Have you ever been confronted with the fact that you got off course in life? How did you handle it? Did you humble yourself and admit you were wrong, lost, off-course? Or did you pridefully keep going in the wrong direction? As humans, we’re always in danger of getting off-course. Even when we get back on track, we can’t take our eyes off of God, or we’ll slide into a ditch or take a wrong turn. Yet, God mercifully and lovingly confronts us over and over again to help us stay the course as His people.
In the Book of Nehemiah chapter 13, God led Nehemiah to confront the people of Jerusalem that they had strayed as the people of God and to get back on course. God still confronts our tendency to stray and calls us to stay the course.
Below is an automated transcript of this message:Thanks for listening to the podcast from Gary Combs and the preaching team at Wilson Community Church in Wilson, North Carolina. Check us out on the web at wccnc.org for more. And now here’s the sermon.
All right, good morning, church. We’re at the end of this journey together, at least through the book of Nehemiah. But I would say that the idea of rising up to reach our city has only just begun. And with that in mind, you know, we’ve been praying for these cards and this container down front, containing those people that you’ve written down that you are praying will come to Jesus. Are you praying that you personally will get an opportunity to share the gospel with them? You know, we have asked the Lord to save them, but also, as we write their names down, we’re saying that we’re willing to be a witness to invite that person into the Kingdom. These cards that we’ve stacked in here over the last few weeks are important to us. So we’re leaving it up for a little while. Some people are wondering how long we are gonna leave it up; I don’t know yet. We’re just going to listen to the Holy Spirit. We’ve still got cards in front where you can keep putting them in.
And so in your seats today we’re showing you the Easter series. It’s a couple of weeks early, but we thought we would just go ahead and and let you know what’s coming. The title of this series is “Got questions?” Who do you know that’s an agnostic; someone who’s just really asking a lot of questions. We’re trying to anticipate the kind of questions that they might ask. We’re giving you this invite card; if you need some more, stop by guest services and pick up a couple extra. This series launches on Easter Sunday in a couple of weeks.
This coming Saturday , we’re going to be beginning our food drive; we will hang the bags. The following Saturday, we will pick up the bags and take them to the Hope Station. We will also hang door hangers that look like this, except longer. So this is the strategy; we are not just praying. Yes, we are praying, which is the most important part, but we’re also acting. We are rising up in order to reach people for Jesus, Amen? That’s what we’re doing. And I wanted to give that a good explanation.
We’re in the last chapter of the book of Nehemiah. Come on, can we get excited about that? We started Nehemiah in January; we’re finishing up at the end of March. Thirteen chapters, verse by verse, every name pronounced. So many names; some people were asking, ‘Could you just read one of those chapters again?’ No, I’m not gonna do that, but chapter thirteen is big enough , right? So we will take that on today.
In case you haven’t been here for the last three months, or maybe it’s your first time, we get the series title Rise Up from Nehemiah chapter 2:18, where Nehemiah goes to the people and says, Let’s rebuild the wall, and they say, yes, let’s rebuild. Let’s rise up and build so they strengthened their hands for the good work. And so that’s where we get Rise Up from the way the people really responded. In fifty two days, they miraculously, with God’s help, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. But Nehemiah soon finds out that it’s going to take more than that to rebuild Jerusalem. There are people that need to be built up; we learn Nehemiah is governor over Jerusalem for twelve years and then he goes back to to Souza, to the Citadel and Persia, to serve the king of Persia, Artexerxes, for some undetermined season, we don’t know how long he’s away, and then he comes back.
Chapter thirteen has a space between it and the previous twelve chapters. We don’t know how long it could have been; maybe a year or more. We don’t know how long, but that’s what we’re coming back to. Nehemiah is coming back to see what’s going on in Jerusalem after all the work that God had led him to do. Let’s see how the people are doing okay. Here’s one of things I would say; stay on the course. If you just leave things in your life on autopilot, you’ll find that you will drift off course. You have to make course corrections continuously.
This is the idea of chapter thirteen, because Nehemiah comes back and he finds out they’ve drifted considerably off course. It’s easy to do; you notice that things run down if you don’t keep putting energy into them. Have you noticed that things tend to run down? They don’t get better; they get worse if you don’t make course corrections. If we take them for granted or lose focus on them, they tend to slip and go down. Especially if a storm comes; if a storm comes, it can really blow you off course.
