This is the tenth week of our sermon series, “Nehemiah: Building God’s Church in the City.” Part 10, this week is an exegetical sermon of chapter ten and is about Looking to the Future Fulfillment of God’s Vision. This sermon looks at Nehemiah 10 at the way we approach commitments, community, couples, church and our cash as Christians under the new covenant. This sermon was originally preached April 5th, 2009 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
April 5th, 2009
“Looking to the Future Fulfillment of God’s Vision ”
Series: Nehemiah – Building God’s Church in the City
I. Commitments: Signatures and Seals (9:38-10:27)
II. Community: Diversity and Unity (v28-29)
III. Couples: Dating and Doting (v30)
IV. Church: Working and Resting (v31)
V. Cash: Stewardship and Craftsmanship (v32-39)
Good morning everyone. Good to see you. We’re back in the book of Nehemiah for this morning. Today is Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, where in the Christian calendar we remember how Jesus went to Jerusalem, arriving on a donkey, hailed as a king, going in for the express purpose to give his life and die for sin. I debated about preaching a special sermon on it this year…but it just seemed like we had to go back into Nehemiah this morning, because if you’ve been around lately we are living this story. The story we are learning in the book of Nehemiah is happening in our lives and in our church.
Nehemiah is all about getting an Old Testament church started and the first step of that was gathering a core group of people together and building a wall, so that they could then begin to build a city of worship inside the city. Halfway through the book they got the wall built and then they started having a couple worship services. We’ve been looking at those in the last two chapters of Nehemiah that we’ve studied.
The first service had a huge focus on the Bible, they started getting a real and deeper hunger for God’s word, they read it a ton, heard preaching from it, studied it in small groups, and then worked on applying it to their lives together. The next service in the Nehemiah story we studied here last week and was one where there was just a lot of prayer, a lot of seeking the being of God, and confessing our sin and need as humans.
We have been living this you guys. By God’s grace in a lot of our hard work, we’ve got a wall built, something has been established here in The Resolved Church…and now we’ve started working on our worship as the first thing we need to bring life to our city. I am just amazed…as we have begun to work on our worship I have been witnessing more of a hunger for God’s Word and for true spiritual growth than I have ever experienced in my ten and half years of pastoring.
On Sundays there is such an excitement and a joy that has been apart of our study time in the Bible. In our community groups there has been a true openness and willingness to listen, learn, and discuss and follow the Bible’s teaching. Personally I am now discipling seven different dudes who are all memorizing Scripture and reading theological books and working on applying the Bible to their lives. It is amazing. I believe we are experiencing something uncommon in our church’s growing love and pursuit of the Bible.
Then last week, last week was amazing! On Sunday morning we studied a prayer of the Bible. Nearly the whole chapter was a prayer. So we had a prayer service Sunday evening. My foolish, weak faith, little pastor heart for God was pretty skeptical about how it would go…so I assigned people to pray for certain things ahead of time. You know, just to make sure I wouldn’t be the only one praying.
But it was amazing. Several people showed up and you guys didn’t just show up but you showed up ready to pray. Everyone was praying and praying sweet and awesome and powerful things. I planned for our service to be an hour but it ended up going an hour and half and even then, I was trying to move things along because of the time…everybody just wanted to keep praying. It was really, really, special. There was such a real and vivid sense of God’s presence among us. People have already been asking me when we’re going to do that again.
I’m telling you guys. We are living this book. We really are. We are in it. The next chapter, the chapter we are in today is sort of the second part to last week’s prayer service…it really has to do with the resolves with come out of it. After they study God word and pray a lot they decide to make some resolves, they really do. They become a resolved church. And so we just had to study it today.
Next week is Easter and so I’ll preach a special resurrection sermon on that day…this year looking at life of the disciple Thomas and particularly his resurrection encounter with Jesus. It’s going to be a great day. Statistics say Easter Sunday is the number one Sunday of the year people are most likely to go to a church service who do not normally go. So start thinking about who you are going to invite.
Alright. So that’s pretty much the set-up or introduction for today. Let’s read the text, if you forgot your Bible there’s some at the back you can go grab. Two short things to mention before we read. One, is there’s a bunch of names again in this chapter…there’s actually a bunch of names in the next three chapter including this one.
