UNFINISHED HOPE | Week 12: Unfinished Peace

December 10, 2017 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: UNFINISHED HOPE | Our Ruins - His Restoration | Ezra-Nehemiah

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Nehemiah 9:1–37

Christopher Rich – December 11, 2017
Unfinished Peace | Nehemiah 9-10
Introduction | We need peace.

Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we continue UNFINISHED HOPE - Our Ruins His Restoration our sermon series looking at the books of EZRA-NEHEMIAH. In this series we have seen cycles of ruin, return to God, renewal, and regression as God’s people have moved from exile, be set free by God for the purpose of restoring worship of God by God’s people for God’s glory and their joy. In these cycles we are reminded of the fundamental truth that our efforts are never enough to overcome our ruins. Nehemiah (a man of great influence) hearing of the Ruined City. He responds with mourning, prayer, planning, and petitions the king to be commissioned on a mission to rebuild what has be left unfinished. The wall goes up but this is not real lasting peace.  A dictionary definition of peace: “freedom from disturbance, quiet and tranquility.” How many of us would describe our lives as ones with freedom from disturbance, quiet, and tranquility? Not many. Yet Peace is not something we find in isolation “I just want peace and quiet” but in communion with one who is able to grant freedom from disturbance and tranquility. The world is a tumultuous place; there is strife and struggle everywhere—between friends and enemies alike. We need someone to bring peace to our hearts, minds, lives, and world. We realize on our own, we are in a state of Unfinished Peace.
PART I | Gathered for Peace | Nehemiah 9:1-5 |
Nehemiah 9:1-5 | Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God.4 On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, “Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.

This is the feast of Tabernacles which was a celebration remembering what God had previously done to save His people. Yet this is not exactly a scene of celebration, of joy. But one of pain and mourning. They haven’t been feasting but fasting. They’re not dressed for a party but they are in rags of poverty. They’re not washed clean like they’re ready for a wedding they’re covered in dirt like they’re returning from a battle. They set themselves apart from those who don’t know or worship the God of the Bible and they don’t rest and relax, they stand and confess. Peace has been lost, sin, conflict and death have been advancing for generations. Here is an assembly who has been saved for renewed worship, but they know they’ve sinned, they know some of the conflict seems over (they’ve built the wall, in the face of opposition) so apparently peace needs to be more than the absence of conflict. They spend intentional time reading, hearing, digesting God’s word. They spend 3 standing hours letting God’s words work in their hearts, letting an uncomfortable conflict emerge between what God has said and declared and what they are living out and experiencing. This lead to a response of confession and worship for another 3 hours and the rest of the day being spent with their leaders guiding them through prayer, petition and worship. What follows is the longest recorded prayer in the Bible Where true peace is defined and longed for. 

PART II | Prayer of Peace | Nehemiah 9:6-37
Neh 9:6 | “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. 
Peace through Presence – Creation God is with His people who He created. Everything is Good. No sin or brokenness this is the high point of peace in human history. God is the author of all life so He is the source of all that is good. We know that God dwelled with His people. They knew him, they knew He was present. They were in communion with God meaning a closeness settled place of peace. When the bible talks about peace it is always more than the absence of conflict. It is in dwelling in the presence of the God of Peace. Shalom This definition of peace is necessary to understand the wholeness, fullness, rest. Yet we know this is not what we experience. Humanity chose to trade the truth that peace comes from God’s presence for the lie that it could be experienced in more fullness apart from God. Through sin, reliance on God in the garden was exchanged for an exiled independence. This is the Fall. This is peace ruined for conflict between a holy good and perfect God and people who desire their sin over communion with God.
Neh 9:7-8 | 7 You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.

Peace through Promise – Abraham God doesn’t let sin have the last word. There are consequences for sin there is justice. Even as He is giving just consequences for sin (rejection of God) He gives hope. There will be one who will come who will achieve victory over sin and death. This promise is renewed as a covenant promise to Abraham that through his family line will be one from who all then nations will be blessed. A Prince of Peace if you will. There will be a people and place promised who are in renewed communion with God. For these OT saints it was they Promise Land they looked to for hope. We look to a new heavens and new earth. We have hope and quiet souls when we remember God’s promises to His people. He has proven faithful to keep His promises. Why does God keep His promises? Because He is righteous that means He is good and reliable. Where are you missing peace because you’re forgetting God’s promises?
Neh 9:9-11 | 9 “And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, 10 and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day.11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters. 

Peace through Protection – Exodus Conflict, turmoil at the individual, family, and even geopolitical level including a great famine (hard to feel peace when you’re experiencing pestilence) led to the people of the promise finding themselves in great slavery. God used His “might hand” to powerfully remove His people from slavery and captivity. Slavery is relentless and even after people had been granted “freedom” they were pursued by their former owners. Had God not intervened they would have been overrun, recaptured, and continued in great captivity. Peace isn’t possible when you’re enslaved or when evil is advancing. True freedom from disturbance is only experienced when there is no possible fear of destructive disturbance reaching you. So where sin, slavery, evil exist true peace comes from victory over evil. God’s protection of His people is victory over evil that seeks to overcome them. God can be trusted “to this day” to be the same God who separated a sea and swamped an evil army to be the God who can overcome sin that seeks to enslave you. Where do you need God’s protection over evil that seeks your oppression and slavery?

Neh 9:12-21 | 12 By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go. 13 You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. 15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them. 16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.

