In a journey of Christian faith, there are high moments and low moments. And in order for us to fight the good fight in these moments, it is helpful to remember one famous quote of Yogi Berra. "It ain't over till it's over."
In this last chapter of Nehemiah, we can learn three things that help us to fight the good fight. First is having the Word as our only standard! After the dedication ceremony people of Israel gathered again to listen to the Word. And they obeyed the Word, even though it was a hard decision.
When people experience a big event like a flood or a terror, it influences to every aspect of their lives. And I believe our faith is supposed to have that kind of influence in our lives. It is true when we look at Jesus' ministry. His preaching and ministry was not bound to religious matters. We see his life as an example of life instead of an example of religion.
When the people of Israel dedicate their wall of Jerusalem, their ceremony was mainly three parts. Purification, Marching, Sacrifices. And they purified the walls and gates which means the expansion of their faith to the living area. When they give sacrifices, their faith impacted to their financial area. We see these expansion in chapter 11 as well. The people of Israel were relocated not to achieve their certain goal, but to keep their faith.
They expanded their faith by focusing on people, by going beyond their obligation, and by devoting what they have. And their expanded faith brought joy to them.
The people of Israel gathered together on 24th day of the month (v.1). It was shortly after the feast. There, they repented their sins. It was initiated by the Word of God. What makes us to repent is nothing but the Word of God. Also, the Word must be preached to the humble and softened heart. Otherwise, people not repent but rebel. So in order for us to truly repent, we need to receive the Word with humble heart.
And this repent changes lives immediately. They separated themselves from the foreigners (v.2). It meant they intentionally broke the relationship with those who serve other gods, even thought it was costly. Then, they turned to God to worship.
Moreover, they made a covenant (v.38). And they made an oath, even binding themselves with a curse (10:29). Their repent wasn't a single event, but became a life-style. And true repentance must be continued throughout the life. It is not because our sins get bigger, but our awareness of our sin grows. And we become more desperate for the forgiveness of God, as we draw near to God.
We tend to get distracted after small achievement by the false impression that we achieved the purpose. However, purpose is not a goal. It's a bigger word. The goals and the achievements serve the purpose.
Nehemiah and the Israelites finished the rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. It was a great achievement. Yet, it wasn't their purpose. Their purpose was to live as people of God. And the wall was supposed to serve the purpose. That's why Nehemiah didn't go back to Persia, after the construction ended.
For the purpose, Nehemiah appointed two rulers who fear the God and love the people in chapter 7.
And in chapter 8, the people of Israel gathered to listen to the Word of God. With the desire, many people gathered, spent 6 hours to listening, responded 'Amen,' and understood the Word. That's what happened. And we should have the same desire for the Word of God.
When they understood the Word, they wept for their sins. But Nehemiah and Ezra talked to them, 'not to weep, but enjoy the festival' based on the Word. And they listened to it. Obedience should prevail over the emotion.
While rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, Nehemiah encounters internal problem in the Jewish society which caused by the nobles and officials. They were not supposed to exact interest from poor brothers, but they took mortgages and interests and the poor Israelites were in danger of slavery. This was breaking their law in Leviticus 25:35-42. So Nehemiah asked them not only to fix the surface problem but also to change their hearts by saying, "Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God?" What does it mean to walk in the fear of God?
We can find 4 things from chapter 5. 1, listening to the word of God(vv. 10-11). 2, giving up their own rights(v.14). 3, serving others when it is not obligated(v.16). 4, being content with only God's recognition(v.19). And Jesus Christ's life was a good example for this.
Then, how can we practically live in the fear of God, at work, school, and church? We should ponder and live out.
When enemies threat Nehemiah with mocking words (v.2-3), with terrorism (v.8), with the plan of assassination (6:2), with rumor (v.6-7), and with false prophesy (v.10-11), his reaction to that was two. First was prayer (4:4-5;9;6:9;14) and second was keep working (4:6;16-23;6:3;9;15).
