The Fruit of Revival
I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also 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 this good work. (Nehemiah 2:18)
To be honest, I really didn’t have an excuse. Come on: I live right next to them.
But I still wasn’t doing my part to help those poor flowers outside the church.
Now my excuses were manifold and, I tried to convince myself, sound. I’m no gardener. The flowers get water from the dew every morning. Some kind soul is going to come along and take care of these withering plants. And on and on.
The fact remained that we were suffering from a drought, and the flowers at the church needed help. Of course every time I saw them – which was frequently through the day! – I’d shuffle through my list of excuses for not taking any action.
Then it occurred to me: you don’t need a green thumb or a PhD in horticulture. You need to see the situation for what it is, take it to heart and act – right where you are.
I’m no hero, to be sure. All I did was try to turn on the water more often, and now the deacons might want to wring my neck when they see the water bill.
Yet I wonder how often I, and you, use the same delay tactics in avoiding God’s call to repentance and renewal.
As we continue our examination of Nehemiah this morning, we note that the people heard Nehemiah’s call to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and many, if not most, responded. You’ll recall that God had punished His people for their spiritual infidelity by allowing Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to destroy Jerusalem and to lead the Jews into exile; decades later, the Lord graciously allowed them to return home. But few came back to Judah, and it took decades for those returnees to rebuild Solomon’s temple. When it came to rebuilding the city wall, the symbol of defense and of glory for the City of God, the returnees apparently used every available excuse to avoid their duty to God.
Nehemiah, as we read last week, saw the root of the matter as spiritual laziness within the hearts of the Jews. He spoke eloquently and plainly to them about their need to rebuild the wall, and clearly the Spirit of God blew across many of their hearts, because in chapter three we read of the people rebuilding these walls.
It’s easy to find excuses and to avoid the call of God to spiritual renewal in your own life and in our church. But the fact remains: the Lord calls you right where you are to glorify Him through repentance, change and growth in Christ.
Note first that God called His people to active repentance: He called them to bear fruit in their lives.
Nehemiah had just finished speaking pointedly to the people of God, demonstrating how the fallen walls actually were a disgrace to the Lord and to them. His speech – from a merely human perspective – was constructed well enough to persuade his audience; but in order for real spiritual change and growth to occur, the Spirit of God had to move in the people’s hearts.
Clearly He did, because the people by their actions repented of their past spiritual laziness and did the work of God.
It’s important to note in this otherwise matter-of-fact chapter that real spiritual revival always issues forth in holy action. Revival begins with confessing one’s sin before God (perhaps probing deeper than ever before), asking His mercy in Jesus Christ and making reforms in the spirit of holiness. Certainly revival is a matter of your heart; but it doesn’t stop within your heart. The people of God repaired the fallen wall (“repair” is the operative verb in this chapter) because the merciful Lord first had worked in their hearts.
Many times today, people come to church seeking a “good feeling,” but that feeling – whatever it is – has no impact on their daily life. Others come to church determined to behave better in the world, with no concern for their motivation for doing so or for their heart before the Lord.
God cares what’s inside your heart and whether or not you are inflamed with love for Christ or not. He doesn’t want well-behaved pagans; He wants those who love Him with all their hearts, minds and souls.
But if He stirs your soul to repentance, it will show up in spiritual action in your life.
Second, God used His people individually and together to accomplish His work.
Another important phrase in this chapter is “next to him.” The Jews faced a mountain of work in rebuilding the crumbled wall of Jerusalem, and to any one individual, the task might have seemed overwhelming or impossible.
The Lord didn’t call one person to do all the work, though. He called all of His people to labor where they were placed, and together they could accomplish His desired goal.
Families and even guilds took part in the work. They labored where Nehemiah had assigned them to work, and everyone’s contribution mattered. From priests to princes to daughters, the people of God got to work precisely where they had been told to work. The leaders (astonishingly!) led, beginning with Eliashib the high priest, and the people followed in completing their allotted work.
The Lord God is not calling you alone to refurbish the youth ministry at this church. He is not demanding that you stand alone in reorganizing the Sunday School department or in taking on the work of evangelism for the church. And you don’t have to possess a seminary degree – or even to have been a lifelong Presbyterian or even Christian – to do the work of God.
Where does God have you in life right now? As a parent? Student? Retiree? Of what must you repent? What are your gifts and interests?
God is calling you, and He is calling US, to spiritual revival that issues forth in holy action. Where is your part in the Body?
Note thirdly, though, that revival isn’t always uniform among God’s people – but that shouldn’t stop you from heeding God’s call to repentance and to growth.
Many, indeed most, of the people seemed to answer God’s call to repent of their spiritual indifference and rebuild the wall. The high priest, the Levites and various governmental officials all humbled themselves and took part in the project: it wasn’t “beneath them” to get to work. We’re even told that Baruch (3:20) burned with zeal in doing his work. This chapter actually underscores the variety of servants; not only did the “high and mighty” labor, so did the daughters of Shallum (3:12)! Again, whoever and wherever you are, don’t be afraid to answer God’s call to repentance and to action.
Then, however, we meet the nobles of Tekoa in verse 5 – men who apparently thought such work “wasn’t their thing.” If your Bible translation says they didn’t “put their backs to the work,” you’ve got a bad translation: they literally didn’t put their necks to the work, because they – like so many generations of Israelites – had stiff necks and would not turn to the Lord in repentance.
Perhaps they thought such work wasn’t for them. Perhaps they thought it was beneath them. Either way, they had a Lord (their Judge) whose authority over their lives remained intact whether or not they chose to acknowledge Him. God surely did not excuse them from this great work.
Yet even though revival isn’t always across the board, you need not let others dictate your response. As Shallum’s daughters and Baruch in his zeal demonstrate, all you need is a repentant heart before the Lord.
In a moment, we will observe Holy Communion, a meal laden with inexhaustible meaning. While we could talk about so many truths God reveals to us in this sacrament, I want you to focus on two things this morning.
First, this meal offers an outstanding occasion for real repentance. (Hopefully you have done your biblical duty this week in repenting of your sin in preparation for this meal). Consider that the Lord Jesus Christ came down from glory into this sin-shattered world to purchase you with his own blood. When you’re feeling spiritually lethargic, or when you’re tempted to indulge any evil desire, think on this meal and on the shed blood of the Lamb of God. This visible Word of God is a wonderful invitation to real, revival-inducing repentance – the sort of Nehemiah 3.
Second, as you chew the bread, remember that Jesus unites you and me to himself by the giving of his body for us – and that makes you and me one Body. He lived, died, rose again and ascended to claim you for himself and to build us into his glorious Church, having neither spot nor wrinkle, called to be his Body on earth.
A body has parts. The Body of Christ has parts – and we are called to the most-vital work of all: to bring glory to our great Redeemer while we have breath.
Rise, then, from the Lord’s Table renewed – and ready to do your part for the Body.