Perhaps the most neglected Christian duty is to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. In Mark 16:15,16 Jesus said to His disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." More and more Christians are relying upon others to fulfil this very important responsibility. Many members of the Lord's church depend upon the preacher, the elders, or an elite group of zealous Christians to carry out the Great Commission in their respective communities.
Perhaps many Christians do not become involved in evangelism because they do not understand how to successfully present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost in sin. Where does one turn in order to find the elements that are needed in order for one to successfully present the Gospel to his community? Should one investigate the various means for church growth that are employed by rapidly expanding denominations? Perhaps those who have succeeded in the business community can give us clues to help us grow? Certainly, there have been many congregations of the Lord's church which have applied the philosophies of men with the hope that those ideas will equip them with the right tools to build the church. However, the key to successfully reaching out to the lost in one's community is not found in the ideas and gimmicks of men.
If one wants to succeed in the service of his Lord one must turn to the Word of God. The Bible gives many examples of great men and women who succeeded in carrying out various missions that God called upon them to fulfil. A study, and application of, the formula that allowed men such as Abraham, Noah, and Moses to complete successfully their God given tasks would certainly assist the Christian in carrying out the Commission that God has given him. This lesson, however, will focus on the elements that allowed Nehemiah to successfully complete a seemingly impossible task within an incredible two month period. A successful application of these elements to the Christian challenge will allow the New Testament church to succeed in carrying the Gospel to every lost soul in the present age.
The Problem Presented
Jesus Christ has given us an enormous task to complete. As New Testament Christians we have been obligated by the Son of God to present the Gospel to every human being on this planet. It is easy to see why there are so many who believe that this is an impossible commission to complete in an age when the world's population is passing the six billion mark. Christians of this age are certainly not the first to have to deal with an incredibly difficult task. Nehemiah was also faced with a seemingly impossible venture to complete. There were also "nay sayers" in Nehemiah's day who said that his dream of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem would never become a reality. When one reads of the condition of the walls in the book of Nehemiah he will see it is easy to understand why there were some who said the walls could not be rebuilt.
In 586 BC. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had swept into Judah and laid the city of Jerusalem to waste. He carried away the last of the inhabitants of the land and left behind him a pile of rubble where the grand capital of Judah once stood. The Babylonians were eventually conquered by the Persians in 539 BC. The Persian kings allowed the children of Israel to return home to rebuild the temple of God, restore the worship of Jehovah, and reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem. The latter task was accomplished by the voluntary efforts of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah had been serving in the Persian court at Shushan when he received news of the poor condition of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:1-3). At one time the city of Jerusalem was a seemingly unconquerable citadel. However, when the reader is introduced to Nehemiah, this once proud fortress could no longer be known as a safe haven for God's people. In verse three of chapter one the wall of Jerusalem is described as being "broken down, and its gates are burned with fire." Furthermore, when Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, and surveyed the extent of the damage inflicted upon Jerusalem's defences, he discovered that the wall was so badly damaged that its rubble blocked some of the streets of the city (Nehemiah 2:14).
What elements allowed Nehemiah to successfully complete his God given task? What was it that allowed Nehemiah to build an enormous defensive wall out of rubble in such a short period of time? In the first place, Nehemiah completed his righteous mission because of his tremendous, unwavering faith. In the second place, Nehemiah achieved what he set out to do because he had a love for the people and a love for God. In the third place, Nehemiah accomplished his objective because he understood the urgent nature of his task. In the fourth place, Nehemiah was successful because he, and all the people, personally became involved in the process that led to the completion of their mission. In the fifth place, Nehemiah succeeded because he did not make compromises.
Nehemiah Succeeded Because of His Unwavering Faith
Although Nehemiah's task seemed impossible to complete in one man's lifetime, he was successful because he had faith that God would providentially assist him in carrying out this difficult mission. The odds of completing the construction of the walls within Nehemiah's lifetime were certainly against him. Nehemiah wasn't even a builder by trade. He was a member of the royal court of Persia. What did he know about building walls? What Nehemiah lacked in skill and training he made up for by his tremendous faith. In verses seventeen and eighteen of chapter two of the book of Nehemiah is found one of the greatest statements of faith in the Bible. After evaluating the damage done to the walls Nehemiah proclaims to the people "... You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach. And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king's words that he had spoken to me...". Even after Nehemiah had personally surveyed the extent of the wall's damage his faith did not waver.
