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Saturday, 17 September 2016

Nehemiah: Restore O Lord the honour of your name. Part 2

 A royal mission.

Nehemiah Chapter 2:1-8

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. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live for ever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

As we saw last time Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king. That was clearly and important and privileged role. He was in reality the protector of the king. It was often also a very precarious occupation. We remember the cupbearer to Pharaoh at the time of Joseph. He was imprisoned and in danger of execution for some wrongdoing. Also Ester who was Queen to a different king in Susa around the same time as Nehemiah could not even enter into the presence of the king with a sad persona. The job of cupbearer was privileged but wrought with danger.
With all of this in mind Nehemiah had to serve the king with wine even though he was broken hearted due to the problems in Jerusalem. Remember he had received news that the city was in disgrace because it's defences were broken down, to Nehemiah this news was akin to the death of a close relative. He mourned and prayed greatly over the situation because it was not only the protection of the people that was at stake but more importantly the honour of God who had chosen to make Jerusalem the place where His presence would be seen and known amongst His people. He was in effect their Emmanuel or God with them and now all and sundry could come and go into the place that was meant to be holy to Him.
That is why Nehemiah was so distraught.
Clearly he could not hide his feelings no matter how hard he tried. I am sure that he hid the fact that he had been fasting and praying constantly, he would have freshened up his face and made it shine with the best of cosmetic oils available to him but that did not hide from the king the matter of the heart. This was a new experience for both Nehemiah and the king, Nehemiah had always been happy to be in service to the king but this day was different and the king could tell immediately. We will consider from our passage:
  1. The King's commission.
  2. Nehemiah's faith.
The King's commission:
God was at work in bringing his people the Jews back into Judea. Zerubbabel had previously led a large number back to Jerusalem under the guidance of Cyrus king of Persia. 72 years later Ezra had been sent by King Artaxerxes in order to in his words “beautify the house of God.” What he meant there was to teach the people the law of Moses, Bible truth is the most beautiful adornment the people of God can have. But now there is still a great need, the temple had been re-built by Zerubbabel enabling worship to take place, the law had been put in place enabling worship and the knowledge of God to be true.
The walls of protection were broken down and the gates of correct entrance into the city of God were destroyed. The people were defenceless and this is the city where God had chosen to make His presence known amongst His people. That to Nehemiah and to all Godly people is a disgrace and that is why he was so sad. Clearly even though he tried to hide it from the king he could not.
God was working His purposes out through the king and so he was concerned for Nehemiah and more importantly for the reputation of God. It pleased the king to send Nehemiah and a large number of capable Jews to Jerusalem to build up the city's defences.
Artaxerxes was a man who was brought up as a heathen who did not know who God was until he came across folks like Ezra formerly and now Nehemiah. He had clearly seen their faith in God even though they were captive in a foreign land. They were excellent servants and so when the time was right in God's purposes they were respected by the king and sent away to perform mighty tasks for the glory of God.
Nehemiah was a missionary for God sent by the king of a foreign land for the purpose of “beautifying the house of the Lord: see Ezra 7:27.
God uses the most unlikely of people to further his kingdom and also the most unlikely of means of support. The king not only sent both Ezra and Nehemiah (as had Cyrus sent Zerubbabel before them) but they also paid the bill! Artaxerxes was a vital part of Nehemiah's mission but as yet Nehemiah did not know what the outcome would be. Artaxerxes was the sole supporter of the work but yet Nehemiah needed to discover that. The way of discovery is fascinating and centres around:
Nehemiah's faith:
We need to remember what we learned last week to fully understand what is happening here. Nehemiah is in grief because of bad news from home. His concern is not primarily the security of the people nor really of the city but the reputation of God is broken down as is demonstrated by the state of the city walls. For that reason Nehemiah fasted and prayed continually that he might be able to do something about it. He was being called of God to enter into a mission that only he could fulfil. He was being drawn to a situation that would be his great passion and god was about His business of motivating his man into action. At the same time the king was being moved in his spirit but all of this was in the background. God was working His purposes out you see!
Everything came to a head when Nehemiah could no longer hide from the king his broken heart. The king saw right through him and was concerned for his servant. At that point Nehemiah had a choice to make: Should he be faithful to his calling or would he wimp out for fear of his own reputation, comfort and security?
Enter the “arrow prayer” that is often made so much of. I have heard on many occasions how important an arrow prayer is that we can shoot up to God in times of great need. Of course that is true but that is not exactly as it was with Nehemiah, he had been constantly praying and fasting for this very opportunity. He desperately needed to go to Jerusalem and now was the fulfilment of all of those hours of prayer and hunger. It was here that the “rubber would hit the road” and make or break would be evident.
Nehemiah prayed to his God in heaven!
He needed boldness at that particular moment and so he prayed for it and then he boldly requested of the Lord. God not only calls His people into works of service for Him but He also gives them the boldness to go! What is it that God has laid on your heart? Have you fasted and prayed before Him that He might make it possible against all of the odds for you to go for Him? God is still calling His people to acts of service both young and old but are we like Nehemiah who was passionate or are we rebellious and happy to sit in our ease and comfort?
Nehemiah had faith in God because by his own testimony “the good hand of God was with him!” when the good hand of God is with you He then will make your calling both possible and as we shall see from our studies in Nehemiah you will also be successful in what God has called you to.
Support is always the difficult issue for any servant of the Lord. As we see from Nehemiah support comes in full and from the most surprising of places.
Where does support come from?
On this occasion it was from the king but he is not solely responsible for his own generosity. God had moved his heart to be disposed of towards Nehemiah, and it was God that opened up Artaxerxes cheque book. Nehemiah could not afford all that was necessary to “beautify the house of the Lord” but the king could.
It is exactly the same today: god is still calling men and women to service in “beautifying the house of the Lord” which is the church. The church is made more beautiful by the addition of more beautiful people who are the Christians! God's glory is made more evident by ever convert to Jesus and so He sends his people into mission whether it be Bolivia or Birmingham, Cornwall or Columbia! When He sends He also supports. It is true that Nehemiah had to go by faith and trust God for all things but it is equally true that God supplied his every need. God usually supplies the needs of His workers through the generosity of the church. He has gifted the church in many ways and often with finance and God expects us to release funds for the sending, training and support of those whom he has called into gospel service. It is often said that a church keeps it's pastor poor to keep him humble before God! If that is your mindset then take a lesson from Artaxerxes, let us release what we have for gospel purposes, there is no better investment that could be made.
Nehemiah was moved by faith to acts of righteousness, Artaxerxes was moved with compassion and support and together they made a difference for the glory of God.
How will we glorify God?
God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year:
God is working his purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

