Monday, 23 June 2008 15:03

Relevant Instruction [2]

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This is our second message on Nehemiah 13, and the last one on this inspired book of the Bible. We mentioned last time that this chapter comes as somewhat of a disappointment. After all Nehemiahs reforms led by God and the great wonder of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, when Nehemiah returns to the city after being away for some years, he finds it in such grievous spiritual decline again. We saw last time how the chapter describes four main areas of sad spiritual decline. Verses 4-9 tell about a room being provided in the temple quarters itself for one of the leading enemies of Gods people, bringing out evil compromises with the world; verses 10-14 tell about the people not giving faithfully for the temple priesthood and the services; verses 15-22 mention how the Sabbath day was so violated; and verses 23-29 tell of growing breakdown of godly families with all too many involved in mixed marriages with the heathens. Altogether, as we saw last time, what a true commentary this passage gives on the sinfulness of mankind. How thankful we can be for the Bibles plain honesty in describing us, as we truly are, as fallen sinful people in ourselves and showing the different ways this shows itself so often. The book of Nehemiah is one more of the 66 inspired books that make up the Bible which, with all the rest, so points out our great need of the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour of sinners. Jesus is the Redeemer and Reformer and Ruler above all!

We are studying Nehemiah 13 under the theme, Take Note! Let us together take note of the sad decline Nehemiah met with when he returned to Jerusalem after some years away, the serious disciplines he administered, and the saintly devotion he showed. Having highlighted the sad decline last week, we now look at the serious discipline Nehemiah exercised and then the saintly devotion he was an example of. How relevant and instructive also for our times is this portion of Holy Scripture. Come and take note with me what God will teach us from His holy Word.

This sad decline telling of the last history in the Old Testament, which the book of Malachi [the last book in the Old Testament] fully falls in line with too, is sad to read about. How it should grip and convict us so that we cant be careful enough and prayerful enough personally and in seeking to lead our families and being a Christian church also in our times. Here let us take note of the serious discipline that Nehemiah administered.

What comes across in dealing with all four problem areas is that Nehemiah did not tolerate any compromise with evil, and he showed holiness is not something negotiable and that the least departure from Gods ways is intolerable, unacceptable, and inexcusable too. Nehemiah dealt strictly and swiftly and sweepingly with the problems, calling the people to conversion and to clean up their act or else! While Nehemiah here also acted as governor and ruler yet there is very much to learn from his response to the evils in his time in connection with personal and family life, and church life too. Consider the following points about his serious discipline against the evils he met with.

For one, take note how Nehemiah faced the problems head on. In each case he didnt ignore it or minimize it, but he dealt with the wrong. Nehemiah wouldnt accept a room for Tobiah in the temple complex, and he rebuked the leaders about the lack of support for Gods cause. He confronted the people in breaking the Sabbath and faced head on the problem of mixed marriages. Dealing with the problems was not easy and took courage surely, but we fail miserably when we pretend the problems will go away by themselves. Nehemiah acted decisively against the evils, exposing the problems and then moving to exterminate them too. Isnt this where we too can easily fail by not getting at the root of the matter even as it begins to show?

Secondly, notice that Nehemiah dealt with the problems not just swiftly but severely. He came to the temple and literally threw out all Tobiahs furniture and household goods and then, you might say, he fumigated the place to get rid of the stench of evil. As verse 9 states, he had the place cleaned up well. With the lack of funds and support coming in, Nehemiah contended with the rulers and had them correct this wrong situation, with no ifs, buts, or ands on their part. With the Sabbath breaking, he acted swiftly and radically too, confronting the people involved, locking the city gates, and threatening any merchants who would loiter by the gates still. No tolerance for any compromise! The same is the case with the matter of mixed marriages. Verse 25 shows Nehemiahs severe discipline, I contended with them and cursed them [not meaning here he swore at them but pronounced Gods covenant curse on their defiant disobedience and unfaithfulness]. Nehemiah showed his holy passion against their evil ways by striking some of them and pulling out their hair, and making them swear with an oath that they would not allow mixed marriages with the heathens around them.

