Out text for this Sunday is from the book of Nehemiah 5:1-13.
We are looking at the story of Nehemiah who when he hears the sad condition of his people leaves the King’s palace where he was working as a cup bearer to help his people build the broken wall so they can live with freedom and security.
In the last few weeks we saw how Nehemiah and the people of Israel regardless of the opposition and threat from the enemy continue to remain faithful to Gods calling. Last Sunday we learnt that to remain faithful to the Kingdom we have to trust in God’s sovereignty, continue to remain together in community and guard our hearts against the evil schemes of the enemy that distract us from serving Him faithfully.
In Nehemiah chapter 5 we see a change in the plot. After wrestling with opposition from their enemies outside and inside who were against them building the wall, now the focus shifts to a more serious issue. The issue now is that the people are not able to get enough grain to feed their families and keep them alive.
It is not because there was no food supply in the city but because they did not have enough money to buy them from the vendors.
To give you a background, in those days the people had to pay high taxes to the King.
Ezra 4:20 – And mighty kings had been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid.
One of the reason the kings were against the building of the walls were because they feared the people wouldn’t pay the taxes if the city walls are built.
Ezra 4:13 – Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired.
Documents from Babylonia show that many had to mortgage their fields and orchards to get silver for the payment of taxes to the king. In many cases they were unable to redeem their property, and became landless hired laborers; sometimes they were compelled to give away their children into slavery. According to some Egyptian data, the taxation was so heavy that the peasants fled to the surrounding cities, but were arrested by the nomarchs and brought back by force.
Nehemiah 5:2-5 is describing the same situation for us.
For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
On the heels of unity as described in chapter 4, because of oppression from outside and inside, poverty was rampant now in the land. Nehemiah was calling on the officials to stop the unlawful practice of exacting interest and return the fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that they’ve have been exacting from them.
This act was creating anger within him v.6 and he had to check his spirit.
Here’s a people of God who came out of slavery & exile, united back because of Nehemiah to build the walls, working together for one purpose but yet we now see those who still seek their own welfare in a clear case of exploitation.
What do we learn from this passage?
Of course the easy application is that we shouldn’t charge crippling interest to the people of God or any people for that matter, (In what regards?) but I want us to look at this passage from a slightly different view.
Here’s the picture I want to paint for you – The people legally had an obligation to pay back their debt to the King by whatever means, but a godly man called Nehemiah, sacrifices his own comfort, his own pleasures, invests his own money and resources to come and fight for these people so they can have secured and a bright future. And in return Nehemiah is now pleading with the people to do the same with each other to forgive debts, stop taking interest, return the fields, the vineyards, money etc.
[bctt tweet=”Nehemiah 5:1-13 paints a beautiful picture of what the gospel does & what it expects.” username=”gatheringmumbai”]
I think it’s a beautiful picture of the gospel – what it does to us & what it expects from us.
Think about it – We legally owe a debt to God because of our sin, but He sent His own son Jesus to pay our debt and to restore our relation back to God and one another. And now he expects us to do the same with others so that the work of the Kingdom can continue.
Now, let’s turn to Matthew 18:21-35 where Jesus shares a similar story and is talking about the same application I just shared with you.
In the light of these 2 stories first and foremost I want to spend some time talking about what it means to be indebted to God so we can have an overall perspective of what it means to forgive others.
We’re not talking about some man who gave us few lakhs of rupees so we can make a fortune out of it and give it back to him. We’re talking about God, the maker of the universe. They say that the visible universe contains 10,000 billion galaxies, each one of these galaxies contains about 100 billion stars.
Our sun is one of the stars from one of those galaxies. The very closest star to our solar system, Alpha Centauri, would take 4.3 years to travel to at the speed of light. Our earth is a tiny little planet that revolves around this sun and we are literally like bacteria living on this planet.
Here’s why I wanted to give this picture, I want you to know that we are talking about someone to whom we owe everything, our mere existence is a mercy of God. No matter what we do we can never ever pay Him back anything.
