Nehemiah Week 1:
Pastor Terry Inman
Today we are beginning a new series from the book of Nehemiah titled, “Rebuilding our lives together”. It’s an incredible story about a government official that in the face of opposition and demoralization rebuilt a city wall and led God’s people from ruin to repair in just 52 days.
This is not quite the same as building a wall along our border and making Mexico pay for it. But walls were critical to a cities security and identity.
This story is so relevant to us today. There is hope and healing here for our broken nation, our broken families, the broken church, and our personal lives. This story begins with an “OUTCRY” over rubble and ruin.
Wednesday morning I drove onto our campus and was immediately blocked by yellow ribbon and rubble in the parking lot. So I got out of my car and took a quick iPhone snapshot.
The guys working the front-loader couldn’t figure out who I was and what I was doing, but I just couldn’t pass up this photo opt to illustrate todays message. I’m sorry for the inconvenience while we patch things up with new concrete paving.
Nehemiah didn’t have an iPhone 6+ but what he heard then saw for himself brought him to tears. The walls and gates of Jerusalem were not just in disrepair they were demolished. Lets read the first few verses.
The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. (Neh. 1.1-2 NIV)
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Neh. 1.3 NIV)
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Neh. 1.4 NIV)
Now you may be thinking what is there to cry about? On 9/11 we weren’t crying so much about the towers of the World Trade Center, its already been rebuilt. We really mourned the loss of thousands of lives because Al Qaeda terrorist hijacked our security and left rubble and ruin.
Ezra and Nehemiah are a single book in the Hebrew Bible. They are part of a continuing story that actually began with Esther. Bible scholars believe we have them out of order. God is not as concerned about chronology. He is more interested in the message of national and personal rebuilding.
Jeremiah prophesied Israel’s 70 years of captivity in Babylonian. God’s people were experiencing the consequences of their unfaithfulness to Him. God allows us to be disciplined by our rebellion but also restores us when we repent and return.
This restoration project began half way through the period of captivity with a beauty pageant. A devout Jewish girl named Easter was chosen Queen, “for such a time as this”. (Esther 14.4 NIV)
This Persian King Artaxerxes here in Nehemiah has a significant title that means, “the great king”. He was placed on the throne to help make captive Israel great again! (pun slightly intended). Bye the way God can use whomever he chooses to accomplish is will.
I am really struggling with this coming presidential election. Neither candidate fully embraces my perception of biblical faith. Maybe God wants us to get our eyes off of our political solutions and be dependent on him.
This story spanning three books, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther is the way out of captivity and back to spiritual and emotional strength and freedom.
Initially Esther so touched the heart of this Persian king that he allowed Nehemiah, his cupbearer, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city walls. Twenty-five years later in Ezra, Zerubbabel returned to rebuild the temple.
The scriptures reverse the order to highlight the message. The way back to God begins with rebuilding the Temple. The Apostle Paul says,
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
(1 Cor. 6.19-20)
Rebuilding begins with the Spirit of God in us restoring our spirit, soul and body!
Nehemiah’s journal begins with his name and ancestry. His name means “Yahweh has comforted” and his father’s name, “Hacaliah”comes from, “wait for Yahweh”. Now the time of God’s intervention had come.
Nehemiah details the time and place. He was in the Persian palace at Susa (now southwestern Iran) It was late winter (kislev) in 20 B.C. “Hanani” who is twice called his brother visits from Jerusalem. His name means. (“Yahweh is gracious”) The family names in this story make a point,
“wait for comfort—comfort has come—God is gracious”!
Today you may feel like rubble. You are here but still feeling very much under the wreckage of something devastating. Maybe your life is not shattered but its still broken is some ways. Your defenses are down your identity has been compromised. You just want to feel stronger more secure in your faith. I have good news. Comfort and grace is on its way!
As a Jewish emigrant Nehemiah held an important position in the Persian Court. He was more than a royal wine taster. As the King’s cupbearer, he was a trusted personal assistant. He was also the head of the secret service. If any one tried to poison the King the cupbearer would take the bullet so to speak. He was loyal to the point of giving his life for the king.
The tragic news from his hometown was overwhelming. His own people were suffering. The walls of the city were debris. The huge stone, wood and iron entrance and exits were a charred ash heap. A few tough survivors were left but there was no real national identity or security.
