If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab them. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be a hardback black one somewhere around you. That can be yours if you don’t own a Bible. Please feel free to just take that with you. We’ll be back in the book of Nehemiah in our time together today. Nehemiah, chapter 9, is where we’ll be.
I want to explain a couple of things as we dive back into Nehemiah, per not a ton but several questions I’ve received about our study in the book of Nehemiah. For the first time since I’ve been the pastor here, we’ve looked at a book thematically rather than line by line. What that means is if you remember back to Ephesians or Ecclesiastes or Habakkuk or any of those other book studies we did, we kind of went line by line. I’d read a line, and then we’d talk about it. I’d read a verse, and then we’d talk about it.
When you’re doing a book thematically, that’s not exactly how it works. What you’re doing when you’re teaching through a book thematically is actually developing the themes of the book. You have to decide upon those themes and set how many weeks it’s going to be, and then you develop those themes, which means you’re not covering every verse, and maybe not even every chapter, but you are developing the themes found within the book.
For those of you who just asked the question, “Hey, what happened to chapters 6 and 7?” chapters 6 and 7, spectacular, inerrant, Word-of-God chapters 6 and 7, helped to develop the themes we have either already covered or will cover this week or next. So that’s the best I can do with the time I have in explaining why it looks like we’ve skipped some things. I’m no coward. I’m not trying to skip things so you’ll like me. You should know that by now.
We’re more developing themes, and then we’re showing you the chunks that help develop those themes, and then using the other text as kind of support of those themes. So there’s no skipping of things, as much as there is just the development of the themes found in the book of Nehemiah. With that said, let me go back over the themes we have covered so far, just because it has been a bit disjointed with Easter and some of the other things we’ve done.
Out of the gate, what we saw was that Nehemiah was moved with a deep empathy and compassion for his brothers and sisters, despite being far removed from his brothers and sisters. He’s 800 miles away in the palace of the king of Persia when he finds out Jerusalem, his city, lies in ruins, and that the people there are without protection, without provision, and things are really dark there. The Bible told us he was just wrecked in heart for his people.
He began to pray and fast and plead with God on high to rescue people he did not know personally, whom he had no prior relationship with. It wasn’t like those were his boys. It wasn’t like they went to college together and he heard that crew in college had fallen on some hard times. No, these were just people who were ethnically the same and believed in the same God. Nehemiah was so bent with empathy and compassion that for days, the Bible says, he mourned their situation and pled with God to intervene.
We said the people of God, the household of faith, are to be people who live in a deep empathy and compassion toward others, first and foremost the covenant community, and then rolling over the walls of the covenant community and into the far reaches of the earth, which means we are to walk with one another in a way where we mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. We are called to one another repeatedly.
We are called to know one another, to do life with one another, to enter into the joys and sorrows of one another. We are not to be those who sequester difficult people to run on their own, and then just get with people like us to join kind of a homogenized group of people who think like we think, live like we live, love like we love, and value what we value. No, we are called nearly impossibly to one another. We will need the Holy Spirit of God to do the work of grace if you and I will ever be what God is calling us to be.
We are marked by empathy and compassion, but that’s not all we’re marked by. We’re people of prayer. When I say prayer, here’s what I mean. When we say prayer, we mean we are people who have a relationship with God. He’s not an ethereal idea. It’s not just, “Oh yeah, there’s a God.” We have a relationship with God. One of the things we watch Nehemiah doing is he has these two ways he engages with God.
He has these set-aside times, where he really says, “I’m going to set aside this time. This time is just for me and the Lord.” Then on top of that, throughout his day he’s interacting with God. He sets aside time to go, “This is just me and God’s time. I’m going to pray. I’m going to lay my heart before him. He already knows my heart. So my concerns, my questions, my doubts… I’m going to lay it all down. The things I would love to see God do… I’m going to lay that down.” Then throughout the day he’s actually rifle-shot praying to God as circumstances and situations come up.
Now hear me. That’s a relationship. Where you have both of those components, I think you have the ingredients for a robust relationship. Where you just pick one of those, I think the level of intimacy and the depth of relationship begins to wane. If you’re married and you have a date night, if the only time you talk to your spouse is on date night, I’d say your relationship is a train wreck. I’m just going to throw that out there to you.
