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Saying No to Neglect (Part 1 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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November 6, 2023 3:00 am

Saying No to Neglect (Part 1 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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November 6, 2023 3:00 am

Safe driving requires frequent glances in the rearview mirror—but staring at what’s behind you is dangerous! Listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg uses a similar illustration to teach us how to view the past properly in order to go forward effectively.


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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!


Let's get started. Truth driving requires that from time to time you look in your rear view mirror.

But if you spend time staring at what's behind you, that's not safe driving at all. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg uses a similar illustration to show us how we are to view the past properly in order to go forward effectively. Now I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Nehemiah and to chapter 10. Our task this morning is to begin to look into this tenth chapter of Nehemiah. Before we do, let's pause for a moment of prayer. Our great God and Father, we pray that you will do this mysterious thing when you take the voice of a mere man and you use it to speak through and to bring your Word to bear upon all of our lives.

There's no one individual could somehow comprehensively understand or grasp a group of this magnitude or be able to apply the Bible with enough emphasis to touch every life. But we know that the Holy Spirit is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we can ask or even imagine. And we humbly ask, Holy Spirit, that you will do that now so that Jesus may be glorified, our lives may be touched and transformed. For we pray in Christ's name.

Amen. In the Hebrew Bible, chapter 10 of Nehemiah actually begins with the thirty-eighth verse of chapter 9. And that most appropriately, because you will see that the sense of it all is directly related to a whole new beginning in the thirty-eighth verse of chapter 9, where the people of God enter into what is referred to here as a binding agreement. And the content of chapter 10 is aptly summarized between this thirty-eighth verse of 9 and the thirty-ninth verse of 10, which has the concluding statement, We will not neglect the house of our God. If you imagine for a moment that a father says to his children, Here it is, kids, we will not neglect the house of our God.

And the children say, Exactly what do you mean by that? Then he will go back, he'll start at verse 38 of chapter 9, and he'll run all the way through to 39 of 10. Because in a sense what we have here is an outworking of this covenant on the one hand and this explanation on the other. I'd like to begin by noticing the opening phrase of verse 38, which you will see simply reads In view of all this. This is a reference to all that has been rehearsed in chapter 9.

That's why it's so very important to read the Bible carefully, so that we might understand that verse 38 is not hanging out on its own, but it is directly related to what has preceded it. And what has gone before is largely a substantial chunk of the history of ancient Israel, one of the longest prayers in the Old Testament, containing for us a great panoramic survey of what God had done for and through his people to this point in their historical pilgrimage. A knowledge of this kind of biblical history gives us a framework within which to understand ourselves—who we are, why we exist, who God is, how we relate to God, how God relates to the universe, and how we relate both to God and to the universe. The technical term for that is theology.

That's really all it is. Who am I? How did I get here?

How do I relate to God and to the universe? And a knowledge of biblical history allows us to view these questions accurately. And so these people were thinking about all of their tomorrows in light of all of their yesterdays. Very, very important. It's something that's been coming to me forcibly in recent days.

I don't know why it is, but you will note that it is almost a recurring emphasis. I've written concerning it, I've spoken concerning it, and here I am saying it again. Namely, that we can never as individuals, families, churches, societies, nations go forward effectively until such times as we have learned to look back properly. It is in learning to view history with accuracy that we can then proceed to view the future with prospect. As a child growing up in my early teens, one of the programs on British television was simply entitled All Our Yesterdays. And I don't remember much concerning it, except it had a very somber theme, musical theme, with which it began, and it often ushered in pictures that had been taken from one of the two World Wars. Why in the world would the BBC take time to produce and market this program that was so clearly locked in the past?

Well, I can't speak to the producers' motivations, but it would seem to me that part of the effect of that program was to give us gratitude for those who gave their lives in order that we might be free, which was an important factor, and secondly, that we might learn lessons from the mistakes of our past as a nation so as to prevent making them all over again in the future. Now, certainly the people of God, as described here in these verses, had a proper view of history. Instead of seeing life as a series of disjointed and unrelated activities with significance for only the moment in which they were living, they viewed all that was taking place in the light of the fact that there was a God who existed, was a living God, a personal God, and he was unfolding his plan and his purpose for all of history. Now, that may seem like a fairly superficial, inconsequential distinction upon first consideration, but a moment's thought will let us understand that it is not that at all.

Indeed, it is of deep significance. The way in which we view our lives today is largely ordered by the way we view our past. And so many of our contemporaries who live with a godless worldview have been brought up to believe that life is simply a series of disjointed and unrelated activities that have no immediate significance beyond the happening for the instant now. Simply existentialism.

