I have enjoyed our study of Nehemiah over the past few weeks and it’s exciting, action packed and triumphal story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. But the final chapter of Nehemiah, chapter 13, ends on a note of disappointment. So much so that biblical scholar Don Carson quips that a good alternative title for Nehemiah might be the ‘Triumph and Failure of Reformation and Revival’!
In the final chapter, Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem for a second term as Governor, only to find that all those promises the people made to once again live according to God’s covenant… have been broken. The spiritual reforms that Nehemiah and Ezra brought in turned out to be short lived and skin deep. Jerusalem’s walls might be restored, but the hearts of God’s people still need much work.
Chronologically Nehemiah is set right near the end of the Old Testament’s story. And its ending that highlights the reality of human sin, is discouraging. But this ending also sets the seen for Jesus to come to God’s people and do for them what Nehemiah could not; rebuild their hearts!
And on Palm Sunday, hope begins that Nehemiah’s disappointment might be overturned! Because Jesus finally accomplished on his cross what God had long promised his people: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; ‘I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’ (Ezekiel 36:26).
So let us be thankful for Jesus, the Greater Nehemiah, who came to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, ultimately to die on Good Friday, to once and for all take away the sin of his people.
Rev. Ben Soderlund