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Series:  Up Against A Wall - Part Two

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 16, 2008

Please turn with me to Nehemiah 2 - starting at verse 1.  This morning is our second Sunday of our mini-series from the book of Nehemiah.  Last Sunday we looked at chapter one.  Today we’re going to look at the first 8 verses of chapter two.

We’ve been talking about what to do when we come up against walls in our lives.  A few pictures to get us started thinking about walls.

Have you ever been here?  A balancing act with disaster just waiting?

Try this one.  “You’ll never get to work on time.  Ha!  Ha!”  Of course, if we were early this would never happen.

Or this “Be one with the wall.”  There is no hope of ever getting out of this one. 

More often than not we come up against what are walls in our lives - what are seemingly insurmountable obstacles - in our marriages and families and where we work - or not having work - or where we go to school - s
ituations and people which knock us off our feet - disease
.  Walls can be habits we can’t seem to get free of.  Baggage that we’re dragging around from the past.  Walls are unreasonable.  They’re often unexpected.  Are we tracking?

How are we suppose to handle
these personal walls?  How do we move forward.  How can we keep going when so often inwardly we’re crumbling and just can’t face another day?

This Tuesday is what?  March 18th.  The one year anniversary of starting formal worship in this building.

As a congregation we made decisions that we believe are according God’s will.  That we followed God’s will in selling the Yosemite Property.  To stay here on this property on G Street.  To build this structure.  Believing that God has a ministry for us right here - in this city - in this neighborhood.  Our Open Ministry meetings and the Board’s call for us to be in prayer together are all part of being open to what God wants to do in us and through us in Merced - starting right here and throughout the greater Merced metroplex.

As we pass through our community we see people who’s
walls have been broken down - maybe through neglect or opposition.
  Walls of pain.  Of hurt.  People who are searching for answers - for healing - to be lifted up and restored.  People who live without hope.  Maybe they don’t even know that there’s something else - something much greater - that God offers them.  People - like us - who are just trying to live each day and stay upright.

How are we suppose to handle the walls of ministry around us?  How are we to push through them - victoriously - powerfully - even having a significant impact in the lives of those around us?

Nehemiah was a man like us - who was called by God to do a seemingly impossible job against tremendous opposition - in a desperate
situation - with the odds stacked against him.  We’ve been looking at what Nehemiah did -
as an example for us - what we can do to move forward in difficult times.

In 722 B.C. Assyria invaded and captured the northern Kingdom of Israel.  Then in 586 B.C. the Babylonian’s finished off the southern Kingdom of Judah.  When the Babylonian’s got to Jerusalem they leveled it - the temple - the walls of the city - the fortress areas - anything of value.  Then they marched back to Babylon with their captives and treasure.

Some 140 years later - Nehemiah - who is a part of this forced Jewish Diaspora - Nehemiah is in Susa - in southwestern Persia - the winter capital of the Medi
o-Persian Empire.  Hanani - one of Nehemiah’s brothers - and some others have come back from Judah - from the
motherland - the spiritual and physical home of Nehemiah’s people.

There’s a deep emotional attachment there - an affinity - a bond with the land of his ancestors.  Physically Nehemiah is in Persia.  But, his heart is in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah asks them
what’s happening in Jerusalem.

Hanani tells him,
“Its not good.  The people are in misery.  They’re suffering in every way you can imagine.  The city is defenseless against its enemies - the wall is broken down and its gates are wide open.”
(Nehemiah 1:3)    

- when he hears the report - he begins to weep and mourn.  The frustration - the sadness - the sense of hopelessness
- is unbearable.  How can one respond to such ongoing tragedy?  Do you see the wall?

When we looked at
chapter one we saw that Nehemiah’s first response to all of this was to go to God in prayer.  Up against a wall - the priority of prayer.  Remember this?  Nehemiah
- as example for us of our first priority - Nehemiah - in prayer - goes to God - in humility opens himself up to God - to get on the same page with God - to be focused on God and what God wills.