If that’s it, if you say to your man or your woman, “You have these two hours; talk to me then. That’s it. Don’t bother me the rest of the time. I’m keeping a roof over our heads. I’m putting food on the table the rest of my time,” then you have an awful relationship with your spouse. In the same way, if all you ever do is text with your spouse, if that’s the extent of your relationship… “What’s up?” Happy face emoticon. If that’s all you have, then I would also say your relationship is a bit of a wreck.
What if you had them both? What if you have these set-aside times where you’re saying, “What I want to talk about is your heart; what I want to do is lay my heart before you,” and then on top of that, throughout the day, throughout the week, you’re just kind of touching base. You’re having little 10-minute conversations here, a little 5-minute conversation here, just a “How are you doing?” here, just a “Hey, be mindful of this. I’m going into this. Pray for me in this.” Now we’re talking. Right?
What we see Nehemiah doing in his relationship and what we saw from the whole of Scripture’s counsel on our lives is that we’re people not just of empathy and compassion, but we’re people who have a relationship with God that is made visible in the way in which we approach God, namely in set-aside times, as well as throughout our days as situations arise.
Then we also saw we are people not just of prayer, but we are people who act upon our prayers. Now hear me. You are not the solution to all of your prayers. In fact, sometimes you are the anti-solution to a lot of your prayers. In fact, you trying to play the role of the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life around you is a bit of a giant nightmare. But we are people who act upon our prayers as God lays it upon our hearts, as the Word of God lays it upon our hearts to encourage others around us, to act justly in the world around us, as we see areas we’re able to enter into.
So these things start putting themselves together. As we see there are those around us who are mourning, those who are in tough spots, those who are the least of these, then we enter in. We don’t just pray God would provide. We don’t just pray God would take care. Where we are able, we enter in. So we’re not just people with relationship with God that manifests itself in prayer, but we are people who act upon what God reveals to us out of the Word of God in our prayers where we are able.
Then we moved from this rebuilding the broken world around us with empathy and compassion, rebuilding the world around us through prayer, rebuilding the world around us through action, into the reality of the world we live in. Twofold: namely, that we can expect opposition as the people of God. There are those all around us who cannot see that aspects of our life, culture, and way of thinking are broken. They simply can’t see it’s broken at all.
This is not just Christian. I mean, almost everyone would admit something has gone wrong. I’ve used the illustration for years that if this wasn’t true, Oprah wouldn’t have a show. Everybody knows something is wrong. What I find interesting is when we as believers in Christ enter into that discussion and say, “Here’s what’s wrong,” people get frustrated. People get angry. All of a sudden we’re painted as oppressors. All of a sudden we’re painted as the new KKK, or my favorite so far, American Al-Qaeda, and on and on.
We can expect opposition. You shouldn’t be surprised. Don’t be surprised. I don’t know if you’re that familiar with your Bible, but Jesus said, “Hey, if they persecuted me and I raised dead people and healed everybody’s diseases, you can probably expect to get worked every now and then. If I’m telling their dead sons and daughters they’re not allowed to be dead and raising them from the grave and they killed me, what do you think they’re going to do to you?” We can expect opposition.
Then, in a strange turn, in the book of Nehemiah we begin to see that injustice occurs not just outside the walls of the covenant people, but actually inside the walls of the covenant people also. You begin to see injustice inside the household of faith, which means things are not pretty in here all the time. In our relationships, I’m going to fail you. You’re going to fail me. It becomes imperative that my hope is put in Jesus and not in your ability to nail all of this.
So if you’re coming into church and your expectation is that church people are living out fully all they know, then you have come into church completely ignorant to what the Bible teaches. There isn’t a man, woman, or child in this room who doesn’t wrestle with temptation. Do you hear me? In fact, I heard a very wise man say this past week, “The only ones not struggling with temptation are those who have given themselves over fully to it.”
