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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am worship service, 2006-10-08

Text: Nehemiah 2:1-20

Our messages for this quarter are based on the theme, 'Rise Up and Build.' This theme comes from the book of Nehemiah (2:20), which describes how God led the people of Israel in the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. This event happened at a time when the captivity of the Jews had already come to an end. They were allowed to return to Israel to rebuild their nation. Many Jews had returned and they began to resettle in the villages in Israel. However, because of constant opposition from their enemies who lived around them, the progress of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem was greatly hindered, and the outer walls of the city were still in ruins. 

But in the year 445 BC, ninety-four years after the Jews were allowed to return, God raised up a man by the name of Nehemiah to do this work. Nehemiah was a high-ranking Jewish official who lived in the Royal Persian court. In last week's message, Elder Chin spoke from Nehemiah Chapter 1 which tells us that Nehemiah was saddened by the news he heard that the walls of Jerusalem were still in ruins. The Lord put a burden in his heart to pray for this need.

Now, in chapter 2 we see that after about 4 months, his prayers were finally answered when the Persian King gave him permission to go to Jerusalem. Nehemiah then came to Jerusalem, and after making a thorough survey of the walls at night, he gathered all the leaders of the Jews together to share with them his burden for building the walls. What he said to them challenged them so effectively that without any hesitation at all they all said with one voice, 'Let us rise up and build.' (2:18).

Dearly beloved, this is the kind of spirit we ought to have in the Lord's work today - We must have a strong resolve to commit ourselves to the work without hesitation or unnecessary delay. Today, the work is not just that of building facilities for God's use as in the Beulah project. Our work also involves building up the lives of people spiritually through evangelism, discipleship and missions. People who are saved from sin by trusting in Jesus Christ need to be moulded and shaped through the process of spiritual growth to take their place as 'lively stones' in God's building. There is really so much that needs to be done in God's kingdom, and all tht we have done thus far has only scratched the surface. 

And there should be no hesitation or delay in this work, because precious souls are perishing out there even as we sit here listening to this sermon. God wants us, His people today, to rise up and build His kingdom. In the same way that the Lord stirred up the hearts of the Jews through Nehemiah to work together to build the walls of Jerusalem, may God speak to us all through His Word to put our hands and hearts to His work promptly and diligently.

This morning as we study Nehemiah chapter 2, we want to learn 3 steps we ought to take to do the Lord's work well. The first step is to Initiate Prayerfully. The second step is to Investigate Carefully. And the third step is to Invigorate Hopefully.

I. Initiate Prayerfully (vv.1-8)

Nehemiah 2:1 'And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king.' Cf. 1:1 - Nehemiah 1:1 'And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year'. Nisan and Chisleu are 4 months apart. Now, you may ask: If Nehemiah had been so deeply moved to weep and pray about the broken state of Jerusalem, why then did he take 4 months to petition the King about it? The passage of Scripture does not provide any reason for the delay. Perhaps the King was away from the palace throughout all that time. Perhaps Nehemiah was not the only cupbearer in the Persian court, and he had to wait for his turn to serve wine to the King. Or perhaps Nehemiah was just waiting for the right moment to take action. This is not hesitation on his part, but wisdom. He certainly would not want to make his approach when Artaxerxes was not in the right frame of mind or spirit, for that would jeopardize his request.

The golden opportunity finally came unexpectedly when Nehemiah was serving the king. The king noticed that Nehemiah was not his usual self, and so he questioned him about this: 'Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart.' According to verse 2 Nehemiah was 'very sore afraid' when he heard this. Why? According to ancient Persian records, regardless of one's personal problems, everyone in the royal court was expected to display a cheerful countenance in the King's presence. The slightest show of sadness before the King could arouse suspicions that one is unhappy with him and may now become a threat to him! Because of this Nehemiah had to do his best to conceal his sadness from Artaxerxes, the King. And he had managed to do this until this time. 

But by now after 4 months of praying, Nehemiah's burden for Jerusalem had become so great and intense that his sadness simply betrayed itself to the King. And when he was questioned by the king about his sadness, Nehemiah became extremely fearful that the King would imagine the worst about it. So he had no choice but to reveal the burden his heart fully to him. He said, 'Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?' (v.3)

Now what response do you think Nehemiah expected to receive from the King? Would he be indifferent, and advise him to refrain from being so downcast about the broken state of Jerusalem? Would the King just tell Nehemiah not to worry about the lost glories of the past, and to set his mind instead on all the superior comforts he was enjoying in the luxurious Persian court? Or would the King interpret Nehemiah's words as an indirect accusation against him, because according to Ezra 4:21 King Artaxerxes was the one who had earlier decreed the cessation of all building work on Jerusalem, because it had become notorious for rebellion against foreign kings?

