On the day I was born, 10/10/1964, Mickey Mantle hit a walk-off homerun against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Three of the World Series. The Cardinals may have lost that game, but they went on to win the series and become the 1964 Champions. I didn’t grow up a Cardinals fan, nor was I ever interested in the Yankees, but that feat by Mantle on the day I was born shaped part of my identity.
By the time I was five years old, I was already playing “live pitch” baseball and wearing number 7 just like Mickey did for the Yankees. I kept that number my whole career. I modeled my batting stance after him. I wanted to hit like Mickey. And even though he retired from baseball the same year I started playing, he will always be my “first favorite” player. For with that admiration came the hope that I would turn out a great ball player myself.
Part of the excitement we have in studying the Old Testament is the connection we feel to something ancient. I think it goes beyond just a desire to know history. We want to believe that God really does have a story He is telling from the beginning where we actually belong and play a part. So when we come to a story like Nehemiah, we want to know where it fits in the story God is telling, and why he would be singled out to illustrate this particular part of history—our history.
I hope that you have enjoyed the unfolding of Nehemiah’s story so far. This weekend we will continue to unfold it. Nehemiah sits chronologically at the end of Old Testament history, and at the beginning of what is known as the Intertestamental Period, those few silent centuries where mankind sat in darkness awaiting the great light that would come. Isaiah prophesied over 600 years before Jesus was born that such a “light” would come. We see throughout the Old Testament, even in those dark times, a faint flicker of hope, a “smoldering wick” as Isaiah described it.
So among the times and dates of historical figures and national superpowers, we see the rise and fall of men and their kingdoms as they point to the One whose kingdom will never end. That is the story God is telling, and that is the story where we find our deepest and truest selves. Simply, to enter God’s story is to find the purpose for why we were created.
On August 13, 1995, Mickey Mantle died inside the Baylor University Medical Center of Dallas, Texas. I was living in Dallas, two blocks away from the hospital at the time, and had just recently welcomed my first-born son home. I remember hearing about “The Mick’s” death and how he could’ve lived so much longer if he’d only lived so much wiser. While I wanted to emulate his life on the field, I learned as I grew older that I did not want to be like him off the field.
The Old Testament gives us heroes to witness. We see their humanity inside the tales of strengths and weaknesses. It’s our heroes, especially the Biblical ones, who remind us of just how frail we all are. These same heroes through dates and times tell us the truth about ourselves, our mortality against the backdrop of God’s immortality, our limitations under His omnipotence. These heroes are never greater than when they recognize this themselves. In our great weakness He has laid help on the Mighty One, our Savior, who has come between Creator and creature to make peace. This is His story, our peace, our song.