This is the thirteenth week of our sermon series, “Nehemiah: Building God’s Church in the City.” Part 13, this week is an exegetical sermon of chapter thirteen and is about Continuing in the Mission of God’s Vision. This sermon looks at Nehemiah 13 and the keeping spiritual purity, financial repsonsbility, worship priority, marital fidelity, and keeping on until the end. This sermon was originally preached May 10th, 2009 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
May 10th, 2009
“Continuing in the Mission of God’s Vision”
Series: Nehemiah – Building God’s Church in the City
I. Keeping Spiritual Purity (v.4-9)
II. Keeping Financial Responsibility (v.10-14)
III. Keeping Worship Priority (v.15-22)
IV. Keeping Marital Fidelity (v.23-29)
V. Keeping On Until the End (v30-31)
Good morning. Today is the last day of our winter/spring sermon series where we have been working through the book of Nehemiah, a book of the Bible which is all about building a church in a city. It’s been a very helpful book for us as a church because that is exactly what we are trying to do here with The Resolved Church, to build a church in the city of San Diego…one that brings God a lot of glory, has the gospel at its center, and ends up creating a different city through us living city differently.
Now last week we finished with verse 3 of chapter 13. The reason we did is because the book of Nehemiah really could have ended there. Chapter 12 was the dedication of all that they had accomplished and his concluding remarks concerning the outplay of the dedication was that leaders were put in place and all corruptions from foreign marriages and faiths were erradicated.
Verse 4 of chapter 13, where we start today is Nehemiah’s final personal remarks. This book in many ways is like his personal journal. And his final remarks are about how hard it was and what it took to ensure that the mission they began with and the things which were accomplished stuck…because as we’ll read in a minute there were some pretty big things which happened almost destroying the entire work.
So let’s read what happened and we’ll talk about it (read text and pray).
I. Keeping Spiritual Purity (v.4-9)
In verse 4 Eliashib (high priest – like the pastor) is…”related to Tobiah.” This is bad news right here. As well find out toward the end of the chapter, this high priest was not too wise. He’s essential pimping his kids out to devil, trying to win favor and status with other people by giving away his sons and daughters to them in marriage.
In verse 5 we descover that Eliashib “prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put…(all the church stuff).”
Tobiah has been an enemy and opponnet of God and his work all along in this story.
1. When Nehemiah first arrived in chapter two, Tobiah tried to stir up rucus and made fun of Nehemiah and his vision AND said it was treason against the king.
2. In chapter four, Tobiah keeps up his verbal attacks, there’s six of them, calling the work feeble, saying a fox could topple the wall. The verbal attacks don’t work so they step the game and make a physical threat, Tobiah and his cronies surround the city and say they are going to attack.
3. Then in chapter six, Tobiah tries to trick Nehemiah twice. First he tries to appeal to pride and lure him out of the city to make a fake treaty with him. That doesn’t work so then he develops an assasination plot.
Summary: Tobiah is bad news.
So what has happened? The wall was dedicated. Everything seemed to be going well. What happened? Well Nehemiah had to get back to the king. For those of you who remember his main job was the cupbearer (which is like a bodyguard) to the king, who is Artaxerxes of Persia (the son of the tall crazy all pierced up dude from the movie 300).
Nehemiah had stayed in Jerusalem for 12 years and worked there as the governor (Neh 5:14). The wall only took 52 days to get built but he spent 12 years there working to get the life of worship going in the city. But he had to go back to the king, it was just a temporary assignment the king had granted at Nehemiah’s request.
We’re not sure exactly how long Nehemiah is gone. Estimates are anywhere from 6-12 years. Whatever the time, he’s gone for awhile and comes back to check on the work and what does he find? Tobiah, the chief enemy and opponent of God and his work is living inside the freaking Temple and has cooked up a marriage with one of the children of the high priest. Verse 7 says Nehemiah discovered this “evil” and verse 8, says he was “very angry.”
So what’s he do. I love it. He throws out the furniture. He starts chucking out Tobiah’s stuff. He’s cleanses the chambers and brings all the church stuff back in where it is supposed to be.
Okay. Let’s get our head around this. This is crazy. I’ll give you an analogy. We’ve got a little storage shed just outside those doors where we store all our equipment for setup and tear down. The storage chambers in the Temple would have been a lot bigger than our, probably more like the size of this whole room where we meet for service. But it’s as if all of the sudden we invited one of the chief enemies of this work to come and live in there.
