The church is not simply a program or a building. It’s a spiritual family, a body of believers who share a common life and a common mission. In this message from Nehemiah 1–2, David Platt reminds McLean Bible Church of the biblical priorities of the church in order to refocus its efforts in the days ahead. Rather than focusing on divisions and distractions, the church should be eager to make disciples locally and globally. God intends for all believers to be an integral part of a local church and to participate in its mission.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you or somebody around you does that you can look on with—let me invite you to open with me to Nehemiah 1.
I have been really looking forward to this Sunday in particular, though admittedly it’s not all that I or we hoped it would be. I think about businesses, schools and the world not being where we had hoped in the fall of 2021. This week, I was looking back at some sermon notes from May 2020 when I said, “We hope to kick things into high gear as a church this fall,” thinking surely by then we would open up and everything would be getting back to normal. That was referring to fall 2020. I would say last fall didn’t turn out like we had hoped when it came to Covid cases.
So we’ve started toward kicking into high gear this fall, then the Delta variant came along and Covid cases have risen yet again. So we’re not where we all want to be, but by God’s grace we are here. I think about Pastor John Jenkins at First Baptist Church Glenarden in our city. Today is the first day they are gathering back in person in the last year and a half. Pastor Jenkins shared with me that they’ve had so many funerals in their church and community over the last 18 months. I was texting with him last night, telling him that I am and we are praying for them as they come together for the first time on a Sunday. In fact, I want to invite us to do that. I want us to pray for that church and for other churches across our city. Would you bow your heads with me?
God, we pray for other churches across our city right now, specifically for First Baptist Glenarden, as they gather in person for worship for the first time in a year and a half on a Sunday. We pray that Your presence would be strong among them and they would be deeply encouraged as they sing, shout, pray and listen to Your Word and worship You. We pray that for churches all across our city, for Your evident presence and blessing in their midst—for the Church of the Redeemer, Cornerstone, Trinity Church in Loudoun, McLean Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Park Valley, Prince William, CHBC and ARC in the District. God, we pray for your blessing on churches all across our city who are gathering right now to sing Your praises and proclaim Your gospel, even as we ask for Your blessing on this church family, all for the spread of Your glory and Your Kingdom in our city and among all the nations. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
We want to regularly pray for churches across our city. I would encourage you, when you drive by a church building, pray for God’s blessing on His Word in that body of brothers and sisters in Christ. I mention that particularly today because I’m about to talk about our church family—who we are and what God is doing here. But I don’t want that ever to come across in a sense of comparison or competition with other churches. That is not the way the Bible ever calls us to think about other churches.
We rejoice in Bible believing, gospel proclaiming churches all across our city. We certainly don’t think every Christian needs to be in this particular church in Metro Washington, DC. We gladly work with churches all across our city. We’re not building our kingdom; we’re building a much bigger Kingdom. We want to see God’s Kingdom come through churches across our city and around the world, for that matter. The more churches there are proclaiming the gospel, the better.
At the same time, today I do want to celebrate God’s grace in this church family at this moment. Specifically, I want to call every single Christian here today to commit your life to a local church, or if you’re already committed to recommit in a sense. Whether it’s here at MBC or one of the many other churches in our city, I want you to resolve not to just attend a church, but to commit your life to a local church—to loving the members of that church, to following the leaders of that church, to accomplishing the mission of that church.
Let me say that one more time. I want to challenge every Christian here today to commit your life to a local church. If this is already true in your life, then recommit your life today in a fresh way to a local church. First, I want you to commit to loving the members of that church—the people who make up that church. Second, I want you to commit to following the leaders of that church—to be in a church where you can do Hebrews 13:17 and gladly submit to the authority and direction of leaders who stand before God and who will give an account. Third, I challenge you to commit to accomplishing the mission of that church, to be in a church where you believe in and are committed to how that church is carrying out mission. God has designed every Christian to be committed to a church like that. The church was never intended to be a building you go to once a week. The church was never intended by God to be an event you attend every once in a while. The church of God was never intended by God to be a program you participate in. The church is designed by God to be a family of brothers and sisters committed to each other as they accomplish a mission together.
If God is calling you to be a part of this family at MBC today, I want you to know what our mission is, in such a way that you can say, “Yes, I want to be a part of that.” Or you can decide, “I think I want to be a part of God’s mission in one of these other great churches.”
