His name was William Borden – everybody called him Bill. He was heir to the Borden silver mining fortune in Chicago.
Graduated high school at 16 years old, and was given a gift from his parents…a trip around the world. During this trip, his heart was so moved by the plight of so many in poverty and the sheer amount of hurting people in the world, that he felt an overwhelming sense of calling to become a missionary. He wrote home and told his family…which was met with a negative response….that he would be wasting his life and his inheritance. His response….two words in the back of his Bible….
He would enter Yale University that fall…and quickly became a spiritual giant on that campus…leading hundreds of his friends to Christ and starting Bible study groups that, by his senior year, involved over 80% of the entire student body!
He was offered many well-paying jobs when he graduated, but still felt this intense calling to missions….in China.
When he graduated, he wrote two more words in the back of his Bible…..
William Borden went on to Seminary at Princeton in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. He was hoping to work with Muslims, so he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. But while there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.
When the news of William Borden’s death was cabled back to the U.S., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper.
The author of his biography wrote this… “A wave of sorrow went round the world . . . Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice.”
Was Borden’s untimely death a waste? Not in God’s perspective, or his. As the story has it, prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in the back of his Bible. Underneath the words “No reserves” and “No retreats,” he had written:
Today we are going to be studying the story of two men who lived their lives like this…Ezra and Nehemiah. But because we have such a short amount of time…we are going to spend most all our time in Nehemiah.
605 BC Nebachadnezzer comes to power
587 BC – Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and it’s walls, gates and temple and take Jewish people captive. Took the cream of the crop young people to Babylon.
539 BC – Persia overthrows Babylonian kingdom. Cyrus becomes king.
536 BC – Ezra 1-6 – Cyrus allows a remnant of Jews to return to rebuild the temple and the city – Zerubbabel – but gentiles and rebels hindered the work and greatly delayed it, so the work took 20 years to finish. (Ezra 1-6) – but the gates and the walls were not repaired.
485 – Xerxes comes to power
478 – Esther becomes queen – these events happen between
Ezra 6 and 7.
465 – Xerxes dies
458 BC – Ezra 7 – Ezra goes to Jerusalem – teaches the law
Two prevalent themes exist in both of these books:
- The need to rebuild a structure of the city.
- The need to rebuild the lives of the people.
A. The Brokenness of Nehemiah
1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened
Nehemiah was in the Right place at the Right Time – He has position, power, and proximity. When God wants to accomplish a work He will put His people in the right places at the right time.
in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel,
It’s late 446 BC. Hebrew month of Chislev runs from Mid – November – mid December on our calendar. So King Artaxerxes was at his winter palace in Susa – the capital city of the Persian Empire.
It was just an ordinary day that would turn out to be a turning point for Nehemiah.
2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Here we see the brokenness of Nehemiah for his people. He wept for his people – His heart was broken not just because the city was in ruins, but also because of the sin of his people. He fasted and prayed. Then he waited on the Lord.
How long has it been since any of us wept over our nation? our neighbors? our loved ones who don’t know Christ? Do we fast and pray for them? I’ve been so convicted this week as I’ve written this message to, instead of complaining about our leaders or the incredibly shockingly fast moral decline of our nation…to instead pray…and weep, and fast for our nation and our neighborhoods.
What walls need to be rebuilt in your life?
Walls of conviction?
Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) – Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.
Walls of relationships?
Walls of boundaries?
But Nehemiah went to God first. As should we.
So we see his brokenness.
B. The Boldness of Nehemiah
“For I was the king’s cupbearer.”
Nehemiah was not a priest like Ezra. He held a secular job – he was a Cupbearer – a position of great power and influence. Like chief of staff. He had very close proximity to the king. Therefore, he had the ear of the King. He also was the last line of defense for the King. He tasted the King’s wine. It was a lofty, highly trusted, but high risk position. So he might have very well been the most trusted person in the king’s court. The king trusted Nehemiah with his life. – and he was a Jewish captive.
2:1 And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. 2 Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.”
So I became dreadfully afraid, 3 and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?”
4 Then the king said to me, “What do you request?”
5And I said to the king, if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”
6 Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him),
“How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
C. The Vision of Nehemiah
7 Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.
You may not feel adequate for the task or that you have enough education or that you have enough experience, but sometimes you just have to step out and start walking.
Anyone who accomplishes anything of significance will deal with failure along the way.
We learn more from our failures than we do our successes.
There’s no such thing as an overnight success.
Let vision and purpose be what drives you.
The bridge between vision and accomplishment is discipline.
So develop the disciplines along the way that will keep you on task.
And Fear of failure should never enter the equation.
People are usually driven by one of two things: Fear or Vision Fear will paralyze you. Vision will energize you. Fear will make you a coward. Vision will make you courageous.
Nehemiah didn’t know what he was doing. But he knew he had to do something. So Nehemiah trusted God to lead him and to show him what to do and how to do it.
So he set out on the 1000 mile journey from Susa to Jerusalem.
9 Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.
11 So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me.
So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”
20 So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”
God has a plan and a purpose for all of us. Seek His will, wait on His answer, and then go do it.
What is your vision for your life? Where do you find yourself where God can use you right now?
If you have a God-given vision – it will probably be God-sized. Which means it’s going to require God to intervene.
God is able to do it without you. But He chooses to do it with you.
When you have a God-given vision:
- stop, fast, pray and work. Prayer has to come before action. God will equip you and God will prepare the way. We need God to help us. But God won’t do it without us. Seek the Lord’s wisdom and seek the Lord’s timing. “Pray like it depends on God. Work like it depends on God.”
- Get ready to face opposition – it takes grit. it takes tenacity. it takes determination. It takes discipline . You will encounter enemies.
In chapters 4-6 – you see at least 9 different ways the enemy used to try to stop what work on the walls…trouble from the inside and the outside.
And somehow ….through all the obstacles and attacks, Nehemiah led his people to finish the wall in just 52 days!!
So how did he handle all this?
- God-given vision cannot be accomplished alone– Each one had a job to do to repair their section of the wall. (chapter 3)
They had unity of purpose.
And it is the same today in the church. We all have different gifts, and together, we can accomplish the work of the church.
Rom. 12:4-6 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them:
Nobody is too important to serve.
Neh. 4:6 So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have unity of purpose and you don’t care who gets the credit. You cannot do this alone.
- Stay focused on the task at hand
Nehemiah prayed like it depended on God…he asked the Lord to handle it. And then he worked like it depended on him….with a shovel in one hand and a sword in the other.
Neh. 4:8-9 and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion. 9Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.
We are in a supernatural battle everyday! But we need to remember..the battle belongs to the Lord..and the battle begins on our knees before the Lord. Trouble is sure to come. Stay focused on the task.
And by the way….Jesus endured all the things on that list of opposition, as well. But he stayed focused on the task at hand…to seek and to save the lost! In fact, the very things he endured by others, was the very reason He came in the first place….to rescue us from our sin!!
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
If God wants it, He will make a way. And one thing He wants, is unbroken fellowship with HIs children.
That’s why when they finish building the walls, Nehemiah and Ezra the priest call them to a time of consecration and worship and celebration.
Maybe it’s time to live with:
– Born into the home of a wealthy family. Came to know Christ while traveling through Europe with a brilliant politician friend who also had a solid Christian worldview. Was then discipled by John Newton – a former slave trader who had radically been saved – wrote Amazing Grace.
We don’t need to fear failure. What we must fear the most – is succeeding in things that don’t matter.
William Wilberforce would “never rest” until he had done all he could do.
“Let it not be said that I was silent when they needed me.”
~ William Wilberforce
What Wall is it that God wants you to build?
When God leads you to do something:
- Stop, Fast, Pray and Work
- Get ready to face opposition
- Remember you can’t do it alone
- Stay focused on the task at hand.
One of my favorite moments in this book:
6:1 Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates),
2 that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm.
3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”
When your enemies want you to meet them in a valley called Ono…your answer should be “Oh No!”
Mark 15:29-30 (CSB)
29Those who passed by were yelling insult at him, shaking their heads, and saying, “Ha! The one who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself by coming down from the cross! ”
If not you….then who? If not now….then when? Love People. Love God. And together…we will build the Kingdom of God. May the vision God has given us….end in Victory….and bring glory to His holy name.