The Reward for Greatness

By Mike Mazzalongo Posted: Sun. Jun 16th
After Nehemiah finished the task given to him by the Lord, God blessed His servant. In this final lesson Mike examines the reward for those who are great in the Kingdom, like Nehemiah.
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We've been studying the life of Nehemiah in order to discover the pattern of living, the type of virtues necessary to be great in the kingdom of God. Remember we said it's okay to want to be great in the kingdom of God. Jesus even encourages us to strive for that. Matthew 18:4 and Matthew 20:26. To strive to be great in the kingdom is to make an effort to be more and more like Christ, and this is certainly pleasing in the side of the Lord.

There's nothing there that the Lord will not like in your efforts to be like his son. So in our study so far, we've learned that a group of Jews have come from Jerusalem to seek Nehemiah's help in building a wall around the city of Jerusalem. And we've seen Nehemiah's greatness demonstrated as we see him go directly to God in prayer for help. Next, when God answers his prayer and moves the king to permit Nehemiah to return to do the work and also provides the materials to do the job, we see other elements of Nehemiah's character that separates him as a great servant of God.

We observed as he works God's plan in the rebuilding scheme. He mobilizes everyone to serve. He encourages the people to work hard, to trust God, and finally to finish despite all of the obstacles. Remember I said he kept his eye on the plan.

He kept his eye on the objective. He didn't focus on the obstacles, he focused on the endgame, very important. So, these are some of the virtues that make a person great in the eyes of God. That's the point of the series, a strong prayer life, eager to do God's will, sensitivity to the body of the believers, perseverance in work and faith, courage to finish what we start, and finish what we start whether it's a church project or it's a personal project on ourselves.

From here on in I'm going to try to do this or I'm going to devote myself to more prayer life, whatever the objective is, to stick with it in order to achieve the end goal. So, after Nehemiah finished the job, God reward him.

And today, as we close out our series, we're going to take a look at how God rewards great service, great servants. So God rewards those who achieve greatness in his kingdom, and the rewards is not simply the promise of heaven.

All of us have the promise of heaven. God rewards his good and faithful servants with greater opportunities to bear fruit to his glory. Now someone may ask, "Well, how is this a reward?" Well, it's a reward because the greater our service and fruitfulness, the greater our joy, and peace, and confidence in the kingdom to come.

So, Nehemiah went from restoring the wall around the city of God's people to restoring the people of God themselves. He was faithful with the little thing. The little thing was building the cement or the brick wall.

That was the little thing. God then gave him a big thing, and that was to rebuild his people, and we see how he did this in the following chapters. So Nehemiah's restoration of the people took place in four stages.

Those who have the responsibility of working with people can once again learn about great leadership from Nehemiah's approach. So, first thing he did in his rebuilding of the people, he restored order.

He restored order. Nehemiah chapter seven, verse four and five says, "Now the city was large and spacious, "but the people in it were few "and the houses were not built. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, "the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogies. Then I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up first in which I found the following record.

And so Nehemiah begins by establishing social order. In verses six to 73, obviously, we don't have time to read that this morning. But in these verses, if we were to read through, we see him organizing the people to live in various cities according to their genealogies. He appointed priests to serve at the temple and he gathered funds to pay for their work.

Once the wall was built and the people were secured, it was time to return to living ordinary life, on the ordered life that God had given them, and Nehemiah followed God's lead in reorganizing the society.

We read one chapter and it gives it in kind of summary form. This took time, but this was the first order of business, to reorder the society, because that society was in chaos. There was a war. And they had been scattered, and they had been in captivity, and exile, and then they're coming back, but they're coming back building and everyone is living in the city because that's the only safe place.

They couldn't just stay in one place. They had to move out. They had to settle the land again. And Nehemiah, again, is the leader in reorganizing the society. The second thing that he does, he restores organized teaching.

It says, "And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding "on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those could understand, and all the people were attentive To the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they have made for this purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hasbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people. And when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, amen, amen while lifting up their hands. Then they bowed low and worshiped the lord "with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, "Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep. For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law.

Long passage, but I think it gets across the idea. He restored organized teaching. Nehemiah re-instituted detailed education for the people in the law and the word of God.

He knew that the wall protected the city, but it was God's word that would protect the hearts of the people. That was very important. They have been defeated and exiled because of their sins and because of their ignorance of God's word.

And so, Nehemiah addressed the danger repeating itself by educating the people in God's will, very important. My lesson tonight entitled Truth or Consequence talks about what happens when we go away from the truth as individuals, but as a nation, and there are tremendous parallels between Israel 3,000 years ago, wandering away from God's word, and our nation today slowly wandering away from God's word.

And the consequences that we may face because of that. So this was what he was trying to protect them from. They got into trouble because they didn't know God's word and they went away from it. So, reestablishing the society is not just making sure everybody has got a house, and some food, a job, and all that kind of business.

He made sure they also were reminded of God's word and the importance of obeying him. Number three, Nehemiah restored pure and acceptable conduct. It says, "Now on the 24th day of this month "the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, "in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, "and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day, and for another fourth they confessed "and worshiped the Lord God."

And so, the third thing he does, he restores pure and acceptable conduct. No more mixed marriages with pagans. The people acknowledged their sins and they made repentance. They recommitted themselves to God's service.

We think when somebody comes forward, during one of our services, we always ask, we always offer an invitation to anyone needs to be baptized, to even become, anyone would like to be restored. And sometimes someone comes forward, fills out a card, I need prayers of the church, I have been unfaithful, whatever problem they're having and want the church to pray for them.

We think, "Oh, that's like a church of Christ thing, "that's like a modern thing." No, no, that's a very old thing. It's a Bible thing. It's as old as this right here. This is what they were doing. They were publicly acknowledging their failings before one another, before the nation, before their spiritual leaders and before God.

So, on chapters nine to 11, Nehemiah describes how the people publicly and sincerely rededicated themselves, the holy living, beginning with an offering of their wealth to the service of the temple. A change in lifestyle and conduct is not complete unless one also find a way to directly serve the Lord, otherwise we just go back to the old ways.

And then the fourth thing he did, he restored acceptable worship. Let's see, verse 27. It says, "Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem "they sought out the Levites from all their places, "to bring them into Jerusalem "so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, "with hymns of thanksgiving "and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, "harps and lyres.

So the songs of the singers were assembled from the district around Jerusalem, and from the villages of the Netophathites, from Beth-gilgal and from their fields in Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had build themselves villages around Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites purified themselves. They also purified the people, the gates, and the wall."

So we see in this passage the climax of Nehemiah's work in both the rebuilding of the wall and the rebuilding of the people.

He indeed achieves a great thing in God's eyes. He turns the people back towards God in acceptable worship. He rebuilt the wall. He reorganized the people. He taught them God's Word. He restored Purity in their life style.

And all of this was done so that they could go before God and rededicated the wall, the city, the temple, and now even themselves back into God's service. And so, Nehemiah achieved the great task for a servant of God.

He created another servant. Nehemiah's great achievement was that for a time he transformed the people of Israel into an entire nation of servants, wholly devoted to God's service. And this passage here, 28 to 30, is the climax of the work that he did under God's direction.

Well, a couple of lessons from this great servant series. In our quest to become great, again, in the kingdom, we can learn several key lessons from a person who actually achieved that status, and that was Nehemiah.

So here's a couple of those lessons that we finish up with. First of all, faithful in little, trusted with a lot. Faithful and little, trusted with a lot. Nehemiah was a faithful slave to a foreign king, and God gave him a wall to build.

He continued to serve faithfully and so God gave him a nation to build. The same principle is at work today in our lives. If we're faithful in small matters as Christians... What are small matters? Well, church attendance, that's not a huge matter.

That's a small matter. If we're faithful in study, in prayer life, small matters because it's just us. Just me, myself, and I, bring myself to church. My, myself, and I take some time to pray, developer a private prayer life.

Personal conduct, again, those are small things, just involves me. If we're faithful in the small matters as Christians, God will give us greater opportunities for service and personal growth and the satisfaction that comes with that.

Teaching, leadership, evangelism, service to others. If our Christian experience is dull, it's usually because we're not in the action, we're not in the thick of battle, we're in service. If we're faithful in doing the little things right, God will reward us with bigger opportunities for service.

And believe me, it's quite satisfying, it's quite thrilling to be a servant of God and know that you're doing his will. Lesson number two, there's only one objective. God's great servants in every age, including this age, are serving others with the goal of restoring them to a right relationship with God.

That's the objective. We've seen from Nehemiah's example that there is a definite pattern to this task of restoring people to a right relationship with God. How do we do that? Well, first of all, we help restore order in their lives.

Nehemiah sent them to their cities, established proper worship, so on and so forth. Today, how do we do that? We provide counseling, benevolence, assistance, getting them through a crisis, whatever that is.

We teach them God's word. Once they found their balance, their safety, their needs are met, they need to hear the gospel. People need to hear the gospel if they are to be restored to God. It's not enough to fill their bellies.

You have to fill their souls as well. Very important. And then of course you need to integrate things. Nehemiah got all the people to work, all the people to defend the wall, and finally all the people to worship God together.

We have to integrate souls into the life of the church. And what is the life of the church? Pure living, fellowship, service. One or two ministries, or one or two ministers, rather, can't have a meaningful relationship with 400 people.

Somewhere along the line we need to each take someone into our lives in order to help them become truly integrated into the body. And so everything we do in our service to God is related in some way to one of these things that I just mentioned.

We're working or serving in an effort to either restore order or teach about the Christ or integrate people into the church. It all boils down to one of those three areas. Whether we smile and hug a visitor, deliver groceries, visit the sick, those who are alone, those who are in prison, whether we teach, or preach, or we clean, or we're serving some way, everything works towards restoring other people to a right relationship with God.

That's the goal of great servants in the kingdom. That's what we're doing. And then one more lesson. There's no day off. There's no day off. After completing two major tasks for the Lord, we find out if we read Nehemiah then return to Babylon in order to resume his position at the Persian court.

Remember, the king didn't say, "Oh, you can go back home with your people. "You can stay there." He didn't say that. His first question was, "How long will you be gone? "When are you coming back? "I need you. So he went and did all of that. That's over a period of months, years, but he had to go back. And so, he went back and he was back at his role as we read in the book of Nehemiah. Once he's there, he receives news that he's again needed back in Jerusalem.

And so he returns to the city to find the people once again unfaithful to God. Imagine that. After everything they've been through, he leads them, they're set, they're good, everything is fine, hallelujah.

He goes back to his job, not long afterwards, same story. They're unfaithful. Mixed marriages again with pagans. They're abandoning the temple worship. They're breaking the Sabbath. So Nehemiah we find out does not allow the discouragement to defeat him as he once again goes back and works hard to restore order, and worship, and purity among the people.

You know, I mean I know he was a slave, right, but I mean he didn't have like the worst job in the world. The worst job in the world is you're cleaning out pigsties in the king's pig pens, and you're a Jew.

That's like the worst job you've got. He didn't have the worst job. He was the cupbearer to the king, which means he lived interest he palace. He mixed with the high society. He knew the king on a personal basis.

It wasn't the worst job in the world that he had. Would've been easy to say, you know what, I paid my dues. Those people, I mean I've risked my life for those people, and I've depleted all of my personal funds in helping those people, and I risked my position here in court gong back.

If they want to just mess up like that, fine. Let them do what they want to. That's human nature. That would be my nature. I think that would be my first go-to position. Oh yeah, they're messing up again.

Sorry. Been there, done that. I've given at the office. But this is not Nehemiah's reaction. I'm not suggesting that there's no time for, no need for a time of rest, recreation, diversion. These are all important to stay healthy and to be able to do our work, but we need to realize as Christians the job just goes on.

We don't take a day off spiritually. What Nehemiah's return, and we know that he does return, what his return teaches us is that the job goes on because the saved forget and become distracted, and the lost go further and further into darkness without the light.

I remember in Montreal, I was training a young guy in ministry. He's a trainee, and he's doing well. He's a very enthusiastic, a very zealous young guy. This was many, many years ago, 20, 30 years ago.

And one day, and it's just church work, it's everyday church work. And one day he comes into my office and he just throws himself into the chair. What's wrong, something wrong? I'm so fed up. You're fed up? What are you fed up off? Well, you know Brother Joe? I said, "Yeah." He said, "Well, I smelled alcohol on his breath. "I think he's back on the bottle." I said, "Oh really, that's too bad." He says, "But I'm just fed up." I said, "You're fed up of what?" He says, "I'm just fed up of sin." I said, "You're fed up of sin?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Well, if there's no sin, buddy, "we got no job. "Sin is our job security." If you're a minister working with the church, that's what you're dealing with.

People who do not know Christ who are sinners, you're telling them the good news, that there's forgiveness, and there's restoration. And the people who are saved and continue to sin, well then, you're encouraging them to do better and to depend on the Lord, giving them strategies to help the spirit, help them type of thing.

But you're always dealing with sin. Are you kidding me? If not other people's sin, your own. There is no day off. The devil doesn't take a day off. It's your birthday, really? The devil is not, "Oh, and your kid took your car "and smashed it up on your birthday, how unfair." There's no day off. Satan doesn't take a day off, and we shouldn't take a day off. We here in Choctaw, you have to especially be careful because many churches, after they finish either a building project, renovation project, so on and so forth, they want to kind of sit back and relax and enjoy the new furniture for a while.

They think that once the building is done, the big job is done. But we know that job is job beginning at this point. Our wall, if you wish, or cool building has been build for many years now. Our task today of course is not building the building.

We're kind of fixing it up here and there. Our task today is to build up the church that meets in the building. So many times we're thinking only about the building. We've given so much energy to the building and forgetting that the real work is building the church that meets in the building.

We need to build up the church, so the church can become active and great in helping this community and this nation and this world to be restored back to a right relationship with God. I firmly believe that we've been blessed here in Choctaw.

We've been faithful in a little, and now we're encouraged to do great things in the name of the Lord, and in the process aspire to the greatness that God calls us in his service. So if you remember anything from this series, I should remember two things.

One, it's okay to aspire to be great in the kingdom of God. It's okay. God wants you to do that. He wants you to shoot for that. And the second thing, there's never a day off being a Christian. When you're relaxed and laying back and thinking, "Yeah, I'm going to cruise for a while," you're making yourself a target.

Doesn't Peter say be careful? The evil one, what does he do? He roams up and down. He's looking for who to do what to? To destroy. The enemy plays for keeps. The endgame with the enemy is to destroy us, to destroy our faith, to destroy our hope.

That's the game of the end, and he'll use every tactic. Oh, you're getting older and you're getting sicker, and you're getting more fragile. Oh good. You just make an easier target to destroy your hope.

You're young, you're innocent, you're hopeful for the future. Great, let's get in there and destroy your hope. Let's show you how ugly life can be, so you'll become bitter. All is fair when it comes to Satan.

Everything is fair for him. Nothing is safe. So be on guard and be careful. The best defense, I believe, is offense. Aspiring to be great, that's the best offense that we can have in order to protect our souls and to protect the souls of the people that we love as well.

Okay. Well, there's Nehemiah, a little bit of a short series on this particular Bible character. Alright, we're dismissed. Thank you very much.

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Barry Day,
Pulpit Minister,
San Diego - Canyon View Church of Christ