Please look below for a note from your blog host, Frank Becker.
“WHEN GOD CHANGES DIRECTIONS” (Nehemiah 1-2)
FOUNDATION FUND INTRODUCTION
First Baptist Church, Earlville, New York, Rev. Jeremy B. Stopford, Pastor
TODAY’S “SPECIAL”: “The Sin”
Two elderly, excited Southern women were sitting together in the front pew of a church listening to a fiery preacher.
When this preacher condemned the sin of stealing, these two ladies cried out at the tops of their lungs, “AMEN, BROTHER!”
When the preacher condemned the sin of lust, they yelled again, “PREACH IT, REVEREND!”
And when the preacher condemned the sin of lying, they jumped to their feet and screamed, “RIGHT ON, BROTHER! TELL IT LIKE IT IS… AMEN!”
But when the preacher condemned the sin of gossip, the two got very quiet.
One turned to the other and said, “He’s quit preaching and now he’s meddlin’.”
We are going to start with the “conclusion” of the message first! Look at Nehemiah 2:18. Note the mantra, the shout, the united voice of the people: “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
“Let” – a purposeful statement, more than just asking permission. The people of Jerusalem were saying that they understood their purpose, their mission, the goal of the work, even though they had no idea what was to happen (as seen in the next 11 or so chapters!).
“Us” – a united statement. They were NOT professionals. They were the people of Jerusalem who had a desire to be secure in their homes. The wall that had been destroyed by the enemies of their faith needed to be rebuilt. And the people determined that they each would do what each could do.
“Start” – note they didn’t say “finish”, or “let’s get it done.” You cannot have a faith project without a beginning. This project had a start: and the start was their faith statement. Let’s start!
“Rebuilding” – they may not have understood what all was involved in this work. They certainly knew that the wall that surrounded the city of Jerusalem was in ruins. Thus the protection for their city was gone. Even though the temple had been rebuilt under the ministry of Ezra, there was no God-ordained protection. They needed to rebuild.
Finally, “they began this good work.” The work had a beginning. They did not all do construction. Some prayed. Some gave supplies. But all came under the heading “they began”. And note that the work is called a “good” work. Perhaps not a great work. But it was indeed a necessary work. Years later, perhaps no one will remember the names of those who “began a good work”. They won’t know who did the construction. They may not know who gave. They may not know who prayed. But they certainly will see the evidence. The wall is rebuilt. The city is still secure.
The Foundation of the church is laid again. And the people of Earlville are worshiping without fear that the building is going to collapse. So NOW let’s find out how they got to this conclusion!
# 1 IT TAKES A SURRENDERED HEART (Nehemiah 1)
Look at the last statement of Nehemiah 1:11: “I was the king’s cupbearer.” In a nutshell, we have just learned all about Nehemiah’s life. The land of Judah was in captivity in Babylon. Why? Because they refused to recognize in their daily and political lives that God alone was worthy of their trust and praise. They literally set themselves first. The Lord told Jeremiah that the people would be in captivity for 70 years. They were. The 70 years are over. Some have gone back to Jerusalem. Many liked their lives in Babylon, which represents the world system. They liked it. They were secure, even though it was impossible in the world system to love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength.
Nehemiah worked for King Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, the nation which now ruled Babylon. (We can read Daniel 5 to get the full picture of the Persians takeover of Babylon!).
But his work is identified: he was the king’s cupbearer. Note that it did not say, “he was the king’s right hand man.” It did not say, as with Joseph, “the king entrusted everything to Nehemiah”. No, but the king did entrust his life to Nehemiah. The king’s “cupbearer” was more than just the butler. He was not the one who set up the supper table every time the king wanted to eat. No, no!
You see, the king had many enemies. Some were real. Many were in his mind – his fears that, like those before him, someone would come along and takeover the Persian rule of the world! (by the way, they would!). So he hired – in this case, commanded one of the Jewish exiles – to be his “cupbearer”. What did the cupbearer do? He tasted the king’s food. He drank the king’s wine. He sipped the king’s water? Why? To make sure it wasn’t tainted with poison from an enemy of the king! If when he tasted, he remained alive, the king knew he, too, could partake of a full meal. If, however, he died, well, then, HELLO!, the king would not partake of the meal.
Nehemiah’s job was a life or death position.
But he was surrendered to a higher King. He was doing as Paul would say in the New Testament, “obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Serve whole-heartedly as if you were serving the Lord, not men.” (Eph. 6:5,7). Nehemiah had a surrendered heart.
The point is this: As a reading of the book of Nehemiah will show, Nehemiah wasn’t a great man in himself. He wasn’t a politician. But he was a servant of the Lord who was willing to do his job as unto the Lord Jesus. He was where God wanted him to be – even in the king’s work. Artaxerxes thought Nehemiah was serving him, but in reality he was serving the King of kings, the Lord Himself.
Before we even see a people who say, “let us start rebuilding”, the work needs people who say, “I am surrendered by both my heart and my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings. Am I? Are you? Are we?
# 2 IT TAKES A PRAYERFUL HEART (Nehemiah 2)
But the book of Nehemiah is more than just a “feel good” story about one man, surrendered to the Lord, who did great things. It is a book about his heart.
