Sunday, March 6, 2011

March 6th - Separation From the World

Prayer Requests
Whoever's Preaching
Swift Cantrel Witnessing
Eve and David - Salvation
Friend from work - Salvation
Ian's health
Tyler Mc's collarbone
KSU students going to Jordan
War in Tripoli/Believers safety
Praise - James' great band camp

Text - Nehemiah 2

Let's do some review, we're in Nehemiah 2 today, so first question, who is Nehemiah? Nehemiah is a Jewish man living in Persia in the year 445BC. He is probably up in age, very wise and in the most trusted position under the king of Persia. In chapter 1 his brother Hanani comes to visit him in Susa, and Nehemiah asks how things are in Jerusalem, how are they? Not good at all, the walls are torn down, and they are greatly oppressed. How did Jerusalem get that way? Over a hundred years prior it was destroyed by the Babylonians. How long have Jews been living in Jerusalem like that? Almost a hundred years. Why is Jerusalem such an important place, why did Daniel pray towards Jerusalem? It was the official dwelling place of God on earth. Why don't we pray towards Jerusalem today? Because God dwells in Heaven, his Spirit dwells in each of us, we seek a city to come, here we have no lasting city. But in Nehemiah's time it was imperative that they return to Jerusalem to be in the presence of God, but right now it is in rough shape.

So Nehemiah does what when he learns this? He mourns and prays and fasts. Do you remember how long he prays? Four months; a long time. At the end of four months, after he's counted the cost, he decides that he would rather please God than men. Here is our first application nice and early, let's read Paul's similar conclusion:

Galatians 1:10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

So Nehemiah sets his heart towards home and prays to God to get him out of his current job as the Cupbearer to the king, which is generally not a position a person can get out of. Nehemiah has a very basic plan, he'll pray and then go before the king. I don't think Nehemiah had the faintest idea what he would ask, because his request was impossible, he couldn't get himself out of his current state through any effort of his own, so he goes trusting God.

Nehemiah 2:1-2 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. 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.

Many different kings in history have made it a law that you're not allowed to be sad when you're around them, everyone should always appear happy and like everything is super-wonderful all the time. Apparently Artaxerxes had the same law, because Nehemiah here feels like he's made a fatal mistake. Here is another application, that the kings of Persia called themselves, "King of kings", and they wanted it to appear that to be in their presence was pure joy. Our God, on the other hand, who genuinely is the King of kings, welcomes our weaknesses and sorrows, he tells us to come with boldness into his presence even if we're sad, he tells us to cast our cares on him, for he cares for us. He is such a better King than anything this world has ever produced.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

It was a great sign of disrespect to stand in front of Artaxerxes with a sad face on, but Nehemiah relies on God to give him the words to speak and carry him through this perilous situation.

Nehemiah 2:3 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?"

Nehemiah does the best thing you can ever do if you're trusting in God, he tells the truth. There are times in this world that if you're against God, it might be beneficial to tell a lie to keep yourself out of trouble, but we're not against God, we rely on the God of Truth, and so we should always be truthful both to rightly represent his both his truthfulness and our reliance on his Sovereignty.

Nehemiah tells Artaxerxes that his sadness is caused because Jerusalem is in shambles. This isn't just a statement, apparently, because the king hears it as a question.

Nehemiah 2:4-5 Then the king said to me, "What are you requesting?" So I prayed to the God of heaven. 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."

I love the verse where Nehemiah prays to God, it doesn't say he prayed it out loud, and by the context it clearly couldn't have been a long prayer. The shortest prayer I ever prayed was, "Help!" on the freeway when a car almost hit us in the shuttle. The important thing here is a complete reliance on God's sovereignty.

Nehemiah asks to be sent by the king to Judah, to rebuild Jerusalem. This is an exceptionally bold prayer, but if God were not with Nehemiah, he would already be in huge trouble for standing before the king in sadness.

