Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set up its doors, building the wall as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and the Tower of Hananel.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.”
Have you ever had a project you needed to do but never really got started because you just didn’t know where to start? Maybe you knew the second step, or the third step, but you were missing that first step. That first step is so important, if we miss it the entire project might fail or be impossible. Where you start and how you start matters.
Nehemiah has just arrived in Jerusalem to get to work rebuilding the wall and I think he knew his first step was a big one and it mattered. He took some time once he arrived there to get to know the city and survey the brokenness. But, one he was ready to get to work it seems he started at the Sheep Gate. This was a big first step and very important gate.
The Sheep Gate was where they would bring in all the animals to market and those that were going to be sacrificed in the temple. This gate stood as their entrance, or first step, in obedience to God. This wasn’t just about them rebuilding a wall, it was also about them rebuilding their relationship with God. At this time, that always started with sacrifice.
It was also the only gate that was consecrated (dedicated). I believe they took time at this gate to make that sacrifice and to surrender themselves and their work to the Lord. Think of this as a moment of re-commitment or re-dedication. For a long time they had not been living as God’s chosen people, but they knew they needed to get back to it. What better place to start than the Sheep Gate?
For us, Jesus is our sheep gate. He says so in John 10. Jesus is our way into His family, our way into a relationship with the Father. It all starts with Him. Before we get to far into rebuilding any walls or trying to restore any brokenness we need to first enter through the sheep gate and spend a minute there letting Him do a work in us first. Get with Jesus and allow Him to begin doing His work in you. If you have gotten away from Him, well, get back – you already know the way. He is there, waiting to welcome you home.
Nehemiah asked Hanani about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem. He said to him, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” When he heard this, he sat down and wept. In fact, for days he mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.
Have you ever heard the saying, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you?” Have you ever said that or felt similar to that about a particular topic or person? I think it is a pretty common feeling because usually information brings obligation. We usually don’t want to know because the knowledge will usually require something from us, some kind of action and it is just much easier to now act and therefore, not know. We like easy, so not knowing is often easier. But, Nehemiah wasn’t afraid of hard, it's why he asked.
The information he gained with that question moved him to tears and to prayer. He knew something needed to change he just didn’t know how it was going to happen. So, he turned to God. In the prayer that follows we get a glimpse of his understanding of God and perhaps some courage to gain some knowledge ourselves.
Nehemiah knew that what bothered him, bothered God too. He wasn’t alone feeling like this should be, the city shouldn’t lay in ruin and the people shouldn’t continue to live in shame. It broke his heart and he knew it broke God’s too. We need to hear that – what bothers you, bothers God too. What moves you to tears and prayer, moves God. You are not alone.
He also knew that God was in the business of forgiveness and restoration. God was all about fixing and restoring the broken. So, his ask and his desire were not far from God’s nature. He was right on track. When we ask for God to forgive, heal, and restore we are asking God to act in His nature. We are asking God to do what He already wants to do. So, ask away!
Nehemiah also knew God would need an instrument to work with and he was willing to be just that. He didn’t know how since he wasn’t even living in Jerusalem and he was the king’s cupbearer, but he was willing if God would call him. Are you ready to be used by God in the area that stirs your heart? Just maybe, God is ready to use you. Don’t run from that stirring, take it to God and see where He leads you.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Hope is a funny thing. Without we feel like there is no reason to put one foot in front of the other. We feel alone and like there is no purpose. With it we are looking forward to what lies ahead. We have purpose and excitement. But, hope can also lead to frustration. We know better is possible. We know where we are headed is better than where we are coming from, but it is just taking so long to get there. Hope itself can sometimes be exhausting.
I think those are the moments Solomon was referring to when he wrote this proverbs. When our hope goes unfulfilled, or we have to wait a really long time for it, we do feel sick. But, at the same time it is that very hope that keeps us moving forward anyway. It seems weird to say the very thing that has caused our exhaustion is the very thing that keeps us pushing through it. But, as Solomon points out, that is exactly what happens, perhaps more times than we care to admit.
The writer of Hebrews had a similar reality to share with us. In Hebrews 11 the writer makes a long list of people we would consider heroes of the faith. In verse 13 of that chapter we are struck with the harsh reality that “all these died in faith, without receiving the promises.” Their hope was deferred beyond this life. Are we ready to hope and hope until the day we die even if we never receive the thing we are hoping for?
For us to live that hopeful of a life we will need faith. Not only did all these people have tremendous hope, they had tremendous faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for…” Faith gives us what hope deferred can’t – an assurance that even if we don’t see it fulfilled it is still worth hoping for. The heroes of the faith knew that if they didn’t see those promises fulfilled someone else will. They weren’t just hoping for themselves, they were hoping for everyone. Their faith wasn’t in the outcome of their hopes, but in the source of their hope – God Himself.
In this life we will experience hope deferred, but when we put our faith in the source – God, the tree of life, we can live with assurance despite our disappointment. Has your hope been deferred? That’s ok, you are in good company. Have faith, hold on to that hope, and keep your eyes on Jesus – the author and perfector of our faith.
