There once was a denomination with hundreds of congregations, ministers, and elders. More than five million Christians called this denomination “my church”. Generation of generation was born, baptised and married there and once again had their children baptised.
For more than 300 years this strong Reformed church was a beacon for other denominations holding to the same doctrine right across the world.
But then, very slowly, liberalism crept into the colleges and a new theology was introduced. The authority of the Word was questioned, social gospel was introduced and soon after came liberation theology. It all came to a point at a general assembly. Those who wanted to hold to conservative theology was forced to walk out and start a new denomination. They lost all congregational property.
At the first gathering of one of the new congregations the elders were gathered under a tree on a cold and windy Lord’s Day while the congregation filled a small school hall. An elder made this remark,
”Today we start again – no buildings, not even a cup or a saucer or a tea pot – but we have the Word of God with all its promises. Let us pray!”
Something like that must have been in the mind of Nehemiah and the other leaders as we read this morning. Before the Exile the people of God compromised the purity of worship as God instituted it. The Bible states:
The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because He had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. (2 Chronicles 36:15–16, NIV)
They spent 70 years in exile, working as slaves of the Babylonians.
Our reading from Nehemiah takes us to the year 458B.C. after the people returned to Israel from Babylon where they had been in exile for 70 years. Nehemiah arrived back in Jerusalem, and that night he took his horse and rode around what used to be the wall. He then said to the leaders:
Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” (Nehemiah 2:17, NIV)
Nehemiah put his trust in the Lord:
I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. (Nehemiah 2:18, NIV)
By rebuilding the walls and the city, they were doing God’s work. It was God’s command for them do to so. In the cause of building these walls they ran into all sorts of problems, mainly from the enemy who didn’t want to see the people of God establishing themselves again and planting the worship of the God of Heaven in the land of Israel.
Sanballat was governor of Samaria, and Tobiah, governor of Ammon, and Geshem, king of Kedar. Rebuilding the walls would not be easy.
Why building walls and what are they?
We are God’s people and we are called to build the walls of the city of God. The question now is, “What do we understand in rebuilding the walls of the city of God in the era of the New Testament?” I would think there are at least 3 reasons or ways to understand why as a New Testament church we are called to build walls.
To build walls is to provide protection
That was the reason in the OT. As church we are under attack all the time. We need to have an eye for the battle we are constantly engaged in. There are Christians of course who would not know what we are talking about, because so many are not even involved in the battle.
But the battle in Australia is not a physical one – not yet! – however if we look at places like the Middle East that is not necessarily excluded. The battle at the moment is really a battle for our minds. We are flooded with worldly philosophies which can inflict enormous disaster on the church if we are not aware of it. The philosophies of post-modernism and multiculturalism contains devastating ideas. It is not the time and place to explain this, but what it really says is that there is not such a thing as absolute truth, and that the way all cultures express their religious ideas are right and should be tolerated. All can be wrong, but all can be right. We need to be tolerant and not force our views on others.
To build walls is to define the boundaries of the church
Secondly, the next reason for building the walls of the church, is to define the boundaries of the church. We read in Revelation 11 of the measuring line used to measure the temple. Those within the walls of the temple are considered to be part of the people of God. Those who are found outside of these walls, are not to be counted as the people of God. They are considered to be part of the heathen and enemy of God.
The same applies to our work today. We should aim to take the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the un-discipled; that is our Great Commission. But never ever should we lower the standard of the Bible in regards to the worship of God. The church is a body of people holy to the Lord, bought in the blood of Jesus Christ and therefore there should be a clear separation, a clear boundary between world and church.
Building the walls and the city of God is to make the church of the Lord visible in the world
But there is a third reason to build the walls of the church. Building the walls and the city of God is to make the church of the Lord visible in the world. It is impossible to have city and not one seeing it. The Lord declared that his church is like a city on a mountain. It has to be seen, its work has to be noticed; we cannot be private investigators in God’s secret service. The Church is not God’s secret service.
By building the city of God we declare very publicly and openly that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour, that there is no salvation apart from Him, and that we want to glorify Him by bringing all power and dominion, yes every though captive to make it obedient to Christ. So, in this sense the size of city within the walls of the city of God are not static, it is ever growing as the Kingdom of God is ever growing till the return of the Lord Jesus Christ on the last day.
Who should be building?
Enthusiastic and faithful teamworkers
Chapter 3 tells a fascinating story of the people of God working together as one body.
There were all classes of people working, coming from all over the country, leaving their own interests alone for the time being. The work started at the north-eastern part of the wall.
We read of the High Priest and his fellow priests restoring the Sheep Gate, its floors and the Tower of Hundred.
Then the men of Jericho took the next section. They came from afar, down out of the Jordan Valley. Others took the next section, followed by others. There were others from Tekoa to the south of Jerusalem where the prophet Amos came from.
Come around down the wall in a counter-clock wise direction and you find the Gibeonites. Remember, this lot was not originally part of Israel, and under Joshua deceived the Israelites in exchange for safety and security. Here we find them honouring their inclusion into the people of God.
We find rulers of districts, Levites (the clergymen of the day), goldsmiths, perfume-makers and daughters of rulers. Some work closed to their homes, others came from afar and stayed till the work was done. Some repaired a small section, others repaired as much as 500 meters. As some became exhausted and ran out of energy, others took over from them and completed that section.
Those on the fence
But tragically, some of the congregation compromised themselves politically with Sanballat and Tobiah. They were called the “nobles”:
… but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. (Nehemiah 3:5, NIV)
Why? Not all Jews were taken into captivity when the rest went into exile. Some were left to mind their own business and others were slaves to those who occupied Samaria and Judah during the 70 years of exile.
Over the years this small group compromised even more their religious principles: they intermarried with non-Jews. The Governor of Amon married a daughter of a noble Jew, and the son of governor married and Jewish girl.
They had a foot on either side of the fence. Theirs was divided loyalty. They did not want to be politically incorrect. They did not want to upset those who they befriended before the exiles returned to rebuild the walls
…they kept reporting to me his (Tobiah’s) good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me. (Nehemiah 6:18–19, NIV)
The last two weeks we heard the Word of God on the Spirit of God equipping his church for service. We heard last week that apostles, evangelist and pastors are given to the congregation to equip them for service. All members of the congregation must use whatever they have received from God to the benefit and upbuilding of the rest of the body.
We look at how this principle worked itself out in Old Testament church as all people, under the leadership of men inspired by the Holy Spirit equipped others with skills to build the tabernacle. All did some part.
Today we saw people of walks of life helped build the walls of the city.
The question now is: How are we going with the building of God’s Kingdom? Are you part of the team, working hard, doing what you can with the gifts God entrusted to you? Or maybe, you have compromised yourself with this world that you are of now use on either side of the fence.
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 10 July 2016