September 26, 2021 . . .“God’s anonymous: the workers who built the wall” Nehemiah 4:6

September 26, 2021 . . .“God’s anonymous: the workers who built the wall” Nehemiah 4:6

September 26, 2021

“God’s anonymous: the workers who built the wall”

Nehemiah 4:6

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

The “Long Wall,” also known as the “Earth Dragon,” also known as the “Purple Frontier,” but usually known as the “Great Wall of China,” is one of the most extraordinary building achievements of all time. More than thirteen thousand miles long, some say it’s one of the few man-made objects that’s visible, with an unaided eye, from space.

It all started back about eight hundred years before Christ, when six Chinese states wanted to defend their borders. And as time passed, the wall grew not only longer, but stronger, complete with gates, stables, soldiers’ barracks and signal towers, and using materials anywhere from dirt to wood, to tile, bricks and stone. At one point, eight hundred thousand people worked on it night and day, while some spent their entire lives building that wall.

And though some of it has long since crumbled and tumbled down, as many as ten million people go to visit it every year.

When we think of walls past and present, we might think of the Berlin Wall or Jerusalem’s Western Wall or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. There’s even, as much as I hate to say it, a “Chewing Gum” Wall in downtown Seattle, Washington. Second only to the Blarney Stone, they say that it’s the germiest tourist attraction on earth. Yech!

But of all the walls past, present and future, one of the most important is found in the Bible, in the Old Testament, in the book of Nehemiah. I’ll read the words of chapter 2: “In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.’ Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, ‘Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it’” (Nehemiah 2:1-5).

Let’s step back for a moment to see what’s going on.

The book of Nehemiah takes us back in time to about four hundred years before Christ. Nearly two hundred years before, in 587 B.C., a king by the name of Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Judah, burning its cities, tearing down its walls, and forcing the captives to move to Babylon. Then fifty years later, Persia conquered the Babylonians, and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. And under the leadership of men like Jeshua and Zerubbabel, they managed to, at least, rebuild their Temple--which was good, but it wasn’t good enough. The city and its people were still vulnerable to attack.

Which takes us to the book of Nehemiah.

So who was Nehemiah? He wasn’t a “prophet” like you’d expect--you know, like Haggai, Zechariah or Malachi. In fact, the first time we meet him, the Bible says he was the cupbearer for a king.

Now when you hear that, you think, well, that’s kind of silly. So he holds a cup for a king. What’s the big deal?

But let me tell you, to be a king’s cupbearer was a lot more important than you think.

Think of it like this--when you’re a king, you not only have friends, you have enemies, and quite a lot of enemies. Foreign kings and powers would just as well see you dead, especially when you rule over an empire.

But how could they kill him? A frontal assault would be far too costly and risky. But a better way, a whole lot cheaper way, would be to slip a little poison in his cup.

In the words of a Bible Dictionary, “The holder of the office of cupbearer was brought into confidential relations with the king, and must have been thoroughly trustworthy, as part of his duty was to guard against poison in the king’s cup. In some cases, he was required to taste the wine before presenting it.”

Even more, cupbearers were not only poison-protectors, they were confidants to the king, officials of the royal court. Wherever the king went, he went, and whatever the king knew, he knew.

So you see, Nehemiah didn’t just taste wine. Instead, as the cupbearer of Artaxerxes, the ruler of the Persian empire, he held a position of great power, responsibility and authority.

But one day as he was serving in the king’s court, he received a message from his brother. This is what it said: “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:3).

And what did Nehemiah do when he heard those words? The first thing he did was cry. The next thing he did was he fasted, and then he prayed. He said, (as a more contemporary translation puts it), “O Lord, please answer my prayer and the prayer of those who honor Your name. When I serve the king his wine today, let him do what I ask” (Nehemiah 1:11).

And what did he ask? To rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

And wonder of wonders, the king of Persia, King Artaxerxes himself, granted his request.

So off he went bearing letters of authority, at the king’s command, together with officers of the army and horsemen, all the way to Jerusalem. And for the next three nights, without telling anyone what he was up to, he quietly and carefully inspected the walls of Jerusalem. And when he was done, he said, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:17).

Why build the wall? Let’s just say it was foolish not to! After all, Jerusalem was not only surrounded by threats and enemies of all kinds, it was their capital city. And no wall meant no one’s life, family or property could ever be safe from invasion or intruder.

