Remembering and Hoping
We are at the end of a book. Its the end of summer. You come to endings and there are always mixed emotions. Gratefulness for what was done. Longing for more. Hoping that the good outweighs the bad.
It happens at the end of a job, a career, an epoch of life, and while you look back on all that you got done you also reflect on all that you thought you might do and didnt. Its a mixed feeling of gratefulness and inadequacy.
Selling a house. Leaving first house and going into room one last time. I still remember.
Graduating middle school.
We are going to cover the last couple chapters of Nehemiah, but we are only going to read the last few verses. These verse frame the last few chapters and we can understand those chapters through these verses.
The book of Nehemiah ends similar to how it all started with, with a prayer. Nehemiah begins his journey by praying that the King of Persia would allow him to go back and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. There are amazing provisions by God. There are disappointing setbacks by the people. And nehemiah ends in hopeful reflection and a prayer for God to remember him. This ending lacks the resolution we would all like to have. We want an ending where all the loose ends get tied up, the world gets fixed, but that is not what we have here.
*This ending helps us contemplate our own end and even the ending of seasons. It shows that dependence on the mercy of God is what we all need.
Nehemiah remembers some of his enemies and he entrusts it to the Lord. He then remembers some of the good things he did and he entrusts himself to the Lord.
13:28 And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. 30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31 and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good. (Nehemiah 13:28-31 ESV)
All of our rebuilding and restoring in life will ultimately have to be entrusted to the perfect work of our God.
Nehemiah has prayed for the Lord to remember a number of other times.
-”Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” Nehemiah opposed the Nobles for their oppression of the poor. He also made do with fewer provisions than governors were alotted because he care for the people. In the midst of his sacrifices he ask God to remember him.
-Nehemiah 6:14 “Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid. (Neh 6:14 ESV)
-Nehemiah 13:14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service. (Neh 13:14 ESV)
-Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love. (Neh 13:22 ESV)
He longs for his work to endure but feels the transient nature of it. He wants the Lord to remember it, even if much of it was undone. Nehemiah realizes that much of what he did was reversed. It doesn’t still stand. There are several things that frame how we think about our lives and work.
Nehemiah asks to be remember for the good he did. He did do some good things. There is stuff to celebrate. IN chapter 12 the people have a great celebration to dedicate the walls. It is a high point in the book. They celebrate God’s faithfulness and the work they were able to accomplish. It is a full on New Years parade. No work. Great entertainment.
“And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. (Nehemiah 12:27 ESV)
12:45 the “priests performed the service of their God and the service of purification…”
This is very different from the start of the book where “the people are in great trouble and shame” and “the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates destroyed by fire” (1:3). They have done much hard work and there is progress. The city is secured, probably not impenetrable, but secured, people are living in it and the temple service is going on.
In 12:35 Nehemiah brings the nobles onto the wall. These are most likely the same nobles that when Nehemiah first came back to work on the city they felt the work was beneath them (3:5). “but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.” (Neh 3:5 ESV). You have to wonder if perhaps they saw the importance of the work. Sometimes people do not see what you see. Sometimes it’s just laziness that people do not want serve.
They had worked hard for this. They labored with their hammers in one hand and their swords in the others. They withstood threats and taunts and they got the work done. They also experienced a renewal in themselves that brought them as a people together. We need to remember to celebrate moments like this.
After first year… we survived
-We closed our books this year and we had a 6% growth in budget. First time since 2013 that the budget increased.
-We had three baptisms last year.
-A local pregnancy center, Beacon of Hope, sent their monthly newsletter out thanking churches that have helped them and at the top of the list was Bridgeway. Praise God!
-I hear from guests that visit “everyone is so friendly” and i felt the presence of God during worship and was challenged by the message.
-Those are great things to celebrate. We have a lot of growth, but praise God.
-we had more visitors in one sunday than we had in three months last year.
-I want us to stay on that trajectory. Slow and steady.
It may not seem like much. This small group of people in a ruined city celebrating the work they had done. Nehemiah certainly would have seen greater celebrations and parades in the capital of Persia.
In clay jars.
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 ESV)
We have an incredible treasure but it comes in ordinary vessels. Nothing to boast about a clay jar. I can pick up a large one for about $15 bucks at home depot. They are everywhere. And yet the internal comes into the ordinary and makes all the difference. We want glorious. But it is often ordinary. A person joins the church, gets baptized. Those are reasons to celebrate. You can always want something more. Enjoy the process of rebuilding! Long for more but enjoy the people around you and celebrate the work.
Nehemiah reminds himself of the good things he had done during his time in Jerusalem.
- Hair Pulling
Nehemiah ends with a sober reflection that his work is not complete. He asks the Lord to remember those who desecrated the priesthood (v29). Just like the other parts of the book there are highs and also lows.
In 13:6 we see that Nehemiah had returned to Persia for a time. He asks the king to return to Jerusalem and most of chapter 13 is about what he finds when he returns.
When it says he chased Jahoiada (13:28) the relative of Tobiah it literally means he put him to flight, he made him run like a fugitive. This is the son of the high priest. There was some bad stuff going on here! Made him run like he stole something.
This highlights chapter 13. All the things the people covenanted to not do in chapter 10, well they did them. Committed to word, not marrying outside faith, rest on sabbath, keep the temple.
In verse 13 they read the law and see that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God. They knew this. The see it again and realize there is a problem. Eliashib the priest who was appointed over the chambers of the house of God has cleared out a room in the temple, that should have stored food, and he had given it to Tobiah, the enemy of the Jews! (13:-1-3). An idolatrous enemy has now taken up residence in the temple! The people were subject to a thug rather than enjoying the righteous justice of God.
