“The Encouragement Of A Servant” Nehemiah 4 10/21/01
INTRO: I know a man whose parents sent him to camp for two weeks
when he was in 6th or 7th grade.
he was miserable, after two or three days so homesick decided to beg parents
to let him come home
Counselor came into cabin, playing softball, come play—didn’t want to but went,
had such a good time, that afternoon called parents and said,
I’m staying here all summer—and he did.
It seems to me that as Christians one of the most important things we ourselves need and the most important thing we can give our fellow believers is encouragement.
The flip side of that is that one of the biggest problems Christians face
in pursuing God’s will is discouragement.
Few things will more effectively stop you from bearing spiritual fruit
Remember Jesus’ parable of the soils—seed among the weeds
put down roots, grew, spiritual life, but it didn’t bear fruit because choked
by what? “the worries of this life”
Briefly review book of Nehemiah to this point—Nehemiah’s memoirs
Begins in Persian capital city Susa, influential position, life of luxury
has a conversation with his brother and other Jews
burdened by the physical and spiritual needs of people in Jerusalem
believes called to bring rebuilding power of living God to broken people
Starts to pray—O God, do something, and use me
God answers his prayers, doors begin to open, has incredible conversation
soon on his way to Jerusalem with more than he ever dreamed
Arrives in Jerusalem and gets a firsthand look at this work God has called him to
it is awful, the destruction is much worse than he expected
but Nehemiah speaks to the people about God’s grace, answered prayer
calls them to begin rebuilding and the people begin
So convinced that God is in this work, most unlikely people get involved
in spite of opposition, carry with all their hearts until wall half-way finished
Then, there is a shift in the mood—people begin to say, we can’t finish it
they become discouraged—many reasons, opposition, threats, rubble,
Suddenly—the whole project is in danger of falling apart.
Don’t want to over-spiritualize this—not a parable, real history.
But doesn’t this mirror your experience as a Christian?
Believe God lays something on your heart—broken person, place, relationship
or perhaps a new challenge, new direction for serving Him
Begin to pray, doors start to open, initial, exciting answers to prayer
then you get a glimpse of how big this thing really is, overwhelming
but you are so encouraged by what God has done so far, jump in
seem to achieve so much
But then you reach a half-way point and things seem to get bogged down,
feel like strength is giving out, feel discouraged
Maybe Lord has burdened you with a relationship—bring Christ, Gospel to heal
start, things are so exciting, answered prayer, doors opening, big steps
then things get bogged down in thorny issues and you get discouraged
Maybe Lord has called you to ministry to particular person or people
early on you are carried along by all that God seems to be doing, feels good
then the work gets mundane, opposition, busy—discouraged
Maybe Lord has laid on your heart some new challenge to use talents and gifts
everything seems so new and so fresh, praying like never before, close to Lord
then when well into the thing, criticism, start to feel tired and trapped
was this all wrong? was this foolish?
What you need is encouragement.
Exactly what Nehemiah gives the people at just the right time.
He stands against this rising tide of discouragement and is not swept away
He does the very opposite, he encourages the people.
Keeps them from becoming paralyzed, after some adjustments, move forward.
Think this matter of encouragement is vitally important—
for you as individual but even more, for us as a church body.
Will spend two Sundays on this chapter
1. Where do you get encouragement?
2. How do you give encouragement?
TRANS: Where do you get encouragement?
Teach 7th and 8th grade Sunday school—joke that correct answer to every question
I’ve told you this joke before—one of my favorite church jokes.
Sunday school teacher asks boy—what little furry animal lives in trees and eats nuts
boy looks confused, teacher says—you know, brown, bushy tail
boy—sounds like a squirrel but I’m going to say Jesus.
The answer to the question is Jesus Christ.
All the great Old Testament figures—Moses, David, Nehemiah
when they were at their best, gave the Jews a foretaste of what the Messiah
would be like and how much they needed him.
So when we read and study the Old Testament stories, looking back in time
see even more clearly images of Jesus Christ and our need for Him
Nehemiah, like Joseph, like Moses, like David is a type of Christ
see Jesus Christ prefigured in person of Nehemiah
Jesus is the great Rebuilder—can take your broken life, clear away rubble,
make you into the person he wants you to be
From our perspective, that process is often discouraging—
see Jesus is also the great Encourager
Encouragement doesn’t come from your achievements,
certainly doesn’t come from within yourself,
doesn’t even ultimately come from other people
(though they may be the vessel for delivering it)
Your encouragement comes from the living Lord Jesus Christ.
Three ways He encourages
My hope is that those of you who came in this morning discouraged,
will leave encouraged through the presence and power of Christ
MP#1 Jesus Christ prays for you.
Did you know that? The fact that He prays for you should encourage you
no matter how discouraged you feel.
Let’s look at our story and this remarkable prayer that Nehemiah prays.
ponder how this points to Christ and how encourages us.
The work of rebuilding infuriates Sanballat, governor of Samaria
and Tobiah the Ammonite
we’ve been introduced to these enemies earlier, not giving up
opposed to the rebuilding of Jerusalem for economic and political reasons
a strong, independent Jerusalem would interrupt their control of the region
and more than that, there is simply a deep hatred they have for the Jewish people
So Sanballat, in a public setting ridicules the Jews—
those lame Jews, do they really think they will rebuild the wall?
mocks their enthusiasm, mocks the very idea that they could make anything of it
Then Tobiah the Ammonite adds his sarcastic humor
(Samaria was to the north of Jerusalem, Ammon to the east)
If even a fox climbed on their wall he would break it down.
not a very funny joke, but playing to a crowd that is with him—big laugh
Knew that every word would be reported to the Jews
hoped that this mockery would discourage them so much that they would quit
and the word does get to the Jews and to Nehemiah
Element of that mockery in all discouragement, isn’t there?
don’t mean that people are necessarily mocking you, but when discouraged
look at what attempting to do, was I all wrong in even starting this? stupid?
Book of Nehemiah not just a record of the rebuilding, journal of Nehemiah’s
private prayers, a man of prayer, 10 prayers recorded in the book
Nehemiah hears mockery and sends this blistering prayer to God
“Hear us, O our God for we are despised”
turn their insults back on them, give them over to captivity and plunder,
do not cover up their guilt or blot our their sins from your sight,
for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders
Nehemiah is stirred up. Feels these insults deeply, not for himself,
for God’s chosen people who are doing God’s work
Lord, don’t let these insults pass, don’t forget them, deal with these people
What do you make of this prayer?
Christ has told us to bless and not curse our enemies,
because of the cross, we recognize ourselves as sinners and sympathize with
our enemies as fellow sinners, imitate Christ, Father forgive them
Other prayers like this in the Psalms, imprecatory Psalms
Prayer not intended to be a model for the content of our prayers
it is a vivid picture of Christ’s prayers for you
Jesus Christ feels deeply for you, stirred up when you are attacked,
He is always ready to rise to your defense
Three times in New Testament we are told that Christ prays for his people
Romans 8:34 “Christ Jesus . . . is at the right hand of God and is also
interceding for us.”
(those who come to God through Him)
I John 2:1 “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—
Jesus Christ the righteous one.”
When you feel discouraged, when you feel that you are under attack—
likely you are, devil can’t rob you of your crown, but will try to push you
into a questioning and miserable condition, ineffectual and unproductive
Martin Luther a Christian who struggled with discouragement
had a name for the devil, “Dour Power” gloomy, depressing
Jesus Christ takes these attacks on you personally and He prays for you—
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed
for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned
back, strengthen your brothers.”
Are you feeling sifted now? Things have attempted for God not going well,
seemed mocked? Be encouraged, remember, Christ is praying for you.
MP#2 Jesus Christ speaks to you.
Encouragement always involves words. Human beings are strange creatures—
words matter to us more than anything else
when you are discouraged, the right words spoken by the right person encourage
even if your circumstances remain unchanged
Favorite illustration—from MLJ sermon
Company of soldiers surrounded by the enemy, outnumbered, running out of ammo,
morale very low, thinking about surrender
Messenger breaks through the enemy lines and says
the General knows of your situation, throwing whole army against enemy
hold on, help is on the way
Immediately there is a change in mood and a cheer goes up the line
but absolutely nothing has changed in their immediate circumstances
still surrounded, outnumbered but everything has changed
have heard the right words spoken by someone they trust
See something like that in chapter 4
Mockery doesn’t work, so the enemy plans a sneak attack
workers are spread thin all around Jerusalem, rush them and kill them
word of this plan gets out—not sure why, obviously secrecy important
but somehow it gets out, Jews hear of it, adds to their discouragement
element of fear and danger
Nehemiah makes some crucial adjustments—arms workers, rearranges them
(will talk about that next week) but what want you to look at is what he says
“Don’t be afraid of them.”
“Remember the Lord who is great and awesome and fight . . .”
“Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet join us there,
our God will fight for us.”
Then he calls them to continue building.
Bases everything he says on theology,
God is present. God is sufficient.
So do not be afraid, continue to work, be ready to fight.
Nehemiah at his best, like all Old Testament saints at their best,
a type of Christ, vivid, living image of what the Messiah would be like.
his words to the Jews is an excellent summary of Christ’s words to you.
When you are discouraged you need some words, some good true words,
spoken by someone you can trust to encourage you and put steel in your spine.
Person who speaks those word to you is the Lord Jesus Christ
He speaks to You by His Word and by His Spirit
Christ says to you, I am present and I am sufficient—do not be afraid.
Isn’t there often an element of fear in discouragement?
fear of failure, fear of the future
over and over again in the Bible God says to his people in hard times—
“Do not be afraid.” Moses, Joshua, David, Paul, Timothy
Doesn’t stop there—continue building
maybe you are at one of those crucial half-way points
Christ says, don’t be afraid, keep working and be ready to fight
there may be battles in this second half that you never fought in the first
be ready to fight
Perhaps old habits, old temptations, old ways of thinking may rear ugly heads
Christian life does not get easier but as you fight, the Lord will fight for you.
Do you believe that? Do you believe that Jesus Christ himself speaks to you
through His Word and by His Spirit and says—do not be afraid, keep working,
and fight and I will be with you?
MLJ once said that key to the Christian life is believing that Christ is really speaking to you through the Word
Bible not just slogans, not just nice verses—words of truth,
do not fear, help is on the way.
MP#3 Jesus Christ identifies with you.
This calling that Nehemiah had to bring the rebuilding power of God to Jerusalem
to rebuild the walls and spiritual lives of the people was not a pet project
didn’t deal with them from a sanitized distance
didn’t just throw some of his money at the project,
but never let it mess up his schedule or change his lifestyle
Nehemiah was committed all the way and he identified with the Jews
reason he prayed that prayer when he heard the insults,
reason his words so encouraging when he walked the walls, spoke to people.
Little details in Nehemiah are interesting—one don’t want you to overlook
last verse of chapter “Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with
me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.”
As an American this verse made a big impression—
during this crucial part of the project, second half when things got so hard
Nehemiah slept in his clothes and didn’t bathe
because all the workers where having to sleep in their clothes, couldn’t bathe
didn’t have the time and the safety to do it
Now I suppose that if you grew up without bathing wouldn’t be too bad
but remember Nehemiah’s position before he came to Jerusalem
he was cupbearer to the Persian king, lived in the palace
he was used to baths and fine clothes
Sent to Jerusalem as the governor
could have continued this lifestyle if he had wanted to
would have been a hardship on people in his staff, could have had baths daily
But instead he identified with the people building the walls
they were sweaty and dusty and sleeping on the construction site
so he was sweaty and dusty and sleeping on the site
had to carry weapons at all time, he did too.
You know how encouraging it is when a person walks the road with you.
Or when a person says, yes, I’ve been there.
I know the discouragement you are talking about.
Yes, I know that wall you feel you’ve come up against at this crucial point.
What an encouragement that is. You feel you’ve been understood.
You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?
The person who identifies with you most completely is the Lord Jesus Christ.
that is what the incarnation is all about
the Eternal Son of God took on human nature.
came from glory and took on the likeness of sinful flesh
walked the dusty roads, followed God the Father’s calling,
experienced the exhilaration of answered prayers
and the discouragement of rejection
No trial that you face that he does not know
and even after his ascension into heaven he has not put aside his human nature
He is the man from heaven, He identifies with you.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”
“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are
Does that encourage you?
Big part of discouragement—especially at those half-way points,
no one understands, no one has been here—Jesus Christ understands.
Press on, I’ve been there and look where I am now.
My presence and my power is available to you.