Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate. Nehemiah 3:1
Every summer my family would go to Riviera Beach, Florida for two weeks. One of my favorite pastimes was building a sand castle on the beach. The first time I tried to build one, I would just begin to see it take form when a large wave would come to destroy the whole thing. I tried building further from the shore, but there wasn’t enough moisture in the sand to hold its shape. So I finally learned to build a large wall and a moat before I even started to build the sand castle. This then prevented the waves from destroying my precious, but vulnerable, work of art.
The Israelites returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed some 70 years earlier. Nehemiah tells us that the process of rebuilding the temple began first with rebuilding the Jerusalem wall for the same reasons I learned to build a wall and a moat around my sand castle. Israel had many enemies who would love to destroy the temple at the first opportunity. The same is true today. In 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul writes the “…we are the temple of the living God.” And just like in Nehemiah’s day, we are to build a wall of protection around our temple. But what does that look like? Does that mean I need to withdraw from the world and build a physical wall of protection between me and people who do not believe in God? That doesn’t make any sense when we remember that Jesus tells us to the salt of the world which requires contact with those who do not have God’s amazing flavor in their lives. The answer lies within Nehemiah’s decryption of how the Jerusalem wall was rebuilt.
We discover in the third chapter of Nehemiah that the high priest began the work on the wall by rebuilding the Sheep Gate. The high priest began the process, not the chief architect or master builder or head deacon or building committee chairperson. No, it was the high priest who started to rebuild at none other than the Sheep Gate. In Luke 23 we see that Jesus, our High Priest and Lamb of God, began rebuilding the wall of protection around the temple to be built in each one of His followers as He withstood the attacks of the earthly high priest and the Roman governor. Jesus went to the cross and nailed our sins to that cross as He died for you and me. There is no greater protection than rendering our sins powerless in our own lives. Jesus began the wall of protection that would extend to every human being who had ever existed, did exist, and would exist in the future. But the story of protection doesn’t end there.
Nehemiah chronicles the process in chapter 3 by telling us that THEN the son of this person and that person rebuilt the next section, and BESIDE him was…, and THEN there was…, and BEYOND him was…, and the NEXT GATE was…. This goes on until the end of the chapter when we read in verses 31-32, “Then he continued as far as the upper room at the corner. The other goldsmiths and merchants repaired the wall from that corner to the Sheep Gate.” And so the wall was repaired all the way back to the beginning point at the Sheep Gate.
Jesus involves us, you and me, in the rebuilding and repairing of the wall of protection around the temple. Could it be that Jesus created the church so that His followers would come together in prayer, unity, fellowship, ministry, and service to others for the purpose of building a wall of protection around His people, His temple on earth? That means you help me build the piece of the wall that I need most while I help you build the piece of the wall you need most. We all have different vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We all have issues and struggles. We are all involved in a spiritual warfare against principalities and powers not of this earth. When I read Nehemiah 3 with the Church of Jesus Christ in mind, I see a picture of this person next to that person beside another person, and beyond her was yet another person. And though they were all working on the same wall of protection, they each had their own specific part to play in a particular area of expertise.
It makes me realize that perhaps we should be asking questions like: What part of the wall am I working on? Who is next to me? Who is just beyond me? And am I working on the wall Jesus is building, or am I working on my own wall?