A few years ago, I took our family on a vacation to Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia. This was before we had all those grandkids that I’m always bragging about, and our kids had all basically just got married. So we’ve got these three new “in’- laws;” I really don’t call them that though. They are son and daughters to Robin and I. We rented a boat and we went out on an island at Smith Mountain Lake. We made a fire; it was just a great great day. But my wife kept saying, ‘It looks like a storm is coming in. I go, ‘It will be fine.’ You all know how this is going, right? She kept saying to me, ‘It looks like it’s right over there; it’s blowing over here pretty quickly.’ My response? ‘Ah, we will be fine; we are good.’ And then, all of a sudden, the storm was on us. We’re loading up the boat, the winds are picking up and blowing; the rain is starting to pelt us a little bit. I actually, at that point, got a little worried, although I confidently told my wife, ‘We’ll be fine.’ On the inside, though, I’m going ‘Oh, I hope I can make good on this.’
We head out on the boat, and now it’s lightning; thunder and lightning on the open water. The girls on the boat, some of which are still getting to know their father-in-law, are starting to make funny sounds. I couldn’t see. I had lost sight of where to go because it was so dark and the wind was blowing and it was thundering. I saw, what looked like in the distance, the landscape that I was familiar with across the water. As I was heading towards it, we ran aground on a shoal. We ran up on a shoal and the boat just stopped. The boat was stuck. We’re in the middle of the lake, so we couldn’t figure it out because we couldn’t see. The girls are starting to tear up on me. I jump out in the water and find myself standing in water this deep; I’m in the middle of the lake. My feet are being cut to shreds on this rough, rocky stuff. I get one of my sons out there and we lift the boat to discover that the propeller is broken. It had one blade left on it so we got it loose. We were able to back it up and we “limped” all the way back to the house. I’m telling you, I was not a hero that night. A vacation that meant to be fun ended up being terrifying, Not to mention I had rented this boat. So now I had to go buy a new prop. I mean, it was a fantastic vacation. Have you ever had a vacation like that? I felt like Chevy Chase or something, man. It was hard. And it all began with failure to make course corrections and just assuming everything would be fine. And we didn’t stay the course.
Have you ever been confronted with the fact that your life is off course and you’re not headed in the direction that you thought you would. Especially those of us that have made commitments to Jesus that we thought we would be over here, but yet we found ourself far, far, far away, over there somewhere. Yet God mercifully and lovingly confronts us. That’s an example of his steadfast love that we’ve been talking about these last few weeks. We have His steadfast love. His confrontation is actually love because He is saying, ‘My son, my daughter, you’re off course.’ He sometimes lets us run aground and make fools of ourselves just so He will get us back on course.
In the book of Nehemiah, chapter thirteen, we’re going to see that it didn’t take long to get off course. Nehemiah was just gone for a little while. We don’t know how long, but long enough for them to get considerably off course. In this book, God uses Nehemiah to lead the people, to confront the people of Jerusalem to get back on course and stay the course with their God. I believe God still does that. Sometimes he uses other people. Sometimes he uses a preacher or friend or a brother in law or somebody to confront you. And then, sometimes, He just confronts you directly. When you’re reading God’s Word, He confronts you because He loves you and wants you to repent and confess your sin and get back on course.
So let’s look at the text today in chapter thirteen. We’re looking for these three areas where we must confront in order to stay the course as people of God. So let’s read. It’s thirty one verses. Are you ready? Here we go. “On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, 2 for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3 As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent. 4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, 5 prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. 6 While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king 7 and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. 8 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 11 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13 And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. 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.15 In those days I saw in Judah people treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. 16 Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! 17 Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster[a] on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”19 As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21 But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love. 23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?”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.” This is God’s Word. Amen
What began as a great work ends almost with a depressing note. Remember me, O, my God. I’ve done all of this. And I’m afraid now I might have nothing to show for it because your people have strayed off course. And yet I’ve tried. The people said they would rise up. Instead, they strayed off course. This book, along with the Book of Malachi, are the last two books of the Old Testament before it closes. And with it we have a great expectation that some help must come. Some Messiah must come because the people cannot live up to the calling that God has on them. They need a Savior as you can see in chapter thirteen. You can get the sense that if you leave the people alone, even for a moment, they tend to stray; sheep tend to stray.