So remember the deal with names: they’re inspired by God for our good, they’re evidence of the historicity of the Bible, they remind us that all Christians have their name written in God’s other book “The Book of Life,” and they tell us that people’s names count to God. In fact one of the coolest things we did at the prayer meeting last Sunday night was God put it on the heart of one of our beloved females to start praying for the names of her friends who are not yet Christians…and then after her a bunch of us just started doing that too. We must of prayed just names for like ten minutes!
The other thing is we are actually starting with the last verse of chapter 9, because the guy who inserted the chapter and verse divisions in the 16th century, Robert Stephanus, messed up here and should have broke the chapter after verse 37. That’s pretty much the general opinion and I agree. Okay, so let’s read it and pray over it…Nehemiah 9:38-10:39
I. Commitments: Signatures and Seals (9:38-10:27)
Okay, first point, ” Commitments: Signatures and Seals.” Verse 38 of chapter nine starts out “because of all this…” So that’s a reference to the prayer that we studied last week, which was essentially a historical survey of God’s character and workings among and for human beings who continually turn their back on him despite all his goodness and forgiveness toward them.
If you we’re here last week, you’ll remember that I pointed out that the prayer ended in an odd way, it ends abruptly, “we are in great distress.” I said, that I thought there were more to those words than appears on the surface…that they are essentially a cry out to God to do something about the sinfulness of humanity so that the cycle can be broken. You can decide that for yourself…either way verse 38 begins with “because of all this…”
I’ll come back to it at the end of my sermon today, about whether you think this chapter us just trying the God thing again and just making some adjustments…but either way I think the this mainly has in mind God’s goodness and the consistent failure of God’s people. Because they know this…here’s what they do, they are going to make a signed and sealed commitment in hopes that God’s vision for his people will be fulfilled in the future.
So they get a bunch of representatives of all the people to sign their names. There’s four different groupings of the people. The legal officials, the ruling family heads, the Levites and the priests. Eighty-five signatures in all.
How many people are married? How many people have ever bought a car or house? What is one of the things you do when you make that marriage or that purchase official? You sign your name. Now sometimes we sign our names for little purchases with our debit or credit card and sometimes we sign our names committing to bigger obligations. Have you ever thought about why we do this?
A signature is an association of your name with your commitment. It’s saying this is who I am. I am a person who will keep my word. I will do what I say I am going to do. So let me just raise the question of commitment. Are you a person who makes commitments and if so do you keep them? If you say you are going to be somewhere do you show up? Do you follow through with what you plan to do? Or are you a person who doesn’t like to commit to anything because your afraid your mind will change later? Or you make commitments but rarely ever actually do what you say and plan you are going to?
The interesting thing here to me is that these people here in this day are making a spiritual commitment. It’s almost unheard of in our day. To make a commitment, in writing, with your name to church? The idea sounds constricting and manipulative to some.
The signing of one’s name inherently brings up the character of a person. If you bring a signature into spirituality does this…it intertwines your faith into everything else in your life about who you are.
For example, I was sharing with a couple this week, that for a Christian to cheat on his wife or her husband then the question is not just whether they are going to break their marriage covenant and hurt the person, it is completely wrapped up in who they are and what they believe about everything…so that even if a person is dealing with temptation to be unfaithful then it’s not just a question of whether you are going to leave your spouse but whether or not you are going to deny everything you know is true about God and yourself…so much so that if you move ahead with it you might as well just change your name and go live on a different continent.
Commitments are huge. If Christianity is true then it ought to have an effect on our character, making us more and more like Jesus, who is the most faithful, stable, reliable, constant and committed Lord to us. Making a spiritual commitment is a good thing. It’s one of the reasons why we ask those who take our 8-week church membership class to sign a membership covenant.
It makes it official. It’s not clear here in our text what kind of seal they were using, wax or clay, a symbol or what…but seal points out that this commitment is official. That’s why sometimes we say, “official members” because most everybody who becomes a member of a church or is interested in becoming a member already begins acting like a member before that time. So then you take our 8 week Theology 101 class to make sure you understand what we’re all about and then you commit, officially. Which by the way, if you’re interested, talk to our church assistant Kathy Broersma, she’s getting together a list of people for our next round coming up here in a month or so.
Okay. So they make a commitment here in the story…but a commitment in regards to what? Four areas: community, couples, church and cash. Let’s walk through them.
II. Community: Diversity and Unity (v28-29)
First community, “Diversity and Unity.” Check out the first part of verse 28, “The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands…”
You got all kinds of different people here. People with different giftings, talents, jobs, and even races. You’ve got priests, the pastors. You’ve got the Levites, they’re like the deacons. You’ve got the gatekeepers, they’re military or police. You’ve got the musicians. You’ve the temple servants, everyone else who volunteers and does work for Sunday service. And you got people from other countries and races who have decided to come and follow and worship the true and living God…they separate from their religious upbringing and become part of the church.
