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Nehemiah

Bible Stories Which Teach Us How to Live in This World

Aug 29, 2021


by: Jack Lash Series: Bible Stories Which Teach Us How to Live in This World | Category: Outreach | Scripture: Nehemiah 1:1–2:9

I. Introduction
A. Series: Bible stories which teach us how to live in this world. This morning, we come to the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
B. Next week we begin a new fall series on Job, so you might want to be reading that book.
II. Story of Nehemiah
A. As a result of their sin, God sent the people of Judah into exile in Babylon/Persia for 70 years.
B. And then God began to return His people to Judah: Zerubbabel, Ezra
1. But the walls of the city remained unbuilt.
2. Our story begins over 80 years after the first Jews returned from the exile.
3. Nehemiah wasn’t even born when the first Jews returned.
C. Nehemiah 1:1-2:9 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” 4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. 1 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” 6 And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. 7 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.
D. So, even though he was a Jew, Nehemiah was a rich nobleman and the cupbearer to the king. He was one of the king’s most trusted men.
E. And the king agreed to send him back to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
F. And he appointed Nehemiah governor of Judah. The king also provided safe passage and timber to build the walls, and to build a palace for Nehemiah to live in.
G. Well, Nehemiah got to Jerusalem safely. After a little rest, he and a few other men mounted horses and rode all around the city of Jerusalem, and saw what terrible shape the city was in. The next day he talked to the rulers of the city, “Let us build up the walls of our city again!” The rulers were only too eager to do so.
H. So, Nehemiah came up with a plan. He divided up the wall around the city. Each family was given a part of the wall nearest its own house to rebuild. And 32 verses of Nehemiah 3 describe the process of how each family built their little part.
I. Soon some of the Samaritans living nearby began to make trouble. They laughed at Nehemiah for trying to build up the walls, “What do you Jews think they’re doing? And look at this – if even a fox climbed up on the wall, it would break down!” But Nehemiah didn’t answer. He just prayed – “Listen to their hateful words, Lord!” – and went on building the wall.
J. Then the Samaritans began making threats against the Jews. But instead of stopping their work, Nehemiah divided up the people. Half of them went on building the wall, and the other half held weapons, so as to be ready in case of attack. And some of them actually worked with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other. And they even began to sleep next to the wall, to guard it overnight.
K. One of the Jewish leaders told Nehemiah that he should sleep in the temple so as to be safe. But Nehemiah said, “I will not do hide myself while others are exposed to danger!”
L. Well, they all worked hard, everybody doing their part, and the wall was finished in only 52 days!
M. All the people gathered together near the gate of the city. And Ezra the priest stood high up on a platform, and blessed the Lord who had helped them. And all the people said, “Amen, Amen!” and lifted up their hands, and bowed their heads, and worshiped the Lord.
N. Ezra read from the Word of God, and the people listened attentively. As he read, he explained what he was reading, so that everyone could understand. It had been a long time since they had heard the Word of God. Ezra read about how God had led their fathers out of Egypt, how He had cared for them in the desert, how He had given them His law telling them how He wanted them to live and how to worship Him, how they had sinned, and how God had forgiven them over and over.
O. And the people began to weep as they listened. But Ezra and Nehemiah stopped them saying, “No! You must not weep today, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. This is a holy day of celebration! Go home and have a feast. Eat and drink, and give food to those who are poor.” So the people went home and did just that. And the next morning they came again to listen to the Word of God.
III. What does this story teach us about living in this world?
A. We have an important task to do: to build the kingdom.
1. The world was a mess, but the need which gripped Nehemiah was the broken down walls of an insignificant city hundreds of miles away. Why? Because that was God’s city. That was the dwelling place of God.
2. And the same is true for us. There are many problems which need attention. But there is one thing which the world thinks is trivial, and yet which is the most important thing in the whole world.
3. And that’s the city of God, the kingdom of our Lord Jesus.
4. Nehemiah had a heart for God’s kingdom. All the great people of faith had a heart for God’s kingdom. All those who love Christ love His bride as well, and aspire to her welfare and her soundness and her strength and her growth and her purity and her peace.
5. When Nehemiah heard the news of the sad state of God’s city, he wept and mourned for days, he fasted and prayed.
6. Do you know what fasting is? Fasting is giving up something you love because there’s something you love more.
7. What news makes you sad? What is it that discourages you so much that the people around you can tell there’s something wrong? What is it that you drop everything for?
8. All of the gallant things Nehemiah did, all of the courage he displayed, all of the unshakable stands he took, it all sprang from his passion for the city of God.
9. Paul had this passion too – “Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” – 2Cor.11:28-29
10. Many people don’t even pray for their own church much less for the other churches in the area, much less for other churches in their denomination or around the world.
11. God didn’t just put us here to enjoy ourselves. God didn’t just put us here to suffer. There is enjoyment, and there is suffering, but God has also given us an assignment, a job to do. He’s our Nehemiah and He calls us to be His helpers in building His church, His bride, His kingdom, His city, The New Jerusalem.
