Build: Renewal

November 22, 2022
Series: Build
Book: Nehemiah

Speaker: Michael Dennis

Audio Download

Bible Passage: Nehemiah 11:1 - 12:26

In 1806 Samuel Mills, described by his peers as an awkward figure and a croaking voice, yet Samuel Mills came in contact with a group of students who met twice a week to study God’s Word, pray, share their faith, and as a result hundreds of students committed their lives to serving under-privileged people around the world.

1876 a Christian group known as the Philadelphia Society had 110 active members meeting at Princeton University.  Those 110 students committed to studying God’s Word, prayer, sharing their faith, and within a year 1/3 of the student body indicated they received Christ into their life.

In the 1900’s a young man named Evan Roberts stood before 17 people to preach his first sermon with four points; confess your sin to God, cast away doubts, obey the Holy Spirit, and share the name of Jesus.

They say within three months the churches of Wales were filled with 100,000 people.  There was even a book that was written to debunk the claim that said, “Of the 100,000 added to the churches, only 80,000 remained after 5 years.”

These are all stories of renewal.  Renewal isn’t necessarily a changing of our circumstances or position in life but more so a renewed resolve to follow the Lord and put Him first in all things.

We see this pattern in God’s Word where God’s people fall away from the Lord, corrected by the Lord, return to the Lord and upon their return there is a renewed resolve to follow the Lord and put Him first in all things.

In our passage this morning we are going to see God’s people responding to God’s Word, so that we see three sub-points; 1. Movement.  2.  Making Decisions.  3.  Maturity.  Let’s look at our first sub-point; 1. Movement.

  1. Movement

Nehemiah 11:1, “1 Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities.

The book of book of Nehemiah is in the Old Testament.  The book of Nehemiah is about the history of Israel and in chapters 1-6 it looks like the book of Nehemiah is about building up walls and gates but really the book of Nehemiah is about building up a people for God’s glory, so that the context of Nehemiah 11 really begins in Nehemiah 7.

Nehemiah 7:4, “Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built.”

At this point in the story nobody is living in the city of Jerusalem.  In fact, Jerusalem was the last place people wanted to live because Jerusalem has a history of being attacked, houses being destroyed, lives being lost, and people taken captive.  Not fun!

In Nehemiah 8 the people sit under God’s Word.  In Nehemiah 9 the people respond to God’s Word in confession and repentance.  In Nehemiah 10, what we looked at last Sunday, the people respond with a covenant, a promise to follow the Lord, so that Nehemiah 11 starts with movement, literally.

Nehemiah 11:1, “1 Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities.

This means people were living out in the country, in the surrounding areas, but nobody was living in the city of Jerusalem.  Does that make sense?  The people already had an established work, friends, a way of doing life outside the city, so that in Nehemiah 11 we see God’s people responding to God’s Word by packing up their lives and moving the center of the city.

It’s possible we don’t see the emotional weight of what’s taking place in Nehemiah 11, but God has a plan for the city of Jerusalem.  First, the city of Jerusalem is center of God’s glory.  It can’t be uninhabited!

Second, in 400 years from this point in Nehemiah 11, Jesus, God in the flesh, is going to enter into the city of Jerusalem and the people are going to cry out, “Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” but for all that to happen there needs to be a people living in the city, so that in response to the renewal in Nehemiah 8-10 we see God’s people responding with movement where they sacrifice their comforts and familiarity to follow the Lord.

And, keep in mind, it’s a big sacrifice.  Verse 1 makes it clear not everybody responded, which speaks to how difficult it was to make the sacrifice to follow the Lord.

Now, we will talk about “casting lots” in our second sub-point but I want to talk about what it means to follow the Lord and specifically I want to draw out how we view our city today.

Our city of Austin is in the midst of transition.  We just voted in our city of Austin, and I don’t care if you are liberal or conservative, the results of voting gives you a snapshot of how people think in a city, so there might be a part of us that are thinking to ourselves, “Do I belong in this city of Austin?”

Maybe there is a part of us that is thinking, “Living in a city of Austin is hectic, traffic, high taxes, therefore, why would anyone live in a city of Austin?  Afterall, surely the God of Scripture would want us to live in a place that is peaceful and quiet, right?

But let me give you two thoughts: first, no matter where we live in life, we are going to find discomfort.  We aren’t going to be able to recreate heaven on earth.  God’s Word makes it clear that trials in life are going to come no matter where we live.  Does that make sense?

