We are nearing the end of our current sermon series called “Rebuilding the Church Rebuild, Renew, Revive”. Up to this point in the study we have seen the Jews rebuild the temple and renew their worship practices. They have already taken some initial steps toward reviving their city, and this morning we will see them go even farther.
The people of God living in Jerusalem and the surrounding region had been enjoying a season of revival and spiritual renewal, the likes of which had not occurred in centuries. Led by Ezra, the priests, and the Levites, they had recommitted themselves to the Law of Moses and had even written and signed a covenant pledging their obedience to God.
This spiritual awakening would continue for the next decade. During these years, Nehemiah implemented a plan to repopulate and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Despite the fact that both the temple and city wall had now been rebuilt by the Jews, the city itself remained largely in ruins and sparsely populated. This was about to change… the exiles were determined to revive their city.
Though it was functionally complete, during these years the new wall continued to be fortified and expanded. Towers and houses were built all along it. The gates were embellished and upgraded. Within the city itself entire neighborhoods were resurrected from the rubble. The roads and streets were cleared and cleaned. Economic activity began to increase. Jerusalem was reborn…
Under Nehemiah’s careful watch, the people continued to worship and faithfully serve God. Having stayed for 12 years in Jerusalem, he finally left his Jewish kinsmen and returned to serve King Artaxerxes - the same man who had commissioned his trip to begin with. As you might recall from earlier in his memoirs, Nehemiah had only been granted a limited leave of absence to go and rebuild. Thus, when his work in Judah was completed he was obligated to return to his service in the king’s royal court.
We will see that Nehemiah returns a second time to Jerusalem, but these first dozen or so years that he spent there were extra special. It was during this period that the Jewish remnant reclaimed their city, taking back much that had been lost. They went on the offensive, no longer content to be victims in their own land. In so doing, they modeled the attitude that we as Christians should have.
I. A CITY IN RUINS - Nehemiah 7:1-4
Jerusalem had been utterly destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Nebuchadnezzar’s army looted and demolished the entire city, leaving little more than a ruinous heap. Over the course of the next century, its few inhabitants made only meager attempts to rebuild. Even after Zechariah led the first wave of Jewish exiles to reconstruct the temple, the area remained largely unpopulated.
When Nehemiah arrived almost 150 years after its destruction, he described Jerusalem as “large and spacious”, yet still having “few people” and houses. In other words, there was plenty of room for more people to move in, but before they could do so the rubble would need to be removed and the homes rebuilt. The city was in shambles, a mere shadow of the glorious place that it had once been.
II. A CITY REBORN - Nehemiah 11:1-2
The Jewish remnant developed and executed a plan to repopulate Jerusalem and the surrounding area. It required one-tenth of the people who were living outside the city to move into it. This would serve to dramatically increase Jerusalem’s population, and also the percentage of Jews therein. Thus, families were chosen by lot and these “volunteers” relocated. The plan also prescribed similar measures for other towns throughout Judah.
Jerusalem is the most prominent city in the Bible, and had long been the capital of Israel. It was, as always will be, God’s chosen city. It belonged to the Jews not to the Babylonians, the Persians, the Samaritans, or anyone else. And it had laid in ruins long enough the time had come to take back this holy city. And so, over the course of the next several years, the Jews strategically resettled their ancestral homeland.
III. A CITY REJOICES - Nehemiah 12:27,31,38,42b-43
For over a decade the rebuilding continued until finally the Israelites decided to hold a dedication ceremony for the fully renovated city wall. Most likely, this event commemorated much more than just the new wall but also the revitalization of the entire area. Although still under Persian control, the identity and presence of the Jewish people had been reestablished and their land resuscitated. It was cause for a great celebration.
Two enormous choirs were organized. They stood atop the city’s wall starting at the temple and proceeding in both directions, one to the right and the other two the left. These singers, along with accompanying musicians, effectively surrounded Jerusalem and sang over it. The entire city rejoiced so greatly that the sound of joy was heard from afar. What a magnificent day that must have been!
IV. A CITY’S REGRET - Nehemiah 13:6b-7a
Not long after the dedication service, Nehemiah returned to Persia. He had completed the work that he’d been called by God and commissioned by Artaxerxes to do. It had taken 12 glorious years. Nehemiah had originally been given a temporary leave of absence, with the understanding that he would return to serve the king when he finished. And so, this is exactly what he did. Unfortunately, his departure would mark the ending of Jerusalem’s resurgence.
Oh how I wish our story ended here… on such a high note. But sadly, it doesn’t. As was the case for the generations before them, in the absence of their spiritual leader the people of God would quickly begin to slip back into their old sinful habits. We will look at their decline starting next week, but for now let’s enjoy this brief renaissance.
In order to fully rebuild our church we must also seek to reclaim our city. Our God is the sovereign ruler over His entire creation, including Seymour, Texas. This town and its people belong to Him, whether they acknowledge it or not. As we sang about earlier this morning… “He is the God of this city, the King of these people, and the Lord of this nation”.
These are 7 practical strategies that we can employ to reclaim our city for Jesus.
1. Pray continually for the people in our city.
2. Become involved in the activity of our city.
3. Utilize whatever influence you have to move our city toward Christ.
4. Become leaders and/or informed decision-makers in our city.
5. Work to clean up our city (both materially and morally).
6. Support the ministries and needy in our city.
7. Share Jesus with people in our city.
It is time for His children - it is time for you and I - to quit cowering in the shadows and to recapture that which belongs to our King. Our city has been overrun by the enemy, and we have allowed him to seize that which is not his. In the name of our conquering Lord and supplied by His great strength, the hour has come to launch a counterattack. The Devil and his minions can’t have Seymour anymore… we are taking this city back in Jesus name!