Renovate With Cooperative Spirit (Nehemiah 7-9)

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There was once a famous inventor who lived in a quiet village. He had invented many objects before that have been used by those in the crowded city. Citizens loved the old inventor because he had filled their life with ease and entertainment of his creations. Because of his inventions, their work was more productive, their chores at home were more efficient, and their overall quality of life more satisfying. Everyone was eager for his next invention to enjoy the fruit of his labors.

The famous inventor’s next object was something big. It had been seven years since his last invention, and the excitement had been building for both the old man and the population awaiting his next creation. This one was complex. It had hundreds of rotating wheels, dozens of spinning gears, pulleys made of chain and rope, conveyor belts orbiting around the entire machinery. There were bright blinking lights of variety of colors, and different buttons that operated all these systems. The invention was a sight to behold and the old man could not wait to showcase his hard work for all the people to see.

The machine structure was disassembled to fit into three tractor trailers and taken to the downtown area for unveiling to the world. There were numerous news media outlets airing the unveiling of the famous inventor’s newest construction. Yet, the display was covered behind enormous black curtains hung on steel trusses surrounding the invention. The inventor needed to re-assemble the machine once it was unloaded off the three trailers. It took him three days, a day for each trailer to unload and connect all the parts in their proper place. Finally, it was ready to be revealed for all to see.

After much fanfare, the old inventor counted down from ten to one, and once completed the countdown, the enormous curtains fell from the steel trusses. The machine was operating in full throttle. The gathered crowd could hardly contain themselves. They cheered and ooohed and ahhhed over the massive machine. They watched in amazement as their eyes circled to follow the rotating wheels, spinning gears, pulleys heaving up and down, and the fastest convey belts any human has ever seen. After seven minutes of the machine operating on full throttle, the old inventor pushed a single button and every part of the system came to a complete stop. A hush fell over the crowd so that you could hear a pin drop.

After a few moments, someone from the back of the crowd finally broke the silence asking, “What does it make?” The famous old inventor replied, “It doesn’t make anything, but it runs as proficient of any invention I’ve ever made.”

Many churches have become known for their past activities rather than their present actions. It is often the case that Christians and churches are busy in ministry but not effective in mission.

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EXAMINE                       Nehemiah 7-9            Renovate With Cooperative Spirit      /
2 principles

God’s people must invest in places AND people.

Nehemiah has spent a significant amount of resources in renovating the wall. But remember, Nehemiah did not live in Jerusalem; he lived 900 miles away in Susa. Yet, Nehemiah was connected to the city because of his kinsman homeland. Nehemiah was compelled to return to Jerusalem and ensure it was protected and prosperous.

We need a good theology of place. Places and buildings are important; they are not essential as God’s people can worship at any location (cf. John 4:21-24), but places are helpful to provide a setting for the display of God’s glory through a gathered people.

  • In 1960, a group of church members and area Pastor identified a piece of property available for purchase in Severna Park. It was about 10 miles away from where they lived and worshiped, but they envisioned it to be another location for which to spread the gospel of Jesus. So, they took out a loan for purchasing the over 6-acre property for $13,500. Can you imagine today’s cost?
  • In the years since, SPBC has sought to be a mission location to its community, but also to its surrounding region. We have been involved in the planting of Elvaton Baptist Church (Millersville), and I believe Crofton Baptist, and perhaps others. Further, we have sent mission teams to Baltimore, Western MD, numerous U.S. cities through Youth trips (Nashville, Charleston, Greenville, Ashville, Philadelphia), and a handful of other nations: Scotland, Moldova, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and others… our theology and philosophy of place must include our home location which God sovereignly positioned us.

Further, we might expect to read after the wall was renovated that the book’s narrative would end, Nehemiah either would stay or return home and they all lived happily ever after. However, life doesn’t work like that, nor does God. The point of the book of Nehemiah is not just rebuilding a wall but renovating people.

Nehemiah 7:4 “The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.”

While the people rebuilt the city, not many lived there. Jerusalem was intended to be a city of refuge but instead was still an overwhelmed and ravaged region. So, Nehemiah appoints his brother Hanani and Hananiah, both faithful and God-fearing men, to be in charge over the city rebuild. Then, as God impressed upon his heart, Nehemiah locates the genealogy record of exiles and calls them to return to the city, each to his town.

