Newsletter July, 2005



July, 2005

Let's Rise Up and Build

Nehemiah 2:17-20
2:18 reads, "And I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me, and also of the king's words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for the good work." When Nehemiah shared his burden with the Jews, they replied, "Let's rise up and build" and began the good work with great effort.

Jewish History recorded in the Old Testament can be divided into two periods: the period before the great captivity and the period after. The first period covers the time from Genesis through the glorious kingdom of David to the time of its destruction by Babylon. The kingdom had weakened from Solomon on, until it totally vanished in 2 Chronicles when Jerusalem was burnt, kings and priests captured, people killed and the nation destroyed. The period after the great captivity was recorded in the books from Ezra to Esther, concerning God's recovery work after seventy years of captivity. Though often overlooked, this second period is as important as the first. If they hadn't gone back, there would have no residents in either Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Then there would have been no place for Jesus to be born when he came to earth. Therefore, God sends us important messages with this second period of history.

Genesis gives testimonies of individuals such as Abel, Abraham, Joseph, and etc. From Exodus on, the nation of Israel became a corporate testimony for God. Moses was the first leader raised by God in the Old Testament while Nehemiah was the last. Nehemiah led the Israelites just as Moses did. They shared the same characters in their leadership because of God's desire to have a corporate testimony. That's why the City of Jerusalem had such a great importance in the Old Testament.

Solomon prayed for God to keep an eye on the temple after it was built. God listened to his prayer and watched over the temple, saying, "Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now have I chosen and hallowed this house that my name may be there forever; and mine eyes and my heart shall be there perpetually." We are also told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem for it stands for the testimony of God. This city on high grounds is called the Holy City and the Golden City because it manifests God's testimony.

Few came back from their captivity whereas many had settled down in Babylon after seventy years. They who were farmers became successful merchants in Babylon. Because of their wealth, many failed to understand the will of God or to respond to His calling of returning. Thank God that about fifty thousand did come back to Jerusalem. They returned in three groups:

1. As per the decree of Cyrus the King of Persia, Zerubbabel and Joshua led the first group of Jewish people back to Jerusalem. They rebuilt the altar and the foundation of the temple. Hence the presence of God and His worship were recovered. (Later, the story of Queen Esther and Mordecai unfolded as God protected the Jews in Persia.)

2. Ezra, the scribe, led a second group of Levites back to restore the Law, and to take people back to the Word. So the will of God may be recovered among the people.

3. Nehemiah led a third group of people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall in order to recover the testimony for God.

Let's focus on what Nehemiah did in the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem.

The meaning of the wall:

1. Separation. Without a city wall, one cannot tell the boundary of the city. Our basic testimony is to be separated from the world. Our lives, our ethics and our value system should be different. With Christ in us, our lives should be set apart from the world. In the Old Testament days the Israelites had an ornament of a blue cord along the edge of their robe. It indicates that they were no longer the slaves of Egypt but the people of God. Though we live on earth, our minds should focus on heavenly things. When Jesus comes, we can be partakers of His glory. Therefore, we need a city wall to separate us from the world, just as the Jews needed the wall to separate them from the foreigners outside. Thank God for uniting us in the love of Christ, and with a wall separating us from the world lest we should waiver in its wind.

2. Protection. With a fortified city one does not fear the attack from enemy. With our wall in Christ we have His protection. That wall is our corporate testimony in our assembly. As we live with our brothers, Lord asks us to love one another. That's why Jesus prayed for His disciples' (and our) unity before He left them. The enemy continuously bombards us with worldly trends. Without the brothers, we will be wrongly influenced by the messages from TV, advertisements, and the web. Then the brothers would become distant with each other, leaving breaches in the city wall. Only when we live in harmony and keep our corporate testimony in the world, can we be protected together.