Now let’s look at these three areas because we’ve got this word confront in the third and Chapter thirteen, three times. And so we’re going to look at those three places that Nehemiah, on behalf of God, confronts the people of Jerusalem. Three areas that I believe we must confront and ask the Holy Spirit to confront in us.
If we are to stay on course with God, here is the first: (1) Our worship, we must confront our worship. We must ask the Lord to examine our worship; our love of God. Do we love Him with priority? Have we set apart that which would express our love of God? There are three times in this chapter where Nehemiah is confronted. The first is in verse eleven. So let’s take on those first fourteen verses. He says. I confronted the officials. Do you see it in verse eleven? I have confronted the officials and the word confront means to contend with, to complain against you to make your case. And he asked him a question. He uses the Socratic method. Instead of just punching them, he asked them a question. Sometimes a question is the most powerful thing that we can use to confront. “Why is the house of God forsaken?” He asks. Why have you forsaken the worship of God in the house of God? Why has it been forsaken? In other words, he’s saying, ‘What happened to your commitment to worship? Why? Why aren’t you worshiping the Lord? What has happened to your commitment?’
As I look at our culture today, we’ve been talking about this, especially during this Nehemiah series. How often do you have to say a thing before the members? I’m not talking about visitors. I’m not even talking about attenders. Have the members of your church heard it? Here’s what we’ve learned. You have to say it at least three weeks. It takes that long. It takes that long, for people to hear it once because people tend to go to church one and a half to two times per month. I’m talking about people who call themselves committed to worship. You might say, ‘I am going to church on Sunday.’ Well, it’s one way to show your worship. It’s not the only way. I agree you can worship anywhere, but one of the ways that the people of God for two thousand years have expressed their worship is by gathering together in the house of God and singing songs of praise, hearing the word of God preached and responding with the Lord’s Supper and baptism. The things that Jesus told us to remember and to do this in a public space together. It’s been the expression for centuries. But yet today, there’s a sense in which, in our culture, in the American culture, I would ask this question of you. Why have you forsaken the house of our God? This is the question. Why have you put other things first? Why have you forsaken Me is what He’s really asking.
This is the question that Nehemiah, who was gone only for a little while. There are all these time phases that make it very difficult to study chapter thirteen. Chapter thirteen starts with, “On that day.” You see that and so then verses one through three you are on that day. And then verse four begins a section where it says, “Now, before this.” And so it seems that verses one through three and then verses thirty and thirty one are on that day there, like book ends, where he’s come back and and he’s described what he did. But then in between is what happened while he was gone, and then what he did about it. So there’s this back and forth time. It’s kind of complicated to read, but I get it. It’s the summary chapter of his diary, if you will, of what it looked like when he came back. And so we see that on that day. Let’s just touch on that for a second.
On this day, it looks to me like he got them together to read the book of Moses again, and when they read it, they saw that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God. Well, apparently they’ve been intermarrying with all the peoples around them and so even to the point where some of their kids can even speak Hebrew. If they can’t speak Hebrew, then they can’t understand the preaching of God’s Word. And if you can’t understand the preaching of God’s Word, it only takes one generation for the baton to drop because we should always pass the Word of God to the next generation. That’s always our job; this is a critical thing. He’s probably reading Deuteronomy twenty three in the first couple of verses that says the book of Moses. But Deuteronomy twenty three verse three says no Ammonite or Moabite may enter the Assembly of the Lord, even to the tenth generation. None of them may enter the Assembly of the Lord forever. And so he’s saying, Don’t intermarry with them because of what has happened. It’s referring back to the details here of why both of these people groups come from Abraham’s nephew, Lot. If you go back to the Book of Genesis, you can run that down. When they came back out of Egypt centuries later, these people, who are related to the people of God because of Abraham, did not greet them. They didn’t give them bread and water. Instead, they hired a guy named Balaam to curse them. The Moabites did this along with the Midianites. Balaam is the guy with the talking donkey; can you think back to Sunday school, right? That’s the guy who had the talking donkey.
