DECIDING TO LIVE 'ALL IN' - Nehemiah 4 - May 28, 2023
MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG
FROM BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC.
Last week we embarked on our series “Living ‘All In’ – Essentials for Spiritual Muscle”. In reality, it’s a series on vision. Not malfunctioning vision that causes us to see a blurry, ‘glasses off’ eye chart or compromised vision that only allows us to see in black and white.
The vision we are considering this morning is far more important than out of focus shapes or eyes lacking capacity. Vision is what compels a small nun to embrace the forgotten and unloved in an Indian slum and it’s vision that drives violent hatred that extinguishes life in places of worship or where young students gather to learn. Our vision shaping what we live for and who we become. Over the next number of weeks, we will be looking at some foundational questions about vision that ask:
• WHO ARE WE CALLED TO BE? • WHAT IMPACT ARE WE CALLED TO HAVE?
• WHAT PRICE ARE WE WILLING TO PAY?
This morning we are going into the pages of the OT to look at people who were created to be BIG vision people but who were living small vision lives and who, ultimately lose their vision altogether. Prophet after prophet, God has repeatedly warned Israel of her failing vision but she has refused to listen. The prophet Habakkuk describes her, as filled with ‘wrongdoing’, Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. The law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted. Hab 1:3 In other words things are a mess!
Their response to who they were called to be was that they were a people of a 100 gods and 1000 pursuits. The impact they had as God’s people? - none. And the price they were willing to pay - likewise none. Into that place God brought Babylon to punish Israel for her sin, Into that place God brought Babylon to punish Israel for her sin, taking the Jews and taken them into captivity and leaving Jerusalem’s Temple and city walls destroyed. Read Neh 4.
As we enter today’s story, years have passed. Israel has returned to her land but in many respects, her heart remains in the foreign place in which they’d lived. Though celebrating their return, they were still living ‘black and white’ lives - not fully embracing their God who brought them home and so a 100 years later, their lives were more or less indistinct from those surrounding them. To address that, God sent Nehemiah to oversee the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls but as the people stepped out to do this, they encountered great opposition. Listen again to how that’s described.
It came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down” Neh 4:1-3 NAS
Jerusalem’s broken down walls left her unprotected from hostile nations but her people seemed far more concerned with fitting in rather than standing out as they embraced the values of the nations around. Couched in ½ truths, the enemy had unguarded access to distort and destroy. But a rebuilt, fortified wall said something different – that as God’s people, they were to be different, living to please God and that required the protection of God’s truth to guard against enemy attack. We too are called to be people whose lives are different. Not so much different in things we don’t do, tho that’s part of it, but different in the tone by which we live, tone that attracts, tone that cares, tone that loves even when it’s hard to love. That’s why Paul gives us the imperative, Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places Eph 6:11-12.
The 1st advantage of a rebuilt wall was the obvious protection afforded from known enemies. The 2nd advantage was that it enabled them to control interactions with lesser known enemies who moved among them who looked like, talked like, dressed like. But with walls restored, everyone had to enter through designated gates where people’s entry could be examined, identified and where necessary, denied. The walls allowed recognition of the enemy.
So the question for us is this – what is the status of our walls? Secured or open season for the enemy? Broken because we’ve chosen to ignore God’s truth or full of holes because of neglect, not taking time to know what God’s truth is? And with that, susceptible to voices that aren’t true
Less obvious but no less dangerous, is when we consider our walls strong when they are weak; walls that define our faith by the things we don’t do and the places we don’t go. Our actions defining the sincerity and strength of our faith. That was what the rich young ruler was banking on when he came to Jesus with his stellar life only to have Jesus tell him that his actions, as good as they were, came up short.
Though these walls look so secure, they have huge gaps through which the enemy enters. Because the protection of God’s truth isn’t built on what’s not present in our lives; it’s protection is determined by what IS present because of the One we love. Transformed in relationship with Christ, His life; His love, His joy, His peace evident in us. In other words, our actions shaped by living to please Him. Against this and the power of the Holy Spirit, the enemy has no answer although that’s not to say that the enemy’s attacks won’t come.
And attack he will, in the same way Sanballat and Tobiah attacked - mocking, discouraging, and planting doubt. And while Sanballat and Tobiah were the actors, Satan wrote and directed their script, using 5 questions of attack I want to consider this morning.
What are you feeble Jews doing?
Are you going to restore it for yourselves?
Can you offer sacrifices?”
Can you finish in a day?
Can you revive the stones from the rubble?
1 WHAT ARE YOU FEEBLE JEWS DOING?
Sanballat was pointing out the obvious: you are few in number and small in strength. And the task – far beyond you. Who are you, surrounded by so many? In truth, what Sanballat said was right. They were, as he described, ‘feeble’ a term used in the OT to describe plants in decay Isaiah 16:8; 24:7. Sanballat wanted them to know, they were a far cry from who they were prior to captivity.