At the same time, I know there are some here today who are not yet even Christians. You’ve not yet made the decision to follow Jesus. Today God has brought you here to give you an opportunity to make that decision today. I want to invite you to make that decision today.
So if the church is not a building or an event or a program, but it’s a family on a mission, then what’s the mission of this MBC family? I want to answer that question in two ways. First, I want to walk through the way we summarize our mission as a church family. This may be new for some or just a refresher for many. Then second, I want to show you this mission through the lens of the book of Nehemiah and specifically as it relates to this moment in our church.
Let me start with the way we summarize our mission at MBC in one sentence. This is who we are and what we do as a church family: We glorify God by making disciples and multiplying churches among all nations, beginning right here in greater Washington, DC. That is the mission of this church family.
This is not just words for the sake of words, to have something to say. This sentence drives everything we do together. Think about it. We glorify God through worship gatherings every week. This is why we come together like we are right now. We do this every week we possibly can, not just when it’s convenient for our schedules or when we’re not doing something else. No, members of this family prioritize coming together every week for worship, because we want to sing, shout, pray, hear the Word of God, celebrate the Lord’s Supper and celebrate baptisms as God is transforming people’s lives. This is our family gathering before our good Father every single week. This is our priority in our lives, because it’s really good to be together with our Father, and we pray it’s really glorifying to Him. We do this in a way that leads us to then scatter and do what we say when we leave every one of these gatherings: “Go, make disciples and multiply churches among all the nations.”
We do this through churchwide ministries—for preschoolers, kids, students, young adults and those with special needs. I think about what’s happening right now while we’re in this gathering. Children, preschoolers and others with special needs are hearing about God’s Word and seeing God’s love in action specifically for them. I think about ministries like Preparing For Marriage or Re-engage, helping couples in this way or that way.
There are all kinds of other ministries that, by the way, don’t just happen out of nowhere. They happen because members of this family commit to serving kids, students, those with special needs and couples in many ways. I want to encourage you, if you’re a part of this family but you’re not serving in one of these ways, find a way to serve. Find a way to serve through churchwide ministries or in communities—like women’s Bible studies, men’s Bible studies, international fellowships for African, Arabic, Chinese, Ethiopian, French, Filipino, Korean, Latino, Nepalese, Vietnamese, or other communities in our church family. We make disciples through classes that are designed to help you grow in your knowledge of Christianity and your study of God’s Word. We want you to grow in your ability to care for each other, to process grief, to support loved ones or to steward your financial resources. We have all kinds of classes for people who are interested in foster care or adoption, those who want to learn more about global missions. All of these are aimed at making disciples.
Then finally, we are officially launching something today—something new and churchwide—that we’ve been talking about and building up to called “Church Groups.” We envision, Lord willing, that every member of MBC will eventually be a part of one of these groups. We know that will take a while, but these groups are designed to take this large church and bring it down into personal community for every single member. Church Groups are designed to do three primary things, using the acronym C-G-M. They are to Care for each other well, to Grow together in Christ and to Make disciples together on mission in the world. Each person is to be part of a group that looks like the church, like we see in the book of Acts. We want to experience this kind of community in caring for each other, growing together in Christ and making disciples together on mission in the world.
Starting today, you can find information about Church Groups in the lobby at all our locations and online. All of this is aimed toward making disciples together. If we’re actually doing this—if we’re actually making disciples and leading more and more people to know and follow Jesus—then we will inevitably multiply as a church.
Our goal is not just to get bigger at one location, but to start new locations in different places across our city that are still part of the MBC family, like we have right now in different locations. We want to start new churches all across the city, like Citylight Church that was planted not long ago out of MBC, pastored by Nate Crew, knowing that Jesus has told us to do this. We’re to make disciples and multiply churches, not just among people who look like us or live near us, but among all the nations, starting right where we live. So that’s why we are committed to global outreach, partnering together with brothers and sisters around the world, sending brothers and sisters around the world for the spread of the gospel.
Lord willing, we’ll have a service a few weeks from now where we fast and pray and ask God, like we periodically do at different points during the year, “God, who are You calling out from among us to move somewhere else in the world for the spread of the gospel through global outreach, particularly among people who have never heard the gospel?” We pray this, knowing all that starts right here through local outreach across our city, as we love this city and care for this city.
