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Mosaic Spokane

Reconstruction Zone: Hard Hats Required

Reconstruction Zone: Hardhats Required

Nehemiah 4

January 4, 2015

 

INTRO:  We’re moving back into the book of Nehemiah today.  But I’d like to first make a connection between Nehemiah and what we’ve been thinking about the last couple of weeks regarding resolutions. If any of us want to make some positive steps in our lives, it usually requires a high degree of personal resolve.  And if we’re talking spiritual growth, it definitely requires personal resolve that is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

            Nehemiah was a man of spiritual resolve.  And I think what he experienced as a result of that spiritual resolve is what most of God’s children will experience when they decide to leave the kingdom of darkness and wage war against it by joining the kingdom of light.  You can pretty well count on the fact that there will be opposition, sometimes very serious and dangerous opposition, whenever you decide to do something good in the Kingdom of God.

So this morning I want us to take a look at some of the battles we must prepare to have whenever we choose to really live by faith and do something significant in God’s kingdom.  Nehemiah 4 is where we’ll see those battles illustrated.  

ILL:  When Igor Sikorsky was 12, his parents told him that competent authorities had already proved human flight impossible. He went on to build the world’s first helicopter. A Russian immigrant to the U.S. just before the Communist Revolution, he went on to develop numerous airplanes and helicopters. 

In his American plant in Connecticut, he posted this sign:

According to recognized aerotechnical tests, the bumblebee cannot fly because of the shape and weight of his body in relation to the total wing area. The bumblebee does not know this, so he goes ahead and flies anyway (Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, by Paul Lee Tan [Assurance Publishers], p. 945).

Nehemiah would have loved that sign! His story shows that whenever you try to accomplish anything significant for the Lord, you will face strong opposition.

Satan never bothers with half-hearted people who are content with a ho-hum spiritual existence. But if you’re set on fire for Christ, look out! The name “Satan” means “adversary”; he is committed to opposing God and His people, especially when they are zealous to exalt God’s glory.

This is true on the personal level just as it is on a national or even church level. As long as you live with one foot in the world, living according to the world’s values and for the world’s goals, Satan won’t trouble you. You can go to church and even pray and read your Bible, and he won’t mind. But the minute you wake up from your spiritual lethargy, shake off the worldly mindset, and commit yourself to radical obedience to Jesus Christ, you will encounter spiritual opposition!

This also applies to churches: Whenever Spirit-led leaders attempt to rally God’s people to advance His kingdom, opposition will hit. Satan doesn’t mind when churches just gather to sing and to hear soothing sermons about how to use the Bible to achieve personal success or feel better about life. That kind of teaching is no threat to his domain of darkness.

But when a church preaches the gospel that convicts sinners of their sin in the presence of a holy God and points them to the cross of Jesus Christ, look out!  When a church calls people to obedient, holy living in this wicked world, look out! When a church directs its vision toward the unreached people and nations around them who are waiting to hear the gospel, look out! The enemy is committed to opposing that kind of work. We need to be ready for such opposition and know how to respond to it. Nehemiah 4 has a few things to say about that.

But before we jump into the text, how about we all take a little personal inventory?  What are we doing in life to build God’s kingdom that is beyond our own ability, demands active faith in God and will make us a target of the enemy of our souls because it will lead to the transformation of people? 

Seriously!  If we’re not engaged with God and life at that level, we’re living too small.  If we’re not pushing against the godless status quo in our world in such a way that we’re a threat to the kingdom of darkness, why not?  Why would we rather “play it safe” than risk it all for the One who is supremely worthy of every risk we can possibly take? 

ILL:  Jim Elliot, killed at the age of 28 while trying to reach the Ecuadorian tribe of the Huaorani, was absolutely right when he said, He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."  He understood correctly that we cannot “keep” our own lives.  We can only give them away.  And when we give them wholeheartedly to Christ, we cannot lose what we gain from God in return.

So what have you resolved to do in the Kingdom of Christ this year that no one will be able to take away from you…even if they took your life? 

What have you resolved to do in Christ’s kingdom that is a risk this year? 

That will attract the attention of God’s enemies? 

That will actually make you the target of unwanted attacks this year but will also make you the winner of eternal treasure? 

[Pause and pray about this???]

When the enemy opposes us (as he surely will if we are doing anything of significance) HOW should we respond???  That’s where this chapter of Nehemiah comes in.

