Today we begin a new series of messages from the Book of Nehemiah. I’m guessing that most of you wouldn’t list Nehemiah in your top five favorite books of the Bible, and in fact, there could be some of you who couldn’t even tell me who Nehemiah was. So before we take a look at the Scriptures for today, I want to give you just a brief history and background of Nehemiah.
After the time of Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms. The northern part with 10 of the 12 tribes kept the name Israel. The southern part with 2 of the 12 tribes was known as Judah. Jerusalem, the capital and the location of the Solomon’s temple, was part of the kingdom of Judah.
All of the kings of Israel were evil. Because of their continued sinfulness, God allowed the Assyrians to invade and defeated Israel. The people were deported and scattered over the face of the earth – never to return.
Judah had some good kings, but the majority were evil. Because of their continued sinfulness, God allowed the Babylonians to attack and defeat Judah. They destroyed Jerusalem, including the temple, and deported many of the people to Babylon. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were among those who were deported.
Seventy years later, the king of Persia (who had since conquered the Babylonians), allowed several groups of Jews to return to Judah to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
The story of Nehemiah picks up about 95 years after the Jews are allowed to return to Jerusalem. The temple has been rebuilt, but the rest of Jerusalem is not in good shape.
So things are not well for those who have returned to Jerusalem. The walls have been destroyed and the gates have been burned. And Nehemiah weeps.
When I first read through this passage, I had a hard time understanding why Nehemiah was so worked up about the broken walls of a city nearly 1,000 miles away. I don’t think Nehemiah had ever been to Jerusalem before – so why does he spend days mourning over it’s broken walls?
I did a little searching on the internet and I found some pictures that really helped me understand what’s going on here. I did a search for pictures of ruins and I found these pictures:
Warsaw, Poland after WW2
Nuremberg, Germany also after WW2
China, after last August’s giant earthquake
Gaza, after Israel’s attack just weeks ago
It’s devastating, isn’t it? Just looking at those picture saddens your heart, doesn’t it? No wonder Hanani reported to Nehemiah, the people were in deep trouble and disgrace. Things were not going well for those who had returned to Jerusalem. They were surrounded by and living in ruins.
But my focus today isn’t on the ruins. I want to focus on how Nehemiah reacted.
He wept. He mourned. Tears rolled down his face as he considered the terrible state of his relatives and countrymen. And not just for a few minutes… It says he mourned, fasted, and prayed for some days. He didn’t just shrug and say “Boy, that’s too bad.” No, he wept and mourned for his countrymen living in the ruins.
So what’s the lesson here for us nearly 2500 years later? This morning I simply want to draw a parallel between us and them.
Do you realize that our community is in ruins? I’m not talking about the condition of our buildings or our lack of city walls. I’m talking about the condition of the people. How many broken homes are there? How many people are there that have no hope for the future? How many people are living ruined lives? Lives without meaning, lives without joy, lives without Christ?
Those pictures that we saw earlier were devastating. But how much worse is the thought of your friends and your neighbors going into eternity without knowing Christ?
We, like Nehemiah, should weep. We should mourn. But do we? Do we weep for the lost? Are we filled with such concern and compassion for people who don’t know Christ that we are moved to tears on their behalf? Or are our hearts so hard and so cold that our eyes stay dry, never shedding a tear for the lost?
This has been something God has been convicting me of over the past six months. It’s easy to care about other Christians and show them love and concern. But to weep over those who hurt us, who tell lies about us, who could care less about us… That’s something else.
As we look further at the life of Nehemiah in the weeks to come, we’ll see how he takes action on behalf of the people and how he gets the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt. But none of that would have happened if he hadn’t had a heart full of concern and compassion for those living in the ruins.
In the same way, over the next few weeks I want to look at how we can take action on behalf of the lost right here in our community, but nothing is going to happen unless our hearts are full of concern and compassion for those living in the ruins.
You know, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” That’s how much God cares. That’s how deep his concern and compassion is for the lost. And aren’t you glad? You and I were once lost too. Aren’t you glad God cares about the lost?
2 Peter 3:9 says “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
That’s why He sent His Son Jesus to earth, to live a perfect life, and to die on a cross in our place, (taking our punishment upon Himself), and then three days later to rise from dead, so that anyone who believes and accepts God free gift, will not perish, but have eternal life with Him in heaven.
There is a song by Keith Green called “My Eyes Are Dry” and the lyrics fit right in with what we’re talking about today. The words are…
My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to you and dead to me
But what can be done
For an old heart like mine
Soften it up
With oil and wine
The oil is you, your spirit of love
Please wash me anew
With the wine of your blood