Doing a Great Work for God
And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?
Anyone reading the first four verses of the Book of Nehemiah, though they knew little about the Bible, could easily see that something terrible had befallen the Jews and the conditions were still not well. In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar had conquered the great kingdom of Judah demoting it to just another province of Babylon. Perhaps to keep the people from ever revolting again, the Babylonian monarch utterly destroyed the beautiful Temple built by Solomon along with the walls and gates which had seemingly offered protection for the capital city of Jerusalem. During that time period, Nebuchadnezzar had three times carried away captives from Judah bringing them to Babylon. After war, death, and deportation only a few Jews remained in Judah consisting of the poorest of the land (2 Kings 25:12).
Some 50 years later, the Babylonian empire fell to the Persians. Under Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, a large group of Jews led by Zerubbabel were granted permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. After another 80 years passed, another group of Jews left for Jerusalem headed by a scribe named Ezra whose interest in his homeland was one of spiritual reform.
Almost 13 years after Ezra's return, we read about Hanani's visit to Nehemiah in the month of December (the 20th year of Artaxerxes in the month Chisleu). No indication is given for Hanani's return to the Persian capital, but with sorrow we read that even after almost 142 years had passed since the fall of Jerusalem, the condition of the gates and walls had not changed, nor was the condition of the remnant in Judah much better. Yet within this woeful report there was an opportunity for Nehemiah to do a work for God. As he would testify later to his enemies in Jerusalem, "I am doing a great work" (Nehemiah 6:3). This is the great theme of the Book of Nehemiah, and consequently all those who find themselves in service to God can find many a great gem from the life of Nehemiah to help them. Our first lesson to learn from Nehemiah is found in his opportunity to serve God. It is simply this" Like Nehemiah, every Christian has an opportunity to do a great work for his God. What a wonderful truth considering the excitement, pleasure, and reward that is found in the service of the Master of the Universe. There is no other work such as the work of God, and all of us have an opportunity to be involved. How can this be, some may ask? Let us observe from what we have read of Nehemiah!
Hanani's news was, "The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire." Though Nehemiah did not voice a reply, his actions spoke like the famous words of David, "Is there not a cause?" (1 Samuel 17:29). Did not this news reveal a need for restoration of the walls and of the morale of the remnant if not their spiritual condition as well? What a noble task to be done! The relationship between this need and the truth that every Christian has such an opportunity, can readily be seen when we consider the cause of the situation in Jerusalem and the Agent who brought about those conditions.
God very explicitly gives the reason for the demise of Jerusalem - "for the sins of Manasseh" (2 Kings 24:2-4). These sins with which King Manasseh corrupted both the people and the land are described in 2 Kings 21:1-16 along with the foretelling of the judgement that was to come. We may note as well that God had foretold this outcome some thousand years before in Deuteronomy 28:36-37. It was sin though, that brought ruin and reproach. Consider though that sin is a universal problem with man (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:23). It necessarily follows then that destruction and despair are commonplace as sin is rampant on the earth. Thus we may well expect that a multitude of opportunities like Nehemiah's must exist for the needs are many.
The great existence of problems caused by sin would not be enough to allow for opportunities to serve God, were it not for the fact that God is in the business of restoration. Praise God that His judgement upon Jerusalem was of a chastising nature and not permanent. God always had His eye towards restoration (Jeremiah 25:11-12, Daniel 9:2). From eternity, God has had a plan for restoring that which Adam and Eve forfeited by their disobedience - the times of restitution of all things (Acts 3:21). No matter what evil Satan contrives, nor what sin man commits, God is able to resolve such evils into something better (Romans 8:28). With an abundance of sin there is much to restore, and since God has a significant interest in such restoration, there is an abundance of opportunity to do a great work for God.
What opportunities exist for doing a great work for God in the building of a church?
Another reason for which every Christian has an opportunity to do a great work for God has to do with God's selection of instruments used to carry out His purpose.
Verse 1 of our text refers to Nehemiah as "the son of Hachaliah". Let us always remember that Nehemiah was just a man. God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to commit to man the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) for what reason we know not. We may praise Him greatly that He should allow us to be involved. Often we look at great men such as Moses, Nehemiah, and Paul as being more than just mere men. We are then easily discouraged and defeated believing that we are not made of the same stuff as those giants of the faith. In many such cases, we are observing men whom God has molded over a long period of time, whom we might not esteem so highly had we seen their humble beginnings.
Paul said well to the Corinthians, "they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12). He says later in the passage, "he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth" (vs. 17-18). Paul knew that there was nothing special about himself (see 2 Corinthians 3:5). If he was great, it was because of God. Nehemiah was just the son of some man, just as we are the son or daughter of some man. Let no opportunity be thought too great or unattainable, but rather let us remember Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Still more amazing is the fact that Nehemiah was not only a man but he was an imperfect man. As Elijah confessed to God, "I am not better than my fathers" (1 Kings 19:4), Nehemiah confessed to God in verse 6, "both I and my father's house have sinned". Can God use a sinner to do a great work? He does all the time, for there are no straight sticks to use, but only those that are crooked. The next time Satan tells you that you cannot serve because you are not perfect, just remember some of these servants, some of whom are even recorded in the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11):
You will have to look long and hard through Scripture to find a man or woman that
served God who was perfect, other than One. Yes, there are some great works that God has
put some qualifications on such as a pastor or deacon, but there are so many other
opportunities for doing a great work. When our imperfections seem to prevent us from
certain works, remember Paul's testimony, "by the grace of God I am what I am"
(1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul said, "I was made a minister, according to the gift of
the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power" (Ephesians
3:7-8). Praise God for grace - that unmerited, supernatural, enabling power of God!