BENEFITING FROM GOD’S PROMISES REQUIRES FIRST EMBRACING GOD’S JUSTICE
Man loves to sit in the role of the Supreme Court Justice – deciding what is right and what is wrong; deciding what is fair and what type of justice should be dispensed. What a job – who wouldn’t like that prestigous seat. You are the final authority. Nobody can overturn your decision. Even when it comes to evaluating the actions of God … man likes to be the one making the decision about what is fair. Is God giving you a fair shake? Maybe you come this morning with some bitterness towards God. Why is He allowing you to experience affliction? It may be related to discipline for sin (the context here in Neh 9) or it may be simply related to His wisdom in allowing a specific trial. In either case we know that the conditions of our life right now cannot contradict God’s intrinsic nature.
God has demonstrated His covenant loyalty and His faithfulness to His intrinsic nature of Goodness down through history. That was the message of the first 31 verses of chapter 9. But God wants man to agree that He has acted fairly when it comes to our specific situation.
The problem is that most people want to try to twist God’s promises to realize all of the benefits of God’s Faithfulness and Goodness without first embracing His justice. They treat God as a rabbit’s foot they can rub for good luck; or as a box of fortune cookies where they pluck one out each morning and name and claim some sweet promise. God will not allow Himself to be played in that way.
Deut 28 – classic chapter on the blessings and curses proclaimed by God in the Mosaic Covenant
– :1-14 (vs. 1, 13-14) there are conditions to the promises
– :15-68 (vs. 15, 58) – far longer section; what happens if you fail to live up to the conditions of the covenant? Curses instead of blessings … even though God will still keep His promises to Abraham and the nation overall
Any evaluation of God’s Fairness by an Israelite must take into consideration Deut. 28
4 PRINCIPLES GOVERNING GOD’S SENSE OF FAIRNESS
I. (:32) MERCY MUST TRIUMPH OVER JUDGMENT (James 2:13)
When we show a spirit of favoritism and a critical judgmental spirit – like that talked about in James 2 where we favor the rich over the poor – we deny the reality of how God has treated us in His great mercy – Ultimately, what did we deserve from God? Yet we have experienced His great Mercy … so when it comes to any question in our mind about God’s fairness to us it must ultimately be answered by going back to confessing God’s great mercy in saving us – He owes us nothing! How can we question His fairness? We know that even in our present affiction, He will ultimately deliver His children. The Question is “How long?” We lose patience; we struggle with perseverence
But the important principle to remember is MERCY MUST TRIUMPH OVER JUDGMENT
“The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness”
Message of Jeremiah in Book of Lamentations 3:22
It is only because of His mercies that we are not totally consumed; that we have Hope at all
A. God Never Changes – He Acts in a Manner Consistent with His Character
He is never going to stop being Who He is; Who He has demonstrated Himself to be down through history; that is why we derive value from studying these OT stories – God never changes
1. Covenant Commitment
“Now therefore, our God,”
Nehemiah, the master builder, building here on all of his previous ministry; getting ready to make a significant request to God; to petition Him for something very important; He has completed the project of rebuilding the walls of the city; he is committed to the more important rebuilding project – reviving the spiritual lives of God’s people so that they once again serve Him in obedience and faithfulness
He begins with the recognition of the unique personal relationship the Jewish people enjoy with the one true God; in contrast to the idols worshiped by the nations around them; they know God; God is on their side; He works for their good; His purposes for history include taking care of Israel
Personal relationship; elect nation –
very common phrase in Neh; 4:4, 9, 20; 5:9; 6:16; chaps 10 ff also “the house of our God”
Are you confident that God is on your side? Is He your God; can you call on Him in faith knowing that He is listening to your request? Or have you replaced God in your life with other idols – idols of materialism and pleasure that are as dumb as wood and stones when it comes to meeting your deepest needs?