There is a wide range of diversity presented here. That’s what makes a true community…when you have different types of people coming together as one, for one main goal, one main purpose together.
Now some of you, you don’t really like hanging out with people who are not like you. I get that. I understand that we as human beings are wrapped up into ourselves and have a tendency to only gravitate towards people who are like us in order to affirm us. The thing is, it is the people who are most not like you that often end up having the most positive spiritual effect on you. Uptight policeman like people need to hang out with the chaotic like artist musician types…it’ll make you both better.
In the gospel Jesus calls out people from every tribe and tongue to come out and come into his church and be one with him together. It’s one reason we never targeted a specific demographic in our church planting philosophy…because our target demographic is everyone, the whole city.
Now notice something interesting in the text with me. It’s mid verse 28, it says that all those who are entering this commitment are those “who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God.” That is very interesting. Because what they are saying is they were joined to people, and namely here to the faith of a people which faith in other gods than the God of the Bible. But look what happens…they separate from their previous joining which is to people, to…the Law of God. They were joined to a people, now they are going to be joined to a book. That’s a big change. A huge shift. To move your primary commitment from being to people to being to a book.
Why is this what is called for? I think it is because it is the only way any diverse group of people can ever have any true unity, to be united around the one true God, and all equally belong to the same book. The book brings unity.
I’ll give you an example. We’ve got all kinds of different people in this room. Like in the text. Different jobs. Different interests. Different talents. Different stages in life. But what is happening right now? We are all in unity, together, placing ourselves under this book. And what does this book’s gospel say about all of us in this room? We are all sinners and the good news is Jesus Christ came into the world to die for sin. The gospel of the Bible equalizes us all and enables us all to go to Jesus and be one with him, and all of us can do this together. It is beautiful.
I mean you should experience what we do at our community groups in the middle of the week. Everyone is sharing about their faith and where they are at, what they are struggling with, what they see in Scripture, and all us listen and try and help each other and learn from one another. It is wonderful. And it only happens because of this book. So the first thing they commit to here in this signing is to this book as one unified community.
III. Couples: Dating and Doting (v30)
The second thing they commit to, is to being a true family and committing to doing marriage differently, hence our third point for today “Couples: Dating and Doting.” Let’s read verse 30 again, ” We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.”
Okay here we go. Throughout Scripture, true Christianity is never an individual thing but is a communal thing and especially in the area of your immediate family. One of the most challenging thing and painful things a family can experience is when one of their members is not on the same page spiritually…when either the husband or the wife is not a Christian or when one of the children choose not to follow their parents spiritual footsteps.
Now apparently, according to this verse, this was happening a lot…God’s people we’re thinking that it was okay to marry people who were not Christians…That’s right I’m diving deep into hot water today. That’s what this verse is about…they were not to give their daughters to the peoples of the land or receive sons from the peoples of land because the people of the land worshipped a different God. This is not about racism or nationalism. It is about endogamy, the technical word, which means only marrying within a specific social group in order to keep its purity.
Most of the world practices this…Muslims, Hindus, Jews. They practice it because they understand that the family is the chief unit a society and a religion and if you allow your family members to become bonded to people in the deepest and closest bond that there is, marriage…it will have the ultimate result in time of weakening, crippling, and contaminating the faith of the family.
Scripture speaks unanimously on this for this reason. Deuteronomy 7:3 ” You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons.” 2 Corinthians 6:14 ” Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” It’s very clear.
Okay, now I wish that was enough. I wish it was as simple to say, see Scripture said it. That settles it. But I know from being a pastor for over ten years, 2 of those being a youth pastor, 3 of them a college pastor…that this is something Christians continue to have a hard time with…whether it is okay to date or marry a non-Christian. I know it’s a hot button. So let’s not beat around the bush. Let’s go there.
We’ll just set aside the whole issue of whether or not we think we are smarter and know better than God’s Word…let’s talk about the heart, it’s reasoning and affection in this. First, I don’t think that dating is the problem. I really like the idea of arranged marriages, especially for my daughter, but I realize that is probably not going to happen, but I’ll try.
Either way I don’t think dating is a problem. Most of marriages were arranged at the time this was written but there are a few biblical examples of dating…Ruth and Boaz, Solomon and his wife. So I don’t think dating in and of itself is the problem.
