Blessed Builders: Nehemiah’s Legacy

Blessed Builders: Nehemiah’s Legacy

Opening Illustration:
I am a child of the 1980’s.  One of the great things about the 1980’s, depending on who you are asking, is the birth of the video game.  These video games could be played at home.  I remember my very first game system, it was the Nintendo.  The system came with Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt.  My brother and I spent hours playing those games.  

My favorite was always, and continues to be, Super Mario Brothers.  The thing I loved about Super Mario is that if my digital character died, I would immediately be restored back at the beginning.  No problem.  If I fell into a hole, no problem, restart.  If I got eaten by a man eating pipe plant, no big deal, do over.  If I ran into a maniac mushroom, no problem have a new life right here at the beginning.  

When I played Super Mario, there was always a promise of new life after a mistake.  

Yet, that is not the way life really works.  We only have one life to live so we better make it count.  We better make the most of this time because one day it will be over.  There are no do overs in this life.  There is no rewind to start at the beginning. 

For the past 13 weeks we have been investigating the life of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah was a man determined to make the most of this one life.  He wanted to leave a legacy behind him and he knew that he only had a brief time to make a real difference.  

Nehemiah had received a burden from God to restore his people and his city, Jerusalem.  He journeys some 900 miles from Persia back to the city and begins a tremendous work.  Through great conflict and trails, Nehemiah completes the task in just over 50 days.  Following the rebuilding of the city, Nehemiah leads in a religious revival.  That’s where our story picks up today. 

For the past three weeks we have seen a nightly revival break out in the community and city of Jerusalem.  People have responded to the Word of God.  They volunteer to worship, obey, serve, and give.  The city is filling up with people.  As far as Nehemiah was concerned, the job was either complete or nearing completion.  If you remember, Nehemiah was the cup bearer to the King of Persia.  This was a job that he took seriously and it was by the King’s graciousness that allowed Nehemiah to come back home and do the work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.  So, once the city is up and running, Nehemiah returns to Persia for one year to visit and report to the King of everything that had been going one.  

We see this reflected in Nehemiah 13:6.  

However, when Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem, he discovers that the mighty awakening has turned into apathy.  Remember, Nehemiah became a symbol of God’s presence to the people. When he left, the people, even the priest lost their way.  They forgot about their promises to obey God’s law and their growth was grounded.  

So, what happened? What did the people do wrong during Nehemiah’s absence?

Nehemiah 13

I. Israel’s Issues

A. Deficient Leadership vs. 6
Nehemiah 13:6 ESV
While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. 

Leadership is everything.  How many of you have every heard of Bill Belichick?  That’s right, football season is just around the corner.  Bill Belichick is the famed coach of the New England Patriots.  Under his leadership, the Patriots have won 4 Super Bowls.  4!  His record in that time is a whopping 187 wins and only 69 losses.  In his first year, the Pats only won 5 games.  5 games…that’s it.  Yet the very next year, the Pats went 11-5 and won their first Super Bowl.  

Belichick’s leadership is what many believe catapulted the team to being one of the most well run organizations in all of sports.  Most everyone believes that the Pats would not have had the success they have enjoyed without him.  

Leadership is everything.  Good leaders can bring good results but an absence of leadership can lead to devastating results.  

Nehemiah was absent.  If there is a leadership void, something will always fill it.  That is not always a good thing.  Especially in the case of Jerusalem.  When Nehemiah left, there was no one qualified to run the operation.  

Have you ever heard, “you cannot expect what you do not inspect”?  Israel’s greatest problem was the faith they promised themselves into was dependent on the presence of Nehemiah.  As long as he was there, things were good.  Yet, when he left, things fell apart.  

We see this in churches still today.  I call it an inverted pyramid.  Everything hinges on the personality of the pastor.  As long as the pastor is there, things are running find and the church is stable and growing. However, when the pastor leaves, things fall apart and the church shrinks.  

Friends, that’s why I let other’s preach, teach, and lead.  That’s why I don’t make every hospital visit.  That’s why I allow others to step forward and lead.  This prevents our church from being an inverted pyramid.  The growth and stability of the church doesn’t rest square on my shoulders, it is spread out over the entirety of our staff and congregation.  

B. Disrespected God’s House vs. 1-9
Nehemiah 13:4-5 ESV
Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, 5 prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests.

