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Hard-Pressed but Not Crushed (Part 3 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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October 13, 2023 4:00 am

Hard-Pressed but Not Crushed (Part 3 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 13, 2023 4:00 am

What do you do when you’re despised because of your faith or ridiculed for serving God? How should you respond if threats intensify after prayer? On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg looks at Nehemiah’s response when such challenges overwhelmed God’s people.


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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!


How should we respond to people who made this challenge? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg I invite you to take your Bibles and we'll turn together to the book of Nehemiah once again, to chapter 4 and to the section which begins with the seventh verse. Last time we noted—indeed, we said it was an axiom, biblical axiom—that whenever God's people do God's work in God's way, it will not go unopposed. Now, that is something which we do not find simply in the pages of the Old Testament, although we do from the very beginning of God's dealings with his people. As they have been said in the context of enemies, the work of God has always been opposed. When you go into the New Testament, you find that the same is true.

If we were simply to follow, for example, the life of Christ, then it is manifestly true, because at every point he was opposed in his journey and in his proclamation. When Paul wraps up his letter to the church in Ephesus, he does so with a stirring reminder to them of this principle. And in verse 10 of Ephesians 6, he exhorts them, finally, Be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. And then he says it again, Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. When he writes to Timothy, who was a timid sort of young man and yet who was to be entrusted with the responsibility of taking over in some measure from where the mighty apostle was leaving off, he says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2 3, Endure hardship, Timothy, like a good soldier of Jesus Christ. And when, in writing to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians chapter 4, he identifies the nature of his ministry in chronicling some of what he has been through, he says, We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed. Tremendous realism which attaches to Paul's perspective on ministry, and the same kind of thing we find here in Nehemiah. Now, this sense of realism is something that many of us need to come to in our Christian experience in the work of God.

We face it in other areas of our lives but perhaps are unwittingly naive when it comes to facing the peculiarities of the struggle in the work of God. In one other area of life—I came across this poem this week. It came out of the Nebraska Star in the 1930s.

Actually, 1930 it was there. And it's called Comfortless. It goes like this, I found him underneath a tree. And what is wrong, quoth I, that you so solemn seem to be under this summer sky? The birds above you gaily sing, the wild flowers brightly bloom. What is this awful horrid thing which seems to seal your doom? Round you the children romp and play, the gentle breezes blow. Sad stranger, tell to me, I pray, the burden of your woe.

I do not see the sunbeams dance, nor hear the birds, said he. There's something faulty with my stance. I can't get off the tee. All day I've shanked my mashy shot, my putts rimmed every cup. I'm doing something I should not.

I think it's looking up. The poor man I sit is very sure no help for you appears. The woes you bear I tried to cure myself for thirty years. And still my mashy shots I shank, and still I slice the drive, and with the dubs expect to rank as long as I'm alive. Through time all other griefs may cure, all other hurts may mend. The miseries of golf endure. To them there is no end. I speak of the measure of certainty because, having had the privilege of going to speak at a Bible conference on the West Coast, you don't think that I was going to miss the chance to play golf.

And so I went to play golf thinking that maybe the gap of some three months or so would have introduced some miraculous cure while I slept. And I found myself reaching for my little red book to read the story of the fact that this is a grim and horrible task, and only the foolish or the foolhardy or the faithful are gonna ever stick with it. Such is the Christian life.

So what are we seeing here? We're seeing that Nehemiah was a realist. And if we're gonna make it through our days doing God's work, we need to be as realistic as he was. We need to have the underlying conviction he had in order to fuel our zeal as his was fueled.

What was that? Verse 20 of chapter 2 is the foundational element in his life. When the enemies came and mocked and attacked him, he said, The God of heaven will give us success. It wasn't that Nehemiah was a negatist.

It wasn't that Nehemiah was relying on his strategic plan. It was that Nehemiah was a deeply humble man who, on his own before God, on his knees, was trusting God to do what he himself was unable to do. He understood the words of the psalmist that we read in Psalm 127, Unless the LORD builds the house or builds the wall, we labor in vain in our building of the wall. Subjected to ridicule, as in the first six verses of chapter 4, he stands firm, like the one who was to follow him, Bunyan, languishing in the bed for jail, writing that great work of his, Pilgrim's Progress, and penning various other pieces of poetry at the same time. He pens the hymn, Who would true valor see?

Let him come hither. And one of the great verses that is usually exempted from hymn books today begins, Hog goblin, nor foul fiend, shall daunt his spirit. And that was exactly true of Nehemiah. He was surrounded, as it were, by hog goblins and by fiends who were foul. The people that he was representing were despised. You will notice that in verse 4.

Oh God, we are despised. They were dependent. That's why they were crying out, O our God! And they were devoted, as you see in verse 6, describing them as people who worked with all of their hearts. Now, when you come to the seventh verse, it records the reaction of the enemies, who upon finding that their ridicule has not worked, determined to call a summit meeting to consider the possibility of armed confrontation. So instead of the opposition diminishing—and we might have been tempted to suggest that—Nehemiah faced ridicule, Nehemiah prayed. After Nehemiah prayed, it all died down, and he had a wonderful time.

