First Mennonite Church
January 23, 2022
Let Us Start Building
Text: Nehemiah 2:1-20
There was a span of four months between chapter one and the beginning of chapter two. So, what was Nehemiah doing during that time? Was he hesitating to act on what God had impressed in his heart? Was he reconsidering God’s calling because of the great personal implication it would have on him? No. He was grieving, praying, and fasting about it. In fact, we are told here in chapter two, verses one and two, that Nehemiah was sad. For four months, Nehemiah has been covering up the grief in his heart. He had managed to put on a mask because having a morose appearance before the king would have raised suspicions of sedition. Even Nehemiah admits that his plan to serve the king with a sad face was risky act. He was afraid when the king noticed it. “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick?” The king asked. “This can only be sadness of the heart,” the king concluded. Nehemiah looked depressed or greatly discouraged. But the king’s questions only served Nehemiah to present his case with greater clarity. There is no doubt Nehemiah planned for this day very carefully. It was when the king was having a banquet. It was customary for the king to give gifts on such occasions.
From Cupbearer to Project Manager
We do not know what Nehemiah’s profession was before he became the king’s cupbearer. But upon being impressed by God to take on the rebuilding project in Jerusalem, Nehemiah’s carrier changed from cupbearer to a project manager. So, what happens in such cases? When God calls us to do something, many times it will not be because we have the experience. Fulfilling God’s call is mostly about diligence, willingness, and great effort put into it. God empowers. He provides the means and He gives us the gift of helpers, as we will see in Nehemiah’s case.
Nehemiah gave a detailed list of everything he would need for his project. He requested time to be away and gave a specific time when he would be back. In planning, setting goals are essential, but also the time when these goals should be achieved. When the time for the completion of project is undetermined, it not only become frustrating, but it also prevents anything else from happening. The king asked Nehemiah, “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” “And I set him a date,” says Nehemiah.
Nehemiah also requested timber for the project and for his house. He requested letters to secure passage through the provinces on his way to Judea. But then, the king gave him more. He gave Nehemiah escort, which would prove to everyone who doubted Nehemiah’s intentions and legitimacy.
In Jerusalem (v. 11-20)
Nehemiah had trouble sleeping, either because of the excitement about the project or because of the challenges there were about it. I am sure you understand that feeling. Sometimes, when I am working on a project at home, at night my mind would go around something I wasn’t sure how to go about. And in this story, we see Nehemiah was about to embark on something in which he had little experience. First, it was his first time to be in Jerusalem. He had never been there before. So, obviously, he wanted to take his first look at the broken walls and the burned down gates. He went out various nights on horseback, exploring and assessing the extent of the damage and the work it would require to fix it. He did not say anything to anyone until he knew exactly what was at hand.
Once Nehemiah knew the extent of the work needed to be done, he faced one more challenge: motivating the people to do the work. When God calls us to do something for him, there could be a host of things and even people who might be against it. In the case of Nehemiah, there were two people who were completely against the idea of doing anything to improve the situation in Jerusalem. Sanbalat and Tobiah were greatly displeased that Nehemiah wanted to improve the condition of the people in Jerusalem (v. 10). And when they realized that there was nothing they could do to stop the project, they started harassing the workers and ridiculing the project. They accused those who were building of “rebelling against the king” (v. 19) And in chapter four, they called those building, “Feeble Jews,” (v.2), and the rebuilding project, “Heaps of rubbish” (v.2). Opposition to the project arose, even before Nehemiah had done or said anything about his intentions to rebuild. (We will see more of this next week)
Therefore, one of Nehemiah’s biggest challenges, yet, was to motivate his own people to take on the challenge. When God puts into our hearts to do something for his name, it does not mean that everything would be smooth and easy. Doing God’s will doesn’t mean there will not be opposition.
Presenting the challenge
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.
Nehemiah presented his case to the people. Then he called them to join in the project of rebuilding. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” In verse 18, he also gave his testimony of why he was there. I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
Therefore, with a clear plan in hand, with full knowledge of the extent of the challenge, with some of the resources secured, and with a powerful testimony that God is behind everything, the people replied: “Let us start rebuilding.” So, they began this good work.
My dear and beloved brothers and sisters, any undertaking that God places in our heart will come with many challenges. Success requires more than good planning. Unless the Lord builds the house, the builder work in vain, says the Psalmist. But good organization is necessary. Jesus did it. In our NT text, we see Jesus telling his disciples to give food to more than five thousand people. When they said it was impossible for various reasons, Jesus asked them, “How many loafs do you have?” The disciples brought the five loafs and the fish and Jesus multiplied them. He ordered the people to sit in groups of 150 and had the disciples distribute the meal.
This year, before November, we want to replace the entire floor of the church. It’s a huge investment and will require of each of us to do our part. Tomorrow, according to Bernie, we should be getting a quote. My invitation to you is listen to what God is telling you about this. It is my prayer that just like those who were with Nehemiah, we too will say, “Let us start rebuilding!” Amen!