The Nehemiah Syndrome
Text: Nehemiah 1
Proposition: When God has the people He wants in the place He wants doing the task He wants He builds His kingdom. That combination or syndrome is here.
Introduction: Syndrome, the word is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘concurrence”. In the medical world we recognize the word as a reference to a collection of symptoms or contributing diseases. Down Syndrome, AIDS, Asperger Syndrome would be terms you have come across. Then there are other syndromes that are not physical in nature but are still the concurrence of a number of factors. In 1973 a bank robbery in Sweden failed and the robbers took their captives hostage for 5 days. Over that time the captives developed a sympathy for the robbers and the term Stockholm Syndrome came to be. In 1996 a militant movement took a large number of hostages at the Japanese embassy in Peru. This time it was the militants who began to identify with the Japanese captives. In a matter of hours they let go most of their hostages and the term Lima Syndrome was used. This morning I’d like to begin to talk with you about something that could be called The Nehemiah Syndrome was the concurrence of a number of factors that brought about not only the completion of a task that no one thought possible but set in motion a faith and hope that glorifies God to this day.
I. God Uses the Concurrence Of Time, Event and Need… Perfectly.
The time was approximately 400 years before the birth of Christ. Israel had been in a place of captivity in Babylon for close to 70 years when the pagan king Cyrus issued an edict that the people could return to Israel if they wished. Of the 2 million taken into captivity, 50,000 leave with the governor Zerubbabel. Some 57 years later a second wave of about 2000 people leave Babylon with the priest Ezra. A rough version of the Temple had by now been rebuilt in Jerusalem but the walls and gates of the city were still in ruins. The book of Nehemiah takes place about 15 years after the book of Ezra. For almost 75 years the people had been in Israel but had been unable to build the fortification of the walls and gates around the city. One more detail needs to be added as we see the concurrence of time and event. In between the time of Zerubbabel and Ezra, around 483 BC, when there were no walls around Jerusalem, comes the story of Esther. An Israelite girl becomes a Persian queen in Babylon and is used of God to block an edict to destroy all the Jews. Thirty years after this intervention by Queen Esther comes Nehemiah. Have a look at Nehemiah 1:1-11.
II. The Nehemiah Syndrome Begins With a Capture of Your Heart By God. The ancient historian Josephus records this happening as Nehemiah was out walking around the walls of Shushan when he over hears a conversation in Hebrew, people talking about Jerusalem. Keep in mind that the people in Israel went there 75 years earlier. They are people he’s never met in a place he’s never been trying to do what he’s never done. What he hears from them is grim. They describe the people in Israel as survivors, the Hebrew word literally means, ‘remnant’. They are described as people in great distress and reproach, vulnerable with nothing but broken down walls and burned gates as their legacy. What I’d like you to see is Nehemiah’s reaction to this. Don’t forget he lives in Shushan the capital city of the Babylonian King, he is an important man, he’s got a really good life by most peoples’ standards yet he is devastated by what he hears. Look at verse 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.” When it’s your job to be the king’s cup bearer you are the one who is meant to be a picture of health if the king is going to take food and drink from your hand. In other words, this was not just a personal response of Nehemiah it was one that could cost him his job or even his life. He was after all a Jew serving a Babylonian king. There is a risk and there is a cost for each whose heart us captured by God.
What about Jesus, did God the Father ever capture His heart in this same way? It’s true the Father sent the Son but the Son willingly laid down His life, a good life, a great life, a place before the King of Heaven. Jesus heart was captured with a passion for you. His prayer, His fasting, His suffering and His cross, His redemption was for a people living as a remnant in a world of reproach.
Has God ever captured your heart, was it over people, places and things you’ve never seen before and yet there it was, this deep ache in your heart for them? It starts as a deep ache in your heart for God, for His acceptance and forgiveness and love. You become a Christian by faith in Jesus as the one Who alone can make you eternally righteous before God the Father. Then He begins to capture your heart in small steps, an awareness of certain people, a need that resonates with your soul, resources He has put in your hands and even a willingness to do or go in ways you never have even considered before. The Nehemiah Syndrome begins with a capture of your heart by God.
III. The Nehemiah Syndrome… An Outward Response To Inward Truth.
In the next 7 verses we hear what Nehemiah prayed and it is the direct result of this prayer that leads him to take the next steps.
1. He proclaims what he knows to be true about God. Look at verse 5 “LORD God of heaven…” LORD is Jehovah, the self-existent, eternally existent God. “O great and awesome God…”. Great means incomparable, there is no other God, none like Him. Awesome is literally ‘yare’ or terrible, meaning worthy of great respect and reverence and even a holy fear. God is God and we are not like Him in terms of His perfection, ways, purposes and plans. Then he proclaims this, “You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments…”. The everlasting, holy, incomparable and awesome God has created covenant, an agreement whereby He does His part and we are to do our part. It is a covenant characterized by His mercy and our love. These are what Nehemiah knows to be true about God, it’s what we know to be true.
2. He humbles himself by agreeing with God. Look at verse 6, “…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.” Nehemiah confesses the sin of the people of Israel and then identifies himself with them. His sin of unbelief is connected to their sin. It is confession that is intercessory.
3. He remembers God’s Word, God’s promises and petitions God in them. Look at verses 8,9, “Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations 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.” Nehemiah and the people of Israel are in captivity in Babylon because they were unfaithful, they served idols, they served themselves above God. Even now this very passage indicts Nehemiah since if he is among those who have returned to God in faith then God has been and presently is calling Nehemiah ‘to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’… Jerusalem.
4. He asks for courage to do what he knows is right. Nehemiah knows he will go before the king to get permission to go to Jerusalem. He knows the great redemption of God in Israel, he knows God’s power and he declares his dependency on God to prosper in this call. All this is true yet he still needs to actually go and stand before the Persian king Artaxerxes and ask to be set free.
When God has the people He wants in the place He wants doing the task He wants He builds His kingdom. That combination, the Nehemiah Syndrome is here.