UNFINISHED HOPE | Week 8: Ruined City - Renewed Hope
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Nehemiah 1:2–1:8
Christopher Rich – November 12, 2017
UNFINISHED HOPE | EZRA-NEHEMIAH | Wk 8
Ruined City - Renewed Hope | Nehemiah 1-2:8
Introduction | Third Times a Charm?
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we continue UNFINISHED HOPE - Our Ruins His Restoration our sermon series looking at the books of EZRA-NEHEMIAH. In this series we have seen cycles of ruin, return to God, renewal, and regression as God’s people have moved from exile, be set free by God for the purpose of restoring worship of God by God’s people for God’s glory and their joy. Zerubbabel led the first cycle back for the purpose of renewed worship, they laid the foundation of the temple, but the tangible presence of God did not manifest. Several generations pass, and Ezra comes leads a mission to restore focus on God’s word being studied, practiced, and taught. This was/is a necessary part of how God has set about renewal to reorient His people to His word as a framework of Flourishing. Sin is recognized and confessed, but then is addressed in way that leads to more separation, not more restoration of relationships. In these cycles we are reminded of the fundamental truth that our efforts are never enough to overcome our ruins. Now the third cycle begins with Nehemiah and a Ruined City
PART I | Nehemiah Hears of Ruin | 1:1-4
Neh 1:1-4 | 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.”
We are now 13 years after the return of Ezra and His crew going to Jerusalem. We’re now back in Persia where there is still a remnant that has not yet returned from exile. Nehemiah is in the palace/fortress in Susa and he hears news from his brother from Judah regarding the state of God’s people who have left exile and the condition of God’s city. These are a people and a place he’s never been to or known.
Who is Nehemiah? If Ezra was to be seen as a second Moses leading the second Exodus, specifically around the studying, doing, and teaching of the word/law of God; Nehemiah is a second Joshua. The guy after the guy. Moses was used by God to help initiate the Exodus. Joshua is the champion who leads people into and on a victorious God given mission he has inherited from the previous leader. Joshua’s name means the “Lord Saves”, Nehemiah means “God comforts” Ezra was a student of God who led by teaching. Nehemiah is a follower of God who teaches by leading. We will see in the coming weeks Nehemiah is both skilled and willing to lead with boldness and clarity; courage, and strength. Nehemiah is a leader worth following, on a mission worth pursuing. His leadership begins with being aware of a need.
What is the state of the restoration? Two words. Not good. Two more. Trouble. Shame. Why great trouble? We’ve seen back in Ezra there were the “people of the land” those were around Jerusalem but did not worship the God of the bible and were hostile to the mission of restoration, there has been local and governmental opposition. Why shame? Cities were places of refuge and strength and Jerusalem was capable of neither of these. The wall, the symbol of safety was broken and worthless. The gates of the city are burned down. As you enter and exit there is a tangible reminder that this is a city that has been previously destroy and as of yet has not been returned to anything that looked like it’s former glory.
Part II | The Response in Prayer | 1:4-11
Nehemiah 1:4-11 | 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 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.
Nehemiah has his heart broken for the condition of God’s people, their mission of renewal and the state of the work of restoration. He spends intentional time processing, literally weeping and mourning as the initial news sunk in. He may have had a general perception things were not well, but now he’s been confronted with enough clarity on the condition of the mission he can’t easily ignore. It moves him to pray and fast.
Start with God, Not the problem or petition (v5-6) - God is good, great, awesome. This is a declaration of God’s nature, character, and power. God, The Creator of everything, you inspire Awe in who you are. You are good to your people. You keep promises and your love endures. You want to see change and have big issues, or injustices resolved you better have a God big enough to deal with it. Nehemiah’s response reveals his belief and faith in a God big enough and good enough to be willing and able to deliver.