It is true that teaching the lost of every nation is an enormous task but it can be done. In fact, it can be done in our lifetime. Always remember that which may seem impossible to men is possible with God. Nehemiah certainly understood this principle. The Bible is a record of seemingly impossible tasks carried out by men who had tremendous faith that what God commanded them to do could be accomplished. For example, Noah was commanded to build an enormous ark to house representatives of every type of animal on earth (Genesis 6:13-22). It is certain there were those in Noah's day who thought that his task was impossible. Surely there were those in the days of Noah who scoffed at the idea of building an enormous boat to house the animals of the world. Despite the doubts of others, Noah, through faith, was able to accomplish the task God set before him. The same kind of faith that Noah exhibited in building the ark was the same kind of faith that led Abraham to the Promised Land (Hebrews 11: 9). It allowed Moses to bring the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage (Hebrews 11: 23-29). It was this kind of faith which also allowed Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It is the same kind of faith that will allow us to fulfil the great commission of Jesus Christ in our age.
Nehemiah Succeeded Because He Loved God and He Loved the People
Matthew 22:34-40 is a record of one of many confrontations between the Pharisees and Jesus Christ. The Pharisees and scribes would often test Jesus' knowledge of the Law. They had hoped to prove that Jesus did not have an infallible knowledge of the Law, and therefore disprove His claims that He was the perfect Messiah. On that occasion, a lawyer tested Jesus by asking Him "...which is the great commandment in the law?" Christ responds by commanding them to "... love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment" (22:37,38).
Jesus knew the hearts of the Pharisees. He understood that many of them were motivated by selfish intent. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus reminded them of the second greatest commandment of the law. Christ insisted that loving God was the only act of greater importance than loving one's neighbour as one loves himself (22:39,40). Nehemiah is a perfect example of one who had this kind of love for others. Nehemiah successfully completed the walls of Jerusalem in an incredibly short period of time because he was properly motivated. He was motivated by a love for God and a love for the people. When Nehemiah heard the news of the dire circumstances that plagued Israel in Jerusalem he reacted by going to God in prayer (Nehemiah 1: 1-11). In this prayer, Nehemiah makes a desperate appeal for divine assistance for those who love God and keep His commandments (1:5). Nehemiah understood that the greatest way for one to express his love for God was for one to be living in accordance with God's Law. He understood that he was obligated by the Law of God to do what he could to relieve the Jews of their misery. His love for God motivated him to help those whom God loved.
Not only was Nehemiah motivated by a love for God, but he was also driven by his love for the people who were in distress. His love for the people was demonstrated by his reaction to the news of the dire circumstances of the people in Judah. This news brought Nehemiah to tears (Nehemiah 1:4). Nehemiah did not resign himself merely to lament over the poor condition of the Hebrews in Jerusalem. His sorrow over their pitiable condition drove him to do something about it (Nehemiah 2:5). This separates Nehemiah from many today who claim to love the souls of those who are lost, and yet, their apparent sorrow over the lost of the world does not lead them to action. What are Christians doing about the pitiable condition of those who are dying in sin?
It has been said that love is the foundation of our salvation, and our Christianity. Without the boundless love of God mankind would have no eternal hope (I John 4:9). It can also be said if Christians do not have a love for their neighbours, then their neighbours have no hope. Jesus Christ has chosen His disciples as the instrument by which the good news of salvation will be spread to a lost and dying world (Matthew 28:19,20). If we have no love for our lost neighbours, what will continually motivate us to teach the lost? True love is expressed by action. The apostle John recorded by inspiration, "for this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments..." (I John 5:3).
Nehemiah Succeeded Because He Understood the Urgent Nature of His Task
In this age of fighter jets and explosives, it is difficult for one to truly appreciate the importance of walled cities to the ancients. Advancement in warfare technology in the modern era has made city walls an obsolete means of defence. However, in Nehemiah's age the walls of a city would often be the only thing that stood between the preservation of a people and complete annihilation. With this in mind, one can appreciate the urgency of Nehemiah's objective. The longer the walls of Jerusalem remained in a state of ruin, the chances of the Hebrews being overrun by their enemies increased. Perhaps now one can understand why the messenger from Jerusalem told Nehemiah that "...the survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire." (Nehemiah 1:3).
