A. Acknowledging Their Existence (Neh 1:1-3)
B. Entering In (Neh 1:4)
C. Breaking Down the Walls (Neh 1:5-7)
D. Bringing Down God's Blessings (Neh 1:8-11)
We find from I Timothy 2:1 that we are to bring all sorts of prayers and entreaties to God on behalf of men. We are not just to pray for the good people but for the fallen, lost and wicked. To the degree we pray and intercede on the behalf of others, we will be able to be a bridge of God's grace to their lives. Some of you have unsaved relatives, friends and roommates. Real concern goes beyond just giving what we have such as time, food, friendship, and money. These are great and are very important. But we need to realize the importance of prayer. Prayer admits at least two things:
1) We lack something; we need something and
2) God is able and willing to bring those things we most desperately need.
A life without prayer, is a life without dependence upon God. If we don't depend upon God, then we don't in fact need a Savior. Some think that being saved is all there is to a Christian life. This is a most superficial and artificial view of a Christian life. Salvation is the beginning of the Christian life, not the end (as we see it in time).
But there is a prayer we may make on the behalf of others that not many of us think about. Say we do care about others, and we know of their needs. We pray that they might get what they need so their hearts can be open to the goodness of God. As Is 30:18 says, God longs to show His goodness.
"Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you."
There is one trouble with this. We need to weaken the walls of sin. Sins of long time have produced a structure around these people's lives which bring about God's wrath. What we need is to learn how to confess sins on the behalf of other people. This might sound very strange, but we have biblical teaching in support of it. Jesus' suffering serves as our primes example. There are two aspects of Christ's suffering for us. He not only suffered for us, which linked Him to our lives, but He suffered the punishment of our sins. This latter point is unique. The sinless dying for the sinful. But the former identification with is something we see in His high priestly prayer. "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows he carried" (Is 53:4). Once Christ identified with us, He could do things on our behalf as if one of us. He entered humankind's house of sin and confessed the sin of our wicked lives. He did something that we could never do and that was to die for other people's sins as a atoning sacrifice. But what we can do is to offer up those confessional and repentant prayers on the behalf of another. In this way, we as an element within that house, begins to seek God's face. The promise is repeated again and again in the scriptures, that if a people pray, and humble themselves, God will turn His face and shine His blessings upon those people.You might wonder how does this differ from the Roman Catholic's teaching of confession. There are at least three problems with the Roman Catholics confession regarding our discussion.
Firstly, only the professionals, the clergy, are able to intercede for the sins of the people. Scripture says all of God's people are priests. Rev. 1 says we are a kingdom of priests.
Secondly, we find that the Roman Catholic priests pray only for the sins of the church people, wherein, I am saying we are to pray for those who are lost, who do not have access to God. Romans 5:1 says clearly that every Christian has access to God through Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, we are not those who gain forgiveness for individual sins. Instead we stand before God and ask that He treat us not as sinners and pour His abundant grace upon our hearts as a group. We do not ask forgiveness for this person or that sin of his, but our general sin.If we only pray for blessings, it doesn't turn away God's wrath. God might hear your prayers, but this does not stand for a big change in God's heart toward those people. But if you can identify yourself as one of that group by because of living, working or going through a certain place, then you can begin to pray a confessional prayer for others. Remember, we cannot forgive others. We can only be humbled because we as a group have greatly sinned against God. When we begin to pray, God begins to change His disposition toward this people and then the blessings begin to fall. Notice how Nehemiah said in Neh 1:9 that "if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, ..." God will bless them.Nehemiah proves to be a great example of how God through one person humbly praying can change God's disposition to a group of people and the rays of His grace begin to pierce through the clouds. God did not require a prominent man to pray for his people, but he did use one. We will find it wasn't because he was rich but because God saw his broken heart for the sins of his people. Let's look at 4 things Nehemiah did that brought a refreshing blessing upon the land and so be challenged how God can use our prayers to begin to bring God's grace on people we are part of.
