“The Courage Of A Servant” Nehemiah 6:1-7:3 1/6/02
SI: Nehemiah was called by God to rebuild Jerusalem physically and spiritually.
Began to rebuild the wall, faced many obstacles, lots of opposition.
Wall nearly complete—this chapter, final tactic of the opposition
INTRO: I’ve heard that since September 11th fire departments in some cities
have been flooded with applications from people who want to be firefighters.
You would think that the opposite would be true.
Seems people would say, “I don’t want to work in such a hazardous profession.”
“I don’t want to go into burning buildings that might collapse and crush me.”
But there is something in the human heart that responds to courage.
In chapter 6 we see a display of courage by Nehemiah.
This was final attempt by the enemies of the Jews to stop the work on the wall.
Turned all their guns on Nehemiah himself, hoping to scare him so that he
would become paralyzed, or distracted, or do something foolish to ruin his
But Nehemiah was courageous. He followed the call God had laid on his heart,
his call was to rebuild Jerusalem physically and spiritually.
Courage is not a purely Christian virtue. Non-Christians can be courageous.
Non-Christian cultures prize courage, bravery—like the ancient Greeks
But Christians, above all people, must be courageous.
And the courage Christians show is the highest kind because it is played out
in the most intense arena—the arena of spiritual warfare.
You are called to follow Jesus Christ no matter where He leads you,
no matter what He tells you to do.
You are His hands, feet, and voice in this world.
Through you as an individual believer and through the church as a whole,
the Lord is bringing His rebuilding power and love to a broken world and people.
But Christ’s enemy, and your enemy, the devil does all he can to stop that.
One of his tactics is to make you afraid to follow Christ and then to act on that fear.
When that happens you will become paralyzed, or distracted, half-hearted,
might do something foolish to makes you ineffective and unproductive for a time.
So you must be courageous.
Few months ago reading a chapter in the Bible, Daniel 10, one verse jumped out.
Lord says, “Do not be afraid, Daniel.”
That sounded very familiar, Nehemiah 4, “Do not be afraid of them.”
Then a light went on.
Read things in the Bible 100 times, suddenly Holy Spirit reveals something new.
Immediately about half dozen other places in the Bible came to mind.
God says to Abraham, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield and very great reward.”
God says to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified.”
David in Psalms, “Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”
Angel to shepherds, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy.”
Jesus to disciples, “Take heart, I have overcome the world.”
Paul to Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power”
Stuck a Post-it in the back of my Bible, and every time a ran across this I noted.
So far, besides those I just mentioned, I have found 15
Not only the big characters in the Bible, but even the little ones.
The Bible is full of this. Over and over again God says to His people:
“Do not be afraid, be strong, be courageous.”
Started to look at my life—how often give in to fear, fear of people, future
Paralyzes, distracts, makes half-hearted in following Christ.
How much I need courage.
So when I started to prepare this sermon for this particular Sunday, got excited.
What a great chapter of Scripture for the first Sunday of the new year!
Here we have an example of courage by one of God’s servants.
If Nehemiah could be courageous, you can be courageous.
Because you follow the same Lord. Filled with the Holy Spirit
As we look more closely at Nehemiah’s example,
see that his courage not a matter of his temperament.
His courage stood on what I will call four great pillars.
A great cause, a great power, a great identity, a great company
MP#1 In order to be courageous you must work for a great cause.
Nehemiah tells us that the wall was basically finished, only the gates left.
Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem heard this they sent Nehemiah a message.
Meet us in a village on the plain of Ono, west of Jerusalem.
Sent it four times. This was an urgent invitation.
These were important men. Governors of other provinces under Artaxerxes
Then Nehemiah tells us that he knew they were scheming to harm him.
Doesn’t record how he knew, if someone told him, or if just intuition.
The reason the wanted to harm him is obvious, they wanted to stop the work.
Make him ineffective as a governor, under their control, maybe even give up.
But Nehemiah was absolutely unfazed by this.
Doesn’t say, Oh no, I’m in danger. Didn’t even accuse them—planning to harm!
Doesn’t second guess himself when he gets fourth invitation. Guess I’ll go.
Responds, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down.
Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”
God has called me to Jerusalem. He has given me work to do.
I’m not going to let you distract me in any way.
He called the rebuilding of Jerusalem “a great project.”
Uses the adjective “great” because knew God was in it.
Knew that God was going to use this wall to advance His purposes,
and knew that God would be glorified by a finished wall.
This gave Nehemiah courage because focused on something greater than himself.
You become fearful when you focus on yourself too much.
Fearful of other people, that they will mess up plans, make life uncomfortable.
Fearful of the future, that things won’t work out as we hope.
But when you look at life and say, “I’m working for a great cause.”
Something much bigger than me because God is in it, eyes off self, courageous
Missionary stories. Two women Hattie Kneeland and Harriet Fields
Jungle of Peru in 1950s because believed God had called to reach Matses Indians
No one had ever contacted, lived in remote jungle, killed every outsider man,
kidnapped women for slaves and wives.
For years these women lived alone in the jungle trying to make contact.
How could the do it? How overcome fear of being eaten or kidnapped?
They were working for a great cause—the cause of Christ.
Believed that Jesus Christ died to save the Matses Indians—every tribe.
Working to make that a reality. Their fears small compared to great cause.
How does this apply to me?
Jesus Christ has called you just as he called Nehemiah and Hattie and Harriet.
Has put you in a particular time and place to serve Him.
In your place you can advance His kingdom. Do you believe that?
You businessmen, women.
If you say, My business exists to advance the cause of Christ.
I will conduct my business in a way that honors His name in all things.
Not only will that give you clear direction in ethical matters,
Will give you courage to do them. Something much bigger and more important.
If you say, I am in school to show everyone here the love of Jesus Christ.
That is more important than being popular, having right things,
hanging out with the right people.
You will be a person of incredible courage. Less self-conscious.
Courageous Christians work for a great cause.
MP#2 In order to be courageous you must avail yourself of a great power.
When the first plot didn’t work, Nehemiah’s enemies sent him an unsealed letter.
Unsealed letter like what we call an open letter.
Wasn’t for Nehemiah only, but for everyone in the region.
“It’s been reported” “They say” That you, Nehemiah, are plotting a revolt
against King Artaxerxes and are about to declare yourself King of Judah.
Couched in tone of concern, we’ve got to get together and talk about this
But really designed to do as much harm as possible. Explosive letter.
A slam against Nehemiah’s character.
Remember how generous Nehemiah was with his money to needy people.
After reading a letter like this people would say.
Now we know why. Not out of the goodness of his heart, buying our support.
Trying to obligate us to follow him in a revolt. Start to doubt his honesty.
Should he call a meeting of all the people to discuss this letter?
A threat against the whole project.
If King Artaxerxes, back in capital city heard of this, might recall Nehemiah
Wonder, better for Nehemiah to write to Artaxerxes first, defend self,
Meet with these enemies and try to argue things out.
Look carefully at the next three things Nehemiah records in his journal.
First, courageously responds: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening.
You are just making it up out of your head.” That is all. No more defense.
Then, explains what was really going on: “They were trying to frighten us, thinking,
‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’”
Third, he records a prayer: (But I prayed), “Now strengthen my hands.”
Why did Nehemiah pray that prayer after he had answered courageously?
Because he was afraid! Feeling weak.
Glimpse into something great. The power of God is available for weaklings.
Available for trembling people.
As you consciously avail yourself of this power, by courageous action, and prayer
the power is given, even if your knees are trembling.
In 2 Tim. 1:7 Paul wrote to Timothy the young pastor
“God has not given us a spirit of fear (timidity) but a spirit of power . . .”
Paul wrote that because Timothy was fearful but Paul wanted him to know
that God has given his people a spirit of power, must avail yourself of it.
you do so, even if you are trembling, by acting courageously.
The power of God’s Spirit is for weaklings.
Are you afraid you will not be able to live the Christian life?
The answer is “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who
works in you both to will and to do.”
The fear and trembling often remain
but you are enabled to do the work by the power of God’s Spirit.
You become courageous in spite of your fears as you act courageously and pray.
Go forward in the power and presence of God, in spite of your fear and
tremblings, you will be amazed at yourself.
You will see the Holy Spirit at work in what you do and say.
As you face fearful challenges in the coming year, you must not be paralyzed,
must not forge ahead in your own strength,
rely on the power of the Holy Spirit
MP#3 In order to be courageous you must claim a great identity.
When the second plot didn’t work, these enemies secretly hired a man named
Shemaiah who was known as a prophet.
Nehemiah said he as shut in at his home so Nehemiah went to visit him.
Doesn’t tell us what that meant but seems man had made it know he
was frightened of enemies and refusing to come out,
so Nehemiah went to encourage him.
When Nehemiah got there all Shemaiah could talk about was the plot against
Nehemiah’s life. They’re coming to kill you. Coming tonight to kill you.
Insists that they go into the temple for his protection.
Nehemiah realizes that this man is not being honest, has been hired.
Knows, furthermore, that if he went into the temple he would be sinning
by violating religious laws, only priest, Levites could go into the inner temple,
If I did this it would give me a bad name and discredit me.
Interesting that he doesn’t fling this accusation at Shemaiah.
Instead he says, “Should a man like me run away?”
“Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go.”
“A man like me” what does he mean?
Mean a Persian governor like me. Persian governors don’t hide in temples.
Doesn’t mean that. What is the title that Nehemiah prizes more than any other?
Refers to himself as the servant of God.
Claims that identity. How can a servant of God do anything less than obey God?
So what if my life is being threatened?
What is my life in comparison to the great identity that claim.
You have an even greater identity than Nehemiah.
No longer servants but sons. Not only sons but heirs.
Great courage that comes from claiming that identity.
I am a son of God, an heir of the kingdom with elder brother Christ.
I am a Christian.
While in South Florida on vacation Allison and I left children with parents
and went to Barnes & Noble bookstore—favorite date.
Got some coffee and books looking for chairs but the place was packed.
Found two empty chairs around a little coffee table,
Two other chairs with two men in them. Settled down to read.
But one man was a talker, tried to ignore and he soon got all three in a conversation.
Eventually the conversation turned to religion.
He was from Mass., grew up Catholic, rejected the Christian faith.
Other man was a Jew from Brooklyn
When found out Allison and I were Christians, Presbyterians, guy licking chops,
Ready for a major debate.
“A woman I know in Mass invited me to a Christmas program. She goes to one of
these born-again churches. They had great music but afterwards she told me that
the only way get to heaven is to trust in Jesus Christ. Do you believe that?
Many things ran through my head.
First, talking very loud. Wasn’t my idea of date with Allison.
Second, pretty good idea of what he was going to do with my answer.
Probably going to point at the Jew and say, what about him?
You think Jews are going to hell because they don’t believe in Christ?
Be honest with you, I was afraid. Felt more like embarrassment than fear.
But it was the fear of man welling up inside of me.
What enabled me to answer courageously and clearly and winsomely was this.
I though about how he had said “born again church” like some kind of disease.
Realized, that is who I am. I am a born again Christian.
I claimed my identity and answered, “Yes. Jesus said, I am the way . . .”
God gave Allison and me just the right words for the rest of the conversation.
You have a great identity, claim it. Remind yourself when fearful.
I am a son of God. I am a follower of Christ. I am a Christian.
That identity conferred on me by my precious Savior Jesus Christ.
MP#4 In order to be courageous you must surround yourself with a great company.
So the wall was completed in only 52 days.
Nehemiah said such a striking testimony to the hand of God,
opposition of the surrounding nations silenced.
But not the end of the attacks. They became more subtle.
A number of the leading families had financial and marital connections to Tobiah.
They weren’t fully committed to the cause of rebuilding Jerusalem physically and
spiritually because they were double-minded. Financial gain was their big goal.
So they reported to Tobiah what Nehemiah was doing.
He was coaching them. They were telling Nehemiah all Tobiah’s good deeds.
Nehemiah, you really are too hard nosed. This is a good man.
All the while Tobiah is sending threatening letters to intimidate him.
Trying to fill him with fear and doubt to undermine his effectiveness as governor.
These were fellow Jews doing this.
So what does Nehemiah do. Courageously continues his work as governor.
Makes no response to these people.
Makes two appointments. His brother Hanani put in charge of Jerusalem.
Key administrative role. Not nepotism.
Remember it was Hanani who had traveled the 800 miles to Susa
to bring Nehemiah the news of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah chose his brother because he was cut out of the same cloth—
wanted Jerusalem to be rebuilt physically and spiritually. A believer.
Also appointed a man named Hananiah as commander of the citadel, military
Reason he chose him—“because he was a man of integrity and feared God
more than most men do.”
Nehemiah surrounded himself with men who feared God
and were committed to God’s cause.
He didn’t cut himself off from all the other people, even the ones connected to
Tobiah. They were important Jews that he had to deal with, probably daily.
But when it came to those key people that he leaned on—chose carefully.
Needed these godly men, not because the presence of the Lord insufficient,
But because this is the way the Lord works.
He gives us courage through our brothers and sisters in the faith.
Do you find that you are often giving way to fear?
Do you find that your obedience to Christ is half-hearted and distracted.
Are there are many times you know you should speak but you don’t?
Know you should witness for Christ, speak truth in love but keep mouth shut?
Many times you know you should step up and obey but hang back?
What company are you keeping? Know you are in church this morning.
But who are your confidantes?
If you leaning on people who are not committed to the cause of Christ,
you will find it harder and harder to be courageous.
They might be good people, fun people to be around, but if their primary goal
in life is to make a good life for themselves, to make money,
to be a good old boy (not that anything wrong with any of those things)
But if that is what they are living for, will undermine your commitment.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t spend time with them,
you should spend time with them, they are your friend, might even be family.
But if you lean on them, value their opinions too much, seek advice,
you are going to sense your commitment to Christ being undermined.
In subtle ways you are going to feel like you should be quiet when should speak.
Feel pressured to do things you wouldn’t normally do.
You must surround yourself with a great company of believers.
As you are with believers who are committed to the cause of Christ,
you see their lives, listen to their conversations, you are given courage,
and you, in turn, are an encouragement to them.