That’s where we came to last Sunday.  Bottom line - when we come up against walls - life isn’t about the walls we come up against.  Life is about God bringing glory to Himself through us.  Up against a wall the priority of prayer brings us to that place where God will use us for His glory.

Coming to Nehemiah chapter 2 - today we’re looking at the second part of Nehemiah’s response.  Up Against A Wall -
The Priority of Pursuing God's Purposes.  Let’s say that together. 
“The Priority of pursuing God’s purposes.”

When we come up against walls we need to be pursuing the doing of God’s will.  To face the wall as God leads us to face the wall and to move through it as He leads us to move through it - so that God’s purposes will be accomplished.  So that God will be glorified through our actions.

Look with me at Nehemiah 2 - starting at verse 1. 
And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes - who was at that time the king of the Media-Persian Empire - in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes that wine was before him,  and I - Nehemiah - took up the wine and gave it to the king.  Now I had not been sad in his presence.  So, the King said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick?  This is nothing but sadness of heart.”  Then I was very much afraid.  I said to the king, “Let the king live forever.  Why should my face not be sad when the city - Jerusalem -
the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?”  Then the king said to me, “What would you request?  So I prayed to the God of heaven.  I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”  Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?”  So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time.  And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, 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 which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.”  And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

There are three specific steps here that Nehemiah took - three steps that we want to focus on - three specific steps that we can take when we come up against walls - so that we’re moving forward with God - moving forward pursuing God’s purposes.

First step is this: 
Pursuing God’s purposes means waiting on God.  Say that with me,
“Waiting on God.” 

In first Samuel 16
- starting at verse 1 - we read that the Lord said to the Priest Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel?  Saul was still alive and king of Israel.  But, his sins were so bad that God had rejected him as king
.  Samuel was grieving - upset - by what was going on.  There’s a wall.

God says
to Samuel - Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have selected a king for Myself among his sons.” - “Don’t grieve.  I’m working here.”  Who’s a work?  God.

So Samuel goes to the home of Jesse - a man of no great rank - living in
“O Little Town of Bethlehem.  There Samuel asks to see Jesse’s sons.  This is like Bill Gates showing up at your door and offering you the CEO position at Microsoft.  Only this is better - God has chosen one of your sons to be the next king of Israel.

Here’s Jesse -
with a certain amount of excitement and nervousness - Jesse begins introducing each of his sons to Samuel.  There’s a procession in which each son is made to pass before Samuel.  Each son comes - beginning with the oldest, Eliab - then Abinadab - then Shammah - and so  on until 7 of Jesse’s sons have been introduced to Samuel.

Probably all of them were great kids - well qualified.  Samuel’s probably thinking,
“This one might be the one.”  But each time a son is introduced God says to Samuel, “This is not the one I’ve chosen.”

Who’s a work here?  God.  This is about God’s purposes.

So Samuel says to Jesse,
“This is it?  Isn’t there another one?”

Jesse says, “There is one more.  He’s just a boy and he’s way out in the field watching the sheep.

So David
is brought in before Samuel.  Samuel - the High Priest - takes his horn of oil and anoints David as king - right there in the presence of his father and older brothers.  And - as a sign of God’s blessing and presence in all this the Spirit of the Lord comes upon David.
  Who’s at work?  God.

Now hold onto this.  A promise has been made here.  God says that David is to be king of Israel.  And the problem is what?  Saul is still the king.

For about 20 years God’s promise hangs over David’s life - and the relationship of David and King Saul.  For about 20 years there was this strange love/hate relationship going on between the two of them.

On one hand David
is Saul’s trusted servant - his musician - that Saul would call on to play for him - whos music would soothe Saul’s spirit.  David was the best friend of Saul’s son Johnathan.  They hung out together.  Saul gave his daughter Michal to David in marriage.  David was Saul’s trusted
armor bearer.  David was a mighty warrior - the commander of thousands - who risked his life many times to defend Saul and the people of Israel.

And yet - whenever God blessed David - Saul became more jealous - more fearful.  Saul placed a death sentence on David.  David fled for his life - living in villages - fields - mountains - the cave of Adullam - and even the countryside of his enemies, the Philistines.  A fugitive on the run.

For 20 years there
s this promise just hanging there - “David, I have chosen you to be king over Israel.”  Do you think that there might have been times when David wondered if hed misunderstood
God?  Or, if there might have been times when David wondered what God was doing?  Wondered at God’s timing of all this?  Ever been there?

Even after Saul dies - there’s civil war between the House of Saul and the House of David.  Until finally - after all this hardship -
and bloodshed - and intrigue - pain and suffering - after all these years - the promise is fulfilled and David becomes king of Israel.

For 20 years David pursues God’s purposes - waiting on God - after 20 years God’s purposes are accomplished.

Back with me to Nehemiah - go to chapter 1 - verse 1.  Notice what Nehemiah writes. 
Now it happened in the month of Chislev,”  Then look back down with me to Nehemiah chapter 2 - verse 1.  And it came about in the month Nisan

Nehemiah receives the report about Jerusalem from Hanani
- his brother -  in the month of Chislev.
  Then Nehemiah starts to fast and pray.  According to the Hebrew calendar Chislev corresponds roughly to our months of November or December.

Nehemiah goes before the king in a Nisan - a small Japanese import car  - bad joke.  Nehemiah comes before Artaxerxes in Nisan - which is approximately our month of March or April.

That’s 4 months between the report and Nehemiah’s action.  4 months of passionately seeking after God.  4 months while Nehemiah’s people are suffering in Jerusalem.  Four months of waiting for God’s timing to move forward.

Waiting isn’t always easy.  Especially when things seem to be coming apart. 
“I needed answers yesterday.” 
We pray and then get all stressed out because we’re in a hurry and God isn’t.

A while back
I was speaking with someone from another church who was having some difficulty with an individual in the church.  I asked him,
“What did you do about it?  What did you say to him?”

He said,
“Nothing, I just prayed and asked God to change the person.  And, God did.”  God worked.

I said,
“Well, how long did that take?”  I thought - imagining what would seem like a long period of time - maybe it took a couple of months.  He said,
“Two to three years.”

There are people in this congregation who have been praying for situations - for people - for children - for years.  And, we’re waiting.  But,
who’s working?  God.  We need to trust God for His timing and His victory.  That’s tough.

What do we expect from God?  When we pray about a situation or a person - should God operate in our time frame - in the ways we understand - to bring the fulfillment we think is best?  Or, are we prepared to do what God calls us to do in the way and time He calls us to do it?

step.  The priority of pursuing God’s purposes - the second step is Commitment.  Say that with me, “Commitment.”

In Nehemiah 1 - verse 11 - we’re told that
Nehemiah was the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes. (Nehemiah 1:11b)  The cupbearer tasted the wine before the king drank it - tasted the food before the king ate it.  If someone tried to poison the king - no more cupbearer - but, long live the king.

It was a position of intimacy and trust.  The cupbearer had to be with the king during confidential discussions
- always at the king’s side - ready to serve.  He had access to the royal presence in a way that would have been death for anyone else.  Its even been suggested that, apart from the queen, the cupbearer had the greatest influence on the king.  The cupbearer heard the word the on the street - the local gossip - and was able to tell the king which way the wind was blowing.

So, no one else in the kingdom was in a position to speak to the king about Jerusalem like Nehemiah was.  And at some point - in his conversations with God - Nehemiah must have understood this.  God had placed Nehemiah there
to accomplish God’s purposes

It is so easy for us to point out when other people fall short.  How others need an attitude adjustment - a change of perspective.  So easy for us to point out what we think should be done.  Easy to gripe and moan about the way things are.  To assume that someone else should take responsibility.  They should step up. 
“Why isn’t someone doing something about that?”   

Its so easy for us to say,
“Well, I don’t feel comfortable about that.  I don’t know if I have what it takes.  That isn’t the way its been done before.” 
As if that makes it okay for us to hold back.

ow many of us are prepared to act - choosing to do what God calls us to do - in the way He wants us to do it?
  How many of us are really open?  Not just saying we’re open?  Search your heart on this one.  How many of us are honestly open to letting God push us out of our comfort zone - to live totally trusting Him - each moment of our lives?  On His terms?  Not ours?

In 2:2 - coming before the king -
Nehemiah says, “I was very much afraid.”   That’s honesty.  People have been executed for having the wrong attitude in front of the king.  People have lost their heads by saying the wrong thing.  Nehemiah’s request is off the charts - bold - audacious.  In 2:4, when the king asks him what he wants, Nehemiah says he prayed to God.  “HELP!”

It wasn’t easy for Nehemiah.  It isn’t easy for us.
  Even after four months of fasting and prayer.

But, after four months of giving priority to God in prayer - this is the moment.  Do we trust God and move forward?  Or do we hold back and keep to what we’re comfortable with?
 How committed are we to God’s plan of action?

In 2:8 - after his conversation with the king, Nehemiah says that he was successful - why? -
“Because the good hand of my God was on me.”  Like God putting His hand on Nehemiah’s shoulder and saying,
“You’re the one.  I will do this through you.  I want you to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.”

Put your hand on the shoulder of someone near you.  And tell them this. 
“You’re the one.  God will work through you.”  Can you imagine how Nehemiah felt as he made the choice - to commit himself to God’s purposes?  “The good hand of my God was on me!” 

Who’s a work?  God.  Who’s hand is upon us?  God’s. 
Up against a wall we need realize that reality - and choose to be committed to what God calls us to do. 

Step in pursuing God’s purposes is Planning.  Say that with me, “Planning.”

There are a tremendous number of subtleties in how Nehemiah speaks to King Artaxerxes and I’m not going to go into all of them this morning.  But, we can imagine - just thinking about what it would be like - coming and speaking to the absolute ruler of the world’s most powerful empire.  The tone and wording of our speech would have to be very careful.  All of that is here.
  “Let the king live forever.”

Hold on to this. 
Nehemiah has thought all this out.

Verse 2 - the king asks Nehemiah: 
“What’s wrong?”

 “The city of my father’s tombs is desolate - empty - in ruins.  Its gates have been burned down.  Notice he mentions tombs - something the king will relate to.  Think about the pyramids in Egypt and how important tombs were to these ancient kings.  Nehemiah grabs this kings attention.

Verse 4:
 “What do you want to do?”

“To rebuild it”   There’s no indecision.  No fumbling around to come up with an answer.

Verse 6: 
“How long will it take?”
 Nehemiah gives him a definite time period.

Then, notice that in verse 7:  Nehemiah takes one step further. 
“If it please the king…”  He’s got a list ready to go.  Nehemiah had thought out everything he would need.  He had to.

magine - he’s facing a 1,600 mile round trip through hostile territory to fix the walls of a city - to fortify a city - that the rulers of the area would rather have in ruins.  There are reasons why this city hasn’t been rebuilt.

He asks for letters to the governors of the provinces that he would have to pass through - letters with the king’s signature guaranteeing safe passage.  He needed supplies
.  So he asked for letters of requisition - with the kings signature - asking for timber from the king’s own forest.  A purchase order for Home Depot.

Nehemiah knew what he was going to say and how he was going to say it well before he was called on to say it.  He had answers to the kings questions and a plan to be put into action.

Who’s at work?  God.  Who’s hand is upon us?  God’s.  All of that puts on the same page as God and opens us up to His work in us and through us.  But acting in faith is not acting in ignorance. 
Praying in faith is not a substitute for careful planning.  God honors orderly thinking.

Jesus said
- in Luke 14:28 and 31 - Jesus said, When a man wants to build a tower, does he not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” 

Jesus’ point? 
Think it through before you commit yourself to something.  Be prepared for what you’re getting yourself into.

Years ago we prayed for the fall of the Soviet Union - for the Christians living under communism there - for the spread of the Gospel.  For there to be a great turning towards God in those countries.  But, when the Soviet Union collapsed we weren’t prepared for the great spiritual vacuum - the spiritual thirst of the people.  There weren’t enough Bibles to send.  Evangelists who went over there turned the ministry into a spiritual circus.  It took years before the true church became effectively organized in our support of our siblings in those lands.  In some ways a great window of opportunity was lost.

With God - praying and waiting is always an adventure - never passive - always productive - a time of preparation. 
To meditate on His purposes.  To renew our commitment to Him and allow Him to work in our hearts.  To evaluate and organize the resources He’s given us.  To consider the possibilities and how they can be realized.  So, that in God’s way and in God’s time we will be ready to move as He leads us forward.

Nehemiah came before Artaxerxes in what month?  Nisan.  After 4 months of prayer - Nehemiah serving the king - doing the cupbearer thing - day in and day out - finally in the month of Nisan Artaxerxes asks,
“What’s up?” 
Its hard to dismiss the timing of that question as just a mere coincidence.

Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew religious calendar - the beginning of God’s new year.  A month in which God repeatedly chooses to begin things - to move forward according to His purposes.

Nisan is the month when God moved his people out of Egypt.  The month in which God commanded His people to celebrate the Passover.  The month in which God choose for the Son to enter Jerusalem - to be crucified - to die as our sacrificial lamb - His blood the covering for our sin - the inauguration of the New Covenant.  Its in Nisan that Jesus was resurrected - the first born from the dead.

The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem is a very familiar scene for us
- almost routine.  On what we call Palm Sunday, maybe upwards of 3 million pilgrims from all over the Jewish Diaspora are gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Festival.  As Jesus enters, they cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”
(Matthew 21:9)

In that crowd there
were political leaders who saw Jesus and the crowd and feared unrest.  Religious leaders who saw Jesus and feared their positions - retreating within their understanding of how God worked.  Crowds demanding God’s justice.  Children caught up in the celebration.  Young - old - ignorant - astute - humble - moral - spiritual - religious - arrogant - from their own understanding and perspective shouting out “Hosanna!”  Yet, without a clue as to what God was doing

There were those in the crowd who were indifferent to Jesus.  The holidays simply represented a greater business opportunity.  A chance to sell candy and toys and greeting scrolls.  Some may have even been bothered by all the religious activity - seeing hypocrites worshipping some God they themselves didn’t choose to believe in.

Also in that crowd
there were those who were with God.  Perhaps as students of history and prophecy - theyd followed Jesus - listened to His teaching and believed that He is the Messiah.   For them “Hosanna!  Save us!” had a very deep and personal meaning.  They knew that Jesus had come to save sinners - to save them from their sins and to lead them into a new kind of relationship with God.

They’re on the same page with God. 
They’re people who feared God - esteemed God - who were expecting God to move within His people.  Their hearts were prepared to receive the Son.  They understood that God was at work. 
They were ready to move forward with Him.

Many of us have heard the account of Jesus coming into Jerusalem since we were in Sunday School.  As we do each Palm Sunday - we’ve
come to worship - to sing Palm Sunday songs and hear a Palm Sunday message.  It
would be so easy to come here today and do the “Palm Sunday thing” - to practice our religion and then go on with our lives - to completely miss the urgency of what God is saying to us this morning.

Like that crowd on Palm Sunday - God offers us what we really need.  What we make ourselves unable to receive because we hesitate to get on the same page as God.  How long will we keep banging our heads up against the walls in our lives until we realize that life isn’t about the walls we come up against?  Life is about God bringing glory to Himself through us.  Up against a wall may we choose the priority of prayer.  May we choose the priority of pursuing God’s purposes.  Waiting on God.  Commitment.  Planning.





Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.