2. Majestic Might
“the great, the mighty, and the awesome God,”
Nothing can frustrate God’s plans; He can carry out His purposes
Is God great in your thinking? Ps. 95:3 “For the Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods … Come let us worship and bow down .. let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” – don’t harden your hearts in disobedience and rebellion
Is God mighty and awesome in your thinking? Neh. 1:5; Deut. 10:17 “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice [seen as a good thing]” –
Our response: fear Him, serve him, cling to Him, swear by His name – “He has done these great and awesome things for you”
When we come to God in prayer to make a request . . . first make sure that we understand Who God is
Kidner: great is a reminder that God does not share our narrowness of vision or of being; mighty is a virile word, fit to describe the paladins who did exploits for David (2 Sa. 23:8ff), or “the King of glory . . ., mighty in battle” (Ps. 24:8), or the divine prince of Isaiah 9:6. Terrible is misleading, for the word used here means awe-inspiring, not ruthless. It is related to the expression “the fear of the Lord”, that filial relationship which, in the most positive of senses, puts us securely in our place, and God in His
3. Loyal Love – Sums up previous 2 messages (listen on www.sermonaudio.com)
a. (9:1-15) Historical Review of God’s Covenant Loyalty
“who keeps covenant”
b. (9:16-31) Historical Review of the Goodness of God
B. God Cares About Our Troubles — Puts a Limit on the Severity and Length of Necessary Discipline – Here is the one request that Nehemiah makes in this lengthy prayer:
1. Sensitivity to the Severity – this is the one Petition
“Do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You,”
Doesn’t sound like our prayers at all – we just string one request after another; Nehemiah spends the bulk of his prayer time rehearsing who God is in His character and what God has done for His people down through history
(Exod 18:8 – testimony of Jethro to the goodness of God; Num 20:14 – Moses speaking to the king of Edom; Lam 3:5 “He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship”)
Not minimizing the pain and the suffering = “hardship” – Does God really understand what I am going through? Does He see? Has He forgotten me? Does He care? That’s when we need to go to the Gospel accounts and see the compassion of Jesus in action; look at how His heart goes out to those in need – You have health issues; financial issues; relationship issues; job issues; car troubles; all types of pressure – how about all of those troubles you have brought on yourself as the consequences of sinful decisions you have made?? Does God care about those hardships or just say – “You made your bed, now sleep in it?
Commercial: dog that can’t sleep; tosses and turns – worried about the safety of his bone: “trouble, trouble …”
Trouble … trouble, trouble, trouble …
Been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born
Worry . . . worry, worry, worry . . .
Just will not seem to leave my mind alone
2. Scope of the Discipline
“Which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people,”
these are people that want to serve the Lord; no one in the nation got a free pass; no one was immune from the hardship of God’s discipline on the nation – not even the prophets who faithfully proclaimed God’s words of warning; no partiality; no special exemptions
a. Royalty – kings and princes – current and future leaders
b. Religious Leaders – priests and prophets
c. Regular Folks – fathers and all your people
3. Sensitivity to the Timetable
“From the days of the kings of Assyria to this day.”
70 years of Captivity literally fulfilled
New era in God’s program for His people
Kidner: The kings of Assyria were the first of the successive world powers to meance and then subjugate Israel and Judah since the bondage in Egypt. From the middle of the 9th century BC to Nehemiah’s day in the middle of the 5th century, first Assyria, intermittently, then Babylon and Persia had dominated this small people. And Greece and Rome were to follow.
II. (:33-35) DISOBEDIENCE DESERVES DISCIPLINE –
4 CONFESSIONS OF A CONTRITE HEART
A. Embracing God’s Justice = Key Testimony
“However, You are just in all that has come upon us;”
(2 Chron 12:1-8 account of bondage to Shishak of Egypt under kingdom of Rehoboam in Judah when they forsook the law of the Lord; look at the difference between serving God and serving sin; Ezra 9:13-15; Ps 119:137 “Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright are Your judgments.”; Jer 12:1 – Age old question: Why do the wicked prosper?; Dan 9:14 “for the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.”)
Is this the testimony of our heart? To agree with God that He is just in how He has afflicted us?
“It is Well With My Soul” – songwriter – different circumstances; no discipline for sin involved
This hymn was written by a Chicago lawyer, Horatio G. Spafford. You might think to write a worship song titled, ‘It is well with my soul’, you would indeed have to be a rich, successful Chicago lawyer. But the words,
“When sorrows like sea billows roll … It is well with my soul”, were not written during the happiest period of
Spafford’s life. On the contrary, they came from a man who had suffered almost unimaginable personal tragedy.
Horatio G. Spafford and his wife, Anna, were pretty well-known in 1860’s Chicago. And this was not just because of Horatio’s legal career and business endeavors. The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of D.L. Moody, the famous preacher. In 1870, however, things started to go wrong. The Spaffords’ only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, it was fire rather than fever that struck. Horatio had invested heavily in real estate on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1871, every one of these holdings was wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.
Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest — DL Moody needed the help. He was
traveling around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns. Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords traveled to New York in November, from where they were to catch the French steamer ‘Ville de Havre’ across the Atlantic. Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development forced Horatio to delay. Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go as planned. He would follow on later. With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed East to Europe while Spafford returned West to Chicago. Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read: “Saved alone.”
On November 2nd 1873, the ‘Ville de Havre’ had collided with ‘The Lochearn’, an English vessel. It sank in only 12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up. When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford’s first reaction was one of complete despair. Then she heard a voice speak to her, “You were spared for a purpose.” And she immediately recalled the words of a friend, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”
Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna born later) explained that during her father’s voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. “A careful reckoning has been made”, he said, “and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep.” Horatio then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of his great hymn.
The words which Spafford wrote that day come from 2 Kings 4:26. They echo the response of the Shunammite woman to the sudden death of her only child. Though we are told “her soul is vexed within her”, she still maintains that ‘It is well.” And Spafford’s song reveals a man whose trust in the Lord is as unwavering as hers was.
