I — Theme: God empowers and mobilizes His people to show forth the absolute assurance of His Promise, both in Nehemiah’s time, and in ours.
II — Why Concern Ourselves With Jeremiah 31, When We’re Actually Studying Nehemiah 3?
A — Let’s answer the first question, which is: What is Nehemiah 3 basically about?
- We didn’t read Nehemiah 3—mostly because it can sound a bit monotonous! This doesn’t mean that the content is unimportant (it is, after all, God’s Word); just that, for public reading, and our purposes here today, it’s easiest to give the essential thrust of Nehemiah 3
- The thrust of Nehemiah 3 comes in three parts:
- (1) God’s plan in rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem absolutely involves teamwork
- (2) God’s work therefore necessitates the total participation of His people
- (3) Nehemiah 3, as well as passages like Ephesians 2:10 (we are [God’s] masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would [do] them”), teach us that God lovingly obligates us to “find our place of work in the wall”
- So, what we see in Nehemiah 3 is the coming together of God’s people—from all walks of life (male and female; common people and officials; different races, etc)—to build and rebuild God’s city, starting with its protective walls and gates. Each person dedicated his/her work, according to their specific giftedness, and deliberately went to find his/her place of work in the wall, working side-by-side with the rest of God’s people
- That is Nehemiah 3, in a nutshell
B — So, again, why look at Jeremiah 31 to tell the story of Nehemiah 3?
- Answer: Before we undertake the very serious task of “dedicating ourselves” to the work of God (which happens both inside and outside of ourselves), we must understand the significance (the deeper reason) of what causes us to be “deliberately dedicated” to God’s work, in the first place.
- So what we need to know first, is the significance of why Nehemiah 3 is even happening. Are they dedicated to God’s work because of pride? Out of obligation? Or is it something far bigger that’s driving them?
- In short, the significance of Nehemiah 3 is:
- God has caused Israel to suffer death and destruction because they didn’t take their sin against Him seriously (i.e., they’ve been scattered and their city destroyed).
- And yet, just as He promised, God begins to show signs—even in the midst of His punishment against them—that His wrath can be turned away by an attribute that we all hope we can depend upon in God: Mercy, given by His Grace.
- Therefore, Nehemiah 3 is first and foremost to be understood as God’s Grace, shown to His people: They only deserved His wrath, and yet, He makes provision for them to be rescued from it. That provision is His Grace. It is a gift. It cannot be earned, it can only ever be received.
- So God gives them a way in which they can indeed receive His Grace: to allow them to participate in His work.
- It is an act of God’s Grace and subsequent mercy, for Him to call us to work for Him…He does not call those foreign to His kingdom to do His work…therefore, if He has called us to work for Him, then He is also declaring to us that we belong to Him
- Jeremiah 31 connects all of this in 3 ways:
1 — God absolutely declares that He has a people, and who His people are
2 — He declares how He will make them His people, and how they can know for themselves that they belong to Him
3 — God promises that those who once suffered the fear of His wrath will one day rest in the joy of His grace and mercy—and they will ever be reminded of the absolute security and assurance of His love for them by being allowed to participate in His work
***It’s no coincidence that, in Nehemiah 3, the work they’re doing is a literal fulfillment of God’s promise in Jeremiah 31:38-40; and that the actual work they’re doing is securing God’s city and His people
III — A Closer Look At the “New Covenant” of Jeremiah 31:31-40
- This is the first time God uses the terminology of “New Covenant” with His people
- The New Covenant is the first and last of its kind, in God’s long line of “covenant administrations” (I say it’s also the last, because it culminates in Jesus Christ, who is the summing up of all things (Ephesians 1:10))
- Covenant vs covenant administration (briefly)
- Unlike all of God’s previous covenant administrations, this is the one that doesn’t just imply assurance, but in fact guarantees it to God’s people, regardless of their failure to uphold it perfectly
- This is how we know that statement is true:
- Every previous covenant administration has been outwardly conditional; that is, God says He will act if man can uphold his end of the covenant
- But as we see in Jeremiah 31:32, men did not uphold their end of the covenant
- So God says He’s establishing a “New” covenant this time, that simply cannot be broken, even if/when man fails on his end (read v. 33): “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
- The single most important thing to recognize here is that, while we do indeed choose Christ, when we ask for Him to be the Lord of our lives, that only happens because God first made a declaration that we would be His people, and that He would be our God. God’s declaration precedes and supercedes our decision to accept Him (John 6:37, 44)
- Why is that important? Because in the throes of life, when our sin has gotten the best of us, and Satan has us questioning our faith, and our eternal standing with God—God Himself gives us the absolute assurance that He chose us, so that we would choose Him. And since He acted first, we can apply His own promise to ourselves; that is, when He begins a work He will always finish it for our good (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28, 31-39; 2 Timothy 2:12-13.
- So what we see first and foremost in the New Covenant is God’s assurance to us, so that we know He is guarding and keeping us, even when we are unfaithful at times in our lives
- But the second thing we have to recognize about the New Covenant, also with the strong theme of assurance tied to it:
- God says He will “write” His law on our hearts, and thus put it within us—like a living being!
- This is an inference to His Holy Spirit, whom, when God gives Him to us individually, causes us to believe in Christ; becomes a down payment on our souls, to be redeemed at our death; and convicts us of our sin deep within our hearts, because we know we have broken God’s laws when we sin (yes, our conviction of our sin is actually a sign that we truly belong to God!)
