Sometimes I go into our empty church sanctuary and daydream. The sanctuary is empty nowadays – pretty much all the time. And my daydreams are about what it would be like for the sanctuary to be full – so full that we have to bring out all the chairs, and so full that people are lining the side and back walls, standing room only. And so full we have to throw open the windows and turn the sound system outward so that the people who are standing on the lawn can hear what’s going on inside.
In my daydreams, I’m standing on the lawn, listening to the sound of the worship inside and to the words of the preacher as he explains the gospel. And people are listening. They are singing. And after the service we might watch some baptisms in the Crystal River – some very cold baptisms.
It’s just a daydream, a hope, for the Church at Redstone. Eventually, my vision settles again on our empty sanctuary, the chairs all spread out six feet apart, and it’s silent. I’ve given you a little window into my soul!
My daydream is pretty small, in reality. And it certainly is not quite the same as what I’m sure some of the faithful Jews had in Jesus’ day. Theirs was a grand vision. Some of the Jews in Jesus’ day had a heavenly hope. They had a hope that their nation would be restored, and that the words of the Prophets would be fulfilled.
Shortly after Jesus Christ was born, his parents took him to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. And a widow was there named Anna. She was 84 years old. (That’s 7 times 12, if you are into math). And Anna was a prophetess. And upon meeting the baby Jesus, Anna “began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
We learn something there. In Jesus’ day, some people were hanging around the temple who were “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” And the presence of Jesus – this infant – sparked something in those people. “Here is hope!” Luke, the gospel writer, recorded this little episode with Anna because, I suppose, he wanted to make sure we knew the mysterious excitement the baby Jesus sparked in the lives of strangers – strangers who cared about the redemption of God’s holy city.
Jesus Christ brings with him the “redemption of Jerusalem.”
Of course, we also remember The End (which also is a beginning). In Revelation, we can read about what the disciple John saw in his vision from God. Just read to this: “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed – on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9-14).
There is a lot of symbolism here. But we can easily see the picture of God working through the nation of Israel to become a blessing to the world – and we can see the joining of the history of God’s people, pre- and post-Christ. This is one people of God, marked by twelve tribes and twelve apostles.
The point as we read Nehemiah 2 today is Jerusalem is no ordinary city. There was a long expectation in Israel that God was going to restore Jerusalem and the temple. Anna and others spent their days in the temple in Jerusalem waiting for this work of restoration. And I think Jesus sparked new hope in them of the fulfillment of that restoration.
Nehemiah was helping to set the stage for Jesus Christ. God was moving Nehemiah forward to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem, I suppose to prepare those city gates for the arrival of the Messiah. “And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good” (Nehemiah 2:18). And as Nehemiah took his late-night tour of the walls and gates, the desolation of the city was clear. Broken down. Destroyed by fire. Impassable in some places. I picture rubble everywhere.
Nehemiah commenced the work. He had his conversation with the Persian King Artaxerxes in 445 BC. In reality, the work continues today. It won’t be completed until the vision John received becomes a reality sometime in the future, after the return of Jesus Christ – “the Lamb.”
That’s the hope we have as Christians. We look forward to the return of Jesus Christ and the appearance of the heavenly city of Jerusalem, with its “great, high wall.” If you read more in Revelation, you’ll see there is no temple in that new Jerusalem because Jesus Christ serves as the temple. And you’ll see the gates are never shut.
A question we might ask ourselves today, as we read and pray through Nehemiah 2, is just what hope we have for God’s work in our lives today. We can have big hopes – like for the return of Jesus – and we have little hopes, like the restoration of a relationship or a body or a nation or a church. What is broken down today that you would like to see God redeem? Think about how God’s redemption of that thing might tie into his overall plan of redemption for his people.
Another short scripture to read and ponder today if you have time: Psalm 122. I imagine the prophetess Anna and the others who were “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” used this psalm frequently in their prayers. It’s important for us to realize the great hope the faithful in Israel placed in Jerusalem.