3. Further protection for the temple. Though the altar and the temple were rebuilt, people did not know how to make offerings or observe the feasts until Ezra taught them the Law. However, enemies attacked them and tried to confuse them with idol worship. People were constantly troubled by the enemies because they didn't have a city wall. The temple and the altar manifested the presence of God and worship for God. They must be protected by city wall from all dangers. Today we need city wall to protect our fellowship and to truly manifest the presence of God. Worldly gods continuously tell us not to talk about absolute truth but to only think about tolerance for all. This is the dangerous poison of the new-age movement. Today children are taught in school that America is a multi-cultured nation. One should respect other's freedom, meaning that it is OK to believe in Jesus, but Buddhism or Muslim is just fine! We truly need the wall, or the enemy will walk right into our hearts to cause us to lose our testimony.

Nehemiah went to Jerusalem to encourage his people to rebuild the city wall. Thank God that people responded and strengthened their hands for the good work (2:17f). Though their efforts were laughed at by their enemies, Nehemiah declared "the hand of my God which was good upon me" and reminded them that God will give success, "but as for you (the enemies), you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it." We should all take part in this effort of rebuilding, as we are all members of the Body. We live together with love for one another, and cannot do without each other. His eye is on His church for the sanctification of His name among them. Therefore, we should work hard for our city wall. Whoever refuses to participate, as God said, will have no share or claim or right to it.

What characteristics do these city builders have? What kind of men can participate in the work of God? In Nehemiah we find the key characters of such a person:

1. A man whose heart is set on Jerusalem: Nehemiah was a cupbearer for the Persian King Artaxerxes. He was highly thought of, and lived a comfortable life in the palace with the special right to sit by the king and queen face to face. He seldom had any sorrows before the king. He could have lived an easy life. Nonetheless, the Bible tells us that when brothers came back from Judah, he asked them concerning Jerusalem. Then he sat down and wept. For some days he mourned and fasted and prayed before God. Apparently, though he was in Persia, his heart never forgot the testimony of God. Where are our hearts? Are they focused only on our jobs, families, prizes of the world, or sinful pleasures? Those who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem must have set their hearts on Jerusalem such that they care much about the testimony of Jerusalem. God's heart is on His church, His glory, and His testimony.

2. A man of prayers: Nehemiah became sad in his king's presence, and when asked by the king he feared very much. He prayed for God to give him the proper words to answer the king. It had been four months since he last heard of Jerusalem. The burden in his heart was very heavy so that he had prayed on this matter for long. The burden in his heart became too heavy to hide from the king any more.

Nehemiah's prayer is one of the greatest prayers recorded in the Bible. He took on Israelites' sin on his shoulders as his own and repented before the Lord. He did not blame others. Instead, he said, "I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you." Therefore, God granted him with wisdom and power and taught him what to do and how to walk with power and courage. Unfortunately, we often kneel and pray well, but then stand and act foolishly. We should pray for all our sins and for the testimony of the church.

3. A man of action: Their prayer led to action as they were clothed with God's power, which was manifested through the following aspects:

(1). Wisdom. Nehemiah did not start to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem on his own. The Lord moved him to rebuild the wall: "So my God put it into my heart" (7:5). In face of all circumstances, he continuously prayed, "O God, strengthen my hands" (6:9) and "remember me with favor, O my God." Therefore, God filled him with wisdom so that he knew how to keep watch at night and how to deal with the tricks of Sanballat and other foes.

(2). Courage. Nehemiah was full of power from God so that he was never discouraged by difficulties. No matter how disappointing the circumstances were, he still led brothers to work hard to rebuild the city wall. Sometimes they built the wall with weapons in hand for defence against the enemies' threat. Therefore, they continuously experienced the protection from God's gracious and powerful hand.

(3). Loyalty. Not only did Nehemiah give up his comfort and riches before the Persian king, but for twelve years he also gave up his salary as a provincial governor so as not to burden the people. Though his enemies tried many ways to harm him, to shoot false accusations at him, and to attack him with many letters, he stood firmly in the promise of God with a loyal heart.

(4). Brotherly harmony. No one can shoulder the work of God alone. Nehemiah was a man who called on brothers to work together in response to God's calling. He work with others in one accord to manifest the unity in Christ and the glory of Christ the Head. Under such encouragement and leadership from Nehemiah, the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt within fifty-two days to restore the testimony of the Holy City and to return glory to God.

For the glory of God and our Lord's testimony, let's rise up and build!!