We are not a people who are temptation-free. We are not a people who are struggle-free. We still frequently skin up our knees and skin up our elbows. I’ve tried to repeatedly say that should be an invitation for you to come on in. It shouldn’t be used as a wall that keeps you out. Would you not feel safer around those who struggle? Would you not feel safer around those who are not perfect?
Or are you trying to say if everyone you knew who went to church was perfect, then you would feel like you could believe in this Jesus? No, you wouldn’t have anything to do with us if we were all perfect. You would feel so unwelcomed and not at home. The very scent of this type of perfect people would reek of condemnation to you. Instead, we’re all banged up and goofy, so come on in. We’re all banged up and goofy, which means you should fit right in with us. Come on.
From there we moved on to the fact that we are people who are rebuilding with the truth. We are people who have been given the very words of God in the form of the Scriptures, and the Scriptures are going to teach us who God is (not who we think he is, but rather who God is), it’s going to teach us who we are (not who we think we are, because we all think we’re awesome)… The Bible is going to show us who we actually are, and then the Bible is going to show us how God designed the universe to work.
It becomes the blueprint, the plans, of how God is going to rebuild the brokenness around us. That’s what the Word of God is. It is given to us as the perfect, inerrant Word of God, and that is how we are to approach it. It is not suggestion. I know some of you are like, “You cannot believe everything in there is literal.” Well no, I do. Maybe you think that makes me ignorant, but I’ve seen the arguments. “Well look at these inconsistencies.” I’ve seen some of that.
Honestly, I start to chuckle a little bit as I read some of those. “Well look at this inconsistency.” It’s really not an inconsistency at all. It’s the difference between poetry and history. Nobody ever read Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and said, “Liar! Raven did not say that.” Right? No, because there’s a difference in literature. Correct? So these supposed inconsistencies… It’s actually very easy just to go, “Well, no. Let’s look at the type of writing. Is it poetry? Is it a song? Is it a book of history? What are we dealing with here?”
If I ask you, “Hey, how far from here do you live?” and you say, “Oh, around five miles,” I don’t go, “Liar! You live 4.263 and 100 yards. That’s how far you are. You make me sick.” This is the approach skeptics like to bring to the Word of God to devalue the Word of God. I’m telling you that as the people of God, what the Bible teaches is, for us, how God designed the universe to work, and it is where we war for the good of the world.
Where we find ourselves against the world, we find ourselves in this strange place of being against them, for them. As parents you might be able to understand that. If you’re not a believer I’m not trying to say you’re like a little kid and we’re Daddy. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying we find ourselves as parents in this place often, where we are against, for. It’s more of an illustration than an accusation.
It’s important for you to hear me say the things I’m talking about above are true about the people of God, not necessarily all people. That takes us to where we’ll be this week and yet another component on how God uses the church, how God uses the people of God, to be a rebuilding group of men and women in a broken and fallen world.
Nehemiah, chapter 9, picking it up in verse 6: “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.” I’m just going to stop so we can talk about this. This is unbelievably significant, because one of the things that marks the identity of God’s people is that we believe in one God who is God of all.
This might not have read well to you, but here’s what he just did. There’s not a god of the sky. There’s not a god of the sea. There’s not a god of the land. There is one God, and our God is God of all. We’re not polytheists. There are not multiple ways to multiple gods. There is a singular God on high, and he rules and reigns over all. There is nothing in the universe he doesn’t stand over and rightly deem his own. Then into verse 7:
“You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.”
Again, what you’re seeing here in the identity of the people of God… In fact, what marked them was that there was one God, singular, and that God was going to redeem and rescue and rebuild all that went wrong in the fall, all that is broken in mankind, primarily through his chosen people, the covenant community of faith. What marked Israel as a people is that there is one God, he loves us, he has chosen us, and that through us he will make known his righteousness and beauty to the world around us. He will make known the path of life through his people.
Now let’s chat. That has to (then, as it does now) sound horrifically arrogant and narrow-minded, specifically for a people who scattered across the ancient world in slavery. This people, who were promised this land and moved into this land, had seen God do marvelous and spectacular things and then had seen all of that explode, and they were led off into exile. That’s why Nehemiah is in the palace of the Persian king as a wine tester and not in Jerusalem in the city of God.