The dream of a special people in a promised place was a shattered pile. Nehemiah’s brother says, “the survivors are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Neh. 1.3 NIV) Disgrace is a state of shame and dishonor.
Thirty years ago I appeared to be successful in ministry but inside I was hurting. I was near burnout and my boundaries were down. The Lord was gracious to rescue me from destroying myself, my marriage and ministry.
It was a disgrace for the walls and gates to be dismantled and destroyed. There are people waiting for handouts at our highway exits that have lost their dignity, their identity and their security. We call them homeless.
You may have a roof over your head. You may be well fed. You may clean up nice. But inside you may feel homeless. Your defenses are down. Your identity could use a spiritual face-lift or a grace-lift. Where do we start?
Nehemiah began the rebuilding project with an “Outcry”! “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Neh. 1.4 NIV)
Weeping is constructive! It is the first and most critical step in rebuilding the things that are ruined in our lives. “You will never rebuild the walls of your life until you first weep over the ruins.” Ray Steadman
An “outcry” is more than feeling sorry for myself or even someone else. It is expressing agonizing emotions. It is also inconveniencing myself to be heard by God who alone can intervene. Nehemiah listened. He heard. He wept. He sat down in humility. He even abstained from food.
He allowed himself to feel the pain. He didn’t escape with chemicals. He didn’t mask the pain with an immoral fling or a flick. He faced the pain.
He didn’t get mad he just got sad. In his anguish, He cried out to God!
The natural response to experiencing a crushing or shattering of something in our lives is to weep! God is as near as a tear. Psa. 34.18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psa. 147.3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted.”
Jesus feels our pain and heals our pain. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushedfor our iniquities… by his wounds we are healed.” (Is. 53.5 NIV)
Have you ever had a “crush” on someone that “broke up with you”. How did that feel? Did you cry? God’s people Israel broke up with him. They literally broke their covenant. Nehemiah doesn’t blame the Babylonians.
Rebuilding begins with Godly sorrow, confession and repentance.
Listen to His prayer of intercession: “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. (Neh. 1.5-6 NIV)
Just like Jesus prayed, “Our Father in Heaven hallowed be your name” Nehemiah approaches God with great adoration and affection. God is not distant. He is near. He keeps his covenant of love. He is attentive to the contrite. He is sensitive. His eyes and ears are open to honest humility.
Here’s a great verse. “This is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isa. 57.15 NIV)
To rebuild the fortification of our life we have to take an honest look at the devastation. Nehemiah personalizes his confession. He confesses his sins, the sins of his fathers and the sins of his people. Some call this identificational repentance. He says, “I” and “we” not “they” or “them”.
I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. (Neh. 1.6b-7 NIV)
A high view of God gives us a better view of our self. Isaiah saw God “high and lifted up” and he said, “woe is me”. God’s covenant love is based on his character not our performance. He is patient and willing to forgive as soon as we honestly recognize our need.
Nehemiah appeals to God’s character and covenant. Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.” (Neh. 1.8-9 NIV)
Unfaithfulness to God scatters us like a shattered wall. We become defenseless and vulnerable. Faithfulness reconnects to God recollects as God’s people. Together we are built up, safe and strong!
We are not scattered we are gathered. Paul says, “From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4.16 NIV)
Nehemiah concludes his prayer with this appeal to our Father. “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
(Neh. 1.10 -11NIV)
Our sinful choices alienate us from God. The consequences often bring ruin and rubble. We feel burned out, broken and exposed. But God is attentive to the slightest cry of our heart toward him.
We may be fragmented by our failures but we are still his family. He said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chr. 7.14 NIV)
Do you feel the need for some spiritual and emotional rebuilding? Make an outcry! Nehemiah concludes by asking for success. “Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
His final line in this chapter explains why he needed God’s favor. “I was cupbearer to the king” God had strategically placed him in a risky but very influential place. He was totally dependent on God for the greatest project of his life, rebuilding the fallen walls of Jerusalem.
What potential or purpose in your life has been halted or hindered by a crushing or brokenness. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the rubble and ruins. Cry out to our Father in adoration, confession and intercession.
He wants us to be a success. He desires to give us His favor! He has an incredible purpose for all of us!