Kaleo San Diego Church
Risk of the Mission
"...the Good hand of my God was upon me."
Nehemiah 2:9-20: "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. 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.'"
For those of you who have missed the last couple of weeks, let me bring you up to speed at this point of the great book of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah is a servant to the King Artaxerxes. He lives in a place called Susa, which is a 1,000 miles from Jerusalem. He is a Jew but since the exile of his people from Jerusalem some 141 years ago, he and his family for generations have been displaced.
Nehemiah receives news from his brother Hanani about the Jews and the city of Jerusalem. This news devastates Nehemiah. However, the news is old news. The walls of Jerusalem have been broken down and the gates, the safety of the city, have been broken and burned to the ground.
God begins to give him a sense of the devastation and despair of his people and their city. God opens Nehemiah's heart to the horror and shame of his people and Nehemiah responds with weeping, mourning, prayer and fasting. Nehemiah doesn't complain about the circumstances and he doesn't blame-shift. His response to the call of God upon Him is to take accountability for the all that is broken.
He prays and plans for four months until God provides an opportunity to speak to the king. God gives Nehemiah the courage and the words to ask the king for 12 years off, to reverse his foreign policy for the Jews, to send him with troops and letters of safe passage, and permission to use the kings' resources to go to Jerusalem and see her walls rebuilt and her gates restored. All of this is requested from a slave-servant.
Amazingly, God turns the king's heart and Nehemiah is granted all that he asked. Nehemiah responds by giving all the glory to God. He sets off on a journey to a place he's only imagined in his mind, but never seen himself.
Risk for Glory
The call of God upon Nehemiah's life is a call to risk everything and trust God.
Nehemiah risked his life, his job, his family, his friends, his reputation, his security, his comfort, and his privileges. When God called Nehemiah, he responded by reprioritizing absolutely everything in his life. In fact, the only thing that doesn't change in Nehemiah's life is the God he worships. He is the only constant in his life and everything, as He calls Nehemiah, is shaped, changed, molded and conformed to the heart of God.
Why would Nehemiah be willing to give up everything for his people? This is an important question. Its answer is the same answer for us as we look at our life and all our comfort and say, "Why should I be willing to give up all my comfort and join in God's mission today?" The answer isn't because you're concerned for people, though that's part of it. The answer isn't because you now have the same heart of compassion that God does, though that's certainly part of it. The answer is that you are given the same passion for the glory of God that Jesus has. To have Jesus' heart is to love God and have His glory as the central purpose of your life.
Nehemiah was no doubt given a tender heart for the city and its people, but Nehemiah was called to something even bigger than being sympathetic. Nehemiah was gripped by the reality that his call was no less than a call for God to be glorified.
This is a powerful truth. All people are starved for God's glory. We are glory-starved and so we pursue other things to give us a sense of awe and glory. And, God's glory is the foundation for ultimate joy. This is why God can be so passionate for His own glory and yet this glory is not a purely selfish glory. You see, we are made to run on the fuel of God's glory and anything less will rob us of joy and life. If it's true that we are made for glory, then it is also true that the most loving and gracious thing God can do is to draw us to drink deep of His glory so that our souls are satisfied in Him! Anything else won't do. Any other substitute will only leave us parched.
Nehemiah's passion for God to be glorified is why he cared so deeply for his people. Nehemiah wanted to see God's people able to worship and love his God. And He knew that the risk, danger, and loss of comfort could not compare to the beauty, splendor and joy of God's glory returning as the centerpiece of Jerusalem.
The surrounding cities and nations mocked Jerusalem because it appeared as if God had lost. His glory wasn't seen. His power seemed weak. The walls and gates led others to believe that God wasn't faithful or real; the enemies had prevailed.
The truth is, as Jeremiah puts it in Lamentations, God is faithful (Lam. 3:23). God promised Israel if she continued to worship idols that He would remove His hand from her and scatter her people. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, recounts that God's faithfulness is destroying her walls and gates.
To the enemy, it appears as if God's glory is diminished. But to God, the reason He punished His people is so they might cry out to Him and desire His glory more than their own. That they might love and worship Him and not give themselves to false gods that can not love in return.
But the time has come for God's glory to be seen again by nations. The time has come for God's city to be rebuilt and His people to worship Him will all their heart. The call to Nehemiah is to a call to risk everything for God's glory. Nehemiah knew the good hand of his God was upon him (v. 8).
Being on mission for the glory of God causes us to reprioritize our life. It causes us to live with risk, not comfort.
Are we willing to risk for God? When was the last time you risked so big for God that you had no option or choice but to trust Him to come through? What is the riskiest thing you've done to share the fame of Jesus this last year? How about the last five years? How about the last 10? Has it been some time since you've put it all out there for Him and stepped out in faith, risking embarrassment, security, comfort, your reputation, and control so that the call of God upon your life to live openly for His glory was made central?
You see, the idol of comfort has to be replaced with a burning passion for the glory of Christ. This is our call as Christians. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. To love Him so intensely that we become passionate for Him to be made much of in our city.
Conflict After Calling
Verses 9-10: "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."
The welfare of the Israelites is a threat to the current power brokers that control Jerusalem. When God becomes the center of our existence, the powers that once controlled, exploited and enslaved us become very displeased, to put it mildly.
From a human perspective, it seems as if they were displeased because it would affect their political and religious power, but there is something at work much deeper than that. It is a battle of glory. It is a battle between the self-glory of man and the glory of God. It is a battle of love, a battle for the hearts of God's people to burn with passion for God's glory.
Sanballat and Tobiah are displeased because if the God of the Jews...? Finish this thought.
Tobiah used to be a servant or slave that eventually worked himself into a position of power. Why would he oppose someone like Nehemiah who was a slave just like him? Have you ever met someone who had an eerily similar upbringing as you, with similar hardships, yet had a totally different outlook on life to the point where you really couldn't relate, and may even have disliked? It's weird because we believe in a kind of social and economic determinism where our history determines what we'll be like. But this demonstrates something quite simple, yet profound: It isn't the circumstances that make you who you are; it's how you interpret those circumstances through the God in whom you've put your faith. If your god is self-sufficiency, you'll always hate the idea of anyone needing and relying on God for everything. If your god is prideful self-determinism, you'll feel what you are is owing to your intelligence or hard work and you'll despise others who give credit for everything in their life to the good hand of their God.
Rest During Opposition
Verse 11: "So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days."
Do you see the trust that Nehemiah has in his God? How could a man of action like Nehemiah weep, mourn, pray and fast for four months, then travel 1,000 miles at nine miles a day over harsh terrain for another four months, come to Jerusalem and then take a three day weekend? How is that possible?
Is he just tired? Sure he has to be exhausted; it was a long journey. But what Nehemiah was able to do is what we must learn if we're going to show to the world that we trust the living God. We have to be able to rest in Him. We have to be able to trust Him enough to realize that even though He loves uses us for His glory, He doesn't need us. He established Sabbath for His grace to work through us and our ability to live out of that rest in Him. It was to stop and say, "I trust you and I want to find my rest in you."
Not only this, but he's resting in the face of a huge job and immediate opposition. How many of us can rest when we have a ton of work and people opposing us?
Too often our rest is circumstantial. It is dependent upon how things are going at that time. We rest if everything is peaceful around us. But what God is calling us to is to rest in the middle of work and trouble, because His good hand is upon us. That's why Nehemiah could rest. He knew this to be true.
King David knew something of this rest, which is why he could write: Psalms 23:5: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows."
I want us have permission from God to rest. Jesus calls all of us who labor and are heavy burdened to come to Him and He promises to give us rest (Matt. 11:28).
Without this kind of trusting rest, we will burn out and find that our hands are weary.
Verse 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."
So many of us are too quick to move and too quick to let others know what we're doing before we survey the needs. Nehemiah keeps his lips closed until he sees for himself what the needs are.
He brings with him men he can trust. And we need the same. We can't go this alone. We need brothers and sisters we can trust to follow what Christ has for us.
Verses 13-15: "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."
Nehemiah went to see and touch broken walls and burned down gates himself. He went from gate to gate, neighborhood to neighborhood, to assess the devastation for himself. He didn't send someone for him. He sent himself. (Incarnation!) He came and touched the brokenness. He took in the sights and smells himself.
The Dung Gate was where the sewer flowed out of the city. Only the poorest of people would have their homes by this gate. It was an open sewer. Some neighborhoods in San Diego have been labeled "dung gates" by the city and the city has all but given up on them. Yet Nehemiah goes to this place to see the devastation for himself.
He doesn't send his men to do his job. He goes. How many of us are willing to go ourselves and take in the sights and smells, the pain and brokenness of our city? How many of us are willing to leave our mini-palace and go to the open sewers of our city?
Who else did this? Who did He do it for?
Philippians 2:3-8: Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Verse 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."
Big Requests for a Big God
Verse 17a: "You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned?"
Nehemiah saw it. Do you? Do you see the broken lives of those in our church? Do you see the trouble our city is in? Do you see the trouble your friends are in? Do you see the trouble your neighbors are in? Has it hit you?
Maybe it's because you haven't opened your eyes and heart to take in the devastation before you. Maybe it's because you haven't come and touched the ruins with your own hands. It is hard to remain unmoved when we're willing to go and see for ourselves. It's hard to have a hard heart when we're willing to open up our own broken gates to let others in. Do you see that this city needs more men and women like Nehemiah who are willing to go out with their closest friends and survey the ruins for themselves?
In order for us to cry out to God, we have to have a need big enough that only He can fix. If we remain comfortable and all snuggled up in our nice and safe little cocoon of a life, we'll never cry out to Him. We'll comfort ourselves into numbness of heart and numbness towards God. God doesn't want us to live safely and manage our lives. He wants us to go and see, to get involved and invested and to be so aware of the need that we have no one else to go to but Him. He loves the needy and dependant because they understand that their every breath and every step are a gift of their gracious God.
Small needs are manageable by small gods. This is why I think it's so easy to worship ourselves, because we keep ourselves from big risks and have become content with small desires, small expectations, small faith, small hearts, small compassion, and all of these can be managed by the ultimate small god: yourself. We see our sin as small, so we have a small savior.
I've spoken with some of you who've told me that you don't know why we have to talk about our need for repentance so much. Don't you see that if we have to find comfort by closing our eyes to what's really there, we'll never actually find it? Don't you see that if you keep hiding from all that's broken, we'll never look in hope and eager expectation to the One who's promised He'll come to restore and rebuild?
We're afraid of risking big because we're fearful that God may not show up. I'm sure that was precisely the view of the Jews for the 141 years prior to Nehemiah's arrival.
You see, the Jews grew accustomed to brokenness. They kept themselves from disappointment and heartbreak by keeping their expectations small. I'm sure they said things like, "It would be great if God would come and build His city again, but let's be realistic and not get our hopes up." Have you heard such things from your friends, or even your own heart?
Have you become accustomed to the brokenness in your life and the lives around you? Have you guarded your heart by keeping your distance? Have you protected yourself by having such meager expectations for God? Have you said things like, "If you don't expect anything, you won't be disappointed?"
I know that voice. It is the same voice that lies to each of us by whispering in our ears, "Has God really said? Has God really said He'd show up if you cry out to Him? Has God really said He'd be faithful to you if only you'd turn to Him? Has God really said He'd make you a new creature if only you'd give Him your heart? Can you really trust Him? Don't expect too much, you might make Him look bad!"
This is a lie from the pits of hell and I want each of you to speak to that voice the next time it whispers in your ear by proclaiming clearly, "You are the same voice that sang praises to this God until you wanted glory for yourself. You're the same voice that whispered to Eve in the Garden. You are the Father of lies and you've been lying from the beginning! But let me whisper something in your ear. My Father in Heaven is the one who threw you out of His presence. My Father in Heaven is the one who cursed you and confined you to slithering around the dust of this earth eating only left over scraps. My Father in Heaven is the one who promised to my first parents that one day there was coming a child that you will attempt to bite and poison with your lies, but He will turn and crush your head under the might of His heel. He will cast all your lies, all your followers and you into the lake of fire! I know your voice and I refuse to follow the ways of those you've deceived. I am my Father's child, and I know His voice."
I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but I so desperately want you to see how hopeless and devastating it is to expect so little of such a large God. He is a big God. We need to come to Him with all our needs, especially big ones!
Us, for the Glory of God
Verse 17b: "...Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision."
Do you hear what Nehemiah is saying? He's saying that we need to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that God's people no longer suffer shame. This is incredible. Nehemiah knows that God's people have given up hope that things will change. He realizes that they have become accustomed to brokenness.
Their brokenness, despair, faithlessness and hopelessness were bringing shame to them, but more importantly they were bringing shame to God. They've given up and Nehemiah is calling them to believe again that God is able. He wants them to see the God he sees. He wants them to love the God he loves. He wants them to behold the glory, the same glory that consumed all of Nehemiah's doubts and hopelessness.
Nehemiah can't stand the thought of God's name being diminished. He could no longer sit back and watch God's people live as if they didn't trust Him.
But this isn't simply the criticism of someone who is sitting in a palace 1,000 miles away writing letters to rebuke them. He identifies with them. He no longer says "I" did this or that, he says, "Don't you see the trouble we are in? Come let us build the wall so that we may no longer suffer derision."
He fully identifies with them and realizes that their welfare is his welfare. Their pain and suffering is his pain and suffering. And their reputation is not only his reputation, but what is now consuming him is that it is God's reputation that is at stake.
Nehemiah communicates the needs: Ruined walls, broken gates.
Nehemiah clarifies the calling: Let us rebuild.
Nehemiah communicates the motives: No longer suffer shame (God's glory!).
These are our needs: We have ruined and broken lives.
This is our calling: Let us rebuild
This is our motivation: We love God's glory and no longer want to see God's people bring shame to Him and to themselves.
Verse 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."
Mocking, Complaints and Criticism
Verse 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?'"
As we continue to be shaped by the Gospel and become a visible city within the city of San Diego, we too will have more critics. There has already been complaints and mocking, and it will continue. Whether it is by misunderstanding or anger and bitterness, we will always have people who will jeer and despise us. It's impossible to stand for anything, and not have critics and mockery.
This doesn't mean we're to be jerks for Jesus, it simply means that as we love people and speak truth in grace, some will not want their idols to be unmasked and their hearts to be changed.
How we conduct ourselves is significant because it tells whether we trust God or ourselves.
Verse 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.'"
Nehemiah now turns to the critics and reminds them that it is God who will make us prosper. It is God who will work through His servants to arise and build. It is God who will get all the glory. And it is God against whom they are fighting.
For Nehemiah there are only two groups. Of course, the varied motives of the people were surely divided into multiple camps.
Some responded with Nehemiah and caught a passion for the glory of God.
Some resisted Nehemiah and jeered and derided him.
Some, as we will see, decided to go along with Nehemiah, but it wasn't for the glory of God, it was for their own glory and comfort. It was to show themselves off to others. It was to win approval by God and the people. This is probably the most difficult and largest group that calls the church "home." They want to join in, but not because God is beautiful. They want God to bless them or they want others to be impressed with their commitment to God.
Lastly, there are some who don't oppose God and don't try to stop the work of God, and they think they're ok. They're just sitting by, watching, and not doing anything that would seem like they're opposed to God.
However, Jesus says something as an incredible warning to us:
Luke 11:23: "The person who isn't with me is against me, and the person who doesn't gather with me scatters."
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