Nehemiah Builds The Wall
April 20th, 1986 @ 8:15 AM
NEHEMIAH BUILDS THE WALL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-20-86 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the great multitudes of you who share on radio, and I would like also to add a word of welcome to the number of visitors who are here this morning hour. Your coming blesses us and we pray you will tell your pastor when you go home that we love him in your coming. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Nehemiah Builds the Wall. We are going to stand in a moment and read Nehemiah, the first six verses of chapter 4; Nehemiah. Ezra, Nehemiah, right in the middle of your Old Testament. First and 2 Chronicles, then Ezra, Nehemiah, chapter 4; we are going to read the first six verses together. And if you do not have a Bible, share it with your neighbor, and all of us reading out loud. All right, let’s stand now, all of us; and we are going to read out loud Nehemiah chapter 4, 1 through 6. Now together:
But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews.
And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? Will they fortify themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish which are burned?
Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.
Hear, O God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity:
And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before Thee: for they have provoked Thee to anger before the builders.
So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
Now together let’s read that sixth verse, that last verse you just read; let’s read it again: "So build we the wall; and the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work." Now let’s be seated.
There are so many interesting things in the Book of Nehemiah. One, he was a layman. He was not a priest. He was not a prophet. He was a layman. He was the cupbearer to the king. We would call him in modern normal political nomenclature the prime minister. He was a close confidant of the king. He was a layman. Another interesting thing; he lived in the day of possibly the era of the greatest men the world has ever known. That’s a remarkable thing. The king of Persia was Artaxerxes Longimanus. Longimanus means "long hands," and it referred to the deformity of his right hand when the little baby was born. In his day, and he reigned forty years, Persia reached the golden zenith of its empire. When Nehemiah lived, the greatest Greeks and the most learned and gifted of the geniuses of mankind, flourished. Pericles was the political and philosophical and military leader in Athens. Pericles was the greatest Greek who ever lived. In the days of Nehemiah, Herodotus, the father of history, began to write. Thucydides began to compose his marvelous and incomparable histories. And Xenophon wrote his story of the march of the ten thousand. In the days of Nehemiah, Socrates was teaching Plato. In the days of Nehemiah, Aeschylus was writing his incomparable tragedies, and Aristophanes was writing his brilliant comedies. In the days of Nehemiah, Democritus was propounding his atomic theory of matter; a theory that is as modern today as it was in the days of Democritus. That’s when Nehemiah lived. And in Judah he was a contemporary of Ezra and Malachi.
Nehemiah, this layman himself, was a contrasting personality. One part of him was as sensitive as a woman. He was so open to the moving of the Spirit of God, and at the same time that he was so sweetly sensitive, he was as made of iron in his steadfast resolution. When his brother Hanani came back to the Persian court and gave a report to his brother Nehemiah of the people in Judah, he wept. Does a strong man weep? Jesus wept. Paul wept. Nehemiah wept. Hanani came back to Shushan, the winter palace in Chislev, that’s in November, December; and it was in Nisan, in April, that Nehemiah made his request to the king. He wept and prayed from November to April. And his resolution was complete: like Esther, when he made his request to the king, "If I die, I die" [Esther 4:16]. And in preparation for his return to Judah, he had letters from the king that made it possible for him to bring to his people in Canaan the restoration of the city and of the kingdom.
When he came to Jerusalem, the sight was enough to break his heart. The walls of the city had been torn down for one hundred fifty years after Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians who destroyed the kingdom and the city. And the people who lived there, these slaves out of the Persian Empire, they were subject to pillage and rampage by all of their hostile neighbors. They were helpless before them. And under the genius of this layman they rebuilt those walls in fifty-two days. They did it – and the text that I had you twice to read – "with a mind to work" [Nehemiah 4:6]. And the dedication was almost incomparable.
In this book, in the eighth chapter and the fifth verse, when Ezra read the Book, the Book, God’s Word, the people all stood up, just as we do. And the singing and playing – I meant to take time out of the twelfth chapter just to recount it – it was marvelous: the psalteries, the cymbals, the harps, all of it to the praise and glory of God [Nehemiah 12:27]. It is an incomparable precious thing to see a people dedicated to the Lord. And that’s what we find in the days of Nehemiah.
So they built the wall. Each one with this part, this part, this part; and when it was joined, each part, in the sacred circle; I can hear the shout of the people as each one built his part, completed it. And the whole was dedicated gloriously to our Lord.
Well, pastor, why mention that to us? Because we have also a building assignment: we have a wall to erect. We have a building to prepare. In the Arabian Nights, a wall was built in one night by magic. But you will find nothing like that in the Bible, nothing. Not by magic does a wall arise as in the Arabian Nights. In the Bible when you read the work will be done in two ways: one, by prayer; and the other by hard labor. I am astonished when I open the Book of Nehemiah and look in the first chapter. In verse 4, he fasts and prays. In verse 6, three times is it said that he is praying; in that one verse. In verse 11, three times again it is avowed that he is praying. And in chapter 2, verse 4, he is praying to the God of heaven. In chapter 4, verse 9, he’s praying. In chapter 11, verse 17, he’s praying; praying!
And the second thing I read is, in their building of the wall, everybody, everybody shared. The third chapter is given to a list of those who labored at that sacred circle: in the first verse, "The priests," the pastors, "the priests, they builded." The next verse: "next unto him builded," then, "next unto him builded," then, "next unto him repaired," then, "next unto them repaired," and, "next unto them," and the whole chapter is, "next unto them, next unto them, and after them," They all shared in it. That’s God! That’s the Lord.
