Over the last few months, I’ve been working on my physical health. I have a new hobby of weight training. I’ve made the little mud room off my house into my own little man cave. It’s my own tiny gym. This past week, I said ok, I really need to keep working on my diet. Making sure I am eating healthy food. Literally the day I said to myself that I am going to crack down on my diet, some friends offered me donuts. Sweets can get me. Especially cheesecake. Oh my.
Doesn’t it seem like every time you try to make progress in an area, you start encountering obstacles? Our most important tasks, goals and vocations in life are filled with difficulties. On top of that, we have a real enemy, the Devil, who wants to discourage you, oppose you, distract you, and bring you down. Progress is not going to be easy, we encounter many obstacles, uphill battles in life.
Today, we are going to look at 3 chapters where God’s people encounter obstacles to restoration. Yes, spoiler alert, we know they complete the wall project. But it wasn’t smooth sailing. It was all uphill. Every bit of it. We are going to look at 7 obstacles God’s people faced and see what we can learn about overcoming the obstacles we have in our own lives and as a church family.
4:1-3 “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”
Mockery. Biting sarcasm. These are not unknown to us in our day. We may hear these hurtful words from others. Or the Enemy may ridicule us with these lies as well. So what does Nehemiah do when face with mockery?
He turns to the weapon of prayer. Nehemiah prays some harsh words. Asking God to take execute justice on them.
We now know through the teachings of Jesus, that we are to love and pray for enemies. We are called to unlimited forgiveness. But nevertheless, if we don’t do anything with our feelings of anger and our longing for justice, it can come out in all kinds of ugly ways.
Opposition (4:7-9, 11-23)
They faced ridicule. Then there comes a real threat of physical opposition.
“7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”
This is how it often works. The Jews are finally making some progress. More opposition is headed their way.
I invite you to remember Paul’s words in Eph 6
“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, …18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions”
Put on the armor of God and Pray in the Spirit on all occasions.
This is like Nehemiah.
Pray and make better choices.
“10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
They are half way done, but they are feeling weak and they see the rubble of rocks all around them that it just seems to difficult to keep going.
Now I’m not going to say a whole lot here, on Aug 16th I preached a sermon on overcoming discouragement from Ezra 5-6. I invite you to listen to it or watch it on our website (faithecc.org).
But this shows that discouragement is not easily defeated. It is a persistent obstacle. It is a powerful tool of the enemy.
As if dealing with outside opposition wasn’t enough, there arises division with the community.
Some of the poorer members of the community are in financial crisis. There has been a famine in the land. Taxes are expensive. So they are borrowing money and mortgaging their property to some of the richer Jews. And in order to pay off their debt to their rich neighbors, they are selling their children’s labor to Gentiles as slaves in order to pay off their debts to their rich Jewish neighbors! First off, it’s against God’s law, the Torah to charge interest to a fellow Jew, and this was selfish and cruel in light of the crisis.
So Nehemiah is frankly ticked off. These people are supposed to be working together on a huge project, but their selfishness is harming and dividing the community. Selfishness is a huge obstacle to community and the work of God. When we insist on our own way, our own rights, our own opinions, it causes division within Christ’s body.
Our church leadership council was talking about what our church needs in this season, we believe we are being called to RADICAL UNITY. We need to not insist on our own way right now.
If service is at 11 I’m out. Bears play at noon soo…
Some of us are insisting, “well if a mask is going to be required for anything, I’m out.” That’s not right. In humility, value others above yourself. Consider the interests of others. Are we going to let a piece of cloth divide the body of Christ? Will you cut yourself off from the body? I know there are many who are cannot come and don’t feel safe returning. I fully respect and support their decision. But I’m talking about those who say “I’m out if I have to do something I don’t want to do. I’m out if it’s not the music I like. I’m out if it’s done the way I would do it.” That’s just selfishness.
Let’s be radically committed to putting others before ourselves. Others in the church are more important than my individual rights or wishes. They will know we are Christians by our love for one another.
6:1-4“When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that no gap was left in it—though at that time I had not installed the doors in the city gates— 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me a message: “Come, let’s meet together in the villages of[a] the Ono Valley.” They were planning to harm me.3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing important work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same proposal, and I gave them the same reply.
The enemies don’t give up. Our enemy doesn’t give up easily either. We have to resist him and then he will flee. The enemies are trying to trick him so they can harm him. It’s more than a distraction here, but it is certainly something that would take him from his most important task. If the enemy can’t defeat us, he will try to distract us. Every time it’s actually a trick intended to harm us. So we have to recognize when we are being distracted. This may come in various forms. It may be offers from other people, it may be internet or tv consumption taking you from prayer or other important work, it may be other things that are good, that distract you from your primary callings.
In 6:5-9, the enemies try to promote a rumor that the Jews are planning to rebel against Persia, and they want to make Nehemiah king.
These rumors aren’t true at all.
It seems like they want the people to be afraid they could get in trouble with the King Artaxerxes of Persia. They are going to spread false lies so they better stop or they will get in trouble.
The early church also faced this type of intimidation. In acts, they are seized the Jewish leader, put in prison, and threatened. Right after they are released, they pray…
Acts 4:29 “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”
Wow. They fought intimidation with prayer and boldness.
In our final obstacle, we meet temptation.
Nehemiah goes to meet with a so-called prophet.
6:10-14 10 I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was restricted to his house. He said: Let’s meet at the house of God, inside the temple. Let’s shut the temple doors because they’re coming to kill you.
They’re coming to kill you tonight![d] 11 But I said, “Should a man like me run away? How can someone like me enter the temple and live? I will not go.” 12 I realized that God had not sent him, because of the prophecy he spoke against me.
Nehemiah was a layman. He wasn’t a Levite or a Priest. It wasn’t lawful for him to enter the Temple. In fact, he could be put to death for it. Shemaiah tried to Nehemiah to protect himself with something that would actually harm him and discredit him. It was against God’s Word. This is how our enemy works. He makes sin looks good. He makes sin look like self-protection. He makes sin look like self-care. He makes sin look beneficial. But in reality, it is deadly. Nehemiah could see right through the lie, that wasn’t intended to harm him not help him.
You might have thought “From Ruins to Restoration” was easy.
Look at all the obstacles they faced!
- Opposition- Prayed and kept working.
- Discouraged-remembered God’s power.
- Selfish- repented and stayed unified.
- Distracted- stayed focused.
- Intimidated- Faced it Boldly.
- There was Temptation- but they Resisted.
Nehemiah 6:15-16 15 The wall was completed in fifty-two days, on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul. 16 When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God.
That’s the final reality. Overcoming obstacles is only accomplished through the power and strength of our God.
What obstacle are you facing right now, that if removed, you would see significant progress?
So let us seek the Lord’s power to overcome the obstacles in our lives and in our church because we know Great is He is that in me and we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.