Last week we did a “wabbit”, er, “rabbit trail” on what lessons the Savior taught at the lake. Today, let’s do a quick rabbit trail on what made Nehemiah a giant of the faith:
1:4-5a. Nehemiah hears from his brothers what the conditions of life are like in Jerusalem.
He mourns with them. He weeps with them. He is one with their hurt. And then, and then? Note the words which will separate Nehemiah from just another leader: “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, Who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands, et Your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.” (vs. 5b-6a). He did what? He prayed! This project wasn’t his alone. It was prompted by the Lord Himself. Nehemiah became a great servant of the Lord in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem because FIRST of all, He was a humble servant in prayer. Remember, we’re on a rabbit trail.
2:1-4a. Nehemiah prayed, for 4 months. And he still did his job faithfully. But by the fourth month, the king knew by Nehemiah’s demeanor that something was wrong. He shares with the king the tremendous burden and need in Jerusalem.
And then the king asked, “what is it you want?”. Nehemiah could have begun a huge list of what he needed in order to get the job done. Sound familiar? We need MONEY! We need SUPPLIES! We need WILLING WORKERS! This project is bigger than WE ARE!
But he didn’t. “Then I prayed to the God of heaven…” That’s it. The verse doesn’t say WHAT he prayed. It simply says he DID pray, perhaps committing everything to the Lord that was about to happen. He prayed!
4:1-3. Whenever there is a good work, there is opposition to the work. Sometimes the opposition comes from outside the camp. Sometimes, as Nehemiah will find out, it comes from within – discouragement, “we can’t do this anymore; let’s go back to Babylon where we enjoyed the pleasures of that kingdom” (yet without the true King on display).
What did Nehemiah do? V. 4, “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads”! Wow! What faith! There is little pause between the time of their insults and the time of his prayer. He didn’t go back to his room to pray. He didn’t sulk. He prayed instantly. And as a result, he encourages us to do the same.
There are many more instances in Nehemiah where he prayed, but let’s look at the last: chapter 13. You would think by this time he would have settled down! The walls are built. The people are secure. Worship with joy has been restored. But the opposition continues, both without and within. So what does Nehemiah do? “That’s it, I’ve had it. I’ve done all I can!”. No, he did what? He prayed. V. 14, “Remember me for this, O my God.” V. 22: “Remember me for this also, O my God.” V. 29: “Remember them, O my God, because they defiled the priestly office.” And the last verse of the book, v. 31: “Remember me with favor, O my God.”
It takes the prayerful hearts of the people of God for a project to be a success. So, how are you doing in prayer? Have you established a prayerful heart? Have we established as a church prayerful hearts? A long-time missionary friend of mine wrote many years ago, “nothing of eternal value can ever be accomplished without prayer.”
Oh we can give. We can work. We can give our inputs. But have we shown a pattern of prayer before the King of kings Himself?
This is not the message I’ve been preparing all week. I’ve been working on continuing our series in Mark, and for today Chapter 7. I encourage you to read Mark 7 for the 2nd Sunday in September.
For a number of people this was a most interesting week here at First Baptist. I am willing to wager – although I’m not a betting man – that each one of them could honestly say that what they ended up doing this week was not what they had planned at the beginning of the week, much less at the beginning of each day. Yet one by one their plans changed: mopping up water downstairs, coming off vacation early to assist in the clean-up work, chainsawing up an huge tree limb which fell no doubt due to the weight of the rain; meeting in emergency sessions. One by one their plans did change!
But isn’t God allowed to change our directions in order to accomplish His purposes?
In the Bible there is such a man who was led by God to change directions, not only for himself, but for the entire nation. That man was Nehemiah.
The work does not begin with the first stone laid, the first concrete poured, the first use of downstairs once again.
The work begins with us – those who profess to know the Lord Jesus and who love First Baptist Church of Earlville. The work begins with us.
And now you know the rest of the story. Is your name “Nehemiah”? Do you have a surrendered heart? Do you have a prayerful heart? For without either, it will be very difficult to say, “let us start rebuilding. Let us begin a good work.”
Close in prayer
A note from your blog host, Frank Becker:
When I read Pastor Stopford’s sermon, the Lord touched my heart with the need of the brethren in Earlville, New York. The basement of this beautiful old church is flooding, the foundation is failing. It must be rebuilt!
I immediately thought of the checkbook balance at Cross Trainers Ministries, and I was forced to consider the great sacrifices that our donors make to support our work, because first they pay their tithes and make their offerings to their local churches.
After careful consideration, I decided to recommend to our board that we send along a hundred dollars as seed money to encourage the people of Earlville. I say, “people of Earlville” because, even if they don’t attend this church, its very existence is important to every citizen. This church and its pastor, including its dedicated workers and its members, are a bulwark against sin, and a reason why God continues to bless the people of Earlville. (Our check is already scheduled via electronic bank payment, and should arrive in seven days.)
God bless you Pastor Stopford and the people of First Baptist Church!
What greater cause, what greater legacy can any of you have than to be a part of rebuilding the walls?