Last week, we began a sermon series focused on this word; legacy. It’s a word that has a couple of definitions. The first is about money and stuff. We all want our families, friends, and businesses to be secure and stable when we’re gone so we set up wills, trust funds, and put all sorts of plans and strategies in place. Which is a really good thing and we should be talking about.
But throughout this series, we’re focusing on the second meaning of this word. A legacy is something that outlives you. Something passed on from one generation to another.
I think that most all of us want to leave a legacy. You want to invest in something that is bigger than you and that will outlive you. None of us just want to exist. We want to somehow change the world.
This morning, we are going to step back in time to the 20th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, roughly 2,500 years ago and take a peek at the journal of guy named Nehemiah in order to see how he feels and what he thinks about the Legacy God has asked him to leave . . . and I think that’s pretty cool.
Before we jump into the text, let me give you a little background.
Nehemiah is an Israelite living in a foreign city and is working for a foreign king, essentially as a slave, and some visitors come to see him from his hometown, Jerusalem.
And they tell him that Jerusalem has been attacked by the Babylonians and that the walls surrounding the city have been destroyed and the gates have been burned, and God’s people have been hauled off into exile. And the handfuls left behind were living in shame, and disgrace, and poverty.
And although these events occurred 141 years earlier, on this day God opened Nehemiah’s heart to see the city as God sees the city and he is heartbroken. So, he spends three to four months praying, fasting, weeping and asking God, “What do you want me to do? How can I make a difference?”
During this time, God gives him a plan to restore the city. He takes the plan to the king asking him to completely reverse his 13 year old foreign policy; restricting people from rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, to release him from his job and allow him to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and the church . . . and to underwrite the entire project.
The king says, “Cool, no problem!”
Nehemiah makes the journey to Jerusalem and when he arrives, he gathers a small group of people together – about as many as we have at Logos Dei - and tells them what God has put in his heart to do.
This vision catches like wildfire and everybody is pumped up and so they say, “Let’s do this thing”.
So, Nehemiah breaks them up into groups, each group is assigned a different neighborhood and they are responsible for getting to know the needs of that neighborhood and serving the people in that neighborhood and ultimately bringing God’s restoration to that neighborhood so that people would come to know God and that his name would be praised.
That’s how you bring God’s restoration to an entire city . . . one neighborhood at a time. If you’ve ever wondered what the vision for Logos Dei looks like . . . here it is!
With this in mind, let’s read our text: Nehemiah 7:1-5.
The wall is finished. This is an incredible task; nearly 3 miles of wall; 15 feet high, 2-4 feet wide. Been broken for 141 years, tons of people have tried to fix it over the years but failed miserably . . . but in 52 days, Nehemiah and his crew knock it out; all working side by side amid the summer heat, without any modern-day equipment like we have, and they finished it in less than two months.
So, you would expect Nehemiah to say something like, “Woo-hoo . . . way to go team” and start giving everybody high fives shouting, “You guys rock” and baking a cake and throwing a celebration party.
But instead, he writes in his journal, “The wall was finished”. That’s it. No high fives, no celebration party, no Kudos to those who went the extra mile, not even any thank you notes . . . just simply, “the wall was finished”.
And he goes right back into the work of ministry and the mission that God had set before him because leaving a legacy was not just about restoring broken walls but to bring God’s restoration to broken lives.
You see, the goal of God has been and always will be the restoration of his people to a life wholly dedicated to him and ultimately the restoration of the world.
So, although this is certainly something to celebrate . . . the restoration of the wall was just a small step in that direction and so Nehemiah kept a forward focus and continued with God’s plan of restoration.
But, let’s be honest . . . our natural tendency is to get pumped up about what God is doing and pour or time and energy and money into God’s work but as soon as we successfully accomplish a big task . . . what do we do? We stop, put up a hammock and revel in the glory of all that we have accomplished.
But you need to know that it’s in these moments, when we experience success, or become comfortable with what we’ve already accomplished that we become most vulnerable as a follower of Jesus because when you lose a forward focus, you begin to live in the past and you draw your identity and meaning from things that have happened and not on the legacy God is calling you to leave behind.
Instead we become, “Remember when” people
- Remember when we started this church at the YMCA . . . that was so cool.
- Remember when we raised enough money to build a well in Malawi and purchased an ambulance in Ethiopia . . . we were so awesome!
- Remember when we did the Dave Ramsey program and helped that group of people with their finances, we were life changing
- Remember when we cleaned the yards of those elderly people, we totally rocked!