So you see how this mission forms the framework for everything we do. We believe God has brought us together by His grace, that we’re a unique family, with men and women from over 100 nations, before one Father, surrounded by urgent need. There are over five million people in this city who need the gospel right now. There are over three billion people in the world who have little to no knowledge of God’s love in Jesus. They’ve never even heard of it. We believe this means we have, as a church family, an unprecedented opportunity, in this city and around the world, to spread God’s grace for God’s glory. So we are asking God to do Psalm 67 in our midst.
God, be gracious to us. Bless us. Make Your face to shine upon us, so that Your ways may be known on the earth, Your saving power known in this city and Your saving power known among the nations through us. God, make us a church that is confident in Your Word and passionate about Your presence. We want to boldly believe God’s Word, to passionately engage in God’s worship, to pray for that which can only be accomplished by God’s power and to experience that which can only be attributed to God’s glory.
God, make us a church of radical devotion and radical grace. We want to be finished and done with casual expressions of Christianity and cheap distortions of grace. We want to love God with everything we have and love our neighbors truly as ourselves. God, make us a church of justice and generosity, spending our lives and our resources generously to do justice for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the unreached in the world. God, make us a church that expresses diversity as we experience unity. We want to actively grow our church in racial competency and empathy, as well as humility and integrity in relationships with one another, building an environment where people from diverse perspectives feel at home.
We are praying, God, make us a church that welcomes and mobilizes all generations and intentionally reaches the next generation, to welcome and mobilize men and women from every age and stage of life to show and tell teenagers, children, preschoolers, even the unborn, Who God is, how God works and why God’s love is better than life itself. Amen.
So in just a few minutes, let me attempt to summarize our mission as a church family and our big-picture strategies for organizing ourselves to give everything we have to this mission in the years ahead, so that every single member of this church family can be a part of this big picture. MBC is not a building. It’s not an event. It’s not a program. It’s a family on a mission to glorify God by making disciples and multiply churches among all the nations, starting right here. And it’s only by God’s grace that we get to be a part of something like this.
All of that is to summarize who we are as a family at MBC. Now, I want to let this mission soak in today in a fresh way by framing our mission in light of God’s Word to us in Nehemiah chapters one and two. This is one of my favorite books in the Bible; there’s so much here, just at the start of this book. I’ll go ahead and warn you, because of the limited time, we’re only going to be able to scratch the surface. But even the surface is awesome.
Before we read it, we need to understand the context of what’s happening here. Whenever I come to this chapter in the Bible, I always think about when I was in college. I was speaking at a youth retreat and decided to speak on Nehemiah. Now keep in mind, this was when PowerPoint was still pretty new. I put together the most killer PowerPoint presentation you can fathom, in ways that would have awed you back then, but now would look fairly lame. But I’m going to show it to you anyway and I just want you to pretend. There we go—I appreciate the support already, although you still haven’t seen it. I just want you to imagine that PowerPoint is a new thing, thinking, “Whoa, I didn’t know all these amazing things could happen.” Hopefully along the way, you’ll get a picture of the setup for the book of Nehemiah. All right, here we go.
We’ll start in Jerusalem. In the middle of the city of Jerusalem, there was a temple. [Boom. Did you see that? The temple just popped up.] The temple was the place where the glory of God dwelled in the midst of His people. It’s where the nations could behold the glory of God.
Around the city of Jerusalem, with the temple in the middle, there were walls around the city until 597 to 586 B.C. when the king and armies of Babylon got together and decided they were going to come over to Jerusalem.
So they came over and destroyed the temple and the walls. They were there, then they were gone. In 586 B.C., the temple and the walls around Jerusalem were totally crushed and burned down.
Then the people of Babylon took the people of Jerusalem into exile. You can imagine that your home was totally destroyed, then you were then taken to a foreign place, scattered and separated from family and friends in a new place, and you don’t know what’s happening next.
That was the story of the exile to give you some context behind this story. The Old Testament prophets were telling God’s people this was coming. They were prophesying that once this had happened, the Babylonians would be taken over by the Persians. When the Persians take over, they decide that anybody among God’s people who wants to go back to Jerusalem can get together. So some do—not all of them—and they travel back over to Jerusalem.