Sometimes God will use anything to get your attention. Sometimes even a donkey. So that’s what’s going on here. And so he’s saying, ‘You’ve been intermarrying with them; in verse three it says they willingly separated. So this is happening on that day. Now he’s going to backtrack and say, ‘Here’s what I found When I caught back after twelve years of being the governor, everything was going so well. The people had resigned the covenant and everything’s awesome. I go back to king Artexerxes for a while, come back and look what I find.’ So the first thing he finds as you’re looking at this is it says now, before this. And then he names the guy; who is it? Remember all these guys have titles, such as Tobiah the Ammonite, right? We’ve been talking about him since chapter two. You know, we got Tobiah the Ammonite, Sanballat the Horonite and Geshem the Arab. These are some great names, right? And so here’s Tobiah; he’s back. Chapter thirteen, Nehemiah has run this guy off. He goes away for a few years and comes back. He’s living in the chamber where they’re supposed to keep the tithes and the offerings in order to support the people who work at the temple, the singers, the Levites, the gatekeepers and the priests. This is the place where the people bring their tithes and offerings. The high priest, Eliashib, has cleaned the place out and put Tobiah in there because he’s related to him by marriage.
And so Nehemiah comes back and sees this. He explains it down in verse six, he says, “While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem.” In other words, if I would have been there right, but I wasn’t there. And he says it was in the thirty second year of Artexerxes. So you can work out the calendar. You can see that he rebuilt the walls around four forty four BC, and if you add that up, it was in the twentieth year. We see in Chapter one and two that he came there in the twentieth year. This is how they kept calendars. In those days, everybody had a different calendar based on what kingdom you lived in. If you went to a different kingdom, you’d be like, I don’t know what year it is until King Jesus came along. And then there’s a worldwide calendar. Amen, Right?
So we say it’s two thousand nineteen. Two thousand and nineteen years since Jesus came, King Jesus. But back in those days it’s the twentieth year of King Artexerxes and now it’s the thirty second year. Do your math. That’s twelve years. And so he’d been there for twelve years and he was gone for a little while. Now he’s coming back.
I’ve got a chart. Would you like to see it? Here it is. And so , Zerubbabel was part of the first wave that led the people out of exile to Babylon. Whenever King Cyrus released them, Zerubbabel came and rebuilt the temple in Haggai and Zechariah, where the prophets prophesized during his time. Then Ezra came in the second wave; he came and he renewed the law. He was ascribed a preacher so that the temple was rebuilt. The law was was taught and the people renewed their commitment to the law. And then the third wave of people came; it was Nehemiah and he came during this time period. That’s approximately the time period in Malachi it was prophesied during Nehemiah’s time, and then the book is closed for four hundred years until Jesus comes. So even while Nehemiah is away, Malachi is preaching to them and guess what he’s preaching to them about? Why are you stealing my tithes? Why are you robbing God? This is the kind of stuff Malachi is preaching. So it’s not like they didn’t have a preacher while Nehemiah because they had Malachi preaching to them.
And so we see, in the end of chapter five, this explanation. We’ve read this earlier,from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty second year of Artexerxes twelve years. So just to give you the background of how we determined that he was a governor for twelve years.
Notice some details. Nehemiah was very angry. That’s a really good way to describe how Nehemah felt. He was very angry and and he was so angry because in verse ten it says the temple priests and the singers were not getting paid, so they were supposed to make their living off of working at the temple, but they had to return to their fields. They had land outside of Jerusalem. They had to go back in order to feed their families. They had to go get jobs again. They couldn’t be singing in the temple everyday and offering sacrifices every day. They had to stop doing God’s work because God’s people stopped bringing their tithes and offerings. And so the temple was closing down and Tobiah the Ammonite was living in the temple. This is what Nehemiah found when he came back and he was very angry.
