Resuming God’s Mission
Coming to Christ means entering into his rest. We take his easy yoke upon us and bear his light burden (Matt 11:29). However, a few chapters later (Matt 16:24-25), Jesus told his disciples:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Coming to Christ and following him involves resting and cross-bearing.
The Jews were given permission to return to Israel, but many remained in exile and those who did return found the place in shambles. The first returnees rebuilt the altar and the temple, but their work ceased when they began working on the wall. Artaxerxes had put a stop to the work because of an accusation that they were a rebellious people. However, just over a decade later, God changed the heart of the king to send his cupbearer, Nehemiah, back to Jerusalem to oversee the project and ensure that the walls were completed.
At the beginning of chapter four, Nehemiah follows a pattern that details the actions of his opposition followed by a combination of prayer and action. Last week we noted how Sanballat and Tobiah intensified their opposition by increasing their rage and audience. Nehemiah responded with a strong prayer for the Lord to punish them in their wickedness. But the builders continued to work at a steady pace.
Not only did the opposition escalate their intensity, but they also multiplied their number by adding the Ashdodites to the coalition. This time people prayed together and decided to setup a guard 24/7. The opposition planned a secret attack to which Nehemiah responded by stationing the builders with their families along the weakest areas of the wall with their weapons in hand. He encouraged them to “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Notice their outlook from v.10. They had become discouraged, believing the lies and jeers of their opposition. It wasn’t as if these builders were some heroic lot who stood strong and steadfast. They were fearful and doubtful. But they continued to build the wall because they continued to trust a faithful God!
The work had experienced a setback. They were forced to slow down in order to deal with the dangerous threat. The severity of their situation demanded a response, but it did not put an end to their mission. With only half of the wall completed, they were anxious to get back to rebuilding. At the same time we also know the lingering effects of doubt and frustration from the ongoing threat of the opposition. How would they respond?
Nehemiah leads them back to the project with a defense strategy that would also provide them with the assurance of protection that they needed in order to keep their focus on the work.
Fear and doubt oftentimes prevents us from doing the work that God has clearly called us to accomplish. Like these builders, we need to focus on the reliability of the God that we serve, rather than the strength of our opposition. However, we should not ignore the threats that are causing the fears and doubts to rise up. Neither should we flee from the task God has assigned. This is the dilemma facing the Jews in Jerusalem. It’s also a dilemma that many of us are experiencing now.
Completing God’s mission may require an adjustment in strategy in order to accommodate our legitimate fears.
Read Nehemiah 4:15-23
Slow the Pace (15-18a)
The threat of a secret attack was significantly impaired by it’s exposure. The builders were able to return to rebuilding the wall (15). When the element of surprise was removed, the threat was largely revealed to be an intimidation tactic. Evil works secretly in the shadows. Exposing the wicked plans that are conducted in secret meetings is one way to neutralize the threat. Open and honest dialogue doesn’t have any reason to hide.
Nehemiah remained cautious even though the threat was minimized. He decided to put only half of his servants back to work on construction, while the other half stood guard dressed in armor and bearing their weapons (16). Behind the workers and the guards stood the leaders. In addition, those who “carried burdens” worked with one hand and held their weapon in the other (17). The builders worked with swords strapped to their sides (18a). In other words, the number of builders was significantly reduced, and those who were working did so at half the speed.
I can’t help but use this opportunity to talk about one group that was exposed this week for their secret political alliance within the PCA. We have known about the National Partnership—and their progressive agenda—for a long time, but we had not seen a list of members. Since they kept their newsletter and Facebook group private, no one really knew the extent of their strategizing.
In what some have labeled #PresbyLeaks, a cache of several of their emails dating back to 2013 were revealed to the public this week. The emails showed their strategy to stack all of the permanent committees of the General Assembly and their coordinated efforts to steer the way people voted at Presbytery and General Assembly. It is discouraging to see just how many influential names were members of this secret group, many of whom have been embarrassed into silence about their involvement.
Lest you think I’m overstating the concern, you should know that it was just this kind of political maneuvering that led to the forming of the PCA back in 1973. We have to discuss and vote upon important amendments to the BCO regarding the ordinationof men who identify with their homosexual attraction (SSA). At the General Assembly this summer, those overtures passed by an overwhelming margin. Overture 23 passed by a vote of 1438 to 417 and Overture 37–1130 to 692. It wasn’t even close (77% and 62%).