Understand the source of the problem (v6-7)- Confession- The problem is not with God, it is with us. Our sin is the cause of our ruin, not God’s reliability. This confession is comprehensive in nature. God our people, your people are a people characterized by their sin. Nehemiah doesn’t distance himself from corporate sin, he humbly recognizes his own sin and faithlessness. He’s in Babylon, he hasn’t done anything to help with the rebuilding of “God’s city” he and they haven’t walked in obedience. He is coming empty handed.
Restate God’s Promises (v8-9)- What has God said? God you have said you would rightly scatter as a response to sin and faithlessness. God you have also said IF we return to you and walk in obedience that we will be restored with you. God do that in and for us. God is able and does bring people who are so far from Him they are spread across time and space. Gods work is to gather the scattered. He brings them not to where they think they should be but to a place He “has chosen”, for the purpose of “His name dwelling there” so they will walk in new life as restored worshippers. GOD HAS DONE THIS!!!
Specific Petition by the Redeemed(v10-11) – God has acted to save, now act to restore. Before any petition for action there is a claim of identity. We are your servants, your people. Why? Because God you have acted to save, to redeem (take us from slavery) by your strength, not our own. There is dependence. The only reason we have that we can claim to approach you is the work you’ve first done to save us. NOW,
This prayer ends with where most of ours begins. Asking for God to do or act in a way that we believe will improve our situation. God, you have acted in that past despite our faithlessness. God we now serve you, my heart has been broken for the condition of your people/city and I feel called to now act on behalf of your mission of restoration. Please God grant us favor and provision to purse your mission with great vigor.
How much worship is directed, how much reorientation is done in our hearts through a prayer? This is prayer against the natural self-centered and selfishness we are disposed to. We want to see change and movement of the mission but we want to be able to say we had a part of it or that we’re the champion. Patience and prayer, proceed planning. God what is the plan? Reveal, guide, direct, move. We pray like this remember who is the one while actually bring renewal, restoration, and a finished hope. It’s not us.
Nehemiah has a heart that is broken for a city he’s never known or been to. Last week we came home to the news of another mass shooting, this time at First Baptist in Sutherland Springs TX. This should hit us because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are part of the family, part of our body, this should sting, we got hit. We should mourn like Nehemiah hearing about the Jews in Jerusalem. Yet I think it can be very easy to have a heart and mourn for the condition of the church, or a people especially after something tragic and or devastating that is far away. It’ is easy to have a heart for things that are so distant we know we’ll never go over to engage, we get to determine how much we let it in. We post an article (hopefully we’ve actually read), we place a hashtag, change our profile picture and then we forget. ON to the next thing. We can shut the tv of close the social media feed and get on with the rest of life. Or we have such a short attention span and there is so much brokenness in the world we can’t keep up with it all or actually let it sink in to the point of action. Last summer was the hurricane in Houston, this fall was Puerto Rico devastated by a hurricane (7 weeks still no power for 60% of island), last month was Las Vegas, last week was a terrorist attack with a vehicle in New York, so much happens so fast how do we process it all?
Some people are moved from mourning and grief to resolution and action. I confess I am a Hashtag activist when it comes to big and painful events in our world. I’ve been humbled this summer and fall to see friends and acquaintances respond to great tragedy and ruin with bold action and impact. One to FL, one to Hou. What I love about both of these guys is they are active and on long-term mission. What is your response to the brokenness that is revealed to you? Can we have a heart for the city and place we are actually in?
Instant outrage is easy and ultimately worthless. Patient prayer and intentional action is difficult and actually has the potential to effect change. Nehemiah couldn’t simple ignore what he learned, he was compelled to spend four months in prayer and mourning. He took some time to let the pain sink in. To meditate on the suffering before quickly moving on to the next thing or say “oh well, what can I do.” WE Pray AND ACT!
PART III | Act with Boldness | 2:1-8
Neh 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. 2 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. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! 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?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it.” 6 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. 7 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, 8 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.