Somebody else should have gotten angry, but they didn’t. Apparently, maybe they talked about it. The worst thing about it is that Eliashib is the guy who made it happen. They didn’t remember these things. You know in verse fourteen that well, you’ll notice this after every confrontation, Nehemiah prays. He opens this book with four months of prayer and fasting, and he closes with four prayers in Chapter thirteen. This is a prayerful man. And every time he confronts, he prays because he’s not sure if he’s doing the right thing or if he said it right, So in verse fourteen, he prayed. Remember me, oh God. Remember me, oh my God, concerning this. Concerning what? The way I cleaned out the temple kicked Tobiah and all this furniture out. He didn’t ask permission. He’s not even governor anymore. He just came back like a wild man. He’s mad.
Boy, you might be like, ‘That doesn’t sound Christian.’ Well , sometimes when the Spirit leads, there’s a time for righteous anger, and he’s angry not for himself, but for the house of God. See, he’s not angry because somebody had done something to his house. He’s angry because somebody had neglected the house of God. And so he does this and he says, in verse fourteen, remember me and do not wipe out my good deeds.
In the Hebrew there, he uses the word Chesad. Remember, you’ve got to get some phlegm in the back, your throat, Chesad, like that. It means covenantal love. It’s the closest thing to Agape love in the Old Testament. It’s this idea of God’s kind of love, and it’s this message, he says. Remember my Chesad deeds? I did it because I love you. And so this is how he’s praying. Nehemiah prayed like Isaiah 49:4 But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord,and my recompense with my God.” That’s how Isaiah felt. He felt like he had worked his whole life, and he had nothing to show for it. He had served God his whole life, and he had nothing to show for it But yet he declared, ‘But I know my reward is in the Lord’s hands.’
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt like nothing I’m planting is coming up. But never dig up on doubt what you planted by faith. Never dig up on doubt what you planted by faith. Don’t be like the farmer who planted the seed in the middle of the same day at the same night he goes out under the moonlight and digs it up to see if it started growing yet. Don’t do that. Wait for God. You can plant the seed, but you can’t make the seed grow. You can water the seed but you can’t make the seed grow. Only God can do that. Your reward is in God’s hand, your success is in God’s hands.
That is how Nehemiah prays. It looks to me like everything I’ve done is not working, and I’m going to try one more time. But God, you look and you see, I don’t know where you’re at this morning. Maybe you sometimes feel like Nehemiah. You can’t help but notice this, my friends, that Nehemiah is a Christological foreshadowing. What we mean by that is he’s getting us ready for the Messiah, Jesus! Just as Nehemiah went into the temple and was angry and threw out the furnishings and the belongings of Tobiah, so Jesus, the Son of God went into the temple and He threw out the money changers. We read this in John Chapter 2 “13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 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. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Jesus, meek and mild; Jesus, the son of God. He said, ‘You will not forsake the purpose of my temple, my father’s house.’
Do you have zeal for God’s house, like Nehemiah? Do you have zeal for God’s house like Jesus or have you allowed Tobiah to move in; have you let him have the nice chambers of your house? The place where you express your love, where you bring your tithes and your offerings? Has Tobiah moved in? And does he live there in that chamber? We can’t just leave our worship on autopilot. We have to make constant course corrections constantly lifting our heart up to the Lord because he wants to know, “Do you love me first?”Just as Nehemiah confronted the people of Jerusalem, we must invite the Holy Spirit to confront our hearts so that our worship is confronted. Do we love him more than these?
Here’s number two: (2) We must confront our rest. What? I must confront my rest? Yeah, that’s what we’re talking about in verses fifteen through twenty two. Let’s take another bite. We see in verse seventeen, the second confrontation. He says. “I confronted the nobles of Judah concerning the Sabbath, the Shabbat, the Sabbath, which literally means rest, to cease from work. The seventh day of the week, set apart by God to rest from labor. It was a sign of the Mosaic covenant. It was the fourth of the top Ten Commandments. As we read it in Exodus Chapter twenty, “8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” I like the fact that the livestock get to rest, don’t you? It’s like an extra thing. Let the pets rest. Let the dog and the cat, let everybody rest. Your house will rest and this is great, also, the sojourner. So if you have company, they are to rest, for in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth the sea and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy in other words, set apart for special use. Focus on God, believing that the God who made everything can supply all your needs. You don’t need to work seven days a week, work six days a week and rest one and God will cover it. That That day of rest is you saying to God, I know that everything comes from you any way I will , just depend on you.
