WHEN YOU ARE NEAR THE FINISH LINE by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson
1. A young girl grew up in church, great potential, wonderful goals in life. Next thing, she gets around people who pretending to be her friend lead her astray. Now she is no longer focussed and heading to her goal but has gone off the deep end.
2. Last Thursday I received an email from a friend. In the email, he mentioned a famous person whom I have admired for sometime. Most of you would know who he is if I were to mention his name. But I won’t. This friend mentioned this famous person and used the adjective “fallen.” Immediately, I went on the Internet and typed his name. Sure enough this man whom I had admired had left his wife of twenty years and was living with a mistress. He had a very high-profile position; he had influenced thousands of people for good; he had run very well; He was near the finish line but he had fallen.
3. A church that is doing great things for the Lord. Next thing, there are terrible problems. Now the church has gone through several splits. It no longer has any vision or direction.
Nehemiah 6:1-4 Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), 2 that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm. 3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner.
Overall Background: Nehemiah had to overcome incredible odds to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
- He had to get permission from the King of Persia.
- He had to travel 700 miles across the desert to get to Jerusalem.
- He had to deal with the taunts and threats of the enemies.
- He had to deal with the lack of motivation of some people.
- He had to deal with internal problems among the people.
In spite of all the obstacles, Nehemiah led the people to finish the wall around Jerusalem but then listen to what happens in verse 1: Now it happened whenSanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), 2 that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm. Knowing that the work was almost done, Nehemiah’s enemies did not stop their attacks. Instead, they rallied together for one final, ultimate assault.
Listen carefully—Just because you can see the finish line of your life, marriage, work, and ministry does not mean the race is over. In fact, the greatest attack of the enemy is usually right before you cross the finish line. He knows that he cannot stop the work; he knows that he has failed before; yet he still believes that he can get you and he launches every weapon in his arsenal to bring you down. Just like the person I mentioned earlier, many people forget that the last quarter of the race is just as important as the first quarter of the race.
This morning, I want us to see how Nehemiah handled these attacks. First, I want us to see how the attacks came against him.
I. LET’S PUT THE PAST BEHIND US.
2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, Who were these two men?
Background: If you remember, thus far, Sanballat was the chief enemy of Nehemiah. He was the governor of Samaria to the north of Jerusalem. He hated Nehemiah from Day One. While Nehemiah wanted to help the people of Jerusalem, Sanballat wanted to advance his own agenda. He knew that if the Jewish people were successful in rebuilding the wall, he would no longer be in control. So he did everything he could to sabotage the project. He was not a friend but the ringleader of the opposition.
Geshem, if you remember, was also a major opposition of Nehemiah. Some archaeological discoveries describe him as the governor of Dedan; others describe him as the king of Kedar. That being the case, Geshem controlled the eastern desert region of Syria, northern Arabia, Sinai, and northern Egypt. He was a very powerful ruler and he was afraid that rebuilding the wall and empowering the people would interfere with his lucrative trade in myrrh and frankincense, besides many other things. He was not a friend but a huge opposition.
What did they want? “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” Ono was halfway between Samaria and Jerusalem. It was a kind of a neutral ground but it was away from Jerusalem. It was closer to the enemy territory.
How did Nehemiah respond? But they thought to do me harm. Nehemiah felt in his spirit that this was a mistake. “Why would these people who have opposed me so far want to be my friends?” More than likely their plan was to lure him away from Jerusalem and then kidnap him or kill him or just say, “he had an accident.” Nehemiah had what the world calls a “sixth sense” but what we know to be a sense of discernment.
So what did Nehemiah do? 3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner. Meaning: Nehemiah knew that unless God had changed their hearts, they were up to no good. Unless the grace of God through Jesus Christ breaks and molds the hearts of the people, they don’t change.
How did Nehemiah have this sense of discernment? Because he was a person of prayer. Every step of the way he had prayed and trusted God and the time he spent with God made him aware of the enemy. Just like King Solomon prayed before God – “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil.” (1 Kings 3:9) Some people consider their bad experiences as their sense of discernment. But your past can make you a bitter recluse. Some people consider their suspicious personality to be their sense of discernment. But your personality can leave you looking over your shoulders all your life. It’s only the Holy Spirit through prayer who gives the most accurate discernment against the enemy.