Eliashib the priest was in charge over the chambers of the house of God.  The chambers were used to store goods for the Lord’s ministries and ministers.  However, Eliashib was a relative of Tobiah.  That’s right, the same Tobiah that tried on many occasions to disrupt the work in Jerusalem and also tried to kill Nehemiah.  While Nehemiah was away, Eliashib cleared out one of the storehouses and turned it into an apartment or dwelling for Tobiah.  

Tobiah was an Ammonite.  He was not part of God’s people and in every case, he stood in open opposition and rebellion against God.  God’s law clearly stated that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be allowed in the assembly of God.  Not only did the priest break this rule, he set up a home in God’s temple for Tobiah the Ammonite to live.  

C. Disregarded The Priest’s Needs vs. 10-11
Nehemiah 13:10 ESV
I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 

Remember, it was just last week that the people promised to be givers.  They would give their first, their best to the Lord.  The promised!  Nehemiah was gone one year and already the people are breaking their word.  Because of the priest’s poor leadership, the people neglect the needs of the Levites.  The Levites are in such dire need that they have to turn farming which took away from their Scriptural duties. 

D. Discounted The Sabbath vs. 15-18
Nehemiah 13:15 ESV
In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. 

Not only did the people promise to give and volunteer; they also promised to respect and honor the Sabbath.  The Sabbath day was installed to give the people proper rest.  It was a time for them to refocus on their relationship with God.  Because they choose to discount the Sabbath, their relationship with God suffered.  The pervious points mentioned I believe are closely connected to this central point.  Because the people took no time to focus on God, they couldn’t focus on the maintenance of God’s House and God’s servants.  

E. Disturbing Connections vs. 23-27
Nehemiah 13:23-24 ESV
23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 

Sin had not only infected the temple, the priests, the people, but it had also creeped into the family.  In verses 23-27 we discover that the people of Israel, God’s people, had begun to intermarry with the women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab.  In a very short time, the people of Israel were losing more than their racial identity, they were losing their language, their culture and most importantly their identity as God’s people.  The people of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab were famous for their plethora of false gods.  They were known to sacrifice their children at the alters of their gods.  These were truly evil people who had found their home among God’s people.  

Bottom Line: Israel Is Just Like Us…Promise Makers and Promise Breakers!

You know that’s the truth.  We humans make lots of promises don’t we.  Most we intend to keep and others we blow off as unimportant.  We are great at promise making but we struggle in promise keeping.  

I had a teacher one time tell me that a “promise is only 3 small letters away from compromise”.  That’s what happens to us all.  We make a promise.  We make a statement of commitment but then we begin to compromise on our promise. We begin to question it, doubt it and eventually the promise dies.  

Nehemiah 13:30-31 ESV
30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31 and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits.

Remember me, O my God, for good.

Israel’s Improvement 

A. Nehemiah’s Seriousness 

So, on the surface, chapter 13 of Nehemiah seems pretty horrible.  It seems that the people totally forgot about their commitment to God.  It would have been so easy for Nehemiah to come back and not want to rock the boat or ruffle feathers.  

Do you remember a few weeks ago we talked about Hole Spotters and Healers?  Do you remember that I said that God uses both?  Hole Spotters are the ones who see the problem and Healers are the ones who try to do something to fix the problem.  

Nehemiah was most certainly a Hole Spotter but he was also a healer.  Let me prove it to you.  

Isreal lacked leadership (Hole)
Nehemiah come back and led (Healer)

Israel disrespected God’s house and made created a living quarter for a pagan in the storeroom of God. (Hole)

Nehemiah threw out the trouble maker, all of his goods, cleansed the storeroom and filled it with goods.  
Nehemiah 13:8-9 ESV
And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.

Israel did not care for the needs of the ministries and minsters. (Hole)

Nehemiah confronts the leaders and the officials and creates of system so that the priests will be properly cared for. (Healer)
Nehemiah 13:11-12 ESV
 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 

Israel stops observing the Sabbath (Hole)

Nehemiah again confronts the evil in the city and calls people to a higher, loftier standard of Holy living. (Healer)
Nehemiah 13:17-18 ESV
Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”

Israel begins to intermarry into other cultures deleting their religious heritage and slowing killing their commitment to God. (Hole)

This is one of my particular favorites.  Apparently Nehemiah had had enough and it was spanking time.  Nehemiah again confronts the people, curses them, beats them and then pulls out their hair.  

