For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
I think one of the most peaceful moments I have experienced was sitting out in the woods watching the sun set. It was during hunting season and I walked a few miles out on a ridge and sat down. I was supposed to be watching for elk but was taken by the setting sun, the stillness in the air, and the absolute peace I felt. In that moment I had no responsibilities, no burdens, and no phone ringing (there was no service). It was peaceful. The only problem – it wasn’t sustainable. I had to walk back to camp, I had to drive back home, and I had to engage in life. Peace is amazing and would be even more amazing if we could have it all the time.
Those kinds of peaceful moments are wonderful and we all need to experience them regularly. But, when we talk about Jesus being our Prince of Peace those are not the moments He died to give us. He actually came to give us so much more than that. The peace Jesus came to give is sustainable – it is eternal.
But, before we can experience this sustainable peace we first must confront the things that steal our peace. In Matthew Jesus said he didn’t not come to bring peace, but division. Now, that sounds contradictory to what Isaiah said doesn’t it? The Prince of Peace wasn’t going against His mission, He was telling us that what He brought isn’t going to be easy to receive. It isn’t going to be an escape from reality, but a new reality. It is going to require confrontation. The promised result, however, being deep and abiding peace.
Jesus came to give peace through confrontation. He confronted the sin in the world. He confronted the religious leaders. He confronted the broken and the lost. Jesus’ public ministry wasn’t about trying to get everyone to agree. It was about showing everyone the way to ultimate peace.
If you want peace today then start by seeking Jesus. Expect some conviction and some challenge. It isn’t a bad thing, don’t resist it. Through that challenge comes repentance and through repentance comes forgiveness. It is in forgiveness we can find real, lasting, peace.
All the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given for Israel to obey.
Revival brings to mind a traumatic change of events – a transformation. When someone is revived they are brought back from death. They begin to breath again, their heart starts to be, they open their eyes, and they can go on living. These are amazing things to see and hear about. You’ve seen them, the pictures of transformation – the before and after of remodel projects. The old house that looks brand new, the old car that now looks shiny. Many of us what that for our own lives – life, newness, meaning, and identity.
We want it. We dream about it. We long for it. We talk with others about it. You know – one day when. So, what keeps us from experiencing it? What keeps us from that revival and transformation? Why aren’t more people walking in new life having discovered their God given identity and purpose?
Let’s consider Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem for just a second. Consider their before picture – dysfunctional, no wall, not even enough houses for people, oppression, selfishness, living in trouble and shame. Yet, now, they are one city, one people, gathered for one purpose. God did a miracle in them!
God did do an amazing work among the people in just under 2 months. It is an entirely new city and a new people. But, we need to recognize God wasn’t the only one that did some work – so did the people. They go to this point of revival because they were willing to put in the work. They built a wall, had difficult conversations, looked out for each other, and kept their eyes on God. Getting to this point wasn’t easy.
Transformation isn’t easy for anyone – not even the home remodeler or decorator. Someone has to do the work. I think many of us are not living the life God has for us and are missing out on some amazing transformations because we are refusing to do the work. We have to put ourselves in position for transformation. God wasn’t going to build this wall for them. They had to do that themselves. There is a work we need to do before we can experience this revival. The thing is, we probably already know what it is. It’s just a matter of whether or not we want to do it? Do the work and watch God do the rest.
So on October 2 the wall was finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God.
Finishing the job gives you such a great feeling! Just 52 days after Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem started the good work of rebuilding the wall, they were finished. What a job! Then, to top it all off, it deflated their enemies and brought glory to God. That’s what finished work does – it gives testimony to the one behind it, of their ability and their strength. In this case, and in ours, the One behind the good work is God and we get to enjoy His finished work!
Nehemiah and the people got to enjoy this tremendous accomplishment because they stayed focused. With every distraction and attack that came their way, they stayed focused. They knew what they wanted to do and they knew what they needed to do to get it done – they didn’t let anyone deter them from that. If we are going to be about the good work of the Lord, we have to stay focused on Him.