If we only had chapter 3 of Nehemiah, we would get the impression that the work on the wall went without a snag. “So-and-so built this gate, and these people built the wall to this point, and next to them, these people built the wall further, etc.” It sounds as if there were no problems. But such was not the case. It never is.

Chapters 4-6 will show us some of the problems that had to be overcome in the process of rebuilding just the wall of Jerusalem. There is a cycle of advance and setback through chapters 3-6:

Chapter 3: Advance

4:1-3: Setback

4:4-6: Advance

4:7-8: Setback

4:9: Advance

4:10-12: Setback

4:13-23: Advance

5:1-6: Setback

5:7-19: Advance

6:1-14: Attempted setback

6:15-16: Final advance

6:17-19: Attempted setback

This cycle illustrates how the Christian life is also one of advances and setbacks, of conflicts and accomplishments. There will always be opposition. The enemy will try to get you sidetracked or to give up completely.

Even though it was God’s will for the wall to be rebuilt, He did not remove the opposition. Even though it is God’s will for you to grow strong in faith and to labor to advance His kingdom, God does not remove the opposition. If you respond properly, the opposition will drive you to greater dependence on the Lord and to greater determination to do what He has called you to do. If you yield to the opposition, you will quit the race in discouragement or settle in for a mediocre Christian existence at best.

The first defense against the enemy is to be aware of the kinds of opposition that he uses. If you know what to expect, at least you won’t be surprised when it comes.  It may not make the battle any less, but it will certainly take away the element of “shock and awe”…of surprise…that is often a key component in destroying an enemy.  

Let’s look first at the various forms the opposition takes and then at how we are to respond.

Our text reveals at least 6 tools of opposition:  Let’s read the first paragraph of chapter 4.

1.)Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down! 

One type of opposition you will frequently find to doing something significant in the kingdom is…

1.) THE ANGER OF OTHERS.

Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, became furious and very angry (4:1, 7). The Hebrew word means “burning mad.” A secure and independent Jerusalem would threaten his hold on the area and undermine his control of the trade route through the region, perhaps hurting his economy power. So for the time being, he dropped his differences with the Ammonites to the east, the Arabs to the south, and the Philistines to the west. In anger over what Nehemiah was doing they all came together, threatening to stop the work by violence if necessary. This new work of God in Jerusalem threatened their lifestyle, and so they got angry.

            Anger is simply a desperate tool of desperate people.  We use anger to try and control others, whether it’s our kids or our spouses or our employees.  And it often works.  Anger has a power other emotions don’t.  But it doesn’t have to. Other people’s anger only has the power we grant it.  Nehemiah didn’t give Sanballat & Co. what they wanted their anger to get.

Satan often uses the anger of others to try to squelch the newfound joy and zeal of a new believer. Suppose that a teenager who grew up in a culturally religious home, where the gospel was never preached, gets saved. He goes home and joyously tells his parents how he has met Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Are they overjoyed? Hardly! They explode: “What do you mean that you’ve become a Christian? How do you think we raised you? As a heathen? What’s all this nonsense about being born again?”

Why are they mad? You’d think they would be glad that their kid wasn’t doing drugs or getting girls pregnant. They’re mad because if their kid gets serious about God, it threatens their worldly, self-centered lifestyle. The same thing often happens when a wife meets Christ. Her zeal for God convicts her husband of his wicked ways, and he responds with anger. Satan’s aim is to get the new Christian to cool his commitment to the Lord.

If anger doesn’t stop the work, Satan hauls out another tool:

2) MOCKERY AND SARCASM.

Sanballat and his buddies gather within hearing distance of the wall and ask a bunch of sarcastic questions (4:2): “What are those feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices?” He means, “Do they think that they can complete this project and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving?” “Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble, even the burned ones?” After each rhetorical question, his cronies probably roared with laughter. Then Tobiah threw in his sarcastic barb, “if a fox should jump on [this poor excuse for a wall], he would break [it] down.”

Satan frequently uses ridicule against those who take a stand for the Lord. How many of us are silenced by the threat of ridicule?  If you become a Christian and let it be known, your coworkers or teammates will mock you and call you a holy Joe. They will be waiting for you to fall into some sin, so that they can hoot about it: “We knew you were no different. Christians are a bunch of hypocrites!” Your commitment to Christ threatens their godless lifestyle.

