Damariscotta Baptist Church
Monday, May 21, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

08/09/15 Sermon - Nehemiah's MIssion

“Nehemiah’s Mission”

Nehemiah 2:1-20

 

Last week we began looking at the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was an Israelite, who had been born in captivity. We start reading about him when he was employed by the King of Persia as the King’s cupbearer. The time was around 100 years after the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem. Nehemiah and some 250,000 other displaced Jews had decided not to return to Jerusalem with the prophet Ezra. But as we learned last week, he may not have returned physically but spiritually he could not keep it out of his mind. In Chapter 1 we read that Nehemiah’s brother had just returned from a visit to Jerusalem and Nehemiah had inquired what things were like. The news he received devastated him.

As we begin today in Chapter 2, Nehemiah has just spent 4 months in prayer and conversation with God over what he was supposed to do next. Today’s Scripture begins with Nehemiah, doing exactly what he had been doing, serving as cup-bearer to the King.

We read in verse 1, “when wine was brought to him, I took the wine and gave it to the king."

This demonstrated how upright and conscientious Nehemiah’s character truly was. His heart was burdened for Jerusalem, in fact he was heart sick. But he kept doing the job he had been doing. He didn’t call in sick, or come up with a “Woe is me” complaint to the king hoping he would feel badly for him and want to help him. He kept doing the job he had been doing until God gave him direction to do otherwise.

To be the cupbearer to a king was a very prestigious position, in any ancient court. You see, the cupbearer was the one who was trusted to make sure that whatever was presented before the king to eat or drink was not poisonous. As a servant of the king, he came to know what the king liked and what he didn’t like. It was the cupbearer’s job to choose the food and wine that would be served each meal. The cupbearer also had to be trusted by the king.

Think about it, the king was literally trusting him with his life.

It goes without saying the cupbearer needed to demonstrate a faithful and impressive character, not easily persuaded.

If one could turn the cupbearer against the king, well, then assassination would be easy.

Thus the cupbearer would naturally become a trusted advisor to the king. He was constantly with the king, throughout the entire day, at every meal, he was trusted for his utmost character. It makes sense that there would be times when the king would turn to his faithful servant and seek his opinion on different matters that came before the king.

At this point in the story, the matter the king notices is Nehemiah’s despondent look.

Verse 1 continues…

“I had not been sad in his presence before.”

 

Verse 2….

“so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of the heart.”

You have to give it to the king to actually notice that his servant has a sick heart. Again, this demonstrates the two men knew each other well.

Notice Nehemiah’s response, “I was very much afraid”

We’ve seen this fear before, by someone else in the room. I have no doubt, the queen, her name was Esther, could easily relate to this fear.

She at one time had to make a decision and follow what her God was telling her to do, and step out in faith, when death was the only other response she would receive if she didn’t receive the request she was asking. Kings at that time period had little regard for people or things that did not go their way. They didn’t think twice to have someone killed, no matter who it was, if that person invaded the king’s life space. You know what I mean by life space. It’s that imaginary line between acceptable and not acceptable. And often times the exact place where that line existed was not exactly definitive. And for the king, it didn’t matter, he could move the line any time he wanted.

Nehemiah was experiencing that same type of fear. He was going to the king for something huge and he had a lot riding on the king’s response, not to mention his life.

Some would say Nehemiah was brave.

The interesting thing about bravery is it can’t be demonstrated without fear. Many people think that if you are brave; it means you are not afraid. Well the opposite is true. It’s when you are afraid, and still do what God wants you to do, that you demonstrate bravery. It’s when you have come to the end of your own ability to deal with the situation, and you trust in God to work through you and you do it anyway. Bravery has a lot to do with acting on faith.

The next thing Nehemiah does is so simple it’s often not chosen because of its simplicity.

Nehemiah simply tells the truth.

Verse 3,

“but I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever!” (I suspect this was the first thing Nehemiah said every time he addressed the king, it was his job to keep him alive)

Nehemiah continues, “Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lie in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

Nehemiah didn’t come up with the answer many of us come up with when someone we know says, “Hey, you’re not looking so good today, everything all right.” How many times do we respond, “Oh, it’s nothing.” Or “Oh, I’m okay.”

Or sometimes we go the other way and start telling every boring detail, and sharing too much of our feelings, either to make the other person feel sorry for us or to manipulate them to do something for us.

Nehemiah simply states it the way it is. He was also wise to share his concern without mentioning the name of the city. Nehemiah knew his history. There was a bad association between Persia and those who rebelled against the Persian rule in the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah created empathy from the king first. Any king would have comprehended the tragedy of a city without walls, and how one would feel if their family was living there.

Nehemiah tactfully answered the king’s question and allowed the king to relate to his sorrow before he knew the exact details.

The king’s second question,

Verse 4, “What is it you want?”

Phew! Relief! Four months of praying wasn’t a waste of time. Nehemiah had been praying for God to give the king an open heart. And here was the evidence that God had gone before him.

I don’t think fear had quite left Nehemiah’s heart because we read that Nehemiah’s first action wasn’t to spill out all of the plans he had been praying for and creating in the past four months.

No,

Nehemiah’s next action was back to prayer.

Not another four months kind of prayer but the kind of prayer when you say something like, “Help me God!” because we read in the same sentence that Nehemiah proceeded to answer the king.

I am guessing, but I suspect the response Nehemiah gives, he had rehearsed a thousand times over the past four months. He probably came up with a dozen different ways to say it, and his Help me God prayer could be translated to mean something like, “Help me say correctly everything we’ve talked about over the past four months, Please, God!”

Nehemiah responds by asking the king to send him to the city so he could rebuild it.