You know, imagine there is this dude who hates The Resolved Church. He’s always telling people around town what a bunch of crazy people we are. He’s constantly writing nasty blog posts about us. Making threats, having secret meetings with our members trying to tell them to leave our church. This guy is bad news.
But suppose I leave and another pastor comes in and he thinks the best way to deal with this guy is to befriend him, so he invites him to come live in the storage room. So Tobiah moves in. Sets up shop. He’s starts growing weed back there. He’s got a statue of Buddha in the corner. He’s having a different girl over every night. This is Tobiah. He’s in the middle of Jesus church both physically and relationally and he does not even love or believe in Jesus.
This happens all the time. When I went to Redding, California to visit my dad a couple weeks ago after he had a heart attack I went to this church down the street on Sunday. It was a bigger church and was supposed to be the happening thing in town. I sat through the whole service and not in a single song we sang and not in a single word the pastor spoke in his sermon was the name of Jesus ever mentioned. I couldn’t believe it. It is Jesus’ church but he is not welcome. It made me angry. That stuff makes me angry.
I’ll give you another example. Christianity Today. It’s a “Christian” magazine, or so I thought. They did an interview of a man named Rob Bell promoting and recommending his book called, “Jesus Wants to Save Christians.” Here are a couple statements from Mr. Bell in the interview. “I practice militant mysticism.” “The resurrection accounts are all jumbled.” When asked how he would present the gospel on Twitter Bell replied, “You can’t tweet the gospel (in 140 characters).” “You just have to have faith, and get caught up in something…something really big.”
I’m sorry Mr. Bell, that is not the gospel and that is not Christian. Mysticism is the not the gospel. Without the resurrection there is not gospel. You can’t boil the gospel down to 140 characters? Paul did. He defined the gospel for us in 1 Corinthians 15, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-4).” That’s 123 characters.
That makes me angry. When Jesus gets dismissed and his message gets robbed and changed into something it isn’t and into something vile and lying and that will ruin people’s lives, only turn them inward and give them no hope. I get angry.
Some of you don’t get angry enough. You’re not discerning enough. Some things you ought to get you angry. Some of you think it is a sin or it’s bad or wrong to get angry. The Bible never teaches that. It just teaches us not to sin in our anger. There is a righteous good anger.
Let me press just a little more we’ll move on. What about each one of us personally? Are there chambers in us where we have invited some Tobiah’s or Tobiah like things in? Are there parts of your life where you have invited things which you know is not of God and it’s living there like it’s no big deal? Jesus wants to deal with you about those things today. Some of you may have some repenting to do this morning to clean house.
II. Keeping Financial Responsibility (v.10-14)
Verse 10 says, “the portions of the Levites had not been given to them.” So basically the pastors are not getting paid. Why? In verse 11 Nehemiah confronts them and discovers that the people are not tithing. No money or goods was coming in. So in verse 12 Nehemiah sets things up again so that “the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil” could be brought in to the storehouses.
What is shocking about this is that it was a direct going back on the covenant the people had made. Do you guys remember chapter 10? They have this great service and season of revival and renewal. They are worshipping in singing songs in studying the Bible together and they sign a covenant, in writing.
Listen to the words of the covenant they made, in writing. Nehemiah 10:35,39 “We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruit of our ground and the firstfruit of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord…We will not neglect the house of our God.” They were so adamant. So strong. We will not neglect!
But now what had happened not only six years later? No one is tithing so the pastors are not getting paid. And you got Richard Dawkins and Oprah living in the church!
So what’s Nehemiah do. He corrects things…verse 13, he sets some reliable dudes in charge to take care of the goods coming in and making sure it gets to the brothers.
What happened? Maybe times got tough economically? Maybe they didn’t trust the leadership since Tobiah’s living in the temple? Whatever the case, the principle with the tithe was and has always been a priciple of firstfruits. It’s a spiritual responsibility and commitment not dependent upon anything else. It’s unconditional.
The firstruits means you give a portion, the first portion, in this case a tithe which means tenth, right off the top. Why? Because it was a recognition that it came from God. The spiritual thing at work in giving a firstfruit is about us recognizing that everything we have comes from the Lord.