It would be very difficult for any of us to predict how we would react under circumstances similar to those experienced by the Spaffords. But we do know that the God who sustained them would also be with us.
No matter what circumstances overtake us may we be able to say with Horatio Spafford…
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
B. Contrasting God’s Faithfulness with Man’s Disobedience
“For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.”
You cannot get any more direct than this simple appraisal; no smokescreens; no excuses; no blameshifting; no end runs; no confusing of the issues
We all remember the illustration of the young boy who is being disciplined by his Mom –
He was in church with his mother and he would not sit still. He kept standing up in the pew. His mom kept saying sit down. He would sit down for a few minutes and get back up again. She said again, “I said sit down.” This happened several times. The little boy stood up and would not sit down. His mother, aggravated, put her hand on the top of his head and pushed him down. The little boy sat fuming. He looked at his mom and said, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”
– still have a heart attitude of rebellion; you can pressure my external behavior to change … but my heart attitude remains rebellious
C. Rejecting God’s Requirements
“For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law Or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them.”
D. Spurning God’s Goodness
1. Rejecting God’s Authority
“But they, in their own kingdom,”
2. Despising God’s Goodness
“With Your great goodness which You gave them,”
3. Ignoring God’s Faithfulness
“With the broad and rich land which You set before them,”
4. Rebelling Against God’s Service
“Did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds.”
(Deut 28:20; Judg 2:19; Ps 106:39; Is 1:16; Jer 4:4; 21:12; 23:2, 22; Hos 9:15; Zech 1:4)
Swindoll: No leader can effectively chart a new path toward healing and recovery without first acknowledging his or her organization’s present reality. If earnings are negative and plummeting, the CEO must accept the hard, cold truth without the distortion of optimistic or pessimistic lenses. If the church is wracked with division, the pastor must peel away all the masking to expose the cracks. If the company is rife with incompetence, the leader must recognize the need for replacment or training before setting substantive goals. Quite often, the very act of stating present realities will suggest the appropriate solutions. God loves it when we’re vulnerable and painfully honest before Him.
III. (:36-37) BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS BRING BURDENSOME BONDAGE –
4 UPSIDE DOWN CONSEQUENCES OF SIN
A. Upside Down Relationship – Slaves instead of Sovereigns
“Behold, we are slaves today,”
Breneman: It was one thing to be a slave in a foreign land, but to be a slave in their own land was quite another.
B. Upside Down Remuneration
“And as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves in it. Its abundant produce is for the kings”
Worst possible judgment – the good things that were intended for us are consumed by our enemies
People talk about being upside down in their finances all of the time – you buy a house and all of a sudden the market tanks and now you find yourself upside down – owing much more than the house is now worth; no way you can get out from under; that is what happens to businesses all of the time
C. Upside Down Rulership
“Whom You have set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please,”
Man likes to think he can be autonomous; ruling over himself – but he ends up in bondage
D. Upside Down Relief – Jesus came so that we might experience great peace
“So we are in great distress.”
Commercial: “How do you spell Relief? Rolaids” – brand of antacid; baseball season almost beginning – they used to sponsor the Major League Baseball award for top relief pitchers
Breneman: God’s providential role in history is displayed with great care in this chapter. What humans may attribute to secular causes, the biblical authors understood to have derived from none other than the living God.
IV. (:38) COVENANT BLESSINGS CALL FOR PERSONAL COMMITMENT
A. Written Commitment
“Now because of all this we are making an agreement in writing;”
We live in an age where people shy away from commitment
God keeps His Commitments
Kidner: the verb translated “make” is karat “to cut,” which has strong association with covenant-making.
B. Ratified Commitment – Action Plan – detailed in chap. 10
“And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests.”
Leaders must lead with their personal commitment
Cannot be any turning back
Substituting Obedience at every point where disobedience had been their downfall
Foolish: to continue along the same path, practicing the same historical errors of disobedience and rebellion and expect different results; must be a commitment to change
We end up back at the beginning – asking ourselves the all important question:
Is God giving you a fair shake?
If you have resisted making the commitment to transfer the mastery of your life over to Jesus Christ and submit to Him as your Lord and Savior, you cannot expect Mercy to Triumph over Judgment in your situation. You need to repent and acknowledge your sin and say: “God you are just in sending me to hell to pay the penalty for my sins. But I want to put my trust completely in Jesus Christ and cast myself upon your mercy for salvation.”
If you are a believer and experiencing God’s Discipline, you must confess that your disobedience deserves God’s discipline. Your life is upside down in a number of areas because of the consequences of your own sin. You must make the commitment to get back on track and obey God. There is hope because God takes note of your situation. He cares about what is troubling you.
But even if we are just experiencing the pressure and pain that comes from trials that are not connected to sin, we must maintain a healthy perspective towards God’s Justice.
BENEFITING FROM GOD’S PROMISES REQUIRES FIRST EMBRACING GOD’S JUSTICE