And so he was teaching the people and here’s what Nehemiah finds. He shows us in verse fifteen. In those days I saw in Judah people treading wine presses on the Sabbath, I’m sorry, people and some of the young people have no idea what I’m talking about, but I see Lucy and Ethel right now. That was the sound of the older people laughing. The younger people are clueless. It’s the tv show in black and white if I recall. There, Lucy and Ethel are treading the wine press on the day of rest. They’re carrying grain and they’re working. They’re donkeys. Remember, you’re not supposed to work your donkey. They’re supposed to rest on that day, too.
And then the Tyrians were in verse sixteen. Those are the people from Tyre, which is a seaport. And so these are fishermen by trade. And so they’re bringing in their fish. Some of the key leaders live in Jerusalem. They’ve opened fishmonger offices there in Jerusalem so that they’ve got a market place ready to go. And so all this is happening on the Sabbath. And so the in verse seventeen, he uses a question again, “What is this evil thing that you are doing profaning the Sabbath day? You’re working, people of Judah. In other words, Jews, you’re working, even your donkeys, are working, right? And the people that are foreigners that you’re supposed to be setting an example, you are inviting them to work. And this is what he says; what does he do? He reminds them in verse eighteen. In that what your father’s did? Is that what got us exiled in the Babylon? And here you are, right back in the same sin that got us kicked out of here and got the city torn down. I mean, did you learn nothing? You are right back at it. I tell you what, it’s a good thing God has patience Because if it was up to me, I I think he should have been done with those people.
But God has patience with them. he closed the gates because the merchants were still thinking, “May we get in?” He’s closed the gates. But if we line up at the gate the minute that Sabbath is over, we get to our stalls first. We will be the first ones in. But Nehemiah is not gonna have any races. The minute that Sabbath closes at six pm on Saturday evening, he is not going to have people getting trampled at the gates by these guys. And I like what he says to him; I feel like Nehemiah is part Southern. “Don’t make me lay hands on you.” Sounds like something my mom would have said to me. They figured it out; he’s going to lay hands on us. They pray again; in verse twenty two he closes with prayers. “Remember this also in my favor. Oh my God. And spare me according to the greatness of Your steadfast love.” What is steadfast love? He said, everything I’m doing is because of my Chesad love for you. Spare me. Don’t wipe me out along with these people who won’t obey You because I’m doing my best. to go. Remember that we have a covenant. He prays that prayer.
You’re like sitting there going. So what’s up with Sabbath? What is it? How do we bring that across the Bible Bridge and apply that to today? Because we don’t stop working at six pm on Friday and go without working until six pm on Saturday, because that’s how the Sabbath works. It begins with nightfall, and so it goes from six pm Friday to six pm Saturday. That’s the Jewish Shabbat. We don’t remember that. Why don’t we? Jesus did keep it. But then, Christians, ever since His resurrection and His reappearance and even the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, all those happened on the first day of the week. And so the Christians have ever since commemorated and celebrated and worshipped on the first day of the week because of Jesus, the Messiah.
Notice these verses just a couple and I don’t have time to work this all out as to why we celebrate on the first day of the week. But if you want to ask me questions about that at some other time, I’m willing to try. But here’s a couple of thoughts. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He says this, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath. And he was constantly challenging the Pharisses with questions such as, “if your donkey fell in a pit, would you let it die in the pit on the Sabbath? Or would you think it’s okay to get my donkey out so it doesn’t die?” That was a question he would ask right before he would heal a guy in the synagogue. There was a guy there with a withered hand and he would see the hand and he would turn to the Pharisees, saying, “Is it unlawful for me to do good on the Sabbath?” The Pharisses are not going to answer because they’re terrified of what people will think. And Jesus would ask the man, “Reach forth your hand,” and the man was healed. Then the Pharisees would go off and say, “We need to kill him because he’s breaking the Sabbath.” They’re way past what Nehemiah was doing. Nehemiah was stopping the selling of fish and of marketplace stuff. But they’ve carried this legalism somehow that it is going to please God. They’ve misunderstood that the Sabbath was made for man. So that man pulled away from his social media and from his smart phone and computer and TV and everything, and let the brain kind of slow down a little bit and focus on the Lord and how he made everything and how he saved me through Jesus.
