Today we will turn to Nehemiah 11. It’s a chapter filled with names. Lots of names. There are so many names that they spill over into chapter 12! The names that are listed in Nehemiah 11 are those who were chosen by casting lots, they make up 10% of the population of the Jews who were living in the countryside, but were chosen to move into the walled city of Jerusalem. There is a second group of people that we read about in Nehemiah 11:2 who willingly volunteered to move back into the city from the countryside. Let’s read these two verses.
1 Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. 2 The people commended all who volunteered to live in Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 11:1-2 NIV)
You may be asking yourself why Nehemiah would have to cast lots, to basically draft people to move back into the city? Well, in Nehemiah 7, we learned that after the wall around Jerusalem had been rebuilt, Nehemiah recognized that the city was basically empty. The wall around Jerusalem had been down for about 142 years. A city with no wall, no security, was an open invitation to enemies and criminals to have their way. Living in the city was dangerous. Over the course of time, as crime continued to rise, people abandoned the city and moved out into the countryside. It’s really no different than our day is it? After the rebuilding of the wall had been finished, Nehemiah looked around and wrote,
4 Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. (Nehemiah 7:4 NIV)
In Nehemiah 11, the Scripture we read earlier, we learned about Nehemiah’s plan to repopulate the city. The leaders were already living within the walls, but they needed more people, so Nehemiah targeted 10% of the people through casting lots. Casting lots, drawing straws, playing “rocks, paper, scissors” –it’s all a game of chance, the luck of the draw, right? Proverbs 16:33 tells us,
33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Proverbs 16:33 NIV)
There were those who were chosen to move back into the city and then there were those who chose to sell the farm, uproot their families, and become urban homesteaders within the walls of Jerusalem. And Nehemiah tells us, “The people commended all who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.” Repopulating, renewing Jerusalem was huge! God’s people were being given a second chance to live out God’s calling upon their lives! God had big plans for Jerusalem and His people. They were not new plans, they had always been God’s plan.
I can remember the first time I stepped foot in Jerusalem. I had read about Jerusalem, the Holy City, over and over again in God’s Word. I had seen video of the wall around Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, the huge golden domed mosque located on the Temple Mound, whenever Jerusalem was in the news. That was the money shot all the networks would show. I can remember, after I became a follower of Jesus, how I wanted to go to Israel one day, but I never dreamed I would get the opportunity. Then the opportunity came and I will never forget the first time I stepped foot in the Holy City. When my visit to the Holy City came to an end and the plane took off to bring me home, I wanted to go back again. And that’s the way it has been every time I’ve had the opportunity to go.
What is it about Jerusalem that has captured my heart? Well, if you read God’s Word you will know that God had a plan for Jerusalem and for His people in Israel. It was from Israel that God would send out a “kingdom of priests” to the world. It was in Jerusalem and at the temple where streams of living water would flow to nourish the nations. You may not be aware of what I’ve just shared with you so let me take some time to unpack what I’ve just said and show you the Scriptures that have taught me these truths.
First of all, in the opening book of God’s Word, the book of Genesis, God chose a man named Abram, you know him as Abraham. God told Abram, in Genesis 12:1-3,
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3 NIV)
“I will bless you…you will be a blessing…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” That’s quite a promise! God made a covenant with Abraham, God did bless him, and then Abraham’s descendants ended up in Egypt as slaves. For 400 years they languished and suffered under Pharoah and the Egyptians until God raised up Moses to deliver His people out of slavery. God delivered them and would lead them for 40 years to the Promised Land. In Exodus 19:3-6, before they ever made it to the Promised Land, God spoke to Moses and told him what he was to say to the people. Read it with me.
3 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:3-6 NIV)
“Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Are you putting the pieces together? Remember what God told Abraham? “All nations will be blessed through you.” And to Moses, “You will be for me a kingdom of priests.” What do priests do? They minister to people on behalf of God don’t they? And out of all of the cities on the planet, God chose to place His name upon Jerusalem, that is why it is called “the Holy City.” When Solomon dedicated the temple to God, he quoted God in 2 Chronicles 6:5-6. Read it with me.