As Christians, we should do this since we engage in a spiritual war in our lives. We should pray like Nehemiah did. His prayer was like a habit. So should be ours. Not only that we should keep moving. We need to learn and know the Word of God as a weapon to our battle. Prayer and the Word of God are the two things helping us to keep moving for the work of God.
Nehemiah chapter 3 describes the rebuilding work of the wall of Jerusalem in detail. When the people of Israel tried to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah's leadership, they were able to finish it in 52 days. It was because they were different but all devoted.
Their leaders, the priests and the rulers, devoted first. They did not sit back but come forward to take part in. And it was the form of the true leader.
Also, people of Israel did not complain about what was assigned to them and about the people who do not participate. They were faithful to their work.
And when some people draw back and did not participate, and some people did not finish what they were supposed to do, those who finished their job worked hard and helped out. With all this together they were able to finish the work and build their strong community.
So we see leaders in front, and people who devoted themselves even beyond their abilities without compare and complaining.
Since Nehemiah started praying for his people in Jerusalem, 4 months passed by, and nothing happened. However, he did not waste his time. Instead, he waited. Waiting is different from wasting. In order for Christians to wait (not waste), two things are needed. One is prayer to discern whether it's God's will or personal resolution, and the other is prepare to do actual job. That's what Nehemiah did. He continuously prayed for 4 months to request his king and prepared how and what to talk. That was seen through the conversation between the king and Nehemiah. When he was asked, Nehemiah prayed (v.4) and answered very wisely, referring Jerusalem to the city of his ancestors' graves(v.3). And the gracious hand of God works for those who wait.
It seemed impossible for a Persian king to revoke his decree. And Artaxerxes himself made a decree to stop rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem 13 years ago. There was no possibility for that king to send one of his closest men (cupbearer) to restart the cancelled job. However, the gracious hand of God (v.8) made the impossible possible.
When he face the difficulties inside and outside, Nehemiah was able to go though by the gracious hand of God. His people was heard and saw that God helped him, and they were motivated. To the enemies who mocked and despised, Nehemiah told 'the God of heaven will make us prosper.' Nehemiah did not rely on his king's letter or army, but he relied on the one thing, which was the gracious hand of God.
Nehemiah is the story of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. However, the wall in that era is not just a wall. It was very essential element for the community. Therefore, the story of Nehemiah is the story of rebuilding the community.
God rebuilds his community through a man who has love. Nehemiah was the cupbearer of Artaxerxes who was the king of Persia. Because of that, he was supposed to know what's going on in the country. So he asked his brother, Hanani from Jerusalem what looks like in Jerusalem (v.2). When he heard that they are in great trouble, it wasn't just helpful information for him to know. It touched his heart. So he wept, mourned, and fasted (v.4) Why? Because he had love for his people. And God chose him to rebuild his community.
God rebuilds his community through a man who pray. Nehemiah when he had a burden in his heart, he bring it to God, and prayed. His prayer was to the living God who is great and awesome. And he prayed and repented as if he was responsible for it. It is easy to blame others but it is hard to include himself to those who are responsible. Yet, he did that.
And God rebuilds his community through those who are willing to make sacrifice. In verse 11, Nehemiah has a plan already in his mind. That's why he was praying to God. He was ready to risk everything he has (reputation, career, money and power) as a cupbearer.
As we try to build EM community, we should be like Nehemiah, so that God can work through us.
Vision is accompanied by suffering. More precisely, Christian vision includes suffering (1 Peter 2:21). As sojourners, those who want to live a godly life (want to live for a vision given by God) will suffer. If you are not suffering for your vision, either your vision is not from God, or you are not living for your vision.
Vision grows through suffering. When we face suffering, we pause and think. Through the process that we evaluate what is important and what is not, what is to be kept or what is to be cut out, we learn how precious our vision is. Apostle Paul learned his vision is more important than his life through those sufferings that he had borne.
Vision overcomes suffering. Paul didn't know what to come in Jerusalem, yet he is going. Likewise, being faithful to the vision is more important than achieving the goal. And it always bring the victory because our victory is not what we achieve but the faithfulness to our vision.