Nehemiah keeps it simple. He doesn’t start sharing every detail he has discussed with God. He doesn’t try to convince the king on why he should send him. It is also important to notice that Nehemiah does not ask for someone else to do the job. The conviction was in the heart of Nehemiah, and whether Nehemiah felt competent or not, he was willing to step out of his comfort zone and be used by God.

Just like I am guessing Nehemiah rehearsed a dozen ways to ask, I am guessing he rehearsed at least a dozen ways the king would respond. I suspect the king’s response was the one response Nehemiah hoped for but suspected it was a long shot.

The king, and the queen (Esther) beside him, responded with,

“How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?”

A definite example that God is capable of moving anyone’s heart. Not only does God allow Nehemiah to take a leave of absence, the story gets better.

Nehemiah takes more steps of faith, because he realizes the king is willing to be a part of the solution and he is aware of the king’s resources. Nehemiah boldly asks for the items the king can supply that will make his journey successful. He asks for an official seal of approval on the project, letters for the governors and for the king to assist in financing the project by providing timber to build what was necessary.

Nehemiah has it down to the finest detail. No lack of planning here. He had trusted for God to finish the project and fearfully walked where God told him to see it come to fruition.

Verse 8 reveals this, it reads,

“And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my request.”

If we continue to read, we discover, God gives even more than was requested, items Nehemiah had not even thought of, but God knew he would need.

In verse 9 we discover that when Nehemiah gives the letters from the king to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, the king had also added army officers and cavalry with him.

Why everything seemed to be going so smoothly!

Not exactly.

This was not a fantasy world Nehemiah had entered.

No, he was still on earth, no sooner had Nehemiah received more than he expected, we find in the next verse, evil.

Verse 10 tells us, Two men, Sanballat and Tobiah, both Jewish by the way, were very disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.

Isn’t that always the way?

Not much different from today. So let’s take a look at how Nehemiah’s story can help us today.

Like Nehemiah, many of us find ourselves facing obstacles that are beyond our ability to handle, by ourselves. The story of Nehemiah shows us ways to step out, in faith, and watch God work.

Today’s Scripture shows us many ways, but I would like to focus on six points I think are note worthy.

1st – Fear is good thing.

Without something to shake us out of our complacency, many would just keep moaning and groaning. Fear puts a bit of energy into the situation and adrenaline flowing and best of all, brings us to God, for conversation, even it is only a three word exclamation, “Help me, God!” At least He has us talking with Him.

2nd – Be willing to do the work yourself.

Nehemiah was living in the palace. He had a very prestigious occupation, that didn’t have him working with his hands, outside, day in and day out, definitely white collar work and high up on the ladder. The job that God was asking him to do was unfamiliar, Nehemiah asked for the king to let him go so he could rebuild the city wall. But unfamiliarity did not stop Nehemiah from stepping out of his comfort zone and being used by God.

Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, God is going to ask us to do something we are not comfortable in doing to be part of the solution.

Not easy, but necessary.

3rd – Allow others to assist along the way.

The king was enthusiastic about supporting Nehemiah in his plan. When Nehemiah asked for the king to provide things for him, he was not trying to take advantage of the king. Nehemiah was showing honor and respect by allowing the king to participate in the worthy work of God. The king had shown his heart was willing, he definitely was able to provide the items Nehemiah had requested and the king was given the opportunity to be a part of God’s work.

How many times do we turn down help or assistance?

Often due to our pride.

We either think to highly of ourselves, such as

“Oh, I have it covered, don’t worry.”

Or we may something like,

 “Oh, you don’t need to do anything.”

When

A) people want to do something  and

B) you are keeping people from being a part of God’s work and receiving God’s blessings.

The reality was the situation wasn’t Nehemiah’s situation, it was God’s. Nehemiah had a role, but so did the king, and so did a lot of other people and God had a plan that He was working out for everyone, not just Nehemiah.

The same is for us today. We may think it’s our dilemma or our problem when in reality, we are not islands. There are many people inside the problem and many people outside the problem, and God can use the problem to help each one of them, if we let Him.

4th point – God deserves the praise.

Nehemiah received what he had prayed for and instead of being proud of what he had accomplished he put it all in the correct perspective and stated, “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my request.”

Let’s not forget to give praise where it should rightly go, to God.

5th – As soon as we do what God tells us and give God the praise, we will discover God has even more to give us. Things we haven’t even imagined.

Nehemiah thought he had asked the king for all the things he would need from him. God was the one moving the king’s heart and Nehemiah ended up receiving things he hadn’t considered but would definitely need.

God has our back. Even though, at times, it may not feel like it. Especially when we are in the midst of a struggle. Often it feels like God may not even be listening. Just like Nehemiah, God is not only ready to give us what we ask for, He is ready to give us even more.

In Malachi 3:10 we read, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Lastly, #6 – Expect opposition

Nehemiah didn’t run into opposition until he had started to actually do something. I suspect he had been preparing himself since the beginning, just waiting for something to go wrong. But that didn’t stop him from acting.

Many of us remain in our struggles because, honestly, we know we are going to run into obstacles. We think it’s safer to stay in our regular routine, at least we know what will happen, its familiar.

Yet, if we are honest, opposition comes anyway.

It may be easier to stay put, but it is not always better. Stepping forth, with Jesus, gives us hope, for a brighter future. It doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing, it just means we don’t have to steer the boat anymore.

God is steering the boat.

We should remember He is also capable of calming the storms. We are far more equipped to deal with opposition sailing with Jesus.

This week, as we step out into the world, remember,

Fear is good thing,

Be willing to do the work yourself.

Allow others to assist along the way.

God deserves the praise.

God has even more to give us.

Expect opposition. 

Let’s pray.