Once they get back to Jerusalem, does anybody know the first thing they do? They rebuild the temple. So let’s bring that temple back in 516 B.C. This is in the book of Ezra. But what’s the problem? There are no walls around the city of Jerusalem. This means the city is open to attack from all sides. This sets the stage for many years later.
Fast forward to 444 B.C. and a man named Nehemiah over in the Persian capital of Susa. That sets the stage for Nehemiah chapter one. Now that you are totally blown away, hear the Word of God in this context, beginning in Nehemiah 1:1:
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. 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 province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
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. And I said….
This is one of the greatest prayers in the Old Testament. I don’t have time to dive into it all today, but just hear this prayer:
“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, 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, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.
Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name…”
That’s a great phrase: “who delight to fear your name.”
“…and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king.
Let’s pause here. We’re going to come back to Nehemiah 2, but there’s so much here to cover. And here’s why this text came to my mind specifically when I was praying about this day in our church family and this call for every single Christian to commit yourself to a local church—this one or another one—specifically in this time of rebuilding.
We have walked and are still walking through a global pandemic unlike anything any one of us has experienced. We have experienced and are still experiencing all sorts of challenges and tensions in our lives, our families, our relationships, our work, our world and our church, and in churches across our country, in a way that has left many things around us and in us broken, in a way that needs rebuilding.
Today, God is calling us—individually, yet as families and as a church family—to rebuild, specifically seeing our call to rebuild our lives, families, church family at this time in a way that parallels Nehemiah’s call to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem in that time. So here’s the way I want to put it, based on God’s Word. Again, we’re reframing our mission as a church in terms of Nehemiah’s mission in this chapter, particularly in this moment.
In this time of rebuilding as a church family, let’s look at two things.
One, we are on a mission to care well for God’s people, for each other. By “God’s people” here, I’m specifically referring to the people who are part of this church family. Obviously, we want to care well for God’s people in other churches; we’ve already talked about that. But let’s think specifically here about the people whom God has brought to this church family, who have committed to this church family in all the ways we talked about earlier. They’re committed to loving the members of this local church, following the leaders of this local church and accomplishing the mission of this local church. We’re on a mission to make sure that every one of God’s people in this church family is cared for well. That’s part of what this Sunday is all about.
Let me show you this in Nehemiah, then we’ll think about it at MBC. The very first picture we see of Nehemiah is him asking how the people of God are doing back in Jerusalem. Now, keep in mind, you saw on the map that Nehemiah is far from Jerusalem at this point. He’s got it made. He’s living in the king’s palace. He’s eating the king’s food. He’s enjoying the king’s drink. He’s living the Persian dream. But he’s concerned about how God’s people are doing, so he asks about them.
When he asks, he finds out they’re in great trouble and shame. That was the language. They’re not doing well. As soon as he hears that, what does he do? He sits down and weeps and mourns for days. He starts praying and fasting before God. His heart is so broken on behalf of broken people.
When was the last time, if ever, you wept and mourned for days, fasted and prayed for days, on behalf of someone else’s brokenness? This is a powerful picture.
From this moment on, Nehemiah is resolved to care well for the people in Jerusalem. He’s so concerned about God’s people there that he practically forgets about himself through the rest of the book. Don’t we so oftentimes reverse that? We can become so concerned about ourselves that we practically forget about other people. Nehemiah was so concerned about other people he practically forgot about himself. He’s on a mission to care well for God’s people.
Now, in light of this picture in Nehemiah, I want us to ask each other how we are doing—even just in this gathering. I want to do something a little different. So if you have a smart phone, I want to invite you to pull it out and go to this website: menti.com. I’m just going to ask you some questions. You don’t have to put your name in there. You don’t have to put in any personal information, phone number or anything like that. It’s totally anonymous. I invite as many people as possible to participate in this. So go to menti.com. It will ask you to put in a code. Put in that code, then you’ll start seeing questions. As you put in an answer, it should go to another question and another question. There are ten questions in all.
This will give us a picture, in just this gathering, of how we’ve been affected by the last 18 months. I just want us to get a picture of what’s represented in the seats next to you right now, even as you share from your own seat.