All that matters is now, and it's gone. Now we said in a recent message that it was important for us to seize the day, borrowing the phrase carpe diem, at least in most recent recollection, from dead poet society, which we identified as being a classic expression of existentialism. Well then, how could a Christian use that kind of terminology and still maintain a correct worldview? Well, I suggest to you that it is only in light of the fact that God orders the affairs of time and is in charge of our past and our present and our future that we can realistically and in any sense encourage one another to seize the day. We do not seize the day out of a sense of despair with our past or fear for our future, but rather in light of a God who orders it all. Now, there's all the difference in the world between that and the kind of approach to life which many people are growing up believing that nothing matters beyond the moment. Now, this is not something new.

It's gone on throughout the history of man. It's expressed so many times in the emptiness of songs and sometimes in the most unlikely songs. For example, and I quote this with frequency, for which I apologize, but it is so apropos, the song by Chris Christopherson, where he sings, Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow's out of sight. All I'm taking is your time.

Help me make it through the night. And that is the expression of this kind of momentary notion that all that matters is whatever I get now. It is divorced from yesterday, and it is divorced from tomorrow.

You see? All that matters is now. That is not true. Yesterday matters, and tomorrow is significant, and because of that, now becomes significant. But to divorce now from yesterday and tomorrow is to introduce us to the ultimate emptiness, which is why so many who have embraced existentialism have ended their lives by suicide.

Because they know that nothing matters beyond the moment. And it is a dreadful sadness and a horrible tyranny. And I, for the best of me, cannot understand how men, apart from the blindness created by the evil one, can get up in the morning and go out to their business, having that as the underpinning of their lives. Christofferson wasn't interested in yesterday or tomorrow.

He was only interested in tonight, and he was taking a lot more than the girls' time. But since yesterday was dead and tomorrow wasn't coming, tonight is all that matters. You can get away with a lot with that philosophy. But it is unbiblical. And in direct contrast, not only here in Nehemiah chapter 10, but throughout the whole of Scripture, we have a biblical view. For example, let's take the apostle Paul's perspective in Philippians chapter 3 and verse 14. He says, One thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal.

Now this is a verse that confuses people with great frequency. Paul says he forgets what is behind. So asks someone the question, Is there nothing to be gained from reflection? I mean, is he saying that he just never thinks about the past, because somehow he has blanked it from his mind? It is irrelevant.

No. What he is saying is this. He does not look back on past events in such a way as to impede his present progress. There is a way of looking back which prevents forward movement.

Paul says, I don't do that. For example, if Paul the apostle thought very long about what it was like for him to be Saul in his pre-converted days, there was enough in that segment of his life to paralyze him and to discourage him. If he looked around in writing his letters to the churches and in seeking to encourage others to faith and obedience in Christ, there were enough disappointments and temptations in the most recent history of his life to depress him. If he was tempted to look back on some of his great triumphs and successes, then it may produce slackness and self-satisfaction in his life and thereby debilitate him. And so he says, I do not look back in such a way as to bring within my mind discouragement, depression, and debilitation. But I look back in order not that my progress would be impeded but in order that I may have a springboard from which to press on to the goal that is ahead. And so, again, I say to you, we will never go forward effectively until we learn to view the past properly. Some of you seated here this morning, if you are absolutely honest before God, are finding great difficulty in living in the now because you have never learned and never have dealt with your past.

And until the past is brought into the light of the provision of Christ on the cross and the insight of the Word of God, the present will remain a fearful tyranny. You see, it's important that we learn to glance back but not stare too long. Human tests in the United Kingdom are exceptionally rigorous—very, very difficult to pass. I know, because as a seventeen-year-old, they failed me for the first time for emerging from a junction without due care and attention.

That phrase is indelibly written on my mind, because I thought that I had a lot of time to get out before the bus that was coming along the road was coming down the road. The man who tested me thought that it was marginal, and so he figured it would be good for me to have it written down emerging without due care and attention. But one of the things they'll fail you for is failing to look in your rear-view mirror with frequency, okay? So the man who conducts your test sits beside you in the car and watches your eyes and watches to see how often you look in your rear-view mirror.

And this is scientific. I mean, he's got a certain number of looks in the rear-view mirror within a thirty-second period. I mean, you just can't look there once every minute or so. You've got to be looking up and down like your head was on a string or something, and you look forward, you look up, like this.

So I've got that down to a fine art. I mean, it's almost like a disease now, this, you sit in your car. You've got a thing on your back shelf that does this and you on the front shelf that does this, but very, very important. Because to take a glance back with frequency gives you perspective. To lock your gaze on your rear-view mirror brings life into jeopardy. So a glance, a frequent glance, is important, but to be locked in the rear-view mirror is death. Anyone here this morning, and you've got your gaze just locked on that rear-view mirror, you replay the video of your life so many times it makes you weep.