From utmost east to utmost west,
wherever foot hath trod,
by the mouth of many messengers
goes forth the voice of God;
give ear to me, ye continents,
ye isles, give ear to me,
that earth may filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

What can we do to work God's work,
to prosper and increase
the brotherhood of all mankind--
the reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time--
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

March we forth in the strength of God,
with the banner of Christ unfurled,
that the light of the glorious gospel of truth
may shine throughout the world:
fight we the fight with sorrow and sin
to set their captives free,
that earth may filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

All we can do is nothing worth
unless God blessed the deed;
vainly we hope for the harvest-tide
till God gives life to the seed;
yet nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

Words: Arthur Campbell Aigner (1841-1919), 1894

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Nehemiah: Restore O Lord the honour of Your name. Part 1

Mustard Seed Evangelical Church
11th September 2016

Part 1: Bad news from home.

Nehemiah Chapter 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 capital,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.”
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. 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, 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. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 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.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 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.

Background: The Lord through Jeremiah had promised that the Jews would be released from Babylon and would return to Jerusalem. Isaiah promised that this would be through Cyrus who would also instruct that the temple and Jerusalem should be built. God had by now moved the heart of Cyrus and large numbers of Jews had returned home to Jerusalem.

The book of Nehemiah in the Hebrew scriptures is a continuation of Ezra which itself is related to Chronicles. The last verses of 2 Chronicles are used by the writer of Ezra to begin his work. Ezra and Nehemiah are almost certainly the works of an editor who may have been Ezra himself. It takes the form of narrative and tells the account of this important time in Jewish history. There are large portions of the text that are first person according to both Ezra and Nehemiah and are clearly verbatim from their diary records of the events as they unfolded. This is not a liberal fudge trying to explain away God's revealed word but it helps us to understand how the account is recorded. That having been said it makes absolutely no difference to what God teaches through this most important book but if you were to consult the commentaries you would be confronted with these issues, it is good to be aware of them.
The order of events so far:
  1. Cyrus released the Jews who wanted to go to Jerusalem in 536 BC. Zerubbabel was the leader of the Jews at that time.
  2. 78 years later in 458 BC Ezra goes to Jerusalem.
  3. 12 years after this in 446 BC Nehemiah hears of problems in Jerusalem and goes with the blessing of the then King Artaxerxes.
The purpose:
  1. Re-establishment of temple worship and practice and repairs to the temple: religious reforms.
  2. Re-establishment and teaching of the law: Ethical reforms.
  3. Re-establishment of the city: Civil reforms.
By these the honour of the Lord and His people has been affected; partially at least!