If you’re working to help people who are really in the grip of the enemy or in real need of the Great Physician, people are going to look at you and whisper, “What a waste of time!  Those people are never going to change.  They’re never going to amount to anything.  What a waste of resources and time!” 

ILL:  When we were ministering in Spain, the average Spaniard was not that interested in the Gospel.  But there were two groups of people who were responding to the Gospel in significant numbers and seeing significant transformation.  Both groups were the cast-offs of the culture, marginalized and considered by the average Spaniard not worth working with.  They were the AIDS victims (drugs and gay communities) and the Gypsies. 

APP:  Ever feel like what you are trying to do in ministry doesn’t matter?  God doesn’t look at things as we do.  He is no respecter of persons.  He doesn’t play favorites.  The drug addict in an apartment downtown is as loved and important to Him as the brain surgeon on the South Hill.  When our labor is “in Christ”…when what we’re doing is because it is Spirit-led and Christ-glorifying…everything counts.  Everything matters.  Everyone is eternally valuable.  Don’t buy into the sarcasm and belittling our culture does. 

3) THREATS AND INTIMIDATION.

If anger and ridicule don’t work, the enemy often gets more aggressive. Nehemiah’s enemies had to be careful, since he was working under Artaxerxes’ permission. They couldn’t just rally their troops and march on Jerusalem, or they would be charged with rebellion against the king. But they could and did use threats of violence (4:8, 11), which they circulated among the Jews living near them (4:12). Small bands of terrorists could sneak in and pick off a few of the people working on the wall, and Sanballat would just tell Artaxerxes that it was a renegade band that he didn’t have control over.

As we have seen in our world over the last few years, that is precisely what militant Muslims are doing today—using the threat of terrorist activity to silence and intimidate Christians, Jews and even other Muslims.  It has created immense psychological pressure in our world today.

Satan still uses subtle or overt threats and intimidation to oppose Christians.

  • “If you don’t keep quiet about the boss’s corruption, you’ll get fired.”
  • “If you discipline your children as Scripture directs, the authorities will take them away from you.”
  • “If you write a paper in defense of the Christian faith, the professor will flunk you.”
  • If you just disapprove of gay marriage (not even discriminate against) you will be fired, sued and probably lose your business or job.

On a church-wide level, we will probably have to face this kind of opposition as we move more and more into the marketplace.  The more we stand against pagan culture, the more pagan culture will threaten, assault and seek to intimidate us. Welcome to real spiritual warfare!

4) DISCOURAGEMENT & EXHAUSTION.

Apparently there was a discouraging proverb or work song that circulated among the workers at this point (4:10): “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; and we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall.”

The people were wearing out and the piles of rubbish didn’t seem to be diminishing. They had lost their earlier heart for the work that had resulted in the wall rapidly being built to the halfway mark (4:6).

Satan knows that the halfway point in any work is one of the most effective time to strike. When a new project begins, there is plenty of enthusiasm. “Let’s arise and build! Let’s do it!” If you get over the midway hump and see the completion drawing near, there is another surge of enthusiasm. “We’re almost there! Let’s get it done!”

But right in the middle of things, exhaustion and discouragement set in. People have lost the initial zeal and all they can see are the piles of rubble still waiting to be removed. They feel like quitting.

The same thing is true in our walk with God. When we first get on fire for the Lord, it’s exciting. “We’re going to win the world for Christ!” Every Bible study you go to seems fresh and challenging. Your times in the Word and in prayer are rich with new discoveries. You just can’t get enough of it. But somewhere down the line, the newness wears off. You begin to notice the piles of rubble in your own life and in the church, problems and sins that just don’t seem to go away. You begin to grow weary, wondering if all your efforts are making any difference for the cause of Christ. Your weariness leads you to discouragement.

The same can happen with whole churches.  Things take more work than we expect.  A project requires more time and money than expected.  Some believers “leave the job site”.  They change churches, switch proverbial horses in mid-stream. Others stop showing up regularly or get tired of the hard work it takes to labor alongside others to see a project completed. 

APP:  It is important for all of us to “count the cost” before we wade into a project.  Yes, it will be fatiguing.  Yes, we will want to bail at some point.  But we don’t have to “sing the songs of discouragement.”  We don’t have to mouth the music of defeat.  Guard against discouragement and exhaustion in any endeavor that is demanding.

