Nehemiah Lesson 1 - Introducing An Ordinary Man
What the Church needs today are ordinary people who are highly motivated to advance Christ's gospel in a world that desperately needs to hear it. In other words . . . we need more Nehemiahs.
I imagine if you asked a thousand people who’ve walk through these auditorium doors on any given Sunday, “Just who are you in the sight of God? What kind of person does God want you to be?” – I believe you’d get a thousand different answers.
This morning I want to introduce a man to you who had the answer to those questions. His name was Nehemiah. And he knew who he was and he seemed to know what kind of person God was looking for.
But I want to say something about him that may surprise you – Nehemiah was an ordinary man.
Run of the mill. Common stock. He had a good job, steady income, and respect. But something happened one day that jarred his world. It seemed to remind him of who he truly was – and the rest of the book that bears his name, reveals who an ordinary person can become when fully surrendered to a supernatural God.
Let’s back up for a moment and take a look at the historical background and setting.
And when I say that, I can just see the eyes glazing over. Oh no, a history lesson.
This past Christmas I gave my wife a beautiful bracelet. It came complete with an exquisite looking black velvet box – and when you opened the box, the inside was lined in something that looked like satin. The box alone was exciting. Now why didn’t I just wrap that bracelet in newspaper, you know, twist the ends of the newspaper, then use a lot of scotch tape? Why not? Because I want to stay indoors for Christmas’ no, because I know what you know – the setting of an object enhances the beauty of the object.
It brings out the luster and brilliance of the gift. When my wife opened the box, her heart was already prepared for something special. Now my wife never thanked me for the box – and she didn’t try to strap the box onto her wrist. If she had, I would’ve called for help. No, she threw the box away – that box had value in the way it introduced the object.
The brilliance of Nehemiah’s testimony; the luster of his integrity is all the more beautiful and remarkable because of his setting.
And it’s a dark setting. He lived in a generation of Jews who said, “It cannot be done.” They had been captives now for generations. When Cyrus said they could go back to Jerusalem, Zerrubabel tried to lead the restoration and gave up without finishing the task. Ezra had tried as well but was left short of the finished task of restoring the Jews in a restored city.
Frankly, the setting that introduces us to Nehemiah is a mixture of grief and complacency – which makes Nehemiah’s accomplishments even more incredible.
Listen as Psalm 137 reveals how the children of Israel felt during there days of captivity.
- By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion. 2. Upon the willows in the
midst of it we hung our harps. 3. For there our captors
demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” 4. How can we sing
the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 5. If I forget you, O
Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. 6. May
my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not
remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief
In Babylon, we didn't sing - we sobbed with grief - we had disobeyed our Lord - we had ignored His word.
So we hung up our harps on the willow trees . . . no singing . . . no music . . . no joy. How can we sing in a foreign land?
How can we sing when the walls of Jerusalem are broken down. Even now that we are allowed to return and rebuild, our enemies are numerous, the task is impossible. . . who will be our champion?
Nehemiah! The common response would have been, Nehemiah who?! If you look at the first verse of the first…
chapter of Nehemiah you have all that can be said about his potential in the eyes of man.
Nehemiah 1:1 These are the words of Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah. Ha! So what! Who’s he? Who cares!
Nehemiah wasn’t a Levite; he wasn’t a member of Israel’s priestly tribe. He didn’t have royal blood in his veins; he had no rich heritage, no physical strength or leadership experience – in fact you won’t even find his fathers name anywhere else in the Bible.
“Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah.” That’s another way of saying, “He was just an ordinary, run of the mill human being; nothing special or spectacular . . . just common clay.”
Therein lies the challenge of this book. Let me give you two of them:
1) First of all, the Book of Nehemiah leaves us with a timeless example. An example of how God can make a somebody out of a nobody. An example of what a person can do if they don’t care who gets the credit. An example of who a person can become if they belong to the living God.
2) Second of all, this book leaves us, not only with a example, but it also leaves us without any excuses.
In other words, if God could use him – He can use you.
The moment is always ripe for some new Nehemiah. There are broken things everywhere. Burned gates are commonplace. Values lie shattered and morals are corroding away.
Every generation needs ordinary people who are willing to restore and rebuild broken things.
Nehemiah was an ordinary man . . . the kind of man God delights to use.
We have lost sight today of what it takes to qualify a man or a woman for the role of restorer, re-builder. Popularity, glamour, personality, fame, money, political office – they have all replaced what you will see emerge and shine in the life of this ordinary man. In a word – character.
For decades now, the heroes of our culture have been entertainment figures, athletes, media creations of one sort or another and political leaders. Yet, in my mind and summation, most of them have this in common – they utterly lack character.
The key to being an ordinary person, used in an extraordinary way by God to impact your crumbling world is directly related to character.
Jeremiah 5:1 said, “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now in the open squares and see if you can find a man who does justice; see if you can find a man who seeks the truth.”
Ezekiel 22:30 says, “And I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before . . . but I found no one.”
The church today is in it’s neediest hour. And it is trying to impact its culture with clever methods; God will impact the world with Christian character. While the church is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men.
Aristophanes was moving people with his brilliant plays;
Herodotus was writing his fascinating history;
Plato and Socrates were moving worlds of thought with their philosophy.
Why not bring one of them into the fold of faith and have them lead the way . . . all of them lived during the same time that Nehemiah lived.
Why not one of them. Because God doesn’t choose many mighty, many noble, He chooses ordinary clay of the earth who, in the hand of God, are used to move the world.
I’ve made a list that is in no way comprehensive; but I’ve compiled from other authors and my own overview of Nehemiah’s memoirs, 26 characteristics of ordinary people whom God can use in extraordinary ways:
- he was compassionate
- he prayed (11 prayers in this book)
- he knew the O.T. scriptures
- he had a definite goal
- when something had to be done, he went directly to the person who could do something about it
- he depended on God
- he knew what to ask for
- he sized up the job before the started the work
- he knew how to delegate work
- he knew how to delegate responsibility
- he didn’t let opposition from those on the outside stop him
- he knew how to settle differences among people
- he was an example of his own message
- he was a man of keen discernment
- he didn’t let personal criticism stop him
- he did not excuse wrong doing, regardless of who did it
- he had respect for authority
- he gave God the credit for accomplishments
- he put the emphasis on spiritual life
- he required a higher standard for those in spiritual leadership
- he refused to accommodate sin even when sinful behavior had become culturally acceptable
- he took his personal distress and hurt to God
- he was willing to suffer injustice for the sake of God’s work
- he stayed focused on the goal and did not succumb to the dangers, the risks, the obstacles and the hardships that stood in his way.
- He had moral strength and courage when everybody around him didn’t
- He didn’t give up when everybody else around him had
These lessons and characteristics in throughout the Memoirs of Nehemiah are easy to observe; they are easy to understand.
Yea, yea, he was compassionate . . . he knew the word . . . he didn’t quit . . . yea, yea, yea, yea, yea! I’ve heard it all before.
These characteristics are easy to observe and easy to understand . . . they are impossible to apply. . . unless you have an open, honest, vital relationship with God.
Perhaps that’s why this Book begins with Nehemiah on his knees.
Do you know who God wants you to be? He wants you to be an ordinary man, an ordinary woman.
Do you find that insulting? “Well, I’m much more than any ordinary man!” Or does that come as a relief to you? “I could never be anything other than ordinary!”
Let me close by asking two questions.
- First, what is it in your life that lies in ruins today?
In our Thursday morning prayer and Bible study time, one of the elders made the comment as we were discussing this new series in Nehemiah; he said this thought provoking statement. He said, “I never read the Book of Nehemiah without asking myself the question, what is it in my life that lies in ruins today?”
Perhaps what you identify with as we study through this action packed Book is not Nehemiah, but the broken down wall. God needs to restore and rebuild you. He will! He binds up the broken hearted; He restores the fallen one.
- Second, what is it about your life that’s worth reading about tomorrow?
Anything worth recording? Anything ordinary – but in the ordinary things, faithfulness and submission to God is revealed. That’s worth reading about.
The 26th president of our nation was a hard charging leader. Throughout his days in office Theodore Roosevelt was either hated or admired. One admirer once said to him, “Mr. Roosevelt, you are a great man.” With characteristic honesty he replied, “No, Teddy Roosevelt is simply a plain, ordinary men – who is highly motivated.”
That’s what we need today – plain, ordinary people, who are highly motivated by the Spirit of God to advance His church and honor His name.
I received several e-mails once again. Thought you’d be interested in this one:
One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Johnny was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The 7 year old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside the boy, and said quietly, “Good morning son.” “Good morning Pastor” replied the young boy, still focused on the plaque. “Sir, what is this?” Johnny asked. “Well son, this plaque is to honor all the people from our community who died in the service,” replied the pastor. Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque, lost in their own thoughts. Then little Johnny’s voice barely broke the silence when he asked, ‘Which one was it, the 9:30 or the 11:00 o’clock service?”
I’m not quite sure why this was sent to me. . .
Many of you were with us during our series through the Book of Esther. And on that last day we celebrated the Feast of Purim with the traditional reading of the story and every time Haman’s name was mentioned, we booed and made a lot of noise. I got a lot of comments about that service. One in particular from a woman whose parents who had come from out of town and happened to be visiting with them for the very first time. They were from a very strict, austere church background. She had forgotten to warn them about the service; when they arrived, the auditorium was already buzzing. She said, “My parents sat through the service, unmoved and very quiet; it was already bad enough; but when you unveiled the Krispy Crème doughnuts, I just about fainted.”
Well, here’s an interesting twist. We happen to have missionaries from our church serving in Slovakia. Their names are Jerry and Susan Hamaan. They wrote me – Stephen, Susan and I really enjoyed your messages on Esther. We received this week the last tape from your series on Esther. Allison and Anna even enjoyed it … they would have loved to be in the service that Sunday to beat on a drum or something. We however, have one concern about the last service. We are now afraid that whenever the name Hamaan is mentioned in a missions report the people will start booing and hissing. Could you please tell everyone that the Hamaan family is not related to Hamaan in any way!
Thank you, Jerry and Susan.
Then, in a more serious vein, this letter came to me from our friends, the Loftis’ in Hungary – and I want to use it as an introduction to our study today.
Greetings from Budapest. This fall the newspapers and magazines of Central and Eastern Europe were filled with the 10thAnniversary flashback stories of the fall of communism in 1989. Recently an unusually powerful article emerged.
In 1943 a young Jewish mother, trapped in the ghettos of Poland, placed her infant son in the arms of a childless Catholic neighbor lady and begged her to save her tiny son’s life. When the neighbor hesitated , the desperate mother persisted, “You believe in Jesus, who was a Jew. So try to save this Jewish baby for the Jew in whom you believe. And one day maybe he will grow up to be a priest.” Shocked at the thought of a Jew becoming a Catholic priest, the Polish neighbor nevertheless took the baby into her home. The Jewish mother and the rest of her family perished in the Nazi death camps. Thirty five years later Father Weksler stood by the side of his dying Polish mother, only to hear her death-bed confession of his true Jewish heritage. While his mother and his adopted parents had acted out of love, Father Weksler was nonetheless stunned and confused. His entire occupation was now based on a completely false understanding of his true identity.
Imagine the trauma in this man’s heart and mind. He no longer knows which version God he must relate to – is He the God of the Jew; is He the God of the Roman Church?
And he no longer knows who he should be for God; how he should serve God. This letter went on to tell how this young man has appealed to the Pope for help to resolve his personal moral dilemma and identity crisis.
The letter ends, “Pray for us as we lead many of the hopeless people here to discover their true identity in Jesus Christ. Their only hope is to appeal to their true great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Imagine this man, no longer having any bearings about him. He doesn’t know where he fits into the drama of life. Everything he thought he was, he wasn’t – and everything he knew about God was different in light of his true genealogy.
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