Mercy Encountered Through Risk Taken
Growing up i had some family members that would collect coins. A couple really got into it. They had some rare coins that were really old, but I remember one uncle talking about how much he paid for a quarter. It was an old quartet. It was a modern one, one that people carried in their pockets. In fact he actually went to the bank to trade cash for quarters in hopes that he might find one. But he said he paid like $10 for one of these quarters because there was a fault in the printing of them and they were very rare. To everyone else it was just a quarter, but to those who know coins, it was a rare find. The guy he bought it from didnt know its value. He took a risk paying ten dollars for a quarter because he saw a value that others missed.
In today’s passage we see Nehemiah taking risks because he sees a value for the things of God that others did not see. This is really the essence of following God, you value the things he values even when the world does not see value there.
Chapter 1 we saw his reaction to the news that God’s holy city Jerusalem is destroyed and in shame. He prayed for the people confessing their sin. And now we see what he does next…
1:11 Now I was cupbearer to the king.
2:1 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. 2 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. 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?" 4 Then the king said to me, "What are you requesting?" So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 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." 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. 7 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, 8 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. (Nehemiah 2:1-8 ESV)
- Risk Taken
Great position. We learn here that Nehemiah is the cupbearer to the king. We may not think much of a cupbearer, but in ancient Near East the cupbearer had direct access to the king and was an influential and important position. Some documents say the cupbearer was second only to the king (Tob 1:22). The cupbearer would make sure the kings food was safe, and that involved more than just tasting it before he ate and drank. Cupbearers like Nehemiah didn’t want to die so they oversaw all the affairs of the house to make sure nothing happened before it got to the king. Nehemiah is later called governor of Judah so his position was recognized and he must have had significant ability.
Nehemiah is burdened for his people. He is sad and in chapter 1 we saw has been praying, weeping and fasting because his city is in shame. This city was the center of all that God was doing in the world. Now he is in the presence of the king and is sad. He is also afraid.
The Persians kings were autocratic dictators with a capital D. Just to give you an idea in the book of Esther King Xerxes requested his wife to put her crown on and come show her beauty to his party guest, most believe that what that meant was she was to be wearing only her crown. When she refused he had her removed and she would never come into the presence of the king again. In Esther 3 King Xerxes is told by Haman that the Jews have their own law, do not follow the king’s law, and therefore it is to no profit to keep them, and also that Haman will provide a substantial sum of money to do away with them. So King Xerxes lets a edict be issued giving instructions for all the provinces to destroy, kill, and annihilate all Jew’s young and old, women and children! (v13).
There is good reason to be afraid of them. He is afraid because he has never been sad in his presence before. It could be a capitol offense! You thought our president had issues. He is not just a little afraid but “very much afraid.” You don’t hear grown men say that often. He realizes he could lose his life.
This is the only time that Nehemiah is afraid. In 1:11 he says he fears God. In Neh 4:8, 6:9, 13, 7:2, 9:32 others seek to make him afraid. But this is the only time he truly fears and he fears greatly. Trust in God silences many fears, not all but most. It seems his life is most in danger right here.
The temptation to ignore. Change the subject. “Is it suppose to rain in Susa today?” The king discerns he is not sick, and something is going on. Why should not my face be sad when the place of my fathers graves lies in ruins and it gates destroyed by fire.
A bold request. This request comes at an inopportune time. It is when wine is before him. Persian kings were known for their drinking parties (Esther 1:3). You don't want your cupbearer ruining the party. It is literally “why is your face so bad/evil?” The word is always associated with something unpleasant, wicked, displeasing. Nehemiah’s inner feeling was reflected in his outward appearance.
The word Jerusalem is never mentioned. He just says “City of my fathers.” Some scholars think this a master stroke of genius as the city had a reputation of being rebellious and having great kings come from it (Ezra 4:12-15).
Nehemiah has a burden for his people, for his city, for his God. this is the city that God chose for his people. He put his temple that would be his house. People would know God through this place. Nehemiah wants to see the kingdom of God restored. He wants to see God working in the world and he is willing to take great risks for that to happen.
Nehemiah is not the only one that takes on risks. Every other person who goes to help restore the temple makes significant sacrifices, of time, money, etc.
What Nehemiah does here is not unique to him. Great people of faith do it throughout the OT. It is the cost of discipleship. It is the cost of following God. Every person in the Bible who served the Lord encounter obstacles. They had to choose who they would serve. The had to see value in things that only derived value from God.
And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luk 9:23-25 ESV)
Dietriech Bonhoeffer the great German pastor and martyr who saw a nation abandon their faith to follow the Nazi regime and spoke boldly against a costless Christianity said when “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.”
Thomas a Kempis said, “Jesus has many who love his heavenly kingdom but few who bear his cross.”
Everyone wants his eternal kingdom, but few are willing to sacrifice for it. It shows how little you understand it. If you understand it then you are willing to give everything you have for it. We want a costless Christianity which is a Christless Christianity.
Entitlement. We want our 40 hour jobs with no inconveniences and no late nights. We don't want other things to interrupt our lives. It is costly to follow Jesus. It is costly to build his church. It will not be built without sacrifice. We want to show up on Sundays and let others do the hard work. I do my Sunday church stroll and then go about the rest of my life. Church’s will not grow like this. Our church will not grow with it. We want the world saved but are not willing to take a risk to tell someone about who Christ is. The church is built on sacrifice.
Rockefeller. We say we would die for Jesus, but don’t take my Friday night. We would lay it all down Jesus, but let me do it tomorrow. I ll tell everyone in the world about you and how you changed my life, but I don’t want to do it in this conversation.
God is calling you to a life of sacrifice! This is what Jesus meant when he said come follow me. Is it joining the church, serving the church, doing an evangelistic Bible study, giving to the church, getting baptized or is it coming back to church., or going out as a missionary.
Let me speak to where we are as a church. For those of you wanting to be a part of a replant. Some have said it doesn’t feel like we are replanting. We have not changed that much. I say I m not so sure the change has been embraced. Replanting is a process. We have talked about reaching the community. Its starts with loving them and getting to know them. Who are you getting to know? Who are you having over? It starts with building the community here. Do you know the people in the church? Are you loving them and taking time to know them. Babies. Who are you fellowshipping with. We have tried to get small groups and discipleship groups but there has not been a desire to fill those.
We want to seek after those who are hurting. We want to go to the lonely. We want to take time to get to know other members. We want to share with those in need.
This is a significant time in our church. It’s a significant time in our country. In 1979 70 percent of the population went to church and we are at just under 40% today, and the largest drop has occurred in the last fifteen years. People don’t have a conviction about knowing God, going to church, giving to the church, about living a sacrificial life. Will the church, will we rise up to the challenge of going out after those folks, of bringing them into our meetings. Part of bring them means we are going. We are learning.
This is what we need to do as a church. If we are really going to build a church it is going to be through good old sacrifice. There is no other way. You have to get off of cruise control, you have to get out of your comfort zone, and we have to labor together. We have to put aside our differences, our preferences and say I want to go all in. We have to sacrifice time. We have to want the mission of God more than we want to watch our tv show. We have to want people to know Christ more than we want . We have to want to spend time with others in prayer and bible study more than playing video games or taking that next vacation. This is our greatest challenge as a church! If building a church isn’t worth your time and energy then there is no point in moving forward. What has changed in the last year and a half for you?
Challenge yourself to do a Bible study in your neighborhood, or with a friend, or someone you know is struggling. Have people over to get to know them.
“Great achievement is born of great sacrifice.” Napoleon Hill.
“If you opt for a safe life, you will never know what it's like to win.”
It is great risk for a fallen, no good, forsaken city. Many would look at it and say its not worth the time. Nehemiah was willing to give his life. And it’s it not just Nehemiah. There are going to be many people who follow him and take the same risks. What are you willing to give your God. What are you willing to give the church, the place God makes himself known. What value do you put on God’s church? Is it worth your time, your sacrifice? Nehemiah had a vision of God that caused him to take risks. We need to see what he saw! If you are trying to rebuild the ruins of a marriage, a career, a church, a relationship, then you start by seeing it as God sees it. That is what propels us to get off the couch and take risks.
This may seem like a big step, but it is also where you need to see what Nehemiah encounters through risk, and that is ...
- Mercy Encountered.
“The king granted me what I asked.”
V4 he prays between his statements. He knows he may die, but just in case he doesn’t he got his Christmas list ready. And he goes big: send me to Judah to rebuild it v5, let letters be given to the governors that they may let me pass through (v7), let a letter to be given to the keeper of the kings forest so I can build (v8), and presumably a caravan to carry all of this lumber the 700+ miles from susa (Iran) to Jerusalem,
You don’t take risks because it is going to pan out. You take risks because you believe in the cause. You believe in what you are doing.
This is a great picture of bold faith and detailed practicality. Sometimes people are full of faith that something is going to happen but have no clue how: I just know I am going to become a doctor. Well, how is that going to happen-college, med school, good grades? Other times we have all the details laid out but no faith to move us to action: we have a list of school but have not applied to any. Both of those need to go together. If you are going to serve God you need to know what God is calling you to do and you need the faith to follow through on it. Right now we need passion more than practicality.
Our needs for a church are simple. Come believing God is going to use our church, that he is going to use the preaching of the word, that he is going to work in you, and use you. Come believing he is going to speak to you. Go out knowing this God is using this place and be eager to bring others. Be eager to use your gifts to build the church. Be eager to use your time, your talent, your treasure to move the church forward. To move forward it is going to take a group of committed people.
This is where the hand of God is seen (1 Sam 5:11). He asks boldly, he has practical list, and God’s hand blesses it. The hidden hand of God's providence is there with him. No other explanation. Everyone wants to see a miracle. No one wants to be in the position to need one. .
the good hand of my God was upon me. (Neh 2:8 ESV)
The story of God’s people is that God’s grace is with them. It does not spare them from trials, but it opens doors for his work. The hand that guided God’s people through the desert, the hand that guided the young widow Ruth to the field of a kind benefactor and her future husband, the hand that guided the apostle Paul away from Mysia and toward Macedonia.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, (1Pe 5:6 ESV)
God meets us in our sacrifice. Not always the way we might hope or think, but he never forsakes us. God has taken care of us. Even when things went as bad as they could.
Nehemiah is a great forerunner to another leader who would carry a burden for an unworthy people, pray intensely for them and ultimately lay down his life for them. That is what Jesus did. And this leader would make a sacrifice for them that would secure the favor of God.
Do you value the work of God enough to risk rebuilding?
We only take risks when we see a greater value gained. Through those risks we find the mercy of God to change. God’s mercy inspires us to do his work. We will value when experience and when we experience we value others learning.
End with the $20 bill. Does anyone want this? Crumple, throw, stomp. Pick up and unravel. Does anyone want this? You have just proved that despite it being crumpled, thrown, and kicked it still has value. You may think that you have less value because of what you have been through. That is not true. You are a child of God. You have dignity and purpose. The Bible teaches that another great person saw some ruins and gave his life for them. And the ruins were not a building but you. Jesus looked and saw who you were and gave his life that you could be restored. It doesn’t matter what you have done. He is greater and he can restore you. But you have to give your life to him.
When you give your life to him it also means you are devoting yourself to do what he calls you to do. We are to go and restore the temple. God has restoring work for us to do as a church. What value do you place on that? It should not be possible for you to look at the incredible work Christ does to restore your life from ruins and then you turn around at someone else and be indifferent.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8 ESV)
Tha is news worth sacrificing for.
If you are waiting to get everything right before you trust in Jesus you will never trust in Jesus. If you are waiting for the church to get right before you help we will never do anything.
Are you living like God’s kingdom is worth dying for? Are you living like the church is worth rebuilding?