Nehemiah and the Reformation

Nehemiah wept when he heard that the walls of Jerusalem had been torn down. The city of God’s promise lay in ruins. The mighty things which the Lord had done in her now seemed like dust blowing in the wind. Where were the days of David? Where were David’s sons, reigning in his place? Even King Artaxerxes, pagan though he was, could see that Nehemiah was troubled.

We do not have to be Jeremiah to see that things in our own day are not what they should be. The walls of our Jerusalem have fallen to the ground. Samaritans dwell among the ruins, those who seem to be with us, but are not. Even among those who have returned, there is a neglect of the commandments of God. Will we be like Samaria, with a foot in both worlds? Will we be like the remnant, following after the world? Are we in love with the idea of being orthodox, yet allowing the fruits of the flesh to dominate? But those of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Glorying in the past can be a serious danger. It is good to remember the mighty acts of God done for our fathers, because they show us that God is faithful and true. God is not a man, that He should change His mind. But there is danger in exalting the past as a thing in itself to the neglect of the things of God. The Lord brought His people out of the iron furnace, but their election was not a reason to sin. Complancency, a product of nostalgia, is deadly.

As we prepare to remember the Reformation this year, and an important milestone at that, it would be good to remember all of this. The Reformation would not have succeeded if the Lord of History had not willed it. Moses may have been the man who walked out in front of Israel, but it was the Lord who delivered them. So also with Luther. We may also give thanks to God for all that he has done for us, even now in these days.

But we must not grow complacent. It does no good to say that we are the church of the Lutheran Confessions if we have no delight in the things of God. Will we cry out: “The Lord; He is God! The Lord; He is God!”? Or will we boast: “The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!”? But I fear that the wall has fallen. If we say that we as a church body have no sins, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Yet Nehemiah is helpful for us in this hour. Nehemiah laments the loss of Jerusalem, but then he girds up his loins like a man. Going to the ruined city, he does not cry more about what had been or what might be. He picks up his sword in one hand and his trowel with the other. The wall of Jerusalem must be rebuilt. Nor is this an ordinary work, as if the wall merely needed some patching here and there. It is a mighty work of God. Only through the Lord could this wall be rebuilt in fifty-two days. Only through the Lord will this wall of our own Jerusalem stand again.

It may be that the Lord will bring our church body to an end. Even rebuilt Jerusalem would fall again to the Romans. The Lord’s will, and not ours, will be done. This does not mean that the Gospel will cease. This does not mean that the world will lack something if our individual church body is gone. Many have come and gone, and yet the Lord marches forth. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

But this is our hour, and this is our call. Sons of the prophets, let us take up the sword of the Spirit, the living and active Word, in one hand. God speaks through the fire of His Holy Scriptures, and His Word will not return void. But let us also take up the trowel and labor together to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It is hard work, it is dirty work, and it will have enemies. But let us follow after Nehemiah and do what must be done. Let us remember what God has done for our fathers, but let us pick up their mantle and labor like men to rebuild Jerusalem according to the will of God.