What's The Key? | Chris Pedro
So, take a look at this picture real quick. You look at something like this — and this is sheet music — and you go, “All I see are a bunch of dots and lines. I have no idea how to read something like that. It’s like reading another language.”
Or maybe you look at something like this — this is a grand piano, which has 88 keys. You look at that and you go, “Eighty-eight keys? That’s like 88 different buttons with 88 different notes. Listen, I don’t know which notes go together, or where you even start to be able to play something like that. I’m not a musician. That’s just not for me.”
On one hand, I would say to you that makes total sense because to be able to read music or to be able to play an instrument well takes time, patience, and dedication to really play it well. But what if I were to tell you that reading music, playing a piano, or any other instrument, to understand music conceptually is maybe not as difficult or hard as you might think it is. There’s one thing that actually brings it all together to make it a little bit easier.
Now, I’m going to tell you what that is in just a second, but before we continue on, you might be asking yourself, “Wait a minute. I thought I was clicking on a sermon video. I didn’t know I was signing up for a music lesson.”
And I promise you it’ll all make sense in just a moment, but I want to pause here and just say welcome to everybody. My name is Chris Pedro. If you don’t know who I am, I am the Bee Ridge Campus Pastor here at Grace Community Church. It’s not often that I get to preach or come to you in a context like this where I get to give a message, but anytime I do, it truly is an honor and a privilege for me to be able to be before you. Now, you may or may not know this, but about almost exactly a year ago to this recording, I preached a message called “Change the Key.” What we did was we looked at a music example of major and minor chords, or major and minor keys, and we went off of this big idea of what it would look like if you and I were to live our lives in a major key when, sometimes, we walk around living our lives in a minor key. What would it look like to live in the way that God has called us to live?
We then went into Scripture, and it was a good message, but I made a point in that message to say that if I were ever to do a sequel message to this, it would be called, “What’s the Key?” So, here we are, almost exactly a year later, and this is that sequel message. What’s the Key? What’s really cool is we are refilming this message to do a direct message to you, in an online context. So, no matter where you are or when you’re watching this video, I’m really believing that God has something for you and I as we look at how we can live our lives in a way that’s honoring to Him.
So, back to what we were talking about in this music example. What is that one thing that kind of simplifies everything to help us understand music? That would be this: The key. I’m not talking about the keyboard or the keys as an instrument, but I’m talking about the key or the key signature. If I could just put it into simple, layman’s terminology, the key is this. It’s that defining thing. It’s what defines the piece of music or the song that we’re going to go ahead and play, sing, or whatever we’re doing with that music. So, let’s say you go up to a musician and say, “Hey, can you play Amazing Grace?” Or, “Can you play a simple song like Mary Had a Little Lamb?”
Well, most musicians are going to say, “Sure. What’s the key?”
Because if we can know what the key is, we can determine the chord progression, we can determine what the melody line is going to be, we can determine the accompanying harmonies that go with everything because what we’re doing is we’re not playing all 88 keys on the piano, for example, but what we’re doing is we’re playing a specific combination of notes that go together based on the key. And of course, there are numerous exceptions to that rule, as many things go. It can get really complicated. But for most of the songs that you and I might listen to, especially in our society, most of the times we’re playing in a single key. It gets really complicated if you say, “Hey, we’re going to take away that key,” and there’s just no key because now all 88 notes on the piano are up for grabs. It gets even more complicated when you have multiple musicians playing, like either doing a duet, playing a rock band, or even like an orchestra where you have 50 to 100 people all playing together, but they don’t have a single key that they’re playing in. So, it’s going to clash, and it’s just not going to sound good.
So, hopefully that makes sense to you, but to really just get us all together and on the same page, I want you to hear an actual example of a band playing together in-key. Now, when we did this message live, it was really fun because we had the worship band stay with us and play a little bit of an example of what it sounds like being in-key together. Obviously, I don’t have the worship band here with us in the studio, but I want you to just imagine for a second that you have a virtual band with you, right now, on your computer or on your phone. So, we’re going to go ahead and hear from this virtual band. We’ll start with the drums, and then we’ll bring in the bass line, and then we’re going to bring in the acoustic guitar, and then we’ve got the electric guitars, and then last, but certainly not least, we’ve got that nice, piano lead line coming together. They’re all playing together, in the same key, and that just sounds good. You might even start tapping your foot or maybe bobbing your head. You maybe even want to start clapping your hands. And if you’re really feeling it, you’re probably wanting to stand up and you’re going to start dancing.
I’m not going to start dancing because that would not be a blessing to anyone, but you might want to start dancing. Why? Because as you’re hearing this, this sounds good. So, we’re going to stop the music there, but what just happened? We heard a band playing together, all in the same key, and it worked. It sounded good. Even if it’s not your genre or your favorite song, you still can appreciate everybody playing together.