Just, ‘Few in number; small in strength’. And the assessment Sanballat wanted them to hear: Value – next to nil; Impact – inconsequential. His conclusion? You are a dying and forgotten people holding on to withering, decaying beliefs. It’s the same message Satan wants us to hear mixing truth with lie, as he tries to separate us from knowing who we are in Christ. Have you ever heard the same, Do you see how insignificant you are? What difference could you possibly make?
But the who we are is given us by Paul in Ephesians, that IN Christ: WE are Chosen - from the foundation of the world (yes, we make a decision to accept Christ but He, in some mysterious way has chosen us); WE are Adopted – joint heirs with Christ (His riches are our riches); WE are Loved – that the God of all Creation with scar stained, blood bought, conquering love – loves us – loves you; and WE richly dwell IN Him (that I don’t hold onto Him, He holds onto me). This is the identity given us in Jesus which renders Satan powerless.
But against that, Satan wages full attack, trying to convince us we are hopelessly weak; hopelessly unworthy. That part is true BUT who I am has been answered in Christ. I am weak but in Christ, I’m strong. I am unworthy but in Christ I’m declared worthy. In my strength, hopelessly outmatched but in Christ, victorious conqueror .... crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Gal 2:20.
ARE YOU GOING TO RESTORE IT FOR YOURSELVES?
Sanballat’s 2nd attack was simply this, Who are ‘you’ to build a wall distinguishing you from us? You’re no better. No more worthy. Have you forgotten, you are just returning slaves – a conquered, defeated people. And in this attack, Sanballat gets to the heart of the matter: their unworthiness and their will; you’re just slaves with no right to claim anything for yourselves. You are just an unqualified people and because of that, a disqualified people. What right do you have to possess what you lost long ago?
All you’ve ever done is prove yourself unworthy and unwilling. How could you possibly do the overwhelming task of building the wall? In short, ‘How are YOU qualified to restore anything?’
Valid questions because of who they’ve been – a half-hearted, failing people, with example after example of being no different from the people around. Sanballat wants them to be people of lost hopes who plant deep roots in places of failure and futility. Rooted in the failures of who they’ve proved themselves to be again and again. People without strength. Without resource.
And God’s answer – you have failed and you are unqualified and yet, I provide the resource you do not have. I provide the power to change what you cannot change. God’s strength in our weakness. His hope in our hopelessness. God speaking, “I am your resource so build the wall.” Live as I have called you to live. Do what I’ve called you to do. Take up the promise of My Word and learn how to use it. Take up the shield of faith as your defence when you come under attack.
You and I, His people who step out in His resource. Not restoring the wall for yourself but for Him. Wielding the sword of His truth that never grows rusty or dull. Fastening His belt of truth, standing in His power - sword in one hand, brick in the other, For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2 Cor 10:4 And knowing this, step out and act on what is true.
CAN YOU OFFER SACRIFICES?
In this attack Sanballat is referring to the sacrifice of thanksgiving and dedication given at the project’s completion so his attack centers on this, Do you really think we, your enemies that surround, will allow this to come to completion?
Do you really think a time of thanksgiving will ever come? Sanballat wanted the Jews to know they would pay the high price of attack for rebuilding the walls and when they understood how high the price would be, they wouldn’t pay. The days ahead would be filled with sweat. There’d be times of discouragement when enthusiasm waned and the goal, so unattainable. And there would be days of opposition and blood.
Will you offer sacrifices then?
Let’s be honest, it’s hard when we’re under attack, when times of thanksgiving seem so distant. It’s hard when God doesn’t give us all the answers we need, the assurances we want. The end point of what we ask. Instead, God calls us to faith. Faith in Him.
Some of you are in those hard places this morning. In the destination uncertain places. In the vision lost places. But the truth is, the hard places are where faith lives. Places where we are reminded, ‘Don’t forget in the dark what God has shown us in the light.’
Many of you know that when you wholeheartedly decided to follow Jesus, conflicts erupted and problems appeared? A far cry from the Christian life filled with unlimited prosperity and continuously buoyant living. Instead, God’s reminder, ‘Trust’ as He reminds that we are engaged in a spiritual battle that is fighting for the authority of our lives.
Don’t be mistaken, the enemy did not give up his battle when we came to saving faith in Christ. Our eternal destiny may be settled but our experiential reality can still have us walking on rough ground. And in that place, Satan looking for access points where he can disturb and defeat. Looking for the unguarded places, the unyielded places, the unwalled places.
Spiritual growth comes at a price. We don’t run into spiritual maturity. Developing a relationship with God means coming to Him, trusting Him with the things we will face. It means spending time in His Word. It means speaking with Him in prayer and believing in His truth not our own.
Listen to :7-8 When they heard that the repairs went on and the breeches began to be closed, they were very angry and they conspired together to come and fight. NB who these are: Sanballat’s people – Samaritans, Tobiah’s people - the Ammonites, and the others. Arabs & Ashdodites.
