In short – Nehemiah needed courage to get the building project off the ground -- similar to how getting our Building Project off the ground has taken and will continue to take courage. Similar to how whatever building project you’re undergoing (architectural, relational, or spiritual) will take courage.
Where do you get courage when you’re lacking it? Let’s go to God’s Word and find out. Before we do, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Nehemiah’s Courage
Last week we read through Nehemiah chapter 1 and learned about Nehemiah’s idea to rebuild his home city of Jerusalem. He heard about its destruction, got an idea, and he humbly prayed to God for his blessing in moving forward with the building project.
But…approaching God? That was the easy part. God is merciful and kind. God wants what’s best for the people.
The King of Persia? A little less so.
His name was King Artaxerxes. He ruled from 465 B.C. to 424 B.C. During his reign, he came to power through an intriguing murder that saw his brother and father dead, he squashed an Egyptian revolt, and he weakened his enemies in Greece by funding a rebellion within Athenian walls.
He wasn’t to be trifled with.
And he had already hated the idea of rebuilding Jerusalem. If you look at Ezra 4, it records that King Cyrus, Artaxerxes’ grandpa, had allowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem to commence. But when Artaxerxes is in control and finds out about the rebuilding – he issues an edict from his throne to tell the Israelites to “stop work so that this city will not be built.” His reasoning? Jerusalem was a city that had rebelled against foreign governments time and time again. There was no reason for it to be rebuilt and threaten Artaxerxes’ kingdom.
Nehemiah must have known that. As he poured the wine from his ladle into the king’s chalice. Nehemiah must have known that the King had previously stopped the rebuilding Jerusalem. (It had been three months since Nehemiah had heard about the abysmal state of Jerusalem, yet he hadn’t said anything to the king yet.) Call it fear. Call it putting it off. He just hadn’t summed up the courage to talk about it yet.
With good reason. In Persian court, servants were not to speak to the king unless they were spoken to. (Similar to the old rule for children – Don’t speak at the dinner table, unless spoken to – which would be fine by me. Then, I can just focus on eating as much meatloaf as possible. But – I digress). If a servant spoke without being spoken to, there might be punishment.
A pink slip.
A prison sentence.
An “off with your head” type order.
Approaching the King was nerve wracking stuff.
But on this particular day, Nehemiah couldn’t withhold his grief. Whether he was contorting his face on purpose (like a young child trying to get you to notice that they’re sad) or he was literally unable to control his emotions – Nehemiah wasn’t the same.
The King noticed. The King spoke.
“Cupbearer, why does your face look so sad? You aren’t ill? (which would be an acceptable reason to look sad before the king) This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
The implication is there. Why are you sad? Your sadness is making me sad. You better have a good reason for making me sad or else…
Nehemiah gulped. Scripture says, “I was very much afraid.” And if you look at the Hebrew there – Besides using the word for Afraid – it uses two qualifiers that intensify Nehemiah’s state of being afraid.
We might better translate: “He was very, very, very, very, very afraid.”
He could shrug it off. “Nothing, King. What would like to drink?”
He could lie. “I’m just feeling a bit sick that’s all. I’m sure it was something I ate. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
He could flatter the king. “I was just sad that I hadn’t seen your handsome face all day long. Tell me, Artaxerxes, have you been working out?”
Or he could choose to do something immensely scarier:
He could tell the truth.
3 “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
The king shifted in his seat. He placed his finger below his chin.
What do you want?
This was Nehemiah’s last chance. He could abort mission. He could call an audible. He could simply ask the King for a royal Kleenex and let that be that.
But… he couldn’t. He knew he had an opportunity. He knew he couldn’t let this opportunity go.
And what he did next is very telling. It gave him courage to seize the opportunity and ask the king for permission to rebuild Jerusalem.
4b I prayed to the God of heaven.
Because the God of heaven could help him.
Artaxerxes may have been the king of Persia. But God was the King of the Universe.
Artaxerxes’ kingdom stretched throughout Asia minor. God heaven’s kingdom spanned from Pluto to Mercury.
Artaxerxes had thousands of people listening to his commands. God had hundreds of thousands of angels riding chariots of fire at his instant disposal.
And Nehemiah had courage. 5 I answered the King, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
The king considers it.
He asks how long he is gone for the sake of his Google calendar.
Then, he grants him permission to begin his building project.
And Nehemiah is feeling even more confident! He asked the king for letters – which were essentially passports – that would allow him free passage as he traveled and he asks the king for a letter to Asaph – the keeper of the national park – to allow him some timber to rebuild the city AND he asks the king for even more timber so that he can build a temporary residence while he’s there.
The king grants it.
Nehemiah asks for the king to pay for his travel, supply him with building materials, and arrange his lodging – and the King grants it.
Nehemiah gives credit where it’s due. Nehemiah knows exactly why he has been so blessed. Nehemiah knows why he had the courage to ask.
The gracious hand of God was upon me.
II. Your Courage
What about you? What level is your courage at?
Have you ever noticed that when some kind of amazing opportunity shows up in your life, the devil does everything possible to remind us everything that can go wrong?
They offered you a raise? It’ll probably mean way more work than you can handle.
That guy seems perfect? There’s probably some dark secret he’s hiding.
That house on the market fits all of your criteria? There’s probably structural damage.
So. In the interest of being up front – I thought it might be valuable to discuss a comprehensive list of things that could go wrong with our preschool building project. (I tried not to leave any out).
We might run out of money.
We might run out of volunteers.
We might run out of students.
All of our teachers might catch the Zika virus.
There might not be any babies born from 2016-2020 and thus zero students available.
Everyone in Raleigh might move to Fuquay-Varina.
The contractor might order the wrong flooring and install an ice rink in the middle of our mini gym.
There might be a group of Lambs Rights protestors that hate our name and picket the expansion!
State Regulations might insist that every pre-K be made out of Donut Batter – and since we didn’t make it out of donut batter – we’re going to be shut down!
Do you get the point? There’s always something bad that can happen. If you focus on that, the fear will be crippling.
Like the disciples.
There they were in the middle of the lake. The sea was raging, the clouds were thundering, and the lightning was flashing! The disciples rowed and rowed and rowed, but weren’t getting anywhere.
Finally, they give up and they shout! “Lord, don’t you care that we’re drowning!”
Jesus rolls over; he yawns. He stretches and sits up. “Why are you all so afraid?”
He speaks to the storm.
The storm dissipates.
And so does their fear.
That’s what God does. God dissipates fear.
And when you focus on Him, your fears will dissipate.
That’s what happened with Nehemiah. Look at what he said, “The hand of God was upon me.” God’s hand is big. God’s hand is powerful. God’s hand is eternal. If the hand of God is on you, then you’ll be feeling courageous!
But Pastor…how do we know if God’s hand is upon us? How do I know if God’s hand is on my building project?
Because that’s exactly where God tells us that His hand is.
Isaiah 41:10 says, “I, the Lord am with you. I uphold you with my righteous, right hand.”
That’s the right hand that has always been with you.
A hand that carefully knit you together in your mother’s womb.
A hand that gently has been leading you through your life.
A hand that has comforted you in your sadness and calmed you in your fears.
A hand that took hold of your sins, transported them backwards 2000 years and nailed them to a cross.
A hand that made sure those sins were really nailed up there by holding onto them as it too was nailed to the wooden death device.
A hand that bled.
A hand that sweated.
A hand that went limp.
A hand that three days later touched the side of the open grave.
A hand that let his disciples examine the resurrection miracle.
A hand that was raised victorious – champion of sin, death, and the devil.
A hand that moved through God’s Word to comfort your soul with forgiveness, life, and salvation.
A hand that has not left you and will not leave you and will not leave us.
III. WHAT NOW?
Do you know who Brad Snyder is? He is a swimmer who will swim in Rio. He’s like most swimmers in Rio. He’s fast. He glides through the water. He wears one of those funny swimming caps.
But he’s also blind.
He is a Navy veteran who served in Iraq. While there, he stepped on an IED. The IED exploded. He was severely injured. Doctors worked hard to save his life, but they couldn’t fix his eyesight.
Now, he swims. Which sounds crazy! How would you know where you’re at in the pool? Wouldn’t you be afraid that you’ll hit the wall? Wouldn’t you be afraid that you won’t be able to find your way out of the watery course and it will become your watery grave?
But Brad doesn’t look all that scared. Because Brad has a coach. A tapper. A tapper is literally a coach that stands near the edge and using a long stick to “tap” his back as he approaches the wall – to let him know – Now is the time to turn. Now is the time to go that way.
That’s what God hand does to us. He’s our guide. He’s in control. He didn’t die on the cross to abandon us.
He won’t abandon us in our Building Project.
The hand of the Lord is on us. Don’t be afraid. Amen.