No! After he prayed, it all hotted up, and they had an even worse time. Now, that's a fundamental principle, you see, in our Christian lives. Well, you know, the pastor said something, and I prayed. And I thought that after I prayed, everything would be fine.

But I've been praying for three weeks now, or three months, and everything's worse. You see, just after half-time in a sports event is a crucial time. At the start of the second half of the game, every coach knows that there is the possibility of making a strategic strike in such a way as to knock the opposition back, perhaps secure the victory. Because there is some vulnerability that attaches to the halfway mark. And you will notice in verse 6 that the people were at the halfway mark. They had built the wall till all of it had reached half its height. And the opposition has intensified. We had Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs before, but now we've got the Ashdodites, the men of Ashdod. Prior to this, they were coming at them in a kind of three-pronged attack. They were coming from the north and the south and the east. With the men of Ashdod, they've now added the west.

So they've got them completely enclosed. At least there was one point through the west, as it were, that they could all have run away if they'd chosen, but now they have got them snookered and ensnared with an enclosing circle of opposition. And now Maya faces a real challenge.

Let me give you three words which continue our run of words ending in A-T-I-O-N. The first word is agitation in verse 8. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. They were agitating. Now, it is unlikely that they were planning a full frontal attack—as it were, massing their armies and marching straight up to one of the gates of Jerusalem. The reason we might deduce that is because we know that the Persian king, Artaxerxes, had put his commitment and the strength of his manpower behind Nehemiah. And so any group that would have been tempted to attack would have to deal not simply with the people on the wall but also with the might of the Persian king. Now, the fact that that would be an unwise strategy would never have prevented them from the possibility of guerrilla warfare. And indeed, guerrilla warfare was probably far more suited to this particular context, because after all, the people were scattered, as we will discover, all around the wall.

And so it would be possible for them to marshal their attacks, maybe multiple attacks, at different points at different times, and thereby seek to bring down the project and to discourage the people. Because we shouldn't miss in passing that our enemy, the evil one, seldom comes right up the middle when he's attacking the work of God. His approach to most local churches is not to march as it were up the central aisle challenging the exposition of Scripture. He's far too clever for that. He comes up the side aisles sowing seeds of discord. He comes in the quiet places. He comes in the corridors and the apparently inconsequential conversations to sow disharmony and to dispirit and to discourage. He is expert in guerrilla warfare. He comes to the high streets of our towns, and he doesn't open shops that say, To pot with the Bible and all of its truth.

He's far too clever for that. He opens shops that have Bibles set in beautiful little treed areas with shining lights on them. And next to them, they have another book with a lovely shining light on it, so that the indiscriminate members of our society may walk up and down and say, My, doesn't that look like a lovely cozy place? Doesn't that look like somewhere that I could find truth? After all, there's the Bible in there. They must be right on. The fact is, they're right off.

Because if they were truthful, the Bible is subverted underneath the other book or is beneath the other book, and their conviction is that this Bible is not an inerrant book, it is not an infallible book, it is not a self-interpreting book, but the key to it is over here in this book. He's an expert in guerrilla warfare. He doesn't come and challenge so much the moral mores of our days outright as much as he comes cleverly and quietly and subtly. And Nehemiah, having left and made this journey of nine hundred miles, having seen the project launched, having built the wall with the help of these people to half its height, now faces an intensifying of the opposition. Agitation.

In verse 10, the agitation which is external is more than matched by the consternation—that's the second word—which is internal. At the halfway stage, the people are becoming overwhelmed. The sheer immensity of the task before them has now dawned upon them in a way that it hadn't done before. They're growing tired, and the word that is beginning to go amongst the people is this, We're never gonna do it!

We'll never make it! Again, the halfway stage is strategic. You clean your garage out. And you start to move all the stuff around some Saturday morning.

You've got the average garage, which is sort of chaos. And then you say, I'm gonna fix it! You start to move things, you take them down, you move them here, you move them there, you've got some in the driveway, you've some here, some over in a corner. So your wife comes out and says, Would you like a cup of coffee? She looks at you. She doesn't say anything, because she's trying to be kind.

But she looks at it and says, You're never gonna make it. I mean, all he's doing is moving stuff around. I mean, there's nothing clean. It's just all moved around.

It's everywhere. I mean, you couldn't get a car in there for love nor money. And you look at it and you say, I'm never gonna make it. But if you stay with it, you will. I mean, you can just throw the stuff in the neighbor's yard and do something, but you can make it.

You will make it. Now, in the case of the garage, the possibility is that you just start ramming it all behind things and curtains and cupboards out of a quest for neatness. You see, you can be neat without being organized.

I like neat. It may not be organized. In my garage it's neat, but don't open anything. Some ladies' cupboards in the kitchen are neat but don't open them.

At least open them and stand well back, because they got neat but they don't get organized. And in that process we may fail, but in this process there was no potential for failure. And that's what the people needed to hear, and that's what Nehemiah had to bring to them. They're starting sitting around now looking at the rubble. There is so much rubble that we can't rebuild the wall.

