We Can Make a Difference!
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - August 3, 2014
*As we look into God's Word today, remember that the Jews had been conquered and carried away to Babylon. That terrible event happened because the Jews had rebelled against God for hundreds of years. They began to worship idols and participate in all of the evils that went along with those satanic religions.
*This Jewish Captivity happened about 600 years before Jesus was born. After 50 years, their new Persian rulers started to allow the Jews to return home to Jerusalem. And by the end of 70 years, they had rebuilt the Temple.
*Then 70 more years went by, but the walls around Jerusalem still lay in ruins. That basically left the city defenseless, and that's when the Lord moved a man to rebuild those desperately needed walls. His name was Nehemiah. He was a godly man, both full of faith and faithful to the Lord.
*Nehemiah was also the Cup Bearer for King Artaxerxes. In ancient courts, the Cup Bearer was a person of rank and importance. He possessed great influence, due to the nature of his duties and his frequent access to the king. (1)
*With this background in mind, let's read today's Scripture, thinking about how God wants to use our lives.
*Are you living your life with purpose? -- It really matters. Welch poet David Whyte put it something like this: "When people struggle through the weeds, pull back the moss, and read the inscription on my tombstone, I don't want it to say: 'He made his car payments.'" (2)
*We were made for so much more than that! Our lives can have real purpose and meaning. Our lives can matter. God used Nehemiah, and God can use you to make a tremendous difference in our world.
1. First: God wants to use our concern.
*And we can see Nehemiah's concern in vs. 1-4:
1. The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel,
2. that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
3. And they said to me, "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.''
4. So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
 One of the first things to notice here is that Nehemiah really cared about the problems going on in his world.
*And that's something to think about, because if Nehemiah only looked at his own life, if he only looked at how things were going around him, everything seemed okay. He had a good job. He served in the palace of the king! That was a prominent and very important job. And as long as he didn't fall out of favor with the king, Nehemiah had it made.
*But Nehemiah cared deeply for people who were living hundreds of miles away. He cared for people that he had never met, and that's the way God wants us to be. He wants us to care about other people.
*Jesus Christ wants us to be able to look beyond our own backyard and see the needs. When we look around here, things look pretty good. The walls aren't falling down. But there are people in our church family who feel like the walls of their lives have fallen down.
*And just beyond the walls of our church, it's much worse. There are all kinds of people with all kinds of needs, and the greatest need is Jesus Christ! They may be happy and healthy today, but they will never make it to Heaven without Jesus. And they will never really have a life worth living without Jesus, so God wants us care.
 The Lord wants us to see the problems. -- But He also wants us to see the possibilities.
*Nehemiah might have been devastated by the bad news he heard from Jerusalem. But he had the light of hope in his heart, because he knew the Lord God. And Christians: We know the Lord God in a personal way, so we have great hope for the future. And that's why we can care without despair. We can care with great confidence, because our God is a great God! All good things are possible for Him.
*Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us." Also listen to some of the amazing words Jesus spoke a few hours before He died on the cross for our sins. In John 14:11-13, Jesus said:
11. "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
12. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.
13. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
*With God, all things are possible! So when we see both the problems and the possibilities, then God can use our concern. And God wants to use our concern to make a difference in the world.
2. The Lord also wants to use our heartfelt cries of prayer.
*When Nehemiah heard the bad news. -- He did exactly what the Lord wants us to do. Nehemiah cried out to God in heartfelt prayer, and we see his wonderful prayer in vs. 4-11. But how did Nehemiah pray?
 First, he prayed with passion.
*As Nehemiah said in vs. 4: "So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven."
*James 5:16 says: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." We know that the righteous man in that verse isn't a perfect man. Otherwise James wouldn't have started that verse by asking us to confess our faults to one another.
*And God surely wants us to live holy lives, but Christians, our true righteousness is in the Lord Jesus Christ. He took our sins on Him when He died on the cross for us. Now through faith in our Risen Savior, we are righteous in Him.
*And "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." In other words: "The energized prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results." Nehemiah prayed with passion.
 He also prayed with wisdom.
*Listen for the wisdom of his prayer in vs. 5. There Nehemiah said, "I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments." Nehemiah had the wisdom to recognize both the might and the mercy of the Lord God.
*King David had this same kind of wisdom. That's why David often wrote of God's mercy and might. Listen King David's words from Psalm 103:
8. The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
9. He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
11. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13. As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
15. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more.
17. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him. . .
*Both David and Nehemiah were wise enough to know the mercy and might of our God. So they prayed with wisdom.
 Nehemiah also prayed with sorrow for sin.
*In vs. 6&7, we can see his deep sorrow for sin. There Nehemiah prayed these words to the Lord:
6. "Please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father's house and I have sinned.
7. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.
*Nehemiah didn't just understand God's goodness. He also understood our sinfulness, and he was willing to confess his sins. Nehemiah prayed with great sorrow for sin.
 He also prayed with great faith.
*Nehemiah expected the Lord to do something, because he trusted in the Word of God, and he trusted in the power of God. Listen to Nehemiah's faith-filled words in vs. 8-11. There he said this to God:
8. "Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations,
9. but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.'
10. Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.
11. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.'' For I was the king's cupbearer.
*Years ago, "Life" magazine published a full-page picture of the devastation from a tornado in the mid-west. In the center of that picture was a telephone pole that had a thin piece of straw driven all the way through it. (3)
*I looked for the actual picture and couldn't find it. But I did find another picture of a piece of straw driven through a telephone pole, a huge shard of wood driven through a concrete curb, a paper check partly embedded in a telephone pole, one of those old, large 33 1/3 records driven 4 inches into a telephone pole, and a quart-sized glass bottle driven neck first through a street sign without breaking. It was incredible!
*How could a flimsy thing like a piece of straw be driven through a telephone pole? -- Only by the awesome power of the tornado. And Christians, we may be weak, but God is strong!
*And when we cry out to God, we take things out of our puny hands, and put them in the Hands of Almighty God: Hands that love us, hands that were nailed to the cross for us, hands that we can trust in every situation. And God wants to use our heartfelt cries of prayer to make a big difference in our world.
3. The Lord also wants to use our circumstances.
*The Lord surely used Nehemiah's circumstances, and that includes the dangerous situation we see in chapter 2. Please look at vs. 1&2 in Nehemiah 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.'' Then I became dreadfully afraid,
*Why was Nehemiah so terrified? Russell Brownworth explained that: "It was Nehemiah's boss, King Artaxerxes, who had previously stopped the work to rebuild Jerusalem. On top of that, Artaxerxes was not such a nice guy. He had killed his own brother to get the throne. So, Nehemiah was in the throne room about to go against a royal edict. That alone would have been reason enough for the king to chop off Nehemiah's head." (4)
*No wonder he was afraid, but God was at work in Nehemiah's life. And the Lord had put him at the right place at just the right time to make a difference. In fact, God was going to use the king to help provide everything Nehemiah needed.
*God was surely at work in Nehemiah's life, and He is working in your circumstances too. God wants to use our circumstances to make a difference in our world.
4. But the Lord also wants to use our commitment.
*Please take another look at Nehemiah's commitment in vs. 3-6:
3. (There he) 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?'' So I prayed to the God of heaven.
5. And I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, and 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. So 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.
*In these vs. we see that Nehemiah was committed to do something. He was willing to go. He was willing to leave the comfort of the palace, and go to a place he had never been before. He was willing to go through hardship, trials and troubles for the sake of the Lord.
*What a challenge to us! If we really care, we will commit to do something for the Lord. It's not enough to have a desire. We have to do something for Jesus. And all of us can't do the same thing. But all of us can do something for the Lord.
*Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn was one of greatest authors of the 20th century. In 1970, he was awarded Nobel Prize for literature. After serving in the Soviet Army during World War II, Solzhenitsyn spent 8 years in a Siberian prison. He was arrested for writing critical remarks about their Communist dictator Joseph Stalin.
*Even though the criticisms were in a letter to a friend, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to hard labor in one of the camps where millions died from cold, disease, malnutrition and executions. During that time his parents died and his wife divorced him.
*One time Alexander got so discouraged that he thought about suicide. He was outdoors, on a backbreaking work detail. And he had reached a point where he no longer cared whether he lived or died. Alexander felt no purpose in fighting on. His life would make no difference. So he laid down his shovel, and walked slowly over to a crude worksite bench. He knew that at any moment a guard would order him up, and when he failed to respond, the guard would beat him to death, probably with his own shovel. Solzhenitsyn had seen it happen many times before.
*As he sat waiting, he felt a presence. Alexander lifted his eyes, and saw an old man sitting next to him. The old man took a stick, and drew a cross in the sand at Solzhenitzyn's feet. As Alexander stared at that rough outline, his whole perspective shifted. In that moment, he realized that the hope of all mankind was in the power of the cross, and that through its power, anything was possible. Alexander got up, and went back to work, not knowing that his writings on truth and freedom would one day touch millions. (5)
*But I think about that old man who followed the leadership of God, and pointed Alexander back to the cross of Jesus Christ. That old man had no idea of the future impact, but he took a great risk for the Lord. He was committed to the cross of Christ. And his very bold action may have seemed small, but it saved a man's life! And later it helped influence countless other people.
*You see, all good things are possible with God! God used that old man. God used Nehemiah. And God can use you to make a tremendous difference in our world. We can make a difference for the Lord Jesus Christ!
*The first step is to receive the salvation God wants to give you through our crucified and risen Savior. Ask the Lord to save you, as we go to God in prayer.
(1) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "Building a Life of Purpose" by Darryl Dash - Nehemiah 1:1-10
(3) Stephen F. Olford, "Going Places With God" - Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983 - Source: Sermons.com sermon "Dare to Dream" - Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2 1 21
(4) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "Servant and Prayer Warrior" by Russell Brownworth - Nehemiah 1:1-11
(5) Charles Colson, "Loving God" - Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1983 - Source: Sermons.com sermon "The Majesty and the Misery" - Dynamic Preaching series "The Vision-Drive Life, No. 4" - Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Luke 4:21-32