This begins a miniseries of messages taken from the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. Today we take a hard look at chapter one where we meet Nehemiah, a man with a solid job and great life who has to answer the question: Do I Care? His dilemma has lots of application for we who live in 2017!
This is a three part miniseries on the Book of Nehemiah. As PM mentioned last week, Ezra and Nehemiah were thought to be, at one time, just one book. The two were separated, but that doesn’t mean that Ezra and Nehemiah didn’t know each other. They became compatriots of restoration in Jerusalem and Judah for God’s people.
This book was penned by Nehemiah in the year 430BC, so over 400 years before Jesus was born. It’s the last of the Old Testament history narrations. And it takes place in the capital of Ancient Persia, Shushan, or Susa, at least to begin with, where Judah was taken captive many years previous. The main character, Nehemiah, is the one whose eyes we see through as we read the book. But there is so much here to glean from his amazing story for our own lives.
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.
It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, 2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
There are four things that we can see in Nehemiah, who by the way, went on to repair that wall in Jerusalem and help restore Jerusalem. These have immediate application to our lives, so pay attention!
1. Nehemiah was open – he could have just stayed in his secure world. Can’t see Jerusalem from my house.
A number of years ago, Robin and I took a trip with 4 of our six kids to St. Louis, MO to see some friends. We had never been there before, it was a long trip. When we got there, we saw the Arch, attended a Cardinals game, saw the Mississippi River. And our friend’s house and neighborhood. St. Louis is about as far away from Brockport, geographically, as Susa or Shushan is from Jerusalem. Over 800 miles. Do I care about the day to day problems and situations in St. Louis? Not really. What if my parents had grown up in St. Louis, were in witness protection and taken to Brockport, but now I had a great job and a family and a beautiful house? And Brockport was all I had ever known? I might hear about St. Louis and say “Oh that’s too bad” about troubles there, flooding or whatever. But I wouldn’t be devastated by the news to the point of risking every good thing to maybe help out.
2. Nehemiah asked –
He investigated to find the truth of what was going on. He exposed himself to what was actually happening. He could have been more interested in the Susa Yankees team or Sushan United. He investigated something that wasn’t affecting him personally.
3. Nehemiah listened –
He listened with an eye for truth, yes, but with empathy and compassion. He listened emotionally and deeply felt what the residents of Jerusalem were feeling.
4. Nehemiah cared –
Evidenced by the fact that he sat down and wept – mourned for many days – he fasted and prayed.
Does anything move you like that?
It’s a God thing when it happens. Because God is the God of compassion, when someone feels genuine compassion for a person, a people, a situation, it comes from the Father of compassion.
American children see about 16,000 simulated murders on TV or in video games before the age of 18.
About ⅓ of American murders remain unsolved, mostly because people who witnessed them or know facts about them stay silent. And the effect of news reporting and TV dramas is that we have become numb in varying degrees to the suffering of people. Even as Christians, we need God to wake us up to compassion.
Of course, you can’t care deeply about everything. Don’t try to, you’ll be a continual mess. Allow the Holy Spirit and the Word to focus you where your heart is meant to take you.
There are some things you should always care deeply about:
God, your family, your friends, sure. But don’t stop there. Allow your heart to be broken over something and someone beyond yourself, outside yourself.
Do you know who Gary Haugen is?
Gary Haugen is CEO and founder of International Justice Mission.
Before founding IJM in 1997, Gary was a human rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he focused on crimes of police misconduct. In 1994, he served as the Director of the United Nations’ investigation in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. In this role, he led an international team of lawyers, criminal prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and forensics experts to gather evidence that would eventually be used to bring the perpetrators of the genocide to justice. And he couldn’t not do something about injustice worldwide. So he quit his high level job and started a mission. Now he and his team, which includes many foreign workers, set free human slaves, sex trafficked people and a host of otherwise helpless individuals.
So what did Nehemiah do with that sense of care, of compassion that was given to him by God?
As we saw in verses 1-4
A. He turned to the God Who gave this compassion/burden to him.
Lord, I bring this before You!
B. He prayed and fasted.
C. He remembered God’s nature .5
5 And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments
That was him expressing faith in God and His revealed nature.
D. He prayed and confessed for the nation, his family and himself.
6 please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.
Being honest before God puts us in the right position, the humble one.
It’s not my righteousness, as a matter of fact, this is our fault.
E. He remembered God’s gracious promises .8 + .9
8 Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; 9 but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’
F. He asked for favor on that basis alone. .10 + .11
10 Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. 11 O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
So here’s the question of the day repeated:
Do you care?
Beyond the anesthesia of our busy, distracted and opulent society, is God calling you away to care about something so deeply that you would react the way that Nehemiah reacted in his day? Anything?
Jesus was God’s perfect expression of compassion for man. Are you a follower of His? You will get compassion and care for someone or something outside yourself, just because you are His.
And if you’re feeling the weight of what you’ve done wrong, hanging over you, believe me, there’s One Who has compassion for you and is willing to take all your guilt and shame and give you a new life instead.