Imagine how Nehemiah must have felt when the King responded in the most magnanimous way by asking him the question, 'For what dost thou make request?' In other words, 'What would you like me to do for you?' The king's heart was unusually favourable and tender toward Nehemiah. Without any hesitation he granted Nehemiah's request to be sent to Jerusalem and to rebuild it. And not only that, Artaxerxes also freely granted Nehemiah other things that he asked for letters to guarantee his safe passage to Jerusalem, and a good supply of timber for the walls and other structures in Jerusalem. There seemed to be no limit to the King's boundless generosity to him! What caused him to treat Nehemiah so favourably? After all, what Nehemiah desired here was basically a personal favour. It had nothing to do with the welfare of the Persian Empire, and the king was not obliged to grant his request.

Some would suggest that Nehemiah's strategic mention of 'his father's sepulchres' in v.3 may have been calculated to draw sympathy from the Persian King and pull at his heart strings. Others may say that the queen's presence which is mentioned in v.6 had something to do with it. Perhaps king Artaxerxes wanted to show his Queen how benevolent he can be. While all these may have helped, I would suggest that the main cause of the King's favourable response is found in something that Nehemiah did before the king - He prayed first before giving an answer (v.4). 

It was probably a very short silent prayer that Nehemiah made in his heart, in which he may have asked God to give him the wisdom and courage to say the right thing, and to give him favour in the sight of the King (cf. 1:11). But this prayer made all the difference! The Lord answered it immediately by moving the king's heart. As Proverbs 21:1 says 'The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.' Therefore God turned the heart of King Artaxerxes to grant the request in answer to Nehemiah's prayer.

This teaches us a very basic lesson: To do anything well, we must always seek God's help through prayer. Dearly beloved, how much do you depend on God to help you in your daily life? Do you always begin each day with prayer? Those of you who are working adults: Do you turn to God in prayer when you face a problem at your workplace? Those of you who are students: Do you pray in the exam hall before you begin to write your first word on the answer sheet? Those who drive on the road: How often do you pray for journeying mercies before turning the engine on? Let us learn to be like Nehemiah - always ready to utter a sincere prayer from the heart at any time, in any place, and in the midst of any activity, besides the regular times of prayer that you have set aside for the Lord.

Now, prayer is especially needful when we are doing any work for the Lord. This applies to every ministry of the church: Evangelism and missions, discipleship, spiritual growth, preaching and teaching ministries, and also in building projects like the Beulah project. Each of these works has its own unique set of needs and difficulties. But many have testified that things begin to change when they set their hearts to pray. They see God working in marvelous ways that they had never imagined. And so whenever you are involved in some new work for the Lord, please ensure that you initiate it prayerfully. Seek the Lord's help before doing anything else. That was what Nehemiah did, and the results were really encouraging, as he testifies in v.8 'And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.' 

After this Nehemiah immediately made all the preparations for the long 2-month journey to Jerusalem. And even as he traveled, he may have marveled at the perfect timing for his journey. You see, the month Chisleu when he first started to pray was around November. If his prayer had been answered then, Nehemiah would still have to wait until winter was over before he could travel to Jerusalem, as it would have been unsafe to travel during the cold winter season. 

But it turned out that the answer to his prayer came only 4 months later, in the month of Nisan, when the spring-time weather would be the most ideal for such a long and arduous journey. God's timing is always perfect! Returning to our text we now proceed to the second step we ought to take to do the Lord's work well:

II. Investigate Carefully (vv. 9-16)

When Nehemiah reached the end of that long journey, the news of his arrival soon spread throughout the land. The letters from the king which he presented identified him as a Persian official who was sent for the welfare of the Jews (v.10). This naturally aroused ill feelings among some enemies of the Jews. Two of them are named in v.10 'Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite.' Three days after he arrived, Nehemiah carried out a survey of the walls. He did this survey secretly by night when everyone was asleep, in order to avoid anyone's observation. 

In fact, according to v.12, he took only a few trusted men with him, and only one horse or mule to ride on, probably to minimize the noise. And as Nehemiah went around the city, he now saw for himself the terrible state of ruin that the walls of Jerusalem were in. He found that every part of it was broken down, and every gate had been burnt. It would not be an easy task to restore it to what it was before, because of the huge scale of the work, as well as the great extent of damage. This was certainly not something that he would be able to accomplish all by himself without the help of all the Jews who lived around Jerusalem.

The lesson that we can learn here from Nehemiah's example is to exercise great care and due diligence in doing the Lord's work. While we want the work to proceed quickly and not have any delays, we must not do things rashly. Knowing that there were people who might want to hinder the work he came to do, Nehemiah took the necessary precaution of telling no one about his intentions. He also did the survey thoroughly and personally so that he would be able to make all his plans with first hand rather than second hand information. Doing all this of course made things more difficult for himself. Imagine how tiring it must have been for Nehemiah to stay up all night to study the broken walls under the dim moonlight. But the results show that it was worth all the effort he had put in. The same thing applies to us in doing any work we do for the Lord today. In our zeal and excitement to advance God's Kingdom, we must not be rash or careless, for that is likely to bring failure. 

Careful investigation must first be done to understand what it will cost us in terms of time and resources. Our Lord Jesus Himself taught this principle in Luke 14:28-30. He said, 'For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.'