5 ‘Since the day I brought my people out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built so that my Name might be there, nor have I chosen anyone to be ruler over my people Israel. 6 But now I have chosen Jerusalem for my Name to be there, and I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.’ (2 Chronicles 6:5-6 NIV)
Jerusalem would be the Holy City of God, the place where God would raise up His people to be a blessing to all the nations of the world! Wow! What an amazing vision! What incredible purpose God gave to His people! Yet, things didn’t go according to plan and that’s why, when we began our study of Ezra more than one year ago, we found God’s people living in exile in Babylon. God’s people turned their backs on God’s calling for their lives. Instead of becoming a kingdom of priests to the nations they became arrogant, hard-headed, and rebellious so God raised up the Babylonians who came in and destroyed Jerusalem, and the temple, and enslaved God’s people in Babylon.
Now, I need to point something out to you. God chose Jerusalem as the Holy City, but it’s not the only city God loved, and neither are the Jewish people, the Chosen people, the only people God loves. Let me explain. When the Babylonians began to attack Jerusalem and carry God’s people away to a strange, foreign land, God gave Jeremiah a message to deliver to His people. Turn with me to Jeremiah 29:4-7.
4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7 NIV)
What was the message? “You go and be a blessing to the people of Babylon! Seek the peace and prosperity of the city. Pray for the Babylonians!” What was God thinking? Didn’t God know the Babylonians were pagans who worshiped foreign gods? Of course He did, but what might happen if God’s people, enslaved by the Babylonians, were to be a blessing to the city?
Let me give you one more example of God’s love for the city. I bet many of you have heard of Jonah. What most people know about Jonah is that he was swallowed by a big fish, but what most miss is that God called Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh, the capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire. David Anderson writes,
The entire history of Assyria is filled with a reign of violence, terror, torture and killing conquered peoples and they pridefully carried home parts of their enemies leaders’ bodies as souvenirs of war. The king of Nineveh would usually bring the severed head of a recently conquered king home, raise it on a pole in the midst of his royal banquet commemorating his victory and finally put it over the gate of Nineveh where it slowly rotted away. (Anderson, David. Capital Commission.)
Brutal people. Vicious people. They had not yet attacked Israel, but Jonah and the Israelites were terrified of the Assyrians. When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against the city, Jonah ran the other direction. Did he run because he was terrified of the Ninevites or because he didn’t want to preach God’s Word to them? You’ll have to wait for that answer. Let’s not get ahead of the story. Jonah finally did make his way to Nineveh and he preached the shortest sermon ever. You can read it in Jonah 3:4.
4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4 NIV)
His sermon consisted of just eight words: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” That’s quite a contrast to the six hour worship service Ezra led in Jerusalem isn’t it! Just eight words, but those eight words pierced the hearts of the Ninevites. They repented, turned from their wicked ways, and God forgave the people of Nineveh…and Jonah was furious! In Jonah’s mind it was just so wrong on so many levels! We read in Jonah 4:1-3.
1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3 NIV)
Jonah said, “I knew it! I knew that because you are gracious and compassionate this was not going to work out the way I wanted it to! If you aren’t going to wipe them out, then just take my life!”
Jonah shows us that bitterness, anger, and rage can wear us out. He was exhausted from the internal struggle going on in his heart and mind so he made a shelter and sat down under its shade. God caused a plant to grow up and provide more shade for Jonah, but the next morning a worm began eating the plant causing it to wither. Then God sent a scorching wind and the extreme heat made Jonah feel faint. Jonah was furious once again. God came to Jonah again,
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” 10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left– and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:9-11 NIV)
Isn’t that an amazing statement? “Should I not have concern, compassion, for the great city of Nineveh…people who cannot tell their right hand from their left…?” The people of Nineveh may know all about war, conquering their enemies, and striking fear in the hearts of people, but they are clueless about righteousness, holiness, mercy, and knowing God!
