Daily Reflections January 11, 2017
Nehemiah held the honored position of cupbearer for the king of Persia. He was a Jewish man but he most likely had no experience with life outside of the Persian Empire.
In today’s chapter, Nehemiah’s brother Hanani has just returned from Judah and he reports that the situation back home is dire. The Jewish remnant in the land is facing fierce opposition and the walls of Jerusalem are lying in a heap of rubble. Nehemiah’s response to this news is fascinating.
I am a third generation immigrant from the Netherlands. Historically speaking, I am not far removed from my history and culture, but speaking from my own experience, I don’t feel a strong connection to the land my grandparents called home. I’ve grown up in Canada. This is all I’ve known and naturally this feels like home. In the same way, one might expect Nehemiah to feel an affinity to the foreign land that he and the generations before him had been living in. But upon hearing of the state of the home of his ancestors Nehemiah sat down and wept.
Nehemiah’s response and his subsequent prayer display a firm understanding of who God is and what God’s relationship with His people ought to look like. Notice what he does not say. He does not complain, “God, how could You let this happen!? Look at how You have failed Your people!” Nor does he reason, “O God, it appears that the enemies of Your people were mightier than You. It appears they have thwarted Your plan.” No, Nehemiah knows his God better than that.
Reflect on Nehemiah’s prayer. There are no excuses. There are no accusations. Instead there is a humble confidence in the sovereign power of God and a sincere repentance for the sin of a nation. I’ve summarized and paraphrased his prayer to isolate some of the wonderful themes I see.
“O God, you are awesome in power and you keep all of your promises. Hear me as I pray. You are faithful to those who obey you and I confess, on behalf of my people and also on my own behalf, that we have not obeyed you. We have acted wickedly and we deserve your judgment.
Yet You have promised that you will restore your people when they repent and return! What grace! We have strayed so far, but Your redeeming love can bring us home. O Lord, remember Your people and by Your might and power please restore us to the land You’ve promised us so that we can bring You our praise and worship!”
We will come to see in Nehemiah that God answers this prayer. And in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will see that God goes above and beyond this prayer and brings His people all the way home to the true land of promise!
Pastor Levi denBok
In Acts 11 we see that God is sovereign and his will, will be done. God always fulfills his Word. No one can stand in his way (Acts 11:17) for He is the unstoppable God. However, when we walk by sight and not by faith, we will fail to believe and experience God’s mighty working power.
Acts 11 is Peter’s report to the “Circumcision Party”, the conservative Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, about the events of Acts 10. This group insisted that a believer in Christ should be circumcised. What this religious group didn’t understand was Peter’s engagement with the Gentiles was not simply an errant visit and meal, but a God-ordained, Spirit-directed ministry event that would signal a radical new move of God’s Spirit and bring the gospel of salvation to the Gentile world.
As Peter gave testimony to the work of God, the skeptics went silent, and then praised God for his gracious and new work of ministry to the Gentiles. The Spirit of God had fallen on the Gentiles in Caesarea and they recognized it as a work of God.
The events of Saul’s persecution of the church (Acts 8:1) scattered believers to places such as Phoenicia (modern day Lebanon), Cyprus, and Syrian Antioch. Antioch was a very wealthy city, and a hub of business, politics, art and immorality. It could be considered the New York City of the first century. It was the capital of Syria and the 3rd largest city in the entire Roman Empire.
In Antioch the scattered believers did a revolutionary thing and preached the Gospel to Gentiles. The hand of the Lord was upon them and many believed. Soon after, Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem to investigate the legitimacy of what was happening and he both endorsed the work and encouraged the new believers to remain faithful. It was there believers were first called Christians.
The work being demanding, Barnabas sought out Paul and together, for a year, they discipled the new believers. Antioch would later serve as the missionary centre from which Barnabas and Paul would first sail. Antiochian believers responded to the prophesied coming famine and sought to join in support and solidarity by sending a financial gift to the Jerusalem Church.
For Further Reflection:
§ We are often unaware of the big picture. Do you believe God will do far more abundantly than all that you ask or think (Ephesians 3:20)? If so, reflect this in your prayers this week.
§ God uses persecuted and scattered believers to spread the gospel around the world. Pray for the endurance and boldness of many displaced Middle-Eastern Christians.
§ Apart from the Lord we can do nothing of any value. It is not human wisdom or skill that accomplishes the work of the gospel but the leading and power of the Holy Spirit. Pray to be filled with the Spirit today.
§ Churches need strong, biblical leadership to help them mature in the Lord. Pray for your leaders to faithfully shepherd this flock, feeding, leading, and caring for the sheep.
§ Cities are hard places to evangelize but provide an excellent multi-ethic mission field in a small geographic area. Pray for existing Gospel preaching churches, existing church planters and new works in Toronto as they reach out to the over 6 million people in the GTA.
Associate Pastor Jody Cross