Peace through Provision – Wilderness We are in wilderness. We’re no longer slaves but we’re not yet truly home in the place of promise. It is in a place of wilderness that our reliance on God’s provision for everything is brought into greater awareness. When we think of Peace coming from provision we mostly focus on tangible provision (what do we need, food, water, etc). But the structure of this prayer puts the emphasis on other ways God provides.  God’s provision is not just material but in real guidance. This guidance was in His manifest presence (pillar of fire, cloud of smoke) explicitly leading them. God provides His word that came down from Heaven to earth. Words that are right, true, good, instructions and commands. Commands to have Peace through the worship of God alone, to have peace with one another treating others with dignity and respect. This provision is necessary in order to properly receive and enjoy any other sustenance. What’s the point of keeping you feed and alive if your life lacks the peacefulness of right relationship with God and people? God also gives what is materially needed to sustain life. We are dependent on Him for everything! He gives His people bread, water, even meat from birds. They lacked nothing even their clothes and bodies didn’t tatter and tear. And how did they respond to God’s daily provision. We respond to Gods provision in the wilderness with grumbling, complaining, doubt and ultimately faithlessness as we try to seek provision, guidance, and security in things that are worthless and powerless! We keep thinking when times are difficult that God is absent so we chase other things when God is right with us providing perfectly. We are faithless, but God is faithful to correct and restore. Where have you experienced peace from God’s provision? Where do you need to follow God’s leading in your life?
Neh 9:22-25 | 22 “And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess.24 So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would. 25 And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.

Peace through Prosperity -  Possession of the Land Prosperity has been made a bad word in Christian circles because too many false teachers seeking to obscenely profit from God’s word have perverted the Gospel for the purpose amassing financial wealth. But our God is not a stingy God. He provides sustenance in the wilderness and He can lead us to places of prosperity. God is a multiplying God. So in the relative safety and security of the land you see a Baby Boom much like post WWII. The biggest idea here is any prosperity God’s people experience is a gracious gift from God. Towns, homes, and cisterns they didn’t build or earn.  Everything we enjoy or experience fullness in because of God’s goodness. Where do you need to recognize God given gifts of prosperity from God?
Neh 9:26-31 | 26 “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. 27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. 29 And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. 30 Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

Ruined Peace through presumption – Cycles of Rebellion  Despite God’s constant and steadfast display and provision of peace, we have continually failed to remain faithful. God Blesses, People turn away, God removes or rolls back His peaceful protection/provision patiently for the purpose of leading them and us to repentance. In suffering and distress they cry out to God “fix this!” “save us”. God listens, God hears, God responds with victory over their enemies. He gave them rest, He grants them peace. Yea! But the sinful response to God’s peace is presumption. More stubbornness, not repentance turning from their sin to God’s peaceful commands, but a renewal of evil. They presumed the mercy, grace, and patience of God to be a license to continue to live in rejection and rebellion. God’s patience is good and right, but it is always for a purpose, to draw you to Him. God speaks to His people through His Holy Spirit and His prophetic word but we don’t have ears to hear. Yet amazingly God still gives hope. He calls us to Himself.
Nehemiah 9:32-37 | 32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. 33 Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. 35 Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works. 36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.

Peace through Petition – Humility Through all of this there is a humble return to God. A recognition of their need for Peace, they understand the urgency of their situation and the Awesomeness of God who is able to resolve the conflict even in the midst of our own sin. There is a humility that only hardship can produce. Without God they are in “great distress.” Enslaved again by foreign masters, but THE issue isn’t about what is outside oppressing but the condition of their heart towards God. Because of our sin we are in conflict with God.  If a lack of peace is due to conflict, we have to recognize we’re the ones in conflict with the source of peace. We are even our own peace’s own worst enemy. That means we are the ones that need to surrender not God. I say surrender, because Peace can’t be achieved in can only be received.

Nehemiah 10 shows that after this prayer they set out to reform their life and culture.  Their answer is to pray and to resolve to do better than previous generations and even in their recent life. They are going to be better versions of themselves through greater commitment and effort.
They resolve three things:
  • Purity in their families – Holiness – Their families are going to be aligned with the worship of God.
  • Recognizing the sabbath – Rest- The rhythms of their lives are going to respect God’s call for us to rest.
  • Participating in the mission of worship. – Sacrificial Worship – They are going to be cheerfully, intentionally, and regularly be generous givers because of the peace and provision God has granted them.
These are all good things. They are an outworking of peaceful communion with God. But peace does not come from greater resolve. We should be a bit skeptical when we we’re told or we hear, just be better. We just saw generational cycles of this resolve have periods of success only deteriorate into ruin.  Peace doesn’t come from pursuing perfection. Peace comes from trusting and resting in the one who is perfect.
PART IV | Peace through Christ | Ephesians 2:12-22
Ephesians 2:12-22 | 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
We were enslaved, separated from God and His people and hopeless. God has pursued us in Jesus to bring us back into His presence. Jesus is our peace. He is God’s promise of peace. He is our protection, He is our provision, He is our prosperity. Jesus ends the conflict by ending the hostility between a Holy God and rebellious sinful people but taking our defeat the just wrath we deserve on the cross with His blood shed so ours doesn’t have to be shed, so God can be merciful and gracious to us and still be just. He kills the hostility to bring us back into communion with God so we can experience and have peace without threat or fear of disturbance. This communion with God through Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is also with His people the church who are not yet a finished project but are being built together as a people and place of true peace. This peace is for everyone who will simply surrender and Trust Jesus.

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