“The Record Of A Servant”
SI: Many part of Bible could read thousands of times and never get tired of them.
Parables of Jesus, favorite Psalms, OT Bible stories
but there are some parts of the Bible that are monotonous, even boring
genealogies and lists
they are the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit
Remind us that the Bible is not book of philosophy or morals—a record of God’s
saving works in real time and real history and real people
that is important because we are real people, in need of God’s real work
Nehemiah 3 is one of these monotonous passages
It is a list of the people who helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem
and a list of the section of the wall they helped rebuild
Could read this whole chapter—would not recognize a single name
and if you think you recognize a name, not the person you are thinking of
for example, a Uriah is mentioned, but not Bathsheba’s husband, just same name
Don’t know anything about these people except what is in this chapter
only one is mentioned another place in Bible, in Ezra
The sections of the wall don’t mean anything, even though Nehemiah
records this in a very logical way, will see shortly
I planned to skip this chapter and preach on chapter 4 today
Chapter 4 has lots of action, enemies plot against them
But as read this chapter this week, list of name knew nothing about,
something providential happened.
Judy, our church secretary was preparing new church directory
gave me original and asked me to read through it before she made copies
So, for the second time in the week, had to read through a list of names
noticed immediately, that every name evoked some feeling
joy or sorrow, concern or gratitude, and all evoked love
What if Judy puts a copy in some box, 100, 200 years from now
if this church still exists, someone digs it out and read through
would be boring reading, wouldn’t recognize a single name, like Neh. 3
Came back to Neh 3 with new interest—Is there something that lasts,
even after names forgotten? Yes, record of God’s grace in lives.
INTRO: Which hymn is the most famous hymn in the English language?
Without question it is “Amazing Grace.”
Bill Moyers did a documentary about “Amazing Grace” played on PBS years ago
in documentary, of course hear it played by bagpipes and sung by Elvis
see and hear sung in great cathedrals, tiny churches, on death row in prisons
sung by rigid Presbyterians and pew-jumping Pentecostals
Moyers point—hymn has reached every corner of the English-speaking church
Do you know who wrote “Amazing Grace”?
Written in 1772 by and Anglican pastor named John Newton
Before John became a Christian, an African slave trader
sailed up and down west coast of Africa dealing in flesh of men, women, children
life was depraved—cruel, greedy, profane, immoral, and a drunkard
John had a Christian mother, died when he was about 9
said that even in his darkest days, could not forget catechism and Bible verses
even though tried to get them out of his mind
In a bad storm, thought ship was going down, turned to God
began to read “Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a-Kempis, gloriously saved
called to ministry, after seminary, age 39, installed at first church, Olney
He and friend produced a hymnbook, Olney Hymnbook, made way to America
Words to “Amazing Grace” put to American folk tune—the rest is history
Think about the hymn “Amazing Grace”, it is a monument of God’s grace
has taken on a life of its own
when sing, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saves a wretch like me”
don’t think about John Newton, think about grace of God,
don’t think about what a wretched sinner he was, think how wretched you are
And yet, for all of history, name John Newton, even if in tiny letters, attached
What does this have to with the wall in Nehemiah 3?
This wall is also a monument of God’s grace
what is Nehemiah about—rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem
Power of God’s grace coming to broken people and a broken place
and rebuilding and restoring them
Of course, the wall itself is long gone, but the record, the monument of God’s grace
is still with us, because we have their story recorded by Nehemiah
still inspires us and encourages us
And, for all of time, the names of the people who build that wall are recorded
in the good Book, the names of nobodies that mean nothing to us by themselves
but are forever attached to this monument of God’s grace
There is a spiritual principle at work here—best expressed in Revelation 14
“Blessed are those who die in the Lord . . . they will rest from their labors,
and their works will follow them.”
What does it mean that works of believers will follow them? Two things:
First, works you do by the grace of God will not die with you, will remain
on earth, and continue to bring glory to God.
Second, Heaven will be full of rich surprises as believers discover the eternal
significance of their deeds
Don’t know how this second thing works—imagine Lord Jesus says,
John, remember that hymn you wrote, look at the millions of people comforts
Jews, brothers, remember that wall you built, long gone, but my people
still inspired by your story—look, even in Cullman, studying, convicting
Will your name be connected to a monument of God’s grace?
Will there be something left behind that will continue to bring Christ glory?