So you should see the first question: “For the last 18 months, how much anxiety have you experienced?”
Around 75%, close to 80%, have experienced a lot or some. Notice that almost half say a lot of anxiety over these last 18 months. Very few people are saying none. Less than a quarter are saying little or none.
Keep going to the next question. “Over the last 18 month, how much loneliness have you experienced?” Over half of the people are saying, “I’ve experienced some or a lot of loneliness, between now and when this pandemic started.”
Keep going. “Over the last 18 months, how much anger have you experienced?” Again, you’re seeing the majority on the left side of these columns, aren’t you? One out of four of us are saying, “A lot of anger over the last 18 months.”
“How much fear have you experienced during these days? Fear of the unknown, fear in a variety of different ways.” Just imagine all the different tentacles of fear represented in those two bars on the left. One out of ten of us are saying no fear over the last 18 months.
“How much discouragement have you experienced?” Look at that. Just the amount of discouraged, disheartened, despairing days that we have walked through.
“Over the last 18 months, how much marital tension have you experienced?” See that “Not applicable” line? Hopefully, for those of you who were kind of at a low point until now, you’re like, “Well, at least I don’t have that one.” So be encouraged. I can’t do the math off the top of my head, but a lot or some marital tension in these last 18 months is represented here.
What about just family tensions as a whole you’ve experienced with your parents? Maybe teenager with parents, maybe with adult older parents, maybe with your kids or siblings, family tensions around tables. I’ve had multiple conversations this past week, just grieving over tension in families in different ways. Again, over 50% of us have had a lot or some. This affects things in our homes.
This I know is a big blanket statement, but when you put it all together—mental, emotional, relational and physical health—how healthy do you feel? Not a whole lot of us are saying, “Excellent. Tip top right now.” Blessings on you if you’re in the excellent category, by the way.
Then I didn’t include spiritual health because I wanted to separate that out. “In the last 18 months, how would you describe your spiritual health?” Very few of us are thriving spiritually during these days.
Then the last question there: “Just what word or phrase describes different emotions or struggles you’ve experienced over the last 18 months?” When you think about them and you put different words or emotions in there, it forms a big cloud. I’ll just read you what it looks like. The more times a word is mentioned, the bigger it is and more central it is. Right at the middle of this word cloud is “Fear, frustration, anxiety, sadness, uncertainty and tired.” Then as I look around, “Disappointment, confusion, discouragement, overwhelming.” I hope that just gives you a picture of why this mission is so important right now, why I took the time earlier to talk about churchwide ministries, communities, classes and Church Groups.
Can I just point out the obvious? There is no way we’re going to help one another with all these emotions and struggles if all we do is sit next to each other in a room once a week. If that is our understanding of church, we’ve missed the whole point. We’ve missed the good design of God for our lives in this world. Church is not merely sitting next to each other. Church is sharing life with each other, being in relationship with each other, with people who know our struggles and who are committed to praying for each other, loving each other, serving each other, encouraging each other, building each other up, weeping with those who are weeping and rejoicing with those who are rejoicing.
There are 59 “one another” commands in Scripture, but we cannot carry them out if we just sit next to each other. That’s why we are working, starting today in a fresh way—I mentioned it’s going to take a while. We want every member at MBC to be in a body of believers, a Church Group, where you are being cared for in your life, where you’re growing together in Christ, where you can say, “I’m pursuing Jesus and I’ve got people around me helping me pursue Jesus. Together we’ve locked arms. We’re making disciples on mission in the world.”
Our prayer for every single member of MBC is for God to be able to take you, pick you up, put you anywhere in the world and you will know how to gather together with other believers and make disciples, lead other people to Jesus, be the church, without dependence on buildings or programs or anything else, with just the Word of God and the Spirit of God. That’s what Church Groups are all about. I want to call us today, based on God’s Word, to see this is our mission: to care well for each other, for every single person among the group of God’s people as McLean Bible Church.
Then to keep going in this time of rebuilding as a church family, see that we are on a mission to spread God’s glory among all people. I want you to see this in Nehemiah. So picture him weeping, mourning, fasting and praying. Is all of that just because he’s concerned about God’s people in Jerusalem and their wellbeing? Or is there something more?