- Again, God acts first! There is eternal assurance for us once again, in His loving act of choosing to do a work in us!
- But what does it look like for us, from day-to-day, for God’s law (His Spirit) to be in us, “written on our heart?”
- 1 John 1:8-10 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”
- To have God’s law (His Spirit) written on our heart is to not lie to ourselves or others about the fact that we—even in our new lives as believers—still deal with so much sin, and that the only purity we can claim is the purity of Jesus Christ within us, because, as Paul teaches us in Romans 3:20, “…through the law comes the knowledge of sin.”
- When we acknowledge and confess our sin to God, we are agreeing with Him, that we are still a work in progress—a work that will not be completed until we die from these bodies and go to be with Him
- His promise in 1 John actually accords with Jeremiah 31, when He says that, under the conditions of the New Covenant, He “will forgive [our] iniquity, and [our] sin [He] will remember no more.” In 1 John God says that, because we have His Spirit in us, we won’t deceive ourselves about our sin, and thus we’ll confess it as He brings it to our attention, and that most importantly, He will forgive us of it, and cleanse us from it each time we are honest with Him about it. And every single bit of this promise stems from His New Covenant Promise: That He will be our God, and we will be His people
- Now, right after God makes this Promise of this New Covenant, He says two pretty incredible things, so that we can trust Him (remember that our trust of God almost never relies on what we think of His ability, but what we think of our own…we don’t tend to think of God as able to fail, but we are well aware of our tendency to do so! So when we speak of trusting God, we mean “trusting Him to do good to us even when we become rebellious.”)
- He also knows this is what we mean, so He gives us the most incredible assurance:
- VV. 35-37 are God saying, essentially, “I have created everything and I’ve put everything in the particular order you see it in. For instance, you know how the moon and stars come out every night, when the sun goes down? You know how the sun always rises in the east, and then it’s daytime again? That’s the order I gave the sun and the moon, and, if ever the order I established can jump out of that order on its own—that’s when my Promise to you can fail, but not until then.”
- In other words, God makes His Promise to protect His people and keep them forever; and He stakes that Promise on His own unfailing faithfulness and work: It’s like Him saying, “If I can be overcome by someone or something stronger than Me, that’s when I’ll fail…and that ain’t gonna happen.”
- Now let’s bring this thing home: (Read Jeremiah 31:38-40): “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the city will be rebuilt for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will go out farther straight ahead to the hill Gareb; then it will turn to Goah. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the LORD; it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”
- Right on the tail of His Promise to keep His people forever by way of His New Covenant, He then gives a prophecy through Jeremiah that will be fulfilled in Nehemiah’s time—roughly 140 years later: The rebuilding of the City of God, starting with its walls and gates!
- Exactly the same areas being spoken of in Jeremiah’s prophecy are the areas being worked on in Nehemiah 3!
- But we must understand the symbolism God employs here, if we’re to finally make the connection to the significance of Nehemiah 3 through Jeremiah 31:
- We know God intends for Nehemiah’s work to be a symbol of something greater, because of the way in which Jeremiah 31 ends: “[The city] shall be holy to the LORD; it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”
- In fact, the earthly Jerusalem was overthrown again, by the Romans in 70 AD, and hasn’t had the temple structure of all its previous years since then. If we don’t understand God’s prophecy in Jeremiah 31, and the fulfillment of it in Nehemiah 3 as symbolic of a spiritual reality, we have no choice but to conclude—as many skeptics do—that God failed to fulfill His Promise of keeping His people for all eternity.
- So, if we understand the symbolic representation of what Nehemiah is doing in rebuilding the city of God (Jerusalem), then we’ll see its significance for us today: That (per our theme) God empowers and mobilizes His people to show forth the absolute assurance of His Promise; that is to say, the symbolism and assurance only point slightly to this life…they rather point completely to the life to come!
- God ends Jeremiah 31 with the clarity that His New Covenant will never be undone. He then puts Nehemiah and His people to work on securing Jerusalem (the “eternal city”) from invaders—and thereby fulfills the rest of Jeremiah 31. In so doing, God brings us the greatest joy we can ever have this side of heaven: (1) Knowing that we can never be lost again or kicked out of His kingdom; and (2) wanting desperately to participate in the work of building that kingdom now. That is an empowerment from God, which enables us to deliberately dedicate our gifts and lives to the building of His city. And that empowerment comes in the form of His Grace and Mercy.
When God empowers His people, He takes the great weight off of them, which says that they have a debt to God they can never repay, no matter how hard they work for Him; which, in turn, means that eventually they just give up, and drown in a puddle of depression, shame, and the futility of trying to make God love them.
When God empowers His people, He says this, instead:
“I will be your God, and you will belong to Me, because I say so….I will forgive your sin and never remember it again….you can never be lost to Me again….and all because you have trusted Me by trusting My Son, through Whom, all My Grace is made known to you!”
Jesus is that Son, and He also empowers us by relieving us of our burdens. He would say, “You want to work on yourselves and on My kingdom? Great! But first, do this: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Nehemiah 3 is a perfect picture of God’s people coming together, because they know they’re His…because they love Him….and because they know the greatest place to find rest for their souls is in Him and the work of Grace He is doing in and through them.