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The Love of Our King

Today Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday. If you come from a traditional church background, you probably know what that is all about – but for those who maybe didn’t have that traditional church upbringing, Palm Sunday might be a little more unfamiliar to you. It typically doesn’t get as much publicity as Easter or Christmas – but it’s a significant event on the church calendar none-the-less.

So this morning, I’d like to take some time just to explain what Palm Sunday is all about. What happened on that first palm Sunday – and why were those events so significant – and why is it important that we remember and celebrate that today?

As we all sit at home, slowing the spread of the coronavirus, what can we take away from Palm Sunday that gives us hope, that stirs our love for each other, and that builds our faith in God?

That’s what I hope to share with you this morning! You’ll remember last week we looked at 1 Corinthians 13:13 which says…

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

We were encouraged to know that the coronavirus will not last forever. Social distancing will not last forever. But faith, hope and love will. These three things will last forever. 

In particular, we talked about faith last week. We looked at the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – and how their absolute confidence in God (that is to say, their faith in God) was a tremendous example for all of us. No matter what our situation (whether its a fiery furnance, an angry king, or COVID-19), we can trust the Word (and the character) of God!

And our faith in God will last forever. God will never break our trust. Even throughout eternity – we will be able to have absolute confidence in the faithfulness of our God. Hebrews 13:8 says…

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8

And Isaiah 40:8 tells us…

The grass withers and the flowers fade,

    but the word of our God stands forever.”

Isaiah 40:8

Everything else and everyone else in the world, at some point, will fall short, will disappoint, will fail. But the Word and the character of God – will last forever – and we can fully put our faith in Him.

Now today, as we examine the story of Palm Sunday, we’re going to look at the second of these three words, but we’re not going to go in order. The verse lists faith, hope, and love as the three things that will last forever – and certainly we could talk extensively about hope as we look at Palm Sunday, but we’re going to save that one Resurrection Sunday next week. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is really the foundation of our hope! So today, we’re going to talk about love – which is certainly a very key element in Palm Sunday!

Now Palm Sunday is actually one of the few events that is recorded in all four Gospels – we find it in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – which I think speaks to how significant this event is. I mean, Jesus birth is only recorded in two of the Gospels, and so if all four of the Gospel writers include the details of this event – It’s got to be significant.

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The Sacrifice

There is a song that we sometimes sing in at our kids clubs called “Father Abraham”. If you’ve been a camp kid or if you grew up in the church, chances are good that you’ve heard it before. But if not, it goes like this: “Father Abraham had many sons – many sons had Father Abraham. And I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.”

And then there are some ridiculous actions that go along with that have nothing to do with song – but the kids love it – and believe it or not, the theology of the song is actually pretty accurate.

According to Paul in Romans 4:16…

“For Abraham is the father of all who believe.” Romans 4:16

Of course, Abraham is not likely your biological ancestor unless you happen to be Jewish, but Paul says Abraham is our father in a spiritual sense. If we have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ – then Abraham is our Father. We are one of his many sons and daughters – because he is the father of all who believe.

And if you’ve been tracking along with us for these past couple months, I think it’s probably becoming clear why Paul would say that Abraham is the father of all who believe. We’ve spent the last several weeks looking at the life of Abraham – learn from Him as He learned to walk with God.

Today, we are wrapping up that series, but it has been incredible to see the amount of faith Abraham had in God. It’s no wonder we call him the Father of our faith. We read a bit of a summary of Abraham’s life last week from Romans 4:18 – which really emphasized Abraham’s faith in God. It said:

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The One True God of Nehemiah

This morning we continue looking at the story of Nehemiah. And if, by chance, you’ve missed the last couple of weeks, let me try to quickly catch you up.

The story of Nehemiah takes place roughly around 450 BC. It’s one of the last stories in the Old Testament (chronologically speaking) before we pick it up the storyline again around 400 years later in the New Testament with the birth of Jesus.

So Israel has already had a lot of history by this point. Way back 1000 years before Nehemiah, God had brought the Israelites out of Egypt and had established them as his own special nation. They were to be a holy people – set apart from all the other people of the world – as God’s special representatives. Of course, they didn’t always do very well at that. Although there were some people and some eras where the Israelites did follow God wholeheartedly, as we look at their history as a whole, we find they often disregarded God’s instructions – worshipping other gods and really, just acting like every other nation around them.