Think about it. That temple in the middle of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. It was a temple that was intended to be a display of God’s presence and glory—the one true God, Yahweh, the Lord—dwelling among His people, surrounded by nations that worshiped all kinds of false gods. So if you’re in one of those nations surrounding Jerusalem and you see this temple, this place supposedly dedicated to the one true God, but then you see a city in shambles around it with broken down walls, what would you think about that God? You would think, “That God is weak. That God doesn’t take care for His people.”
According to 1 Kings 8:41-43, Nehemiah knew that the design of the temple was to declare God’s glory to all the nations, so the people from all the nations would come to it and behold His glory. But the exact opposite was happening. Instead of exalting the name of God, Jerusalem was shaming the name of God. And yes, Nehemiah was concerned for the wellbeing of God’s people, but on a much deeper level, Nehemiah was concerned for the glory of God’s name.
We know this because when we get to Nehemiah 12, once they rebuild these walls, do you know what they do? They climb up on top and march around the wall singing and shouting to the glory of God. The Bible tells us the sound of their rejoicing could be heard far away as the nations stood in awe of God.
This is what we want to live for—just like Nehemiah, on a mission to spread God’s glory among all people. In a time of rebuilding, this is what makes us a church family. We have been saved by a great, glorious, majestic and awesome God, so we want more and more people in this city to know how great, glorious, gracious, majestic and awesome He is. We want people among all the nations to know how great, glorious, majestic and awesome He is. As a church, we live to spread God’s glory among more and more and more people.
So if you’re not a Christian today, please listen really closely at this point. We long for you to know God, to know the goodness and grace and glory of the One Who created you, Who breathed life into you. He created us to know and enjoy Him forever, yet we have all sinned against Him and turned aside from His ways to our own ways (Romans 3:23 and 3:12). That’s why we experience all these emotions. We’re in a fallen world as fallen people, separated from the fullness of God’s goodness because of our sin. So because of our sin, we deserve eternal judgment. But the good news of the Bible is that God loves us. He loves you so much that He has sent His Son, Jesus, to live a life of no sin, then to die on a cross to pay the price for sinners. He then rose from the grave in victory over sin and death.
This means anyone anywhere, including right here today—no matter who you are or what you’ve done—if you will turn from your sin and put your trust in Jesus and God’s love for you through Jesus, then you will be forgiven of all your sin and restored to relationship with God forever and ever and ever. We want you to know that. We invite you to put your trust in Jesus today. Make today the day of salvation; don’t wait any longer.
Then church family, we exist to make the good news of our great God known all around us, in this city and far from us among the nations. So here’s what we’re going to do starting next week. We’re going to begin a series through the Gospel of Mark, looking at the story of Jesus’ life. We’ve planned to go through the initial chapters of Mark between next Sunday and, Lord willing, Christmas. Every single Sunday we want to give a glimpse of Who Jesus is.
As we look forward to next Sunday and the Sundays after that, I want to challenge you to invite people you know who don’t know Jesus to come with you, to see Jesus. So start thinking right now. Teenagers, who are your friends, some of whom have never been to church? Young adults, who are your coworkers who are deconstructing their faith right now, who are disillusioned by the church and won’t have anything to do with Christianity? For them to see Jesus, bring them.
I encourage all of us to think about family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, people we just so happen to meet this week, that we have an opportunity to invite, to be here next week as we start this series in the Gospel of Mark. We’re just going to be focused on proclaiming the gospel so that people will come to know Jesus. Invite people this week to come next Sunday.
We’re going to keep doing that week after week after week, calling people to repent, be baptized and follow Jesus. To experience the goodness, grace and glory of Jesus. This is what we exist for as a church. So let’s do this. Let’s lean into this as we come into this fall.
Let’s not just keep our sights focused right here, knowing there are millions in Afghanistan and millions in Yemen and millions in Saudi Arabia and millions in Somalia—we could go on and on and on—who need this gospel, who don’t have access to it right now. So we’re going to pray like we’ve never prayed, give like we’ve never given, and go however God leads us to go, so that they might know His grace, glory love. This is what we exist for as a church: to spread God’s glory among all people. Not one Christian is intended to sit on the sidelines in this mission. God has called all of us to be engaged. No spectators. Let’s be finished and done with the spectator mentality in the greatest mission in the world, making the greatest news in the world known among more and more people, in ways that will transform their lives for the next ten trillion years and beyond. It’s just awesome. Let’s live for this together.
