Nehemiah Project: Capturing the Vision of Transformation
CAPTURING THE VISION OF TRANSFORMATION
Nehemiah 1:1-11 (ESV) 1 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 chose, 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 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.
How many of you see yourself as being the right person at the right place and at the right time for God to do an amazing work in this generation? There is no denying that if there is a generation where there is a desperate need for God to show up, it is in this generation we are living in. As I think of describing it, I think of a generation that is absolutely busy that it leaves no time for God. It boasts of having so much knowledge, but it is so ignorant of God. It has learned to respect all claims of truths that people are so confused about the real truth of God. It has discovered unlimited sources of pleasures and happiness, and yet, remains lonely and empty because they have failed to acknowledge that true joy come from the Lord. It is quite obvious how this generation desperately needs God to show up.
This morning, we will begin a new sermon series, which we simply entitled as “Nehemiah’s Project.” I personally consider the book of Nehemiah as one of the best and most inspiring books of the Old Testament. Since it is not often used in churches as a preaching material, I feel that it is so easy for believers to take it for granted. So, our pastoral team believes that it would be great to cover the book in two months, so that our church family will be more familiar with it. To give you a little background about the book, Bible scholars believe that the book of Nehemiah is one of the post-exilic books, which was written around 445 B.C. We all know the story that because Israel chose serving other gods rather than the Lord God, He judged them by giving them up into the hands of their enemies. The Northern Kingdom was destroyed and taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., while the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom in 586 B.C. It is important to note that the book of Nehemiah narrates the third wave of the Jews who returned to Judah with the permission of the great Persian Empire. The first wave of returned happened under the leadership of Zerubbabel in 538 B.C. Although this attempt to return to Judah was strongly opposed by the Samaritans, this was finally completed in 515 B.C. Then, in 458 B.C., the second wave of return happened under the leadership of Ezra. In both of these returns, Zerubbabel and Ezra focused their efforts in restoring the temple in Jerusalem because they wanted to revitalize the spiritual relationship of the people with Jehovah. They had some level of success in renewing the religious life of the nation, but they totally neglected rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Because of this need, God raised another man by the name of Nehemiah to initiate the third wave of return to Jerusalem in 445 B.C. Under his leadership, the walls of Jerusalem will be rebuilt. As we begin our sermons based on the life of Nehemiah, I would like us—first and foremost—to focus on how he captured the vision of transforming the desperate situation of God’s people in Jerusalem. The beginning chapters of the book is so important because we will see exactly how God invited Nehemiah to partner with Him in accomplishing a great work. I’m totally convinced that often, God wants to show up and
accomplish great things through His people, but because we are not sensitive to his voice, we are missing our opportunities. Allow me to highlight at least three phases on how Nehemiah captured God’s vision of transformation to his generation:
I THE RECIPIENT OF THE VISION
In the Bible, whenever God wanted to show up and do an amazing work to bless a generation, He consistently used a man who was willing to partner with Him. On this occasion, it was Nehemiah. Going back to our text, we really don’t get a lot of introductory information about him. We are simply told in verse 1, “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.” We don’t even have any information who Hacaliah was. Usually, among the Jews, this practice of attaching the father’s name to an individual’s name is done in order to distinguish someone from anyone else who is also given the same name. In Hebrew, the name “Nehemiah” literally means, “The Lord has comforted.” Another important information about Nehemiah that we need to know was the fact that he was the cupbearer of King Artaxerxes of Persia. How do we know this?
Nehemiah 2:1 (ESV) 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.
Now, being a cupbearer to the most powerful king was a great privilege because he was so close to him; he can literally talk to him and influence him. But at the same time, it was also a dangerous job. Why? Before the king would eat or drink, he had to eat and drink them first. So, his job meant that he was to die first, so the king could live. But, what we should really recognize about Nehemiah was the truth he was really the right person, at the right place, and at the right time in accordance to God’s plan for His people. Come to think of it, there were two waves of returns into the Promised Land, but Nehemiah was not included in those two because God had a different plan for him. I wonder how many of us see ourselves being where we are because God has placed us there? And you are there right now exactly at the right time, so He can accomplish an amazing work in this generation. I believe that God wants to show up and bless this generation, but he needs somebody like Nehemiah who is willing to be His channel of blessings. Just a point of reference, according to verse 1, the event we are reading in chapter one happened “in the month of Chislev,” which is the mid-November to the mid-December in the Hebrew calendar. And this took place “in Susa,” which was a province in Persia where the winter residence of King Artaxerxes was located. Before we move on, listen to these verses:
Proverbs 16:4 (ESV) 4 The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Proverbs 19:21 (ESV) 21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
There are no coincidences in our lives because God’s purposes always prevail. You are where you are because that is where God wants to use you!