Now when God had first chosen them as his own special people – God promised that if they were to follow Him, He would bless them beyond their wildest imaginations. (And in those times when they did follow God, we see God doing exactly that.) But God also promised that if they choose to follow other gods, then God would remove his blessings and would in fact, remove them from the land that he was giving them. They would be destroyed and exiled into other nations. And this too, is what we see happening. After years of the Israelites chasing after other gods, God finally removed the Israelites from their land. The northern part of the kingdom was conquer by the Assyrians in 722 BC and the southern part of the kingdom (including Jerusalem) was conquered by the Babylonians in 597 BC.

For the next 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Israelites lived in exile in Babylon. But during their time in exile, it seems they learned their lesson. The repented of their sin and turned again back to God – and so, God began to restore them to their land. The first set of exiles returned to reestablish themselves around Jerusalem and rebuild the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Another group returned about 80 years after that under Ezra. About 13 years after that, we meet Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was a Jew who was still living in exile – he was actually the cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia – which made him a rather prominent person in the king’s court. He was one of King most trusted companions.

But when Nehemiah heard the reports that the Israelites who had returned to Jerusalem were still living among the ruins of Jerusalem – God stirred Nehemiah’s heart to do something about that. It was not right that 150 years after it’s destruction, that Jerusalem still lay in ruins.

Centuries ago, Jerusalem was the centre of the nation. God had chosen Jerusalem as the location of his temple – it was the symbol of God’s presence among his people. And now, for the city to lay in ruins – it was a bitter reminder of Israelite’s failure to be God’s holy people. But now that God had given them a second chance, and they had returned to Jerusalem, now was time to rebuild the city and once again live as God’s holy people in God’s holy city. So after 4 months of prayer and fasting before God, Nehemiah asked the king to allow him to go to Jerusalem to rebuilt the city.

Now this was a little scary – since the king had early declared that Jerusalem was not to be rebuilt except at his express command. Nehemiah notes that he was terrified to bring this up to the king, but because he was convinced that this was what God wanted him to do – he did it.

Well, God moved the heart of the king to grant Nehemiah his request. And actually, the king sent him on his way with royal letters granting Nehemiah permission to travel through the empire and to acquire wood from the royal forest for the project. And, as we’re going to see in just a minute, the king also sent along a regiment of soldiers and horsemen for Nehemiah’s protection along the way.

All of this happened because, as we read in chapter 2, verse 8, the gracious hand of God was on Nehemiah. And it’s a good thing too, because the challenges that Nehemiah was about to face were  about to start coming fast and furious.

So we’re going to start reading right where we left off last week. So if you want to follow along in your own Bibles, we’re going to be in Nehemiah chapter 2 – starting at verse 9.

9 When I came to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, I delivered the king’s letters to them. The king, I should add, had sent along army officers and horsemen to protect me. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of my arrival, they were very displeased that someone had come to help the people of Israel.

Nehemiah 2:9-10

Right out of the gate, here is our first challenge facing Nehemiah. Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official were not happy that Nehemiah had come to help the people of Israel. Why? Probably the main reason was that a strong Jerusalem would weaken their own political positions.

Both men ruled the areas around Jerusalem. Sanballat was the governor of Samaria to the north (we’ll learn that in chapter 4 – and Tobiah ruled the Ammonites to the east.) Interestingly, Tobiah is actually a Jewish name. So it seems that Tobiah, although not a full-blooded Israelite himself, at least had some Israelite heritage in his ancestry. And that will actually come up again, at the end of the chapter, so we’ll revisit these two guys again when we get there.

But for now, let’s keep reading. Verse 11.

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Living in the Ruins

Last Sunday we began looking at the story of Nehemiah. Well, that’s not entirely true. We actually didn’t quite get to the story of Nehemiah. Instead, we looked at the history and the background to the story of Nehemiah – which I think will come in handy as we go through this series.

But basically, we started way back at the formation of the nation of Israel. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, he made a covenant or an agreement with them. In that covenant, we saw how God promised that He would pour his blessings on them if they followed his ways and obeyed the terms of the covenant that God had made with them. On the flip side of that, we also saw how, if they choose to abandon God – going their own way and breaking the terms of the covenant –  then God would send curses upon them and they would uprooted and exiled from their land.

