KEEPING YOUR SPIRITUAL FIRE BURNING
One of the saddest sights for me is to see a Christian who began in a fire or a church that began in a fire or a Christian work that began in a fire but now living in a smoke. William Booth (Founder of the Salvation Army) once said to a group of new officers, “I want you young men always to bear in mind that it is the nature of a fire to go out; you must keep it stirred and fed and the ashes removed.”
Nehemiah 13:6-9 6 But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Then after certain days I obtained leave from the king, 7 and I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. 8 And it grieved me bitterly; therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room. 9 Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
Background: If I were writing the Book of Nehemiah, I would have left out Nehemiah 13. After all, what better way to close than with Nehemiah 12, with the description of the joy and celebration of the Jewish men, women, and children as they dedicated the wall of Jerusalem to the Lord. What better way to close than with Neh. 12:43, “that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.” Just like all the fairy tales of the world – “And they lived happily ever after.”
Only difference – the Bible is not a fairy tale. It never tries to paint a false picture. It never tries to air brush the character flaws of its heroes. No matter the consequence—as someone once said—“The Bible never flatters its characters.” (Alan Redpath).
In Nehemiah 13, we find the most anticlimactic ending to an otherwise glorious book. Nehemiah had finished his twelve-year term in Jerusalem and had returned to Persia to report to the King. He was probably gone for maybe a year but when he returned, nothing could have prepared him for the tragic decline that he found—the priesthood had become corrupt; the people had neglected to pay the Levites and they had to leave the temple and go back to the fields; the people had forgotten the Sabbath and had stopped assembling; and furthermore, they were once again mingling with the pagan peoples around them (intermarrying with the enemies of Israel). In short, they were spiritually back to where they were before the revival of Nehemiah 9. In fact, they were worse than when they first started. How did that happen? As William Booth said, “It is the nature of a fire to go out,” whether it be personal revival or revival in your marriage or church or nation. “You must keep it stirred and fed and the ashes removed.”
Application: This morning’s message is probably the most important message in the entire series, in fact, the most important message ever.
3 things we will see here: Why revival dies? What is the result? What is the solution?
I. WHY REVIVAL DIES? OLD ENEMIES ARE ALLOWED BACK IN.
4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, having authority over the storerooms of the house of our God, was allied with Tobiah.
Background: Who was this Tobiah? Tobiah was the governor of Ammon to the east of Jerusalem. When Nehemiah first came to help the Jewish people rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, he was part of the group who mocked Nehemiah, questioned his motives, and even threatened him. Neh 2:19 tells us,“when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?” Unlike Sanballat and Geshem, who were straight outsiders, Tobiah was somewhat of an insider. His name was actually Hebrew, meaning “Yahweh is good,” but Nehemiah described him as an Ammonite. Instead of helping his people, Tobiah taunted Nehemiah and the Jewish people, saying, “Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.” You don’t need an army to bring down the wall. A little fox can do that.
How did Nehemiah deal with Tobiah? He replied in no uncertain terms, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.” Meaning: Nehemiah turned towards God; He prayed earnestly to God; He renewed his vision and refused to be distracted by the taunts; and, more importantly, he distanced himself from him. But, Tobiah never gave up. In fact, Neh 6:17 tells that “in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came to them.” In Neh 6:19, Nehemiah says that some of the Jewish people would even “reported his good deeds before me, and reported my words to him.” Then he adds, “Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.” Tobiah was a wicked snake of a man, pretending to be spiritual; he did everything to sabotage the vision of God’s people.
Application: In life, you will have many Tobiahs. They come across very spiritual but they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Deep inside, they are not happy to see you loving and serving the Lord. They are not happy to see your marriage going well. They are not happy to see your children walking with the Lord. They are not happy to see your church on fire for God. Somehow they appear spiritual but they are really not. Somewhere they have allowed Satan to get into their life. People like that do not change unless they allow God’s grace to radically transform them.
