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:
- Cyrus released the Jews who wanted to go to Jerusalem in 536 BC. Zerubbabel was the leader of the Jews at that time.
- 78 years later in 458 BC Ezra goes to Jerusalem.
- 12 years after this in 446 BC Nehemiah hears of problems in Jerusalem and goes with the blessing of the then King Artaxerxes.
- Re-establishment of temple worship and practice and repairs to the temple: religious reforms.
- Re-establishment and teaching of the law: Ethical reforms.
- 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:
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.
- 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.