But Satan pulls out one more tool here against Nehemiah and God’s people.

5) NEGATIVISM—the negative comments of others.

The criticism and mockery (in 4:2-3) came from the enemy without. This negativism came from the Jews themselves who lived near the enemy (4:12).

These people were not actually involved in the work of rebuilding the wall. They lived near the enemy, and thus were constantly exposed to his negative attacks on the work. And, they weren’t involved personally in the work. So they were hearing negative reports and threats and they didn’t know firsthand what God was doing in Jerusalem. They came repeatedly (“ten times” is a Hebrew expression meaning “over and over”) to warn Nehemiah and those working on the wall, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn.”

Negativism in the church often comes from church people themselves.  They tend to be merely observers, not hard working laborers.  It is so easy to be negative when you are on the outside looking in.  But when we are actually experiencing how difficult it is to develop a disciple or build a ministry, we tend not to be nearly so critical of a work.   

There is a proper place for realism. Nehemiah didn’t ignore the very real danger that existed. But if he had listened to these prophets of doom, he never would have finished the wall.

Then there is this last tool of the enemy….fear.

6) FEAR (4:14)

Fear is the cumulative effect of all of the above factors. The people had seen the enemy’s anger and had heard their mockery and threats. They were wearing down through exhaustion. Then they repeatedly heard gloom and doom from their fellow Jews who lived near the enemy. That powerful feeling of fear was tearing at their tenacity.

Fear is a funny thing.  It can make you more passive or more aggressive.  It can make you want to run or want to fight.  It can cause you to freeze up or flee.  It can make you shut up or shout at people. 

Satan uses fear to paralyze God’s people and keep them from attempting anything significant for the Lord. Maybe it’s a fear of failure. You’ve never done it before, and you don’t know if you can do it. Maybe it’s a fear of rejection. If you try it, others will think you’re a fanatic and stand off from you. It may be a fear of conflict. If you do what God wants you to do, you know that you’ll catch flak. So, you back off.

These are some of the tactics that Satan uses to oppose God’s work both in projects that people undertake in advancing the Lord’s work and in individual hearts that want to advance spiritually.

But how should we respond to opposition? What does this chapter give us as tools to fight these enemies?

Nehemiah’s approach can be broken down into four aspects: 1.)They lifted their voices and focused their minds in prayer; 2.)they devoted themselves to hard work; 3.)they armed themselves for battle; and 4.) they renewed their priorities--family.

1) THEY PRAYED (vs. 4-5, 9)

We have one of the prayers actually recorded in vss. 4-5, while vs. 9 simply says they prayed and then acted. 

 John Bunyan (no relation to Paul Bunyan!) wisely observed, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”  Prayer will help us focus on the fact that God is sovereign, even over those who are attacking us. He has allowed this trial for a reason. In prayer we submit our hearts to Him and acknowledge our trust in Him.  That’s what praying spiritual leaders and prayer itself should call us to (vs. 14):  “…remember the Lord who is great and awesome.”

But what about Nehemiah’s prayer in 4:4-5? It doesn’t seem to fit with, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44)!

First, since these enemies were hindering God’s work, it was a prayer that God would judge those who oppose His kingdom and glory. To pray for God’s kingdom to be established (as in the Lord’s Prayer) is implicitly, if not explicitly, to pray for all competing kingdoms to be destroyed. As Christians, we should pray that God would restrain our enemies by converting them. But if they continue to fight against Him, God may also restrain them by pouring out His wrath on them.  If our hearts are right, we can pray that God would subdue the enemies of the cross, either by conversion or by His justice. Prayer should be our first response to opposition.

2) THEY devoted themselves to hard WORK.

The people had a heart [lit.] to work” (4:6). Although there was a slight pause while Nehemiah organized the militia, they didn’t abandon the work to chase down the enemy. They didn’t allow the enemy’s threat to get their focus onto other issues. They just kept building the wall, and pretty soon the enemy was outside looking up, instead of inside destroying people.

            The work of God’s people is first and foremost about building God’s Kingdom, not fighting against the enemies of Christ.  Nehemiah didn’t declare war on the infidels and go on the attack.  The ancient Crusades were sorely misguided in believing that the central task of the church was to reclaim physical territory by killing people.  If they had focused on building the Kingdom by making disciples instead of killing the enemies by making corpses, the church would have become known for its positive additions in the Middle East rather than its negative subtractions. 

