Wednesday, 16 January 2008 06:27

Profitable Reflection on Ruins [1]

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This week we take up again our study of the book of Nehemiah. We have learned from chapter 1 how Nehemiah heard about the poor condition of the city of Jerusalem with her broken down walls still. Nehemiah was burdened about this, especially as it related to Gods honor and glory, and after fervent prayer concerning the matter he felt called by God to find a way to go to Jerusalem with the express purpose to help rebuild the walls of that royal city where Gods temple also was. The first part of chapter 2 then tells of Nehemiahs release from his work in the Persian kings palace, and in fact, the kings permission and blessing and provision for Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to help restore that city in such sad ruins still after so many years. This brings us then to Nehemiah 2:11-20. Let us read this passage and then study it together. Hear now the Word of the Lord from the inspired writing of Nehemiah himself, So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king's pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned. And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work. Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king's words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king? Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.

The Holy Spirit in and with the Bible draws some clear and vivid pictures for us. Who of us doesnt have some picture in our minds in connection with Nehemiahs secret night tour of the ruins of Jerusalem as described in this Scripture passage? But why would this be in the Bible? Let us think about that as we now focus on this night trip of Nehemiah viewing and inspecting the ruins of the broken downs walls of Jerusalem. He went on this secret mission, we are told, and then we are taken along with him to observe and take note of the ruins of Jerusalem. While almost all the commentators say too it is impossible for us to exactly follow the route of his secret night tour going from this Gate to that Pool and then another Gate yet we surely are told enough that we can in our own minds see him looking at the rubble and destruction left behind still after the city had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar so many years before. You can imagine the black-charred gates, and you see the broken down, crushed and smashed walls, the stone rubbles and ruins. Especially graphic is that little detail of how at one spot, even the single animal, most likely a mule, could not pass through or over for the way was all blocked by the ruins spread over the path. Cant you just see that animal standing there, not knowing what to do, where to move, and Nehemiah sitting on that beast, just taking it in, the utter measure of destruction left behind?

Can you picture it before your mind, the ruins of Jerusalem as Nehemiah inspects that under the night sky once long ago? Now imagine if our text moved straight from verses 11-17 and skipped over 12-16. The text would still flow and make a lot of sense. But God saw fit to include this detail about Nehemiahs secret tour of the ruins and we are granted to go along with Nehemiah on his secret mission. Why did God include this in the Bible? Just to make the story more interesting for us? That may be a reason but Im sure there are other reasons as well. Consider with me the following points under the theme, Profitable reflection on ruins.

For one, reflection on ruins is profitable for any and every rebuilding project. We know that Nehemiah came to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city. But for him to begin a rebuilding project he had to face squarely and honestly the situation as it was. Part of his motivating others later for the rebuilding project was Nehemiahs statement as we read it in verse 17, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach [disgrace or such a shameful site]. The ruins of the city and the ugliness and shamefulness of this present condition had to be clearly seen and exposed, in order for there to come also true motivation for change.

Can we not also, and should we not, apply this spiritually speaking as well? For a person to see the need for salvation and a turning around in his or her life from a self-centered, ungodly, and worldly life, doesnt it have to be made evident and clearly exposed what spiritual ruin and devastation, what wickedness and wrongness before God and others such a life lived actually is! Must not our sins and sinfulness, yours and mine by nature, be vividly and truly brought before our eyes, minds, and hearts before anyone will actually begin to seek after God and His right and holy ways? Without conviction of sin and something of our total depravity as fallen sinners before God, of ourselves, who will be converted truly to God? No-one!

Here we should note something very striking and scary about this Scripture passage, if you reflect on it. It seems almost all the people in Jerusalem, and I mean now the religious people, the covenant people of God there, had become used to and okay with and more or less just accepted the broken down walls of Jerusalem. The rubble and ruins no longer bothered them too much, if at all. This is the reality of fallen mankind, also of us by nature. We can get used to sin and be blind and numb to the ruins of wickedness and evil and be unconcerned about it all, not realizing the seriousness of the Fall into sin and the shamefulness of it all before God and man.

Are you into profitable reflection on the ruin and destruction and devastation of your sins and sinfulness? Do you see and take to heart the vanity and hopelessness and evil of this worlds ungodly, self-seeking, God-dishonoring ways? Does sin bother you? Does evil grieve you? When you look at the effects of sin and mans sinfulness, also your own sins and sinfulness, do you see how we have defied God and become a shame and blot to Him rather than a blessing and honor to Him? God created man and this whole world all for His praise, but see what fallen man does, worshipping the creature and self and denying God, living for pleasure mostly and careless about God and good as long as the flesh is served. Are we too busy in life grasping for this and that and going here and there that we have no time any more even to take in the ruins as a result of sin?

Profitable reflection on ruins as in this Bible passage is something basic to true revival, true reformation, and any rebuilding project to Gods praise. Do you see this and truly believe this as well? The Bible teaches and shows over and over that essential and basic to being a true Christian and living in the comfort of belonging to Christ as your only Saviour and Lord is also realizing how great our sins and miseries are, left to ourselves. This is part of Holy Spirit worked conversion and Christian experience. Do you know of it in your own life too?

Dear friends, do you think we recognize enough or are conscious and convicted as we should be of our sins and miseries, our wrongdoings, and wicked offensiveness before God, left to ourselves? Are you admitting to, and horrified with, even the least transgression against Gods law, and the smallest deviation from His Word and will in doctrine and life? Or have you become complacent and indifferent about false doctrine and wrong teaching, and about this sin and that immorality? It is almost as if the divine Author would have us pick up some of the rubble of the Jerusalem ruins in this Scripture passage and to feel it deep in our soul. Do you feel deep in your soul how sinful sin is? How wrong always, and mean always, and self-centered always any and every transgression against Gods Word and will truly is. Do you acknowledge how justly we deserve of ourselves nothing but Gods severe and righteous judgment for all our sins and sinfulness? Are you conscious of and concerned about the shamefulness before God of any and all sin, private or public, in our lives and any one elses as well?

Do you need a wake-up call perhaps? Do you need to see the ruins of your sin and the wrongness of your life not all lived out for God and good? Have you let so many earthly interests and worldly ways take precedence over the things of God and the worship of God and the ways of God and godliness? Profitable reflection on ruins as Nehemiah here shows is something basic to true renewal and really to true conversion. Will you ask the Holy Spirit to bless this word to you, that it be profitable reflection on the ruins on account of sin, leading you in true faith and repentance to Jesus Christ, the only Saviour for sinners like us?

Profitable reflection on ruins involves more than taking stock of our sins and sinfulness, as we hope to learn next week, but for now let this point penetrate in your life and conscience too. Is there some particular rubble and ruin that stares you in the face that you need to confess and turn to the Saviour for forgiveness and renewal? Jesus is the Great Re-builder of broken down lives, and the gospel invitation is to turn to Him for His mercy and saving help while it is still the day of grace. Profitable reflection on ruins, even with just this first point, wont be an unprofitable reflection for you, will it? Amen.

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