It’s important principle. Because if we give conditionally…like based upon whether we trust the leadership or whether we have enough or believe in the cause etc. Then that is not giving to God. That is buying. You are purchasing a spiritual product you hope you’ll get a good return on. So Nehemiah sets this straight and reinstitutes regular giving as the way of life for God’s people within the church.
So let me ask you the money question. If you’re a guest please know we are not after your money. We’re glad you’re checking us out. But for those who are not guests…let me lovingly ask some questions…
Do you think of your money as your money or do you think of it as God’s money has given you to use well? If you do think of it as God’s are you regularly giving to the church as a demonstration of that? Do you see giving as a responsibility or something as an option for you if you feel compelled or persuaded enough?
Often times the issue is power and control. Giving your hard earned money is one way God uses to break our desire for power and control over our lives. So if you’re not regularly giving have you asked yourself why? Giving our firstfruits is a way God works both to break the temptation in our hearts to want to be in control and the way God works to make sure the practical necessities of his church are taken care of.
III. Keeping Worship Priority (v.15-22)
Verses 15-22 show how the city within the city really regressed into being just a city like every other city. The Sabbath was another one of the things, the church had covenanted to, in writing, to making sure it was honored and kept holy.
Listen to the covenant in writing from chapter 10, verse 31 “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.” But what’s going on here in chapter 13. Look at verse 15, they’re “…bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brough into Jeruslame on the Sabbath day.” Verse 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.”
Pretty crazy. What was the Sabbath supposed to be about? A day of rest and a special day of worshipping God together with his people. What had it become? A day of selling and worship isn’t even present!
So what’s Nehemiah do. First he rebukes them. He tells them how this is displeasing to God and will bring judgment. Second he shuts the doors to the city during the Sabbath. Third, he warns them saying he will “lay hands on (them)” if they try it. And lastly, he calls them to repentance. Verse 22, “I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy.”
The issues at work here are much like that with the money deal…in this case we think we own not our money but our days. Here’s what I mean. You can very easily slip into thinking Sunday is your day to do with what you want. So if you need to work to make money, you work. If you feel like worshipping Jesus with Jesus people, maybe you will, if you feel like it. It’s your day to do with what you want. “Maybe I’ll sleep in. I need it. I’ll have my own church.”
But that is not the Bible’s way of thinking about it. The Sabbath is a day which belongs to the Lord. It confronts the issues of power and control in our lives where we think we are the ones who have to take care of ourselves and so we put our trust in our own ability to judge how much and when we need to work and rest instead of entrusting that to God and keeping worship first.
I mean it is really comical to me. Sometimes we will pray and pray and pray for something they really want to happen. Maybe it’s a business deal. Maybe it’s a relationship. “Oh, Lord please hear my pray and help me. Help this deal to go through. Help this relationship to work out. Please Lord.” And then we get really frustrated and worried and stressed out about it. So we think we don’t have the time to be with Jesus people on Sunday or during the week.
My question is a simple one. We don’t perform in order to get him to do what we want him to do. That shouldn’t be our motive. At the same time, if you’re not putting God first, what makes you think there is any reason for him to bless you at all when your slighting him on his day?
I’m not trying to be a jerk here. It’s right here in our text. God expects his people to put to make his day a priority. So let me do the same thing as Nehemiah here. One, I warn you. It is not going to go good for you if you keep it up. What’s verse 18 say, “you are bringing more wrath on.”
Two, make plans. Nehemiah set things in motion so that they prepared for the Sabbath the night before by shutting the doors. Start preparing and planning for worship the night before. That means not going out until 2am if you know church service is at 10. Duh?
Three, Nehemiah said he’d lay hands on them. Sometimes I think that would be great. We’ll just say, let’s fist fight and if I win, you love and follow him and do what he asks you to do. That would be awesome. I think there’s more to it than that though. It’s discipline.
Essentially he’s saying he’ll call them out. If you’re a member of this church and you’re not in community group and you start missing a lot of Sundays, you can count on it, I’m going to come to you one on one and ask you about it. Hopefully other people will to. We love you too much to let you keep making those kind of choices and bringing wrath on yourself.