Here's another application, God calls us to do bold things by his strength and in his power. None of these things are ever easy, if they were easy we would miss the power of God in them. It is amazing when a doctor helps a sick person get better, and while God is definitely in that, it is so much more amazing when God raises a person from the dead, something no man has ever or will ever do. The more difficult it is for us, the more it shows his power.

God is more than capable of doing it the easy way, but sometimes (most of the time) he does it the hard way so we grow in grace and we see his hand more clearly.

Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

God could have put it in Artaxerxes' heart to send a messenger to Nehemiah saying, "Pack your bags, I'm sending you to be governor of Jerusalem." But there is very little miracle in that, we want a big miracle, and here it comes.

Nehemiah 2:6 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.

The impossible just happened, the king let his most trusted adviser go, the time is uncertain, probably a few years at least, we'll see Nehemiah return in a few chapters. The reason Nehemiah doesn't give the time is because he wants you to focus on the miracle of his salvation from a foreign kindgom instead of the logistics of it. I don't have the faintest idea why it says the queen was sitting beside Artaxerxes, there is probably a big theological reason, but we'll have to wait to Heaven to find out why.

Once we see that God is definitely working, it gets a little easier to be bolder. When I open air preach I remember that I have to say the first word, then the Holy Spirit will take over. The first word is almost impossible to get out, but afterwards preaching is easy. We see Nehemiah felt the same thing, his next request is pretty bold.

Nehemiah 2:7-8 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, 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.

Now Nehemiah has the permission of the king, the blessings of the king, and even papers that are worth a ton of money. And we see in the end of verse 8 that Artaxerxes didn't do it out of the goodness of his own heart, but because God had directed his heart to do so.

So Nehemiah sets off, leaving the life he has always known, leaving safety and great riches and prestige, stepping out on faith to accomplish something that is definitely going to be very hard. Here's another application, go out and attempt something hard for God, he has used everyone from teenagers to old people, know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain, ask him to glorify himself through you.

Nehemiah 2:9 Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.

Let's pause here so I can make a correction. Last week I told you that the province called Beyond the River was beyond the Jordan River, but it's actually beyond the Euphrates River, it's a lot more than just Judah, it's modern day Syria and Jordan and much of Iraq. This was a long and dangerous hike, and we see that the king cares so much for Nehemiah that he wants to make sure it's safe for him, he doesn't want to lose him to bandits. A great evangelist to Germany, named Boniface in the 700's, was murdered late in his life because bandits thought his caravan was carrying money, when it was actually carrying books and Bibles. Here is your next application, you have an appointment with death, you will not be late, and you are invincible until that day, so don't fear men.

2 Thessalonians 3:3 The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.

Psalm 91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

This next verse is pretty wild, because Nehemiah didn't announce his intentions, but the word has gotten out somehow.

Nehemiah 2:10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

These are likely rival governors, or at least men of prominence. Sanballat is from Moab, to the Northeast of Judah, and Tobiah, who was once a slave but has ascended to a higher position, is from Ammon, South of Moab. They are upset that someone is here to help the Jews. In my own witnessing I haven't run into this too often, but it is wild when someone knows who you are and why you're there without you telling them. I believe it is satanic for sure.

Here's your next application, if you are being obedient to God, the prince of the power of the air is going to oppose you. We'll see in future weeks how good they are at opposing God's's a spoiler though, they're not good at it.

2 Timothy 3:12-13 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

The most christlike man who ever lived was crucified, if we're living christlike lives we should expect persecution. There are some amazing parallels between Nehemiah and Jesus Christ, we'll look at them in a bit, some are blatant, some people have tried to force, we'll see a forced one in the next verse:

Nehemiah 2:11-12 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode.

Jesus was in the grave for three days, and Nehemiah was in Jerusalem for three days...I'll tell you that I don't think this is any more than a coincidence, there is absolutely no theological significance that I can find for Nehemiah; Christ lay dead for three days so we were sure he was dead. But look, we do have some parallels, Nehemiah has come to seek the welfare of Jerusalem and yet he doesn't immediately announce himself, he prepares beforehand, just as Jesus did. Jesus was doing more though, he had to fulfill all righteousness so that in his exchange for us all of our sins would be on him and all of his righteousness would be on us. He exchanged his truth for our lies, our adultery for his faithfulness, he was even baptized so he could cover the sin of those who fail to be baptized.