I do think youth ought to really value what their parents think and I do think that parents ought to really teach their kids to value what they think. I pray for Adina every night that God will give her a good Godly husband that loves Jesus and that daddy likes. I’m engraining it into her soul.
Second, I think this is what is going on in the heart…I think the heart reasons like this. If you’re the single person you think one of two things…that either you will not find someone who you are attracted to and connect with who loves Jesus and/or you think that just feeling love for a person will be enough and the whole faith thing really is not that big of a deal that it could damage the ability and vitality of that love. So essentially what we are dealing with is fear and trust…fear of the future and trust in God’s provision.
So what do you do now? If you’re still single, keep praying and waiting and searching and trusting and if your parents are godly, getting their input.
What if you’re already in a relationship with a non-Christian? Well, first off bring it to the table and talk about it, instead of ignoring the issue in hopes that it will go away or not come up. It will. If you are a Christian then you are going to be becoming more and more Christian…more and more like Christ so it’s going to come up. Unless you are afraid that if that happens, it will drive a wedge in your relationship (which it will), so you just downplay your faith and ultimately it will disintegrate. So bring it to the table and discuss whether or not there is really a future for the relationship. One person will influence the other, will it be the influence of your faith or the influence of the lack of faith? What about when you have kids? Are you going to think it is okay not to teach them that they need Jesus?
What do you do if you’re already married to someone who is not a Christian? You stay married. Read 1 Corinthians 7, it gives some good instructions. You pray and do everything you can to win your spouse over to the faith.
I beg you, I plead with you, I promise you…you will not regret a commitment about this. Don’t give up. Keep trusting God. He knows what is best. Hold out. He has good things in store. I’m marrying a couple in our church this evening at Balboa Park and it one of the most beautiful things to see, two individuals who love Jesus coming together in marriage. Christian marriages are different than any other kind because they share the deepest and most intimate thing about us as Christian people…Jesus.
IV. Church: Working and Resting (v31)
So they sign their names, commit as a whole community, to do marriage differently, and now to do church differently. Verse 31, “And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.”
Okay, so this part of the commitment is about work and the Sabbath. Sabbath means rest. Scripture teaches that man is meant to work. Work was not the result of sin and the fall. Sin and the fall brought pain to work, so that work would be hard and mean to the body, but work itself was not part of the judgment. Man is meant to work…and then rest.
Honoring the Sabbath rest is the fifth commandment of the ten. Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 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. 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 day and made it holy.”
The Sabbath is meant to be a time you cease from working your normal job, spend time in worship of God, and enjoyed your family. Over time things moved from being a focus on mankind’s need for rest and moved toward working to make sure you don’t work on the Sabbath. Jesus shows up on the scene and says, don’t you realize “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mk 2:27).” The point being that mankind needs a day of rest…it is for his good.
In the very next verse in Mark 2, Jesus says something very weird, I thought about it a lot this week. He says, “So the Son of Man (Jesus) is Lord even of the Sabbath.” I worked with that awhile. I think this is the key to understanding what Jesus meant when he said that he is Lord of the Sabbath…in John 5, Jesus heals a cripple on the Sabbath and the pastors of the day are all bent about it. Here is how Jesus responds there. ” My Father is working until now, and I am working (Jn 5:17).”
Jesus says his father has been working until now? Since when and doing what? If you’re getting lost and confused here stick with me. What is the first great work of God? Creation. What did he do after creation? He sat down and rested. Then what happened to his creation? Sin and the fall. So what did God then start doing? He got up from his rest and went back to work, working on his greatest work of all, redemption. Since that time God was working and Jesus came into the world to work the work of redemption for sinners. So when Jesus says he is the Lord of the Sabbath I think he is saying…I’m the rest. I’m the rest. Come to me all you are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28).
I believe this is why something really significant happened in the history of God’s people with the Sabbath. You see the Sabbath was always on Saturday…until a certain point. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Lord of the Sabbath completed his work of redemption in dying for sin and rising again…so now the day of rest in our week lands on Sunday morning, the day of the week he rose from the dead. And since then, God’s people have always worshipped on Sunday morning.
Okay. This is some thick stuff. There are a lot of different views out there about the Sabbath. Rather than taking a specific stance on it, because to be honest I’m not sure what I think about some of it. What should happen on Sundays? Can you work if it doesn’t interfere with church? What about play? What about having Saturdays off too? I don’t know. What about pastors who are to lead by example? Is Sunday a workday for them? I’m not sure about some of these questions. What I do know is there are two very clear things.
