"It is always harder to live in the middle of something than it is to live at the beginning or the end. When you are at the beginning of something, you are filled with a sense of hope and potential. You are engaged by a vision of all that can be. People at the start of something tend to be dreamers; they want to get started fulfilling the dream. People at the end tend to be filled with relief, gratitude, and a sense of accomplishment. The hardships along the way don’t seem so hard anymore. The sacrifices all seem worth it, and they are glad the work is over. People in the middle usually discover that more work is involved than they ever expected. It is hard to hold onto the dream, and very often expectation becomes the desire to simply survive. Amidst the hard work, it is difficult to keep your standards high and your hope alive. You are tempted to settle and compromise. In the middle, thankfulness often degrades into complaint, and hope decays into resignation." -- Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, 105-106.
Church, we've reached the end of the book of Nehemiah. Do you feel relief, gratitude, or a sense of accomplishment? Do you remember the hope and potential we felt at the beginning? Now imagine that if rather than reading this account, you were living it. Imagine that you were one of the returned, restored exiles working and serving under Nehemiah's leadership. At the conclusion of chapter 12, would you feel that you reached the end? And if so, the end of what?
No? Not at the end? Do you feel like you've reached the end of your Christian walk? No?
That is exactly why Nehemiah has 13 chapters. Chapter 13, which is our text for the week, is a sad tale of reality. The people of God were brought back to the land (although they didn't deserve it), God provided leadership and provisions for the wall to be rebuilt (and they didn't deserve that either), and then God brought them back to himself through the power of his Word (and this was by grace too). Therefore, we should find it alarming that in Chapter 13, the people have already broke God's Law and their covenant with God and each other. But we're not shocked are we? Because we do the same thing.
Life in the middle is hard. Remember when you first surrendered to Jesus' call of salvation? If your experience was like most people's, you felt elated, excited, hopeful. The potential of your new life was electric. But then a point came when you stumbled. You broke your covenant just as the people in Nehemiah's day did.
It's a true and sad fact: Christians still stumble and sin.
If you're a Christian, chances are good that you've echoed Paul's words from Romans 7. He said, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me" (Romans 7:19-20). (If you've never said this, you might not be under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and might not be following Jesus. If this is the case, please don't hesitate to contact me to chat, or come visit us on Sunday. I'll be discussing this in more detail.)
Yikes! A sinning Christian is a problem, but a sinning Christian is reality. What should the Christian do when he or she sins?
First, a Christian should take comfort in the reality that he or she is feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit. God grants us a tremendous gift by letting us feel a infinitesimally small taste of the death that our sin causes. Feeling this conviction does not me you've lost your salvation, because God's Word says that's impossible. Instead, the feeling of guilt from sin is a special gift. With this gift, we are drawn back to God in repentance so Jesus can restore us. So praise God for the conviction.
Second, we take our instruction and comfort from God's Word, which is why it's important that we have our face in the Book every day. Here are but a few verses that may help you when you stumble:
John 10:27-29. -- "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand."
1 John 1:9 -- "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. "
Romans 8:1-2 -- "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."
Isaiah 55:7 -- "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
Psalm 51:17 -- "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
1 John 2:1 -- "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
James 5:16 -- "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."
Proverbs 28:13 -- "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
And finally, do not isolate yourself from your brothers and sisters in Christ. So often when we sin, we believe the lie that we will be rejected by the believers who are closest to us. Sometimes we think we are somehow now worthy of the God's family or the friendship of God's people. But remember, 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." The body of believers you worship with, that is, your local church family, is there to help you. Don't push them away.
I hope to see you on Sunday has we conclude our series, "Ordinary Man -- Extraordinary Mission." It's been wonderful journey through the Book of Nehemiah. Here's a brief video update. I discuss Nehemiah and I also share where we're headed next.
See you Sunday!