And lastly, as Nehemiah called them to repentance to purify themselves, let me call you to repentance today. There’s two parts to purification. A turning away from something old and a turning to something new. 1 John 4:4 says, ” If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The gospel does not equal performance it equals ongoing repentance…that is purification at work.
The Sabbath is important. It is holy. And it is for us. Jesus said Sabbath was made for man. We need it. We will die internally without it. The Purtian’s called it “the market day of the soul.” We need each other and need to be worshipping together and growing together in community.
IV. Keeping Marital Fidelity (v.23-29)
Okay, marital fidelity in verses 23-29. I want to re-read these verses. A few things about this story and then we’ll talk about it’s connecting points with us.
Here’s deal in the story. The people are all intermarrying with people from other faiths. They don’t think it’s a big deal to marry people who are not Christians EVEN THOUGH the Bible very clearly instructed them it was not okay. Deuteronomy 7:3 ”You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons.” And EVEN THOUGH just a few years earlier they had acknowledged this and signed a covenant, in writing saying this, Nehemiah 10:30, “We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.”
What happened? Exactly what always happens, one of the spouses, either the husband or the wife’s faith influences the other. It is unavoidable. And what is the result, whatever faith ends up winning that is what gets passed on to the kids. These kids are being born and growing up and their parents do not think Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God of the Bible is that important so they’re not teaching them Hebrew and thus they are not learning to read the Bible learning to read the Bible.
This is a huge deparature from the faith. Most young Hebrew children would learn how to read, write and speak Hebrew by working with the Biblical text. That’s why in Psalm 119:103 David says, “your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” He says this because the common way was to have little children write the words of the Bible in honey. This way they would learn to read and write Hebrew while at the same time learning that God’s word was good.
What had happened was a huge indictment against the fathers. These dads were abdicating their spiritual role of leadership and authority and giving away their sons and daughters to men and women they knew did not love God. And some of them were even doing it for political power or peer esteem and success. Even the high priest, which is why Nehemiah says he has “descrated the priesthood (13:29).”
And it’s one of the main things that got God’s people kicked out of Jerusalem, with the city burned down and the walls destroyed in the first place! That’s why he brings up Solomon and then says this is “a great evil” and a “treachorous act… against God.”
I mean you got to get your head around this. Imagine it. Say the mayor of our city came to me and his son wants to marry my daughter. Thing is though his son is this hard core wiccan. Buys all his books at “The Controversial Bookstore” in North Park. Wears black eyeliner and trenchcoats. Whatever. In return, he’ll hook me up with all kinds of press and money and introduce me to a lot of influential people in town so that our church will grow.
Such a thing would be corrupt and heinous. The long term results will be detrimental. If I ever let that happen I hope one of you dudes in the church will come and beat me and pull out my hair because I’d be in serious need of a holy beating. Over my dead body am I letting something like that ever happen. When I pray with Adina every night that God will give her a good Godly husband that love Jesus and daddy likes…here’s the thing. Daddy don’t like those kind of dudes.
I feel the same way about you single girls in church. I’m only in a position of influence in however much you’ll let me have. But hear it from me, pastor don’t like those guys you meet at the bar, chances are they’re not going to be good guys. I like the dudes who like things like the Bible, Jesus, prayer, worship, family, commitment, respect, sacrifice, hard work. Same with you single dudes, you need a godly woman because if you set your affection on a girl who doesn’t love Jesus, here’s what will happen, you will start questioning your faith and your spiritual disciplines and commitments will tank.
I’ll tell you why I care. I spent hours on the phone this week, several days in a row with a broken man. He found out just a few days ago that his wife slept with another man. He broken. You ever heard a grown man sob like a baby. It’s painful. I don’t want that to happen to you.
You think if you just feel love when you’re dating or when you get married that it’s enough. Here’s the deal. It’s not. Those feelings will fade and what will be left. You need a greater love. The love of the Son of God who went to the cross for sin. You need the love of Jesus in the center of your marriage or it will be a train wreck.
Here’s the principles of marital fidelty:
1. It’s about the faith. All the major religions of the world understand that marriage is the strongest and closest bond there is. That’s why not just Christianity but all other major world religions teach and practice endogamy, only marrying in the faith, because they realize it has a direct connection with keeping the purity of the faith.
2. It’s about the Bible. The Bible is extremely clear on this issue. So if you go against the Bible you are going against God and you are really at war with him for you soul. You will not win a fight against God.