Yet still their identity marks them. “We are the people of God, and through this people God will reveal his wisdom to the world around us.” My question is…What can then ultimately bring this type of confidence in this type of situation? Well, we’ll keep reading. What you’re going to see here is we are also a people who hold steadfast to the promises of God and his faithfulness, regardless of circumstance. Let’s look at Nehemiah, chapter 9. We’re going to do verses 9-31 here, so let’s get after it.
“And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day. And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters.
By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go. You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.
But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.” If you write in your Bible, here’s a great verse to underline. “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ’This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst.
Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess.
So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would. And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.
Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies.
But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey.
Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.”
What we see here in this extensive chunk of Scripture is really four promises concerning God’s faithfulness that the people of God have historically remembered and grabbed hold of and, regardless of their situation, chewed on, meditated on, and worshiped God for. Here’s what the four are.
1. God does not abandon his people, and he is always aware of their circumstances. What we heard repeatedly in this text is that God saw their affliction, that he heard their cries. You have multiple situations here over the history of God’s chosen people, where God is aware of their circumstances and did not abandon them in those circumstances. What we pull from this now is regardless of how we’ve come into this room and regardless of where our life circumstances are, the hope we grab hold of as the people of God is that he is not unaware of where we find ourselves today.
I say this every week because it’s true. I don’t know how you’ve come in. I know I’m not naïve. I know there’s heartbreak all around us almost always. I’m well aware of the tragedy and hardship of life. Part of being a pastor is being almost a first responder. In fact, I have yet another funeral to do this week. Our Dallas Campus pastor has a couple of funerals. We’re just always on this. This week for me is a 44-year-old man who went home to be with the Lord last night.
In the end here, I’m not naïve. I know we’ve come in here a bit banged up. I know some of you are disappointed in how life has played itself out. I know some of you are exhausted in the marriages you are in. I know some of you are desperately worried about the trajectory of your children. Some of you are walking in a weight that is not yours to carry for some of the decisions your children are making right now. The promise that is given to us by God and what Nehemiah is drawing the attention of the people of God back to is God is not unaware.
There isn’t a tear in this room, there isn’t an angst of heart in this place, that God does not rightfully go, “I know. I know.” Then, on top of that, it says he has not abandoned us to that alone. He has not asked us to walk through that alone. It’s why the psalmist in Psalm 23 says he fears no evil walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Why? “Because you’re with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” In fact, the great whisper of God is that he is always here. God is not unaware of the circumstances of his people, and he has never abandoned them.
2. God guides and instructs his people. This is great news. Multiple times in my life I have not known what to do next. Anyone else? Multiple times I’ve just gone, “Okay, this one, or this one?” (Not you, honey. I knew you right out of the gate. I didn’t need to do that.) Multiple times I’ve had opportunities, and they were both really good opportunities, but there was only one. I’m so glad that over and over and over again God has not abandoned me (that’s going to become a theme here in our time together today) to what I think is best.
What we see in this text is God engaging, leading, guiding, instructing his people in multiple ways. This text says he gave his good Spirit to them (the same good Spirit he has sealed in you and me who have put our faith and belief in Jesus Christ), that he gave them the Law at Mount Sinai. The law is about, “This is what God has for you.” For us, the law sounds just so “Uh,” but we really like the law. We even like the law now. You should like the laws of our country.
If you’re not grateful for our laws, you haven’t lived anywhere else. It’s illegal for people to take your stuff. You can pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1, and within 3 and 30 minutes, depending on where you live, someone will show up and handle that for you. If someone is trying to harm you, there are laws that protect you. See, laws are good things. The Old Testament writers would often talk about the law as honey, as things they meditated on, as something they were grateful for, as kind of the road to a life full of joy. Not necessarily happiness…joy. God gave the Law at Mount Sinai.
Then he also (I kind of get jealous for this) gave the people in the wilderness a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. How awesome would that be? You know that commercial (I think it’s Fidelity) where you just follow the green line and then you retire and you have millions of dollars? I would love if that line, a little Jesus line, if I could just kind of follow that pillar… “Which way to go? I go that way, because there goes the pillar. There goes some fire. I’ll follow that.” Right? How great would that be?