Nehemiah rested because it was a long journey from Susa, and he was likely old and worn out. He rode on a beast of burden I believe for two reasons, first because he was worn out, and two because he was fulfilling Zechariah's prophecy that the anointed one of God would arrive humbly riding on a donkey. Jesus would be the greater fulfillment later.

It seems that Jerusalem didn't know why Nehemiah was there, and there isn't any fan-fare to be spoken of, I believe this points towards to when the Messiah would be born four hundred years later and be mostly ignored by the very people he came to save.

So Nehemiah goes out to survey the damage. Jerusalem is a disaster at this point, piles of rocks everywhere, massive holes in the wall, no gates, it is a sad sad place to live.

Nehemiah 2:13-16 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.

He went around most of the city, some places he couldn't go due to rubble, but he got a good look at the damage. One thing cool in here, look at verse 13, he went to the dragon spring. There is some history to say that it is so named because a dragon/dinosaur lived there during the time of Lamentations when very few people lived in Jerusalem. Unfortunately we'll have to wait until Heaven to know for sure why it is so called the Dinosaur Spring, but this is just one more of many places the Bible mentions dinosaurs known by men. The best is in Job 40 and I encourage you to read it later when you get a chance.

So Nehemiah sees that there is much to be done. He has prayed, he as counted the cost, now it's time to get moving.

Nehemiah 2:17-18 Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision." And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, "Let us rise up and build." So they strengthened their hands for the good work.

These men were more than capable of rebuilding Jerusalem, of calling on the name of the Lord for help, for stepping up to action, but they had fallen into stagnancy and just accepted that they were constantly in danger from the world. Sometimes what a major project needs is just someone to stand up and say, "Let's do something!" It helped a lot that God had so worked in Nehemiah's life already and his testimony was used to motivate people. So the wall was rebuilt and everyone lived happily ever after, the end. No, not really.

Nehemiah 2:19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, "What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?"

Three people step up to try to stop the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Sanballat, Tobiah, and someone we haven't seen before, Geshem, from Arabia south of Judah. Israel, indefensible at this point, had been theirs basically, they could do whatever they wanted to Israel because they couldn't defend themselves. Now they're concerned because Israel might be able to stand up for herself. But they can't say, "We want to keep stealing your stuff, so no rebuilding the wall." They need a different excuse.

Their excuse is to claim that the work is against Artaxerxes, that the Jews are seeking to throw off his authority, but we know that Nehemiah had the full blessing of Artaxerxes. Besides the blessing of Artaxerxes, the blessing of God Almighty is so much better.

Nehemiah 2:20 Then I replied to them, "The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem."

One of the main reasons that they are rebuilding the wall is to set themselves apart once more as a holy people, to keep sinners out. In the church today it is really popular to try to build bridges to the world, to find relevancy so that they will listen to us, but the Bible says we ought to be building walls, that lest they be our brethren through regeneration, then an easy intermingling between us shouldn't be possible.

James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?! Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

We can build walls by rejecting sin, by using our language for good, by avoiding physical sins, by esteeming life as worth defending, by not giving the world even an appearance of sin in ourselves, redeeming the time and rejecting ungodly living.

John 17:14-19 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Let's look at Jesus, he was the highest official in Heaven, he looked and saw his people perishing, he was commissioned by his Father to step out of Heaven, he came to us, seeking the welfare of his saints, his people took very little notice of his arrival, and on his last week he rode in humble on a donkey. Jesus did what Nehemiah couldn't, he atoned for our sins on the cross, then he defeated death. He has commissioned the building of his church, and he has called many helpers to himself to work in that. So let us arise and build, let us share out faith, not loving the world, but calling many out of the darkness into Christ's glorious light.