Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. Today we’re beginning a new series called “Change Your World” and it’s the story of Nehemiah, but really this series is about you. No matter who you are, where you are, or what your circumstances are, you are a leader. You’ve been called, you’ve been chosen, you’ve been redeemed, and you’ve been set apart for God’s holy use. Now some of you are already actively engaged here at Christ’s Community Church and in the story of Nehemiah we see that God specializes in using ordinary people who have a passion for the things of God.
Now we just talked about being passionate last Wednesday night and about praying that God would make us passionate people; that as the fire of God burns in our hearts, that we would do whatever our hand finds to do, and that we would do it with all of our might. We discussed how we shouldn’t do just what’s expected, but that we would do what’s expected…and then some. That we shouldn’t do just what were supposed to do, but that we would do what we’re supposed to do…and then some.
So this morning, what if we became an over-the-top and then some kind of church? You know, where we’re passionate for Jesus, passionate in our worship, and passionate for the things of God. We could do that couldn’t we? Our God is worthy of our “and then some” kind of worship isn’t he? Jentezen Franklin reminded us Wednesday that we serve an “and then some” kind of God. He didn’t just barely meets your needs. He didn’t just barely forgive your sins. But he gave it his all, he went to the cross, dying, and rising again. He is an “and then some” kind of God, because he doesn’t just promise to forgive you, he doesn’t just promise to help you, but the Bible says in Ephesians chapter 3, verse 20, that he is “able to do immeasurably more than (exceedingly abundantly above) all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). That’s the God that we serve and that’s the God Nehemiah served.
Now before we begin reading Chapter 1 let’s look at who Nehemiah was. Verse 11 says that Nehemiah “was cupbearer to the king.” And so basically what that means was that he was a taste tester. He was the guy who drinks the king’s wine before the king drinks it so that in case the wine is poisoned the cupbearer drops dead and not the king. Now this was a job typically given to a slave who is considered trustworthy, because of his closeness to the king and therefore he had a relatively easy life, as long as no one poisoned the wine. So Nehemiah was just an ordinary kind of guy, living in the king’s palace, dining at the king’s table, but he heard something that deeply bothered him.
Let's get started reading in Nehemiah chapter one, verse one through four and let God speak to us today. Verse one: “The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:1-4).
When Nehemiah heard about the disgrace of Jerusalem, his heart was stirred and he decided to do something about it. Even though he was just an ordinary guy, even though he was just a slave, even though he had an easy life, even though he’d never been to Jerusalem, and even though the problems of this far-off city didn’t affect him personally he decided to get involved. And with that decision God raised him up to change his world. Now these events took place about 446 BC and 140 years earlier Jerusalem had been attacked by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, the temple had been destroyed, the walls of the city were torn down, and thousands of Israelites were taken to Babylon as slaves.
Now to put that into context, it would be as if the walls of our nation had been down since the late 1800s and so you could imagine that the people of God were very depressed, they had no hope that life was ever going to get better. And so what happened was that over the years new kings came to power and many of the Jewish slaves were allowed to return to Jerusalem which have been left in shambles after the invasion. As the people began to return, Jerusalem slowly began to be restored, the temple was rebuilt, the people began to worship again, but all was not well. The walls of the city were still nothing but a pile of rubble, it was humiliating to the people, and it was an invitation to be plundered, kind of like leaving your keys in the car with the windows down when you go into the mall. In the same way, without walls Jerusalem was in a very vulnerable position.
Nehemiah was a servant of the king, but when his brother came to visit telling him about developments in Jerusalem, even though Nehemiah had never been there, he had a strong emotional connection to this city, because it was his heritage, it was the land of his ancestors, and in his dreams his future home. When his brother told him that the walls of the city had yet to be restored Nehemiah felt something stir deep within him. He has that conviction, that purpose driven moment, where he thinks “I can’t stand this anymore, somebody has got to do something and it might as well be me!” And so we’re going to see as God takes this very ordinary guy, who suddenly wakes up, draws a line in the sand, and says this isn’t okay and I am going to do something about it. And so today I want to show you three qualities of the one that God will use to Change Your World.