Now, what if I were to take our virtual band and ask everybody to play the exact same song, play the exact same chord progression, but to all play in different keys? I wonder what that would sound like. Maybe you have an idea of what that would sound like, but to just get us all on the same page, we’re going to go ahead and have our virtual band do just that. So, again, we’re going to start with the drums. Then we’re going to bring in the bass guitar. Now, that might sound a little higher or lower than how it sounded before, but what happens when we throw in the acoustic guitar with that? Okay. That clashes a little bit. It doesn’t sound as good. Let’s throw in the electric guitars. Okay. Wow. That sounds even a little bit worse. And maybe we’ll throw in that piano lead line one last time. Now, as we hear that, I mean, it just doesn’t sound good. What just sounded good a second ago now sounds like a group of kindergartners that have never played an instrument before in their lives. You’re thinking, “Lord Almighty, please stop playing this terrible music.”
So, okay. We’ll go ahead and stop right there. But what happened there? All of a sudden, what just sounded good a moment ago just doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t work. And it’s not that anybody even played anything wrong, but everybody was playing in their own, individual keys. And if I could leave my music example for just a moment here, I want to ask you a question. Isn’t that how, sometimes, you and I can be, as the Church? Do you get what I’m saying? I’m not necessarily talking about worship music or church music. I’m leaving the music example to say that sometimes, in the body of Christ, you and I, being the Church, it might look like we’re all walking around, playing in our own, individual keys. I mean, if I’m being honest, I think we know what our key is in the sense that we know what Scripture says and how you and I are supposed to live. We’ve got the Ten Commandments. We’ve got the Gospels. We’ve seen how Jesus has lived His life. We’ve got the Great Commission, and we’re told to go and make disciples of all the nations. We’ve got the New Testament epistles. In fact, right now, at Grace, we’re going through, line-by-line, the book of Philippians.
But we’ve got the epistles as Paul tells us exactly how we are to be as the Church. But yet, when I look around, say, at the global, Protestant Christian church, and all the different denominations, all the different types of churches, and all those different things, it looks like everybody’s kind of walking around, playing in their own, individual key. And, of course, maybe I’m oversimplifying something that’s a little more complex when you add Church history, different doctrinal beliefs, different backgrounds, ethnicities, and all those things, but even just take a local church for example. I mean, whether you’re talking about Grace, or maybe you go to another home church, just look at all the different individuals and how they’re living their lives, or the different cliques or people groups within that church, or maybe the different ministry teams or departments. It sometimes looks like we’re all just operating in our own, individual keys instead of playing together, like in that first example of what we heard from the band.
So, the title of this message is “What’s the Key?” We’re asking ourselves, “What does it look like for us to play in the same key, together, as a church? You might be asking, “Okay. Well, what is the key?” I would submit to you that the key is being on-mission. So, we’re asking ourselves, “What does it look like to live the way that God has called you and I to live together, as the body of Christ? And I can’t think of a better example than that of Nehemiah, in the book of Nehemiah, as he rebuilds the walls around Jerusalem. Now, whether you’re new to the Bible or maybe you grew up in church, you probably would struggle to tell me the last time you heard a message on Nehemiah because, oftentimes, Nehemiah isn’t the most popular book compared to a lot of other books in the Bible. So, what we’re going to go do is we’re going to go through the entire book, all 13 chapters of Nehemiah. We’re going to focus in on a couple verses, and maybe summarize some other verses, but at the end of the day, I really do believe that God has something for you and I as we really tackle Scripture together, and we look at how you and I can live together. No matter which church you go to, we can be on-mission, together, as the body of Christ.
Now, to understand what’s happening in Nehemiah, we’ve got to back up and look at the context surrounding this book. So, we’re going to back up to Ezra. Whether you know this or not, Ezra and Nehemiah are actually, originally meant to be read together because Ezra and Nehemiah are about the rebuilding of the temple and of the walls around Jerusalem after the Babylonians came and took Israel captive. So, here’s how this story goes. The Babylonians came in and totally destroyed everything. I mean, they came in and destroyed the temple. They just took everything. Not only did they destroy everything, but they took the children of Israel out of Jerusalem and brought them to Babylon. They were there for roughly 70 years. So, most of the people that were born in Jerusalem, who were Jewish, they never knew of a temple, they never knew what Jerusalem was like because, well, they were born in Babylon. All they had was the stories from their parents. On top of that, the bigger issue was that, according to Judaic law, they were not able to make sacrifices, and they were stuck in their sin. Because without the temple, no sacrifices could be made. And without those sacrifices, they’re stuck in their sin in relation to Yahweh. So, this is just not a good place for the people of Israel to be.