One, we are meant to have a day off of work, a day of rest. Two, Jesus is our ultimate rest. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in him.” And we need the weekly rest that comes through worshipping him in community, song, the word and communion. Beyond that the details are negotiable, I think.
Whew. That took some hard work this week friends. Exegesis isn’t easy sometimes. There is still a lot to think through here but I think we have enough that I can press our hearts now one work and rest.
First, work. Are you taking a day off a week from work? Some of you are lazy and don’t work at all and the economy has nothing to do with it and you need to get out there and get a job and do something, even if you have to work for free. Others of you are workaholics. Are you resting? Sometimes our spirits get all out of whack and we just feel off. Sometimes the best question to ask is, are you getting rest. Are you sleeping at night and are you taking a day off in the week. There is a connection with the physical and the spiritual in this.
Second, rest. Are you resting in Jesus? Are you looking to him as the thing which is ultimately going to bring you relief, satisfaction, or pleasure? Or are you working for your weekend? Working to play, have fun, spend money, and entertain yourself? If so, let me tell you that those things cannot provide you the rest you need. Ever wonder why you sometimes feel like you need a vacation after your vacation? True rest is in Jesus. Sometimes what we need is just a healthy dose of the Bible and prayer. And each week we need to find Sabbath in the Lord of the Sabbath with his people on Sunday.
V. Cash: Stewardship and Craftsmanship (v32-39)
Okay, back to our story. The people we are learning from made a commitment to the Word with each other, a commitment to Godly marriages, and a commitment to Sabbath rest. Now lastly, they made a commitment to how they would spend their money, “Cash: Stewardship and Craftsmanship.”
In verses 32-39 there is this whole list of things they committed their money two. It all basically breaks down into two categories. One, a tax. Two, the firstfruits. The tax was to cover the regular operational expenses of the church. The firstfruits were to cover the pastors’ salaries. And all of this expense was because they were as verse 39 ends, committed to “not neglect the house of our God.”
Now a tax only works if you have a welding between political government authority and pastoral church authority. And as we painfully learned by the time of the Reformation, this is not a good thing or a thing necessarily intended by Scripture for the church after Jesus in the New Testament. This welding of the two authorities will occur once again in Jesus, when Jesus returns as King and sets up his throne here on earth…but until then our position is mainly passive toward government so that we can work on the mission of the gospel in the cities and countries of the world.
What has carried over, that Jesus and the apostles have affirmed is the principle of firstfruits giving. Firstfruits giving is where the people who are the committed members of the church regularly give the first portion of their income to the church. Then the leaders of the church are responsible to use that money to cover the operational expenses of the church and the pastors’ salaries.
Okay, so that’s the nuts and bolts of the money stuff. Anyone who knows me knows I hate talking about money in church…both because money is so personal and because I’m a pastor and part of the money people give pays my rent, so it’s just awkward. But it comes up in a book of the Bible we are studying then I talk about it…because that’s my job and I’m a bad pastor if I don’t.
So let’s talk about it. A lot of people today tend to think, probably because of whacko crying and selling crap on Christian TV, that churches only care about money. Many people think churches just don’t need money. In fact studies show that only 9% of evangelicals regularly give and most churches today survive of endowments and land ownership. We’ve been a church that has survived on an endowment only until the last few months, where we’ve started making budget.
So some of you already know this and get this money stuff. Well done. A report from The Barna Group on “Why People Do Not Give” says these are the most common reasons:
“Some people lack the motivation to give away their hard-earned money because the church has failed to provide a compelling vision for how the money will make a difference in the world.” This is conditional giving.
“Some see their giving as leverage on the future. They withhold money from the church because they do not see a sufficient return on their investment.” This is conditional giving again. Which really isn’t giving but purchasing.
“Some do not realize the church needs their money to be effective. Their church has done an inadequate job of asking for money, so people remain oblivious to the church’s expectations and potential.” This is lack of maturity in the church leaders.
“Some are ignorant of what the Bible teaches about our responsibility to apply God’s resources in ways that affect lives.” This is just lack of maturity in the church members.
“Some figure they worked hard for their money and it’s theirs to use as they please. Their priorities revolve around their personal needs and desires.” This is just deception because God owns all the money and all the land. We own nothing. Already, my daughter is saying the word, “mine,” she learned it from some dumb kid at the park. We keep telling her Jesus owns it all, nothing is ours. The biblical concept is stewardship. God entrusts us with his stuff and hopefully we use it in a way that honors and glorifies him.
