Did you know that the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles originally formed one larger compiled work? They act like a snapshot into a fascinating time in Israel’s history.

In the aftermath of their exile in Babylon (70 years of captivity [Jeremiah 25:11]), God promised His people that He would restore them back to the chosen land. He began to do so through three kings of Persia (beginning with King Cyrus), as well as Jewish leadership.

With King Artaxerxes I, we come upon Nehemiah, the royal cup-bearer. His entire profession was created out of a need for the king’s wine to be tested for poison, and yet this position was far more respected than one might think. He was not so expendable as we might assume. He became a close confidant of the king and spent countless hours with him. He fulfilled the role of an advisor in many ways. And that is where we find ourselves when we pick up the book of Nehemiah.

Many of the Israelites had made their way back home to Jerusalem, and yet some, like Nehemiah, were still dispersed beyond their borders. Nehemiah’s concern over his people became apparent to Artaxerxes because, though they made their way back home, things were not as they should be. When the king asked Nehemiah why he was so sad in his presence (something that he had not shown before), Nehemiah answered, “Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:3). You see, even though the Israelites were back home, they were not secure.

Their walls still stood in ruins and that was something significant in those days. Notice what Nehemiah says to his people once he returns to begin building the walls again – “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach (v. 17).” It was not necessarily true that the walls were primarily for physical protection, at least as far as Nehemiah was concerned who believed that God was their source of protection. Instead, he recognized that the testimony of the nation of Israel, as well as the testimony of their God, was strained by such shambles surrounding such an important city. If they could rebuild the walls, they might bring glory to God once again in the eyes of the nations.

Nehemiah views the ruins of Jerusalem’s walls. Gustav Dore, 1866

There are a number of applications for this text, with the primary one pointing to Jesus Christ and His work on earth. Just as Nehemiah was the “right-hand man” to King Artaxerxes, so Jesus sits at the right hand of God. Just as Nehemiah was away from his people in a very comfortable and esteemed position, Jesus enjoyed the comfort and perfection of heaven, though away from us, His children. Just as Nehemiah decided to turn away from this comfort to join his people, rebuild their foundations, and present a new testimony to the world, so Jesus came to earth to join His people in the flesh, establish our own foundations in the Gospel of His kingship, and present a new covenant and testimony of hope to the world. Nehemiah is a reminder to the Israelites that God is still in control and even when things seem completely lost, His plans will prevail and hope will be given through His grace. This is the God we serve!

That message is a blog within itself. It stands alone as the most important messaging that we can take away from our Scriptures. However, I want to make a small caveat towards our local church body as well.

Don’t we know from the words of Paul that great shepherds of God’s people will resemble our Savior? He said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.” In other words, “you can follow my lead because I follow the lead of our Savior. As you become more accustomed to seeing who Jesus truly is (whom we cannot physical see), you can trust that I will live as He has called me to (as you can see and follow me). Nehemiah was an example among the people precisely because he led so well, as God would have him. His leadership, organization, humility, uprightness, vitality, devotion, and selflessness were worthy of following because the people could see the character of God through him.

And we might look at our own leadership at Grace Fellowship Church. We are led by a group of godly elders whom we should be grateful to God for. It’s such a gift that there are many qualities from our elders that mirror God’s grace to His people and even Nehemiah’s own leadership qualities to lead during such a troubling time.

I think of Nehemiah’s deep love for his people and I see Warren. It is no exaggeration on my part to say that I have never personally witnessed a church leader who loves his flock more than Warren. There are many church leaders out there like him, I’m sure, but I have not witnessed it first-hand as I have at this church.

I think of Nehemiah’s leadership qualities and I see Jeremy. I have seen within him an ability to drive conversation towards necessary conversations with truth and grace. I have seen him wrestle deeply over leadership decisions like we should all desire our leadership to do and it has inspired me.

I think Nehemiah’s sense of duty, wisdom, and sensitivity to God’s calling and I see Ryan. I have built incredible trust in his drive to single-mindedly glorify God in all that he does and it has impacted my life significantly. I am incredibly grateful for him.

I think of Nehemiah’s heart to serve his people and the first person I think of is Byron. Just as Jesus had a heart to serve His people, Byron leads us well in teaching us how to seek out the needs of others and selflessly deliver them in whatever ways available to us. It can seem like a lost value to many in our culture, but not in our church.

I think of Nehemiah’s desire to testify well and consistently to God’s kingdom (with 2:17 in mind again) and I see Roger. During a time in the Western Church where views that faithfulness to God’s mission might conflict with a witness to the world of God’s hope and love, Roger stands as one who seeks to faithfully follow the Scriptures into a love for the lost and a desire to see their eyes opened to a God who has answers for all the ills in our world.

These are men that God has provided us to lead us well. They have been given to us, like Nehemiah to his people, to establish a foundation for us. What is that foundation? It is our Cornerstone, Jesus Christ, whom their characteristics point us to in the first place.

God is so good to us. He, as our Father, has given us so many good gifts. Jesus Christ, as our head, continues to faithfully lead us through the ups-and-downs of life in this world. And the leaders of our church show us how to faithfully follow Him along the way. Let us praise Him today for all of the things that we may take for granted but we never should.

Love you all,

Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff

What [AND WHO] Great Leadership Looks Like

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