We are in a new series called “ARISE AND BUILD. This series is to help us seek God’s will as we build our new building.
Nehemiah 1:1-4 1The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, 2that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” 4So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Overall Background: The Book of Nehemiah is one of the most fascinating books in the Old Testament. It is the story of man—not a prophet or a priest or a king—just an ordinary man who gave up a wonderful career and a perfect life to go and help his people. He risked his own life to save the lives of future generations.
Who was this Nehemiah? Nehemiah was a Jewish man living in the Persian capital of Shushan (modern-day Iran). More than likely, his parents were brought there as prisoners from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar. You remember—because the people of Judah had forsaken God; because they had gone after idols; God had sent the nation of Babylon against them. In 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem and destroyed the temple and destroyed the walls and drove the people of Judah out of their homes. He forced them to march 700 miles across the hot desert to a land they had never seen. This was a very difficult time for the Jewish people but God did not abandon His people—He never does.
– He sent them a message through the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 29:10-11 10 For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. This promise was given during this difficult period.
– In the meantime, God raised up men like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and women like Esther who stood as an example of how to serve God in a bad situation.
– Just as God had promised – 70 years into the exile—Babylon fell into the hands of the Medo-Persians overnight. The new king Cyrus freed the Hebrew people and gave them permission to go back home.
– Some 50,000 Jewish people returned to Jerusalem and began rebuilding the temple. Immediately, they faced opposition from people who had settled in their homes and the Jewish people abandoned the project. For 16 years they gave up until God sent prophets like Haggai and Zechariah who encouraged them to finish. Finally, after altogether 20 years, the temple was finished.
– Almost 60 years later, another large group of probably 5,000 left Persia to return to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra the scribe.
– Ezra immediately went to work. He tried to beautify the temple and restore the worship and reform the people but things were still not good. The problem was that Jerusalem had no city walls. In those days, for a city to survive and thrive, it need protection and security, and Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the walls of Jerusalem. When some of them had tried to rebuild the walls, their enemies wrote to the Persian King saying, “You better do something. These Jews are trying to start a rebellion” and the king immediately ordered all the work to stop. Without any walls, everything was in disarray – no stability, no security, and no hope for the future. They were completely vulnerable.
Application: In some ways, it reminds us of our own times. Many people are looking for stability and security. In a tough economy, when jobs are hard to come by and there is no guarantee that you will keep your job tomorrow, people are becoming more and more pessimistic and apathetic. There is no vision. There is no future. There is no hope.
Maybe there are some here this morning that are exactly in the situation that I have described. You feel helpless and hopeless. You take two steps forward and three steps back. You blame God for your situation – why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Why doesn’t God open a door? Let me remind you today that God is working in your life. Just like the people of Jerusalem, He is not through. Keep looking to Him. In His timing, He will answer your prayers.
Let me go a step further—If you have never given your life to Jesus Christ, today is the day to do that. Trials and difficulties and problems are God’s calling cards to turn our lives over to Christ.
But for those who are saved; those who have the hope that is steadfast and sure; there is a message here for us as well. What are we doing to help those around us? Can we see the despair, the hopelessness, and the apathy in the eyes of those around us?
As we go through this series on Nehemiah—“Arise and build”—this is not just about building a church building. If we think that we have missed the point. If we think that building a church building is what God wants us to do, we have missed the point. If we think that this is what our Pastor has been working so hard to achieve, we have missed the point because IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BUILDING. IT’S ABOUT CHANGED LIVES.
How does it begin? It begins when we start caring.
Listen again to the passage we just read: 1The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel,
The thing that we learned about Nehemiah is that HE CARED WHEN HE DIDN’T HAVE TO.
If you noticed, Nehemiah says “I was in Shushan the citadel,”
Background: What was he doing in Shushan? Shushan, as you remember, was the capital city of the Persian Empire. It sits 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf. Winter time it was wonderful and the Persian kings made it their winter home. This was the same place where Esther was crowned queen of Persia.