I simply want to encourage you to live in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus today. His resurrection points to our resurrection and to our being transformed into true and perfect people. I know this world is hard and we are ready for it to end. But, take heart – Jesus is here, the resurrected Jesus is making all things new. The work of transformation has begun. All we have to do is look forward expectantly to the day when we get to enjoy it in full. Paul says it best:
“And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. … everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. … Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. …But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:19-57
May we all live today as resurrected people with resurrection hope. Not as people just waiting for this life to pass and we move on to the next. But as people who are living in resurrected victory today – looking forward to complete and total transformation tomorrow.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
Take a second and think of three things you truly hope for. What are they? Now, who or what are you depending on to see those things become reality for you? How confident are you that what you hope for will happen?
The Bible speaks of hope quite a bit. In fact Paul lists it among the three greatest gifts the Spirit gives us – faith, hope, and love. But, there is a difference between the hope the Bible speaks of and the hope we talk about. For us hope often comes off as wishful thinking. I hope I win the lottery even though I know the chances are slim to none that I actually will. That kind of hope has very little to no confidence behind it. Partly because that hope is grounded in this world and depends on someone or something from this world to make it happen.
The hope God talks about and that the Holy Spirit gives us is more than a wishful though. Biblical hope carries with it the idea of confident expectation. This kind of hope has an assurance about it. Romans 5:5 tells us the hope we get from God is a hope that does not disappoint. Now, that is the kind of hope we need. It is that kind of hope that gives life, energy, and motivation to keep striving forward.
The biggest reason for the confidence and assurance we have in this hope is that the source of this hope is beyond us. The source of this hope is trust worthy and dependable. Jesus is our hope (1 Timothy 1:1). This hope doesn’t come from within us, it comes from Him. So, if we are lacking confidence in our hope the first thing we need to seriously consider is the source of our hope. Is our hope placed in the right place? Is it in Jesus?
Sometimes we grow frustrated in our hope because of what we are hoping for. Hoping to win the lottery is always going to be frustrating. So, what should we hope for? Should we hope for better? Should we hope for heaven? Absolutely. Jesus said, in Revelation 21, that He is making all things new. That is what we can hope for – better and new things! It is resurrection hope!
If you are feeling hopeless today, know you don’t have to stay that way. Trust Jesus – He will give you hope!
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
Jesus tells a group of religious leaders a short story in Matthew 21. He tells them about two sons both of which were asked to go to work. The first son said no but after thinking about it decided he better get to it, so he ended up going to work. The second son said, “Yes, I will go” but then never actually does. Jesus asked which son was obedient? Of course, it was the son that actually went to work. You see, our words can only get us so far before they require us to take some action.
The grit God has given us (2 Timothy 1:7) is to be used in our every day lives, not just in the toughest moments of life, but all the time. God expects us to live out our faith and not to just talk about it. He expects us to actually do what we say. If we say we believe in Jesus then our life and actions need to reflect that belief. We need to be doers. He expects us to take what He has given us, the Spirit of grit, and actually do something with it. That means we need to live a gritty life.
Another way He explains this is in the story of the talents in Matthew 25. Three servants are given some talents. Two of the servants do something with the talents given and multiply them. The third servant just protects the one given because he is afraid to lose it. He doesn’t want to take the risk. So, he does nothing with it. He is called the lazy and wicked servant and the master takes the talent from him.
The things God has given us are meant to be used. We are supposed to take a risk with them in order to be obedient to God and be a doer of His word. That is what James mean when he says we need to be a doer and not just a listener. He means we have been given a spirit of power, well we better display that power. We have a spirit of love, well we better love. We have a spirit of discipline, well we better show some discipline. In almost every case it will require some grit.
God has not given us a spirit of laziness or called us to a life of ease. He has given us a spirit of grit – a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. God has given us the necessary talent to expand His Kingdom. We are called to use it, to take the risk, and live a gritty life. God is ready to use that gritty life to change lives and make Kingdom impacts. Be gritty. Live gritty.
And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
I was playing a virtual reality game not that long ago and realized how hard it is to convince your mind of two different things at the same time. I knew I was standing in my living room, but my mind was seeing a miniature golf course with cliffs and water falls. I tried to “walk off” the cliff a couple of times and even though I knew there really was no cliff it still caused a funny feeling and I had to “force” my brain to be ok with it. It was weird!
Gritty faith can be like that at times. Where we have to go off of what we know to be true and not what we feel or the circumstances we are looking at. There are times in life where we will have to have that kind of faith to experience the victory God has for us.
In the story in Matthew 15 there is a Gentile woman who had a daughter that was demon possessed. She, like any mother, wanted her daughter to be healed, to be set free of the torment. So, she came to Jesus for that healing. She knew Jesus was able to heal her, she knew Jesus as Lord, and she believed in who He said He was. It took that solid foundation and some grit for her to see her daughter set free.
Her circumstances were not in her favor – she was a Gentile woman – unclean in the eyes of the Jews and would have been ignored by most Jewish men. Her cries for help were met with demands of silence by those closest to Jesus. Even Jesus didn’t respond in the most favorable way. But, she kept on. She kept asking. She got on her knees and cried out for help. This was one gritty mom!