Will there be surprises in heaven, Christ says, look at that thing you did, still fruit?
mean you need to go out and start writing the next great hymn?
start building something, bricks and mortar, orphanage, ministry?
Must say, I am going to live every day, do all my work in the constant light
of two great truths:
First, I am a helpless sinner, Second, God’s amazing grace is available to me.
What Nehemiah said to these people—
in trouble and disgrace, broken outwardly, inwardly—but look at the gracious
hand of my God, let’s rebuild the wall—began the good work
and the rest is history
If you live by the grace of God, your life will be a monument of God’s grace
and the Lord himself, by his mysterious and wonderful accounting
will record your name, and one day will surprise you by saying—
do you remember what I did through you? Look at the eternal fruit bearing.
Do you believe that? Do you believe in the amazing, powerful grace of God?
MP#1 Your life can be a monument of God’s grace no matter what your past.
One thing that discourages people, think because of past sins and failures,
life is so flawed, that God cannot use them in great ways.
That is not true, shows don’t understand God’s grace.
Call attention to one of the builders, vs. 11 “Malkijah son of Harim”
one of only two people in this list mentioned anywhere else in Bible
Malkijah son of Harim is mentioned in Ezra 10:31, but mentioned in a bad way
About 13 years before Nehemiah arrived, there was a moral crisis
among the Jews living in the Jerusalem
many of the Jewish men had married foreign, pagan women
And even worse, as glean from prophet Malachi who preached around this time
they had even divorced their Jewish wives, the wives of their youth
because attracted to these morally loose, pagan women
expressly forbidden in the law of Moses, spiritual and moral ruin on nation
Very real danger would cease to exist at the people of God
sons and daughters born to these women would not hear from mothers
about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but about pagan way of life
Ezra made a list of those Jewish men who had deliberately disobeyed God in the
sexual and marital area of life—one of the names, Malkijah son of Hairm
Ezra called them to repentance, to put away foreign wives
don’t want you to be distracted by this side issue (why were these divorces right)
Draw your attention to point I’m making—this man, Malkijah
disobeyed God in sexual and marital matters (you know how destructive can be)
repented, and got right with God, and name recorded again, this time
as one who helped rebuild the wall of Jerusalem
If you think for a minute that God cannot use you because of past sins and failures,
then you have never read the Bible—from first to last, filled with stories
of sinful people who are forgiven and become monuments of God’s grace
Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Peter, Paul—broken people
God delights in pouring his grace into broken, sinful people
If you believe that, if you believe that the grace of God can overwhelm all
your past sins and failures, then your live will be a monument of his grace.
If I haven’t convinced you, if you still feel that past sins will keep you
from being used by God, then what you need to do is repent.
Don’t repent of the thing you did many years ago that weighs on conscience!
Forget that! It’s past. It’s covered by Christ’s blood.
You need to repent of your lack of faith.
Repent for believing the devil’s lie that your sin is greater than God’s grace.
You give sin too much credit. It’s strong but it’s not that strong.
After you have repented, live your life, do your work as John Newton did,
as Malkijah did, with gratitude to God
MP#2 Your life can be a monument of God’s grace no matter what your abilities.
One reason I chose certain verses to read from chapter three—draw attention
to many different vocations of people who rebuilt wall
a goldsmith named Uzziel, perfume maker named Hananiah
a number of city officials, one named Shallum
a number of priests, including high priest Eliashib
What is so striking, out of all these professions, none are masons, stone workers
sure there were some, but Nehemiah’s record calls attention
to people who probably had no idea how to build a stone wall, repair gate
Goldsmith probably used to working with very small tools, jewelry,
Perfume maker also probably worked on a small scale, hands soft from oils,
probably smelled good, never really worked up a sweat
City official, used to sitting in meetings, this one, Shallum,
even got his daughters to help him rebuild his section, must have been unique
Priests, used to temple ceremonies, did their part. Had some work done on house
struck by my complete ineptness when came to construction matters,
impressed with Eliashib
All of these people had reasons to say—this is not my kind of work, no ability
but instead they put their hands on the trowels and hammers and went to work
When God pours out his grace, doesn’t look around for person with most ability.
