My dear friends in the Lord,
Over the last two months we heard the Word of God concerning the work of the Holy Spirit. Over the last few Sundays we specifically looked at how the Holy Spirit builds the church. We made the following observations:
- It is the Holy Spirit who does gives birth to a dead heart to make it respond to the Gospel of grace; the sinner, first dead in sin, is then enabled to hear the Word about Jesus Christ
- It is the Spirit who enables every member to contribute to the work of the Church according to the gifts He gives, as He determines, for the upbuilding of all the members of the body
- Like in the New Testament, the Spirit also enabled the people of God with gifts, skills and the ability to teach others to build. This was very clear from our study about the building of the Tabernacle
- Last week we heard the Word from Nehemiah about the exiles returning to rebuild the temple and the city walls. It was during this time that Zechariah, who was written during the time of the rebuilding of the temple some years earlier, got this assuring message from God:
Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty. Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” (Zechariah 4:6, 10, NIV)
- We also saw last week who the builders of the walls were: people from all walks of life, with different skills, performing different tasks, some doing more, other doing less
- We also heard about others who compromised themselves by inter-marrying with the enemy – they did not commit to the building of the walls
- We understand that we are not called to build a building, but be a spiritual house under the Headship of Jesus Christ. Each one of us is like a stone being added to the spiritual temple. The Bible calls each of us to do our part so that we can grow into the fulness of the body of Christ.
The work in God’s kingdom always attracts opposition
Our Lord called his disciples, and at the very first day brought home this principle home:“
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12, NIV)
There was persecution and opposition in the days of Nehemiah.
Those who occupied the land and were in political control of it when the exiles returned, were under the leadership of Sanballat and Tobiah.
They first scaled a psychological warfare against the work of Nehemiah. They said,
“What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (Nehemiah 4:3, NIV)
We know this sort of attack these days too. Christians and the work of the church are belittled, and Christ is scoffed. But don’t listen to those who oppose the Son of God and his church. Do what Nehemiah did. He prayed:
Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. (Nehemiah 4:4, NIV)
It is not our task to engage in some sort of Christian Jihad against our enemy. Let us remember: “Not by power or by might, but by my Sprit.”
Psychological warfare was soon followed what can be described as a from of terrorist warfare. We read, “They plotted together”. At this stage it was no open attack. It was more like a show of force designed to drive terror into the exiles.
We know how the battle lines are drawn today. Fear mongering about how one could lose your job if you stand on Christian principles in your workplace. And when some nurses are fired because they dared to pray with a patient, or when some baker and his wife are threatened to huge fines and the loss of their business license because it is against their principles to bake a wedding cake with two men in top of it, we understand that this terrorist attack is designed to kill Christians with fear.
How do we react? Do we retreat? Do we stand like people with principle and take it on the chin even if our job and our financial investments might be on the line?
Nehemiah and his men prayed, but they also took up their posts in defence: they “…posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” (4:9)
My friend, be on your knees before God, but be on your post where you must face the enemy.
The strategy of the enemy moved on to include political intimidation. The allegations were based on lies and political spin. in which was written:
It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.” (Nehemiah 6:6–7, NIV)
Newspaper headlines – how we know them! “It was reportedly claimed that the controversial Bible-basher said that …” Ask so-and-so, my brother in crime, he will tell, not the truth, he will tell you the real truth. So, before this actually reaches the highest powers, let’s talk – let’s sit around the table an negotiate about what belongs to you.
Nehemiah saw through this plot and referred to it as a way of “frightening” them. How did Nehemiah respond? He stood his ground – prayed! “But I prayed, Now strengthen my hands” (6:9)
Don’t we know this kind of warfare? The church of Christ is discredited on about every front. It is sad that some allegations against clergy are actually true, and brings enormous disgrace to the Name of our Lord. But speak up against the evil of abortion and same-sex marriages (and everything it all entails), or stand by the truth that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only God, and his Son the only Saviour, that the word of God is the only measure for life and worship, and soon we are labelled as bigots, people who are divisive and even a danger to the welfare of the state. To even teach one’s own children about Christ has been labelled as child abuse. My friend, the treat is real, but those who stand behind it are powerless against God who listens to the prayers of his people. Nehemiah encouraged his people, “Our Lord will fight for us.”
There is another source of attack: from within. It came in the form of despondency.
When the enemies said,“Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work…” (Nehemiah 4:11, NIV) some of the exiles responded with “The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” (Nehemiah 4:10, NIV). The effect of the psychological warfare had paralysed some. Others chipped in with, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” (Nehemiah 4:12, NIV) In other words: we can just as well throw the towel in, we are outnumbered, and the death threats are real. What is this stupid wall about? What difference is it going to make if it is not built?
How did Nehemiah respond? I stood up and said,
“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:14, NIV)
But there was another, far more dangerous and subtle attack: spiritual white-anting. A so-called prophet/priest arose and requested a meeting with Nehemiah in the temple. The enemy white-anted the religious leaders. Nehemiah resisted, because
I realised that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him… to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. (Nehemiah 6:12–13, NIV)
We have those too today. False prophets who discredit the authority of the Bible, who put doubts in the mind of believers and say the Jesus was not raised bodily, or that Genesis 1-11 is just a myth, because science has proven creation to be impossible. And some ministers fall for this form of intimidation, who in turn practice spiritual intimidation upon their members
How did Nehemiah respond? He prayed!
Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me. (Nehemiah 6:14, NIV)
Not by power or by might, but by my Spirit! God listened to the prayers, and “God frustrated” the attack of the enemy (4:15).
But it did not mean the work was done! No, it then really picked up in intensity. Half of the men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armour (4:16) In one hand they held a weapon and in the other the building material. Every man and his helper stayed in Jerusalem at night, so that they could serve as guards at night and workmen by day. All along the encouragement from Nehemiah came: “Our God will fight for us.” (4:20)
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. (Nehemiah 6:15, NIV)
Full commitment to God and full commitment to the work. It’s a full-on job, demanding every bit of energy and commitment. Our Lord warned:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25–26, NIV)
Jesus also told the parable of the servant who worked all day out in the field, and then went inside to serve his master till the very end of the day. Our Lord said:
So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty. (Luke 17:10, NIV)
My dear friend, there is a challenge for us all in this, isn’t it? All of us have to put shoulder to the wheel. We who call ourselves Christians are part of the body. We function together under our Head, Jesus Christ, and we labour for the benefit for other members. So the spiritual temple is built; so the enemy is defeated.
In the Name of our Lord, would you put your hand up and enlist in this army? The branch which does not bear fruit will be chapped off and burned in the fire – these are the words of our Lord. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 17 July 2016