The portions for the priests/levites had not been given to them so that they had to go back to his field. Nehemiah asks them in v11 “Why is the house of God forsaken?” They said they would not neglect the house of God and they forsook it (10:39).
The people are working on the SAbbath. They are buying and selling and doing all the others things that they said they would not do. “What is this evil that that you are doing profanning the Sabbath day (v17)?
“Did not your fathers act in this way and disaster came upon that?” V18
They are also marrying the people of the land, which they said they would not do.
Mr. Incredible. “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for... for ten minutes!”
Nehemiah gets so made at them that in 13:25 “he confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair.” That is a bad day at church right there! But they were clearly going against what God called them to do. Ezra pulled out his own hair at the disobedience of the people (9:3)
This is a picture of what happens when we are not faithful to read, know and live by God’s word. Church falls apart. OUr lives fall apart. Remember we are a temple of the holy spirit. Our lives get messy. Its like my garden. It is like cleaning up your room. Cleaning your life spiritually then you get all kinds of wrong beliefs, wrong thoughts, and then wrong actions. It comes in little by little and then all of the sudden you are in a place you never intended. “Watch your life and doctrine” (1 Tim 4:16).
Let me just say that right now you have some parts of your life that you probably dont see clearly right now.
This is also a picture of our Savior. Jesus did something similar in the temple when he saw people buying and selling.
“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” (Joh 2:15 ESV)
Derek Kidner “Nehemiah stormed in as violently as, one day, his master would”
There are going to be hair pulling moments. There is a time to be righteously angry at the thing things you see in the word, even in the church. No church is perfect. God’s people are not perfect. And we ought to have a burning zeal to see the church made right. If you see the problems and shrink back to nothing that is not what God calls you to. We should burn to see the church doing what it is supposed to do. Jesus was consumed with zeal for the house of God. Nehemiah was too. What about you? Note that Nehemiah’s work was not primarily with rebuking the other nations but with God’s people. This book is about the need for God’s people to change. We have to ask ourselves how would God view my devotion to him?
- The Need for a much Greater Hero.
Reform is to change something. A reformer is one who brings change. Nehemiah brings change but in many ways his work ends in disappointment. His work is not complete.
Nehemiah ends like many books in the Old Testament. The book of kings ends with the King of Israel imprisoned in Babylon but the king of babylon and yet he is being shown favor. Samuel ends with David averting the anger of God for his disobedience by building a temple. Judges ends with the phrase “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” All of these anticipate and look forward to a
Nehemiah is unique in his work. He is not a prophet, a king, a priest. He falls in the shadow of Elijah as one who prepares the way for the messiah.
A final prayer, not for the restoration of the people, the completion of the wall, filling of the city, but a prayer that he has done all that he could do, he resigns to trust God, that in the end, all that was wrong will be evaluated and rewarded accordingly.
Nehemiah rests in his work. It concludes. These are his last words. It’s ironic because much work still needs to be done.
Jesus brings the greater restoration. He restored the temple on earth. It begins in our heart and goes outward. He makes us new creations. He gives us new eyes to see. He begins this work now but it will not be complete until he returns and that is when our bodies will be glorified. Death will be no more. Sin will be no more.
- Trust God for Our Reward
His prayer indicates that he is not satisfied in what his work was able to do. It is a plea for mercy. Even our best efforts are like this. You build the company. Your restore things. And yet problems are never eradicated.
He asks the Lord to remember
Even when you have done great things, made lots of money, had great results you are proud and grateful and yet wonder if you really deserved to make that, feel like it was luck and providence.
We all want to be remembered for good. We all want a lasting legacy. We find that in serving God. Others may not remember our work. It may not stand long. And the thing we should strive for is that God remembers our work and it is honoring to him. That God remembers us for good.
God remembers us for good when we are clothed in Christ. We have his righteousness. Not our own. When we have that we should be emboldened to honor God in all of life.
Living valiantly is a theme of chapter 11. They need people to go back in and repopulate the holy city. They cast lots and one out of ten go back to live. Some willingly took this charge. In 11:6, 14 mighty men of valor are mentioned. It is a high commendation. The word denotes might, strength, ability, valor. It is used of mighty warriors. It means these people were living for something greater than themselves, something greater than their own homes and conveniences, more than vacations and retirement homes.
This reflects Nehemiah too. Remember he risked his life to rebuild Jerusalem. He gave up his own financial well being. He was inconvenienced.
One commentator said,
Of Nehemiah was... one of the greatest men of his nation. His concern for his country, manifested by such unequivocal marks, ... that he was chosen by the Persian king to fill an office the most respectable and the most confidential in the whole court. Here he lived in ease and affluence; he lacked no manner of thing that was good; and here he might have continued to live, in the same affluence and in the same confidence: but he could enjoy neither, so long as his people were distressed, the (graves) of his fathers trodden under foot, the altars of his God overturned, and his worship either totally neglected or corrupted. He sought the peace of Jerusalem; he prayed to God for it; and was willing to sacrifice wealth, ease, and safety, and even life itself, if he might be the instrument of restoring the desolations of Israel.
Whatever work God is calling you to do, know that there will be mixed results, there will be success and failures, we will not be saved by our work, we have to trust Jesus for that. But trusting his work should cause us to give up many things for the sake of telling others about who he is. This is the calling of the church. It is the calling of every Christ, to seek first the kingdom of God. Nehemiah’s work ends the same way it began, and the same way he conducted his life, with a prayerful trust in God and abandonment of the things of the world.
One day we are going to come to the end of our lives… and we will look back on all that we have and have not done. We will have to trust God for our mistakes and shortcomings, we will have to depend on his mercy, and because of Christ we are promised mercy, but that trust should also produce a life of sacrifice to our Lord. We have to choose now how we are going to live.