In the context of Luke 14, Christ was speaking about discipleship. When you made the commitment to follow Christ, did you count the cost? Did you take time to consider carefully what inconveniences and sacrifices you might have to bear as a follower of Christ? Besides discipleship, there is another area in which one must count the cost carefully before embarking on it, and that is marriage. Many couples rush into marriage blindly after a short courtship, without giving much thought to what they are committing themselves to. The result, as you probably know, is failed marriages which bring much sorrow and pain. If you are now contemplating marriage, please take time to think and pray carefully before you commit yourself to it. Marriage is a very serious matter in God's sight and it must never be taken lightly.

It always pays to count the cost and investigate carefully before we do anything. Nehemiah did that before he shared his plans with the leaders of the community, and the results were very encouraging. This brings us now to the final part of the chapter where we see the third step we ought to take in order to do the Lord's work well:

III. Invigorate Hopefully (vv.17-20)

When Nehemiah completed his careful investigation, he must have known that it was not going to be easy to motivate the leadership of the Jewish people to rebuild the walls of the city. This was not the first time that anyone had tried to do this. Several attempts had already been made since the time that the Jews returned from Captivity, but all of them had failed. They would need motivations that are strong enough to believe that they will succeed this time.

So Nehemiah gathered together all the local Jewish leaders and then challenged them in 2:17 & 18 'Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come and let us build the walls of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of God which was good upon me, as also the king's words that he had spoken unto me.' 

We see here that Nehemiah did not only have the desire to see God's work done, but he was able to effectively convince others to share this desire by laying out the whole case before them. Let us see how Nehemiah did this. Firstly he highlighted the urgency of the need 'see the distress that we are in' No one could dispute this point, since their city was obviously in a depressing state. As long as the city walls were in ruins, there was no security or safety against attacks. For this reason, many people did not want to live in the city. Secondly, he appealed to their desire to regain the honour they had lost among the Gentile nations 'that we be no more a reproach.' 

Thirdly, Nehemiah informed them of the favourable turn of events 'the hand of God which was good upon me.' He probably related how the king had noticed his sadness and how this had prompted the question that gave him the opportunity to make his request. The king's heart was then moved by God to grant what he asked. This shows that God had clearly given the 'green light' for this initiative, and He would therefore see them through the whole project. Fourthly, Nehemiah encouraged them with the pledge that the Persian king had made to him 'the king's words that he had spoken unto me.' This probably refers to the royal grant of building materials for their work. With these 4 strong appeals, Nehemiah urged them to build up the wall of Jerusalem.

You know, what the people really needed at that point in time was a man with vision and decisive leadership. And God had clearly given them such a man in Nehemiah. The result of his strong appeal was that the people responded decisively and without the least hesitation. They said in v.18, 'Let us rise up and build!' With such determination and resolution, their commitment was now sealed! 

Dearly beloved, just imagine what it would be like if we all had the same determination for the Lord's work as they had. If we really mean business in our commitment to God, the needs of His kingdom should be our concern as well. We would desire to do something about them. We would not be content just to sit and wait for something to happen. But instead, we would be taking the initiative to do something to meet those needs. We would have the same spirit as Nehemiah and the leaders who said 'Let us rise up and build.'

But when we commit ourselves to meeting the needs of God's kingdom, we may soon find that it is difficult, that it is demanding, and that it can be often quite discouraging, because of the hindrances and opposition we are bound to face. You can be sure that when you do God's work, there will always be difficulties and opposition. 

This was exactly what Nehemiah and the Jewish leaders faced, soon after they got started. V.19 'But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? Will ye rebel against the king?' The ones who are mentioned in this verse later gave plenty of opposition in various ways. They made false accusations against Nehemiah, and they even went as far as armed aggression. They certainly made the task of building the wall much more difficult than it already was. 

How could the people hope to build the wall, with such opposition against them? Only by depending on God to help them. This is the best hope we can have for our work. Nehemiah 2:19,20 'Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of Heaven, He will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.' A missionary to China named Hudson Taylor once said, 'God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply.' In other words, the success of God's work is always be guaranteed by God Himself. It is with this wonderful hope that we can rise up and build His kingdom - not only in the Beulah project, but in every Gospel endeavour of our church.

Dearly beloved, when we do this work, we must have constant dependence on Him to prosper us. God alone will see us through every seemingly impossible situation. God alone will provide us all the help we need. And God alone will assure our hearts of victory when we face opposition to His work. How greatly therefore, do we need to trust in Him. 

As we partake of the Lord's Supper this morning, may our hearts be invigorated with these words of hope. Just as the Jews had been invigorated by Nehemiah to rise up and build the broken walls of Jerusalem, let our hearts now be invigorated by our Lord Jesus to rise up and build the broken walls of His Church. Perhaps, for some us, the Lord may want you to rise up and rebuild the broken walls of your spiritual life. For since we have such a wonderful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as our Nehemiah, we must now strengthen our hands for every good work that He wants us to do (v.18).

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11