July 24, 2016 – manuscript

Nehemiah risked rejection to ask the right questions

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.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?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.

It has been four months since Nehemiah spent time with Hanani, his brother.  During these four months, Nehemiah had engaged in prayer and fasting as he wept and mourned over the state of Jerusalem.

Chapter 2 begins with a private party when Nehemiah is tasked with serving wine to the King.  We know this is a private party because the queen is seated by his side, a custom reserved only for private events.  The moment seemed right for Nehemiah to risk everything before the King.  He could have faced extreme consequences for allowing himself to be sad before the king; anything from imprisonment to death.  At first, the King was upset with Nehemiah because he didn’t want a grumpy person ruining the fun of his party.  However, his attitude quickly changed to the caring, compassionate friend of Nehemiah that he was.  That is what Nehemiah needed.  He was hurting and needed his friend to listen to the matters of his heart.

As Nehemiah explained the situation to the king, he chose his words carefully.  He never mentioned the city of Jerusalem.  If Jerusalem had mentioned, the king could have been reminded of his degree thirteen years prior (see Ezra 4).  Nehemiah does mention his father’s graves were in ruins.  This is nothing more than pulling at the emotional strings of King Artaxerxes.  Common Persians did not bury their deceased, but allowed them to be eaten by wild animals.[1]  Royalty was honored and buried.  The King also would have been saddened by his family’s graves being ruined.  This is another indicator that Nehemiah was of the royal line of David.  Nehemiah took a risk of rejection that could have ended horribly without the power of God.  However, he laid a healthy foundation of prayer before the conversation and he was confident that God was leading this situation.

There are people at First Baptist Church who cannot do what Nehemiah did because they were not designed to take risks.  There are others who God is handing the right questions to ask, but they hold on to those questions because they fear rejection.  It is important you understand how God designed you and what your spiritual gifts are.  If you don’t know your spiritual gifts, I have an assessment you can take.  If you are not a risk-taker, become a support-giver.  If God has given you questions to ask, ask them.  Those questions are God’s prompting to make this church more fruitful.

Nehemiah clearly communicated his purpose

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.” 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. 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.

At the end of verse 4, the King asked Nehemiah what his request was.  Nehemiah realized his window of opportunity and held nothing back.  He laid every card on the table.  Nehemiah asked the King to send him back to Judah and still never mentioned Jerusalem.  After a short conversation, the King gave permission to one of his most trusted allies for a one-year sabbatical.

The Persian Empire had 127 provinces, so Nehemiah asked for papers that allowed him to travel on any road necessary to arrive in Jerusalem safely.  He also asked for a letter that would provide the resources to rebuild the gates, the walls and shelter for Nehemiah.  Nehemiah had a full endorsement of the King to engage in his purpose.

Church, your purpose has to be more than whatever American Baptist tells you do to.  Acts 1:8 says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  Your purpose must include re-presenting Jesus Christ to Warren first, Huntington County second, Indiana third, the USA fourth and internationally fifth.  If your actions do not align in this order, you are not following your Biblical mandate as a local church.  It’s time to answer two questions that will help determine the church’s purpose.  Why are you here?  What are you going to do about it?  If your answer is that Warren needs a Baptist church, why do you think that?  What is this church doing that no other church is currently doing to reach the people that no other church is reaching?

Nehemiah strategically moved forward

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. 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.

11 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 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. 16 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.

Nehemiah had a genuine concern for the people of Israel.  There were two guys who opposed him, but he pressed on regardless.  In fact, Sanballat’s name means “sin gives life”.  When you begin to ask tough questions about this church, you will risk rejection from people who long for the glory days.  When you begin conversations about purpose and mission that calls for strategic actions in Huntington County and your denomination gets left behind, opposition will find you.  I run into subtle opposition in the form of “we’ve always done it that way.”  Write down Philippians 3:13-14, which says “Brothers, one thing I do (because Christ has made me his own): forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  If Nehemiah had listened to Sanballat and Tobiah, the walls that had been destroyed for 130 years would not have been rebuilt through his leadership.  Rebuilding with the principles of Philippians 3:13-14 means “we’ve always done it that way” is never acceptable again.

Although Nehemiah travelled with a group, the course of action was developed with a few people.  Verse 12 says that Nehemiah took a few men in the night.  They went to check things out in secret.  Nehemiah wanted a proper evaluation of current situation.  Nehemiah was the right man to lead the rebuilding because he was fresh eyes.  He made observations the people of Israel couldn’t see because they adapted to their environment.  Verse 16 tells us that Nehemiah valued confidentiality and didn’t include every person in every conversation.

Church, rebuilding means that you move forward intentionally and strategically.  A few people make observations and recommendations and the rest gives trust and engages in the work.

 Nehemiah claims the promises of God for Israel

17 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.” 18 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. 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?” 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.”

When the time was right, Nehemiah presented his plan to the entire people of Israel.  He didn’t give his plan before it was fully developed.  He didn’t leak to people who thought they were entitled to know everything.  He waited until the right time then he told the people to engage.

In verse 20, Nehemiah claims the promises of God that if Israel would arise and build, God will make them prosper.  Throughout this entire process, Sanballat and Tobiah jeered at them and despised them.  They also brought others into their negativity.  Nehemiah told those who refused to engage they have no portion or right to claim the blessing that God will give.

Church, if you become a church who prays – if you become a church who asks the right questions about the future – if you become a church who establishes your purpose in accordance with Acts 1:8 – If you become a church who strategically moves forward the way Philippians 3:13-14 teaches, God will make you prosper.

I want to challenge you to engage in what God has for the future.



[1] The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Fensham), page 160.