What a fascinating list. Goldsmiths; a perfume maker; rulers of half-districts and districts; high priests and priests; nobles (some of whom wouldn’t lift a finger to help!) and men. A ruler’s granddaughters helped as well. They lived near the wall and away from it, but they were all protected by that wall. All were committed to its repair.
Jerusalem had been destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar a century and a half before. Artaxerxes permitted Nehemiah to return with a final group of exiles and reconstruct the defensive walls. I envisage our congregation building defensive walls against the attacks of the devil through our culture. How do we protect the walls/health of our congregation? Earlier this year we read in Ephesians 6 of the Christian’s armour and his only offensive weapon – the word of God. But what protects the whole congregation? Ephesians chapter 4:1ff gives a clue: “As a prisoner of the Lord I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received … Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit …”. In that same chapter Paul goes on to describe that, “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (v 7). Do you know how God has equipped you? Are we using our gift to unite and build up the body? Our leaders have the God-given role to “equip us for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (v12). We pray for the leadership in their task of building us up and for ourselves as we work towards unity.
In Matthew 10:1-4, I am struck by the authority Jesus gave to his disciples. Note that Jesus gave this authority only to the Twelve he had chosen and trained. They were the apprentices of the day, living with and learning from their master. This was their commissioning. Like the Apostles we must stay close to Jesus and learn from him before we can be trusted with spiritual authority.
Jesus sends us out like sheep among wolves (10:16). I don’t want to know that – it’s too threatening. I don’t want conflict but peace in my relationships. Yet we live in a hostile world where it easy to do harm and hard to do good. Jesus tells us be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. The dove symbolises purity and innocence; the snake may be dangerous, but it avoids danger if it can.
In witnessing there are two extremes to avoid: to encourage persecution by pushing the gospel on everyone we meet, or to seek to be inoffensive and so limit our usefulness in God’s service. There will be occasions when it is prudent to flee danger (see 10:23) and other times when our conversation uses the wisdom God provides (10:19, 20).
The Jewish religious leaders were already checking up on Jesus, questioning his breaking of their traditions. Jesus knew his message was revolutionary – and it still is. If they called him Beelzebub (“prince of demons”, see 12:24) how can we anticipate anything different (10:25)? In our society we may be ostracised, pitied, thought a little strange. If we were in a different culture we may be dying for our faith. That reality is my wake-up call.
I am comforted to read of Jesus’ ongoing care for us (10:29-31). It is his care that gives me the confidence to speak of him in everyday encounters.
Verse 38 is challenging: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me”. Paul makes this practical: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1, 2).