Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27th - Count the Cost

Prayer Requests
Pastor Aaron Preaching
Swift Cantrel Preaching
Indian Christians murdered
David - College
Kyle - Mt. Paran
Greyson - Mom health, Uncle health, Job interviews
Tyler - Job interviews
Kari - Friend in hospital, Dance teacher's husband cancer
Tyler McIntosh's collar bone
Jennifer - Magnet Decisions

Text - Nehemiah 1

We're starting this morning the book of Nehemiah. There are many different types of writing in the Bible, the Epistles are letters which are to instruct and edify. Zechariah, which we just finished, is prophetic, it is teaching through dreams and visions and word-pictures. Other types are the poetry of Psalms, the wisdom of Proverbs, and the Narrative of the Gospels and Acts of the Holy Spirit. Each of these requires a slightly different teaching style, and Nehemiah, which is a Historical Narrative, will be best taught not line-by-line, but so that you see the major theme of each major event. If you get lost or confused it is imperative that you ask questions, because something that may seem totally obvious to me might be lost on you, since I've spent so much time already in this book.

Nehemiah comes as a package deal with Ezra, so much so that sometimes this book is called Ezra-Nehemiah. They are split up mainly because of scroll length when they weren't written in books, but on scrolls. The reason we are not going to Ezra right after Zechariah is because Ezra is an extremely fast paced, numbers-based, book which is really useful for giving us the timeframe of Zechariah, Haggai, Nehemiah, and Esther, but with not a lot of didactic material of its own. It would literally take us years to get through Ezra because every chapter would have us going to another minor prophet.

The reason we chose to do Nehemiah after Zechariah is because in Zechariah the major rebuilding effort was the Temple, now the major rebuilding effort in Nehemiah will be the wall of Jerusalem. Both of these books happen after the Babylonian exile, Zechariah in 522-518BC, and Nehemiah quite a bit later in 445BC. Remember that Jerusalem was burned in 586BC, so the fact that Jerusalem lay in rubble for so long is a very important point as we get a little farther into Nehemiah.

After the Jews were allowed to go home after the Babylonian exile, starting about 535BC, there were two major returns. The first was when Zechariah and Zerubbabel and Joshua led many back. The second was led by Ezra, quite a bit later. During this time there were trickling of Jews back in, but even as we see in the book of Acts in the AD40's that many Jews had not come back but had lived in foreign lands for hundreds of years.

It is very important to remember that God dwelt in a temple in Jerusalem during this time, so to have no interest to be near to Jerusalem was to have no interest to be near to God. In our days though, we remember that Jesus Christ, God the Son, created for himself a temple of flesh and dwelt in it; that if anyone is born again then the Holy Spirit dwells in them and they are a temple of God.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

It is massively important that we recognize that a Jew living willingly outside of Jerusalem in the 5th century BC was rejecting God. To the contrary, Daniel was forced to live outside of Jerusalem and he reacted this way,

Daniel 6:10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

Daniel knew where God dwelt, and prayed towards him, not at all happy that he was a prisoner in a foreign land. Remember this point, because it will be very important for our application at the end.

So that brings us to Nehemiah. Nehemiah is a man born outside of Israel in Persia (Modern Day Iran), he is probably about 60 years old, and many think he was probably a very smart and handsome man, because of his job he had as the Cupbearer of the king of Persia. A Cupbearer isn't just a waiter, it is a much more trusted position. It can be so high as to be the second in command of a nation. The Cupbearer is responsible for making sure the king is not poisoned, so it is a very trusted position. There have been no lack of Cupbearers in history who have betrayed their kings to death in order to try to steal the throne.

The Cupbearer is privy to all manner of military and kingdom secrets, and his advice is readily sought and desired by the king. So the first thing we learn about Nehemiah is that he has done very well for himself in the world, he is probably the richest and most powerful Jew in the world at this time, more so than even the governor of Jerusalem.

At this time, the land of Israel/Judah aren't even called by their names, but are called the "Province Beyond the River." Which river do you think it's beyond? The Jordan. It is a dark, dark day for Jerusalem, but Nehemiah seems to be oblivious, so let's start into Nehemiah,

Nehemiah 1:1-3 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."

The twentieth year is the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, so that definitively dates this book to 445BC. The month of Chislev is November, this will be more important in a bit, but not right now. There was constant traffic from Jerusalem to Susa, a capital city of Persia, some of whom would be Jews. Nehemiah talked with his brother named Hanani, who was either just coincidentally in Susa where Nehemiah was, or more likely perhaps Hanani sought Nehemiah out to try to improve the condition of Jerusalem. Nehemiah asks, basically, "How is the rebuilding of Jerusalem coming?" I don't think he gets the answer he was expecting at all, he is told they are shamed, in great persecution from surrounding peoples, and that their walls are still in shambles and the gates are wide open to any oppressor. The Holy Spirit greatly convicts Nehemiah and Nehemiah instantly goes into mourning.

Nehemiah 1:4-5 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..."

Nehemiah goes into great mourning, both for the condition of Jerusalem, but I think more so for his own sin of being so affluent in a sinful place.

His prayer is fantastic, he starts here by quoting Daniel's prayer in Daniel 9. He shows himself to be well versed in the Hebrew scriptures, he quotes Daniel, Moses, and Ezra, and I love his beginning to this prayer, to the Lord God of Heaven. This prayer is asking both for forgiveness of the people Israel, and also for Nehemiah, and I think his opening shows that he has not mixed any of the Persian gods into his worship, but sees that God is the only God and Saviour. His prayer continues,

Nehemiah 1:6-7 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.

Nehemiah confesses great sin before God, starting with the nation, then to his own house, then even himself. He is totally broken over this sin, as evidenced by his fasting and weeping for days, not just minutes. He continues now by appealing to God's faithfulness and that he responds to repentance,

Nehemiah 1:8-9 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.'

