Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Changing the Familiar
Pastor Joe Bulman
Nehemiah 2:11-18
It’s so easy to become familiar with things over time, isn’t it? It’s like it is built into us. We’ve all had that one thing that we have been slow to fix or do that just becomes familiar. Before we know it we don’t even notice the check engine light on the dash anymore or the loose door at home or the tape holding something together. Just about anything can be made obscure with familiarity. Don’t worry; we’re not alone. This has been happening to mankind throughout all of history.
Today we will look again at Nehemiah and his assessment of Jerusalem upon his arrival. We will see that the Jews who had come and made progress on the rebuilding of the Temple became familiar with the desolate condition of Jerusalem and failed to do anything about it. Nehemiah came, assessed, planned and motivated the people to refuse to be apathetic with their familiarity any longer. We will see that we too are in a Jerusalem that needs to be rebuilt and must do the same as those before us: overcoming the valleys and taking hold of the repentance, the power, and the healing that God has for us. We will see that God has called us, through relationship, to take hold of His plan for the Body of Christ.

Nehemiah 2: 11-18

The first thing that we must understand is that Revelation 21 tells us that we are the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem. Hebrews 8 tells us that the old Temple is a “shadow” of heaven and that we are a spiritual shadow of the old city. In other words the old Jerusalem is a replica of heaven and we are a replica of the same model. The walls, the Temple and the gates have a spiritual significance and application for each of us.

The Valley Gate
The first place mentioned by Nehemiah is the Valley Gate. The Valley Gate was located on the west side of the city. It was the main access point for the Central Valley, a valley located between the wall of the city and Mt. Zion. Throughout the Bible we see valleys referred to as a place of death, trial, loneliness and being apart from God. Psalms 23 says, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” The greatest growth happens in the valleys, not on the mountain tops.

Nehemiah records that he went out of the Valley Gate, facing the Jackal Well and headed south toward the Dung Gate. The distance between the Valley Gate and the Dung Gate is a large distance and is one of the largest stretches of wall without a gate.

This is a true depiction of the valleys in our lives. They seem to be long and bring us so close to our breaking point. One thing for me to make clear is that God doesn’t make the valleys in our lives, but He does use them to teach us, train us and prepare us.

The Jackal Well
Nehemiah mentions the “Jackal Well” otherwise known as the “Serpents pool” in verse 13. This pool is now dried up, but it was located about a half-mile west of the Valley Gate.

This is just like the enemy! In the “valley,” he loves to haunt us, to lie to us and tell us that we are alone, that death is coming for us, that there is no way out. But these are the lies of the enemy! Valley times can serve a purpose in our lives, but we must have a sound mind to know that there is always redemption for the lost, the lonely and the afraid.

The Dung Gate
The next gate mentioned by Nehemiah is the Dung Gate. The Dung Gate was located at the southwest tip of the City of David. Its purpose was to remove the refuse from the city, hence the name “Dung.”

The application here has to do with the purging of sin—those things in our lives that spiritually pollute us. When we find ourselves in the valley, alone and scared, redemption is always just around the corner. We must take hold of the forgiveness God has for us through His Son. It always comes in the form of repentance. The Word says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Ac 3:19).

The Fountain Gate
Nehemiah continues south and quickly reaches the Fountain Gate which is about 250 feet away from the Dung Gate. The Fountain Gate leads right into the King’s Pool, or as we may know it, the Siloam Pool. This is the pool where Jesus sent the blind man to go wash (Jn 9:7).

The Fountain Gate’s spiritual significance can be applied to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Through the baptism of the Holy Spirit we are healed (like the blind man), we are empowered (like the disciples in Acts 2) and we are restored (like the prodigal son). Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, ‘rivers of living water will flow from within them’” (Jn 7:38).
Each day we must take hold of this baptism, stir it up with in us and walk in the power and freedom that comes from being baptized in the power of the Most High God. It is through the baptism of the Holy Spirit that we have the strength to overcome sin, to walk in righteousness and die to ourselves.

Nehemiah 2:15-18

Changing the Familiar
Ezra had taken a large group of the exiled Jews back to Jerusalem 13 years before this time to rebuild the Temple (Ezr 7-10). There were a number of Jews there, which had rebuilt the Temple but then stopped and lived in the ruins. Nehemiah came to restore the walls of Jerusalem—to restore Jerusalem to what it was suppose to be. The Jews that had returned came with the same plan to restore Jerusalem but fell short and then became familiar with the condition Jerusalem was in: desolate and without walls and gates.

It took fresh eyes to see the condition things were in and to plan to fix them. In the same way, the Christian church in America is in the same place. We have made forward progress, but the mess can become so familiar so quickly. We have taken hold of repentance. We have taken hold of the power of the Holy Spirit and the power & healing that comes with it. However, we have also taken hold of our independence that is so ingrained in the American culture. God never made us to be independent; He made us completely dependent. We have changed Christianity to be ALL about a relationship with Christ. Yes, that is so needed and is the center focus, but we must not be like Ezra and the returning Jews: only taking hold of the Temple. We must see that God has called us to more than just relationship with Him but to relationship with others. He has called us to shed our familiarity with independence and take hold of the model that He has always shown us: relationship. In the very beginning of the Christian Church we see a great example of what the Church should look like (Ac 2:42-47).

Throughout life, valleys are inevitable; repentance will always be available to us and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is key. However, one thing that we can walk through life and miss completely is the importance of community. The times in the valley can be shortened by accountability, friendship and encouragement found in community. Repentance can be reached faster with sound, biblical advice. And the need for the baptism of the Holy Spirit is made even more evident through community. We must realize, TODAY, that we need to walk in community; we need to have people in our lives that encourage and push us toward a healthy relationship with God. We will never make it on our own. We will never be as healthy as God has called us to be without others. We need horizontal relationships with each other that encourage us toward a greater vertical relationship with the Father. It can never be either/or; it has to be both/and. We need to be in Life Groups, LTGs, going to CAS and any other opportunities that allow us to have deep relationships with others in our lives. We must change our familiarity of independence to a dependency on Christ, undergirded by the relationships that come from community.

“...They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work” (Ne 2:18).

1) Have you gone through the valleys?
2) Have you found forgiveness through repentance?
3) Have you taken hold of the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
4) Where do you find yourself in your walk with the Lord: wrapped in community or independently walking with the Lord?
5) How can you increase the measure of community in your life?
6) Are you in a Life Group, an LTG or fellowshipping on a weekly basis with others outside of church? 

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