I’ll just say these three short things about cash. One, it’s a family thing. Notice verse 39 concludes by saying, “We will not neglect…the house of God.” The house of God. That is family language. Family home life is the model for spiritual life throughout the Scriptures.
1 Timothy 5:8 says this, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” This passage assumes that there is a direct connection between your spiritual confession and commitments and your finances. It is craftsmanship. We ought to take care of our families well and thus we ought to take care of our churches well.
Second thing, it’s not about a trying to manipulate and pressure people to give on Sundays. Notice in our Nehemiah passage, it is a planned, budgeted, prepared giving. The New Testament teaches the same. 2 Corinthians 9:5 “…arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.”
Third and lastly. The economy. When times get rough financially are we supposed to stop giving to church? I don’t think so. Remember the widow, who had very little and gave what she could? Remember the various famines throughout Scripture? When times get hard we keep trusting God and turning to him, even in the place where it is the hardest and maybe the scariest…our money.
And I’ll add this. Part of the church leaders responsibility throughout Scripture is to care for the poor. I need to do a sermon sometime on it…but that doesn’t really just mean giving homeless people coins for their cup. It means really taking care of those who have a hard time. So let me tell you. If you are really in a financial jam and have a need and this is your church. Don’t be too prideful. Humble yourself and let someone know.
And for others of you…maybe there are some here, who the economy really isn’t effect and maybe you’re even prospering. Maybe that’s a sign that God is enabling you to help take care of his hurting children…something to think and pray about.
Okay. Let’s wrap up this sermon. I said at beginning of the sermon that at the end that I would come back to the question of whether or not the commitments the people are making here are just another doomed attempt at trying again to get it right…if whether or not after the prayer of chapter nine which recounted God’s faithfulness and our unfaithfulness over and over again throughout history, that the response is really…”okay let’s just try again, we’ll get it right this time if we make some adjustments.”
I don’t think that is what today’s chapter has been about. I’ll tell you why. I think the ESV Bible is the best English translation out there to use. When anyone asks me what Bible to get, I tell them without flinching, ESV. But the ESV blows it here.
In verse, 38 of chapter nine, when it says, “we make a firm covenant in writing” it blows it because the Hebrew word behind covenant there is not covenant. The normal Hebrew word for covenant, like what was used althroughout chapter 9, the spiritual everlasting, cut in animal in half covenant that God makes, is the Hebrew word “berith.” The word used in verse 38 is not “berith” but “aman” which just means a strong or firm commitment or agreement. That’s why I’ve been using the word “commitment” and not “covenant” all throughout my sermon.
Okay, so why do they make an “aman” instead of a “berith” here? I believe the answer is in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Which speaks directly to the historical situation of Nehemiah. Listen to its words. “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. But 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.”
They did not make a “berith” but an “aman” because they knew they could not keep a berith covenant. They knew they needed a new covenant. They needed God to come into the world so that they might know him. They knew they needed a messiah. They knew they needed Jesus who would come in and deal with sin and provide forgiveness and thus change the heart.
So all they could make was an “aman.” A firm agreement in hopes that if they could just keep these things for awhile God would perhaps have mercy, be pleased and send the Messiah.
How fitting for us today. Studying a passage of extreme commitment from a church that was looking to the messiah…that we too would make the same commitments looking to the messiah.
It’s Palm Sunday. Jesus rode into the city on donkey. He’s the king of heaven…humble on a donkey. He walked in on palm branches that covered the floor. Today he walks in on our small offerings. The commitments we’ve made to welcome him.
But he comes to offer something better. We commit our cash to be good stewards and care for our family. Jesus the Son of God comes to us and freely gives us all of his inheritance, the riches of heaven.
We commit to the work and rest of work. Jesus comes and gives us his life work, so that we might eternally rest and no longer live for ourselves but for the glory of God.
We commit our marriages to trust in Jesus. Jesus comes and gives himself up the perfect husband to his bride.
We commit in community to the Word. Jesus comes to us the Word made flesh and dwells among us.
We commit with signatures and seals. Jesus comes and signs and seals the new covenant in his blood.
Jesus is our greatest treasure. Jesus is our greatest rest. Jesus is our perfect spouse. Jesus is our trustworthy Word. Jesus is our new and eternal covenant.
Let’s go to him in prayer.