The Work Is Never Done
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Conventional wisdom teaches that with discipline and intentional effort, we can form a new habit in about thirty days. That must refer only to good habits, because we seem to be able to fall into bad habits with no discipline or effort at all. Nehemiah had, with the help of nearly all of the people, succeeded in rebuilding the wall and gates around Jerusalem. He had witnessed the reading of the Law, the confession of sins, and the agreement, signed and sealed, by everyone promising to obey faithfully the rules regarding marriage and family, the Sabbath, offerings and tithes, care of the priests and Levites, and upkeep of the temple. He had returned to his regular job in service to the King of Persia, no doubt feeling good about how he had left things in his hometown. Until he came home to visit and learned what was going on in Jerusalem.
You know how it is. People unite for a common cause, and once the project is finished or the threat is over, we go back to our old way of being. Especially if our leader is no longer on site, we feel adrift and slip back into our old, comfortable habits. While Nehemiah was in Persia, a lot had happened. His old enemy Tobiah, who had opposed the wall reconstruction project, was now living in the temple, occupying a storeroom where grain offerings, items for the temple, tithes for the Levites and others in service to the city, and contributions for the priests had been kept. Nehemiah sprang into action, and in a scene reminiscent of Jesus clearing the temple, he threw Tobiah and all his belongings out of the room and ordered it purified, then restored it to its original purpose by putting back the equipment and offerings.
Nehemiah also learned that the Levites, who were dependent on the support of the people, had not received their provisions and had gone out to fend for themselves, leaving the temple neglected. He quickly rectified this situation, ensuring that the Levites were cared for and that they resumed their duties in the temple. He discovered that merchants were bringing their wares into the city to sell on the Sabbath in violation of the Law, so he ordered the gates to be shut the evening before the Sabbath and not opened until after the day was over. Reminding the people of God’s wrath against them when they desecrated the Sabbath, he stationed guards at the gates. Finally, when he learned that some people had married foreigners, subjecting themselves to idol worship and cultural corruption, he rebuked the offenders, ensuring that this behavior would stop by making the people take an oath in God’s name. He learned that his work among his people would never be finished.
When we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we must learn some new habits if we want to grow in our faith. We must strive to make prayer, studying scripture, worship, fellowship, and service an intentional practice. Spiritual disciplines don’t save us from our sins, because only Jesus can do that, but they do replace some not-so-good habits that can slow our growth and complicate our witness to other people. Our salvation is the first step in God’s plan for us; our sanctification is the second. This is also the work of Jesus in our lives, and we can either cooperate with and participate in it, or we can hinder it by resuming our old habits. His sanctifying work in us is never finished, and our participation must also be a lifelong commitment. The good news for us is that committing to the life of faith rewards us with much more than the material world can offer: a relationship with God—the one who made us, loves us, and redeems us—that will endure forever.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Discovery Hour will resume September 16). Children’s worship will be offered for those age four through second grade, and nursery care will be available for littlest ones.