That person might be able to do this work I have to do—calls by his grace
His grace provides all that is needed to do the work.
some of the greatest monuments of God’s grace, people who clearly outside
or beyond their abilities, but so motivated by the grace of God, do His work
In last church, Marco Island, Florida, knew a man who was a diamond dealer
wealthy, well-traveled (Brussels, South Africa, diamond markets), successful
home in Michigan was not retired, just had the means to spend one or two months
Church in Michigan near a nursing home—for years, this man, every Sunday
picked up elderly people from that home and brought to church,
other church people helped, oversaw that ministry for years, loved these people
When on Marco Island, vacation months, came to our church
he insisted on making all the coffee for coffee time between services,
as many as 700 people in two services in the winter
Number of things struck me about this man
delightful, friendly person—Christian faith overflowed into so many areas,
because of abilities, imagine would say, if church needs financial advice, I’m man
need long range planning committee, fundraising, that is my thing,
nursing homes are not my thing, making coffee is not my thing
Instead, man of obvious business talents, wealth, some sophistication, leisure time
been called to pick up elderly people week after week and bring to church,
even make coffee for a church that wasn’t even his own, while on vacation
most unlikely person as far as abilities go, but a monument to God’s grace
The Lord keeps accounts. Have now idea how he does it, how he assigns value to
the works of his people, but he does.
Looks at elderly saint sitting in sitting in a Michigan nursing home,
maybe feeling despondent and cast off
Buzz shows up, its Sunday, time for church, her whole world changes
Listens to conversations in a church in Florida between worship services, coffee
hears people encouraging, strengthening each other, sharing faith
He keeps accounts, those things are more precious to him than diamonds,
and he knows the far-reaching spiritual results
All because a man moved by God’s grace, didn’t say—that’s not my thing
MP#3 Your life can be a monument of God’s grace no matter what your place.
Third thing that struck me about this list, number of people who worked on wall
who were not from Jerusalem, some from a good distance away
people from eight other cities—
Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, Mizpah, Zanoah, Beth Hakkerem, Beth Zur, and Keilah
some up to 20 miles away, work would have been impossible without their help
These people didn’t say, Jerusalem is too far away—
did work in spite of the distance and obvious sacrifice,
obviously had to close businesses and leave farms to stay in Jerusalem
but motivated by the grace of God to do this good work—names forever recorded
God’s grace is not limited by your place in life—true in every sense.
Geographic sense—every week millions of Christians give to projects never see,
pray for missionaries barely know, pray for parts of world will never visit
Lord takes those prayers, letters, gifts—by His gracious accounting,
become a monument of grace in a far away place
A bigger sense as well—may be in a place in life where feel limited,
illness, old age, life circumstances, finances—so much wish could do
think you should do, but can’t do
God’s grace not limited by your place, monument of grace where you are.
John Milton went blind at age 43, wrote a poem about blindness
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide . . .
How can I serve God if I can’t see to write, that is my talent
God doesn’t need my gift, “Thousands at his bidding speed” angels
even when I could see, even at my best, God doesn’t need my gifts
“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
God can use me even in my blindness if I only wait on Him, rely on His grace.
Are you in a hard place? Feel limited? Feel can’t really do anything for Lord there
Think too highly of yourself. Imagine if not in this place could do more for Him?
Without His grace, can’t do anything for Him even when you are at your best?
He has you just where He wants you, relying totally on Him
So what if blind, ill, hemmed in by circumstances—even there, grace available,
can make you a monument of his grace, Know two things, your sin, His grace.
CONC: Will your life be a monument of God’s grace?
Answer—by God’s grace, it will
A warning—one negative in chapter—one thing that will keep from God’s grace.
Verse 5 “but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” Too proud to do the work.
Pride will keep you forever separated from God’s grace.
Sin in my past keep me from being used by God.
sounds like humility, really pride, trying to atone for your sin
imagine that if hadn’t committed this sin, would have been good enough for God
Abilities keep me from being used by God, don’t have enough, don’t fit
sounds like humility, really pride, imagine it is about you, your innate abilities
has nothing to do with you, God gives you everything you need to do his work
Place I am will keep me from being used by God
sounds humble, really proud, imagine that if not in this bad place, not limited
wow, what I could do for God
Put that pride away—
live by two truths—I am a broken sinner, God’s grace available to me
John Newton probably stayed in the pulpit too long, he preached til he died at 82
you don’t have to worry about me doing that,
I’ll be in Florida with Allison in our motorhome
One time someone suggested that the time had come for him to quit preaching,
He said, “What, shall this old African blasphemer be silent?”
Another time someone commented about his failing memory.
He said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things:
That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!”
May you live by that truth as well.