So, all of a sudden, we have this guy named Cyrus who rises to power, and everyone’s saying, “Hey, did you hear about this guy named Cyrus? He’s got these large armies. He’s going to come and wipe out everybody in Babylon.”
And then the children of Israel are like, “Yeah. And he’s going to destroy us, too.”
But we’re told that God is the one who raised Cyrus up and allowed him to come to power. So, when Cyrus comes and overthrows the Babylonians, Cyrus tells the children of Israel that they can go back to Jerusalem. And that’s what Ezra and Nehemiah are all about, and why they ought to be read together, because they’re the stories where they go back and rebuild the temple. So, we’re going to focus on Nehemiah, but we learned in Ezra that, first, we’ve got a leader named Zerubbabel who goes back to Jerusalem, takes a bunch of exiles with him, and they first rebuild the temple. Then later in Ezra, we have Ezra who goes back, brings some exiles with him to Jerusalem, and he reteaches them the Torah, he reteaches them about the things of Yahweh. But by the time we come back to about 445 B.C., we’re learning that there are still a lot of struggles and oppositions as they’re trying to rebuild their homeland. And we’ve got the Jews who are demoralized. They’re not this once-great nation that they once were. And on top of that, the walls around Jerusalem are still remaining in rubble. So, they’re not this once-unified, great nation. They’re still kind of all around, playing in their own, individual keys. And we’re going to pick up here in Nehemiah 1. We start off with Nehemiah as he’s in Persia, working for the king at the time, King Artaxerxes.
He’s talking to some me with him. They’ve recently returned from Jerusalem, and here’s how their conversation goes.
Nehemiah says, “And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, ‘The remnant there in the providence who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. [Because here’s the deal] The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.’”
The problem here is, one, we’ve got a lack of city walls. So, that means that the people of Israel are defenseless. As many of you know, if you read the Old Testament, the people of God have always got enemies and so many surrounding nations that are after them. So, this is a big deal. But even bigger than that is there’s only a remnant of the people who have come back and are living there. They’re still in great affliction and struggling to survive. So, instead of this magnificent city, Jerusalem is here in shambles. This is devastating. They’re all in their own, individual keys. It’s not the way that God intended for them to be. So, let’s look at Nehemiah’s response. How is he going to respond to hearing this terrible news?
“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
He doesn’t brood, he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t swear, he doesn’t take up arms. He doesn’t go and storm the castle. He doesn’t do any of those things. But we’re told that he gets down on his knees and prays. He doesn’t just pray for just five minutes, not for an hour, not for one day, but we’re told he prays for days. Just look at his prayer. It goes all throughout Nehemiah 1. We’re going to look at just a snippet of it here.
“And I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments,’”
“God, this is who You are. You are great and awesome.”
“‘…let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants,’”
“Lord, hear what we have to say. Remember us, Your people.”
“‘…confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.’”
See, Nehemiah begins with this prayer of invocation. “God, this is who You are. You are great. You are mighty. It’s You that can change things.”
But then he moves to this prayer of confession.
“Lord, in sight of who You are, we’re not worthy. We don’t get it all right. We’re lowly people. We need You.”
See, it’s this prayer that’s actually preparing him for the rest of his journey but notice that Nehemiah is not some sort of pastor who went to seminary for years. He’s not some sort of priest. He’s not the high priest. He’s not a scribe. He’s not some religious leader. He’s just a regular guy who just works for the king of Persia. He’s just a regular guy, like you and I. But yet, he responds as a man of prayer. That causes you and I to stop and think. When we come up against adversity, obstacles, or things that aren’t the way it’s supposed to be, do we respond first in prayer? Well, this is preparing him for his journey because what happens in Nehemiah 2 is we learn that he works for King Artaxerxes. He’s actually a cupbearer or an advisor for the king. The king sees that he’s downcast, and that’s not good because, as an advisor, he shouldn’t be like that in the presence of the king. This could’ve put him to death, it could’ve thrown him in prison. But we see God’s hand and His favor on Nehemiah as the king responds by allowing Nehemiah to go back to Jerusalem.
Not only does he allow him to go back, but he sends him with timber, supplies, army officers, and even a cavalry. I mean, Nehemiah has everything that he needs to go back, and he does. He goes back to Jerusalem. He goes for a few days to inspect the walls. He gets together with just a few men to start with, but then this is what he says to them.
He says, “‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.’ And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me.”
So, he’s telling all these people who are with him about what God has allowed him to do, to come back and to do this. This is a God-appointed thing.
Their response is, “‘Let us rise up and build.’”
“Let’s go do this thing.”
“So they strengthened their hands for the good work.”