What do we know? There was no more rubble than there had been when they built the first half. Indeed, there was less rubble than when they built the first half. But their focus was gone. They had lost their vision. They had got off to a flying start, moving rubble, restoring the wall, they got to halfway, and then it began to paralyze them. The newness of the project had worn off.

It can happen in a church in a context like this. All of the immensity that was involved with all the rubble of the past seven years, getting to this point, coming through all of our days and all of our journeys, finally establishing something of a base that represents stability, and with the newness wearing off, people begin to get discouraged and disappointed. They lost their vision. They lost their confidence.

They lost, as we'll see in a moment in verse 11, their sense of security. There is so much rubble. You see, you take the average young couple who are consumed with the project of this baby and the introduction to the world of diapers—so hard for me to say that word. We call them nappies. But anyway, into the world of diapers. And you talk to the young mom, and she says, You know, diapers here, diapers there, diapers jolly everywhere. I mean, I just live in diaperville now. And sometimes moms go into a measure of real deep discouragement. Somebody needs to come alongside them and say, Hey, listen, remember what you're doing here. This is not about diapers. This is about this little girl or this little boy coming safely through these infant years and into maturity.

Don't let your eyes get stuck with the diapers and lose sight of the vision of what you're doing. And that's exactly what was happening around the wall. The people were looking around and saying, It's just rubble everywhere.

We'll never make it. So there was agitation outside, there was consternation inside, and furthermore, there was intimidation which came hard on the heels of this internal lack of security. Verse 11, all the enemies said, Before they know it, or before they see us, we'll get right in there among them, we'll kill them, and we'll put an end to the work. What you have here in verse 11 is essentially a whispering campaign. And so the word begins to go around. They're gonna get us. They're going to kill us. They're gonna shut the project down.

Bad news travels fast. And there were a little group of people, some of them, living close to these enemies. You'll notice that there in verse 12. The Jews who lived near them. Principle, you get like the people you spend time with. If you're prone to discouragement, don't live amongst people who traffic always in discouraging use. When you hang around people who are negative, you'll catch the bug.

And the man or the woman who has jaundiced eventually sees everything yellow. And what had happened was that the word that was coming through to these people who were closest to them had begun to permeate their thinking, and so they were coming to Nehemiah again and again and again. He tells us here that they came ten times over to us saying, Whatever you turn, they're going to attack. So there is the challenge to leadership. Agitation on the outside, consternation on the inside, intimidation outside inside.

What's he gonna do? Verse 9, which we've jumped, provides us with a key statement in all of this. This is a fundamental, vital biblical principle.

But we prayed to our God, and we posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. Now, here we are arriving at what is a standard principle in Nehemiah's faith. Nehemiah is a man of deep trust. He is also a man of intense practicality.

He functions well on the vertical plane, and he functions on the horizontal plane. His underlying focus and his gaze is on the reality of the Lord first. And having gained the perspective which comes from looking there, he is then able to look at the project around him and bring the perspective of heaven to bear upon the concerns of earth.

That is a principle that we need to learn. What does heaven have to say about what I'm going through this week? What does this equation mean once I introduce the X factor of God to it? How do I face the challenges of tomorrow in light of the fact that I may look up here and find the answers to my questions? He is a man of great trust. He is a man of skillful management. He encounters heaven. He defends on earth. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life with the message he's titled, Hard Pressed But Not Crushed.

We'll hear the conclusion on Monday. I hope you've been enjoying Alistair's messages from the book of Nehemiah. If so, you can hear this teaching through all 13 chapters of Nehemiah at your convenience.

Maybe you missed a message and want to get caught up, or maybe you want to re-listen to a message or share it with a friend. The series is titled, simply enough, A Study in Nehemiah. You can play these messages for free on the Truth for Life mobile app or online at And if you're inspired by Nehemiah's impassioned effort to rally God's people to do God's work, we want to recommend a video to you on the topic of revival. That's the title, Revival, The Work of God. This is a documentary that explores what true revival looks like and how God has worked sovereignly and dynamically throughout history to reinvigorate the church. In this documentary, you'll learn about some of the most impactful sermons in history.

You'll see churches and places where God stirred his people throughout Europe during the Reformation, in America during the first great awakening. If you'd like to see a preview of the film, you can visit slash revival. When you ask for the revival video, you'll receive both a DVD and a streaming link so you can decide how you'd like to watch this two-hour film. And there are 21 bonus interviews that come with the streaming option, including interviews on revival from both the Old and New Testaments. Ask for the documentary revival when you donate today to support the production and distribution of Truth for Life. You can give a one-time gift at slash donate, or you can arrange an automatic monthly donation when you visit slash truthpartner or call us at 888-588-7884. We count it a privilege here at Truth for Life to teach God's word to listeners all around the world. We hear from people every day who have found us online or discovered the mobile app. It's all because of your prayers and your financial gifts that we're able to expand the work that God is doing through Truth for Life, and we want to encourage you to join us in praising Him. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for joining us this week. Hope you have a great weekend and that you're able to worship with your local church. On Monday, we're going to find out why prayerful dependence on God doesn't mean just sitting back and waiting for Him to work. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-20 21:44:53 / 2023-10-20 21:53:57 / 9

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