News from home:
Nehemiah just happened to be cupbearer to the king, it is almost a throwaway comment at the end of the chapter but it is in the grand scheme of things a vital point. He was highly respected by the king and was entrusted with the protection of the king.
It also just so happened that on one particular day Nehemiah's brother Hanani came to visit with friends from Jerusalem. Nehemiah was interested in the well being of his people and was horrified at the bad news that they brought.
The mandate from Cyrus to the people was to rebuild the temple and the city. God had stirred up a great many to go and Cyrus had supplied all of their needs. They had re-built the altar and the temple. There were a few problems on the way but the building was completed during the reign of a new King; Darius. The temple was dedicated and worship restored beginning with a celebration of the passover.
Under the reign of Artaxerxes Ezra was sent. Ezra was a scribe and an expert in the law of Moses, his desire was to teach the law to the people and to encourage them to obey it. Through prayer and teaching he established biblical practices and reformed the people to Godly ways.
But there was still something missing: Enter Nehemiah!
A building project was needed to be completed. The news that he had received was not good to the reformer. The walls of the city were broken down and the gates had been burned. The question to ask is “why did Nehemiah react as he did?” After all the temple was intact and the people were together.

We have to consider what the walls represented, they were the defences of the city, they were the security of the city and they were the glory of the city. The walls kept the people inside secure and barred intruders from entering. The gates were the way of entrance into the city, they were closed to intruders but open for those who belonged and both walls and gates were broken down which meant that anybody could and did enter at will. The walls were also impressive and spoke of the glory of the city. The glory of Jerusalem had always been God who chose to make it the place where He dwelt. Now the walls were a disgrace and so they dishonoured Him.
It would be logical at this point to compare the situation in Jerusalem with the Mustard Seed we have gone through great difficulties and have been re-establishing good biblical practice.
But there is still something missing!
To discover this let us consider:
Nehemiah's response:
To Nehemiah it was disastrous news that was akin to bereavement. He grieved over their situation. God had put it into the heart of this official in Susa to be passionate about the glory of His God and the security of His people. The first sight of Jerusalem instead of a glorious city would have been a ruin. We once went to the temple of Apollos in Turkey and saw a glorious ruin. The buildings you could see once were spectacular but they were now a ruin and to me they represented what their god was; a complete and utter fraud who could only offer ruin. But that should not be true of our heavenly Father who is glorious in very way. The city should speak of the Lord but sadly it did not and that grieved Nehemiah. He heard the news and he took it seriously. He knew at that point that he needed to go and help.
So what did he do?
For days on end he:
  • Stopped everything.
  • Wept.
  • Mourned.
  • Fasted.
  • Prayed constantly.
He embarked on a period of being still before God, he took the situation seriously and came seriously to God in prayer. Do we pray for the glory of God here in our church as did Nehemiah?
Let us learn how to pray from his prayer:
In verses 5-11 Nehemiah:
  • Reminded God of His covenant promises.
  • Requested that God hear his prayer.
  • Confessed his personal sins and the corporate sins of the people.
  • He recognised that they were suffering in captivity under the covenant curses of God for their sin and rebellion.
  • He appealed to God who had promised that if the people were to repent then they would be restored to Jerusalem. This was slowly but surely happening.
  • He reminded God that they were His redeemed people.
  • He requested that he have success before the king and be allowed to leave for the restoration of Jerusalem.
What a prayer!
Nehemiah needed to go and rebuild the walls and the gates. What do they represent for us here in the Mustard Seed? Just as they were the safety and security for the people of Jerusalem we have our own walls to keep in tact. The walls and the gates were a signpost to outsiders to the God who lived there. There was only one way in and all inside were protected.
I would dearly love to apply this to our own building and make a case for prettying it up but that would be a gross miss-representation of the passage. Just as the city was evidence of God's glory so is the church which as we all know is the people and not the building.
The gates of entry is the gospel, this has been under attack for many years. It is therefore necessary for us to ensure that the way in is barred from those who are not born again of the Spirit of God through the sanctifying work of Jesus' death upon the cross. There are many even here in Callington that are trying to break down this gate, we cannot and will not enter into partnership with those that preach anything but Christ and Him crucified! We ought to weep, fast and pray that the glory of the gospel is so readily dispensed with even by those who refer to themselves as Christian.
The wall are the defence and protection of the people of God. They repel the attacks of error and wrong and keep God's people secure. The bible is our wall of defence and we unashamedly stand upon it's authority. If it is not true to this word then we do not need it and that is not open to interpretation.
We have in effect our own Zerubbabel's, Ezra's and Nehemiah's! They are the Elders who are appointed by God to keep our worship and practice biblical and accurate. This is our defence and we need to maintain it constantly! It is by knowing, understanding and obeying the scriptures that the church is kept pure and honouring to the Saviour, pray that we who are called to this work may be true to our calling.
But for all of us there is the need as we shall see to be involved with the building of the walls and not the breaking down of them, we are all in this together for the glory of our Saviour, Lord give us the grace that we so much need.