Can you offer sacrifices? Trusting when you do not see. Believing when you don’t understand? Giving thanks when there seems to be no end in sight?
CAN YOU FINISH IN A DAY?
The Jews took a long time to rebuild their temple, and an even longer time to start building the wall. For much of that time, they didn’t pose a threat to those around. They were just other. But a fortified wall meant, a commitment to be different – to stand apart and live under new authority. To be God’s people in a world of other gods. Seeing that, Sanballat wanted to plant fear. As you build, do you think your enemies are going to sit idly by? Look around – there are the Samaritans on the north, Ashdod on the west, Ammonites on the east, and the Arabs to the south. You’re surrounded with real enemies all around.
Sanballat’s fear did as intended, The Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us :12. Those most affected by fear are those who listen to the voice of the enemy. Over time the lies take hold - ‘The task is too great, the resources too few, the danger too real. And soon the voices of a few, sound like a multitude’s roar. Our enemy is too large and our God is too small.
Voices of fear that distort then defeat. Could it be that we have allowed ourselves to take up residence close to where fear and discouragement speak? Where the people we associate with; the things we read; the music we listen to - all speak – ‘too big’, ‘too hard’, ‘too overwhelming’. Where what we listen to is the negativity that tears down rather than builds up. The enemy’s too powerful, his forces too great, the danger too real.
But God tells me something much different, “1000 will flee at the threat of 1 man. One will chase a 1000, and 2 will put 10,000 to flight”. “Greater is He that is in me, than he who is in the world.” Is 30:17; Deut 32:30; 1 John 4:4
Who we listen to determines everything. As 1 Cor 15:33 states, Bad company corrupts good morals and there is no worse company than fear. It whispers in ears and steals away rest. It enters the strong and makes them weak. It ambushes the courageous and makes them run.
And the answer? Decisively believing and acting on God’s truth. That means change:
– like shutting off access to those who speak division and unrest. Like moving away from some people who are doing you harm and instead, finding people who can speak faith into your life. It may mean re-setting your pre-set to 106.5 praise where what you listen to builds faith rather than attacking it. It may mean less time with CTV news, CNN and Fox and more time trusting in God’s promises to Trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not unto our own understanding. Prov 3:5
Lastly: 5 CAN YOU REVIVE THE STONES FROM THE RUBBLE?
When the Jews started rebuilding Jerusalem 164 years after Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the city and its walls, they had to use the rubble that was left. Sanballat took great delight in reminding them of the dust and the broken stones.
:10 reads, “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out.” They were dead tired. Their conclusion, “…we cannot rebuild the wall.” They were dead discouraged. No wonder, in the midst of brokenness and rubble, it’s hard not to get discouraged.
With the wall only half completed, opposition was up and adrenaline was down. And there was still so much to be done. These are the same people who were described in :6 as those who worked with all their heart. :10 continues by saying that there is “so much rubble” - old broken rocks, dirt and dried-out mortar. Junk everywhere. And it was frustrating.
The devil takes pleasure in reminding us that our lives are filled with rubble as he whispers: ‘Do you know how broken you are?’ What can you build with your wreck of a life? What do you have to offer other than brokenness and mess! But as God reminds, He does amazing things with rubble and dust – bringing life into things once dead.
But you MUST hear this, because of Jesus, you stand in the worthiness of Christ’s blood! And the LOUDEST declaration of His blood is this – you are LOVED! I want to camp on this for a moment with the hope that you will hear this in a new way. The messages God speaks to us from the Cross are that covered under the saving blood of Jesus, – you are “REDEEMED! you are FORGIVEN! you are MADE NEW!” Powerfully, life transformationally NEW! BUT the GREATEST shout from the Cross – YOU are LOVED! Recklessly. Wildly. Joyously. YOU! No performance criteria to achieve. Just an arms wide open invitation to run into His loving embrace.
For a moment, ‘draw back’ to picture your long awaited, arm-crushing reunion with the love of your life or perhaps it’s getting bowled over by your rocket-shot grandchild, so thrilled to see you. Perhaps it’s your, can’t contain his emotions dog who lavishes you with licks and an out of control tail, as he bursts into your arms. For a sec hold onto the delight of these pictures – feel them, laugh in them.
Now consider, why is our picture of God’s love so much less than these? So much more restrained? So much more controlled? Of God who planted exuberance in the human heart who says to you, My love for you – Everlasting. Unrestrained. Joyous. I’ll go to whatever length it takes for you to know that. Of the God who said, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Is 49:15,16 I delight over you with songs of joy Zeph 3:17
THIS is the God who calls you to live ‘All IN’ - BIG vision people called
to a BIG vision life in Him. Living in God’s truth - fully Loved:
Chosen, Adopted, made New – His Child in Jesus.