We are told he drove out of town Eliashibs grandson, who had become the son-in-law of Sanballat. Literally, he caused him to flee. I chased him from me [vs. 28], in other words, expelling him from the city. Firm action was made in each and every case. Nehemiahs action here is something like that of the Lord Jesus later in the temple when with whip in hand He drove out all those that had made the Fathers house of prayer a market place for the sale of their goods. I ask, my friends, isnt the same required today in regards to the allowance of the least sin in our lives, personally, and in our homes and in our churches as well? To allow any sin, to excuse any habit, any ungodly thought, word, or deed is to be disobedient before God and to begin the dangerous road down a slippery slope of sin. Are you and I convicted and convinced of this as well and acting accordingly? What about in reference to what you allow on your television screen in your home, on your internet screen, or on the radio? The truth is, sin needs to be confronted and dealt with honestly and radically and not with kids gloves or with compromise.

Notice further that Nehemiah did not only face the problems head on and deal with them radically getting at the root of the matter, but then he also made positive steps to prevent the problem arising again. He cleaned the temple and had it used again for its proper uses; he had the people collecting for the temple services and for maintaining the Levites in their work and put faithful people in place for the collecting and distribution of the same. He took measures to prevent the Sabbath from being misused for business and involved the Levites in taking care of the city gates. He had the people promise more carefulness and faithfulness in marriage relationships, and he expelled, if not excommunicated, the grossly unfaithful ones.

On top of this all, we should take note how Nehemiah mixed all his actions with prayer and made clear he was acting on the basis of Scripture. It is highly important, of course, in regards to dealing with all sin, especially in our families and congregations, that no one act high-mindedly and just plain negatively. Nehemiahs purpose was not just to remove evil but to promote good; not simply to be down on what is wrong but to uphold what is right before God and man. Nehemiah was very much thinking too of the next generations. It is amazing how often the Bible mentions the word, generation. Clearly God wants His people to be thinking always also in regards to the up and coming generations. Are you that kind of spiritual person, thinking not only of yourself and God and this generation and Gods ways now, but for the future as well, for as long as this world may continue?

Here we come to our third and last main point about how Nehemiah was someone who not only met sad decline and dealt with it with severe discipline, but take note too what a man of spiritual devotion he was. In dealing with the wrongs as told in chapter 13, notice how he refers to former Scriptures in both verses 18 and 26 to show the error and danger of their wrong ways. Nehemiah was obviously a Scripture-saturated and Bible-directed person. How often under his rule the people were taught Gods Word and will! This is key to living rightly and being of holy influence on others, also for those following behind us.

Let me remind you again what a man of prayer Nehemiah was. All his actions were bathed in prayer as verses 14, 22, and 31 here indicate.

How wonderful to think too that his request to God showed that his actions were motivated by a deep love for God and His cause and that Nehemiah realized how he was dependent on Gods mercy in all his life. What is moving to consider is that his prayer for God to remember his work in Gods Name is one that surely also was answered. For in the fullness of time God blessed the work of Nehemiah too in sending His Son to come to be the ultimate Saviour and the everlasting Reformer of all His people. In a real sense Nehemiah 13 is such a discouraging chapter pleading for an almighty Redeemer and Saviour and Leader for us, otherwise, it is just hopeless that we be truly and eternally saved and really and finally freed from all sin and evil. And this, of course, is the whole point of the Bible. We need a Saviour sent from God above, and Jesus Christ is that Saviour. The gospel message is that in and through Him by grace through faith, and by His Spirit and Word, you and I can be more than conquerors over all sin and evil. One day, through Gods saving powers in Christ Jesus, all His people who hear and follow Christ shall live triumphantly and gloriously in the New Jerusalem. Indeed, even for as many as are truly repentant of all sin and are truly trusting in God and all His Word, and aiming to live by it in all their ways all the time wherever they might be and whatever they might do. Does that include you, dear friend?

In coming to the end of this series on Nehemiah, will you learn from this last chapter to examine yourself in the light of these four problem areas mentioned here? They are not mentioned randomly but are key indicators of the beginning of the least departure from Gods ways, and they show either a heart for God and good or not such at all. And not to have a heart for God and good isnt something to be unconcerned about, for to live and die that way means to live and die in sin and to perish forever then under Gods righteous eternal judgment and punishment in hell. But Jesus came to save sinners from exactly all that, and to make us His people, alive for God and good for real and forever and wonderfully and joyfully so too! Then you also applaud the reforms here of Nehemiah in chapter 13, and your prayer becomes Lord, let me not bring anyone down in wrong ways, but bless me that I may walk in Thy ways truly and lead others in that holy godly way as well, in Jesus Name I ask. Will you take note of Nehemiah 13 and this whole inspired book also in this way? Oh, may God the Holy Spirit so bless His Word to all! Amen.

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