Which leads us to where Nehemiah 2 takes us. I wish we had time to dive into all of this, but I want to show you briefly what happens after what we just read. Because after Nehemiah prays that prayer, he knows he has a decision to make—and that decision involves a lot of risk. He tells us at the very end of chapter one that he is cupbearer to the king. Cupbearers didn’t get vacation days or holidays off. He was a servant in the Persian palace. He was not even allowed to be sad or somber in the presence of the king. If a cupbearer was sad or somber in the presence of the king, he could have his head cut off. But he knew if he had any chance of going from there to Jerusalem to help rebuild those walls, he would have to start by being sad in the king’s presence.
Then if the king didn’t kill him, if the king asked him what was wrong, he’d have to ask the king for permission to go work on those walls—knowing, by the way, that this was the same king who had stopped work on the temple at one point. Then even if the king allowed him to go, think about what he’d be giving up: the comfort and security of that palace for the rigors and dangers of life in a ruined city, with all kinds of opposition, threats, slander and attack, from outside those walls and from inside those walls. So what does he do?
In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.
Just feel the tension in his shoes. He’s about to go for it.
I said to the king, “Let the king live forever!
Nice way to butter up the king, to start off the conversation. “Looking great today, king.”
Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.
I love this. He just looks up, “God, help me.”
And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.
And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple…
Now he’s really asking for it all. He goes for it.
…and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.
Ah, isn’t that good? Don’t miss this parallel with us today. Nehemiah asks and goes. He was not content to sit back and wring his hands in pious concern. No. “People are hurting. God’s not being glorified, but I’m just going to stay here in the palace.” No. He says, “People are hurting. God’s not being glorified. So I’m going to do something about it.” So he acts—at great cost to him.
This is the picture I hope lands in your heart, right where you are right now. In a hurting world, in a hurting church, people hurting all across this church family, all around you right now, in all the ways we walked through—are you going to commit your life to loving some of them, getting involved in their lives, caring for them and helping them grow in Christ? With them doing the same thing in your life? Then together saying, “We’re going to make the greatest news in the world known in this city and wherever God leads us in the world.” That’s action.
Who’s going to take that step? That’s what I mean by calling you to commit your life or recommit your life to a local church in the ways we talked about, loving the church members, following the leadership, locking arms together on mission in that church. If you want to do that at MBC and be part of this church family in that way, today is the day to start taking some steps. Get plugged into a community or class or Church Group.
There’s all kinds of information in the lobby at each of our locations. I also want to make this super simple for you, so I’m putting a QR code on the screen. You can scan this right now. Just take out your smart phone, and it will immediately take you to our website: mcleanbible.org/getconnected. At the top of that page you’ll see MBC Connect which is the first step for you to learn about MBC and all the ways you can get connected.
Then you go down the page and you’ll see classes, communities, Church Groups and other ways you can get connected. It’s time to act. Spend some time in the lobby today or on that website. Get connected today—here, or in another Bible believing, gospel preaching church—as soon as possible. God has designed you for commitment like this in a local church.
Then take action. MBC family, bring somebody with you next week who doesn’t know Jesus. Let’s pray and fast this week. Let’s put aside a meal or two or three, asking God to lead people to Jesus next week in our gathering. And not just next week, but the week after that and the week after that, let’s pray that God would draw many people to Himself.
For those of you who have not yet trusted in Jesus to save you from your sin and restore you to relationship with God, I invite you to do that today. Don’t wait any longer. As you do, you are obviously invited to be a part of this church family.
Will you bow your heads with me as we pray?
O God, our Father, we come to you as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and we praise You for the privilege of being a part of Your church family on a mission that nothing else in this world can even begin to compare with. So we pray all together, help us, just like You helped Nehemiah. We look to You, the God of heaven. Help us to do all that You’re calling us to do and in the process, make us, we pray, the church You’ve designed us to be, a church that’s caring well for each other on mission, a church that’s making Your glory known in this city and beyond this city. God, we pray in light of Nehemiah chapter two, may Your good hand be upon us for the spread of Your glory through us. Help us rebuild in these ways during these days, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.