And then we get to Nehemiah 3, and I wish we had time to really go through all of it. Even though it’s not the most attractive chapter, it’s not the most inspiring, at least at surface value as we read through it, but if we had the time, we would see a detailed account of just the vast array of different people who are working diligently to build the wall around Jerusalem. We’re given 38 individual workers who are named in this chapter, and about 42 different people groups who are identified. And, I mean, we’re not just talking about just the professional construction workers, or the people who you’d think are building the wall, but we’re given rulers, we’re given priests, we’re given men, we’re given women, we’re given professional craftsmen and other regular, ordinary people. I mean, everybody has a role to play in building this wall.
And it’s this beautiful picture. We started off in Nehemiah 1. Everybody in Jerusalem is kind of doing their own thing in their own, individual key. And here we are, in Nehemiah 3, and everybody has a job to do, and everybody’s pitching in, together, to build these walls. It’s beautiful. And then we continue on into Nehemiah 4-6, and we start to see some opposition, primarily from without, but even a little bit from within. I mean, we’re seeing external pressure from the Arabs, the Ammonites, the Ashdodites, the Moabites, the mosquito bites.
Everybody is coming in and they’re trying to keep Nehemiah from building these walls because they don’t want to see Jerusalem to be successful with their walls rebuilt. But how does Nehemiah respond? Well, like he did before, and what we continue to see all throughout this book. He responds in prayer. He doesn’t necessarily just pray for revenge, but he prays that God’s justice would be carried out. But he doesn’t stop there. We also see Nehemiah strategize. He works the station guards around the obvious weak points around the wall, and he has rotations established so that some can continue to work while others can be ready for any attack that might come. So, we’re still seeing the entire people of Jerusalem working together to do this thing that God has called them to do, to have the wall finished and rebuilt. Then we get here to Nehemiah 6:15.
It says, “So the wall was finished […] in fifty-two days.”
Let me just pause for a second there. This is remarkable because, keep in mind, the walls have been neglected for roughly a century and a half. They had tried to put it up before but had opposition. But then Nehemiah comes in and, just as God is leading him, they are able to put it up in just two months. Less than two months. And you might be saying, “Well, that’s great. That’s awesome. What’s the big deal? They just built a wall. So what?”
Well, listen, the rapid completion of the wall, especially with all the different odds that they were facing, the opposition that they were facing, it could only have been accomplished with God’s aid. And let me just be personal for a second. I’ve been going to Grace Community Church for the last 11 years, and this church has done some amazing things, much like building the wall of Jerusalem in just 52 days. I mean, we’ve had things like Music on Main where we’ve had so many people come back to Grace, through that outreach, and find the love of Jesus in a larger way than we would’ve thought could ever happen when we started doing Music on Main. We’ve done our Back-to-School outreaches, and our Thanksgiving outreaches, where we were able to bless so many people in need, and families in need, through a lot of different ways, much more than even the people we have in the church.
Then a few years ago — some of you might’ve been here for this — we did our Rest in Peace medical debt thing where we were able to pay more than what we had planned to pay. We paid off thousands of dollars in medical debt in Sarasota and Bradenton County. And even last year, which many of you were here for, for our Giving Tuesday, we were able to raise — I don’t remember exactly what the number was, but it was like two or three times more than the amount we planned to do, and we gave thousands and thousands of dollars to our community partners that we partnered with here, in our surrounding Sarasota community.
The point that I’m trying to make here is that when the body of Christ comes together to accomplish a mission that God has set them out to do, they can do above and beyond, amazing things, than what anyone ever could’ve thought or imagined. And that’s what we’re seeing here. In fact, it’s even more than just that because, as we continue on:
“And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”
See, even the enemies can see God’s glory when everything is working together like this. It doesn’t only show in the four walls of the church, but it shows beyond the four walls of the church. God’s glory is being shown to everybody, but it took all of them to come together to work on-mission. In the same way, it takes you and I, all of us, to come together to work on-mission in the way that God has called you and I to work.
So, the walls are finally rebuilt. We get to Nehemiah 7, and we’re given a long list of names of all the Jewish exiles who are now returning to Jerusalem. Everybody’s now coming back. Now they’re all back here, in Nehemiah 8, and what are they going to do? Are they going to throw a big party? A big feast? A giant celebration? Are they pulling out their phones so that they can put up a nice Instagram post? What do they do?
Well, we’re told, “All the people gathered as one man…”
Do you hear the unifying language? We started off in Nehemiah 1 and everybody was kind of playing in their own key. And now everybody’s gathered together and they’re all playing in the same key together.
“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe…”
Ezra is now back in the scene. He’s bringing to them the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. Again, what are they going to do? Are they going to have a party? Are they going to just do their own thing? Well, they end up having a church service.
