[otw_shortcode_info_box border_type=”bordered” border_color_class=”otw-black-border” border_style=”bordered” shadow=”shadow-down-right” rounded_corners=”rounded-10″]This sermon is part of our Expository Preaching Collective on the Book of Nehemiah. Follow the link below to know more about What Expository preaching is and Why is it important to us. (Click here)[/otw_shortcode_info_box]
Good morning Gathering! It brings me so much joy to be able to say that, and to be with you in person this morning. I want you to know that, even though there are stretches of time where we’re not with you in person, that doesn’t mean that we’re not lifting you up in prayer and giving thanks to God for you constantly.
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The truth is that it brings me so much joy to be able to partner with you in the work that’s happening here in Mumbai. I feel like Paul when he wrote to the Philippians and said: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
[bctt tweet=”Here’s what Celebrating & Rejoicing in the Gospel looks like. (Nehemiah 12:27-43)” username=”gatheringmumbai”]
That is exactly how I feel. That is exactly how all of us feel in the Red Tree family of churches. It is a blessing to have family here in Mumbai and for us to be able to partner together in this great work — both here & in the US — because the need is so great IN BOTH PLACES.
I was reminded of the overwhelming need that exists here in this city as my plane landed on Thursday night. I saw fireworks from the window of the plane as we were landing and wasn’t sure what kind of celebration was happening.
But then, to drive the streets to Saju & Jane’s house, and realize that it was a festival celebrating Ganesh. My heart was reminded of the amount and the depth of lostness in Mumbai and just how desperately people need to hear the gospel. Because they’re all searching for something. That’s what I was reminded of, as we weaved through parades, and music, and dancing — — — all to an idol that will never bring the satisfaction, and contentment, and fulfillment that the people are looking for.
They won’t find it because those things are only found in the Creator & Sustainer of life. They’re only found in The Redeemer — — The One who has made the way for us to be reconciled to God.
So, what we see around us is utter lostness. Which isn’t much different than my context in the US — — it just looks more Christian on the surface. But, there is pervasive lostness there as well. The idols might not be as external and obvious, but the people have still taken idols into their hearts. Which is, in some ways, even more dangerous.
People in my culture are searching for the same satisfaction, and contentment, and fulfillment and they’re also searching in the wrong places. They have set up idols in their hearts that are consuming their affections and their worship. THIS IS WHY WE NEED THE GOSPEL. This is why the work that’s happening here in Mumbai and the work that’s happening in St. Louis is the same work.
Different culture, different context, same lostness. And the answer to that lostness is the same as well. Because there is but one way to be reconciled to God — — THE GOSPEL.
I love Ezekiel chapter 14 because it talks directly about the issue of idolatry in our lives and, more importantly, it shows us how God deals with us in the midst of our idolatry. Let me just read this for you quickly and, as I read, just listen to the language. This is The Lord speaking to Ezekiel.
“Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.”
Doesn’t that tell us something profound about God? I think it tells us something very encouraging about God. That, in the face of our rebellion, in the face of our taking up idols, in the face of us worshiping the creature rather than the creator — all things that deserve only condemnation, and wrath, and separation from God. In the face of those things God responds with forbearance, and patience, and ultimately with Grace. Not ignoring the idols that we’ve set up as a stumbling block between our heart & His. But dealing directly with the multitude of our idols.
Why? Because He loves us! Because He loves us enough to lay hold of our hearts. Because He loves us enough to pursue us even when we are intent on running from Him and hiding our sin. Isn’t that beautiful?
Listen, some of you are here this morning and that’s all that you need to hear from this message. You’re playing “hide & go seek” with God. You’re playing “hide & go seek” with your sin. You’ve set up idols in your heart as a stumbling block between you & God. And it’s breeding feelings of guilt, and shame, and separation. And so, your tendency is to try to hide those things from God (just like Adam & Eve in the garden, hiding in the bushes).
The good news is that God loves you way too much to let you play that game. He will pursue you & work on you until you show Him what you’re trying to hide. I saying “trying” because you can’t hide anything from God.
Isn’t that amazing news this morning church? That, in the face of our rebellion, sin and idolatry, God loves us & pursues us through His Son Jesus Christ. That’s the Gospel.
It’s the good news that, over & above our rebellion, Jesus Christ has laid down His life so that His righteousness could be credited to us by grace through faith. And through His perfect righteousness we are reconciled to The Father and adopted as sons & daughters. And so, we no longer have to hide anything.
That’s the gospel. And that’s what we are here to celebrate this morning. That’s why we gather like this every week. That’s why we gather in gospel communities throughout the week. That’s why we learn to think missionally where we work, live & play. It’s all for the glory of God and the name & fame of Jesus Christ.