II THE REVELATION OF THE VISION
We are all familiar with Proverbs 29:18 that says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). However, the better translation of these words would come from the NKJV and others, which rendered it as: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” The main thing that the verse is saying is that if there is no divine revelation of guidance, the people of God would almost always abandon restraints and start giving in to their sinful desires. More often when we try to understand the concept of a vision, the most common definition that people give is: “It is a mental picture of the result you want to achieve – a picture so clear and strong it will help make that result real” (John Graham). Generally speaking, this is a good definition. However, the question is: Does this definition put enough emphasis on divine revelation? Remember, every genuine vision must come from divine revelation. With Nehemiah, God gave him the vision through his brother Hanani after he asked him about the Jews and about Jerusalem. Notice verses 2-3, “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. 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.’” Have you been asking the right questions? For Nehemiah, after he asked his brother, Hanani, about the people and the place, that was when the Lord was able to move his heart towards His vision.
Notice, the report included two items:
• The remnant or the Jews who returned from exile were in great trouble and shame.
• The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are destroyed by fire.
By the way, many Bible scholars believe that the gap between the second return to Jerusalem and this time when Hanani reported to Nehemiah was about 13 years. Therefore, for thirteen years, the remnant Jews in Jerusalem has remained miserable and vulnerable to their enemies because the walls have never been rebuilt. The truth of the matter is that we won’t be able to capture the vision of God until we get the right information about the people and the places around us. I believe the challenge for us is to really get to know the people and places where God has placed us.
• What are their major needs?
• What do they believe?
• What are their fears?
• What are their highest dreams and aspirations?
• What are their biggest challenges?
Let me challenge you. Take the time to ask these questions and know the people in your community. Honestly speaking, Nehemiah could have cared less about the Jews in Jerusalem because he was already living comfortably in Persia. He could have been satisfied living for himself, isolated from the cares and burdens of the remnants of Jerusalem. He asked the question because he cared. We too should be willing to ask some critical questions, so that we will know where God would lead us to respond. This is the only way we can really know the brokenness of the people around us.
III THE RESPONSE TO THE VISION
Lastly, after Nehemiah heard the updates about the remnant Jews who live in Jerusalem, immediately his heart was broken for his people. Notice verse 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.” Have you ever wept because of the brokenness of the people around you? Some people have thought of weeping as a sign of weakness, but the Bible has identified some strong spiritual men who wept over the brokenness of others:
Jeremiah 9:1 (Jeremiah) 1 Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Acts 20:19 (Paul) 19 [S]erving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;
Luke 19:41-42 (Jesus Christ) 41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Without a doubt, just like Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus Christ, Nehemiah wept because he personally felt the burdens that were crashing his people. His heart was moved with so much compassion for God’s people. And because of this, he went further by fasting and praying for them for several days. It was not enough to be moved, he went back to God to fast and pray. I’m a firm believer of fasting. In the Bible, when God’s people were desperate, they fasted and prayed. It means that they were willing to abstain from what is important to them personally because they were seeking help from God. By praying, Nehemiah recognized that in the magnitude of his burdens, only the Lord could help him.
Let’s read his prayer:
Nehemiah 1:5-11 (ESV) 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.
Reading this prayer, you can have a glimpse on the quality of Nehemiah’s walk that with God. Here are several things that are quite obvious about his faith:
A. He knew that God is great who is always faithful in his love and promises to His people (v.5)
B. He knew that God is holy and will always deal with the sins of his people (vs. 6-7)
C. He knew that God is faithful to His words (vs. 8-10). In these verses, Nehemiah directly is quoting from Deuteronomy 30:1-5.
D. He knew that God delights and listens to the prayers of His people (v.11)
God placed a burden on his heart and he was wise enough to go back to Him and seek His help. He understood that the needs are great, but he also knew that his God is bigger than those needs. Perhaps, this is something that we need to learn this morning. God has placed a burden in our heart and He wants us to simply go back to Him and ask Him to intervene. Instead of allowing our burdens to overwhelm us, let’s do our best to cast everything back to Him. If there’s one important truth we need to learn about any God-given visions, here it is: The task of doing God’s work, regardless of its size, can only be accomplished through God’s power.
September 2, 2018 Dr. Jeremiah Lepasana