Posted on October 21, 2016 by Chris Wiles
This Sunday marks the beginning of the city-wide For Our City sermon series. Throughout the series, area churches will be sharing resources as we speak with one voice in bringing the gospel to Hagerstown. To that end, we trust that you’ll blessed by this introduction to our series and to the book of Nehemiah, assembled by the staff of Lifehouse Church:
Everywhere we turn, we hear and see the tearing apart of friendships, homes, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. Turn on the news, the radio, or your computer. Pull out your phone or open any social media site. We are a house divided against itself, and it seems that we’re falling fast.
In a cultural climate of divisiveness it’s easy to allow fear to overtake us and isolate us one from the other. We start to see people divided into races or political groups or social classes or economic castes. We start to look out for our self-interest and survival rather than for each other.
Worse, too often churches use their convictions as an excuse to be hateful and treat others os lesser individuals. When this happens churches are reduced to a small-minded constituency and lose their spiritual authority in a culture that desperately needs a voice of hope. This, in turn, drives wedges between them and those already disenfranchised. As a result, hearing that the church is against them, too many in our nation and culture have wrongly concluded that God is against them.
But God, revealed through Jesus, showed up in poverty, in an occupied country, lacking political freedom – in a time of world turmoil, political oppression, and extreme abuses. Rather than coming to condemn anyone to death or eternal judgment. He took the sins of the world on Himself and died in our place. He stepped in between us and all that we deserved to offer His love, His forgiveness, a hope, and a future. As a result, we can confidently say God is for us, not against us. God is for OUR city! He is for our neighborhoods, for our schools, and for our families. And most importantly, God is for YOU!
Therefore, God has called every church and every Christian to be for OUR city—for the most marginalized, the weak, the poor, the hurting, the broken, the ill, the innocent, the most vulnerable, and the most overlooked. This is a call to actively unite in joining God in the transformation of our communities and cities. This is a challenge to follow Jesus as He leads us by His Spirit in becoming agents of change FOR OUR CITY.
WHY STUDY THE BOOK OF NEHEMIAH?
The Book of Nehemiah from the Old Testament of the Bible appeals to anyone who is living in less than ideal circumstances but wishing for more. If things haven’t turned out like you expected or you’re looking out at the wreckage of life, burned out, weary, discouraged, and disappointed, then this is relevant to you Nehemiah is the historical narrative of a mon who is overwhelmed and heart-broken by the destruction of his homeland: and he’s determined to do something to change the tide of this ruin.
Here’s the setting: After the rise of the Nation of Israel under the reign of King David, his sons turned from God to immorality and idolatry. God had promised that He would bless them if they worshipped Him faithfully but curse them if they rebelled. The rebellion and pagan worship piled up, and they finally suffered the consequences of their sins.
In 587 BC, the entire nation of Israel had been divided and conquered, and the people were taken captive to foreign lands. The city of Jerusalem, their capital and center of worship, was destroyed and laid in ruin. Everything was lost and the Jewish people were once again homeless and trying to worship God as slaves and strangers in exile and among foreign religions. Nebuchadnezzar was Babylon’s king at the time, and under his leadership the nation flourished. But with his death in 562 BC, the decline of this world power began.
In 539 BC, the Persians attacked and conquered Babylon and became the new world power. King Cyrus II famously decreed that the Jews could return and rebuild their temple and the city of Jerusalem.
Finally, in 538 BC. Zerubbabel gathered a group of Israelites and returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple of God. However, they continued to live in moral and spiritual decay for several decades, until Ezra brought more Jews back to Jerusalem in 458 BC. Only then did they begin to restore the law of God, honor His Word, and worship Him alone. Unfortunately, under the rule of Persia, Jerusalem was still burned out—her fortifications in rubble, houses devastated, and people destitute.
Darius followed Cyrus as the king of Persia, and under him the Temple was rebuilt in 515 BC. This took place under the leadership of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. In 444 BC, the new King of Persia, Artaxerxes I (who may have been the son of Esther), had a cupbearer named Nehemiah, a very wise and passionate Hebrew nobleman. Nehemiah was heartbroken when he heard news that Jerusalem was still in such a mess. As a “dual-citizen,” in the service of the King but religiously loyal to the Jews, he longed to see his homeland restored. So, after deep anguish in prayer, he went to the King and asked if he could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.
The Book of Nehemiah recounts this great historical moment, but this story is much more than just an ordinary history lesson. The narrative is very practical and relevant nearly 2,500 years later. As strong leaders, Ezra and Nehemiah led a reform in the spiritual, social, and economic life of their city with a deep concern for the reputation of the name of the Lord in the midst of pagan opposition.
Are we similarly driven by the devastation and ruin around us in our neighborhoods, cities, and nation to unite and work tirelessly in the name of God toward true restoration? Are we zealous for the reputation of God among our neighbors and a nation that has long considered faith and devotion to God irrelevant and even irrational? If your answers were ‘Yes’, then let’s come together and truly be FOR OUR CITY!