“And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday,”
That’s like a five-hour church service. And as I just said that, I know at least somebody just looked at the timeline of this video to see. I hope we’re not going for five hours. No, we’re not going for five hours, but the point that I’m making here is look at their eagerness to just be together and to read the Scripture. Continue on and look at what they do.
“…in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people…”
Again, unifying language.
“And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.”
And it’s not just that they’re reading Scripture, but it says, “All the people answered, responded, saying, ‘Amen, amen,’ lifting up their hands.”
“And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
That Hebrew word that’s used there for “bowing their heads” is used about 15 times in the Old Testament. It’s always followed with that word for worshiping the Lord. So, it’s more than just coming in and reading Scripture for head knowledge. It’s leading to worship, confession, and it’s leading to this image of surrender. So, they still continue on, and they read from the book, from the law of God. Clearly, they make it make sense so that all the people can understand the reading. It’s this image of this contemporary what we do now. It’s a contemporary church service as they’re giving an expository message, just like Pastor Chip does, to help people understand, as he’s reading, interpreting, explaining, and applying the Scriptures. It’s not just leading to head knowledge. It’s leading to this great revival among the people.
Then it moves us into Nehemiah 9 as the people confess their sins. In Nehemiah 10, they make a covenant with God, a binding agreement in writing. Then the Israelite leaders, the Levites and the priests, affix their seals to this covenant that they make. And it’s beautiful because they’re all in key together. So, we’re going to skip ahead to Nehemiah 13. Twelve years have gone by. Nehemiah is not in Jerusalem anymore. He went back to Persia because he still works for King Artaxerxes. But he’s asked the king to come back to Jerusalem, and we’re going to pick up on the scene here because everything’s changed a little bit.
“And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done…”
Now, we skipped over Eliashib a little bit, but Eliashib is the high priest. He was in the story just a little bit, but the issue here is that we find that he’s allowed a man named Tobiah to be in the temple. The problem with this is that Tobiah, first of all, is an Ammonite. As an Ammonite, he’s an outsider. He’s not a person who’s an Israelite. He’s not allowed to be in the temple. In fact, as an Ammonite, Tobiah was against Nehemiah and the people of Israel as they were rebuilding the walls. I mean, he was one of the direct opposers of this whole thing. So, this is a huge problem. On top of that, Eliashib has married Tobiah’s daughter. That’s why he’s allowed him to be in the temple. So, Eliashib is breaking a covenant by marrying someone who’s non-Israelite. This is not what God wants for them, and this is in direct opposition to the covenant that they had just agreed to in Nehemiah 10.
So, what does Nehemiah do? He throws Tobiah out, and all of his household furniture, and cleanses the chamber. But then that’s not all.
We also learn that Nehemiah says, “I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field.”
So, what’s happening here is that because the Levites were no longer being supported, they had returned to their farms to support themselves, and neglecting their temple duties and the spiritual welfare of the people of Israel. So, that’s as if we just decided to stop supporting Pastor Chip, the worship team, and all the people who take care of the church duties, and everybody having to basically leave the church to go take care of themselves. The problem with this is that the Levites and all the temple servants are breaking their promise they just made to the Lord in Nehemiah 10. So, what does Nehemiah do?
“So I confronted the officials and said, ‘Why is the house of God forsaken?’ And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.’”
He sets them all back to right, but that’s still not all. I mean, you’re getting this sense, like, “Hey, we were all together in the same key, and now everyone’s kind of doing their own thing because — that’s not all.”
“In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath,”
As many of you know, in the creation account and in the Exodus story, we’re told about the importance of the Sabbath. So, now we have Jerusalem’s busy Sabbath trade directly violating God’s laws. So, what does Nehemiah do?
“Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, ‘What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day?”
So, he sets things back to right and commands for the city gates to be shut and for the traders to be sent home every Friday afternoon as the Sabbath hours approached. But that’s still not all.
On top of that: “In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.”
Once again, Nehemiah is filled with anger because they’re breaking God’s laws and disregarding the covenant that they just affirmed in Nehemiah 9-10. See, the problem was that they had promised not to allow their children to marry pagans such as the Moabites, the Philistines, and the Ammonites. In fact, a lot of these people groups worshiped other gods, and would sacrifice their children to these gods, and this is a totally different way than Yahweh had called for the people of Israel to live. So, they were not supposed to intermarry because that just messes everything up with how God’s trying to lead these people and set them apart. So, as Nehemiah was absent, they broke this covenant. Also, this is a direct repeat of what happened in Ezra 10. So, Nehemiah has to then confront them. This time he cursed them and beat some of them and even pulled out their hair. He’s setting them back to right. I’m sure if Pastor Chip or myself were to walk off the platform on a Sunday, discover you in your sin, and we just started beating you, cursing you, and pulling out your hair, it probably wouldn’t go over very well. But what’s happening here is he’s expressing anger and marking some of them to scorn because, “You all made a covenant and you’re breaking this. This is not what God called you to be. You’re all playing in your own, individual keys. We’re supposed to be the people of God.”