After four months of prayer and planning, Nehemiah is ready to move to mission. God moved in the heart of a person who has the position to effectively enact change. Nehemiah is cupbearer of the king, royal wine taster, which beyond being a rad job, gives him both access and influence with one who has great worldly resources and authority. He is good and disciplined at his role and he hasn’t been one to be constantly forlorn or actively bringing up current issues, so when he actually breaks protocol and is demonstrably distraught before the King it is an opportunity to bring his request. The king notices and Nehemiah make know his grief is not abstract, it is personal. The king’s response is great, it’s not so “oh so sad for you” it’s in a sense, “What are you going to do about it? What do you want from me?” Verse 4 So I prayed. This is a tactical sniper prayer, after a long season of prayer. Nehemiah, even in process, is in real time reliant on God’s provision and power. He is then specific on his mission even to the details of the type of wood he needs for a gate. It’s clear what the next steps are to be. Nehemiah is going, sent and equipped by the King on a mission of rebuilding what has been ruined. He has been given favor, in this because “the good hand of my God was upon me.” So in the face of great ruins that need to rebuilt, Nehemiah’s response is to leave his comfort zone and go pursue a mission at great personal and corporate cost. When has your grief and mourning led you, guided by patient prayer, to decisive and bold action? For Nehemiah, his act of courage was to leave the comfort of where he was and move into where he was needed. Most of us are quick to leave when uncomfortable. We leave to pursue comfort when we’re called to stay where we are needed.
PART IV | Endure Hostility – Pursue Secured Victory | 4:10-14
Nehemiah 4:10-14 | 10 In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.”11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” 12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” 13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
In the midst of our renewal and restoration we’re going to face opposition externally and internally that will seeks to overwhelm us. So we Mourn, Pray, Act, be realistic about the size and scope of the challenge. Know on the front end there is going to be opposition and challenges to the effectiveness and fruition of the mission. The ruins and rubble are great and our strength and ability to overcome are not. Enemies externally and internally lurk seeking our failure. Paralyzing fear can derail us and make us believe because the outcome of this process is unfinished that victory and completion is in doubt. This will be increased if we think our victory and success is dependent on our ability achieve. We can and should learn a lot from Nehemiah as an example. We should want to lead with similar character: broken over disrepair of God’s city, life of prayer and courage, ready to restore the broken, willing to fight for what is right, wise in dealing with opposition, resolute and tenacious in pursuing the goal, rally God’s people to endure and preserve based on who God is. But we cannot believe that our restoration, or flourishing, or joy, will come if we’re simply more like Nehemiah, or Joshua, or any other leaders because they/we are all flawed. Though Nehemiah is a good leader, there is only one true great leader - Jesus Christ. This is to redirect us to our hope of glory in Jesus Christ. The best leaders we will serve under are those who make much of Jesus and are seasoned followers at their core. We cannot lead like Nehemiah until we are led by Jesus. Nehemiah looks back to Joshua and forward to the greatest leader of all in Jesus. We follow a leader, the leader, who knows the condition of our ruined city and hearts and comes to us on a mission to rebuild.
Luke 19:41-42 | 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.
Jesus comes to the city and sees it. He sees this is a place filled with people, people who are created for a purpose to worship God and enjoy working and flourishing. He finds a city that for a few hundred years has been pursing it’s own restoration only to finding regression and failure. They are a city and a people who do not have peace and do not know where peace comes from. They are a city and a people without Jesus, so they are without peace. We are in cities and with people who are without Jesus and so are without peace. Jesus weeps, prays, and acts decisively bearing ruin on the cross and rebuilding His people not by making a wall but breaking out of a tomb in resurrection.
Through compassion and mercy at the condition of god’s city/people Nehemiah is compelled to leave the throne room of Babylon commissioned to bring restoration to God’s ruined city and renew the work of the mission they’ve been saved for.
Jesus, through compassion and mercy towards the condition of God’s city is compelled to leave the throne room of heaven commissioned to bring redemption to God’s ruined people leading them on a new mission they have been saved for, and will return with a new forever city. So our hope and motivation to continue to endure, work and fight is the finished hope of Jesus completion of the mission.
So we don’t place our ultimate trust in great leaders, good pastors, or even ourselves, we Trust Jesus.