One must also keep in mind that it was absolutely essential that the children of Israel survive. It would be through this people that the Messiah would be sent according to the promise that God had made to Abraham in Genesis, chapter twelve. The key to their survival would be the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem. Just as Esther had saved God's people through her intervention, Nehemiah would also have to be an instrument by which God would providentially save His people. There was no time for Nehemiah to waste. If he were going to save the Hebrews in Judah from extinction, he would have to act immediately. After three days of observing the extent of the damage done to the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah gathered the people together and set them to work (Nehemiah 2:11-18).
It is important to note that the people also understood the urgency of the mission that Nehemiah had given them. Once they began the task, they did not cease to work on the wall's reconstruction until the job was complete. They laboured all day and through the night for fifty two straight days (Nehemiah 4:21-23; 6:15). Why were the people so dedicated to their work? It was because they understood that the completion of the walls of Jerusalem meant that they would be safe. It was a work of self preservation. Nehemiah and the people succeeded because they understood the urgency of their task.
If Christians are going to succeed in giving every living being an opportunity to hear the Gospel they must understand the urgency of their task. The Commission of Christ must be carried out immediately for two reasons. In the first place, the need to spread the Gospel of Christ is urgent because of the preservation of the souls of billions of God's loved ones. There are thousands of people throughout the world who die each day having never heard of the hope that Christians hold so dear. Who is to blame for their lack of opportunity? Certainly God is not to blame. Certainly the wicked in the world bear a partial responsibility for their lost condition. However, inept, lazy Christians are chiefly to blame for the majority of those who die without hope each day. God has given us a charge to deliver His message of hope to the world. Yet, in general, the church has failed miserably in completing that charge. Unfortunately the statement of Jesus in Matthew 9:37 that "the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few" is as true today as it was in the first century. Christians need to also recognize the urgent need of carrying the Gospel to every creature because one does not know when the Lord will return again. In Matthew twenty-five, verse thirteen, Jesus said, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." It will be sad that so many will be lost on that great day because Christians did not give them the opportunity to hear that message of hope. It may be that we do not have an extended lifetime to work on presenting the Gospel to a lost world. The Lord has not given us the guarantee of a lengthy lifetime on this earth, nor has He given us the guarantee that He will not return before everyone has the opportunity to hear His message of hope. Understanding that our time is limited, we should be filled with an incredibly urgent need to preach the Gospel to the lost.
In the second place, one should also keep in mind that the children of God of Nehemiah's day were also anxious to carry out their commission because their very existence depended upon the success of their venture. In our age, the people of God must also be motivated to complete their commission by a desire for self preservation. If we are not willing to teach the lost, our spiritual destruction is certain. The prophet, Ezekiel received a sobering reminder of the consequences of withholding the message of God from the lost. In Ezekiel 33:7- 9, God told the prophet "So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely die!' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul." Today all Christians are God's watchmen. If Christians fail to deliver God's message of peace it will certainly cost them their soul's salvation.
Nehemiah Succeeded Because He Became Personally Involved
Nehemiah was successful because he led by example. As the construction on the walls began, and enemies from without threatened, Nehemiah includes himself among those who laboured day and night in order to complete the city's chief means of defence. In verses twenty-two and twenty-three of chapter four Nehemiah states that he "...said to the people, 'Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.' At the same time I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing." Nehemiah's personal involvement in the construction of the walls not only showed the people that he cared for their physical well being, but his actions also proved to the people that he considered this project to be of the utmost importance. It was a project that was worthy of his time and effort.
If the Lord's church is going to be successful in carrying out the Great Commission each member (including church leaders) are going to have be personally involved in fulfilling that objective. Often the reason a congregation fails to take evangelism seriously is because the leaders in that congregation do not take it seriously. When the elders, or all of the men of a congregation, do not take steps to become personally involved in evangelism, many of the other members will not feel the need. Good leadership is achieved by hard work. Certainly Nehemiah understood this principle, and lived by it.