And — what a gift that we get to do that this morning in The Book of Nehemiah === === === If you have a Bible with you, I’d invite you to turn to Nehemiah chapter 12 this morning.
It’s hard to believe but we’re just a couple of months away from wrapping up this amazing book of the Bible. I don’t know about you, but this journey through Nehemiah has done so much to enlarge my view of the character & nature of God. It’s done so much to stir my affections for Christ. And, I pray that it’s been a blessing for The Gathering and for each of you individually. That God has revealed Himself more & more to you, and that He’s drawn you into greater intimacy through the process.
Alright, we will be in chapter 12, looking specifically at verses 27 – 42 this morning. Let’s go to The Lord in prayer and ask Him to work in us this morning. Let’s ask Him to lay hold of our hearts so that we might cast down our idols.
Read NEHEMIAH 12:27-42 (Click here to read the text)
Alright, so let’s spend a few minutes talking about the basics of what’s happening here so that we’re all on the same page. After that, we can dig down a bit and talk about some gospel implications for our lives.
Here’s basically what’s happening. As the header in your Bible suggests, we’re reading about the official dedication of the wall. As we have seen throughout this project, there has been no shortage of opposition, and frustration, and obstacles.
There has been opposition from outside the people of God. There has been opposition from within the people of God. And, in the midst of it all, God has led His people (through Nehemiah) to this day where the work is completed.
And, what we see in this text is the people have now gathered to celebrate God and dedicate the wall. It’s really a similar picture to what we see in Ezra chapter 6, where the people gather together (in what’s essentially a massive worship service) to dedicate the Temple.
And so, as we just read, the people send for the Levites who are settled around the city of Jerusalem. Which, by the way, is a very normal thing. The Levites and Priests served for a specific few weeks every year and, the rest of the time, they were home tending to their families.
So they brought them back into Jerusalem for the celebration and the dedication. And what was the point of the dedication? Well, they were essentially declaring that this city belongs to God. They were announcing the distinctness of Jerusalem because of the presence of God.
That’s basically what’s happening. Now, before we get to the deeper implications of where I think God wants us to go this morning, I think it’s worth pointing out something that exists in the correlation between the dedication of the wall here in Nehemiah chapter 12 and the dedication of the Temple in Ezra chapter 6.
When we think about the dedication of The Temple, that is an overtly spiritual event because you’re dealing with The Temple. After all, that’s the dwelling place of God. That’s where His presence was intended to reside. That’s where worship happened and sacrifices were offered.
So, you read about the dedication of the Temple and you think, “Well yeah, that was a worship service because we’re talking about The Temple!” But, what’s fascinating to me is that we see the same kind of worship celebration with the dedication of the wall.
Which, on the surface, doesn’t seem like as spiritual an issue as The Temple. The wall feels more like a civic issue (the protection of the city & the people in it). And yet, the worship celebration is just as detailed, and just as weighty, and just as celebratory as with the Temple.
Now, I think that raises a really important point that we need to consider in our lives. Our tendency is to compartmentalize areas of our lives. We tend to think in terms of work, and family, and our faith, and our social circles, and our duty as citizens all as separate areas.
Which — can easily lead to a lifestyle where our worship is reserved exclusively for the “spiritual” or “church” compartments. But that’s not what living out the gospel looks like at all. Living out the gospel (being a Christian) means that worship permeates every single area of our lives. To the point where we see our families — — as worship. We see our jobs — — as worship. We see our role as citizens & our civic duty — — as worship. We see social circles & neighborhoods — — as worship. We understand that they are all opportunities to glorify God & magnify the gospel.
Being a Christ-follower means that we break down the walls of compartmentalization in our lives. It means that we understand & live in such a way that living for the glory of God & worshiping Him with our whole lives permeates, more and more, every single area — NO MATTER THE COST.
The people in this text are celebrating the work of God and worshiping Him for the rebuilding of the wall the same way they did with the rebuilding of The Temple. That’s because they knew that everything is spiritual. They knew that everything is about what God is doing and every situation represents an opportunity to proclaim His greatness.
That’s very helpful if we’re actually going to live out the gospel and see the gospel proclaimed through our lives. And that’s basically what’s happening here. So, knowing that, how does this speak to our lives and inform what God has called us to?
Let me point out a few things that really had an impact on my heart as I studied this text. First, when you look at the circumstances of where the people find themselves and the overall scope of resettling Jerusalem, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Just think about this. They still have to address issues of rebuilding other buildings, and establishing organization in the city. There are systems that still need to be put in place and infrastructure that needs to be developed. The list of things that still need to be accomplished goes on and on. And yet, the people are celebrating. There’s so much work still before them, and yet, they’re worshiping in the midst of it all. Here’s what I find so fascinating about that; we must learn how to celebrate in the midst of the struggle. We must learn to celebrate in the midst of the mission, while there’s still work to be done.