We do it by prayer and by dedicated sharing, a devoted commitment of work. And I want to speak of it in just two ways in the brief moment that I have remaining: one, looking at it in the light of the future; and the other, looking at it in the light of the past.
We have in the providences of God the creation of a marvelous ministry to our young people, these teenagers; something God has done. The Lord has opened the door for us. And when I think of them, I think of the whole unfolding day that lies before us. It’s like this: there came to me a few days ago four men who represent one of the formerly great churches of the city of Dallas. And those four men came to me, and they said, "Our church is dying. And we just wanted to talk to you about the amalgamation of our congregation with yours, that maybe we put our churches together." Then they added why their church was dying: those four men said, "We made a survey of our congregation." And the four men said to me, "The average age of our congregation is over sixty-seven years. The average age is over sixty-seven years." You know, it’s a strange thing how your mind works. When those men said that to me, my mind went back several years before in one of the visits that I had made with David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the new nation of Israel. And I was telling Mr. Ben-Gurion about our city of Dallas and about the large and affluent Jewish population in our city of Dallas, and how our people, the Jewish community in many convocations, largely supported the Israeli fund appeal. And Mr. Ben-Gurion said, "But, sir, what we need is not their money. And what we need is not their sympathies and their support. What we need is their young people. We want them to send us their young people." Then he added, "If our nation has any destiny and any future, it lies in our young people. We want them to send us our young people."
Isn’t it strange how your mind works? When those men said to me, "Our church is dying; the average age of our membership is over sixty-seven years of age," I thought of David Ben-Gurion: "If we have any destiny, any future, it lies in our young people." And that is the future of our congregation, our destiny, our hope: if we have any, it lies in our young people.
The second thing I wanted to avow is the past. One of the most unusually moving things that ever happened here in this pulpit to me was back yonder in the Vietnam War. Pat Zondervan, who heads the Zondervan Corporation, the Zondervan Publishing Company, for thirty-six years, has come here on the second Sunday in January to make appeal for the Gideons. You know, we give him a gift to buy Bibles for the Gideons. Well, that Sunday that he was here in the Vietnam War, when he stood here to make his appeal, he held up in his right hand, like this, he held up a little New Testament, a little Gideon New Testament. And he said that a chaplain had taken it off of the body of a Georgia American soldier who had been killed in Vietnam. And as he held it up, I could see the bullet holes through it. And he said, "The bullet holes were made by the enemy; and the bullets had gone through the Bible and had pierced the heart of the soldier boy, and he died." And he held that little Bible up. Then when he made his appeal, holding up that Bible he said, "I wish that it had been my forty-seven cents that had paid for that Bible." Well, when he sat down over there next to me, I said, "Pat, would you put that in my hands?" So he put that little New Testament with those bullet holes in my hand. And I turned to the back of it. And on the back, this is what I read: "This day," and he wrote the date, "This day, I, Eldred Thomas, take Jesus Christ for my personal Savior," and signed his name again, Eldred Thomas.
Any investment that we make in these young people will be an everlasting reward in our hearts. Every one of them that is saved, I’m glad that I did it, that I had a part in it, that I supported it, that I shared in it. I’m grateful to God that I did it.
When you saw Ed Poole, my sweet assistant, talking to me a moment ago, he was telling me, he said, "People afar have heard of our appeal for our youth building. And they are supporting us, even though they don’t live in our city and don’t even belong to our church." They’ll be glad that they did it.
As you would know, this is doubtless the last project in which I shall ever be permitted to share. And what a wonderful, wonderful privilege that it could be for these teenagers, these young men and young women: God’s glorious witness in the world tomorrow.
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build you the bridge to span the tide?"
The builder lifted his old gray head;
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He too must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!"
["The Bridge Builder"; Will Allen Dromgoole]
And that is our commitment as a staff, as a congregation, and as a people of God.
To the many visitors who are here this solemn hour, we have purchased a wonderful building, erected by the Salvation Army, located at the corner of that block across the plaza. We paid four million six hundred thousand dollars for it. The remodeling of it will cost a million dollars. The refurbishing of it will cost a hundred thousand dollars. Dear Mrs. Hunt has said, "I’ll give you two million dollars," and she asks that all the rest of us match it with two million dollars. And having paid on it already with the two million that she has given us, and the two million she’s asked us to match it with, we’ll take care of it all. And we’re doing it for Jesus, and for our young people, and for the future and the destiny of our Lord’s witness in the heart of this great city.
Thank you for praying. And thank you for sharing. And we praise God for the wonderful victory that He gives us.
Now, Brother Denny, we’re going to sing us a song. And while we sing our song, in the balcony round and in the press of people on this lower floor, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I am coming." In any way that the Holy Spirit would press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. "Pastor, I, I, need somebody to pray with me," you come. Or, "Pastor, I want to know the way to heaven," you come. Or, "Pastor, I need strength for a heavy, heavy decision that I am forced to face," you come. "Pastor, this day I openly and publicly confess my faith in the blessed Jesus," you come. Or, "Pastor, my whole family, we’re putting the life of our home in the circle and the circumference and the fellowship of this wonderful church," you come. In any way that the Holy Spirit would press the appeal to your heart, you come. And we’ll pray with you, we’ll love you, we’ll walk by your side, we’ll be your fellow pilgrim. May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.