Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Sermon on Nehemiah 2

Sermon preached by Margaret Carter

When l looked at the bible verses l felt unsure what to write about. There didn’t seem very much to Nehemiah 2, basically Nehemiah feels sad, speaks to the king, he goes off and the wall is built, end of.

But in thinking and praying about it over the weeks l think it’s fundamentally about four main characters, Nehemiah, Ezra, the King and God and their relationship to each other.

Firstly the relationship between Nehemiah and God
1.    So the relationship between Nehemiah and God:
Nehemiah was a layman, not a priest like Ezra nor a prophet like Malachi. Before he did anything he prayed. He is a man who talked to God naturally about anything and everything. Nehemiah always begins his prayers by praising God. He praises Him for his faithfulness in keeping his covenant of love that he had made with his people of Israel.
2.    Nehemiah and Ezra
Both men were in Jerusalem during the reign of Art-er-serk-seas. They probably knew each other but the bible doesn’t specifically state this as fact. Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries and very different to one another. There are many unique characteristics about Nehemiah and we often feel we know him. He is much more candid about his feelings than Ezra. They are often compared but Ezra always comes off worst. Both are described as being prayerful and faithful. However Nehemiah is said to be the people person, more readily liked than Ezra. Nehemiah was sociable, emotional, practical and a brilliant organiser. It wasn’t hard to like Nehemiah. Ezra was quiet and retiring devoting much time to prayer, study and teaching. Nehemiah was a man of action, a forceful leader who mobilised people to accomplish great things. Indeed he is one of the OT greatest models of godly leadership.
3.    Nehemiah and the King.
Nehemiah was a trusted servant of Art-er-zerk-seas, king of Persia. He was his cupbearer. This meant he had to taste the wine before the King tasted it. It couldn’t have been a pleasant job, to taste the wine, literally wondering if your next drink was going to be your last, but it was a very responsible job. It automatically made him a confidant of the King, and he would share things in the relaxed atmosphere of that relationship.

And so in Nehemiah chapter 2, when Nehemiah heard that the rebuilt temple walls had been pulled down again and that the people around Jerusalem were unhappy about the rebuilding of the city, he looked so miserable that the King asked him what was the matter.
In those days the King's servants were expected to keep their feelings hidden and to try to display a cheerful countenance.

Four months passed before Nehemiah found the right opportunity to speak to King Art-er-zerk-seas about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. During this time he prayed and prayed about his conversation with the king. He had four months of praying and fasting to prepare his heart before the Lord.

He knew the whim of an absolute ruler could mean life or death. He was also afraid because he knew that it was the king himself who had stopped the rebuilding earlier in his reign. When the king asked about Nehemiah’s sad expression, Nehemiah first offered a short arrow prayer to God. Then notice that Nehemiah answers the King with a question(v3), like Jewish Rabbis. Nehemiah followed that example. Instead of telling the king what he planned to do, he arouses the King’s sympathy and interest.

Then he told the king that he was sad because the city where his fathers were buried lay in ruins. The king was sympathetic and was pleased to send Nehemiah and only wanted to know how long he would be gone. (He was gone for 12yrs) So Nehemiah went with the King’s blessing and he began his work by inspecting the walls. He walked the walls at night, so as to not attract attention. Now the Jews, who were building the walls had become apathetic and had given up caring about the state of the city. The workers needed mobilising. Nehemiah did this by encouraging, not ordering, using inclusive language like...Come let us rebuild the wall.... Nehemiah’s appeal to the people who were with him was positive, he focussed on the greatness and glory of God. He spoke of we and us not you and them. Nehemiah worked no miracles but he gave the people a new vision of how things could be and God’s sufficiency that caused them to rise up and be motivated to rebuild the wall.

However whenever a work of God begins, there will be opposition, and opposition to Nehemiah came in the form of Sanballat and Tobiah and also an Arab called Gesham, who was an influential leader in Arabia and southern Palestine.

But Nehemiah was not to be deterred. The God of Heaven will give us success, he said. It seems that Nehemiah’s resolve became stronger as he confronted these men. It is often God’s way that; though Nehemiah had many natural strengths, they would soon be tested and refined. We never know what we are capable of until we are tested. If we are truly doing God’s work in God’s way, God will use the opportunity we face, to make us, not break us. Nehemiah was not only able to challenge his own people, he was also able to stand against the enemy and effectively deal with their opposition.

He got on with people and was brilliant at personnel management. He could draw alongside people and encourage them. He shared his own experience of God and how He had helped him to encourage the workers. He could boost morale and help them to be re-energised when they flagged. When inspecting the walls he gave credit to everyone and they completed it in 52 days. There is such a balance in his character...prayerful and practical. Joyful and sorrowful, tough and tender, sensitive to God and to people. An example we could emulate.

Nehemiah always begins his prayers by praising God. He praises Him for His faithfulness in keeping His covenant of love that he had made with his people of Israel. How do we pray? Do we thank God, praise God before asking for what we want?
How do we apply this?
The book of Nehemiah shows us the kind of significant impact one individual can have on a nation. Nehemiah served in secular offices, using his position to bring back to the Jews, order, stability, and proper focus on God.
God uses all manner of people in all manner of places doing all manner of work.
Just for a moment think about the people we have mentioned today:
Nehemiah: Prayerful, successful, sociable, practical.
Ezra: Isn’t a people person. Prayerful, quiet, studious.
King Art-er-zerk-seas: Strong, powerful, Listened, changed his mind, allowed Nehemiah to go.

Which character trait do you identify with, maybe none of them, maybe you’ve never looked at yourself and thought about your own strengths and weaknesses.

Do you feel you must be “in ministry” in order to serve God? Be encouraged; He is not limited by your vocation. In fact, God has placed you where you are for a purpose. Think about the verse from John: Whoever wants to serve me, must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where l am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me. Jesus doesn’t say whoever wants to serve me must have these strengths or those, all he says is serve me and follow me.

In Nehemiah Ch 2: 1-20 we see a message of faithfulness and perseverance.
Nehemiah lived far from his home and yet never gave up hope that someday he would return. He spent most of his life in exile in a pagan land, yet he never wavered in his faith and trust in God. We can learn from the life of Nehemiah valuable lessons in restoring and maintaining our relationship with God.

So for us, our lives scarred by sin and rebellion, there is great hope that God is a God of forgiveness – a God who will not turn his back on us when we look for him in repentance and brokenness. No matter how long we have been away, He is ready to forgive us and receive us back into His family. He will show us how to rebuild our lives and resurrect our hearts. Just praise Him, thank Him and then ask Him.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
We praise you and give you glory:
We bless you for calling us to be your holy people.

We thank you for calling us,
And for choosing us to give you glory.
In a special way we thank you for...


I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. I ask your forgiveness and now turn from everything which I know is wrong, especially....

Dear lord we ask for prayers for the needs of my love ones,
my financial needs, for my children,
for ...
Please come into my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit and be with me forever. Amen

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
We praise you and give you glory:
We bless you for calling us to be your holy people.

We thank you for calling us,
And for choosing us to give you glory.
In a special way we thank you for...


I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. I ask your forgiveness and now turn from everything which I know is wrong, especially....

Dear lord we ask for prayers for the needs of my love ones,
my financial needs, for my children,
for ...
Please come into my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit and be with me forever. Amen