For e.g. I can give you plenty of negative examples but let me give you a positive. When Nicole’s dad began as a pastor, there was a man in his church by the name of George. This man opposed him every step of the way. Later, Nicole’s father left and went on the mission field and pastored some other churches. About 10 years later, he was asked to help plant a church in one of the fastest growing areas in the country. They began meeting in a high school auditorium and one Sunday morning guess who walked in? George. Pastor Jerry said to himself, “Oh no!” Little did he realize what God had done in George’s life. He was not the same man. Long story short – George became his right hand man until the day he died and the church had several hundred in just a few months.
Application: Let me ask you a question – would you like to be a bitter recluse or a suspicious person or would you rather have the Holy Spirit’s discernment in your life? It only comes through prayer.
II. LET’S GET EVERYTHING OUT IN THE OPEN.
5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand.
Background: In those days, letters were written on papyrus or leather sheet, tied with a string, and then sealed. Only the person addressed could break the seal and open the letter. Sanballat send an open letter so that everyone who saw it could read its contents.
What was in the letter? 6 In it was written: It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. This was a psychological tactic. “Everybody knows what’s going on. Even if they didn’t, they do now with the open letter.” The Persian kings did not tolerate people pretending to be kings. Nehemiah worked for the king and he knew that very well.
What’s the solution? 7b Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together. Meaning: Let’s straighten things out. We’ll hear both sides of the story and then we’ll get all this sorted out. They were using the “guilty unless proven innocent” approach. How tempting it was for Nehemiah to say—“ I don’t want these rumors to go any further. Let me clear up my name.”
For e.g. I see this on Facebook – people trying to clear up their name. “You know who you are and I know what you said about me.” Why do people fall for this foolishness?
How did Nehemiah respond? 8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.” Meaning: Thanks but no thanks. Nehemiah was a man of prayer and he knew that they were making this up. He had no need for anyone to take care of his reputation. He trusted God with his integrity.
For e.g. I’ve been there myself. Someone was talking trash about me. Another person wanted to play the mediator – “I will sit with both of you and help you work this out.” This person wanted to play the mediator but they couldn’t work out their own relationships. About the same time, another person came to me who had known me for sometime and said, “I trust you. I don’t need to know the other side.”
What else did Nehemiah do? 9 For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands. He went back to his work and went back to prayer.
Application: May I ask you – “Who is trying to distract you from your work?” Who is trying to play the mediator in your life?
III. LET’S PROTECT YOU FROM THE ENEMY.
10 Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.”
Background: This was a very shrewd tactic. This man Shemaiah pretended to be a friend and pretended to be a prophet of God who wanted to protect Nehemiah from the enemy. His plan to Nehemiah was to go hide in the temple. What’s wrong with that? Only the priests were allowed to enter the sanctuary. According to Numbers 18:7c “the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” In II Chronicles 26 we hear about King Uzziah who tried to burn incense in the temple and God struck him with leprosy. Shemaiah plan was two-fold: Get Nehemiah in the temple and then have him killed according to the Law or to let God strike him with leprosy.
How did Nehemiah respond? 11 And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!” 12 Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me. Being a person of prayer and integrity Nehemiah recognized the true intent of Shemaiah and he refused his offer.
Listen carefully: A true friend will not lead you to disobey God. A true friend will lead you to trust God more and obey Him and reject fear.
Let me say this as your pastor: If I ever teach you to live in fear, I don’t need to be your pastor. 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
The enemy used everything possible to attack Nehemiah. 1. Let’s put the past behind us. 2. Let’s get everything out in the open. 3. Let’s protect you from the enemy. At first glance, they all seem legitimate and harmless. But when you pray, you can see the beady eyes of the devil behind every one of them. Nehemiah prayed and trusted in God.
What was the result? 15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. (just two months) 16 And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.
As the pastor, my heart’s desire is very simple: When all is said and done, no one should say, “Oh that church grew because of the preaching or music or programs or leadership or building.” Instead, the world should say “This work was done by God.”
When the dust settles, people should see Jesus Christ and no one else. Do you know Him? Are you looking to Him or are you looking at the enemy?