“Thus I [Nehemiah] cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and the Levites, each in his work; and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits.”
He’s offering worship.
Then we end the last verse in Nehemiah 13 with him saying, “Remember me, O my God, for good.”
“I tried. It’s not me. It’s the people. I did my best.”
It’s just like, “What? After all that, we’ve gotten to playing in the same key, but we end on this down note? What is happening here? Why did we end this way?”
Well, we’ll talk about it in just a second, but what are some take-homes that we can take away from this story? Again, we’re talking about playing in key, being the people that God has called you and I to be, and living on-mission together. Well, we’re going to stick with our musical themes for these take-homes, but I really believe that it’s still going to help us to really pick up what God is speaking to you and I during this message.
Number one: We’ve got to start with the conductor, and we’ve got to look to the sheet music. Here’s what I mean by that. It’s really simple for musicians. When someone says, especially if we’re talking about an orchestra, “Hey, we’re going to do this song or play this musical piece,” the first thing a musician is going to do is they’re going to look at the sheet music and they’re going to look at the conductor or the composer to understand and be able to play that piece of music. So, it’s easy in music, but yet, in real life, we make it so much harder for ourselves because we just don’t do that. When we face difficulty or opposition, we don’t first turn to the Lord or turn to Scripture.
This story challenges that in us because we can see it, as Nehemiah does, at the very beginning. As soon as he heard these words about the state of Jerusalem, he gets down, weeps, mourns, fasts for days, and prays before the Lord in heaven. Again, Nehemiah is not some pastor that went to seminary for years. He’s not some sort of spiritual giant. He’s just this man of prayer that knows, “No matter what opposition I come up against, my God is bigger than all of that. He will supply all my needs. He’ll take care of me.”
See, Nehemiah responds that way. He’s a man of faith who depends on the Lord. Every single time he comes up against that throughout this book, we see Nehemiah doing just that. He goes to the Lord. He goes to the conductor. And not just that, but even when all the people of Israel come back together — and we see this in Nehemiah 9. We’re told that they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law. They read from the sheet music. They read from the book for a quarter of the day.
Now, I know when you and I get off from work or come home from school, the last thing that we want to do is sit down and read our Bible, let alone for a quarter of the day. And I’m not trying to say if you’re not reading your Bible for six hours a day, you’re not a good enough Christian or you’re not going to heaven. I’m not trying to pass judgment on you. The point I’m trying to make is look at how they were eager to come together when they’re finally unified as the people of Israel, the people of God. They wanted to be together and they’re doing this for a quarter of the day. And it doesn’t stop there. It leads into another quarter of it. They made confession and worshiped the Lord their God. So, we have this beautiful image of them participating in the spiritual disciplines. They’re studying Scripture. They’re confessing their sins. They’re praying. They’re fasting. They’re doing these things. So, you and I, when we think of the spiritual disciplines, we think about checking off a list.
“Did you do your devotions? Did you go to church? Did you pray today? Did you fast anytime recently?”
“Ah, no. I didn’t get to that. I’ll try again tomorrow.”
But see, when we’re reading this text, and really all throughout Scripture, it says, “Image of people wanting, desiring to be in the presence of the Lord.” If you and I are going to be people who are living on-mission and doing the things that God has called you and I to do, especially together, as the body of Christ, we’ve got to start with the conductor and the sheet music. We’ve got to go to the Lord and be in His Word.
Second point: Ask yourself, “What’s in my hand?”
Here’s what I mean by that: Everybody has an instrument that they can play. I mean, it’d be kind of absurd to think of everybody in an entire orchestra coming together and nobody having their instrument. No. Everybody’s got to come with the instrument that they can play. Even more absurd — it’s probably weird to think of everybody in the orchestra just playing something like the tuba. That’s just kind of weird. Maybe that exists somewhere. Probably more absurd would be everybody playing crashing cymbals. Like, you’ve got 50 people standing around in a semi-circle, just crashing their cymbals.
