The Gates of Zion
Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 : “… I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Gates, in the Scriptures, are always used as the symbolic expression and demonstration, of power and authority. Here, the gates of hell represent the powers, authorities and works of the kingdom of darkness.
But when the Psalmist said in Psalm 118:19 “Open to me the gates of righteousness…” he was referring to the works of righteousness. Today I have entitled my sermon The Gates of Zion, for in Psalm 87:2, the Bible says, “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” This means that God loves the works of Zion, that is, the glorious works of righteousness which the Church does by living in His Name. That’s why the Apostle Paul proudly declares in Ephesians 2:10: (Reading from the Amplified Bible)
“For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [ living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live]”
There are works that God has predestined us to do in Zion; He had planned beforehand that we (the Church) would be the ones to do these works. God loves these works we do. Let me read from Psalm 87:2-3,“The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.” The dwellings of Jacob are the natural land of the Jews. The Bible shows us how God constantly fought for the children of Israel to possess the land, and Jesus will even fight
at the final battle, the battle of Armageddon to ensure that His dwelling place among men in the Millennium, at the present day Jerusalem is not desecrated! God still loves the gates of
Zion more than all the natural dwellings of Jacob. The works of the Church are more precious to Him than the place where His future throne on earth will be situated.
Now why are the works of the Church more precious to God than all the dwellings of Jacob? It is because the Church is His peculiar treasure, purchased with the precious blood of His Son Christ Jesus and ordained to display His excellencies
(1 Peter 2:9).
Of course I should point out that these works are not a means to our Salvation, rather they are the outworking of the indwelling Holy Spirit which enriches our lives and advances the cause of the Kingdom of God in us and through us..
So let us consider first of all what is meant by
Building the Gates of Jerusalem.
Reading through the book of Nehemiah, you’ll find the kind of attitude the child of God should have, the kind of things he ought to do and the boldness he ought to display.
Nehemiah was among the Jews that were in captivity in Babylon and he was chosen by the king to be his cupbearer at his palace in Shushan. Nehemiah was actually at ease and comfortably in the palace until the day when certain messengers came from Judah with heartrending news. Nehemiah enquired after the state of Judah and the Holy City Jerusalem, the city of the great King. When he heard their bleak news, that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates burned with fire, he himself, broke down and wept. He was heartbroken for the city because it was the city of the Lord.
I wonder are there any righteous folks around today who weep to God over the spiritual state of their Church, their city, their town, or their neighbourhood? Are there any of us so grieved about the broken down state of the Church, the dry and barren land that ought to be ripe with Harvest? Are there those amongst us who desire to build a people of power and praise for God? God visited many of the great Revivalists in by-gone days with a peculiar anointing of the Holy Spirit, when God found them prostrate on the floor in tears and prayer for their lost neighbours, and their lost and god-less towns, cities and churches. God requires his “people to humble themselves and pray and seek his face and turn from their wicked ways, then he promises that he will hear from heaven, he will forgive their sin, and will heal their land“. 2 Chronicles 7:14
Throwing Money at trouble spots does not remove them – we need to resolve our troubles and reconcile our neighbourhoods.
When Nehemiah thought about God’s people, God’s promises, God’s work and all that God had invested in the kingdom and in the people, and when he learned of the broken walls of Jerusalem and the burned gates, he was moved to tears. Moreover, he was told that the people were in great affliction and reproach, so Nehemiah mourned and fasted several days and prayed to the God of Heaven. The temple at Jerusalem was the centre of worship; it was the place where God had put His Name. Solomon had prayed many years prior to this time that if anyone came into that temple to pray, and if they were truly repentant, that God should hear from Heaven and forgive their back-sliding and sin. Read the prayer for yourself in
1 Kings 8:46-50
Nehemiah knew all this, he knew the Prayer of Solomon, thus when he heard that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates were burned with fire, it touched him and he began to pray about it. He prayed for his people; he prayed for Jerusalem that God would help him get back and re-build it. God heard him and granted him favour before the King, and the King gave him leave to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the broken walls and restore those burned gates.
So then Building the Gates of Jerusalem, is all about having a compassion for the House and Place of God, having a concern for Gods Glory and the Continuation of the proclamation of Truth. A Concern and Compassion that goes beyond mere words, but that motivates and moves us into action, to rebuild and repair the broken and the fallen down.
For the Christian this is also about
Building Up One Another in Love.