We do this crazy, ridiculous thing on the first day of the week where we get up and we sit together, we sing songs. You guys, what are you? This is weird, what you’re doing. You’re letting this old guy get up in front of you get all excited talking about this and I’m looking at your faces like you love this. What is this that we’re doing? Here is what we’re doing. We’re resting in Jesus, who is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is my Shabbat; Jesus is my Sabbath. He’s the fulfillment of the Sabbath and of the Ten Commandments. This is the one that Jesus has completely fulfilled so that we rest in him.
And so he comes to us and he says in Matthew, “Come to me all you who are labor and are heavy laden and I will give you Shabbat. ” Remember your Hebrew; I will give you Shabbat. I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and lowly in heart. You will find Shabbat for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
We come in here and we rest in Jesus. We don’t have to work for our salvation We don’t have to earn it. In Colossians 2:16-17 , Paul warns us, he says, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come. But the substance belongs to Christ.” So the Shabbat was a foreshadowing of the substance, which is Christ. And so we celebrate Christ. That’s what we do on a day like this. We need rest; rest for our bodies and our minds. But more than that, we need rest for our souls. So we come to Jesus. He is our rest.
Here’s the final one. The final confrontation: (3) We must confront our relationships. In verse three, we see that he hints at it in that opening, this idea of being separate. But then, look at verse twenty five. He confronts them in verse twenty five; he confronts them because they had married women of Ashdod and of Amman and of Moab, which was prohibited, as we read earlier. And even worse than that, they’ve lost their language; they don’t understand the language of the Bible anymore. In verse twenty five, it gets pretty rough. Some of you say, “That’s why the old Testament’s hard for me.” You have to go back to that culture to understand that you can’t read it through the lens of today. You need to know how it was.
Then I confronted them and I cursed them. Now he didn’t say bad words. What he’s doing is he’s calling down the curses that are in the law. That’s what he’s doing because they’re intermarrying. If you go back and read the law; we don’t have time to do that this morning that there are blessings and there are cursings based on whether or not the people keep the law. And so he’s calling down those curses. He’s not using foul language. There we go. I thought of something I could say; foul language.
Nehemiah says, “I beat some of them and pulled out their hair.” I don’t get a picture of Nehemiah chasing people around Jerusalem that have a foreign wife, and he’s grabbing them and beatin them. It’s more formulaic; it’s more, if you will, proper. He’s finding out who they are, and then he’s doing the things to them that are prescribed in the Old Testament. He’s following Old Testament law and giving it to them accordingly. It seems out of order to us because this is how Nehemiah ends. It begins with him building walls and building up the people. And it ends with him throwing furniture out, cursing people and pulling their beards out. This is what happens without Jesus. We can’t keep the law. We end up getting the cursings instead of the blessings. Because the law’s a mirror and it shows us that we’re fallen. The law is good, but we’re not. And so when we see the law, which is perfect, we can’t keep it. Even when we renew our covenant, we can’t keep it. We need a Savior.
Nehemiah begins with great expectation, and the people say, Let us rise up. But it ends with a whimper. Remember me? Oh God, I tried to do good. It’s not enough. I need, we need a Savior. So he’s warning these people. Why are you marrying foreign wives? Did you see what happened to King Solomon? He was the wisest man who ever lived. God gave him the whole kingdom and he gave him peace. His name means peace; Shalom. Oh, it comes from Shalom. That’s what his name is; Solomon means peace. It comes from Shalom. He had peace. He didn’t have to fight. He had everything but foreign wives turned him to idolatry. Did you see that he’s like God really loved him. What do you think’s gonna happen to you and these ? You’ve done great evil and you’ve acted treacherously. Which means you’ve betrayed God. Someone who acts treacherously is a betrayer and he even finds out Eliaship is connected to this. You see that down in verse twenty eight, because he’s intermarried. Even he’s got some somebody in his family that’s married the other bad guy. Sanballat the Horonite married his daughter.