The point and the promise Nehemiah is pointing us back to is that God guides his people. He instructs them. He guides them. Now how does he do it? Well, we’ve talked some about this. First and foremost, he does this through the Word of God. He has given us the Word of God to guide us and instruct us. But let’s be straight. Sometimes we can know the Bible really, really well and still not know. Can we agree? Let’s agree on that. Sometimes we can know the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, and still not know. “Do I take this job in Carolina, or do I take this job in Chicago? What does the Bible say?” Right?
So here’s the other gift God has given to you, and so few take advantage of it. It hurts my heart. The second thing God has given us is not only the Word of God that instructs, teaches, and guides, but he has also given us the covenant community of faith. He has given us one another. On Sunday from 2:00 to 3:30 we’ll be doing Group Connect in our sanctuaries. The reason we want to connect you with smaller groups of people is last weekend at The Village Church there were close to 15,000 people. Do you know how easy it is to get lost in a sea of 15,000? Very, very, very easy.
What we want to do is connect you with people who can actually do life with you, who are serious about growing in the knowledge of the Lord, who are serious about growing depth in their understanding of God, and then doing life with people who are able to speak into our lives, and people we welcome into speaking into our lives. The Christian community.
Here’s what’s so wrong with us, why we’re so goofy. What we want to do is take Christianity and separate it out from this idea of covenant community and make it kind of covenant individual. That’s not how Christianity has been created or how it flourishes. My counsel to anyone who goes, “What job should I take in this city or in this city?” is I’m always asking about what church they found that preaches the gospel, that’s serious about the things of God, where they can immediately connect.
You send your high-school senior into my office to talk to me about which school to go to, my question is, “What church do you know there? What covenant community of faith might be able to support you, encourage you, and walk with you?” Because how this thing works is you and I in relationship with one another, hearing from one another, and being instructed by the wisdom of one another.
It’s also why I always think it’s a bad idea for groups to become homogenized. You don’t need to just be in a group of 20-somethings. I love you, but that’s a lot of ignorance in one group. In the same way, you don’t need to be in a group with a bunch of 50- and 60-year-olds, an “old glory days, I’m so glad we’re not there anymore, chew grass until we die” type of group. In reality, older men are commanded (not suggested…commanded) to teach the younger men, and the older women are commanded (not suggested) to teach the younger women.
Christian community flourishes when we become ferociously committed to one another. It’s not easy, and it’s not sexy, and it’s far more difficult than I’m making it sound up here, because people are, as we’ve already shared, prone to selfishness, prone to walk in blind spots they don’t know of because they’re blind to those spots (hence that phrase). I don’t know about you, but I’ve never enjoyed someone else telling me about mine. I don’t think they’re there. In fact, I immediately become aware of your blind spots upon hearing about mine. It’s magical.
I mean, I will not see your blind spots at all until you begin to tell me about mine. Mid-sentence I’ll go, You know what? I see some inconsistency in this dude’s life. “Okay, I hear you, but since we’re doing this, since apparently now we’re boys, I’d like to lay this before you, and I believe this trumps what you’re saying about me. So you go deal with this, because I think it’s through these lenses that you’re judging me right now.” Isn’t that how almost all of us handle it? Don’t act like you’re all self-righteous. You do the same thing. We all do. It’s our default.
This is the reason why there must be an invitation to speak into our lives. Brad Payne, Brian Miller, and Josh Patterson, a lay elder and the other two lead pastors, and my bride are that group for me. I have literally said, “Any inconsistency in my life whatsoever, no matter how small, you lay before me. You bring it to me. I want to be a man who’s above reproach.” On Sunday nights when we get together, I’m going to lay before them anything in my heart or mind that’s improper or unclean, because I must remove the Enemy’s ammunition from him.
God has given this to you. This is what he has given to you, and what you’ve done is come to service. Do you know how easy it is to hide in here? Good grief. Look around. You can be completely unknown in this room for years. You can come here for years and, because of how many services we do, never really see anyone else. It’s unreal.