A God who was there from eternity one day decided to create the world and us. And why did he create the world and us?
I love the way Timothy Keller answers this question in his book Center church.
He says “The answer is what makes the Christian understanding of God profound and unique. While there is only one God, within God’s being there are three persons – Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit – who are equally God and who have loved, adored, served, and enjoyed one another from all eternity. If God were uni-personal, then he would have not known love until he created other beings. In that case, love and community would not have been essential to his character; it would have emerged later. But God is triune, and therefore love, friendship, and community are intrinsic to him and at the heart of all reality. So a triune God created us (John 1:1-4), but he would not have created us to get the joy of mutual love and service, because he already had that. Rather, he created us to share in his love and service and to live in the same way with one another.”
[bctt tweet=”God created us to share in his love and service and to live in the same way with one another.” username=”gatheringmumbai”]
God created us to adore and serve him and to love others. By living this way, we would have been completely happy and enjoyed a perfect world. But instead, the whole human race turned away from God, rebelling against his authority. Instead of living for God and our neighbors, we live lives of self-centeredness. Because our relationship with God has broken, all other relationships – with other human beings, with our very selves, and with the created world – are also ruptured.
We owe God a lot that we can never repay him back.
God has all the reason to wipe us out and he can do it in an instance. All he has to do is change the settings of this universe to maybe .000000000000001%. We will be gone at the wink of an eye. No time to even feel bad or cry for each other.
But here’s the beautiful thing. God didn’t just create us for his pleasure but the Bible says he loves us, he made us in His own image. Because Love is His character he couldn’t see us in our sinfulness.
Ephesians 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved.
1 John 4:9-11 – In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
That’s the point I want to drive you to this morning. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
How can we not forgive one another when we ourselves have been forgiven of our own sins?
I don’t want to know how badly somebody hurt you because one thing is for sure that it can’t be more worse than our offence towards God. We have terribly hurt God with our self-centeredness, rebellion and unholy ways, and we continue to do them every single day.
Yet he says “If you confess your sins, I am faithful and just and will forgive your sins and purify you from all righteousness” – 1 John 1:9 “Repent, then, and turn to me, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from me” – Acts 3:19
So, let’s learn to forgive others just as God has forgiven us.
When Nehemiah said to the people in verse 9 onwards
“The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.
I believe God is calling us to do some serious thinking here and to take some drastic steps. And as we step out in obedience and forgive one another, love one another and live in peace for the sake of Gods kingdom – Can we respond to our offenders as God responded to us.
1. Can we hold back anger and respond in Love?
V6 – Nehemiah took counsel with himself = Literally translated, “He dominated his feelings” == He was angry, but he didn’t respond out of his anger.
God did not respond to our sins in anger. David beautifully says in Psalms 103:10 “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”
Can we also hold back our anger and respond in love towards one another as God responds to us?
2. Can we forget the feelings of hurt and respond in Love?
In Psalms 103:11-12 David says “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
Here’s an interesting thing about that verse –
If you drive to south to the South Pole, then begin driving north till you reached the North Pole, you can travel south again to your starting point. However, you could travel around the world millions of time going east, reaching your starting point over and over without ever driving in any direction but east. You will realize that though there is a South Pole and a North Pole, there is no East Pole and no West Pole. There is no place at which east meets west.
And that’s how far God has removed our transgressions.
Though it is difficult to completely forget what others have done to us, it is definitely possible to forget the feeling and embrace with love.
3. Now that we’ve learnt about forgetting the feeling of hurt can we also stop talking about it anymore and speak positive words?
After all that we have done against God, He still chooses to speak words of encouragement and promises a great future. Isn’t it? And shouldn’t we do the same?
Remember, our words play a very important role. They can be used to show love and affection and also to destroy a person to the core.
Gossip is one of the most harmful sins that we Christians have been neglecting and we have to stop it so that God can heal our wounds and use us for His glory.
There is no point in talking about what happened in the past because what is ahead of us is more glorious and beautiful. So let’s concentrate our energies toward the future.