Evangelism may begin with the elders, or the men of the congregation but it certainly does not end there. Each member, whether he be male or female, must have an active role in fulfilling the Christ's Commission to teach the lost. Some members are still using the same old excuses of Moses for not doing the work of God. Like Moses, many will say "I cannot teach the lost for I have no speaking ability." Others will say, as Moses did, "they will not listen to me." God did not accept those excuses in Moses' day, and it is certain God will not accept those excuses today. One does not read of the people in Nehemiah's day making feeble excuses for not doing the work that was set before them. One must remember that the majority of the children of Israel under Nehemiah's command were not even professional builders. The diversity of skill among Nehemiah's workers is made abundantly clear in chapter three and verse eight. In this verse one reads of perfumers working side by side with goldsmiths. What did a perfumer know about wall building? Probably not a great deal. However, his lack of talent did not stop him from assisting the work. Not every Christian can present a sermon from the pulpit, but it is certain that God expects every Christian to be personally involved in evangelism. There is not one Christian who cannot tell his neighbour about the hope that exists in Christ.
Nehemiah Succeeded Because He Did Not Succumb to Pressures from Within and Without
During the fifty two days of wall reconstruction Nehemiah and the people did not cease to be threatened by enemies from without, and enemies from within. When the leaders of the non-Jewish peoples in Judah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were to be rebuilt they became enraged at the prospect. In Nehemiah 4:1, it is recorded that one non-Jewish leader, Sanballat, "...was furious and very indignant..." after hearing the news. One is not specifically told why news of the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem negatively affected Sanballat and the non- Jewish population in Judah. Perhaps they were opposed to the work of God for the same reason that many are opposed to the work of God today. Some of those reasons may have included jealousy and fear based on a misunderstanding of the purpose of the people of God. Whatever their reasons were for opposing the work of God, it is interesting to note that the tactics that the enemies of God used in Nehemiah's day are the same tactics that the enemies of God use in opposing the work of Lord today. In the first place, Nehemiah's enemies mocked the Jews (Nehemiah 4:1-3). When mocking the Jews was not enough to stop the construction of the walls, the enemies of the Hebrews threatened to stop the rebuilding by force (Nehemiah 4:8). When the threat of force did not stop the work on the walls the enemies of the Jews wanted to compromise (Nehemiah 6:1-3). There were even those among the trusted advisers of Nehemiah who were bribed by Sanballat to give Nehemiah poor counsel (Nehemiah 6:10-12). Through all of these dangers and threats, Nehemiah and the people continued to work on the walls of the city. They did not stop once as a result of the threats of their enemies, nor did they compromise the will of God in order to have peace with men.
We live in an age in which the church is attacked on all sides. Atheism, agnosticism, denominationalism and modernism are threatening to tear down everything that the people of God have worked so hard to build up. All Christians must be willing to defend that which they have achieved. However, one must never allow the enemies of the church to diminish the efforts that are going into building up the church. Quite often Christians are so caught up in the battle against the enemies of the church that they no longer have a church to defend. We must achieve the same healthy balance that the children of Israel managed to obtain. Nehemiah 4:17 records that "Those who built on the wall, and those who carried the burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon." Christians must build and defend without compromise.
Certainly Nehemiah discovered that Satan is a persistent foe. Peter describes Satan as "... a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour..." (I Peter 5:8). He did everything in his power to curb the efforts of the Hebrews in Nehemiah's day, and he will do everything in his power to tear down the church in the Christian Age. Unfortunately, it is quite often Christians who become Satan's chief agents in destroying the church because of their lack of involvement in building up or defending the church.
What allowed Nehemiah to successfully complete a seemingly impossible task in such a short period of time? In the first place, Nehemiah believed in the importance of his mission. In the second place he had faith that God would providentially assist the Hebrews in completing their righteous venture. In the third place, Nehemiah was driven by his tremendous love for God and the people. In the fourth place, he understood the urgent nature of his mission. In the fifth place Nehemiah personally became involved in the task set before him. Finally, Nehemiah refused to exchange the will of God for peace with mankind.
In order for the church to complete God's Great Commission to teach the lost of the world each member must be willing to personally apply the elements that allowed Nehemiah to successfully complete his mission. Each Christian must ask himself if he has faith that God will providentially assist the church in carrying out the Great Commission. Each member of the church must be able to say that he is motivated by a love for God and a love for the people. The Christian must also be able to examine himself and discover that he is driven by an urgent need to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Each Christian must become personally involved in completing God's Commission. Finally, every member of the Lord's body must be willing to give up peace with this world in order to defend the will of God. If every Christian adds these elements to his Christian character, then it could be said today, as it was in the first century, that "...the truth of the Gospel... has been proclaimed ...in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit..." (Colossians 1:5-6).