Second, the primary theme in Scripture is not that of God’s people dwelling on a countryside with a duck, chewing on a piece of hay with a cup of coffee.  Genesis 2 describes humanity coming together under God’s care with the cultural mandate to be fruit and multiply, fill the earth, which ultimately produces a city.

The city of Jerusalem is to be a city on a hill, a light to the nations.  Revelation 21 teaches us that our heavenly home is not a ranch, but a city, the New Jerusalem, so that the primary theme in God’s Word is God’s people dwelling in a city.

Now, I am sure some of us are going to push back and say, “But, Michael, Austin isn’t heaven.  It’s hard living in Austin.  It’s hard raising a family in Austin.  It’s expensive living in Austin.  It’s hard attending a church in Austin.”

I agree but we need to ask ourselves, “Are our plans for life being shaped by God’s Word or are our plans for life being shaped by our personal preferences of comfort?”

It is in the context of the city where we are going to find the homeless, immigrant, poor, and people who are pursuing immoral lifestyles, which is the exact place where God’s people are needed.

It is in the context of cities that we are going to see cultural influencers in education, arts, government, and commerce, therefore, if we want to influence the world for God’s glory, we want to be in cities.

It is in the context of cities that we are going to be exposed to diversity of cultures, languages, and people groups from all over the world, therefore, if we want to obey Jesus’ command to “Go and make disciples of all nations” we want to be in cities.

Is it hard to live in Austin?  Yes.  Will some be called out of the city of Austin?  Yes.  But let us be sure we are being called out of the city and not just seeking our personal comforts.  Let’s look at our second sub-point; 2. Making Decisions.

  1. Making Decisions.

Nehemiah 11:1, “1 Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots…

Do you know what it means to “cast lots?”  Casting lots in our day would be the equivalent of rolling dice or drawing straws to see who gets picked.

In the ancient world, casting lots would have been the means by which godly people discerned how the Lord was leading them to pick a political leader like Saul, go a specific direction in Jonah, or choosing a disciple to replace Judas, so that casting lots was the means to trust the Lord’s direction in their life.

Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

Does this mean we should roll the dice on the decisions we make today?  Maybe, but as we move into the New Testament, we see the casting of lots move into the background because in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit indwelling all those who profess faith in Jesus to guide us and lead us in making decisions.

In addition, through the New Testament we see God’s Word completed so that we know from Genesis to Revelation how the Lord is speaking into our life as we make decisions.

And we have the benefit of godly counsel, so as the Lord brings us to a place of making decisions to put Him first in all things, we have God’s Word to guide us, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to lead us, and hopefully wise counsel as we ask the Lord, “Are our plans for life being shaped by God’s Word or are our plans for life being shaped by our personal preferences of comfort?”

Again, there are many ways we could apply this passage to our life today, but specifically each of us would do well to ask ourselves, “Is the Lord calling me to live in the city of Austin for His glory?  If so, what is my attitude toward living in the city of Austin for His glory?”

I have found if we are not careful, we can go in one of two directions.  We who are in Christ can become antagonistic toward the city of Austin, we can become hardened, agitated, annoyed, and as a result hinder our influence for His glory.

The other response is not to become antagonistic toward the city of Austin but instead we blend into the city of Austin.  We live in agreement with the city of Austin.  We take on the values of Austin.  We consume Austin’s sports, entertainment, tacos, and BBQ.  We long so deeply to be accepted by Austin that we end up looking like Austin, and as a result we hinder our influence for His glory.

But I don’t see God’s Word teaching we who are in Christ to be antagonistic toward the city of Austin or in agreement with the city of Austin  The pattern I see in God’s Word is for those who are in Christ, to be in the city, for the city as a blessing to the city.  We are to seek the peace of the city.  We are to proclaim God’s Word to the city.  We are to serve the city.

And sometimes, we are to push back on the city, disagree with the city, but the intent is to always work toward the ultimate good for the city, because this city is His city and as followers of Jesus, we are called, not to be a people who seek our own personal comforts but to be salt and light to this city for His glory.  Let’s look at our last sub-point; 3. Maturity.

  1. Maturity

Nehemiah 11:1, “1 Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city…

Whether we live out in the country or in the city, the ultimate purpose of where we live is not to make us happy and comfortable but for us to become a holy people who are set apart for God’s glory, therefore, we need to draw out what that means practically.

