Do you want to be a Real McCoy spiritually? Then follow the example of Nehemiah and allow yourself to be the instrument in the hands of God. Nehemiah watched God accomplish great things through Him but never sought to take the credit for himself. Stephen challenges us to do the same.
“The Real McCoy”
Late one night, around 1840, two slaves from Kentucky slipped out of their shack and into the darkness. This husband and wife slipped off their plantation and were soon on their way to freedom as the newest passengers on the Underground Railroad. Moving from safe house to safe house, they made their journey to the promised land of freedom. They didn’t stop until they reached Canada, and there they lived out the rest of their years. They had a son in 1843 and they named him Elijah. He was able to attend school near his home while his father prospered in business ventures. Prospered so much so that he was able to send Elijah to Edinburg Scotland where he studied mechanical engineering. After he graduated, Elijah moved to Detroit to find work. He wasn’t able to find work in his field and instead landed a job as a fireman on the Michigan Central Railroad. In those days, trains and other machinery were stopped every day to be oiled. Recognizing the need for a better system, Elijah designed a steam engine lubricator that could lubricate the engine during its operation. No need to stop the train, which saved the Michigan Central Railroad time and money. He secured a U.S. government patent for his lubricator cup. Elijah didn’t stop with that though. He kept improving his device and developed variations of it. He adapted it to other machinery and in time, he received 42 patents for inventions in lubrication systems which were eventually put to use all around the world. There were of course others who tried to copy his work, But Elijah’s inventions were so superior that people would settle for nothing less than the original. You see, Elijah’s last name was McCoy. And a phrase was coined in honor of this man’s work, spoken by people who would settle for nothing less than “The Real McCoy.”
That expression has became part of America’s vocabulary. And it is uttered by people who will not be satisfied with a substitute – a knockoff – an imitation. They want the real McCoy.
Having studied the life of Nehemiah together, I have come to conclusion that Nehemiah was a real McCoy. A genuine , authentic follower of God.
Like some man or woman that you’ve watched and you’ve said to someone else, “That person is real.” That’s Nehemiah.
And the Biblical book that bears his name is as real as he is. It doesn’t spin the story to make him look good. In fact, it doesn’t even show you his best side at times.
You are allowed to see not only the strengths of Nehemiah, but his weaknesses as well. You are able to watch him when he is fearless and courageous and you are allowed to watch him when he is weak and afraid. In fact, we will discover both sides of him in our study today.
And when we finish our study today of this particular chapter in his life, I believe we will be led to the same conclusion, Nehemiah was the genuine article of godly faith. No facade, no pseudo spiritual language, no false piety. He was nothing less than the real McCoy.
Would you take your Bibles and turn to your copy of Nehemiah’s personal diary – we have made our way now to chapter two.
While you’re turning, you may remember that for four months now Nehemiah has been praying and fasting and mourning and weeping over the broken condition of Jerusalem.
And he has been praying for 4 months that God would use him to lead the way and rebuild the city. But for 4 months, God had not answered him.
Chapter 2 will suddenly change everything.
The chapter opens with a sudden crisis.
2:1 And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2. 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.
For four months Nehemiah has been keeping it all in – no one, including the King has been able to observe the agony Nehemiah has been feeling. But on this day, Nehemiah can’t keep it in any longer – he inadvertently lets it show.
The King asks him, “Why this sadness of heart?” You would think that this would be an invitation from Artaxerxes for Nehemiah to sit down on the couch and say, “Well Art, ole’ buddy, nice of you to ask.”
Why would Nehemiah say “I was very much afraid.” Well, remember, Nehemiah’s job was to protect the king from any assassination attempts by putting poison in the King’s goblet of wine or his casserole. Any change in Nehemiah’s behavior or countenance would arouse suspicion from an already paranoid King whose own father had been assassinated.
Furthermore, you can actually translate that word “sadness” entirely differently. You could render the kings words in verse 2 this way, “Why is your face troubled with evil…”
In other words, the King says, “Nehemiah, something’s wrong – what’s going on here?!”
“And I was very much afraid!”
Verse 3. [And] I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. That’s another way of saying, “There’s nothing in your drink, I promise!” Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?”
For four months Nehemiah has been asking God to grant him favor in the eyes of the King so that he might return to Jerusalem. This is the same King who, in Ezra chapter 4, ordered the work stopped – God would have to do something really unusual to change his heart. So Nehemiah has been praying and fasting – “Oh God do something to grant me an audience with the King.”
Then suddenly, wham! Out of nowhere, unexpectedly – Nehemiah shows his feelings for a moment, the king picks up on it and demands an explanation – “Well, I’m, I’m, I’m sad because my father’s city lies desolate and it’s gates are burned with fire.”
I wonder if Nehemiah thought to himself, “That’s not the way I wanted to say it . . . that didn’t come out right.”
Isn’t it true, that no matter how long you plan, you can never plan enough for the unexpected.
I doubt Nehemiah would have picked this day, this way to bring up the subject. He’s on the defensive – the King is suspicious – this is not the way he planned it to happen.
Now he is afraid.
The real McCoy of authentic Christianity is not the person who is self assured, always together, never afraid. It may be the person who is caught off guard, filled with fear and trembling, unsure of himself and, as we’ll see in a moment, totally dependent upon the strength of God.
- What follows from the king is what I believe to be a
surprising request. 4. Then the king said to me, “What [do you want, or, what] would you request?”
Nehemiah’s head has to be spinning. You notice he hasn’t asked the King for anything – he’s simply told the King why he’s troubled. But something is moving the heart of the King to discern what he has not heard . . . that Nehemiah wants to ask him for a favor.
Who do you think was moving the heart of the King? “The heart of the King is in the hand of the Lord and He turns it in whatever way He wants.” (Proverbs 21:1)
What do you want Nehemiah?! Speak!
I love the next phrase in v. 4 So I prayed to the God of heaven.
I love this short prayer – a silent, quick, s.o.s. prayer.
“Well, Nehemiah, what do you want?”
“So I prayed to the God of heaven.” We’re not told what he said to God but I am convinced it was an ancient Hebrew word, pronounced, “Heeelp!
Some time ago when I was in India, David and I were picked up from the airport and taken by taxi to our hotel. It was dark and the streets were filled with racing cars, horns blowing – very few driving rules are kept. People just let you know where they are by blowing their horns. We were zipping along a road when we pulled up behind a slower moving car – the taxi driver just laid on his horn, but to no avail. He decided to pass that car and just as he pulled out we saw a truck coming toward us. I thought to myself, our driver will slow down and pull back in behind the car, but instead he floored it – we shot forward and at just the last moment, before impact – because the truck wasn’t moving over either – we zipped in front of the other car and literally, it seemed, brushed past the oncoming truck.
That’s the closest I’ve ever come to being a Pentecostal – for I was speaking to God in a language that no one could understand.
I was on the phone a couple of days ago to a friend who is a policeman – he was on the third level of the parking garage at Crab Tree Valley mall in his police car when the dispatcher said their was larceny taking place in Belks at that same mall. Suddenly, a man came running out Belks matching the description, carrying several items. My friend Billy, jumped out and shouted halt! The man changed directions and ran even faster. Billy began pursuit and was inches behind him when they reached the edge of the third level parking deck. The man jumped – Billy knew that there was a ledge of grass 5 feet below the deck – and so he jumped too. He missed that ledge and fell all the way to the ground - 22 feet below. He broke one leg, but he told me as he was falling, he thought his life could very well be over. There was a short prayer meeting. He was praising God for only a broken leg.
You’ve been in a situation where the phone has rung; the boss has summoned; the teacher as called; the doctor’s office has reported – and you are filled with fear.
What you observe in the life of Nehemiah is that sort of panic. He is not in control – he doesn’t seem to have it all together – we’re allowed to see him as the genuine, real person that he was – and he is terrified, gasping a quick prayer to the God of heaven.
By the way, a short prayer is best preceded by long obedience.
The key to effective praying before God is not length, but loyalty.
When you walk with God, you don’t have to say very much in those emergency moments of life . . . He already knows it all and He is ready to respond on your behalf.
Now I want you to notice Nehemiah’s submissive appeal.
5. 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.”
This is gracious tact on Nehemiah’s part – he didn’t say, “I’m glad you asked, Oh King. God has a job for me, so I want a leave of absence, and I’ll be back when God’s finished with me in Jerusalem; you got a problem with that?”
No. Nehemiah is willing to allow God to move through the heart of the King to willingly grant him permission to go.
It would be easy to miss what I believe to be a subtle influence by a woman who’s presence is mentioned.
- 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.
Why the rather awkward, obvious insertion of the fact that the queen was sitting by the King? Because the Queen didn’t sit beside the King during his business day. Remember how Queen Esther dared to even come into his presence without an invitation?
The implication is that the Queen had an influence over the King while Nehemiah presented his request.
And there are some who have pointed out that, if this is the Artaxerxes we think it is chronologically, then, this wasn’t Artexerxes wife – the phrase Queen was also used for the Queen mother – and the Queen mother, or step mother in this case, was none other than Esther herself.
Now I want you to notice that Nehemiah has been doing more than praying – he’s been planning as well.
Having gathered his wits about him – he now launches into a presentation of a very solid plan of action.
7. 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, 8. 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.”
Nehemiah has anticipated needing two things from the King:
- permission in writing from the King and
- secondly, supplies for building.
Nehemiah sounds like a girl going to her father and asking for a money to buy a new skirt – when he says yes, she says, “Well, if I get a new skirt I’ll need something to wear with it – and before you know it, it’s earrings and toenail polish. The wise father says no to the very first thing. Amen?
If you think Nehemiah keeps going and going here, you’re absolutely right.
By the time he has finished laying out his request, he has, don’t miss this, asked the king not only for permission and letters demanding cooperation from local governments around Jerusalem, but he also has the kings permission to requisition all of the lumber they will need to rebuild the gates from the King’s own royal forests. I can only imagine Asaph scratching his head in bewilderment as he reads the letter from the King commanding him to give Nehemiah anything he needs.
This would be tantamount to the Mayor of Cary and the Town Council not only agreeing to our new site plans but voting to give us a blank check to finance the entire project.
When Nehemiah walked in to the King’s presence that day he was a cupbearer; but when he walked out, he was the newly appointed leader of a construction project that would ultimately restore the city of Jerusalem to the people of God.
The real McCoy’s of authentic, genuine faith are revealed by those who are willing to live by a couple of principles.
Principle # 1. They are people who realize that God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials.
If you go back into chapter 1 where Nehemiah is mourning and fasting and praying – in verse 11 you see that startling little word appear. “O Lord, I beseech Thee, may Thine ear bee attentive to the prayer of Thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants who delight to revere Thy name, and make Thy servant successful [here it is] today!
Lord do something today! Today! And for 4 months God didn’t do anything on that day – at least, so it seemed.
Oh, but God was in the process of doing something in Nehemiah before He would ever do something through Nehemiah.
The genuine believer is struck by the fact that God is as much interested in doing something in them as He is in doing something through them.
When it seemed that nothing was happening, something was.
God wasn’t just preparing Jerusalem for Nehemiah, He was preparing Nehemiah for Jerusalem.
Principle # 2) Real McCoy believers refuse to accept the credit for the work of God that is accomplished.
Nehemiah leaves little room for doubt that he fully understood what happened just moments earlier – if you missed it, he records in his diary this telling statement – found in verse 8b. “And the king granted my requests to me because the good hand of my God was on me.”
Nehemiah recognized that what just happened, God had done it. It wasn’t because Nehemiah was smart, but because God was sovereign. Not because Nehemiah was great, but because God was gracious.
G. Gordon Liddy, after he was released from prison because of his involvement in political scandal declared, “I have found within myself all I need and all I ever will need. I am
a man of great faith, but my faith is in George Gordon Liddy, and I have never failed me.”
Donald K. Campbell, Nehemiah: Man in Charge: Victor Books, p. 19
(Interesting that would be his perspective having just been released from prison.)
Nehemiah has just been released from the King’s palace – with royal permission – with all the financial backing necessary to rebuild – and he was humble enough to recognize that, in spite of his planning, success was granted because of God’s good hand.
9. Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10. When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them [notice Nehemiah’s choice of self description here] that someone had come . . . Not: “The cupbearer of the King has come…The leader chosen by God has come.”
But simply, that somebody (you could render that simply – that a man) had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.
A genuine, authentic, down to earth, real, believer never gets caught up with what he or she has done or can do.
Samuel Logan Brengle, a great leader in the work of God several generations ago said it best when he wrote,
“The ax cannot boast of the trees it has cut down. It could do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it. He sharpened it. He uses it. The moment the woodsman throws the ax aside it becomes only old iron. Oh, that I may never lose sight of this.”
Charles Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart; Word Publishers, p. 280
You want to be a real McCoy – you want to avoid the popular definition of Christianity – you want to avoid the knock off imitations of spirituality that abound today in the religious world?
Allow yourself to be the instrument in the hands of God for His purposes and for His glory and then, when He accomplishes something through you, don’t ever forget He was the one who did it.
Somebody has come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel! Just a man – just somebody!
Yet upon closer inspection we have discovered he was actually a genuine, authentic man, sometimes filled with fear and sometimes moved by faith. But a man totally dependent upon the goodness and sovereignty of God. Nehemiah was the real McCoy.