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The very first thing that happens is that Nehemiah hears about the present situation of his people. It's amazing the things we know but we don't know. I can't imagine that Nehemiah never knew about the circumstances of his people before this, but somehow hearing an updated version stimulated his thinking and touched his heart. This is so typical. We might know of some desperate situation in the place you grew up or the place you now live. But you get used to it. You accept it. And besides this, when you look at the neighborhood, read the newspaper, or hear the news, you think of it as someone out there. You think of moving away. You argue with yourself that you only live there, or go to school there or work there. The real problem is that you do not think of yourself as part of that group.If you think about your situation in this way, then you would not really yet understand the place you live in. You would not really acknowledge that community's real predicament. You would not feel God's wrath upon that place. You would not care about the people there. They are not people as far as you are concerned. You just want to get your degree and get out. But something woke Nehemiah up. Somehow this personal report opened his eyes to the great distress in the heart of the people there. Before he knew about it, but now he felt it. The situation went from being their problem to "our" problem. He could feel their pain as if it was his. He could see the tears come down the old woman's face as if it was his mother's own tears. He was living in the palace, but his heart was there in Jerusalem with its broken gates and heavily burdened people.It is time we opened our eyes to the real reports of the pains of the society where we begin to stop seeing crime, immorality, gambling, and separation as normal and neutral. We need to see the monstrous dark chains the evil one has on the lost. Instead of condemning them, let us care for them. For by themselves, they cannot escape their troubles.Application Have we begun to feel the pains of those around us? Or have we isolated ourselves from the distressed community? Christian compassion is not donating a bit of money to salve your conscience but to begin to feel their pains and sufferings.
Something was different this time. When he heard this news of Jerusalem, it was as if it was his only family. It was as if he just heard the announcement from the doctor that a loved one just died. He was gripped so much that it interrupted his regular routine. In chapter 2 we learn that when he regularly came and served the king, he always wore a happy face. This was part of his job. He risked his life, if he appeared sad before the king. But Nehemiah was so weighed down by this burden for his people, that even when his life depended upon it, he could no longer force a smile. Notice the progression in this verse. His response was genuine as it was deep and deep as it was genuine. This is not a simple raise your hand, write a check, visit the soup kitchens, etc. ...
When things get so bad, you get a little confused, flushed and dizzy. One must sit down. The report is simply overwhelming.
This helps interpret the real meaning of sitting down. He wasn't just settling down snuggled in a cozy watching the midnight movie. He was moved by the story to such a degree it gripped his emotions. Some people will reject emotions as unreliable. True, they are not to be followed, but emotions and feelings are part of our being. If there is something grievous, then our hearts should feel that pain.
This is exactly what we see the servant doing in Isaiah 53. He was dying with the people. He took their sins upon Him, and felt their pain. Nehemiah grieved as if it was his own. He was a wreck. He no doubt cried until there was no more tears. He mourned till he slept in his sorrow.
Up to now we were looking at a response to this news. It gripped his heart and life. But now, something else seems to come about. It is true that fasting is sometimes a response to a situation. I admit it could be here. He didn't feel like eating. The way it is phrased seems to indicate that this is more a deliberate response rather than an involuntary one. He chose to fast. Just like he chose to pray. We can see that he began to see this as a way of dealing with the problem over a period of time, and not just being smashed down by its weight.Nehemiah entered their lives. He accepted that he was at fault with his people. He saw that his predicament and their predicament was the same! Do you remember E.T. and the boy lying next to him; ones pain was another; one's thoughts was the other. When Nehemiah was completely broken and effectively linked to them, he at that point could begin to intercede on their behalf.