You've got a few scenes, and you run them, and you rerun them, and you rerun them so badly that your forward progress is impeded. I can say on the authority of God's Word this morning, he does not want you to do that. And indeed, you need not do that. Well, that's the framework of all of this. As they look back, they were able to proclaim in verse 33 of chapter 9 this wonderful summary statement of God's goodness. "'In all that has happened to us, you have been just, you have acted faithfully while we did wrong.'" It's a great statement there that all who follow in the path of faith can make. You can look back on a week that is gone and get down on your knees and say, Father, in all that has happened to me, you have been just, you have acted faithfully, even when I did wrong.

Because that's the kind of God that he is. And it was this reflection upon his provision in the past that led to their declaration here in verse 38. And it was the declaration in verse 38 which was to establish their direction in the time that followed. Now in the first twenty-nine verses, we have a list of people. In the first twenty-seven verses, they are mentioned by name.

The sealing of this document, you will notice, was marked by unanimity in view of all this. Verse 38, we are making a binding agreement, and we are all affixing our seals to it. And then we discover that first up, first to the plate, if you like, was Nehemiah. And then in verses 2–8, he was followed by twenty-one who had priestly names. In verses 9–13, followed by another seventeen who were Levite family representatives.

And then from verse 14–27, a long list of the names of the various chiefs and leaders of the people. There's a biblical principle here, that is, that leadership must lead. You know you're a leader if anyone's following you. That's the most simple definition of leadership I know. If you're up front and you look behind, there's somebody there, you know you're a leader. Whether you're leading well or poorly, as long as there's someone behind, you know you're leading. If you're trailing behind, you know you're a follower.

And so Nehemiah led. And every name here in this list is significant. Those of you who like to walk through graveyards will know that's true. Those of you who are scared to walk through graveyards won't know what I'm talking about. And as I walk through it, you look at these names, you haven't a clue who these people are. It'd be a strange thing if you went from gravestone to gravestone, bursting into tears at every grave. People say, How do you know everybody in here? You say, Well, I don't.

It's just something that happens to me. It would be bizarre. But they're all with significance to someone. And they all have an appointment with God. Every name will stand before their Maker. And every name listed here in chapter 10 is significant, otherwise the Holy Spirit would not have left us with the list.

That is not to say that we are able to unearth the significance of every name. It is simply to notice that lists and names are important. They are recorded here to their honor.

They are recorded here for our recollection. And God records this list of names here for us so that we might learn that lists are important. So that we might learn that history is important. So that we might learn that although people say, Why would we have to keep membership lists? That those very lists are important. Without those records being kept, there would be no lists for Nehemiah to write down in chapter 10. You see how much the spirit of the age has filled our minds.

We live for the moment, for the instantaneous. But all these records matter. It will matter to me that my name was recorded on some lists. It is a matter of sadness to me that my name has been recorded on other lists, but never recorded without significance. The hymn writer Walsham Stowe says, For all the saints who from their labors rest, Who thee by faith, before the world confessed, Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.

Hallelujah! And so, in the who's who of scriptural history, a great deal is told. All of these people had wives. We assume they all had children. Many of them had grandchildren. And one day in heaven, we'll get a chance to talk to them—Hodiah and Bani and Beninu. And in verse 15, the one I love, Bunny—I called him Bunai when I read it.

I thought I dressed it up a little, but I have a sneaking suspicion his friends called him Bunny—Hey, Bunny, can you lend me a dime? These people were just normal, regular people. That's what I'm trying to get across to you.

They're just normal. Their name's on a list here, but they lived, they moved, they breathed, they put their socks on, they went to work every day. Ordinary people that God used for extraordinary purposes. Otherwise, what hope do most of us have? If we're waiting to become extraordinary in order to be useful, we're going to wait a long time. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg, a message that Alistair has titled, Saying No to Neglect.

We'll hear more tomorrow. You're probably aware that the Advent season starts shortly after Thanksgiving, which is just a few weeks away now. So I want to encourage you to prepare for Christmas during Advent using words and prayers from well-known theologians from throughout history.

You can do that by asking for a copy of a book called O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. This is a book of 40 daily readings that will take you from Advent to Epiphany, which is the first week in January. There's a devotion for each day. It includes a series of prayers, scripture readings, a creed or a catechism, and a benediction. Each of the readings in O Come, O Come, Emmanuel points to the birth of Jesus and to his second coming. As I mentioned, all of the devotional material is from historical authors going all the way back into the early centuries. There are prayers and hymns by men like Isaac Watts, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and many Puritan writers. Ask for your copy of the book O Come, O Come, Emmanuel today when you donate to support the teaching ministry of Truth for Life. You can give through the mobile app or online at slash donate, or you can call us at 888-588-7884.

I'm Bob Lapine. Making a commitment to follow God's law isn't something we ought to do on a whim. Tomorrow we'll learn how such a commitment will impact your love life, your time, and your money. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-06 05:42:20 / 2023-11-06 05:50:55 / 9

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