Nehemiah 7 is a long list of difficult to pronounce names. Further, the listed names are essentially the same as those already provided about 90 years previously, in Ezra 2. We’re tempted to think the genealogies don’t really matter. It’s just a list of names that we can skip reading. These are also the descendants of those who disobeyed God, but they are also the descendants of God’s promise to Abraham, the display of God’s faithfulness, the people of God, of whom the Messiah will come from and come for. The totals of the people would amount to almost 50K people along with their animals and belongings (Neh 7:66-69). Notably there were both Jewish descendants and those not belonging to Israel who had wanted to participate with the people of God and enter into the promises of God (Neh 7:61-64).

  • Lists of names matter.
    • Moses willing to be blotted out of God’s book for the sake of sparing Israel (Ex 32:32).
    • Names of the righteous are written in God’s book (Psalm 69:28).
    • Daniel refers those rescued from divine wrath bc their names are found written in the book (Da 12:3)
    • Jesus says for us to rejoice that our names are written in heaven (Lk 10:20)
    • Paul speaks of God’s workers’ names written in the book of life (Php 4:3).
    • Jesus reminds us anyone’s name not written in the book of life are cast in Hell (cf. Rev 3:5; 20:12, 15).Churches keep records for a reason – to know who belongs and who they are responsible to shepherd. The list included
      • Leaders (7:6-7)
      • Everyday citizens/laymen & women (7:8-38)
      • Priests & Levites (7:39-43)
      • Singers (7:44)
      • Gatekeepers (7:45)
      • Temple servants (7:46-55)
      • Descendants of Solomon’s servants (7:57-60)
      • Descendants with uncertain ancestry (7:61-65; cf. also Ex 12:48-49; Rahab; Ruth, etc.).
  • Diversity of people matter. Included were Jews and Gentiles, reflecting God’s intention to eventually advance His promises to every tribe, tongue, nation, and people. Eph 2:12, ff “those alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise… now brought near no longer strangers and [immigrants], but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”). Are we not grateful today that God is still calling people to walk away from worldly Babylon and enter into the grace and joy of God’s people!?!
    • Also, the diversity of roles of people from everyday citizens to those with musical abilities, servants, priests, etc. Think about it – – – someone had the job of counting animals, money, bowels, and not to mention the 30 + 67 priests’ garments (7:66-73)!
  • The people lived and served “in front of their own homes” (7:3) and “each to their town” (7:6; 7:73 listed twice). If it’s possible, live as close as you can to your church family. Identify where God is working in your own neighborhood and get involved in God’s kingdom service.

In all, we must invest in places and people.

  • Take a prayerwalk around SPBC to pray for God’s blessing. Do the same in your neighborhood asking to see your street with God’s eyes and heart.

 

God’s people must invest in assembly AND action.

The seventh month arrived. To majority of us – Gentiles and far removed from ancient biblical history – we read past this time marker. However, the seventh month was significant in the Jewish calendar (Lev 23). In this month,

  • 1st day was the Feast of Trumpets. It was a day of rest from work with blasting trumpets and a food offering to the Lord. This was like a New Year for the Jew.
  • 10th day was Day of Atonement. Also was a day of rest, confessing sin. Additionally, the High Priest made sacrifice for himself and the entire nation – a sacrificial goat (propitiation) and a scapegoat (expiation).
  • 15th day was Feast of Tabernacles. The nation moved out of homes and lived in temporary shelters for 7 days as reminder of God leading them out of slavery into the desert to dwell among them in their tents.
  • And according to Deut 31:11-13, every 7-years the law was to be read to all Israel. Further, every 7th year was rest for  the land, and after seven 7-years – the 50th year – was a year of jubilee, proclaiming liberty throughout the land, where prisoners were set free and debts were forgiven.

 

The people gathered for a holy convocation, into the town square to hear Ezra read and teach the Scriptures (Neh 8:1-2,ff). Whereas only men could enter the temple, here the people included men, women, and all able to stand – a reference to children included in corporate worship (cf also Deut 31:12 which was a prescriptive command and not just a descriptive characteristic).

  • Imagine a crowd gathering at times square not for a ball but the word to drop!
    “BRING THE BOOK!”