We are thankful that influence of the National Partnership was minimized by a considerable majority at the General Assembly this summer. But, I share this with you now to encourage you to pray for our denomination and your elders. We now know definitively that we have National Partnership members in our presbytery and we need to protect others from their underhanded scheming within our denomination.
It takes two-thirds of the presbyteries to pass those overtures and the National Partnership is publicly arguing against them. They want a friendlier, more inclusive PCA which means—if the 2021 is any indication of where the denomination is as a whole—they are opposed to the vast majority of the elders in the PCA.
It is important that we have men paying attention to the potential threats on the horizon. Those threats must be exposed and strenuous effort should be made to defend against them. Although that might slow down the progress of the work as it pulls people away from more positive efforts. Preventing negative takeovers is crucial to preserving and ultimately completing God’s mission in a way that honors him.
So pray! Pray with one hand and write with the other. Know what the Bible says about these things ask for the Lord to preserve his church according to his will. Pray that your session would be able to articulate the truth in a convincing manner whenever we have the opportunity. Take an interest in the preservation of our denomination for the glory of God.
Certain times call for us to slow down, but we do so with a purpose. We slow the pace in order to…
Shield the Labor (18b-23)
Nehemiah notices that going back to work means they will be separated and leave parts of the wall vulnerable. With the leaders looking out for any invading armies the builders could focus on the work.
Nehemiah kept the trumpeter next to him (18b) in order to sound a blast wherever an enemy was spotted (20). The shofar was a rams horn blown by military commanders whenever his troops were spread out over a large area. The trumpet would gather everyone together where they would trust God to fight for them as they entered combat. We see an example of this under the leadership of Moses in Numbers 31:6.
In the book of Judges Gideon divides his army of 300 soldiers into three companies and provides them with trumpets, torches, and jars. Upon the sound of his trumpet they would each sound their trumpets, smash their jars and shout “For the Lord and for Gideon!” (Judges 7:17-22). You could imagine how effective their deception was considering how familiar armies would have been with the sound of one trumpet for each battalion of soldiers. The sound of 300 trumpets would have been interpreted as a massive army.
Knowing the frailty of their confidence, Nehemiah puts a warning system together that would allow the builders to build and the paranoia to subside. They did not need to live in perpetual fear of their opposition. Good leadership seeks to assuage the fears of others by dealing with various threats in a serious manner.
In v.14 Nehemiah told them, “Do not be afraid.” For those of us unfamiliar with a particular fear, that is all we think others need to hear. We question the legitimacy of their fear in the first place. So we stop with the sage advice “Do not be afraid.” But Nehemiah doesn’t stop there. He goes on to tell them to trust in their great and awesome God (v.14b). He tells them to fight for the their loved ones and their homes (v.14c). And then he assuages their fears by making several changes to his plan (vv.16-23).
You just know there had to be some in Israel who interpreted all of these precautions as unnecessary. Why are you going through all of this trouble Nehemiah. Did you forget that God is fighting for us? Why are we slowing down? Don’t you trust the Lord to ensure that we will complete the work? I don’t really know if he faced these kind of questions, but I do know that he made whatever changes he felt were necessary. And because Nehemiah has proven to be a man of prayer—we can assume he is being led by the Spirit to make these adjustments.
In this fashion, with fewer builders and more on guard for an attack, they labored twelve hours a day—from dawn to dusk (21). Nehemiah also added a night watch within the city, composed of the men with their servants (22). This doesn’t mean no one slept, but that they all slept in such a way that they were prepared to fight on a moment’s notice. No one went home at the end of the day’s work. Nehemiah and all of the officials joined in this added protection, not even removing their clothes or stowing their weapons (23).
We read Ephesians 6 earlier in the service because it provides the perfect application for us today. God calls us to be on guard against the devil’s deceitful, underhanded ways. We do that by putting on the whole armor of God. We recognize the spiritual warfare that is taking place underneath much of the physical challenges that we face on the surface. Putting on the armor means we’re expecting the attack to come, and we’re ready to face it.
We also recognize that we do not face the enemy alone. God fights for us. His Spirit strengthens and empowers us. And Jesus Christ already secured the victory in his death and resurrection. He bore the wrath of God in our place and took the condemnation that our sin deserved.
It is only in light of his victory over sin and death that he calls upon us to take up our cross and follow him. The burdens and trials we face in this life prove just how much we need to watch and pray and remain dressed in the armor of God at all times.