In the natural realm, this was not a glorious day for Jerusalem and Judah. Today, the gates and the temple typify the Christians life. How do you feel when you see a neighbour whose business is completely broken down and is facing bankruptcy? You ought to have a righteous heart like Nehemiah and let the situation spur you to intercede for them. Something I find very distressing as a minister is the apparent apathy and indifference that is breaking the heart of the Church and breaking the heart of her Saviour.
I hope I shall never lose faith in God, but I have to confess that I have often lost faith in People; Even in Christian people. We may preach reconciliation to the world, but until we are reconciled with one another, the world will not hear us!
Until we break down those walls of division that are the ruination of our testimony, Gods word and Gods work will always suffer. As a result of our hardened hearts towards one another, many of us walk in great affliction and reproach; our walls are broken down and our gates burned with fire. I admire the Para-medics who rush to the aid and support of any and all of us in crisis. They ask no questions about our class or our creed, but pour in the oil and wine of comfort to every hurting soul. Many of our Churches should take a leaf from their book. Instead we drive past the trouble spots and leave the solving of the problems to others, yet God has placed the solution in our hands.
There’s no glory any more, neither is there power in our lives. Things like this should arouse the anointing of the Spirit within us and cause us to intercede in prayer for all of our people. – So like the Psalmist, we ought to pray, “Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem” (Psalm 51:18).
As we look into the Scriptures, we find a pattern for building the walls of Jerusalem, that is, a pattern for building the lives of God’s people who are not exhibiting the glorious life.
Yet as I look across the Christian Community today in Ireland, North and South, (and I have ministered in both all of my life) as I ponder the greater good of the whole community, and the Churches impact upon it, I see, as no doubt many of you will see, that the walls are broken down and the gates no longer mark the way to hope and help in God. I am not now speaking of the fabric of any building, Church or Chapel nor its exterior boundaries,- rather I am speaking of the broken-down state of many believers. You see the Church is the Body of Believers, the Body of Christ, and Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12.v12 “as the body is one, and hath many members, ….so also is Christ.” and again in v27 that “we are the body of Christ and members in particular.”
It is possible for the Christian, the child of God to become “broken-down” or as we may more regularly express it, “back -sliding” … broken on the pathway of life, crippled by the baggage of life, and beaten by the pressures of life. Still a Christian, still a believer, but rendered ineffective and powerless by their distance from God. Some of us may drive cars that are a bit like this, without regular maintenance, regular servicing, and regular top-ups, they’ll fail to function as a car should, and may well leave us “broken-down” on the highways of life!
It is singularly the most disturbing and disappointing sight for any Pastor to witness one of their number in this back-slidden and broken-down state, and as I hinted earlier, it should drive us to our knees in intercessory prayer for their recovery and restoration. You can imagine the effect if more than one or two in any fellowship, in any Church have broken down in this way. The effectiveness of the shared witness is reduced. The body of Christ as a whole suffers, and the work of the kingdom, for Zion’s sake, (for the Saviours sake) is set back.
What is it then that causes the believer to fail, fall and falter on the “pathway” on the pilgrimage to heaven and home? I have given the matter some considerable thought, both as I have studied the many Biblical examples of back-sliding, and the many contemporary victims of such break-downs. The motoring organizations will tell us that the most common cause of break-down on our roads, is the lack of fuel, ….those vehicles that have run out of petrol! Don’t you think that this might be also the reason why many Christians fall along the road of life. Not for lack of petrol …. but for lack of food, spiritual food,
spiritual nourishment, if you like – spiritual fuel. I have said before in this broadcast that every believer must ensure the “Daily offering of Prayer, the Daily Reading of the Word, (The Bible) and the Daily Filling of the Spirit! (The Holy Spirit) Without these three vital resources, without this vital supply, the believer is without the necessary fuel to find, follow and finish the course.
Let us ponder these three great sources of supply, for a moment.
The Daily Offering of Prayer.
In a recent survey it was discovered that the greater majority of Christians, including the Clergy, spend on average, just 15 minutes a day in Prayer. Many will spend even less time, with a hurried petition as they leave for work in the morning, and a similar “quickie” as they climb into bed at night. Jesus confronted and challenged his own disciples because they could not spend “one hour” with him in prayer. Matthew 26.40 & Mark 14.37. When was the last time you spent an HOUR in prayer? I have uncovered a great blessing in my own prayer life, in that after spending the first hour alone with God I am transported from the natural to the supernatural, from the physical to the spiritual, and then time becomes of no relevance whatever. Even in my twenties as a student I spent whole days in Prayer and Fasting, – getting to know the secrets of the Spirit filled life and Power with God.