            As much as we may be grieved by the advances of secularists and non-religionists in our day, if we will focus on living out the love of Jesus Christ to the most depraved and destitute of our day, we will build a protective wall far faster than declaring war on the culture.  People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.  Caring is hard work.  Loving is hard work.  That’s why too many Christians are fleeing churches today or limiting their involvement to 1 hour of attendance a week or month.  Rebuilding is HARD WORK!

3.) They armed themeselves for battle.

Vs. 9-- because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.

Vs. 13-- then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.

Vss. 16-18--16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me.

Vs. 21--21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 

            While this passage certainly indicates that self-defense in the face of threats of murder is legitimate for God’s peace-loving people, that is not the primary application for us today.  What the New Testament clearly presents is that we are in an actual, life-threatening, soul-risking spiritual battle with dark forces today. 

Yet many Christians are oblivious to the dangers that come from our adversary the devil, who prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8). We go out into the world without putting on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20). We fill our minds with the crud of Hollywood, let our kids watch trash on TV, and after the kids are in bed, parents tune in the shows for “mature” audiences—mature in evil, but not in godliness! And then we wonder why we are powerless in the face of temptation and evil. 

If we don’t want to fall victim to the enemy, we better come well-armed to the battle.   We better take off the dark behaviors, dark movies, dark music, dark novels, dark living that saturates our culture.  We must block the opportunities for moral filth from our life and home. Instead, we better suit up with divine armor, sink up with a divine connection and show up each day to the battle ready for a divine fight.  Spend time each day saturating your mind with God’s Word. Have a network of brothers and sisters in the Lord whom you can rally to when the enemy attacks. To be oblivious to the enemy is to be vulnerable to his attacks.

Nehemiah and his people responded to the enemy’s opposition by lifting their voices and vision to God in prayer, putting their hearts into the work, and by arming themselves for the battle. Finally,

4) THEY Renewed their priorities--Family

Nehemiah reminded them (4:14), “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.”

            ILL:  I remember talking once with a young millennial woman who was battling some self-destructive tendencies. I asked her what some of the thought processes were that helped her tackle the problem.  She said, “I’ve decided to remind myself what it will feel like to have to explain this to my own children some day if I don’t battle this now.”  WOW! 

There’s a young adult who gets why every generation must fight their own battles:  we want those God gives us to love at close range to see the value in fighting the right battles.  We don’t want them to have to fight the battles we refused to.  (This is why nobody should commit suicide.  Doing so opens wide a door of temptation for family who will face the same battles in their lives.)

Conclusion

Historian Will Durant observed, “Rome remained great as long as she had enemies who forced her to unity, vision and heroism. When she had overcome all her enemies, she flourished for a moment and then began to die” (cited in “Bits & Pieces,” 9/87).

Opposition kept Rome strong.  It has always kept the church and individual believers strong.  If you know Christ and try to accomplish anything for Him, you will experience opposition. Respond as Nehemiah did, with prayer, keeping on with the work, vigilance against the enemy, and keeping your focus on the great and awesome God whom we serve.

__________________________-

This message borrowed heavily from the work of Stephen J. Cole in his message “Responding to Opposition” found at https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-4-responding-opposition-nehemiah-41-23

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Study Questions from Nehemiah 4:

1.)    Of the different tools Satan often uses against God’s people (anger, ridicule, intimidation, discouragement, fatigue, negativity), which are most problematic in your life and why?  How might you lessen their impact on you in the future?  

2.)    How can you know the difference between legitimate rebuke and ungodly opposition? How can we grow even if it is the latter?

3.)    How can we determine the difference between healthy realism that acknowledges problems and unhealthy negativism?

4.)    How do you see Satan using believers and the church to oppose God’s work today?  How can we guard against that?

5.)    Has the cost of being a committed believer ever caused you to avoid a deeper level of commitment?  In what way?  What scriptures encourage us to embrace the cost anyway? 

6.)    Of the various responses to opposition (prayer, vigilance, hard work, weaponry [spiritual], God-focus, leaving a legacy), which ones are most powerful in your life?  Why?  Which ones would you like to develop more?  How could you do that? 

 

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