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The Work Begins

For the past two weeks, we’ve been looking a Nehemiah. Just to recap, Nehemiah was the cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia around 500 BC. He was a Jew who had been living in exile probably all of his life. Other Jews had earlier been allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, but rest of the city was in ruins. When Nehemiah heard about this, God laid it on his heart to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. He asked the king for permission to go, and through the sovereignty of God, he was allowed.

As we’ve been talking about Nehemiah wanting to build the walls of Jerusalem, we’ve been applying those principles to us wanting to build the church.

Now Nehemiah is in Jerusalem, so let’s read what happens.
Nehemiah 2:11-16
11 So I arrived in Jerusalem. Three days later, 12 I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us except the donkey I was riding. 13 After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. 14 Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. 15 So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate.

Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, takes three days to rest from his long journey, and then goes out at night with a handful of people to inspect the walls.

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Principles of Preparation

When we left Nehemiah last Sunday – he was weeping and mourning and fasting and praying to God because he heard about the terrible state of his countrymen back in Jerusalem. After many years of exile, some of the Jews had returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, but the city was in ruins, the walls had been torn down and the gates had been burned.

We also talked about our countrymen, right here in our community, living in the ruins so to speak – living lives apart from God. And I trust that God has, and will continue to fill your heart with compassion and concern for the lost in our community, because until we feel the same way God does about our friends and neighbors, (that is with great love and compassion) things aren’t going to change for them. They’re going to stay living in the ruins.

But today as we continue to look at the life of Nehemiah, we’re going to see how he begins to take action. And through that, hopefully we can learn a few principles for us to follow in reaching our community for Christ.

Nehemiah 1:5-11 & 2:1-9

The first thing I want you to notice is the time of year. If you remember from last week, it was late autumn when Nehemiah got the report about the broken walls, but when is it when he talks to the king about going back to Jerusalem? Early spring. What did he do all winter?

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Weeping for the Lost

Today we begin a new series of messages from the Book of Nehemiah. I’m guessing that most of you wouldn’t list Nehemiah in your top five favorite books of the Bible, and in fact, there could be some of you who couldn’t even tell me who Nehemiah was. So before we take a look at the Scriptures for today, I want to give you just a brief history and background of Nehemiah.

After the time of Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms. The northern part with 10 of the 12 tribes kept the name Israel. The southern part with 2 of the 12 tribes was known as Judah. Jerusalem, the capital and the location of the Solomon’s temple, was part of the kingdom of Judah.

All of the kings of Israel were evil. Because of their continued sinfulness, God allowed the Assyrians to invade and defeated Israel. The people were deported and scattered over the face of the earth – never to return.

Judah had some good kings, but the majority were evil. Because of their continued sinfulness, God allowed the Babylonians to attack and defeat Judah. They destroyed Jerusalem, including the temple, and deported many of the people to Babylon. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were among those who were deported.

Seventy years later, the king of Persia (who had since conquered the Babylonians), allowed several groups of Jews to return to Judah to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

The story of Nehemiah picks up about 95 years after the Jews are allowed to return to Jerusalem. The temple has been rebuilt, but the rest of Jerusalem is not in good shape.

Nehemiah 1:1-4

So things are not well for those who have returned to Jerusalem. The walls have been destroyed and the gates have been burned. And Nehemiah weeps.

When I first read through this passage, I had a hard time understanding why Nehemiah was so worked up about the broken walls of a city nearly 1,000 miles away. I don’t think Nehemiah had ever been to Jerusalem before – so why does he spend days mourning over it’s broken walls?


The Difficult Change

Change is difficult. We see that in every aspect of our lives. Just this morning I went through the difficult change of being asleep, comfortable in my bed to being awake and getting ready for church. That was a difficult change. Many of you have moved and taken on new jobs throughout your life – that change is difficult. Many of you have gone from being a newly wed-couple to having kids – that’s a difficult change. Then when those kids grow up and move out, that’s a difficult change there again. As you grow older, your body wears out and you can’t do things like you used to – that’s a difficult change. Life is full of change and most often, that change is difficult.

Even physics say that change is difficult. Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states that an object in motion tends to remain in motion, unless an external force is applied to it. When a train is barreling down the track in this direction, it is very difficult to change it’s direction to go the other way. Change is difficult.

As our church moves forward in the direction God is leading us, there’s bound to be some changes. Some may be minor, some may be major, but all changes will come with some degree of difficulty.

So to help us through the process a little bit, this morning I want to look at some of the major changes that happened in the early church.

The first change that we want to look at is a changed way of coming to God.

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Characteristics of the Church

Over the past weeks we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the basic concepts of church – what it is, what its for, what it does. So this morning I want to shift gears just a little bit at take some time to look at an actual church and see just how all of these concepts work out in real life.

Now I’ll admit that the church that we are going to look at is nearly two thousand years old, but the characteristics we see in this church have allowed it to plant hundreds of thousands of new churches and see millions come to know and love Jesus Christ. That church is the first church in Jerusalem.

Acts chapter two will be the focus of our study this morning. Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The first characteristic of this church that I noticed is that they were devoted.

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The Five Expressions of the Church

Over the past two weeks we’ve looked at three questions:
#1. What is the church?
#2. What is the purpose of the church?
#3. How do we fulfill our purpose?

We determined that you and I are the church, our purpose is to love God and be loved by Him, and we fulfill our purpose by surrendering everything to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we want to look at a fourth question,and that question is: What are the expressions of the church?

Before we explore the answer, let’s make sure we understand the question. What are the expressions of the church?

You may remember back two weeks ago when we were looking at the purpose of the church, I told you about how I had written up these five “purposes” of the church. They were worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry & evangelism. But then we clarified our understanding and said actually, our purpose is to love God and be loved by Him. So if that’s our real purpose, what are those five things that I listed as purposes earlier? I think they are best described as expressions, and here’s why.

The word ‘expression’ comes from a Latin word that means ‘to press out’. Think about facial expressions for a minute. When we are experiencing deep sadness or grief, that feeling of sadness wells up within us, is pressed out upon our face. Tears flow and our face involuntarily distorts itself to express that feeling. Or when someone tells us something funny, that feeling of laughter wells up within us, and presses itself out on our face and we smile and laugh. We don’t try to laugh, it just comes out. It’s our feelings pressed out on our face. It’s a natural reaction.

And these five things – worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry & evangelism – work the same way. When we are living in a growing, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, surrendering our whole life to Him, these five things will just flow out of our lives. They are the natural expressions of the Christian life.

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