I have known times in my recent history, when I have
awakened at about Four in the morning and been in prayer until after Eight. These have been blessed times, times of increased revelation from the Scriptures, times of enhanced burden for the lost, and times of enriched blessing in the Spirit. I was awakened so that I might have a quiet time alone with God, a sweet and sacred fellowship, without disturbance from Phone-calls, or pressing duties.
In those precious times God has shown me things that I believe are ahead of me, and ahead of us all, and just this week the Lord has been revealing to me that he is about to tear down the oppressor and raise up the oppressed. Watch for it, its coming soon. The seemingly strong, will soon become weak. Many who would Lord it over us, will find the wind gone from their sails, Daniel 12:4 reads…
“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased”.
Get into the habit of Prayer, yes get into the habit of getting down on your knees, like the great believing men and women of the past did, …humble yourself before God, for without Him, there is no hope for the time remaining, and no hope for eternity!
Consider too the necessity of
The Daily Reading of the Word….
Which ought to be a priority for us all. The Word will keep you
from the World, but the World will keep you from the word! Nowadays we can read the word much more easily and conveniently than we did years go. We can have the Bible on our MP3 players, on our I-pads, on our lap-tops, even on our cell phones. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of reading little devotional books and the like instead of the Bible.
Most of these are aimed at the young in the faith, and not for the mature. Now there are many wonderful Christian books on the market, and many of them are no doubt worthy of reading, but I have discovered that Christians will read almost anything thrown at them by the Churches, instead of reading the Bible! Of course there are many who will read a few verses in the morning before setting out for work, or a few verses at night before getting into bed. Most of these folk fail to appreciate and appropriate the word, because the word must be digested as spiritual food, a nourishment for the soul, otherwise such reading is merely an academic exercise; the results of which are evident in the stunted growth and immaturity of the believer.
I have known many Christians who read their Bible religiously like this, and have been doing so for most of their lives. Sadly there appears to be little or real Spiritual “growth” for they remain more or less as they have always been. The word should be transforming you visibly – if its not, you are not being nourished by it!
Finally, to prevent our Spiritual “breakdown” we need
The Daily Filling of the Holy Spirit.
God gives His Holy Spirit to the believer at the “new birth”.
The Sacrificial, and Substitutionary death of Jesus on the Cross brought about the “Redemption” of the whole world, (John 3:16) – but it is not until a man or woman, boy or girl, accepts this glorious gospel personally that they are born again into Gods family. It is then that the Holy Spirit indwells them as believers and empowers them to live the victorious visible Christian life!
God doesn’t forgive you today when you ask him? God forgave you 2000 years ago at Calvary – the forgiveness is always available, Salvation comes when you accept it as yours. (And incidentally, God does not heal you today when you ask him, He healed you also 2000 years ago by His Stripes, your healing manifests when you believe it and receive it and if you don’t, you won’t!)
But the believer needs to rely on a daily empowering, a daily
fuelling if you like, and if the Holy Spirit is “grieved” or “quenched” by the tolerance of sin or sympathy with sin, then the empowerment ceases, the fuel expires, and the believer breaks down! This empowerment is necessary for us both individually as members, and corporately as the body of Christ, His Church.
One Hymn writer puts it this way,
Come Holy Spirit, dark is the hour,
We plead thy filling, thy love and thy mighty power,
Move now among us, stir us we pray,
Come Holy Spirit, revive your Church today.
Now this final word
It is a horrible thing to see our highways littered with the broken down remnants of old cars, lorries and vans. It is similarly disturbing to witness the broken down lives of those who have given in, and given up on God. Those who were distracted from their pilgrim journey by the attractions and lure of this world.
Those who traded the eternal joys of the Kingdom, for the temporary and fleeting pleasures of sin. Those who will one day weep over what might have been, had they pursued Christ, and not only found, but followed and finished their course. You may be broken-down today, you may have lost the spring in your step, the song in your heart, the joy of your forgiveness, and you may have given up on God.
But let me tell you that He has not given up on you. Obedient or disobedient, God still loves you, still longs for you to be his loving child, still wants to look after you and give you the kingdom as your inheritance.
Ask him to come into your heart and life, let him re-build that broken heart, that broken home, that broken body, that broken life. Just ASK him!
God Bless You – Amen