But God’s plan is so much bigger than your past or even your present. God’s plan reaches beyond this moment and it calls us to leave a lasting legacy for those who are yet to come.
Nehemiah realizes that that the walls were only the first step of a much bigger plan and so instead of resting in his success, he continues on the mission that God has set before him; not just to restore broken walls but to bring God’s restoration to broken lives.
At this point, the story takes a transition from dealing with things like rocks and stones and walls and gates, to people . . . and at this point, there are not a lot of people in the city.
Now, it’s important for us to remember the significance of Jerusalem.
The city of Jerusalem is to be the city of God. It is to be the place where God dwells and where God is worshipped and God’s word is honored and God’s people live together. And it exists to be an example to the other cities to show what life could be like if people had faith in the God.
So, although the wall is cool, there’s no purpose for a wall if there aren’t any people to live inside of it.
So, what does Nehemiah do? He prays and God puts into his heart this plan for him to gather everyone together and find out who is already in the city because these are the people that Nehemiah will need to invite to become a part of God’s vision to restore the city and build the church.
And here we find a super exciting part of the story. It’s a list of names that you can’t pronounce.
It's one of those passages that when you try to you read it, you think to yourself “I don’t know who Abudahbudahbudah is and honestly I don’t care” so you just skip it and move on.
But these are not just a list of forgotten names which we can’t pronounce. These are the heroes who sacrificed a lot by uprooting their families from their secure and familiar surroundings to follow God’s call to a more vulnerable existence. These are people whose faith and courage paved the way for God’s vision of restoration to come to life.
Each of these names listed tells a unique story about calling . . . and I wish we could look at everybody on this list and talk about their stories because I’m sure that we could relate to each of them in some way. But I’m not going to read all of the names but I want you to see how this list is organized.
It begins with 12 leaders who 70 years earlier, when the city was absolutely destroyed, had enough faith and courage to lead a group of people back into the city because they believed that God would restore his Covenant with his people and restore the city of Jerusalem and they wanted to be a part of it.
Next is listed the various families or clans and the number of people in each family who returned to the land. These are just regular working folk. Guys who are plumbers, electricians, school teachers, and people that sit in cubicles and take the bus to work.
Just everyday average people and yet here they are . . . their names are listed in the bible next to the names of prominent figures in Jewish history . . . how cool is that?
Next on the list are . . .
- Gatekeepers whose responsibility was to open and close the gates; both keeping the bad guys out and welcoming new people into the city.
- Priests and Levites. These are the pastors or elders. And their job is to take care of people; to teach, to guide, to love, to nurture people on their faith journey toward God’s restoration.
- Worship leaders and worship teams because if you are re-storing a city for the purpose of bringing God’s restoration to people . . . than worship is going to be a part of it.
- Temple servants . . . whose job it was just to do the stuff that no one else wanted to do . . . I love those people.
And in the end, what you see are all these people; men, women, children, young, old, poor and rich coming together as redeemed families . . . all for the purpose of bringing God’s restoration to the city!
In all there were more than 50,000 people assembled. Just think about that for a minute. This was a city that had been in ruins for 141 years and the worship of God was nearly nonexistent and because a few people, just 38 to start with, banded together and gave and served and prayed and stuck with their calling and invited others to be a part of it . . . God brought 50,000 people.
That’s a lot of facebook requests, isn’t it?
But what’s amazing is that these people whose names we can hardly pronounce, and we’d much rather just skip over are our legacy . . . because they paved the way for Jesus.
400 years later, Jesus would come to the earth and walk among us and make a journey that would take him through the rebuilt gates of this rebuilt city in order to go to the cross to die for our restoration; a restoration that extends beyond the walls of Jerusalem, to Judah and Samaria and to Tampa.
These people did not have to do it; they left jobs, homes, and the security of resources to build something that was bigger than themselves in order to leave a legacy. And because of their faith, God was able to use them for his purposes.
There are times when God calls up people to do great things. And I believe that we are at a time like that. He is calling us as a church to help extend God’s restoration to the city of Tampa.
Jesus also talks about the city and he talks about our life in a city as his people. He says in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill that cannot be hidden.”
In other words, through Christ, you are Jerusalem, the place where God’s spirit dwells and you are to live in such a way that as people look at you, it’s an example of what life can be like if they have faith in Jesus . . . And the way we should live our lives is in a way that always points to Jesus because Jesus is the light that illuminates us in the darkness.
God is calling us to be people of light and restoration and hope. He is calling us to leave a legacy and what we do with that calling . . . well, that’s up to you.