What do we find in Neh 13:4? Eliashib, the high priest, was allied with Tobiah and verse 5 “And he had prepared for him a large room, where previously they had stored the grain offerings, the frankincense, the articles, the tithes of grain, the new wine and oil, which were commanded to be given to the Levites and singers and gatekeepers, and the offerings for the priests.” Why? Did he not have anywhere else to stay in Jerusalem? This is conjecture but I think I am very close to the truth. A Jewish High Priest would not dare allow just anybody in the inner courts of the temple. As I mentioned, Tobiah was one of those spiritual snake in the grass types. When Nehemiah left for Persia he found his opportunity to sneak back in and what better place to set up office than in the temple.
Watch out for such spiritual types. They could not help you in the past. They cannot help you in the present. Somehow they like to sneak back in and control your life.
For e.g. We had someone like that in our church growing up. He appeared very spiritual but his motives were not clean. He would have special bible studies in his home. In the end, he turned many people away from the church.
Application: What brought you to Clearview? Your spiritual life was non-existent. Your marriage was in trouble. Your family was falling apart. God healed your life. You have grown spiritually. God has blessed you. May I ask you? Are you going back to the same old people. “Oh, I am wiser and stronger now. I know better.” You are allowing the same old habits, attitudes, and behaviors back in your life. Remember, Tobiah is not just a person from your past. He represents all the old enemies in your life. You think – its all water over the dam. Maybe it’s over your dam but not theirs.
II. WHAT IS THE RESULT? WE THINK WE KNOW BETTER.
Neh 13:10 “I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them; for each of the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone back to his field.” Meaning: Levites were the worship leaders. Because of Tobiah the Levites were without support and were kicked out and had to go work in fields in order to survive.
One of the first thing to go when revival dies is Worship. Your heart is no longer in it. The words don’t make any sense. You just stare at the screen.
Neh 13:11 So I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their place. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse. Meaning: The temple officers in charge of the gifts had left and gone home. Why? Nobody was brining any tithes into the house of God.
Another thing to go when revival dies is Giving. Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Warren Wiersbe said, “Giving to others is one secret of staying alive and fresh in the Christian life.” Someone asked that great preacher, Phillips Brooks (who wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem”), what he would do to resurrect a dead church. He replied, “I would take up a missionary offering.”
Neh 13:15 “In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions.” Meaning: The Sabbath was a day dedicated to the Lord; a day to rest our bodies; and a day to restore our relationships. Now it was business as usual.
Another thing to go when revival dies is Attending Church. We don’t keep the Sabbath but we do have a day to come together with other believers, be it Sunday or Saturday. We are starting a Saturday evening service to offer another opportunity to assemble.
Neh 13:23-24 23 In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people. Meaning: The people of God were intermarrying with pagan neighbors.
How sad to see Christian boys and girls marrying someone who is lost. He comes from a good family. She is such a nice girl. He has a good job. She is real smart. Maybe she’ll get saved as she starts coming to church. She will pull him into the world. They will have children who cannot speak the language of Judah.
III. WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? RETURN TO YOUR FIRST LOVE.
What did Nehemiah do?
Nehemiah 13:8a, “And it grieved me bitterly;” Maybe this message this morning has grieved someone’s heart – some husband, some wife who knows things are not right. Some father, some mother who knows that your family is not where they were last year or year before. It grieves your heart.
Nehemiah 13:8b-9, “therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room. 9 Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense. Maybe this message has challenged someone to throw out that habit, addiction, and attitude. It has challenged someone to ask the Holy Spirit to sweep clean your body – the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Nehemiah 13:11-12 11 So I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their place. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse. Maybe this message has convicted someone that you have been robbing God in your tithes and offerings.
Nehemiah 13:22 And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should go and guard the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day. Maybe this message has reminded someone to return to worship and guard their day with the Lord.
Nehemiah 13:25 So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Maybe this message has reminded some of you to be thankful that you have me, and not Nehemiah, as your pastor!
What is the point? As a pastor, my heart’s desire is to see revival come to Clearview. My heart’s desire is to see every boy, every girl, every man, and every woman living for Jesus, obedient to Jesus, sold out for Jesus, and loving Jesus. As Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, “You are doing a lot of good things. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
Who is the Tobiah in your life? Sometimes you have to take radical steps to turn from the Tobiahs and return to Jesus.