Nehemiah was not playing around!

Nehemiah 13:25-27 ESV
And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?”

Friends I want to make a couple of points here.  

1. Sin is Sneaky!  Sin slowly, quietly and nearly without detection made its way into God’s people.  They never saw it coming.  It wasn’t until Nehemiah showed up that they even felt convicted over the sin.  Sin does that.  The nature of sin and sinfulness is so still and quiet that most of us are not concerned with it.  Sin is sneaky and if we are not guarding our hearts, our eyes, our ears and our minds, sin can overtake us like a flooding river.  

How many of you have heard the song “Slow Fade” By Casting Crowns?

Be careful little eyes what you see
It's the second glance that ties your hands
As darkness pulls the strings
Be careful little feet where you go
For it's the little feet behind you that are sure to follow

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white are turned to gray
And thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade

Be careful little ears what you hear
When flattering leads to compromises, the end is always near
Be careful little lips what you say
For empty words and promises leave broken hearts astray

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white are turned to gray
And thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade

The journey from your mind to your hands
Is shorter than you're thinking
Be careful if you think you stand
You just might be sinking

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white are turned to gray
And thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away

People never crumble in a day
Daddies never crumble in a day
Families never crumble in a day

Oh, be careful little eyes what you see
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above is looking down in love
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see

Let me show you how sneaky sin really is. How many of you watch the show Fixer Upper?  Right most of you do and I do as well.  Yes, I am guilty as charged, I am a man who enjoys Fixer Upper.  However, I cannot watch Fixer Upper?  It causes me to sin.  

I know that seems funny right.  Every time I watch Fixer Upper I wish I lived in that home instead of the home I have.  I wish my home was as clean as that home.  It makes me upset at my children for being children and not taking care of my home and putting up their stuff.  

When I watch that show, I covet, I am jealous, I am not content in any way.  This is the truth.  

Now is there anything wrong with that show, of course not.  No way.  But sin is funny isn’t it.  Sin finds a way into our hearts without us even knowing it.  

Now imagine all the other things we watch and the movies we go to.  Ask yourself this question, “how did the last television show or movie I saw edify my relationship with Christ”. 

See most of us don’t want to ask that question because we know the answer.  Friends I am so guilty of this.  

Proverbs 4:14-15 ESV
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.

2. Nehemiah Got Serious About Sin

Lastly, Nehemiah get serious about that sin.  So serious that he goes into a rage.  He rips out hair and beats people up.  This is serious business right.  

Now, I am not condoning hair pulling and beating up people.  That was Nehemiah’s context, our context is different.  However, Jesus took sin pretty serious as well.  Sure, He loved people, but when supposed God’s people sinned in God’s house, it was a different story.  

Mark 11:15-18 NIV
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

Makes me wonder, how serious do I take sin?  Does it bother me?  Listen to this statement by Felicia Alvarez, 

How should we respond to sin? I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually jump right in and remove it. Actually, I often excuse it by saying, “Everyone struggles with this sin.” And while it may very well be a universal struggle, that doesn’t give me permission to allow it in my life. As Christians, we shouldn’t tolerate any sin staining our lives.

“God cannot condone or excuse even the smallest sin. Therefore we cannot excuse ourselves for sinning only a little bit. As we grow spiritually, our sensitivity to sin increases… As God make us more aware of sin, we must be intolerant toward it and be willing to change. All believers should strive to be more tolerant of people but less tolerant of the sin in others and in themselves.”

Felicia Alverez (Popular Christian Blogger)

Paul was not one to play around with sin.  

Philippians 3:13-14 NIV
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

B. Nehemiah’s Secures His Legacy

The last statement from Nehemiah is “Remember me, O my God, for good.” Let’s be honest, chapter 13 is pretty brutal.  Nehemiah is not really seen as the nice, cool headed, calm person.  However, he is obedient and Godly.  Which one would you rather have?  Nehemiah did not concern himself with the opinions of those living disobedient lives.  He only concerned himself with the will of God.  

Friends, our legacy’s are on the line.  Now is not the time to be lazy.  Now is not the time to open the doors to little sins that grow into full blown cancer.  

My prayer for our people is that we will snuff out sin, serve the Lord, and see salvation come to all men. 

What’s your prayer?  What will be the closing remarks of your life?

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