12. Understandably, people often get discouraged about the church, just like they did in Nehemiah’s day. But Nehemiah didn’t devote himself to the task because it looked so promising, but because the need was so great.
13. Nehemiah didn’t say, “Lord, I trust you that you are in control and that you’ll made sure the walls of Jerusalem get built in Your good time.”
14. You know, trusting the Lord when things aren’t going well in Christ’s church can be a cop out. It saves us from having to grieve. It saves us from having to fast and pray. It saves us from having to work hard. It saves us from having to face dangers.
15. Remember what Michelle said as her final words to us as a church two weeks ago? She said what a privilege it was to work together to bring Christ to the peoples of the earth.
16. We can’t just be zealous for our own spiritual survival, but we must be zealous for the health and growth of Christ’s kingdom, the welfare of Christ’s church.
17. It’s really an issue of faith. I’m sure that many Jews in Nehemiah’s time were just concerned with their own spiritual survival. And that’s an important thing to be concerned about. But when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He refused to give just one answer. He said that after loving God, we must also love our neighbor.
18. He doesn’t give us permission to just worry about ourselves; He calls us to also worry about others.
19. It’s a matter of faith. In 2Cor.9:8–11, Paul tells us that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work... 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.”
20. We can trust God not only to give us enough to survive on, but to give us enough to survive AND TO GIVE TO OTHERS.
21. Nehemiah saw a problem and he didn’t complain, he didn’t criticize, he didn’t shake his head in disgust. Nehemiah saw a problem and he did something about it.
22. Sometimes people have a great idea or desire/burden but they just never take the plunge of getting started.
23. But it’s not enough to have a burden for something, you have to actually do something, even if it’s just to pray and ask the Lord if there’s something else He wants you to do.
24. Or they get started, but as soon as they face difficulty, they give up.
25. You know, with every job/project/ministry there comes a point where obstacles are in the way and success looks doubtful.
26. This has happened numerous times to us as a church. It’s happening right now with many churches, as a result of the pandemic. We ourselves have lost about 25 kids since then.
B. But prayer is first. When we think that we are the key to the solution, we begin with effort. But when we know that God is the key to the solution, we begin with prayer.
1. And notice Nehemiah’s prayer. It doesn’t start with panic, or even with human need. It starts with worship, it starts with the acknowledgment that God is infinitely bigger than our need/problem.
2. “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” Neh.1:5
3. But then after worship, he moves to repentance: “Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you for the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” Neh.1:6-7
4. And then Nehemiah reminds God of His promises: “Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’” Neh.1:8-9
a. God loves it when we remind Him of His promises. It means we remember them & believe them.
5. And only then does Nehemiah get to his actual request: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man (the king).” Neh.1:11
6. Who is praying like this for the welfare of Christ’s church today?
7. Who is longing for and praying for the success of the gospel?
8. Who is praying for their neighbors and their associates and their acquaintances like this?
C. But Nehemiah’s prayer for the king’s heart to be opened to him also followed after years of faithful service. You know, there had been several attempts to poison Artaxerxes’ father and grandfather.
1. So, the position of cupbearer implied that the king had absolute trust in Nehemiah. And for a Persian king to trust a Jewish man in this way meant that Nehemiah had faithfully served the king for many years.
2. It seems like the most effective believers during this time were the ones who were content to serve the Lord as sincere, faithful servants of a pagan government – but without compromise.
3. Like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and even Esther.
D. Everybody has a different role to play, but we’re all praying and striving toward the same goal.
1. Ephesians Paul refers to it as “the work of ministry, the building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph.4:12-16)
2. This is what we’re about. And it happens “when each part is working properly.”
3. Notice the contrast between Esther & Nehemiah. He stepped up boldly. She had to be convinced.
4. But they were both after the same thing.
5. We have to work together.
6. We have to trust others to do their job – while being responsible and diligent to do ours.
7. Everybody’s got a section of the wall to build. What’s your section? Are you being faithful to build it?
E. There is plenty of opposition. The world around us is not neutral about this project.
1. And there’s plenty of distractions.
2. Satan can scare us from doing the work, but he can also lull us to sleep so we don’t do the work.
IV. Conclusion
A. This is our last sermon on stories which teach us how to live in this world. And it’s a fitting ending, it seems to me. Our call in this world is not merely inward, but also outward.
B. Our Jesus is too big to remain only our God. He must be recognized as the God of the whole world.
1. It is too small a thing for Him to raise US up to one life! He must be the light of the nations, and His salvation must reach to the end of the earth! – Isaiah 49:6
C. And it is one of our great honors and privileges to be involved in this, to have some small role in it.
D. For the exiles, there was a time when their task was to accept where God had put them, with all its difficulties and limitations. But there was also a time when their task was to not be content to live in their present situation but to step out in faith and build a better place for God’s people, to rebuild what was in ruins – for the sake of God’s precious ones, for the sake of the glory of His great name!