The point I’m making is that everybody has an instrument that they can play. What instrument can you play? We need every single instrument to be a part of the piece of music. If you take something like a symphony and take out one of the instruments, it changes the whole dynamic of the music. We can see this in Nehemiah 3. Everybody had a role to play. It wasn’t just the specific construction workers or just one type of people. We’re given a vast array of different people all pitching in and being a part of the rebuilding of the wall. We didn’t read Nehemiah 3 all the way through, but just look at some of the people that are mentioned. We’ve got the high priest, nobles, the goldsmiths, the perfumers, the merchants. We’re even told about daughters. Women are involved in this thing. We’ve got priests, we’ve got craftsman, we’ve got everybody who is involved in doing something because God uses all kinds of people. Which is exactly what Paul says to us in 1 Corinthians 12.
He says, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
See, God uses each one of us, and each member is important. Each person has a special function to perform. So, the question is what instrument can you play? But then once you answer that question, you’ve got to, number three, play your instrument.
I mean, it wouldn’t make sense if everybody showed up, then it’s their turn to play their piece of the music, but then nobody played. You’ve got to be able to play your instrument. When it came time for the people to come together to build the wall, as Nehemiah showed up, they said, “Let’s go do it,” and they strengthened their hands for the work. They got dirty. They got ready. They were encouraged to go do the work that God had called them to do. It reminds me of something that Pastor Chip has said oftentimes from the platform, and it’s one of my favorite quotes from him. That’s this: Every Christian is called to a ministry. When Pastor Chip says that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody’s called to work in a church. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody’s supposed to be a lead volunteer. Although, I really hope that you volunteer. If you are called to work in a church, I hope that God does open that door for you. But more importantly, if you have decided to follow Jesus, then you are a part of the mission and you have a ministry that only you can do.
So, maybe your ministry isn’t in the four walls of the church. Maybe your ministry is at your work, maybe with your clients, maybe with your coworkers. Maybe your ministry is at your home with a family member who doesn’t know the Lord. Maybe your ministry is at the checkout line in the grocery store. Maybe your ministry is at your school. Maybe your ministry is at the gym. God is calling all of us to be a part of the mission and to do the ministry that He’s called you and I to do. Only you can do that ministry. Maybe, based on your personality type, your background, your passion, your spiritual gifts, God’s given you some type of unique shape that only you, for such a time of this, are called to do that ministry, and He wants to use you. But you’ve got to be able to play your instrument because we, oftentimes, don’t think that way. We just do our own thing, and we miss the opportunities to shine our light for Christ. See, Ezra was a religious leader, and Nehemiah was just a layman. But yet, God still used both of them and God wants to use you. No matter what your work is or what your role is in your life, you’ve got special calling in your life to serve Him.
Our last point is this: You’ve got to look to the right leader. I’ve got to explain this a little bit here. Looking to the right leader. This is what I mean. As I mentioned, you could read the book of Nehemiah. You probably haven’t heard a message on it in a while, but if you look at devotional content, typically, we look at this book and we just talk about the leadership lessons that we can learn from Nehemiah. Although I agree that there are certain leadership lessons that we can learn from this great leader, I’m not so sure that’s really the purpose or the main point of this book. Also, we read Nehemiah 13 and it’s like we were kind of moving in this one direction, but yet we ended in this downer. What is the point of all this?
Well, I want to submit to you that, especially as we read Ezra and Nehemiah together, maybe as we look at its literary design, there might be some other ways, or a different way, for you and I to look at it. You might notice, as we read these two books together, that there are three parallels. We’ve got these three leaders. Zerubbabel is mentioned in Ezra 2-5. We have Ezra in Ezra 7-10. Then we have Nehemiah pretty much through the whole book of Nehemiah. Again, these are parallel sections. We get each one starting somewhat similarly, and then ending somewhat similarly. They’re starting with this sense of hope and possibility as this Persian king sends them back to Jerusalem to go and rebuild Jerusalem and rebuild their lives, but then, in each case, the group returns, and they do make some sort of attempt towards restoration. Zerubbabel rebuilds the temple. Ezra makes a commitment to the Torah. Nehemiah rebuilds the city walls. But then, in each case, they face some sort of hostility from without, or some sort of opposition or failure from within. We start to ask ourselves, “Why did we start with such a great story, but then we end with these mixed and anti-climactic results?”
See, for Zerubbabel, it ends after they’ve constructed the temple. It should be this glorious thing. The elders who are there, in the old days, are looking at it and they’re like, “This isn’t how it was. This isn’t as good as the old days.”
So, it ends with this downer, and everybody’s discouraged. In Ezra’s state, he teaches them the Torah, but yet, all the leaders still end up compromising their promises, and end up having inappropriate marriages to the non-Israelites. Then, in Nehemiah’s’ case, as we just read, when he returns back to Jerusalem, he sees that all the exiles have perpetuated in these unjust practices. Even after they just made a covenant to the Lord. So, it makes us ask, “What is the writer trying to say?”
