king’s ear.
Well, Chapter 1 ends in a cliffhanger, but I’m not going to say much about it. Nehemiah, it turns out, moved in the highest echelons of political life in Babylon. He’s got the king’s ear.
But that’s nothing. He had the ear of the King of Kings.
And so do you.
But guess what: It actually gets even better.
Nehemiah was working under what the Bible calls the old covenant. But the Old Covenant, with its commandments and laws and statutes, contained within it another promise, a promise of a better covenant. A new covenant.
OC - “Do all these things and you will live” But OC points to a better covenant
It’s foreshadowed in and a dozen other places in Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy 30:6 ESV
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
In the words of the great prophet of the final days of Judah, when Babylon was rising, Jeremiah, the Lord promised:
Jeremiah 31:31–34 ESV
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
- Jesus Christ, as our great high priest, is the one who brings this new covenant to us
GOSPEL
Back to the question: How can we possibly build something for God?
Remember Matt 28:18-20
We said that Nehemiah’s mission seemed impossible, and the obstacles seemed immovable, and that’s true for our mission, too. But we have an incredible God, and the mission is HIS mission. He came into the world in order to redeem the world.
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” // “We are God’s fellow workers” ()
Our God is incredible, and His Name is unstoppable, and here’s the most amazing part: He has called us by His Name.
Q: How should we start a Kingdom work? As you think about the Great Commission, and the call to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ,
Like Nehemiah - Make sure you’ve grasped the immensity of the mission.
"trouble & shame” of Judahites - wall broken down // “trouble & shame” of a world without hope, under the weight of sin. Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, and He has called us to build with Him.
Get the MISSION right, drive to KNEES
Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.
Like Nehemiah, instant, intense, extended prayer.
Mission is impossible for us, the need is immense beyond measure, so please w/ our merciful savior for success.
Trust that the fact that He has redeemed you is proof that He is listening. And remember that His Name is unstoppable.
Every Kingdom work is God’s work, and therefore should be prayerful work
Notice that Nehemiah prays God’s Words back to Him. God’s Word is perfect, right? God’s promises are trustworthy, right? What better way to make sure you’re seeking His Kingdom than to pray from Scripture? Like Nehemiah, this means we should know Scripture.
II. Obstacles - It’s almost exactly how the prophet Daniel started his prayer a little over a hundred years earlier, and it echoes . In other words, Daniel and Nehemiah structured their prayers around God’s own Word. And just like Moses had done, Nehemiah confesses and intercedes for his sinful people.
ACTS prayer
The mission is impossible & the need is immense beyond measure
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