In the ancient world people believed the God of Scripture was holy.  God wasn’t just strong and powerful, but the God of Scripture is righteous.  He is good.  He is perfect.  He is just.  He is loving.  He doesn’t just point to holiness but He himself is holy, but this truth comes with the reality that humanity is not holy.

God’s Word teaches us that all of humanity is broken.  All of humanity are sinners.  All of humanity have fallen short of God’s holiness.  We used the illustration of a lake a couple of weeks ago.  When there isn’t any wind on a lake we see this perfect reflection of the trees, sky, mountains but as soon as someone throws a rock into the lake, we see a distorted view in the water.

This is similar with humanity.  All of humanity was created to be perfect and holy in Him but because of our sin, we see a distorted view of humanity that fractures our relationship with God and fractures our relationship with one another.

Therefore, how are these unholy people in Nehemiah 11 going to live in the holy city of Jerusalem?  How do you have a holy city with unholy people?  This is the good news of the gospel!

In Galatians 2 the Apostle Paul responds to this question by writing, “We ourselves are Jews by birth, yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

We say to ourselves, “But Nehemiah is in the Old Testament.  These people in Nehemiah 11 didn’t know the fullness of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.”  You’re right!

This is why the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3, “Just as Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  The word “credited” means free gift of grace and this is taking place in the life of Abraham in Genesis 15, so that the Old Testament man, woman or child lived by faith in God’s Word of a Savior to come just as we today live by faith in God’s Word of a Savior that did come.  Are you with me?  That’s the gospel!

The men, women and children in Nehemiah 11 rejoiced at the temple being built but they also wept because they knew that temple wasn’t the fullness of God’s promises to come.  They rejoiced at Sabbath rest, but they also wept because they knew the Sabbath wasn’t the fullness of God’s promises to come.  It’s as though the earthly temple, Sabbath, sacrifice were all reminders of a greater reality that was to come.

Perhaps it is similar to the drawings we had for our new space before it was built out.  We rejoiced at those drawings.  We sent those drawings out in the newsletter.  We taped those drawings up on the walls to give us an idea of what our space was going to look like practically but now that we are in the space, we don’t look at the drawings because the drawings are redundant.  The drawings were simply reminders of a greater reality that was to come.

In a similar way, Jesus calls out to all who will hear, “Turn to Me, trust in Me, find life in Me, be made holy in Me” and it is like that of Abraham in Genesis 15.  Our righteousness isn’t established by outward works but by grace through faith in Jesus the righteousness of Christ is “credited” to our account, so that today we rejoice at all that we have in Christ and at the same time we weep because we know this isn’t the fulness of God’s promises to come.

Therefore, how do we who are in Christ mature and thrive as we live out our faith in this city for His glory?  Do we run and flee from the hardship?  Do we hunker down and get through it?  Do we build up hard hearts toward others?

We grieve the challenges we have in the city of Austin.  We grieve the challenges of raising children in this city.  We grieve at challenges of navigating cultural influences of this city.  We grieve the immorality.  We grieve the indifference toward the Lord.

But we also rejoice at all we’ve been given in Christ.  We rejoice at the opportunities to follow the Lord.  We rejoice at the opportunities to proclaim His goodness.  We rejoice to be salt and light.  We rejoice to be a blessing in the name of Jesus’.  We rejoice to seek the good of the city even if it is rejected!  That’s maturity!

That’s the vision of our church family.  We want to be a people who are so in awe of all that we have in Jesus, it moves us to chase after every man, woman, and child in this city.

Communion

Therefore, I want to close with the celebration of communion.  Communion is a time to celebrate the lives we have in Jesus; therefore, I want us to take some time to ask ourselves, “Am I following the Lord’s call on my life?”  Are our plans for life being shaped by God’s Word or are our plans for life being shaped by our personal preferences of comfort?”

I’ve noticed in my life there’s a layer of unsettledness because there are real personal comforts that have been unearthed.

Thursday morning the Lord pressed in on me, “I am with you.  You’re not going to be able to create a life on your own that is free from discomfort, so turn to Me and find your comfort in Me.”

I can’t say it’s all been settled in my soul, but I can tell the comfort made known in Jesus is better than any comfort this world has to offer, therefore, come with me, let’s turn to Jesus together and find our greatest comfort in Him as a reminder, as a snapshot of the eternal comfort we will have with Jesus forever.

Our elders are going to be at the front to serve communion.  If you have yet to trust in Jesus then we ask you to hold off in coming forward, but if you have then come and celebrate the lives we have in Jesus.  Will you pray with me?