But even more than that, Nehemiah would build that wall not only for the people’s good and the city’s good, he would build it for the glory of God. So just as soon as he said in verse 17, “Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem,” they said in verse 18: “Let us rise up and build.”

And what comes next in chapter 3 is a long list of people and places, both named and unnamed, who would help to build that wall--people like Eliashib, the high priest all the way down to the daughters of Shallum.

Men and women, priests and Levites, goldsmiths, tradesmen, businessmen, even perfumers from as far as away as Gibeon, Jericho, Zanoah, and Tekoa, all came to help. And after working night and day, some with a brick in one hand and a sword in the other, through trials and troubles of all kinds, fifty-two days later, they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

So what does this text mean to teach us? I’ll offer you two things. The first is found in this--

Just as Nehemiah once rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, it’s up to us to build the church today.

But as Dwight L. Moody once wrote, “A great many people have got a false idea about the church. They have got an idea that the church is a place to rest in. To get into a nicely cushioned pew, and contribute to the charities, listen to the minister, and do their share to keep the church out of bankruptcy.” And he said, “But the idea of work for them, actual work in the church, never enters their minds. Yet, the great commission has been given even to them.”

You’ve heard of the “Tater family”? They say that members of that family can be found in most every church, and some of them can be quite dangerous!

The head of the family is named Dick, you know, Dick Tater. He’s the guy who, for whatever reason, has the tremendous need to be in charge. Never mind that the Bible says that “Christ is the head of the church.” He just figures that, since Jesus isn’t physically present at the moment, He needs his help until He comes back around. Even more, he thinks he’s indispensable to the church and really the only one that matters. And if anyone would ever dare to disagree with him, look out! He’ll dig his heels in and fight to have his own way. Though he might appear kind at times, Dick Tater can be an awfully dangerous guy.

Then there’s his wife, Hezy, Hezy Tater. She knows he’s out of line, but she won’t do anything about it. She drags her feet. She straddles the fence. And rather than doing much of anything to help the church, she simply sighs and says, “Maybe if we let him have his way, he’ll settle down and quit trying to run everything.” It’s a nice thought, but it never seems to happen.

Then there’s a cousin, Emma, Emma Tater. Though she’s not nearly as abrasive as Dick, she can be a source of aggravation as well. She’s never happy just to be herself and use her own God-given gifts, talents and abilities. Instead, she’d rather just imitate the ones she admires. If only she could be herself, rather than try to be someone else.

Or think of another cousin, the one named Spec, Spec Tater. And though he won’t ever work or lead or serve, (he really doesn’t want any kind of job really), he just shows up from time to time to complain.
 And let’s not forget about another cousin--Common Tater. Like Spec Tater, she doesn’t want to lead or follow either. She won’t hold an office or even teach Sunday School. Instead, she’s happy to share her opinions on just about everyone and everything that goes on in the church, whether anyone cares to hear it or not.

And last, there’s the most difficult one in the group, the one called, Agi, you know, Agi Tater. He’s just as dangerous as Dick, but in a more quiet and subtle way. He’s rarely up front and visible. He prefers instead to work behind the scenes, and to blend in with the crowd. And for some reason, unbeknownst to anyone, he stirs up trouble and turmoil, and seems to get his greatest joy in causing more harm than good. He’s an awfully dangerous guy to have around.

But thankfully, there is one in that Tater family who’s a joy to have around, and that’s the one called Sweet Tater.

She loves Jesus and it shows! She knows what the grace of God is all about. A woman of study and prayer, she’s faithful, committed, supportive and involved. She takes on positions of responsibility and sets her mind on the mission, the great commission, of the church. And though she might have her opinions, she knows the church is never about her. It’s about her Savior Jesus.

Out of all the members of the Tater family, let me tell you, she’s the best one to have around!

And one more lesson to learn from this text--just as those many men and women rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, we too need to build a wall to protect our families and our homes, from the violence and sin that surrounds us.

So let me ask, have you set boundaries against the world and its values? Is Christ the guardian and leader of your home? Or do you let the enemy stream in unchallenged?

As the apostle Paul once wrote to the Ephesians: “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine...rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Dear Father, as You once called and enabled Nehemiah and his people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, grant that we too, in our place and time, may find our hope, peace and strength in You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen