February 13, 1994
When God’s enemies mocked and threatened the work of His people, they began to lose heart. Nehemiah responded in trustful prayer and dependent action, realigning the people’s perspective by reminding them of God’s power to accomplish His purposes. Alistair Begg encourages us that though God’s people may expect opposition, we can put our hope in God’s faithful character.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to take your Bibles, and we’ll turn together to the book of Nehemiah once again, to chapter 4, and to the section which begins with the seventh verse. I don’t know if it has already happened to you, but it has happened to me: I have begun now to say to myself with relative frequency as various things come up during the week, “I wonder what Nehemiah would do here.” As I begin to live with this character and study him and think of him, it’s almost as if he has become in some measure a companion to me through my days. And I hope that to one degree or another that becomes true of you also. We’re certainly learning a great deal from these studies which relate to our church and to the wider church and to our individual lives and to our families.
Last time, we noted—indeed, we said it was an axiom, biblical axiom—that whenever God’s people do God’s work in God’s way, it will not go unopposed. Now, that is something which we do not find simply in the pages of the Old Testament, although we do. From the very beginning of God’s dealings with his people, as they have been set in the context of enemies, the work of God has always been opposed. When you go into the New Testament, you find that the selfsame is true.
If we were simply to follow, for example, the life of Christ, then it is manifestly true, because at every point, he was opposed in his journey and in his proclamation. When Paul wraps up his letter to the church in Ephesus, he does so with a stirring reminder to them of this principle. And in Ephesians 6:10, he exhorts them,
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
And then he says it again: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” When he writes to Timothy, who was a timid sort of young man and yet who was to be entrusted with the responsibility of taking over in some measure from where the mighty apostle was leaving off, he says to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 2:3, “Endure hardship[, Timothy,] like a good soldier of [Jesus Christ].” And when, in writing to the Corinthian church, in 2 Corinthians chapter 4, he identifies the nature of his ministry in chronicling some of what he has been through, he says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed”—tremendous realism which attaches to Paul’s perspective on ministry. And the same kind of thing we find here in Nehemiah.
That’s, incidentally, where we take our title from last Sunday morning and this Sunday morning’s study from. Some of you who’ve opened your bulletin and found no title there are perplexed, because you are neat and concerned about these things. Well, here’s the title. It goes, “Hard-Pressed but Not Crushed — Two.” Last week was “Hard-Pressed and Not Crushed — One,” and we never finished it. So let this one be “Hard-Pressed and Not Crushed — Two.”
Now, this sense of realism is something that many of us need to come to in our Christian experience in the work of God. We face it in other areas of our lives but perhaps are unwittingly naive when it comes to facing the peculiarities of the struggle in the work of God.
In one other area of life, I came across this poem this week. It came out of the Nebraska Star in the 1930s. Actually, 1930 it was there. And it’s called “Comfortless.” It goes like this:
I found him underneath a tree
“And what is wrong?” quoth I,
“That you so solemn seem to be
Under this summer sky?
“The birds above you gayly sing,
The wildflowers brightly bloom,
What is this awful, horrid thing
Which seems to seal your doom?
“Round you the children romp and play,
The gentle breezes blow.
Sad stranger, tell to me I pray,
The burden of your woe.”
“I do not see the sunbeams dance,
Nor hear the birds,” said he.
“There’s something faulty with my stance,
I can’t get off the tee.
“All day I’ve shanked my mashie shot,
My putts rimmed every cup,
I’m doing something I should not;
I think it’s looking up.”
“Poor man,” I said, “’tis very sure
No help for you appears,
The woes you bear I tried to cure
Myself for thirty years.
“And still my mashie shots I shank,
And still I slice the drive,
And with the dubs expect to rank
As long as I’m alive.
“Through time all other griefs may cure,
All other hurts may mend,
The miseries of golf endure;
To them there is no end.”
I speak with a measure of certainty, because having had the privilege of going to speak at a Bible conference on the West Coast, you don’t think that I was going to miss the chance to play golf. And so I went to play golf, thinking that maybe the gap of some three months or so would have introduced some miraculous cure while I slept. And I found myself reaching for my Little Red Book to read the story of the fact that this is a grim and horrible task, and only the foolish or the foolhardy or the faithful are going to ever stick with it. Such is the Christian life.
So what are we saying here? We’re saying that Nehemiah was a realist. And if we’re going to make it through our days doing God’s work, we need to be as realistic as he was. We need to have the underlying conviction he had in order to fuel our zeal as his was fueled. What was that? Verse 20 of chapter 2 is the foundational element in his life. When the enemies came and mocked and attacked him, he said, “The God of heaven will give us success.” It wasn’t that Nehemiah was an egotist. It wasn’t that Nehemiah was relying on his strategic plan. It was that Nehemiah was a deeply humble man who, on his own, before God, on his knees, was trusting God to do what he himself was unable to do. He understood the words of the psalmist that we read in Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house,” or builds the wall, we labor in vain in our building of the wall.
Subjected to ridicule, as in the first six verses of chapter 4, he stands firm—like one who was to follow him, Bunyan. Languishing in the Bedford jail, writing that great work of his, Pilgrim’s Progress, and penning various other pieces of poetry at the same time, he pens the hymn, “Who would true valor see, let him come hither.” And one of the great verses that is usually exempted from hymnbooks today begins, “Hobgoblin nor foul fiend [shall] daunt his spirit.” And that was exactly true of Nehemiah. He was surrounded, as it were, by hobgoblins and by fiends who were foul. The people that he was representing were despised. You will notice that in verse 4: “O … God, … we are despised.” They were dependent. That’s why they were crying out, “O, our God.” And they were devoted, as you see in verse 6, describing them as people who “worked with all [of] their heart[s].”
Now, when you come to the seventh verse, it records the reaction of the enemies, who, upon finding that their ridicule has not worked, determined to call a summit meeting to consider the possibility of armed confrontation. So instead of the opposition diminishing—and we might have been tempted to suggest that: “Nehemiah faced ridicule. Nehemiah prayed. After Nehemiah prayed, it all died down, and they had a wonderful time.” No! After he prayed, it all hotted up, and they had an even worse time! Now, that’s a fundamental principle, you see, in our Christian lives: “Well, you know, the pastor said something, and I prayed. And I thought that after I prayed, everything would be fine. But I’ve been praying for three weeks now or three months, and everything’s worse. The opposition is worse!”
You see, just after halftime in a sports event is a crucial time. At the start of the second half of the game, every coach knows that there is the possibility of making a strategic strike in such a way as to knock the opposition back, perhaps secure the victory. Because there is some vulnerability that attaches to the halfway mark. And you will notice in verse 6 that the people were at the halfway mark. They had built the wall “till all of it” had “reached half its height,”
and the opposition has intensified. We had Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs before, but now we’ve got the Ashdodites, the men of Ashdod. Prior to this, they were coming at them in a kind of three-pronged attack. They were coming from the north and the south and the east. With the men of Ashdod, they’ve now added the west. So they’ve got them completely enclosed. At least there was one point through the west, as it were, that they could all have run away if they’d chosen. But now they have got them snookered and ensnared with an enclosing circle of opposition. And Nehemiah faces a real challenge.
Let me give you three words which continue our run of words ending in -ation. The first word is agitation, in verse 8: “They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.” They were agitating.
Now, it is unlikely that they were planning a full-frontal attack—as it were, amassing their armies and marching straight up to one of the gates of Jerusalem. The reason we might deduce that is because we know that the Persian king, Artaxerxes, had put his commitment and the strength of his manpower behind Nehemiah. And so any group that would have been tempted to attack would have to deal not simply with the people on the wall but also with the might of the Persian king.
Now, the fact that that would be an unwise strategy would never have prevented them from the possibility of guerrilla warfare. And indeed, guerrilla warfare was probably far more suited to this particular context. Because after all, the people were scattered, as we will discover, all around the wall. And so it would be possible for them to marshal their attacks, maybe multiple attacks, at different points at different times and thereby seek to bring down the project and to discourage the people.
Because we shouldn’t miss, in passing, that our enemy, the Evil One, seldom comes right up the middle when he’s attacking the work of God. His approach to most local churches is not to march, as it were, up the central aisle, challenging the exposition of Scripture. He’s far too clever for that. He comes up the side aisles, sowing seeds of discord. He comes in the quiet places. He comes in the corridors and the apparently inconsequential conversations to sow disharmony and to dispirit and to discourage.
He is expert in guerrilla warfare. He comes to the high streets of our towns, and he doesn’t open shops that say, “To pot with the Bible and all of its truth!” He’s far too clever for that. He opens shops that have Bibles set in beautiful little treed areas, with shining lights on them. And next to them, they have another book with a lovely shining light on it, so that the indiscriminate members of our society may walk up and down and say, “My, doesn’t that look like a lovely, cozy place! Doesn’t that look like somewhere that I could find truth! After all, there’s the Bible in there. They must be right on.” The fact is, they’re right off. Because if they were truthful, the Bible is subverted underneath the other book or is beneath the other book, and their conviction is that this Bible is not an inerrant book, it is not an infallible book, it is not a self-interpreting book, but the key to it is over here in this book. He’s an expert in guerrilla warfare. He doesn’t come and challenge so much the moral mores of our days outright as much as he comes cleverly and quietly and subtly.
And Nehemiah, having left and made this journey of nine hundred miles, having seen the project launched, having built the wall with the help of these people to half its height, now faces an intensifying of the opposition. Agitation.
In verse 10, the agitation which is external is more than matched by the consternation—that’s the second word—which is internal. At the halfway stage, the people are becoming overwhelmed. The sheer immensity of the task before them has now dawned upon them in a way that it hadn’t done before. They’re growing tired, and the word that is beginning to go amongst the people is this: “We’re never going to do it! We’ll never make it!”
Again, the halfway stage is strategic. You clean your garage out, or your “garage” out, and you start to move all the stuff around some Saturday morning. You’ve got the average garage, which is sort of chaos, and then you say, “I’m going to fix it.” You start to move things. You take them down. You move them here. You move them there. You’ve got some in the driveway. You’ve some here, some over in a corner. So your wife comes out and says, “Would you like a cup of coffee?” She looks at you. She doesn’t say anything, ’cause she’s trying to be kind. But she looks at it and says to herself, “He’s never going to make it. I mean, all he’s doing is moving stuff around. I mean, there’s nothing clean. It’s just all moved around. It’s everywhere! I mean, you couldn’t get a car in there for love nor money.” And you look at it, and you say, “I’m never going to make it.” But if you stay with it, you will! I mean, you can just throw the stuff in the neighbor’s yard or do something, but you can make it. You will make it.
Now, in the case of the garage, the possibility is that you just start ramming it all behind things and curtains and cupboards out of a quest for neatness. You see, you can be neat without being organized. I like neat. It may not be organized. My garage is neat, but don’t open anything. Some ladies’ cupboards in the kitchen are neat, but don’t open them. At least open them and stand well back, ’cause they got neat, but they don’t get organized.
And in that process, we may fail. But in this process, there was no potential for failure. And that’s what the people needed to hear, and that’s what Nehemiah had to bring to them. They’re starting sitting around now looking at the rubble: “There is so much rubble that we can[’t] rebuild the wall.” What do we know? There was no more rubble than there had been when they had built the first half. Indeed, there was less rubble then when they built the first half. But their focus was gone. They had lost their vision. They had got off to a flying start, moving rubble, restoring the wall. They got to halfway, and then it began to paralyze them. The newness of the project had worn off.
It can happen in a church in a context like this: all of the immensity that was involved, with all the rubble of the past seven years—getting to this point, coming through all of our days and all of our journeys, finally establishing something of a base that represents stability—and with the newness wearing off, people begin to get discouraged and disappointed. They lost their vision. They lost their confidence. They lost, as we’ll see in a moment, in verse 11, their sense of security. “There is so much rubble.”
You see, you take the average young couple, who are consumed with the project of this baby and the introduction to the world of diapers… (It’s so hard for me to say that word; we call them nappies.) But anyway—into the world of diapers. And you talk to the young mom, and she says, “You know, diapers here, diapers there, diapers jolly everywhere! I mean, I just live in Diaperville now.” And sometimes moms go into a measure of real, deep discouragement. Somebody needs to come alongside them and say, “Hey, listen: remember what you’re doing here. This is not about diapers. This is about this little girl or this little boy coming safely through these infant years and into maturity. Don’t let your eyes get stuck with the diapers and lose sight of the vision of what you’re doing.” And that’s exactly what was happening around the wall. The people were looking around and saying, “It’s just rubble everywhere. We’ll never make it.”
So there was agitation outside. There was consternation inside. And furthermore, there was intimidation, which came hard on the heels of this internal lack of security. Verse 11: “All the enemies said, ‘Before they know it or before they see us, we’ll get right in there among them, we’ll kill them, and we’ll put an end to the work.’” What you have here in verse 11 is essentially a whispering campaign. They were rattling their sabers, speaking of surprise attacks, immediate death, the resulting cancellation of the project. And so the word begins to go around: “They’re going to get us. They’re going to kill us. They’re going to shut the project down.” Bad news travels fast. “We’re dead. We’re done. We’re finished.”
And there were a little group of people, some of them, living close to these enemies. You’ll notice that there in verse 12: “the Jews who lived near them.” Principle: you get like the people you spend time with. If you live listening always to discouragement and to carping criticism and to the stories of failure and disruption and degeneration, that will be all that fills your mind. That will be all that comes from my lips. So you’ve got to be careful in whose company you spend time. If you’re prone to discouragement, don’t live amongst people who traffic always in discouraging news. When you hang around people who are negative, you’ll catch the bug. And the man or the woman who has jaundice eventually sees everything yellow.
And what had happened was that the word that was coming through to these people who were closest to them had begun to permeate their thinking. And so they were coming to Nehemiah again and again and again. He tells us here that they “came … ten times over [to us, saying], ‘Wherever you turn, they[’re] [going] to attack.’”
So, there is the challenge to leadership: agitation on the outside; consternation on the inside; intimidation outside, inside. What’s he going to do? Verse 9, which we’ve jumped, provides us with the key statement in all of this. This is a fundamental, vital, biblical principle: “But we prayed to our God and [we] posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”
Now, here we are arriving at what is a standard principle in Nehemiah’s faith. Nehemiah is a man of deep trust. He is also a man of intense practicality. He functions well on the vertical plain, and he functions on the horizontal plain. His underlying focus and his gaze is on the reality of the Lord first. And having gained the perspective which comes from looking there, he is then able to look at the project around him and bring the perspective of heaven to bear upon the concerns of earth. That is a principle that we need to learn: “What does heaven have to say about what I’m going through this week? What does this equation mean once I introduce the X factor of God to it? How do I face the challenges of tomorrow in light of the fact that I may look up here and find the answers to my questions?” He is a man of great trust. He is a man of skillful management. He encounters heaven. He defends on earth.
Now, you will remember, I hope, that this, we’ve seen, has already become a pattern. In chapter 1, he hears the news of the dreadful circumstances, and what does he do? He prays. In chapter 2, he takes action. When you go into chapter 2 and to verse 4 and he’s given a straightforward question from the king—“What [do] you want, [Nehemiah]?”—he operates on the exact same basis. He prays, and then he asks. When you get into chapter 4, to the section we dealt with last time, we find the same thing. The people come and ridicule him. What does he do? He prays. And after he has prayed, what does he do? He goes to work.
You see—and this, I think, is something that we may well be missing in our day, some of us in our day-to-day Christian experience—to be humbly dependent upon God in prayer does not take us into a theological twilight zone, does not take us into the realm of total sitting down doing nothing.
Now, let me try and illustrate this in a very practical way. You know these things they call “The Club”? You know that thing, the big red thing. They have these policemen on: “The Club!” All right? Well, these have been in Britain for years. I mean, they may have been here for years. I’m not suggesting we thought of them first. But they’ve been around for a long time.
And way back in 1970-something, maybe ’80, I went to Londonderry to stay for a week and to speak to young people for a week, and I stayed in the company of my little friend T. S. Mooney, the man that I’ve quoted many times—the little bachelor man, died at the age of eighty-one, a banker all his years, a funny little man and a godly little man. And when he picked me up from the ferry in Larne and drove me to Londonderry, it’s the most perilous journey that I ever made in all of my life.
In Britain, they have these things on the middle of the road called cat’s eyes, which are in the center line, invented by a Yorkshire man, and they shine in the night. They pick up your headlights. And they go up and down like that, because they were invented with a self-cleaning mechanism, so that when the car tire goes over the top of it, it squirts down, cleans the little bit of glass or plastic that’s in there, and then pops back up again. They’re called cat’s eyes.
T. S. Mooney was reputed to be the only man who could drive from the ferry in Larne to Londonderry, a distance of about 120 miles, and hit every single cat’s eye on the road. When I say that it was terror, it was terror. And when I got to the end of the journey and sat outside of his apartment, before we got out, I said to him, I said, “Mr. Mooney”—and I’d only ever met him once before this in my life, and by this time he was probably seventy-six years old—I said, “Mr. Mooney,” I said, “I’ve got to tell you something: I can’t drive with you anymore. I’m going to be here for a whole week, and I cannot drive with you.” I said, “I’ll drive you, but I can’t drive with you. So you either let me drive, or I’m going on the bus, because you’re scaring me to death. I have never been as scared in all my life as driving with you.”
That was a lot of risk involved in that, you’ve got to admit. He sat for a moment, just looking straight out of the windscreen of the car, and then he took his car keys, and he said, “Fine. You drive.” So I drove for the whole week. But here was the problem: the jolly crook lock. The Club! Everywhere I went, I had to put this Club on. He insisted that you put it on at the strangest times. You stopped to go in the post office for, like, one minute, the Club has to go on. We went to Mr. and Mrs. McDonald’s house for lunch. You go up the driveway, you open the gates, you drive up the driveway, you close the gates, you park outside their living room window, where the car can be seen from all vantage points—you put the Club on. Put the Club on. I said, “T. S., you know, don’t you trust the Lord?” or whatever it is. He said, “Put the Club on. I trust the Lord. Put the Club on.” And he taught me a principle that week: faith without works is dead.
You see, Nehemiah didn’t start a big prayer meeting and say, “That’ll do. Okay, guys, we’ve got a major problem. We’ve got a four-frontal attack on us. We’ve got guerilla warfare.
They’re going to tear us apart. They’re going to pull us down. What we will do is we will pray. And once we’ve prayed, it will all be over, and we’ll sit back, and we’ll wait for God to act.” Now, that’s the way some people approach their Christian life: “All I’m going to do is pray. And after I’ve prayed, then God somehow or another miraculously intervenes, and it’s all over.” No, it’s not.
You’re looking for a job, what do you do? You pray. What else do you do? You go and knock doors. If you’re keen, you knock a lot of doors. You don’t sit in your room and pray. You pray, and you knock doors. You’re bringing up your children in the work of parenting. What do you do? You pray for your children, and you post a guard around your children. You tell them they’re going to be home at this time in the evening. You tell them that they’re not going to be in the company of this group of people. You tell them that they’re not going to be listening to this particular album of music. And when you’re tempted to believe that all you’re doing for them is providing rules and regulations that are external so as to kill them and to break their spirit, you need to be constantly, daily in prayer for your children, so that the prayer may season and benefit them as they respond to the guard that you place around them.
Do you know how many naive parents there are with teenage kids? How could I say that with such certainty? ’Cause I’m a parent of teenage kids. I thought I would never, ever forget what it was like to be sixteen. I’m starting to forget. I don’t remember being this good at manipulating situations. I don’t remember having as many clever ideas as this. We haven’t read the book. We’re about one page ahead in whatever book you read for bringing up teenage kids. And some of you are right there with us. But I do know this: we’d better pray to God, and we’d better post a guard. ’Cause all of our prayers, without the guard, will ultimately be ineffectual.
Now, he employs a methodology in this, and this is where I want to end. There’s a method one, there’s a message, and then there’s a method two. And I’ll try and just go through it here.
Verse 13: “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, [and I] post[ed] them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.” Nehemiah is a genius. He has the people take up places down behind the wall where the place is clear of rubble. He encourages them to defend as families. Good strategy! Still is. Because the average man may not be prepared to defend just a piece of wall, no matter how much you tell him the wall is important. But if you put his wife and his children behind that bit of the wall, he’s there. And that’s exactly what he did. And he gave them bows that could fire a distance of some four hundred yards to take the long-scale onslaught, and he gave them swords and spears, which could be used if they came to encounter the close-up combat.
You will notice in verse 13 that he stationed them “at the exposed places.” “The exposed places.” Remember the words of Jesus in John 17, in his High Priestly Prayer: “Father, I do not pray that you take my people out of the world but that you leave them in the world and that you keep them from the Evil One.” God’s purpose for his people is that we might live in exposed places—not that we would be exposed without the guard and the prayer, but nevertheless, that we would be exposed.
Isn’t that what you feel yourself to be, Mr. Businessman, as you head out on another Monday morning—exposed? Isn’t that what it feels like to go to school in a secular university and have the onslaught of all of that stuff coming at you—exposed? And at the exposed places, there they were. “You are,” says Jesus, “the light of the world. A city [set] on a hill can[’t] be hidden. Neither do [men] light a lamp and put it under a [tub],” but they put it on a lampstand, that it might be seen, exposed. “You are the salt of the earth.” The salt is not to stay in the cellar, but it’s to hit the streets. The principle is clear: family by family, at the lowest points of the wall, at the exposed places.
And in verse 14, he then conveys his message which underpins his method: “After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them.’” Now, if that’s all he said, that’s not a great deal of help. That’s like you’re standing out on the ledge of a building, and it’s about to crumble underneath you, and somebody’s shouting, “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid!” Say, “Don’t be so crazy! Don’t tell me things like ‘Don’t be afraid.’ I’m about to fall to my death.” So he doesn’t say, “Don’t be afraid.” He says, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” In other words, “Get your alignment right. Get back in focus.”
You see, they had lost their vision. They were on the rubble. They were listening to the seeds of discouragement. They had begun to believe that they would never finish the project. They’d begun to believe the notion that the task was so immense that it could never be configured in a way that would bring completion. They were listening to all this news about “They will certainly attack us. They will come in when we cannot see them. They will kill us in the night.” And he says to them, “Listen, don’t be afraid. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.”
It’s the same thing that Paul does to the church at Philippi in Philippians 4, where he begins with that statement, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice”—Philippians 4:4.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do[n’t] be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The picture there is the picture of the soldier on the wall of the garrison town of Philippi. And as the soldier stands guard on the city to oversee it internally and to protect it from attack externally, “so,” says Paul, “allow the peace of God to stand guard in your heart.”
Now there’s a word of encouragement for us as we face a Monday, is it not? We need to be singing the children’s song,
Our God is so big,
So strong and so mighty,
There’s nothing that he cannot do.
The rivers are his,
The mountains are his,
The fields are his handiwork too.
Our God is so big,
So strong and so mighty
There’s nothing that he cannot do.
Go out tomorrow morning, get in your car, pull it out of the garage, and you’re facing the challenge of your day—agitation from without, consternation from within, intimidation from all fronts. You want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus. You say to yourself, “It’s so immense. I can’t do it!” Sing the song! Sing it to yourself as you drive across 480. Who cares what the people think! It’ll be better than some of the sorry faces that are around you. Sing it out: “Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty!” (Careful on the hand actions.) “There’s nothing that he cannot do!”
Now, this isn’t rhetoric on Paul’s part. This isn’t kind of pumping yourself up with fluff. Whenever we are tempted to discouragement because of the immensity of the task, because of the strength of the enemy, we need to realign our focus. We need to “remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” Go home and read Isaiah 40:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who[’s] held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales …?
Flying over those Rocky Mountains, listening to that guy give me all this geological humbug—very nice man, the pilot, explaining to me, giving me all this evolutionary, geological jargon about how we got the Grand Canyon and how the Colorado River did this and everything else. I want to go up to him and say, “Hey, buddy, it’s not like that. Isaiah 40, real easy: ‘He stretches out the heavens like a canopy.’ He makes the mountains in an instant. Don’t tell me about these billions and billions of years.”
You see, the worldview that sees God as a cosmic genie, or as a force, or some alien entity, cannot identify with this. And when Nehemiah says, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome,” he’s talking about a God who is perfect, who is powerful, who is plural, and who is praiseworthy. That’s the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember him!
Mahalia Jackson, in that great song, put it well:
Who made the mountains? Who made the trees?
Who made the rivers [that run] to the sea[s]?
[And] who [placed] the moon in the starry sky?
Somebody bigger than you and I.
When I am weary…
And I often am. Aren’t you?
… filled with despair…
I know about that. Don’t you?
Who gives me courage to go on from there?
And who gives me faith that[’ll] never … die?
Somebody bigger than you and I.
“Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight.” Boy, isn’t that a strange juxtaposition we finish here? “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight.” You see, we might have thought he was going to say, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, sing a bunch of Scripture songs, and off you go home, and have a lovely week.” No. “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sisters, your moms, your dads, your family.”
If I was going to build a family ministry, I’d build it right out of this text right here. Here it is. Late twentieth-century family ministry, you’ve got it: “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your family.” ’Cause that’s one of the great fights in our generation. You prepared to go into that struggle?
I’ll never forget, as a boy—and I’ve told you this before, and it rebukes my own heart as a dad today—but I’ll never forget waking up, thinking it was the middle of the night. And I’d probably been in bed since nine o’clock, and it was only eleven o’clock. But I’ll never forget hearing the voices of my father and mother intoning in a way that didn’t sound as though they were talking to one another—’cause they weren’t—and creeping to the outside of their bedroom door and hearing my name mentioned in prayer: “O God,” and then they would pray for me. They would fight for me. They would struggle for me. You going to struggle for your family this week? Are you prepared to do God’s work God’s way—face agitation, intimidation, consternation? Are you going to look at the rubble and say, “It can’t be done”? Or are you going to “remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight”?
I had the privilege of marrying both my sisters to Christian men—one of the great joys of my life, but it didn’t come easy. There was a lot of fight behind it—some major fights between myself and my first sister, who’s four and a half years younger than me. (Now, don’t anybody send her this tape.) But it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, they tell me. It’s okay. We’ve still got time. And I remember her getting roses—big bunch of roses, big red bow, fake crystal jar, whatever it was, same stuff—and how excited she was. I remember saying to her, “Mo, you know what you ought to do is throw those roses in the garbage.” And she told me, “Who do you think you are?” I said, “I’m your brother. The guy who sent you the roses, I know him. He doesn’t care tuppence for you. He doesn’t share your faith. He doesn’t have an interest in your well-being. Throw the roses out.” I remember how she would storm around and slam her bedroom door and tell me to go take a running jump. I remember coming round, though, and finding the roses in a wastepaper basket or in a thing head down. That was a big fight that day. But I was fighting for biblical principles. I was fighting for my sister’s purity. I was fighting for her well-being. I was fighting for the fact that today, under the guidance of a Christian husband, she will have been in worship, and her children are nurtured in the faith.
“Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” And go out and fight. Fight! What do we need? We need the mind of Christ to fill us and to guide us.
 Ephesians 6:13 (NIV 1984).
 2 Corinthians 4:8 (NIV 1984).
 Edgar A. Guest, “Comfortless,” quoted in Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime of Golf (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), 159–60.
 Psalm 127:1 (NIV 1984).
 John Bunyan, “He Who Would Valiant Be” (1684).
 See Nehemiah 1:4.
 See James 2:17.
 John 17:15 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 5:14–15 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 5:13 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 4:4 (KJV).
 Philippians 4:5–7 (NIV 1984).
 Isaiah 40:12 (NIV 1984).
 Isaiah 40:22 (NIV 1984).
 Johnny Lange, Hy Heath, and Sonny Burke, “Somebody Bigger Than You and I” (1960).
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.