3. It’s about the children. You will pass on what you believe to your children. It is unavoidable. So before marriage you have to ask the question, what are we going to teach our children? You will either pass along Godly things which point to Jesus or ungodly things which lead away from him.
4. It’s about influence. One person will influence the other. Fact. Either faith or non-faith will influence. What you want are two people who are attempting to influence each other for Jesus. Marriage is about two indviduals united together in their pursuit of Christ. Anything short of that begins to cause the substance of marriage to disintegrate.
V. Keeping On Until the End (v30-31)
Alright, last point for today, “Keeping on Until the End.” I have to be honest and say that this chapter is in some ways very disheartening. The last few chapter are exhilirating and reach these huge climaxes.
But chapter 13 is a big let down. It’s the reality a true spiritual work, the reality of really planting a church in a city. We’ve seen it just like Nehemiah. I mean Nehemiah started out with 38 people and ended with thousands in worship. Now he comes back and very few are worshipping. We’ve seen in this church times when our numbers have grown and it seemed like things were really happening and then times when stuff happens and we shrink back down really small.
That is really really hard for me. The desire for success…approval and sense of accomplishment is strong and luring. When things are not going well my pride is injured. I’m embarrassed. And feel like a failure. I’ve had to sift through some of that this week finding sin and idolatry at work in me. Envy of less educated pastors whose churches are growing. Pride in thinking I am smarter or more gifted than others. A lack of love and focus on the good things Jesus is doing among us.
One of the most frustrating things about this chapter is that the people have failed in the very things they so adamantly vowed to fulfill. But when I examine myself I am reminded of the times when I have thought a certain sin has been root out of me and then I find it back at work again in my heart.
Maybe you can identify with that. Times in your spiritual life and walk when you’ve made certain commiments and think you are really past something but then it comes up again and you realize how far you’ve fallen short.
Where this chapter ends is quite phenomenal. The last seven words, “Remember me, O my God, for good.” Two things about it. One it’s time reference. When is it looking to with remember? It’s looking to the end, Nehemiah is looking forward to the end of his life. Second thing. Who is it looking to? It’s looking to God, Nehemiah is setting his focus upon one person, God.
So those last seven words have volumes to teach us about having an eternal perspective and fixing our eyes on Jesus. The work of Nehemiah was never about making a wall it was about making people.
God’s vision, the mission of God is a people who are focused on Jesus living life together in the city. For it to continue, we must set our eyes upon Christ. If we think we are better than the people of Nehemiah’s day, we are joking ourselves. You see with each one of these points, Keeping Spiritual Purity, Keeping Financial Responsibility, Keeping Worship Priority, Keeping Marital Fidelity, Keeping On Until the End…we will not be able to keep any one of them, no matter how adament we are or whether we sign something in writing.
We have to have our eyes set upon the only one who can keep us. Jesus, the founder and perfector our faith.
If there are chambers in your life, where there is some Tobiah like stuff at work, have Jesus come in there and do some house cleaning today and throw some things out because Jesus is all you need.
If you haven’t been honoring God with the money he gives you, have Jesus to break your trust in it to take care of you. Jesus is the only you can trust with anything because on he can truly care for your needs.
If worship very simply just hasn’t been your priority, there is buying and selling and work and spiritual neglect at work, have Jesus to come into the temple of your life and turn over some tables and set things straight with him being in the very center.
If you haven’t taken your marriage or future marriage seriously and have tried to approach it without a concern for the love of Jesus being at work in your marriage have Jesus to take his place as the bond of your marriage and the only one who can truly make a marriage a good thing.
Lastly, if you’ve tried and tried to make spiritual commitments but find yourself continually failing, I invite you to give up trying today and instead submit yourself to Jesus and have him to carry you to the end. Let him take control from this point on until eternity as you fix your eyes on him.
The book of Nehemiah ends by basically reminding us that we are a people who are in process. Who are going to continually have to be corrected and disciplined so that we come into a greater and deeper more long lasting change in our hearts. It comes through openly and honestly admitting those areas and having God set our focus upon his Son.
The mantra of the protestant reformation was sempre reformanda, always reforming. May God reform and confom us more into the image of his son Jesus as we look to him today. Let’s pray.