I think it’s really easy for the church to slip into the mind-set that we are waiting to celebrate, and waiting to rejoice, until the work is finally and ultimately done. And that’s true! We are waiting for Christ’s return. We are waiting for God to complete His redemptive work. We are waiting for everything to be set right and returned to its proper order. And we will celebrate when that happens, there’s no question. But, if we don’t learn to celebrate in the midst of the work still happening, it can easily produce a depressed, hopeless mentality among the people of God. And, sadly, that happens all too often in the church today).
Can I just say something that should be incredibly obvious for us? CHRIST HAS ALREADY WON THE DAY!!!! Sure the battle is not yet over, but the victory has already been secured by Jesus. === === And so, WE CELEBRATE THE WORK OF GOD, right now!!!! WE REJOICE, right now!!!!
It’s amazing when you look at the things that Scripture says are true of us right now (not later) but right now… (PAUSE)…
- Co-heirs with Christ
- Adopted sons & daughters — (literally children of God)
- A royal priesthood
- A holy nation — (Not just becoming holy. He has made you holy in Christ)
- A people for God’s own possession
- Ambassadors // Ministers // Proclaimers of His excellencies
We could spend a long time listing out all the things that Scripture says are true of you (RIGHT NOW) if you are in Christ. Is that not cause to celebrate? You’re not waiting for joy, Psalm 16 says, “In His presence is a fullness of joy.” Guess what? By the blood of Jesus have you been brought near into the presence of the most High God. There is joy RIGHT NOW.
SO, my first encouragement to all of us is that we learn to celebrate and express joy in the midst of the work that God has called us to right now. It is good and right to celebrate during the struggle.
The other thing I would point to is THE REASON THAT WE CELEBRATE. This was true of the people in this text, and it’s just as true for us today. Let me point to 3 things that drive celebration & joy in our hearts.
** We celebrate the presence of God
** We celebrate the work of God
** We celebrate God being made known through us
I want you to think about this phrase in verse 43 for just a moment. “For God had made them rejoice with great joy…” Isn’t that an interesting phrase? “God had made them rejoice.” I’ve been thinking about that for the last week or so. What does it mean that God would make His people rejoice with great joy?
Well, let’s think about the answer to that based on the 3 points I just listed. We need to remember that God is with us (He’s present), and that God is doing His work among us, and that He’s using us to make His glory known to the world.
I want to contend this morning that those things WILL produce joy in us. His presence, His work and His mission. Those things WILL produce joy in His people. Not perfectly and not in every season of life. But, as our sanctification progresses, our joy will increase along with it.
And, if there’s one thing that the people of God should be known for, it’s joy! If there’s one thing that God’s church should be known for, it’s joy! Just think about this for a moment: What is the message that’s presented by a lot of churches right now? Sometimes it’s moralism & religiosity. In some cases it’s separation from the world and the attitude, “You’re wrong & we’re right!” There can be all kinds of messages that come from churches. But I want to contend this morning that, when the world looks at the church, the primary thing that they should see is JOY. Joy that is emanating from the presence of God & the work of God in our lives.
And that’s produced by the presence of God among His people, which Christ has purchased for us, and by the work of God among His people, and by the work of God through His people to glorify His name to the world.
I love how Nehemiah points out — — that “The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” Isn’t that how this is supposed to be? That’s the whole point of what God is doing. The people here are declaring to the world that they are God’s and He is theirs. They are declaring that He’s with them and that He’s moving. They are declaring that He is real and that He is GLORIOUS!!!!!
This is Psalm 67 — — — “God Bless us and be gracious to us and make your face to shine upon us…” That’s verse 1. We love verse 1, don’t we? Yeah, but you can’t stop at verse 1.
“God Bless us & be gracious to us & make your face to shine upon us, SO THAT your way will be known on the earth, SO THAT your saving power will be seen among the nations.”
Church, that’s what this is all about. Every single thing that God is doing in us, and among us, and through us, is for the purpose displaying His glory to the world around us!
And, ultimately, that fills us with more joy. Not just because we are His. Not just because He is with us. Not just because He has reconciled us through the life, death & resurrection of His Son. But, because His name is being proclaimed through us.
Because His name is being brought to bear against the darkness of our world and the idolatry that exists in the hearts of people. Because His gospel is going forward and pushing back the darkness in places like St. Louis & Mumbai & every other corner of the earth.
BECAUSE ALL OF THIS IS FOR HIM