God loves people and God loves the city. Now, let’s get back to the city of Jerusalem in Nehemiah and Ezra’s day. The city had been destroyed more than a 140 years prior to Ezra and Nehemiah’s day, but God was resurrecting Jerusalem. The temple had been rebuilt, the wall had been rebuilt, and now God had given Nehemiah a plan to repopulate the city following a great revival. The city was being renewed and the mission was being restarted. If we were to read through the list of those who moved back into the city we would learn that many of them had some connection to the ministry that was taking place at the temple. Why is that? It’s because the temple, the house of God, is at the heart of the city and not just the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Let me show you something that gives me chills. Ezekiel was from a priestly family and he was one of the people taken into exile, in Babylon, by Nebuchadnezzar. God called Ezekiel to serve the exiles as a priest and prophet. Now remember, Ezekiel wasn’t in Jerusalem, the temple in Jerusalem was no more, it looked like all hope was lost for God’s people who were now living in Babylon. In Ezekiel 47, God gave Ezekiel a vision. Let’s start in the first verse.
1 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side. 3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in– a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. (Ezekiel 47:1-9 NIV)
Streams of living water will flow out from the temple all the way down to the Dead Sea. If you’ve never been to Israel then you have no idea how dry and desolate it is around the Dead Sea. Did you notice how life flourishes wherever the river flows? Let me make something crystal clear. Streams of living water don’t flow out of the White House, no matter who sits in the Oval Office. Streams of living water don’t flow out of the Capital in downtown Oklahoma City or any other capital city. Streams of living water don’t flow out of the halls of academia. Streams of living water flow out from the House of God. It’s not because of the vessels contained in the temple or because of its ornate design and majestic beauty, but it’s because of the Presence, the Presence of the Living God.
Jesus stood at the temple one day, on the last and greatest day of the celebration of the feast of Tabernacles. John wrote about what happened while He was standing in the shadow of the temple.
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38 NIV)
For those of you who have received Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life, the same God who called Abram and saw the weeping Hagar while she was abandoned and alone, the same God who delivered Moses and the Children of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh, the same God who told the lions to “chill” when they were looking at Daniel as their next meal, the same God who filled the temple with His glory, that God has taken up residence in you. That’s great news, but there’s more. The mission He gave to His Chosen People to be a kingdom of priests and a blessing to the nations is the mission He has given you and me. He will provide you with streams of living water to flow out from you and into the lives of those who need His grace and mercy.
God has placed you and me in this city, in Oklahoma City, and He is calling us to be a blessing to the people of this great city. There are those in our city who know all about business or sports or any number of things, but they don’t know their right hand from their left when it comes to righteousness, grace, mercy, and what it means to surrender their lives to Jesus. That’s why He has put us here. We are here to be a blessing to the people of this city, we are called to let His light shine, to be ambassadors for Christ. You are more than a doctor, mechanic, teacher, salesperson, engineer, accountant, or secretary–you are an ambassador for Jesus Christ! You and I are ambassadors for Jesus Christ and the Coronavirus has not suspended that calling on our lives. Oh, let the living waters flow out from you into the lives of the lost, the broken, the hurting, those who need to know Jesus.
I’ve got to tell you what I experienced this past Monday night here at Britton Christian Church. As many of you know, Oklahoma City Public Schools is all online for the first nine weeks of this school year. The staff has been talking about that since we heard about it. There are many of our families where either both parents work outside the home or single moms work outside the home. What a mess this is for them! I can tell you now, if they have a child like I was, that kid won’t get any work done during the day if there is going to be no supervision during the day. So we came up with an idea, The BCC Study Hall. Kids from our church will come to BCC from 8-11 to do their school work. We will feed them lunch afterwards and then provide basketball or tennis following lunch. It’s a great idea, but I knew we needed the Board to approve the plan before we could move forward. I know the people on our Board, they are all great leaders, but you know how divided and scared people are in our present circumstance. I didn’t know how they would respond or if they would give us the green light to go ahead. I shared our plan with our leaders and they were all so excited. They know that God has called us to be a lighthouse of hope to this community. Let His light shine! Let the living waters flow!
How about you? Are you allowing Jesus’ love to radiate through you into the lives of those who need Him so badly? If not, I want to invite you this morning to humble yourself before the Lord and ask Him to use you in the lives of those He leads your way.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 16, 2020