Application When was the last time you responded to a miscarriage, a divorce, a murder, a rape, a fellow student's alcoholism by seeing him as one of you? He is a fellow colleague, a fellow student, a fellow Oaklander. He is your neighbor. He is Chinese. How many of you are weeping because of the forced abortion murders in China? How many grieve because of this situation? How many grieve because of oppression? It is probably true that our government is killing people by its mal-motivated and malfunctioning welfare system, but are we weeping with our inner city people who are being crushed under the system? Have we entered in? Have we entered the compassion of Christ?You say, but your life will be like a ping pong ball. You will have no stability in your life. Your crying will go on forever. I don't know enough to truly answer you on this. Maybe it is true, maybe not. My guess from Nehemiah's life is that grieving is a process. It takes time to identify with and be one with those you mourn. This is not a slot machine. And because of our hardness, it might take 1 month or 20 years, but we need to feel the wrath of God upon those around us. But this I know. We have far too little compassion on the lost. We are saved and have let them fall behind us as we move ahead and out. But perhaps, if we responded as Nehemiah, we would begin to take hope in the one who can give hope, the Living God.One might ask, can we have compassion on people that we don't live with? Well, Nehemiah did. It is possible, but the truth still remains that we will about those around us a lot more if our family and futures are the same as our neighbor.
The grieving and identifying process leads into group confession. As I said in my introduction, confession on behalf of the people is the means God's blessings begin to fall on the people. Without this general entreaty for the people, our prayers will be negligent. God's wrath is upon the sins of the people. We don't want individual blessings; we want to see a general change on the whole situation. We don't want just one law on the books to keep crime out of our neighborhoods, we want to see the heart of crime disappear by a desire to serve one another. Nehemiah looked at the scripture and deliberately confessed the sin he saw around them. The confession is one of generality as well as specific acts. But Nehemiah confessed in faith. He believed God heard his confession in place of the Israelites. We see the principle that humble confession leads to a beneficent change in the way God deals His people. From I Tim 2 we see this principle can be equally applied to the Gentiles, to us as well.Remember, it is not simply confession. It is identification confession. In our intercessory prayer, for example, we could pray for the Iraqis because we are like them a member of the fallen human race. We as a people have gone astray. We confess the sins of our rebellious world because we are one of its fallen inhabitants.The clear qualification to do this is a true hate for sin and a belief that God can forgive sin. We must identify as much as we can with those we confess for.I believe this is the attitude Christ had in Himself when he became a man. He left His royal glory and took upon a man's robe (Ph 2:6-8). This is I believe a part of what Paul alludes to in Colossians 1:24. Somehow Christ's afflictions, His sorrow and pain were not full, His body the church would make up the rest. The point is not that God is a masochist who enjoys inflicting pain. But by identifying with others, we are able to help and therefore reap in heavenly blessings.
The last stage is asking for the blessings of heaven to fall upon that community, race or nation. The promise is that humility and confession lead to a change in the way God treats a people (II Chr 7:13-15). We must believe God hears our prayers and desires a change. You might think of this promise only for God's people, but you need to realize God's wrath piles up on groups and nations, even communities. Think of Nineveh. We must not think Nehemiah's prayer would only change God's disposition to the nation of Israel. What does God say in Jonah? He speaks clearly that God's compassion is great for the wicked city of Nineveh. It would be easy to agree with Jonah and not preach God's judgement. But Jonah knew that it is possible that God in His compassion would bring use this word and bring repentance upon the city.
It is time we stopped wishing the end of this world and its judgment. It will come. While there is time, we must use every means to bring upon God's blessing upon our communities. And if it means we must stop isolating ourselves from them, priding ourselves that we live a life different from them, then let's humble ourselves and see that God's grace is great. If it is great enough for us, then it is for them too. God is longing to show His compassion upon those around us. God has appointed us to be the kingdom of priests to intercede for them. Will we harden our hearts and say it is their problem, or will we, humbled because of God's grace expressed to us, begin to see the burden of God's judgment on those around us and together with them confess our sins and seek God's blessing on our lives?
"And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons?" (Jonah 4:11).
Jonah 4:11. And should I not have compassion on Pittsburgh, the great city, in which there are more than 100,000? And should I not have compassion on Shanghai, the great city, in which there are more than 10,000,000? God's compassion is sufficient. He is waiting for us to fill the gap, to become the bridge of His blessing to the nations.
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