The first thing is that they are people who Sincerely Care. You may have seen the page on Facebook called, “Emmitsburg Cares” and its people like that who are intentional and who will look at their community, at their neighborhood, at their church, and they’ll sit down to cry and try to do something because they care. That’s what Nehemiah did in verse 4, he said: “When I heard these things... he said: “I sat down and wept.” He did the very same thing that Jesus did in Luke chapter 19 when he “approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41) and He saw that they had turned the temple into a market place (Luke 19:45). Jesus was overwhelmed, he was overcome with emotion, and He broke down and cried. Jesus was grieved, but he looked at the people and had compassion because they were like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). And so emotion overtook Him and He wept. And just like Jesus, Nehemiah heard about the condition of Jerusalem and he wept. This wasn’t just some tears or sobbing, this was ugly crying, this was wailing where he couldn't even stand up. He was so overwhelmed with emotion that he sat down and wept.
Now he could’ve done what I’ve done so many times when I hear about some tragedy, some group of people, or some natural disaster that happened, because it doesn’t really affect me. You know, in a lot of ways I’m like Nehemiah, life is comfortable, and I could’ve just said “I’m so sorry, my heart goes out to them, maybe I’ll send a check and I’ll pray. I’ll definitely pray, but then there’s this distance and I don’t really experience the brokenness in my heart. Meanwhile, here’s Nehemiah hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem, hundreds of miles away from the broken down walls, and he doesn’t even have the option of an airplane to get there, but Nehemiah didn’t allow the improbabilities or the challenges to separate him from this burden. He opened his heart and said, “You know what? This isn’t okay. I’m not going to sit here and ignore this problem any longer.”
And so what I’d like to do, is to get you to consider what it is that breaks your heart. As men and women created in the image of the living God what breaks your heart on behalf of God? What is it that God dislikes, that breaks your heart, and has become your burden? This week I asked some people on Facebook, “What breaks your heart?” And some people responded so quickly, others were too busy and maybe didn’t even notice, but people said things like, “Gender roles being confused, children that are neglected or abused, selfishness, greed, and lies.” You hear a lot of people talking about human trafficking, bullying, and the ungodliness of our culture. Nehemiah said, “Somebody has got to do something about this and it might as well be me.”
Today I want to ask you, “What breaks your heart?” In fact, I want to encourage you to open up your heart, to be the one that cares, and don’t ignore the burden that God has put there. You see, God gave you that burden deep within your soul and if you’ll open up your heart God can turn your misery into your ministry. God can take something that bothers you and you’ll look at it and say somebody has got to do something, it might as well be me!
Be the one that God uses, be the one who cares enough to sit down and cry. Number two, who does God use? God uses the one who prays with passion!
What are you passionate about this morning? What is it that makes you cry? What makes you sad? You know, maybe when you’re favorite team loses the game? Your golf game gets rained out or you miss your favorite show? What is it that breaks your heart?
Now I want to encourage you to think beyond that, to think of those things that you know breaks the heart of God. There are thousands of good causes out there, and I honestly don’t think God is on his throne concerned about whether football players are standing for the Pledge of Allegiance or whether they’re wearing special 15th anniversary “Remembering 9/11” cleats for the game, but what is that one thing that especially touches your heart and causes you to say, “This isn’t right, I can’t ignore this any longer, somebody has got to do something, and it might as well be me.”
Nehemiah says in verse four, “For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” He had what you could call a “Holy discontent.” Nehemiah had a burden deep in his spirit that so unsettled him, so bothered him that he just couldn’t let it go. He couldn’t forget about it, he couldn’t ignore it, and so he prayed, he fasted, and he mourned. The more time he spent thinking about it and praying about it the stronger became his resolve to do something. Nehemiah became a catalyst!
John Maxwell once said that catalysts are people who know how to get things done, and then some. He also states that “Catalysts are not consultants. They don’t recommend a course of action. They take responsibility for making it happen.”
And I think that so many times we find ourselves discouraged and tempted to give up because we’re just one person. But we can do what Nehemiah did and pray to the God of heaven. And honestly some of the most valuable time you’ll ever spend on earth is when you are seeking God in prayer. The remainder of Chapter one is Nehemiah’s powerful prayer and so let’s continue reading at verse five:
"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, let 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. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
"Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.'