    • Most people scoff at the idea that the central reality of your identity and purpose in this world is provided for us in an ancient book. Most people dismiss Christianity’s instructions and principles as old-fashioned, illogical, and intolerable. But these people were hungry to hear God speak, and they knew if they wanted to hear God’s words then they had to have God’s words read and preached out loud. Oh that God would raise up another generation to be hungry for the book; hungrier than the shallowness of social media, hungrier than the feel good of Hollywood entertainment, hungrier than the opinions and interpretations of the culture, but for the purity, the simplicity, and the power of God’s Holy Word.
  • I’m not saying there cannot be opportunities for age-related worship & learning experiences. But, I am saying if there are seldom or no opportunities for intergenerational worship & learning experiences then we are missing out on so much: unity factor, elevating expectations on young, worshiping personal preferences for distraction free environment over a family being together in the presence of God, reverse mentoring observations, and the overall command for parents not to outsource discipleship of their children (Deut 6:4-9; 11:18-21; Eph 6:4; Col 3:20) with a clear understanding disciplemaking is life-on-life people centered and not program centered.[1]

The ears of the people were attentive early morning to midday (8:3). The people stood to listen, lifted hands shouting “Amen, Amen,” and they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces toward the ground (8:5-6).

The priests read from the Scripture and then helped the people understand it. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (8:7-8). Teachers and preachers of God’s word have the job of reading the text and relaying its meaning, not their opinion. The text has one meaning with multiple applications. And every text has a tone that preachers should reflect as well, so that people understand the seriousness of God speaking through the Scriptures.

The action responses of worship:

  • Worship was prepared in advance: they gave financially (7:66-72); they built a platform & pulpit; they gathered 50K as one; they were attentive and not mindless.
  • Worship has a posture of humility: hands lifted in surrender; heads bowed, weeping (8:9). God’s word penetrated their hearts. They saw how their history and their present life had fallen short of God’s standard. And yet, how God’s grace had provided forgiveness and renovation.
    • Nehemiah and Ezra told them not to weep and cease grieving. Their failure did not define their destiny and their sin was not the last word. God’s forgiveness enabled people to stop running away but to run toward Him. God’s grace shouted freedom and their story had a victory celebration in God’s salvation.
  • Worship has a setting of community: gathered assembly, feasting with food and drink (8:10-12). Take and eat of God’s fruit from every tree, of manna and meat from heaven, of drink of the sweetness of everlasting life. God’s people feast at His table. Such feasting joys could not be hoarded but handed out generously to others.
    • Neh 8:10 “for the joy of the Lord is your strength/refuge”
  • Worship has a disposition of obedience: commemorating Feast of Booths (8:13-18), fasting, prayer, repentance (9:1-4, ff.). Nehemiah 9 recounts their prayers telling the story of God’s faithfulness and their ancestors shortfalls with stubborn hearts and stiffened necks (disposition of disobedience!). And when Israel disobeyed, God allowed consequences for their sin with enemy nations conquering them.
    Neh 9:32-33 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.”
    Nehemiah and the people committed a renewed covenant to walk in obedience to God’s law. Specifically, they commit (cf. 10:30, ff)

    • not to enter multi-faith marriages
    • to honor the Sabbath in contrast to culture / Do not marginalize what God prioritizes!
    • helping the underprivileged with a 7th year generosity of crops and forgiving debt
    • generous support for the house of God and priests of God with offerings and first-fruits of crops, animal herds, children, etc.

 

  • In all these action responses, which is God confronting and challenging you to begin today?
    • Home life, work ethic, work relationships, spiritual growth appetite, faith witness intentionality, ministry volunteering fervor, generosity eagerness.
    • What booths (obedience acts) will you build after church today?

 

APPLY/THINK

Reading other people’s genealogies is monotonous, but reading your own genealogy is meaningful. You realize you are part of a bigger family past and present. However, the curious aspect of genealogies is that we cannot select our ancestors, but we can determine our descendants. If we want our genealogies to grow then we must be people who go and tell others about the life and love of Jesus Christ.

There is coming a day when all the promises of God will be fulfilled in Christ.

  • Jesus is the gate into the city.
  • Jesus is the wall of protection surrounding us.
  • Jesus is the city of refuge, that we never have to be anxious over circumstances, fear about sickness or death, or shame over the past.
  • Jesus will dwell/tabernacle with His children.
  • Jesus will call your name… but what other names will you recognize that He calls?

[1] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2014/09/02/the-value-of-intergenerational-ministry/

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