I can’t take credit for this. I do have to give credit to, many of you know, Tim Mackie who does The Bible Project. He makes a really good point and I have to agree with him. Perhaps the purpose of Ezra and Nehemiah in relation to the overarching story of the Bible is this: The disaster of the exile and the returning back to Jerusalem, these things were not enough to address the issues of the human heart. See, these accounts were just one small step towards the fulfillment of the prophetic hope of this new covenant in this coming kingdom of God. So, although now the people are back in Jerusalem and things are almost back to the way they were, after all of this, their spiritual state still seems ultimately unchanged since before the exile. So, although Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah have done a really good job, their political, social, and religious reforms don’t address the core issues of the hearts of the people of Israel. Which causes us to ask what is needed. We’re reading on into the New Testament, asking ourselves, “Who is the one who can change the human heart?”
What I’m getting at is this all, really, is pointing to Jesus. See, Jesus is the right leader because the full realization and the hope is only coming true once God Himself enters into Israel’s story. It’s through Jesus’ life, His death and His resurrection, it’s the promptings of the Holy Spirit that the narrative then takes this giant leap forward. So, our only true hope really comes from Christ. So, it’s not Zerubbabel, it’s not Ezra, it’s not Nehemiah, it’s not Pastor Chip, it’s not me, it’s not another pastor, it’s not a political leader, a teacher, a boss, or a parent. The only one that can really change the human heart and allow us to live on-mission the way that God has called you and I to live is Jesus.
Which is why, here at Grace, we always say that we don’t get caught in non-theological debates. Non-salvific theological debates. We don’t get caught up in party politics. We focus on Jesus. That’s why I believe when Nehemiah says, “Remember me, O Lord,” in Nehemiah 13, it’s as if he’s saying, “God, I don’t know my own future. Lord, I don’t know the future of these people, but what I do know is I know that you are the one who’s bigger than all of it, and you are the one who’s going to take what I’ve started, the good that I’ve done, and You are going to bring it into completion. You’re the one who is in control.”
That’s exactly what Paul says in Philippians 1 when he says, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ,” because it’s God that is doing this work, not man. God is the one who’s renewing, transforming, and redeeming you and I, His creation.
So, to play in the right key, to be on-mission together, we have to make it all about Jesus. Listen, in conclusion, let’s not be like the band all playing around in different keys. Let’s be unified in one key, living as people who are on-mission. If you’re here, tuning in right now, and maybe you’ve been living your life the way you wanted to live it, and you feel meaningless or maybe directionless, I want to encourage you and let you know that God loves you. He has a plan and a calling for you. He’s created you and designed you for something so much greater than you can ever think or imagine. Maybe you’re here and you go to church, you’re a Christian, but maybe you’ve just been going through the motions in your Christian walk or your faith. You can be a part of God’s Kingdom movement every single day, including right now. I encourage you to jump in and be a part. Ask yourself, “What instrument can I play?” and then you’ve got to play your instrument because the body of Christ needs you.
Lastly, if you go here to Grace Community Church, you know our mission statement, which is that we exist to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors who reflect Christ. I want to ask you a question. What is it that you could do to be an intentional neighbor? We have the three ways that we try to make it really clear for how you can get involved here. It’s getting equipped, which is what we do every weekend, what we’re doing right now, and how you can reflect Christ in your life. It’s getting connected with the body of Christ through things like our Grace Groups or our Summer Supper Clubs. Then we also have the third category, which is to serve, whether that’s serving within the four walls and a certain ministry context or serving outside of the four walls and getting involved in the community. But how can you be an intentional neighbor? If you go here to the Bee Ridge campus — I’ve said this before, and I’ll continue to say it — I want to see life here at this campus.
I don’t necessarily just want to reconstruct the walls or just make sure that we’ve got the parking lot redone and a lot of the things that we want to do to fix up the property and the facility. But even more than that, I want to see people back into this building, on this campus, living their lives for Jesus. People finding hope, people finding answers, people coming to faith. But see, it’s going to take more than Pastor Chip, it’s going to take more than just me, it’s going to take all of us who call Bee Ridge home to be the body of Christ and to be on mission together. Amen? Would you pray with me?
Lord, we thank You so much for this time. We thank You for Your Word. We thank You that we can just learn from You, Lord. I pray for everybody here who’s watching this video, Lord. I pray that You would just continue to help them to become more and more like You. Lord, I pray that we would join together, no matter what church we might call home, and that we would be Your Church, that we would be Your people living on mission and living in a way that would be honoring and glorifying to You.
Lord, I pray that You would help us to reach those who don’t know You. I pray that You would help us to live on mission. Lord, ultimately, I pray that You would just lead, guide, and direct our steps in every way. Lord, we love You, we praise You, and it’s in Your holy and precious name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”