Nehemiah tells us in Nehemiah 1:11 that he was the king’s cup-bearer. That almost sounds like the dishwasher or the butler or the waiter. But, literally, it means “one who gives something to drink.” Several times in the OT we come across that title. One of the main responsibilities of the cup-bearer was to taste the wine and taste the food before the king but don’t misunderstand – this guy was not just a guinea pig. Instead, he was one of the most trusted of the king’s friend. In an extra biblical book (Tobit 1:22), it tells about another cup-bearer who not only tasted the wine and the food but he was also the keeper of the signet and in charge of the administration of the accounts.” Other than the king’s wife, the cup-bearer was the closest to the king. If you want anything done, get in touch with the cup bearer and for a little something, he could get it done for you. The king trusted this guy. He confided in him.
How did he get to be in such an influential position? Daniel 1 gives us some insight in this. Besides being a trustworthy and loyal person,
– He had to be physically healthy, intelligent, educated, and have special skills in the sciences.
– He had to be socially and emotionally stable. He had to be fluent in current affairs and politics and foreign languages so he could talk to high level dignitaries.
– He probably had to compete against many well-trained and well-accomplished people to get that position.
Imagine Nehemiah in the palace at Shushan – historians tell us that the guests had to ascend a wide stone staircase entering a gate into the courtyard leading to the palace. As they would walk into the walls of the palace were decorated with bright colored enameled tiles. Carved on walls were the images of the Immortal Guards, wearing colorful clothing decorated with tiny stars. Their bows, arrows and spears were gold and silver. When Alexander the Great marched into Shushan, he took 1200 tons of gold.
Needless to say – Nehemiah had it made.
Listen again “as I was in Shushan the citadel (fort), 2that Hanani one of my brethren (more than likely his blood brother) came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.”
Background: Nehemiah asks him “concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.” It doesn’t say “he asked about his father or mother or family or friends.” He asked about the Jews. Meaning: He didn’t have to ask. Why bother? Many people like to live in the “out of sight, out of mind” world. As long as me and mine are okay, I don’t care what happens to anybody else. We may not say it like that but we think it.
Nehemiah cared when he didn’t have to. How about us? Now don’t misunderstand me – we do not need to live in doom and gloom. I believe that the future is bright. The only reason I say that is because through God we will do something about it. Having said that, do we care?
When was the last time you cared that
– People are becoming godless—according to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of US Protestant adults is now dropped to a minority status of 48% and the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has risen to about 18%. Not only are young people walking away from church but also children. What’s worse – according to a Feb 2012 USA Today, only 1,209 mosques in America in 2000. In 2010, the number rose 74% to 2,106.
– People are living in bondage—according to the Education Database Online Research, “Close to half (43%) of people who use Internet visit pornographic websites. Some 40 million Americans are regular visitors to porn sites, with pornographic downloads representing 35% of all Internet downloads. I believe for different reasons – women do it to attract their partner. Of the 40 million regular visitors, 33% are women. A full 70% of men age 18-24 visit porn sites monthly.
– Marriages are falling apart everyday—not a week goes by that I don’t hear about another one.
– Our children are in danger—according to advocacy groups and law enforcement agencies, Child Sex Trafficking is going on across our state. According to the FBI reports, the sex trafficking of adults and minors is the “fastest growing business of organized crime, and the third largest enterprise in the world.” Advocacy groups say that NC is consistently ranked among the top eight states for human trafficking.
– I can go on and on.
And what was the answer? 3And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
What was Nehemiah’s response? 4So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
There are 3 things that he did: 1. Wept and Mourned; 2. Fasted; and 3. Prayed
The beautifully decorated palace walls did not interest him; the lavish meals on the king’s table did not appeal to him; the fancy entertainment in the palace did not matter to him.
As you hear this message, I believe there are different reactions taking place:
- Some people are saying to themselves – “I wish I could weep and mourn but I can’t.” Ask God to soften your hearts to the needs around you.
- Some people are saying to themselves – “I want to do something right now.” Ask God to give you a burden for something that matters.
- Some people are saying – “Let’s stop talking and let’s get to work.” Before you can jump to a task, you need to wait before God. Nehemiah prayed for many days.
You and I cannot do this task. It’s not about a building. It’s about changed lives. Only God can change lives. He will use us if we are willing to simply trust in Him.