Nehemiah confesses that Israel's sins led to the exile and the condition of Jerusalem now, but he continues the verse from Deuteronomy, that if they repent then they will be returned to a place where God dwelt. Nehemiah is hoping for this repentance to lead to God turning his eyes and ears back in favor towards Jerusalem.

At this point we see that it was very clearly the sins of Israel that led to their great pain and destruction. Sometimes when bad things happen, it is the result of sin, especially in the context of a whole nation. But it is not always the result of sin. Like if you stub your toe you shouldn't go to try to figure out, "Which sin was it that God is punishing me for in the stubbing of my toe?" As children of grace, we do not expect every sin to receive a retribution, since they have been paid for on Calvary's cross. But we also have to see in the falling of nations and bad things that happen to cities can be seen to be punishment from God,

Amos 3:6 Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?

Does that mean that cities that have disaster in them are worse and cities that are safe was better? No, Jesus answered that question by saying, "Unless you repent, you shall likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5) Disaster is a punishment for sinners, and also a warning. This is a complex issue and I encourage to read Psalm 73 when you get a chance, which tackles it a lot deeper. Not everything bad that happens is a result of sin, but some things are. Like the condition of Jerusalem right now in Nehemiah's day is definitely a result of sin. Nehemiah is praying that God will forgive them and build them back up,

Nehemiah 1:10-11 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."

This is recognized as one of the greatest intercessions in the Bible, asking God to listen and save and rescue his people. We'll see much more next week on how Nehemiah brings it to fruition, but we need to remember that the beginning of all success starts with prayer. When I'm witnessing I like to remember that we have to talk to God about people before we talk to people about God.

John 9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.

We see in this case that Nehemiah is a worshipper of God, but he needs to do his will. It is impossible to be a follower of God and not be changed. Nehemiah at this point is a great sinner, he lives in absolute wealth and extravagance while his people perish. We'll see next week that he does God's will, he is changed, he does act on his worship of God.

This is very similar to one of my favorite conversations Jesus had in Luke 18,

Luke 18:18-30 And a ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said, "All these I have kept from my youth." When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" But he said, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." And Peter said, "See, we have left our homes and followed you." And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life."

There is a young man very like Nehemiah who has the world by the toes, he has every good thing, wealth, food, respect, power, and yet he is confronted with the fact that these things have become his idol. You can't go to Heaven by selling everything you own and giving it to the poor, what you must do is love God more than anything else, and we see that this young man wouldn't repent, and walked away sad, walking away from the greatest treasure in the universe. Jesus said that it was easier to get a two-ton dromedary through a 1 millimeter hole than to get a sinner into Heaven.

Jesus' followers recognized that they wouldn't make it either, so they said, "That sounds impossible." This is similar to Nehemiah's condition, in that he is the Cupbearer of the king, he cannot leave. He has all sorts of classified information, he knows where armies are, how big they are, how major campaigns are being waged, the tactics of the Persians, building projects and weaknesses of cities and provinces...if he asks to leave, it is very unlikely that the king will let him go. We'll see next week that what is impossible with men, is possible with God. After four months of praying, Nehemiah is allowed to return to Judah, leaving all manner of wealth behind him.

And this is not a call to leave all money and comfort, but it is a call to love God more than money and comfort. In the New Testament we see Christians with families and houses and wives and parents and children and even some with great wealth (Lydia), but these must not be your idols, or they will keep you out of the kingdom. Whatever you lose in this world will be repaid many times over in Heaven, Jesus calls us thusly,

Matthew 6:19-21 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

None of us should enter lightly into following Christ. He does not say, "Try it for a little while and if you don't like it, then go on your way." He does not say as many have dubbed "Pascal's Wager" that "It is better to believe in God and be right than not to believe in God and be wrong." or "If I'm right, then I'm fine, but if you're right, I'm fine."

No, Jesus calls for a much deeper and more committed discipleship. It is a discipleship that says if your own brother hates you for being a Christian, that you continue to be a Christian. It is a discipleship that says if you lose your life you will rejoice, if you lose your house you will continue to follow, if none go with you, you will walk alone with Christ.

Luke 14:25-33 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

So your application today is to not love the world or the things in the world, but to recognize that there is salvation and hope and everlasting happiness in only One. He requires much, but he also promises much, do not enter into his discipleship lightly, endeavor to be the best disciple he has ever had, or don't claim to be a disciple at all. Nehemiah prayed for 4 months before he decided to leave his worldly paradise to do the work of God, please be likewise praying and counting the cost, knowing that whatever you lose in Christ will be repaid to you many times over in Heaven.

Also, pray for your nation, for your church family, for your biological family, and for yourself, that you would be strengthened to withstand the temptations of the world, that you would be accurate representations of Christ in the world, and that through your life and ministry many would be saved. When we pray we don't pray towards Jerusalem, but towards Heaven, knowing that through Christ we are heard and that our prayers have great power because of him who has effected them.

Finally, as we'll look at next week, that Nehemiah is a type for Christ, he shows us some things about Christ which wouldn't take place for almost 500 years. Jesus Christ, God our Comforter, (Nehemiah means God comforts), stepped out of the kingdom of Heaven to be poor, to exchange our spiritual poverty for his spiritual affluence, he came to save his people, and he has secured salvation for those who once were exposed to the world without hope. Set your affections on this Christ, know that he always lives to make intercession for his saints, know that he has paid for all of your sins, both confessed and unconfessed, that he took our sins on himself and confessed them for us, so if we follow him, repenting towards him, and placing our full faith in him, then we are totally forgiven and will be welcomed into the kingdom of Heaven.