"They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man” (Nehemiah 1:5-11).
You see God uses the one who prays with passion. Nehemiah prays, “Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” A simple yet powerful prayer because Nehemiah knew he was one person and he also knew that God plus one is always the majority. And so everything Nehemiah did was bathed in prayer and throughout his prayerful leadership something that could’ve taken many years took just 52 days. And I believe that when God gives you a burden and raises you up, you too can do something significant in this world.
So we’ve seen that God uses those who sincerely care, he uses those who pray with passion, and number three he uses the one who is willing to act.
After spending a significant amount of time in prayer, Nehemiah knew that the time was right, he got up and went to King Artaxerxes, the King of Persia, and Nehemiah tells us in chapter two,
“In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart."
I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?"
The king said to me, "What is it you want?"
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, "If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it” (Nehemiah 2:1-5, NIV).
Nehemiah tells us, “I was very much afraid” and he was, he was trembling, because he could’ve been executed for coming before the king in such a somber manner. So he buttered up the king in verse three, “May the king live forever!” And proceeded to tell him just exactly why he was feeling so miserable, what the burden was that was on his heart, and the king responded to him graciously in verse four, “What is it you want?”
Now watch what Nehemiah does, he prays, but he doesn’t run away to his prayer closet or on a three day fast, he just quickly fires a prayer missile to heaven and he’s like, “God, what do you want me to say?” And in the same breath verse five says, “I answered the king…” And watch how bold yet gracious Nehemiah is, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it”
Nehemiah’s not going to cry about it, he’s not going to wonder why somebody doesn’t do something, he’s not even going to send other people, because God gave him a burden, what had caused him misery became his ministry. He heard this, he looked at this, and he said I’m not okay with this, somebody’s got to do something about this, and it might as well be me.
Now if you and I can get a hold of that attitude, if we can catch that vision, God’s going to stir up some of you in this church and the world is going to be different, because you’re going to see something, you’re going to say “I’m not okay with that, this isn’t right, somebody’s got to do something about this, and just maybe I’m the one that God has called to do it.” You see, Nehemiah was a guy like that, just an ordinary kind of guy that God called to do an extraordinary task. He recognized that with God on his side they were the majority, somebody’s got to do something, and Nehemiah said, “It might as well be me!”
And I can’t help but remember and think, here it is Sunday, September 11, and it was 15 years ago today when I was driving down I-95 when that airplane hit the Pentagon, I was crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and saw the smoke rising as I heard the news buzzing about another airplane that went down. Earlier I was in Baltimore Maryland before heading on my way to Richmond, VA when the first planes flew into the Twin Towers and now this airplane crashed into the Pentagon. And if you remember just a short time later there was this 32-year-old man named Todd Beamer who said, “Somebody has got to do something about this, it might as well be me. Let's roll!” “Let’s roll” he said, and that ordinary guy became a hero as he took those terrorists and that plane down in the middle of a field in Pennsylvania. Todd Beamer was an ordinary guy who said, “Somebody has got to do something about this, it might as well be me, because I'm not going to let them take the lives of anymore innocent people. Let's take this thing down!”
Some of you, this is going to get in your spirit, but you're going to look around and maybe you begin to panic because the needs are so great. You begin to feel overwhelmed because you just can't do everything! And you can't, but I'm here to tell you that you can do something! Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” You can't adopt every kid, but you can adopt one! You can't foster every kid, but you may be able to foster one after another. You can't feed every hungry kid in the world, but you can feed one, ten, or twenty. I probably can't unite every church in the world, but can we connect God and community here in Emmitsburg. I can't do everything, but I can do something.
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop” (Mother Teresa).
Today we're going to let God take that thing that makes us miserable and God's going to turn it into a ministry. This week God is going to speak to some of you and you’re going to realize, I'm not okay with this...I'm not just here to make money…I’m not just here to accumulate things and then die! God put me here for a purpose greater than myself and you're going to open up your heart to some injustice outside of yourself that breaks the heart of God. We're going to have a church full of people who care. We’re going to get outside of ourselves and over the next few weeks God is going to raise you up and He's going to use you to change your world.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
September 11, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.