As the New Year begins it serves as a time of evaluation. How’s is my life, my relationships, the ministry that God has called me to? What changes should I make? Our new series will center on the life (and Old Testament book) of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a regular person like you and me who caught a divine glimpse of what could be and then went after it with all his heart. Are you ready to Rise and Build?
As we study this great Old Testament book, we will find many applications, but I mention two major ones today:
- There is much to be learned from Nehemiah on an individual level. God is in the life-changing business! Jesus wants to rebuild your life. If your life is a mess and our lives are in some area. God wants to do a rebuilding project in us!
- There are also some parallels in the book of Nehemiah between the job he did building walls and the job God calls us to do of building the church. The church is the one thing Christ promised to build, and He uses us to do that building. Ironically, at the same time, we are that building! We can learn much from a wall-builder about church building.
Let’s look at this fascinating book. Let me fill you in on the setting.
THE BACKGROUND OF NEHEMIAH’S STORY
When: In 586 BC the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem in Israel. Jews were deported over to Babylon, which is now Iraq. They were to be kept there for 70 years. But in 538 the Persians defeated the Babylonians and in 537 the first group of Jews were allowed to return. In 516 the Temple was rebuilt. In 458 Ezra led the second group of Jews back to Jerusalem. Then in 445 Nehemiah asked permission to return to Jerusalem with a third group to rebuild the city walls.
Where is it happening? Susa & Jerusalem.
What: The Problem is that the city walls needed to be rebuilt. Today we use other means to protect our cities like radar. We don’t need walls. But in those days if a city was walled and an enemy came against it, it might take 2 months to several years for the enemy to break in. The walls were very important. The Jews had been taken away in captivity into another country. They finally were allowed to trickle back in. Finally they were allowed to rebuild the Temple. But the city and its walls were still in ruins, rubble. It was just junk and they were living in a heap.
And this broken-down Jerusalem is exactly like the lives of some of you. You look at your life and you see places where there is rubble and ashes, a broken wall. You’ve become vulnerable, effectively defenseless, to the attacks of temptation, peer pressure or Satan. You’ve fallen victim to sinful habits that have you in their relentless grip to the point where you wonder if you’ll ever find freedom. A root of bitterness or anger has sprung up in your life, and you just can’t seem to shake it. There is shame, or there is the feeling of betrayal, or there is any of a number of things that bring you shame in your heart. Maybe no one else is even aware of the ruin, the brokenness but you know it’s there.
Not only that, there are some Christians who seem to want to give up, who feel that there is no way out, no victory, and that throwing in the towel is the only viable option. They’ve become comfortable in the ashes, happy living among the heaps, relaxing in the rubble. They’ll just make the best of the mess they’re in. The people of Jerusalem had lived in the rubble for over one hundred forty years, and there is record of only one instance in which they attempted to do anything about it!
But just as it was not God’s will for the people of Jerusalem to live in the reproach of the rubble, so it is not His will for you either! Perhaps today is the day, by the grace of God, when you ask God to give you the wisdom and power to rebuild your broken walls! How do I get started?
Let’s look at Nehemiah’s journal, diary or memoirs:
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 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.
3 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.”
Kislev is “The 9th month of the Jewish year, corresponding to December.”—International Standard Bible Encyclopedia So it’s December, of the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes, King of Peria and Susa was the winter capital of Persia.
Now things were going pretty good for Nehemiah on the outside, he had a good job, an influential position within the Persian Empire. It says Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king. What was a cupbearer? “As the cupbearer, his primary responsibility was to always taste the wine being served to the king in order to protect the king from an assassination attempt by means of poison (v.11). The cupbearer was a very prominent, honored, responsible, and influential position within the kingdom. Furthermore, the cupbearer had to be an honest and trusted man, a man in whom the king could put his complete confidence. A king placed his very life in the hands of his cupbearer. Because of this, the cupbearer sometimes became a trusted advisor to the king, which was apparently true with Nehemiah (2:1-8).” —Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible Commentary
So Nehemiah probably had a nice home in the palace, a 3 camel garage, a good retirement plan, a key to the executive washroom and a paid membership to the “Sweet Susa Country Club.” I mean Nehemiah was a mover & shaker within the most power empire in the world.
The same is true of so many of us we may have the look, the job, the house, the fluff and stuff but deep down inside we know things aren’t right in the world.
What Moves me to Sorrow?
One day his brother Hanani came to visit him along with some other men from Judah. And while they were visiting Nehemiah asked them, “hey guys how are things going back home in Jerusalem with God’s people.” Without the benefit of Fox News or CNN, the only way he could learn of his homeland was through word that came from fellow Israelites. Verse 2 records that his love for his homeland and his people caused him to care enough to inquire about their well-being. One question shaped a destiny; God had been working in the heart of Nehemiah, deep down to cause him to ask, and he was open to the leading of God when the answer came.
The answer Nehemiah received was not the one he wanted to hear. They told him, “Things are not going good Nehemiah, the people are having all kinds of trouble. And the whole city is in disgrace because the walls of Jerusalem are still torn down.” This report devastated Nehemiah, the news of things back home rocked Nehemiah to his knees and he wept and mourned for several days his sorrow was so great that he didn’t even eat.
Why was Nehemiah so devastated? What was there about this report that made him so upset that he wept and fasted for days? Nehemiah was upset because he knew that this was not how God’s people were meant to live. They were God’s chosen people, Jerusalem was God’s Holy City, they were meant to live in a land flowing with milk and honey, experiencing the blessings of God therefore it hurt Nehemiah to hear about how they were living. Imagine what the neighbors must have thought! “Those Jews, they claim to know the living God, yet they live in that broken-down rat trap of a town! If their God is so powerful, as some of them want to claim, then can’t He do something about the slums they live in? And if they cared for His glory, they wouldn’t stand for the situation to go on as it is!”
Nehemiah had a deep desire for something better for God’s people in Jerusalem. And it was this desire for something better mixed with the reality of how things actually were that drove Nehemiah to such great sorrow.
The first step that needs to be taken in order to be successful in your new beginning is for you to have a deep desire for something better. You need to be driven by this deep desire for something better driven by a dream of not only how things ought to be, but also how they can be. And Understand, there is no substitute for desire because without this desire you won’t even get out of the starting gate. You’ll quit long before your hopes are fulfilled or your dreams are realized.
Haven’t you ever heard a sportscaster say, “these 2 teams are about the same we’ll just have to see who wants it more”
What’s your desire for your life? Where do you want it to be? What’s your desire for your relationship with God? What’s your desire for your marriage? What’s your desire for your children? What’s your desire your family? What’s your desire for your ministry at Upwards Church? Where do you want those things to be? What are your goals, hopes, dreams and desires for 2022?
In the next post we’ll look at what Nehemiah did next and it’s exactly what we should do as well.
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