Nehemiah prays a prayer in verse twenty nine, “Remember them and then in verse thirty and thirty one, he gives a summary of what he has done. Verse thirty says, “I cleansed, I established and I provided.” Do you know what’s missing in verse thirty; I rebuilt the walls. That was what he was there for. By the time he gets to chapter thirteen, he mentions that it was never about the walls. They needed the walls. Yeah, they needed the walls. It was always about a spiritual journey.
It’s always been about that with us, too. It’s what we promised from day one, we’re going on a spiritual journey together. We made that promise, but only God could keep it for us. And God has story after story that’s bubbling up from our congregation. It’s how people are going on a spiritual journey. People last Sunday left first service and and went over on Hines and Pender street, cooked hotdogs and gave out hot dogs. They went in people’s homes that they were invited in and prayed for people that were bedfast and couldn’t walk. I’m talking about your church; people from your church did that last Sunday. Nobody told them to. Well, somebody did. They’re just rising up. People are rising up. It’s more than walls. And then he says, “Remember me.” How would we apply this final one about Eliaship and this intermarriage? What’s the application?
Well, one thought is in second, Corinthians six, fourteen and fifteen, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers for what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness or what fellowship has like with darkness, What accord has Christ with Belial?” Belial is a demonic leader of the forces of darkness or the devil. “Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?”
You might look at that verse and say, “How do I apply that today? Are you saying I can’t marry someone from another nation?” No, that’s not the case. The Bible principle that we would apply today is to think about your children; if you marry someone who’s not a believer, it will affect generations to come. So if you’re single today, stop thinking you can be a missionary. Stop thinking that you can date people far from God; that somehow that would be okay with God. So if you’re single, it’s better to look for your mate at church than it is at the bar. It’s better to look for your mate among the people of God. Now some of us have done it anyway, and you’re already on the other side of it. It’s better for you to stay with them because, perhaps if you are holy and submitted and living before God, you will lead them into the Kingdom. So that’s not an excuse to break fellowship with them either. And so the Scripture addresses this. If you’re going into business with someone, if you’re a business person and you’re going into business, be careful about going into business with someone who’s not a believer. And if you’re a church and we’re a church right, it’s great to invite people to come as they are. We want him to come as they are. But before we include them in the membership, we want to invite them to know Jesus first, right? Come as you are and be forever changed by the love of Jesus. It’s the whole statement, right? And so we want them to be in fellowship with us through Jesus. We live not under law, but under grace.
Three confrontations. Our worship, our rest, our relationships. It’s so easy to drift off course. We must continually ask the Holy Spirit to confront, really, our love. Do you love God first looking in the mirror. Here we are. Nehemiah’s final prayer was “Remember me, oh God.”
Well, here we are, centuries and centuries later. At least twenty five hundred years have gone by and here we are talking about him. For three straight months, Nehemiah’s prayer was answered. And not only that, Nehemiah and Malachi, if you will,l as they closed the Old Testament, have prepared us to receive Jesus.
Friend, are you on course with God? Have you gotten off course? I’m thankful for God’s Chesad love that he loves you enough to bring you back. Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, we thank you for your Word. We thank you that You call us to yourself. We thank you that you are our Sabbath, our rest, that we come to you and find rest for our souls. Lord, is there someone here today that you would invite into your kingdom? My friend , if that’s you right now you’re sensing it’s the Holy Spirit. That’s the Holy Spirit. He’s inviting you to become a child of God. There’s a stirring in your heart. Even now, as I pray, there’s a sense that you know something is missing. That your life is off course. Would you come to him today,praying a prayer of faith? Pray with me right now. Dear Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner. My life is off course, but I believe that you died on the cross for my sin and that you were raised from the grave and that you live today. Come and live in me. Make me the person you want me to be. I want to be a child of God. And I want you as my lord and savior. Friend, if you’re praying that prayer right now, the Lord Jesus is ready to save you and make you his own. Others are here today and you know, Christ as Savior. But your life’s gotten off course . You’ve gotten in a place where you know you’re not supposed to be. Would you repent right now and turn it over to God? He loves you. He’s ready to forgive you just repent and confess and say I want to be forgiven. I want to be back on course with you, Lord. It’s never too late to do that. In Jesus name, Amen.