They enjoyed a job well done because they were also able to say no when they needed to. When they were close to completing the work Nehemiah was invited by some other leaders to leave town and meet with them. It sounded like it was a concession speech, but it wasn’t. Even though it sounded good, Nehemiah was able to see through it and still say no. To finish the good work God has for us and the work He wants to do in us we will have to learn to say no. We will even have to say no to the things that look and sound good, because in the end, they will only hinder us from the real work.
One of the most important things the people did, which led to this moment for them, is they constantly leaned on God for their strength to keep going. As they neared that finish line the attacks kept coming, only know they were a little harder to discern. At one point Nehemiah simple said, God, strengthen our hands. Often, that is what it will take for us to get to the finish line. A simply prayer and a simple step of faith and trust in the strength of God at work in us and through us. God will always get it done, even when we can’t. Trust Him.
About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews.
Nehemiah and the people have been hard at work building the wall around Jerusalem. But, it didn’t take long for their dysfunction and brokenness to show itself. It wasn’t just the wall that had been beaten down and destroyed, the people were just as broken and just as messed up. Nehemiah had more to do that just a construction project. He had to lead the rebuilding of a people and part of that was not ignoring them and their mess.
It is approaching that time of year where families and friends will be getting together to celebrate various holidays. These groups will gather and there will inevitably be someone in that group you don’t want to see or that “gets on your nerves.” But, at the end of the day that’s you, that’s us. We exist, all of us, in messiness and brokenness. There is no need trying to ignore it. In fact if we want things to be better, to be different, we can’t. We are a fallen humanity with plenty of imperfections. As God sent Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem, He has sent Jesus to rebuild us.
Nehemiah took time to listen to the cry of the oppressed people in Jerusalem. He then took time to think about, which I think means he took time to pray about. It also seems he reflected on his role in the problem. The main thing is he didn’t try to excuse it away or shift the blame. He took an honest look at what the people were saying and came to the conclusion, this just isn’t right.
Next, he took some steps to make it right. He admitted their mistakes and said it has to stop. Let's stop beating the people up economically and let’s start working together. He recognized their need for each other, the rich needed the poor just as much as the poor needed the rich. This wasn’t about one group or the other, this was about them. This is us.
In the end there were two groups of people. Those who needed to repent and those who needed to forgive. It was going to take both groups to rebuild the wall and to rebuild the people. The people responded to this challenge with an “Amen” and sang praises to God. It seems they did what was required of them. Today, there are two groups. Those who need to repent and those who need to forgive. Which are you? Are you willing to take that step for us? Jesus did.
Sanballat … mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Do you remember saying that as a kid? It was a way to try to ignore the insults that kids so often share with each other. But, as we grow up we learn that words do hurt and often times hurt more than the sticks and stones. Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem were about to learn that lesson as their work was being insulted and ridiculed. They would grow tired and frustrated from these lies and the opposition they were constantly facing.
There are lies that flow all around us that sound very similar to what Nehemiah and the people were dealing with. We hear all the time that we incapable of change or success. We don’t have what it takes and will never make it. We aren’t good enough, smart enough, fast enough, or enough of anything. What success we have experienced or victories we have been able to achieve wont last. The list can go on and on of the lies that are out there and that find their ways into our minds. They are dangerous, because if we are not on our toes we will start to believe them and we will end up discouraged and fearful.
When we start hearing the lies we need to do what Nehemiah did – pray. Twice in Nehemiah 4 he went to the Lord in prayer. Twice he encouraged the people to remember who God was, how awesome He is and that He was fighting for them. He didn’t try to pretend that the lies and threats didn’t impact them. He said, this is tough stuff, but our God is tougher. With the prayers and the reminders of God’s faithfulness they kept going, they kept building.
Don’t listen to the lies today – listen to God and seek Him. God will make it (whatever we are seeking in Him, victory in Jesus), because He who is leading you and calling you is faithful. God will do it!
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.
Pastor Matt Huff leads Portland Central Nazarene Church. He loves being in ministry and seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ.