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Previous sermon in this series This sermon is number 15 in a series of 15 This is the last sermon in this series

Building For God - Part 15

"Grasping The Nettles Of Sin"

by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com

'Preach The Word'Now if you would turn with me to Nehemiah's prophecy chapter 13 just for our reading. It's quite a long portion of Scripture, but it's important that we read it all, so do turn with me. This is our final - if we get through it today - our final instalment in this series 'Building For God', studying in this prophecy of Nehemiah. Let me also say that it's good to see George Murray out with us, he was out with us last week and I forgot to say how good it was to see him back with us after his sickness.

'Grasp the nettle' - it is a description of doing something that is difficult, uncomfortable, but is necessary...

Let's begin at verse 1 of chapter 13: "On that day", and we believe that Nehemiah is talking about the day of the dedication of themselves unto the Lord, where they took the covenant to the Lord. You remember they heard the law of Moses again, and they were convicted of their sins, and they rededicated themselves to the Lord. So verses 1 to 3 are specifically talking about that day in the past that has happened chronologically where we are now in chapter 13. "On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever", and you can read about that in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 23 I think it is. "Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing. Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude" - that's all who were not Israelite, were not Jewish.

"And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff to Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense. And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren. Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof. In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy. In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people. And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives? And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites. Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good".

If you're a Christian for any length of time you will know that it's no easy thing to be a Christian...

Now this morning's final message, hopefully, on 'Building For God' in Nehemiah is entitled 'Grasping the Nettles of Sin'. You've heard that expression, I'm sure, 'to grasp the nettle'. Sometimes maybe you get shouted at from time to time, and you're told you just need to 'grasp the nettle'. That painting needs done, that papering needs done, that garden needs weeded - you just need to grasp the nettle, go and do it. Maybe there's a difficult phone call needs to be made, and someone says to you: 'Just go and make that phone call, grasp the nettle'. It is a description of doing something that is difficult, uncomfortable, but is necessary - it should be done, it ought to be done, even though we procrastinate about it at times.

Now if you're a Christian for any length of time you will know that it's no easy thing to be a Christian. Yes, the burden of our sin rolls away and we take upon us the yoke of the Lord Jesus - but I'm sure that none of us here today would say that it is easy to be a Christian. I think the reason why that is, is that there is a lot of grasping of nettles to be done as a child of God. Once we get saved, well that's only the beginning of our pilgrimage, and the Holy Spirit right throughout our life as a Christian points out more and more things, it seems, the longer we go and mature as a child of God, there are more things that He shows us that need to be dealt with, nettles that need to be grasped.

One of the greatest nettles is that obvious nettle of sin. The puritans had a description for grasping the nettles of sin, they called it the 'mortification of sin'. You'll find some puritan books, I think there's one by John Owen, the great puritan, 'The Mortification of Sin' - and it simply means what it is to put sin to death in our lives, and to use the victory that is in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in order to overcome sin in our experience through temptations. Now I hear some of you saying in your minds - not literally, by the way - but I imagine that you're saying: 'Well, sure my sin was dealt with at the cross of the Lord Jesus, in His death I died'. Well that is true, but the Bible still teaches us that we have an old nature. A lot of people do not understand this at the very beginning of their Christian experience, and are distressed because they still have an inclination within them to sin. They don't understand, they think they're maybe not saved at all because they feel like sinning at times. The Bible teaches us that even though we're saved and given a new nature in the Lord Jesus, we still have an old nature, and we are called upon specifically in the book of Romans 6, 7 and 8 to reckon ourselves dead unto sin daily, to daily appropriate the work of the cross as we take up our cross and follow the Saviour.

The Bible teaches us that even though we're saved and given a new nature in the Lord Jesus, we still have an old nature...

Of course, the New Testament instructs us to feed the new nature with righteousness, and therefore the opposite is to starve the old nature from sin and to not lead ourselves into temptation. So what we understand is that really the Christian life is the beginning of starting to grasp certain nettles and pull them out of our lives. Now the problem with this is, the Bible is absolute in its call for obedience. The New Testament is ruthless towards sin, absolute obedience is called for - you don't need to turn to it, but if you think of the words in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:29 and 30 - the Lord said: 'If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out'. Don't patch it up, pluck it out! 'Cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell'. You've got to be ruthless with sin - 'if in doubt, cut it out' is the doctrine of the New Testament!

When we come to Colossians chapter 3 we get the same teaching from the apostle Paul, verse 5: 'Mortify therefore', put to death, 'your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him'. You have an old nature within you, but you're not to feed that nature, you're not to live in it as you used to before you were saved - you have a new nature and day by day you've got to mentally and spiritually put that on by faith.

Christianity is a call to obedience, and therefore it is a call to absolute holiness before God. Now this is something that we struggle with at times, we don't believe we can achieve absolute holy perfection down here on earth, yet it is to be strived towards - there's no doubt about that. Matthew 5 and verse 48, in the Sermon on the Mount again, the Lord Jesus said: 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect'. The Old Testament saints were told 'Be holy, even as I the Lord am holy'. Romans 12 verse 1 says: 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service'. So the clarion cry of the New Testament, after that which is 'repent and believe the gospel', is a call to obedience at all costs! I would call it a 'violent obedience'. Violent! Cut out sin! Grasp the nettles, weed it out of your life!

The problem for us is, especially in this age in which we live, many are soft on sin. The government is certainly soft on it, the church is soft on it...

Now the problem for us is, especially in this age in which we live, many are soft on sin. The government is certainly soft on it, the church is soft on it - when you get hard on sin there's a cry of 'Legalism!' or aggressiveness. We as individual Christians, if we are honest with ourselves, we'd have to admit that we have come to a place in our lives where we often compromise with sins, sins that we feel are not great sins but little sins. You've heard that expression of 'sleeping with the enemy', and that in fact is what we are doing when we tolerate any form of sin in our lives - we are committing adultery with the world and everything in it! Marcus Dodds said that we as Christians, instead of putting to death sin, we deal with sin as a man would disarm his son - we don't want to kill it, we just want to disarm it! We treat sin like a family member or an old friend, and when it knocks on our door we allow it to lodge a little while.

That's exactly what happened in Nehemiah's day: that great enemy of God and God's people, Tobiah, was actually given a lodging chamber in the house of God, in the temple of God. That's what we're like with sin at times, isn't it? We give it a little room, not all of our lives, but a little space to have charge and to have sway. Instead of decapitating it we only give its hair a trim, and eventually its hair grows again to tempt us. You know what it's like when you go away on holiday for a fortnight, and you come back having left the garden, all of a sudden it's like a jungle, the weeds have grown everywhere. It's an onerous task to think about taking them all out, but it's got to be done, if it isn't it will get worse. Some nettles just have to be grasped and pulled out!

Now the story we have before us today is that Nehemiah reports back to the King, he's done his job; we have built the walls together every week, and we celebrated last week how the walls were built, and we gave praise and acknowledgement to God for His goodness. But we found in chapter 13 and verse 6 that he went back to report to King Artaxerxes. In chapter 7 and verse 2 we find that he left his brother Hanani in charge over the city of Jerusalem, he was to govern. So the government of the city was in the hands of his brother - and if we could quip a new saying: 'While the Governor was away, the people began to play'. Now this is hard to imagine for us, because we were here last week and we thought about the great celebration and joy that was in the heart of God's revived people. They had a new wall, they had all moved - or most of them - back into the city of Jerusalem, and God was receiving glory in His holy city - but now what happened? We have moved from such a mountaintop experience into this valley of backslidden degradation and depravity!

So quickly can we move from victory to defeat, to discouragement and to failure. Oh, there's a lesson in this for us all: none of us, none of us can take it easy and relax as a Christian. Even in the very midst of revival fires, the enemy never quits - in fact, we would have to say that if anything he goes up a gear when our spiritual path begins to climb higher and higher for God. The enemy is ever with us until we get to glory, and if you want to be more spiritual you've got to be prepared to be in more fights with the evil one. The weeds of sin that Nehemiah had recently plucked out of these people's hearts had now found root again in their lives when Nehemiah was away. Verses 1 to 3 spoke of that, where we thought about them cleansing the people on that day of dedication, they separated the heathen wives from among them in obedience to Deuteronomy 23. Now here's a lesson: they did that in verses 1 to 3 of the day of dedication, and what do we find by the end of this chapter in verses 23 to 31? They had committed the same sin again!

Can you see it in your own life? Sin has a habit of repeating itself, especially when we fail to deal decisively with it and pluck it out, root and everything...

What a lesson in the psychology of sin we have here. Can you see it in your own life? Sin has a habit of repeating itself, especially when we fail to deal decisively with it and pluck it out, root and everything. In fact even the priests had sinned in this way. What the people had done was they had stopped keeping the covenant that they'd made with their God in chapter 10 verses 28 and 29. Every single thing that they had said they would do, they went back on it all! Now I don't know whether your mind goes back, like mine does, to Moses. You remember he left his people down at the bottom of Sinai, he left the people's charge in the hands of his brother Aaron. He went up to receive the law of God, and we read in Exodus that on his return the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play, and we read an almost identical situation in Exodus 32:25-29. He had to reprimand the people, he had to judge the people, and do you remember what he did? He told all those who were with him and with God to stand with him, and those who were not were to be slain there and then - it didn't matter whether they were brothers or sisters, or children or parents: kith and kin were all to be wiped out because of their disobedience to God's law.

God's word teaches us that leaders need to be courageous and face sin honestly, and judge it, but it teaches us that it is necessary for every child of God to do this. We're all called upon to grasp the nettle of sin and pluck it out. As Charles Swindoll says, 'We're told to take sin by the throat, deprive it of air, and cast it out'. Well, the question is: is that how you deal with sin in your life? This passage teaches us that if reforms are necessary they should be implemented whatever the cost, whatever people think. Our obedience to God's word in the church and in our lives is to be absolute, and it is to be a violent obedience to God's word - that is the minimal requirement of the kingdom of God, and discipleship to our Lord Jesus. He said: 'The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence', we are persecuted against, but He went on to say, 'and the violent take the kingdom by force'. Are you a violent Christian in the right sense?

Well, let's see how Nehemiah, the great reformer, deals with sin. Let me just say as a postscript to that, the presence of these sins in our lives or our church are signs of spiritual declension in our age, and the need for God to move by His Spirit in all of our lives. Let's go through them all quickly - one: compromise was kicked out. Compromise was kicked out, verses 4 to 9. Tobiah was given, by the High Priest of the day, Eliashib, a little chamber within the temple - the word here is that Eliashib was allied to Tobiah. The sense in the Hebrew, perhaps, is that he was related to Tobiah. So this was someone in his family, and he decided: 'Well, he's suffered for what he's done, Nehemiah has given him a bit of a licking. Well I'll give him a chamber, I have the power to do it, in the temple of God'. Provisions were granted to him, actually provisions that really belonged to the Levites and those who were working in the temple. Now when Nehemiah heard about this, after he came home after just a short space of time away, he lost no time at all in throwing Tobiah and all his goods out of the temple, and then having the temple cleansed and sanctified for its proper use.

That's all that concerned him: their obedience to God's law. If there was something in the way of that, it had to be put out right away!

We think: 'Wayhey, Nehemiah! Good man!', and we give him a metaphorical pat on the back and say, 'Well, you're a great guy, you're so swift, you're so decisive in all that you do'. That's how we look at that when we look back at these Bible stories, when we think of David decapitating the personification of sin in Goliath, we think that's tremendous: 'I want to be like David!'. But I'm sure that in Nehemiah's day, and even in David's day, there were people who said: 'Now Nehemiah, do you not think you're overreacting a little bit? I mean, can you not live and let live. He knows his mistake, he realises what he has done, can you not in this sense turn the other cheek? Do you not think you're overreacting and being a little bit unreasonable?'. Now watch Nehemiah, he was not interested in winning a popularity contest or in public opinion polls, all that he was interested in was cleaning out the evil that affected God's people's capacity to listen and obey God's word - that's all that concerned him: their obedience to God's law. If there was something in the way of that, it had to be put out right away!

Now when initial symptoms of problems in our life - I'm talking about sinful problems - begin to disappear, do you think: 'Well, I think I've overcome that thing, it's not the problem that it used to be'? You let your guard down, don't you? You let Tobiah come and have a chamber again in your life, and you forget what sin did in the past. This is what Eliashib did, he had forgotten what Tobiah and Sanballat had done to the people of God. This is the psychology of sin: we have a tendency to forget how we feel when we sin, and what sin does; and then we commit it again, we feel all those feelings again and the awful ramifications of what we have done - and we think to ourselves, you do it as well, 'Why didn't I remember what it was like?'. We are ignorant of his devices - can I ask you today: is there a compromising companionship in your life? Are you compromising on God's word? Are you turning a blind eye to sin, and you're trying to rationalise it and reason it in your life? Can I ask this fellowship: are you allowing the enemy into our church in any shape or form, because you're not willing to face and confront sin? Even though it's uncomfortable, you're not willing to grasp the nettle? Compromise was kicked out, Tobiah was kicked out of the temple and everything that he owned, and the place was cleansed.

The second nettle that was grasped, was bank books were spiritually balanced. In verses 10 to 13 we see that the Levites and the singers were not being paid, they were being fed by the temple offerings - now we don't know why that was, perhaps Tobiah was eating some of it - but we read that they had to go back to their fields and their farms and actually work for their own supply. So they left the job of serving the Lord and they went back to farming. Now this is interesting, before we apply this, verse 10 says: 'And I perceived', other versions say, 'I discovered'. As we go through this passage we see that Nehemiah says occasionally 'I saw', 'I looked and I saw' - this tells us something about Nehemiah's leadership. He was looking, he was vigilant, he had his eyes peeled, he was looking for sin in God's people, he was looking for an opportunity to encourage not to censure, but to build people up in their most holy faith. Are you looking out in your Christian life? Charles Swindoll says: 'A leader keeps his eyes open', all Christians should keep their eyes open, they should listen, they should watch. He goes on to say: 'Most wise parents I know are always looking at and listening to what their kids are doing. They listen carefully to the music that comes from each room, and they find out what's going on behind any door that stays closed'.

Is that what we're like in this age? We could hear a bargain a mile away, but we can't tune into God's word!

This is what Nehemiah did - perhaps it was the outrage of finding out what Tobiah was doing in the temple of God that made him want to look under the beds and behind the closets of all the people of God in Israel and Jerusalem. He wanted to search deeper, and he didn't have to look long, for when you look at verse 10 you see that the Levites were not being supported. The tithes that should have been taken to support them weren't being taken - they had ceased, and the Levites had gone back to the farms. Now there was silence where there used to be ministry for God. What did Nehemiah do? He grasped the nettle - verses 11 to 14. He grasped the nettle, and he told the people that they would have to sanctify their wallets again because the work of God was suffering through a lack of finance.

Now I have preached enough on giving from this pulpit, and I don't make any apology for doing it for it's in God's word, and I'm not going to stop preaching things that are in God's word no matter whether it's uncomfortable to some of you or not. The fact of the matter is that one of the hardest things for a man to allow to be sanctified in his life is his wallet. I don't know whether they're lighter than all the rest of the parts of you, but for some reason when we baptise people their wallet seems to float at the top - it doesn't get sanctified. I'll leave it at that, just to say that God's servants and God's work must never suffer because of a lack of finance: missions must never suffer, evangelism must never suffer. God's servant Haggai had to come to the people of God in that day in chapter 1 verses 4 and 9, and say: 'Look at your cieled houses, your beautiful luxurious homes, and look at God's house - it's suffering!'.

Bank books needed to be spiritually balanced, compromise had to be kicked out, and then thirdly God's time had to be redeemed. We see this in verses 15 to 22, Sabbath sanctity had to be restored. They had profaned and secularised God's day. Now the Sabbath was not only in God's law, but it was part of the covenant that these people had signed. If you look at chapter 10 and verse 31 you see that it was part of what they had agreed: 'if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt' - they had signed this and agreed to it. One writer has described them in this fault like this: 'They were people who could hear a bargain from a mile away, but who were tone deaf to God's commands concerning the Sabbath'. Is that what we're like in this age? We could hear a bargain a mile away, but we can't tune into God's word!

Well, Nehemiah hadn't forgotten God's law or the covenant that the people had signed. In verses 17 to 22 we see Nehemiah taking violent obedience in his hands. He made sure that these people were put out of Jerusalem, the gates were locked at sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday night after the Sabbath. Then when he found out that these travelling traders were camping outside the walls of Jerusalem, he went to them and he said: 'If you don't move, I'm going to have you thrown in jail' - and they went! Ruthless and violent in his obedience to God's word!

A Christian should not use Sunday as a day to go for shopping, as a day to earn money, as a day for doing anything that can wait - whether it be work or play...

Now let me say that the Lord's Day today is Sunday, it's not the same as the Jewish Sabbath as we understand it in the Old Testament. But we do feel, and as we read the New Testament Scriptures, that God's people set aside the Lord's Day to glorify Him, to worship Him, to praise Him, to come around God's word. Now our culture today requires some people of necessity to work on the Lord's Day, but we have to declare in an age of compromise that it is better by far for workers, and for the nation, if God's people are allowed to honour God's day. We're living in a day when the nation doesn't honour it, and God's people don't honour it any longer. Can I be more specific? Well, a Christian should not use Sunday as a day to go for shopping, as a day to earn money, as a day for doing anything that can wait - whether it be work or play. It's not God's law, it's the principle of worshipping God with the Lord's people on the Lord's Day, to glorify Him - those things can wait if the Lord's first in our lives. Leaders, we are meant to make an example, in verse 22 we find that the Levites were failing on keeping the Sabbath day, and they were the ones who had to start it all over again and set the example. Now we don't want to get into all this situation of Sabbatarian rules, do's and don'ts of the Sabbath day. You've got to meet out that thing in your life under these principles in your own way and before your own conscience, but Sunday ought to be special in the heart of every child of God - it ought not to be an opportunity for getting doubletime.

God's time was redeemed, bank books were spiritually balanced, compromise was kicked out, fourthly and finally: contaminating influences were quarantined - verses 23 to 30. There was an unequal yoke, and there were four things that were banished. Now this is perhaps the most difficult and dangerous of all the problems that Nehemiah faced. The people had begun to intermarry with other nations and other religions, and it wasn't the problem of just mixing their blood together, but it was the problem - as we see in verses 23 and 24 - that they were mixing languages, and therefore beliefs. Look at verse 23: 'In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people'.

This was the problem - 'What was the problem?', you might say, 'Being bilingual?'. No, it was this: they were raising a generation of children who could not speak or understand the language of the Scriptures, a generation of people who were departing from God's word. This problem threatened to wipe out the ability of God's people to hear the voice of the Lord! Do you get it? I wonder have we as a people, or as a young people, or in our homes have our children been deprived of the language of the Scriptures? I'm not talking about Jacobean English, I'm talking about the principles of God's word laid down in holy writ. I'm talking about the laws of God to train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it. The standards and principles of God's word - are we grasping the nettle? What are we giving our young people? We're giving them education, we're giving them mod cons, we're giving them everything that our money can buy, but are we giving them the Scriptures? The world will give them all that - and pray to God that they don't hamper after it - but are we grasping the nettle?

Churches are doing this today, they try to 'gospel-ise' things to attract sinners. They try to marry the church and the world...

Now you look at how Nehemiah grasped this nettle - do you know what he did? He used physical violence - I'm not condoning this, you'll be glad to know, so don't be afraid of me at the door! But it says that he contended with them, look at verse 25, he cursed them - he cursed them, that's not swearing, that is calling down a curse...'and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God' that they wouldn't give their daughters or their sons to other peoples. Now desperate times here called for desperate measures, and Nehemiah had to get violent in obedience to God's word. In the New Testament, of course, there's no ban on marriage between different ethnic groups - no matter what anybody says - all peoples and tribes and nations are in this new covenant of grace in our Lord Jesus Christ, and I don't see any rules or regulations prohibiting people marrying with one another whatever their colour. What we have here within God's word is the principle that we find in the New Testament of what is called an 'unequal yoke'. That is where two animals were ploughing together in a field, and they had a yoke over the two of them, and an unequal yoke would be one animal that was bigger than the other. In the spiritual sense what we're talking about here is a Christian and a non-Christian, or a Christian and an unsuitable Christian! There can be all sorts of reasons why a person is an unsuitable Christian, but here's one: if they slow you down in your ploughing, that's a sure sign that they're unsuitable.

What we take out of this is not only an unequal yoke, but all foreign things that influenced these people: the fads of the world, the cultures and practices of the world, which are not all intrinsically evil but if in any way they hinder us understanding and obeying God's word, and raising up a new generation of people who will follow and obey God's word, they are to be cleansed, they are to be quarantined. What we find today is God's people rationalise these things. For instance, they start to go with a person that's not a Christian, and they rationalise that they will lead that unsaved partner to the Lord - but it rarely works, and what you have is what you find here: the children, when there are children that come along the way, begin to follow the unsaved partner and his ways and worldly fashions, rather than the one that is saved.

Churches are doing this today, they try to 'gospel-ise' things to attract sinners. They try to marry the church and the world, when both these things - an unequal yoke or foreign influences - what they do is a prostitute the message that we espouse and the testimony that we cherish. That's why James said to those believers in chapter 4 and verse 4: 'Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?'. He pointed them in verse 26 and 27 to Solomon, and he said: 'Have you not learned from the mistake of one of your greatest kings?'. My friend, have you not learned from the mistakes of other people that tampering with evil, flirting with the world, allowing contaminating influences to come into your life unquarantined and unquestioned is the road to no-town spiritually. I ask you today: what Delilah is there in your life at present that is sapping your spiritual strength? Whether you admit it or not, it's happening!

Alan Redpath said: 'If you would live godly in this world you will have to break the heart of someone, believe me'. Very frequently in order to obey the will of the Lord, the heart you break is that of someone near to you, perhaps it's the heart of a father or a mother, or some member of your family, your sweetheart - that is what Jesus said would happen. He did not come, Luke 12, to bring peace into the world, but to bring a sword between family members and between all sorts of relationships. Redpath ends like this: 'Better to break anybody's heart than break the heart of God!'. I'm not underestimating the harshness of these words, but what Nehemiah was saying about the state of God's people in his day, it was not a time for half measures. The state of God's people today is the same: we need to grasp the nettle of sin, we need to confront it. We read in verse 15, verse 17, verse 21, verse 25, verse 28 that Nehemiah confronted the sin, he grasped the nettle. He was a man of action for the things of God, he had a zeal like the Psalmist in Psalm 69:9: 'The zeal of Thine house hath consumed me' - he was on fire for God's glory!

The state of God's people today is the same: we need to grasp the nettle of sin, we need to confront it...

So he warned the people, he admonished them, he reprimanded and contended, even struck out, even pulled out hair. He made things difficult for ungodly people, he was courageous he was tenacious in everything that he did - he was a great general for God on the front line of the battle! He was a tireless worker, he was a great builder for God. Are you? It's significant that although he was a man of action, the last verse - and three verses, 22, 29 and 31 - find Nehemiah on his knees. Prayer changes things. He prayed to the Lord: 'Remember me, O my God, these people may forget me' - it's interesting that this book doesn't end on a note of victory, but it shows us the awful sinfulness in people's hearts. God would not forget him, but here's the question I ask you - you may be praying prayers to God: 'Lord, change me. Lord, do this; Lord, do that' - and if Nehemiah testifies anything to us today in our modern age it's this: the Lord is saying, while you're on your knees, 'Get up and do something about it! You do all you can, and I will do all you can't'.

All of us can be sure that if we build for God, the Lord will remember us - if no one else remembers us, the Lord will remember His own.

Lord, forgive us when we commit like sins to those of Your ancient people Israel. Lord, we need forgiveness more when we consider the blessing that we have in the New Testament, that we don't come to a temple made with hands, but we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. He lives within us, You live within us, yet there are times - God forgive us - that we choose our own sinful ways rather than Thy holy way. Lord, revive our hearts, and if we have not done so yet, may we rededicate and covenant ourselves before our God to follow Thee in obedience absolutely, and even if necessary violently, that the word of God may be done. Amen.

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Transcribed by:
Andrew Watkins
Preach The Word.
August 2004
www.preachtheword.com

This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifteenth tape in his 'Building For God' series, entitled "Grasping The Nettles Of Sin" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.

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