3. God provides for his people. In this text we see he provides for their physical need. He gives them manna to eat. He gives them water to drink. But I want us to talk about God’s provision in a way that’s more biblically faithful. God does not give you what you want; he gives you what you need. He does that not based on your perception but his, which means some of you feel like you’ve been robbed by God because he did not give you something he never promised to give you.
God doesn’t owe you anything. Do you hear me? You cannot put him in your debt. You cannot make God the slave. Historically, I’ve said he doesn’t live in a lantern, and you are most definitely not Aladdin. You being good and moral doesn’t equate to God giving you anything you want and everything you think you deserve. Trust me on this. You don’t want what you deserve. You want what you don’t deserve here. That means there are times where hardship and difficulties must be rejoiced in because they have come through the hands of God.
If we’re thinking about this correctly, if we’re thinking about these things eternally, is not hardship that gets us more of God, more dependent upon God and less dependent on the transient, “trinkety” junk of this world, in the end a real gift from God? If I have nothing but him, is that not, when I’m looking at 10,000 years from now, a really beautiful gift? It absolutely is. Then this is the one I want us to end on. This is my favorite promise in this text.
4. God is ready to forgive. He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The text said, repeatedly, the people of God grew presumptuous, stiff-necked, arrogant, and blasphemous. They trusted in other gods besides the God who already rescued them and saved them and, multiple times, tried to give God’s credit to something else.
What Nehemiah reminded the people of was crossing the Red Sea, getting to Mount Sinai, God giving the Law, and while the Law was being given, they made a golden calf and said, “This is the god who got us out of Egypt.” What was God’s response? A couple of things. God disciplines those he loves, the book of Hebrews says, and scourges any he calls sons. Yet God’s response to stiff-necked, presumptuous, arrogant people who have a bit of a rhythm of trusting him, and then not, trusting him and not, trusting him and not, is what? Grace. It’s grace and mercy and abounding love.
Isn’t that good news for us? It’s good news for me. Maybe you’re further along than I am, but that’s great news for me. God’s people throughout the Scriptures have had this way of really clinging to God, and then when things got good… He says there were olives and vineyards and wine and they got fat and lazy. All of a sudden they didn’t need God anymore, so God, in his love, gave them over to their enemies. Then they cried out, and what did he do? He didn’t go, “No, drink your wine now, chubby. Kill the fatted calf now. Oh, he’s gone. No, you had your choice.” He doesn’t do that.
Three times, in just these verses, across a span of hundreds of years, he goes, “And he extended them mercy. And he extended them grace. And he heard their cries.” Our God, our promise, the one we’re clinging to, is he is a God of grace and mercy, abounding in love, abounding in steadfast love. It’s like he’s just trying to think of words to put before love. I cling to this promise. When I said last week at the Easter service that we lean into a God who leans into us, when I said all we do every week is come back to this truth here… Here we are again: the gracious, merciful love of God given freely to sinners like you and me. Let’s pray.
Father, I thank you these things are true. I pray now where brothers and sisters in this room feel abandoned, God, your promise of never leaving or forsaking your people might ring true in their hearts and encourage them. Where we feel you are blind to our circumstances, God, I pray we might be reminded you’re not blind to our circumstances.
Father, where we feel a bit lost in what to do or where to go or how life should be working itself out right now, I pray we would consult the Scriptures and put ourselves under the teaching of the Word of God, God, that we would be serious about taking steps toward connecting with other people who love you who might be able to speak truth into our lives.
I pray where we’re disconnected we would make Sunday at 2:00 a priority, that we would show up at Group Connect, that we would consider membership class here in just a few weeks, and that we’d become serious about connecting to the people of God. Where we feel like we’re not quite sure what we’re going to do in regard to things we believe are needs of ours, that we would begin to trust that you provide for your people, that you don’t abandon us to needs but you provide for us.
God, I thank you that you are a God who’s able to forgive. Where we’re in this place today and church makes us feel just awkward, or maybe we feel frustration towards Christianity because we don’t understand you love like this, that you’re abounding in love like this, that you are gracious like this, God, that you would remind our hearts and we’d cling to the promise that, regardless of how we’ve come into this place, you’re able and willing to forgive. We love you. It’s through your beautiful name we pray, amen.