This gritty faith led to a victory for her and for her daughter. Jesus has guaranteed us a victory, but He never promised it would be an easy one. Don’t let your circumstances dictate your faith or your action. Let God do that. Hold on to who you know Him to be! Never let anyone or anything steer you off track – have some grit and wait for God to work!
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death… Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
Hebrews 2:14, 17-18
There is a really interesting story in Matthew 4 of Jesus being tempted. It says God led Him out into the wilderness in-order to be tempted. That sounds very strange to me. I mean, think about it, God led His Son out to be tempted. Would you send your child out into the world to be tempted? It is a questionable decision until you take into account what Jesus was doing. He was becoming like us in every respect to help us live victoriously through this life.
When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness He was showing us that living victoriously is possible and He was showing us how to go about it. Jesus put His grit on full display. According to the writer of Hebrews He did all this so He could helps us in the same way. So, are you facing some temptation – have some Jesus grit!
Jesus grit starts with some steps of obedience. In Matthew 4 the first thing Jesus does is follows the leading of the Spirit. I am sure He didn’t really want to go out into the wilderness but He went anyway. If we are going to have Jesus grit we are going to have to be willing to follow the leadership of God even if that means following Him into the difficult. Grit doesn't come from the easy – it comes from the hard. So be obedient to God so He can cultivate the grit you need.
Jesus also took time to surrender Himself to God. We can see that in His baptism as well as in the 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. Jesus grit requires surrender. To make it through you have to be all in for God. Are you? Jesus was.
After those 40 days and that temptation Jesus came out victorious. According to Hebrews, that means we can go through the same thing and come out the same way. Now that Jesus has gone through it, He is ready to lead you through it too. Jesus grit trusts in the help of Christ.
And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
We all need some good friends in our lives. People that are there for us no matter what. Someone who is always helping us move ahead and get to a better place. Good friends are a vital part of a healthy and happy life. When you think of a good friend who do you think of? What has that person done for you?
Jesus once said that there is no greater love than for someone to lay down their life for another. Jesus, of course, demonstrated that for us when He gave His life for us. He really is a true friend – the best friend. He is always there for us. Always has our best interest at heart. He is there, looking out for us, no matter what. The problem is we don’t always see that and we often have trouble getting our selves in front of Him. Much like what happened to the paralyzed man in the story above.
In this story these men knew Jesus could heal their friend. But, since he was paralyzed he was unable to get to Jesus himself. So, they had to help. They had to carry him, they had to dig a hole in a roof, carry him up on the roof, tie up some ropes, and then lower him through the hole and in front of Jesus. None of that sounds easy! Have you ever tried to carry another person. It isn’t an easy task. But, they did it because they knew how much their friend needed Jesus.
There are times in life when we need those kinds of friends. We need someone who is willing to carry us and lower us down in front of Jesus. There are also times when we need to be that kind of friend – willing to go the extra mile and do the hard work of loving someone and helping someone get to Jesus.
I am thankful for the friends God has given me, who have held the rope for me when I have needed it. I am especially thankful that God is that kind of friend too. Jesus came and held that rope for us – removed the obstacle of sin so we could gain access to the Father. Be that kind of friend to those around you. Surround yourself with those kind of people, you will be better for it.
…Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God…
Do you know what happens to a balloon (filled with air) when you hold it over a flame? It pops. I am not a scientist but I am sure it has something to do with the air inside expanding due to the heat resulting in a popped balloon. But, do you ever feel like a balloon that is being held over a flame? You are being stretched and stretched and you feel like you are going to explode at any minute? The trials and troubles of life have just heated you up to the point where you just can’t take it anymore? It is a feeling most all of us can relate to, I am sure.
The story the above verse comes from is one where most people would have popped. Paul and Silas have been put into prison for doing what God had asked them to do. Paul, just before going into prison, seemed annoyed and exhausted. A combination that usually leads to an explosion (at least I know it can for me). But, instead of exploding they sang praises – right from their prison cell. In a trying and stressful time they found a way to rejoice. How did that do that?
Let’s go back to the balloon for just a second. The balloon popped because of what was inside of it. Now, if you fill that balloon with water and hold it over a flame it won’t pop (at least not as easily and not right away). That water that is filling the balloon will protect it from the heat of the fire. It really does matter what you put in it.
The same goes for us. What is on the inside matters. Paul and Silas were able to sing praises because God’s joy had filled them on the inside. They still experienced the stress, pressure, and heat of the outside world but it didn’t destroy them because of God’s presence in them. Paul once said that he has learned to be content in every circumstance because of God’s love for him – because of Jesus.
Allow God to fill you today – to fill you with His love, forgiveness, and peaceful presence. With Him you too will be able to sing praises in the face of trials. Paul and Silas experienced peace in prison and also freedom. As they sang their chains fells off. Sing praises to God today and watch Him lead you through the storm and free you of your chains!
Pastor Matt Huff leads Portland Central Nazarene Church. He loves being in ministry and seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ.