Actions speak louder than words . . . and they also affirm the words. So being a Christian is more than just putting a Jesus bumper sticker on your car or wearing a W.W.J.D bracelet. It's carrying a cross . . . no matter what the cost.
And so it was.
In that same vein, Nehemiah and his people are approaching their finest hour.
So far, the battle has been invisible. Nehemiah has agonized with God for over four months. And he’s seen the miracle of the King’s heart turned in his favor.
But now, the battle becomes as real as German bombs. It will no longer be waged in the prayer closet, it will become a battle out in the open where everyone can see and hear.
And Nehemiah’s message will be similar to Churchill’s, though given 2100 years earlier.
He will refuse to surrender to the enemy. And he will promise his people final victory. But in the days ahead he will also ask from them their blood, sweat and tears.
They will discover the painful, yet deepening, maturing truth that there is no such thing as opportunity, without opposition.
Now, let’s go back to verse 9 of chapter 2 and rejoin the drama that is just now beginning to intensify.
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.
- When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the
Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel. 11. So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12. And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding.
This isn’t exactly what you’d expect to read. Nehemiah has the permission of the King. He has the financing he needs for the work. But for three days now he hasn’t told anybody in Jerusalem why he’s even come.
I would have expected Nehemiah to set up a trailer on the site, unload his gear; unpack his tools; hire the bricklayers; roll in the heavy equipment, interview subcontractors and hire a surveyor to plot the lines. Let’s build some walls around here! What’s the hold-up Nehemiah. We’re losing time, man! Let’s go.
You ever felt impatient over a building project? I know that you’re gonna have to think long and hard for an answer, but can you possibly think of some building project that isn’t going as fast as you’d like?
Could it be down the street?
How long will it take . . . will it ever be done? Have you seen it lately? The roof is going on the middle building; the brick work has started on the educational building, inside of which has finished walls and corridors – ceiling work and painting are next in line. The parking lot is about to be paved. Our summer move in date is on schedule.
But it’s been 6 months since the footings were poured on the first building. Approximately 25 weeks . . . it’s been nearly 200 days. That’s like forever!
Can you imagine being an Israelite – somebody whose waited, in affect for more than 100 years.
I’d have given up – I have trouble with waiting 1 year.
The truth is, they had given up. They’d grown so accustomed to their history of failure and defeat that they couldn’t even conceive that somebody would try to build their walls again.
And the man with the plan and permission finally arrives – had I been Nehemiah, I would have bounded into town shouting the news – and saying, “The King’s on our side - we’re gonna build these walls again.” And that would have been a mistake.
This man arrived in town and for three days, he did nothing -
Notice verse 12 again (middle part) “I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for
It wasn’t that Nehemiah wasn’t doing anything.
It was three days of waiting; three days of, no doubt, praying; he probably spent three days talking to the locals about their city; perhaps meeting the city officials; I’m quite sure Nehemiah was also taking inventory of their spiritual condition along with the condition of their walls.
Then, without any explanation to us readers, he gets up late one night – takes a few of his armed escort and takes a closer look around, under the cover of a moonlit night. 13. So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire. 14. Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass. 15. So I went up at night by the ravine and inspected the wall. Then I entered the Valley Gate again and returned. 16. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.
This is Nehemiah’s famous midnight ride. Isn’t it true to this day, that those who are involved in leadership are often awake when others are asleep. I can assure you that the moment you sign on to serve others, the moment you accept the burden of rebuilding your broken world, you will have sleepless nights at times. That’s what Oswald Sanders called the penalty of leadership.
The city sleeps while a burdened man inspects the damage.
Verse 13 tells us that he “inspected” the walls. That’s a Hebrew verb which can be translated, “to carefully observe.’ It’s a verb used in the medical profession for probing a wound to determine not only the damage, but the action needed for healing to take place.
Now, if we had a map of Jerusalem, you’d notice from the gates that Nehemiah mentions going through that he was actually touring the southern portion of the broken down city. He didn’t see the whole city wall, but he saw enough to formulate his plan.
Between verse 16 and verse 17 some time elapses. We’re not sure how much time – perhaps just enough time to announce a meeting.
Having gathered the people of Jerusalem, the priests, the nobles and the officials – Nehemiah now announces his intentions.
- Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are
in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” 18. I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work.
Now, if you’re like me, you’re perhaps a little surprised that after such a short speech, the text says the people responded by saying, “Let us arise and build.” At first glance, or even after two or three closer looks, verses 17 and 18 don’t seem to include enough of a motivational speech from Nehemiah to get anybody to risk their lives doing something terribly difficult they haven’t been willing to do for years.
But there are volumes in his words. Nehemiah has several key components in his speech and as I have dissected it – reading it over and over again, I have found, I believe four different key ingredients that made this speech so motivating.
We’ll call the first key ingredient – an honest attitude.
Look back at verse 17 again: Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate
and its gates burned by fire.
Nehemiah’s honesty is refreshing. He doesn’t sugar coat the problem. He doesn’t start his motivational speech by ignoring the problem – “I’ve seen the walls – it’s not all that bad.”
That’s what you call a optimist. Now I don’t want to cause any marital problems this morning, but how many would say that you are married to an optimist? Raise you’re hand.
An optimist is someone who operates in a mist, right?
That’s better than being a pessimist though, right?
Someone wrote, “A pessimist is a person who is seasick during the entire voyage of life.”
I love the story I read recently about an optimist who tried to coax some optimism out of a pessimist.
But everyone of us in here would probably say, ‘I’m not a optimist and I’m not a pessimist – I’m a realist.” Right?
We’re all realists! Frankly, we would all like to think that we have found a balance between the two extremes.
Nehemiah was! You could call him a true, genuine, realist.
He didn’t overlook the problem, but he saw the potential.
And he immediately earns their respect by verbalizing his understanding of their painful condition. Notice his severe words, “it’s a bad situation – desolate – burned by fire.”
He doesn’t stop there – he goes on, secondly, to humbly identify with them.
Get ready to circle three words; again in verse 17: Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation are in. Come,
let rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that will no longer be a reproach.”
He did not say, “Man are you in a bad situation . . . what you need to do is rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that you will no longer be a reproach.”
No! We . . . us . . . we!
You want to discourage somebody whose life is in ruins – just say, “Man are you a mess.” It’ll work every time!
You want to encourage them? Start by saying, “Man are we in a mess here . . . how can we together get out of it?!”
The third key ingredient is Nehemiah’s honorable invitation.
He doesn’t say, “Listen, let’s build a wall so that we’ll have a nice wall!” “Let’s build a wall around our city so we can sleep at night without fear of invaders.” “Let’s build a wall so we can have a wall like other cities.” All of the above would be true – but not honorable.
He says, 17b, “Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem that we may no longer be a reproach.”
The word reproach means, “to speak down – to speak poorly of the character of.” In other words, “Let’s rebuild the wall so that the people of God will so represent their living God that people around us can’t speak poorly about our character which is a reflection of our God.”
One commentator insightfully points out that there are two kinds of motivation in life. Extrinsic and intrinsic.
Let me illustrate the difference. “I want you to go out and cut the grass.” “Why?” “Because it looks terrible.” He’s not motivated. “Listen, go out there and cut the grass because there are strange creatures moving in to our jungle.” He’s not motivated. “Son, go out there and cut the grass because if you do I’ll give you some money.” Zooooooom!
That’s extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is when you do what you do without getting anything except the knowledge and fulfillment that you did the right thing.
And, one step beyond that; knowing that in so doing the right thing you bring glory and honor to the God you say you represent.
Will you’re boss ever pay you for honesty? Will your classmates ever praise you for purity? Oscars are never given out for character. But you live that way because you don’t want to be a reproach before people which ultimately brings reproach to your God. You are intrinsically motivated to honor God.
That’s the motivation Nehemiah used here.
There’s one more element to his speech.
He includes a hope filled personal testimony.
Look again at verse 18. “And I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me, and also about the
king’s words which he had spoken to me.”
Can you imagine how they must have hung on every word. For all we know Nehemiah told them every detail of his burden – how God had prepared him through prayer for 4 months – and about his sadness before the king – and the King’s personal response.
God has been good to him and it now involves all of Jerusalem! “God is here with us,” Nehemiah declares, “God has prepared the way – He has turned the heart of the King – he has supplied our financial need – He has not forgotten you, oh Jerusalem.”
For those of you who work in ministering to other people – whether it’s teaching a class or helping out in a program with children or discipling teenagers or greeting visitors or praying or serving as a vocational missionary in this community or in some other country or any conceivable capacity of ministry – you have probably discovered by now that one of the most discouraging things about ministry is that you are never finished. You’re never finished. And because of that, you are often left wondering if God is really accomplishing anything through the efforts of your hands and your prayers.
I received in the mail a few days ago a letter written by a young lady who has already left Colonial to attend college in another state.
While her remarks are written to me, it’s obvious that she speaks of our church at large. We have, together as a body, become this kind of church that this college freshman now writes of with fond memories. Listen.
READ LETTER (She starts out by saying some really nice things about my sermons – you’ll just have to take my word for it…)
I shared this with my wife – she cried – I knew she would. We talked about the fact that this young lady began attending Colonial when she was around 11 years old. There are people out in this audience who were once her Sunday School teachers. Can you imagine trying to teach 11 year old girls anything? Sitting out here are youth workers who played and discipled and taught and kept the standard high; there’s a Mom and a Dad who prayed and taught and prayed and guided . . . there’s a missions committee who planned and strategized . . . a pastor who preached. There were times when we thought nothing was being accomplished.
There’s nothing more encouraging than a personal testimony that reminds us that God has been and is at work through us all.
How encouraging it must have been to the people of Jerusalem to hear a man say, “I know you’ve lived for years, surrounded by these broken down walls. You don’t think God’s even noticed anymore. But I want you to know that that God has been favorable to me . . . He’s been at work in my life and He is at work even now among you.”
No wonder they all shouted in unison – 18b. “Let us arise and build. So they put their hands to the good work.”
This would be a wonderful place for the Book of Nehemiah to end – but it doesn’t. There’s this little word but, that changes the sunshine into clouds of gray.
- But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the
Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing
you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”
Sanballat was the governor of Samaria; Tobia ruled the Kingdom of Ammon; Geshem and his sons ruled the Arab nations. These are powerful enemies of God and enemies of God’s people.
Ladies and Gentlemen, whenever you decide to build anything for the glory of God; whether it’s a godly home or a pure mind or an honest character; whenever you desire to honor and glorify God then everything that opposes God will oppose you.
There is no opportunity from heaven without opposition from hell.
If you think that walking with Christ is a path strewn with flowers . . . think again.
Jesus Christ said the object that would grace the necks of his disciples would not be garlands, but a cross.
If anyone would be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.
Christianity is not always blessings, sweetness and triumph. Sometimes it is blood, sweat and tears.
The enemies of Nehemiah opposed the work two ways: First by public ridicule – the text says they mocked us and despised us.
Second by intimidation – “What do you think you’re doing?”
Public ridicule was intended to produce embarrassment. Intimidation was intended to produce fear. Fear and embarrassment have worked wonders in keeping Christians from doing or saying anything for God.
Perhaps it would work here.
Nehemiah responds: 20. So I answered them and said to them, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”
Nehemiah says 6 Things in Response:
- This is God’s work
- We are God’s servants
- This work will be accomplished by God’s power (what courage – but he doesn’t stop there)
- You have no portion here (literally “no property”)
- You have no right (that is; no claim of authority over Jerusalem; it could also imply that they have no right to require taxes or tribute from the citizens of Jerusalem)
- You have no memorial (this is a religious implication that could be amplified to read, “you have no place of worship within Jerusalem’s community of believers).
Let me give you three ways to avoid the pitfall of discouragement:
- Remember the truth that God’s will is not always easy, but it is never impossible.
Let me say it another way. Remember, just because God’s will isn’t always easy doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
- Rest in the fact that God will never command you to do something without providing the strength to do it.
In his book entitled Fuzzy Memories by Jack Handey, he writes “There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day at school. Since I was smaller than he was, I would give it to him. Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons. But then the karate instructor told me I owed him five dollars a lesson. So I just went back to paying the bully. Too many people feel it is easier just to pay the bully than it is to learn how to defeat him.”
Quoted in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching Baker,
From the editors of Leadership
God never commands you to live for His glory without helping you overcome the obstacles you’ll face.
You say, I can’t love my spouse . . . yes you can. I can’t witness for Christ to my relatives or friends . . . yes you can. I can’t remain pure on this college campus . . . yes you can.
Paul said, say it with me, “I can do [some things] I’m sorry – did I say it wrong – let’s try again, say it with me, “I can do all things, [how] through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
Imagine what Nehemiah must have thought as he toured the city that night. Huge stones lying on the ground – piled up at places – a century of weeds and underbrush – the rotten wood of former gates crumbling in his hands – had you or I been Nehemiah, we would have probably taken the first camel back to Persia.
Oh, but he knew that God’s good hand was upon him – strengthening him for the task at hand.
- Rejoice in the principle that opposition only means opportunity is close at hand.
There is no opportunity without opposition.
And so you welcome not only the opportunity but the obstacle as well.
That most difficult hour you’ve experienced? By refusing to surrender, you can say looking back on it now that it was your finest hour. That most difficult hour was your finest hour!
And so, refusing to surrender as Christ’s disciple you remain steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Your labor is not in vain. Labor that included blood, sweat and tears.
And in spite of it all, you say, even today, “Let us arise and build!”
Sing - I have decided to follow Jesus. . .no turning back…
The world behind me, the cross before me
On May 10, 1940 Winston Churchill was elected Prime Minister of England. It would not be long before Churchill would be responsible to keep his country together when the fury of the third reich and the wrath of Adolph Hitler was directed towards England. But England, under Churchill’s leadership would not break. Even during the darkest days of World War II—as Adolph Hitler’s bombers pummeled English cities with one bomb after another, Churchill could be heard on the radio, broadcasting his stubborn refusal to surrender, rallying the British people to fight on. In one particular series of speeches, Churchill declared, “We shall not fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight in the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air; we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . . I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” And, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.”
Quotes taken from James Montgomery Boice: Nehemiah, Learning to Lead Revell Company, p. 52 & "Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.
There was once a farmer who was continually optimistic, seldom discouraged or blue. He had a neighbor who was just the opposite. Grim and gloomy, he faced each new morning with a frown. The optimistic farmer would see the sun coming up and shout over the roar of the tractor, “Look at the beautiful sun and clear sky!” And with a frown, the negative neighbor would reply, “Yeah – it’ll probably scorch the crops.” When clouds would gather and much needed rain would start to fall, the positive friend would smile across the fence, “Ain’t this great – God is giving our corn a drink today!” Again, the same negative response, “Uh huh, but if it doesn’t stop ‘fore long it’ll flood and wash everything away.” One day the optimist decided to put his pessimistic neighbor’s bad mood to the maximum test. He bought the smartest, most expensive bird dog he could find. He trained him to do things no other dog on earth could do – impossible, even miraculous feats that would amaze and delight anyone – surely, even his negative friend. He invited the pessimist to go duck hunting with him. They sat in the boat, hidden in the duck blind. In came the ducks. Both men fired and several ducks fell into the water. “go get ‘em!” ordered the owner. The dog leaped out of the boat, ran on top of the water to where the ducks were floating – gathered them in his mouth and then ran all the way back on top of the water to the boat and jumped back in. “Well, what do you think of that?” Unsmiling, the pessimist answered, “Huh, he can’t swim, can he?!”
Charles Swindoll, Tales of the Tardy Oxcart Word Publishers, p. 446