So with that in mind, we took a quick snapshot of the history of Israel, and we saw both sides of those promises coming to pass. When Israel and it’s kings obeyed God and followed His ways – they enjoyed peace and prosperity on every side. It was the golden years of Israel. However, as Israel & it’s kings choose later to abandon God and worship idols and do things their own way – calamity overtook them. They ended up being invaded by other nations, defeated, uprooted from their homes and exiled into captivity – just as God had promised.

However, this was not a surprise to God. In fact, as part of that original covenant, God also promised that when all this would happen (as he knew that it would) – that when they found themselves in exile because of their disobedience, if they were to turn back to God – if they were to confess and repent of their sin – then God would forgive them and would restore them to their land.

And this is exactly what is happening in the lead up to Nehemiah. While in exile in Babylon, the Israelites began to see how they had sinned and had turned away from God – and so they confessed their sin and began to repent. And as a result, God kept his promise once again and began to restore them to their land.

The Bible records three major excursions of Israelites from Babylon back to Jerusalem.  After 70 years in exile, the first group of Israelites was led by a guy named Zerubabbel. He brought about 50,000 Israelites back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and to once again worship and serve God there – just as God had instructed centuries ago. So that’s what they did – they resettled around Jerusalem and then they rebuilt the temple.

80 years after that, another group arrived – a much smaller group – probably around 2,000 people – and they were led by a scribe named Ezra. Ezra’s main purpose in returning to Jerusalem was to teach the people the Word of God – which is another thing that hadn’t been happening for centuries. Back then, not every person had access to a Bible like we do, and so without a teacher like Ezra to teach them, much of what God had said in his Word had been neglected and forgotten. And so Ezra was actually commissioned by King Artaxerxes of Persia, to return to Jerusalem and teach the Israelites the ways and the laws of God.

Then so that brings us to Nehemiah. Nehemiah would arrive with a third group of Israelites about 13 years after Ezra – but that’s getting ahead of the story. We’ll probably get to that part in couple weeks.

But now that we’ve got the big picture of what’s going on, I want to start looking specifically at Nehemiah. How did he get involved in all of this? What’s his story? So to find that, we’re going to start reading in Nehemiah chapter 1.

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The Promise of Restoration

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 favourite books of the Bible, and in fact, it’s quite possible that some of you who couldn’t even tell me who in the world Nehemiah was. So it’s probably a good idea before we start, to briefly have a look at the history and background of Nehemiah. And there is a lot of history to this story – Nehemiah is one of the last stories recorded in the Old Testament – so basically the entire Old Testament is the history and background to Nehemiah. Now I won’t take you through the entire Old Testament, but we really need to go way back and have at least a basic understanding of the history of the nation of Israel.

So I want to start today about 1000 years before the actual story that we’re going to look at. Basically we want to start with the formation of the nation of Israel. As most of you know Jospeh brought his family of about 70 to Egypt to escape a famine – you can read about that in Genesis 46. Well, this visit to Egypt turned into a 400 year stay – and during that time, they grew from a family of 70 to a family of about a million. These people would be the founding fathers of the nation of Israel.

So we’re going to pick it up just after God freed them from slavery in Egypt and led them out towards the Promised Land. Now when God did this, he made a covenant (or an agreement) with them. This was the deal – if they were to obey the terms of the covenant – which include all the instructions you find in Exodus and Leviticus – basically summarized by the ten commandments – but if they were to obey God in all these things, God promised to bless them like crazy!

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Hezekiah & Sennacherib

This is our third week in our series of Great Battles of the Bible. We started off with the Sunday school classic – Joshua and the battle of Jericho. Then we looked at the not so familiar story of Jonathan & his armor bearer taking on the Philistines. Now today we are looking at a story that again, isn’t one of the more popular Bible storybook battles, but I think it’s a story that give us some good insight as to who God is and how we are to respond to Him.

So if you want to follow along in your Bibles, we’ll be starting in 2 Kings chapter 18, but I’ll warn you right off the bat, it’s a pretty long story. Its about 74 verses in all – so I’m just going to be reading the key verses – perhaps you’ll want to read all the details later.

But for now, let’s start at 2 Kings, chapter 18, verse 5.

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