Nehemiah: A man with a burdened heart

Rev. Robby J Mathew

17 January, 2023

Transcript of this message is also available in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam

My Testimony

I am an ex-Mar Thoma priest. It is by God’s divine intervention that I am in this ministry today. Between the years 2012 to 2014, I was appointed in Dubai to work as a “Youth Chaplain” in Sharjah, Dubai. One day I was unable to sleep. I found it difficult to sleep for even 5 minutes at a stretch! My inability to sleep extended for the whole month of November. I was afraid that I would be tagged “incapacitated” and wouldn’t be able to continue my ministry. None of the medications I took could help me sleep. It is during this time that I had to conduct “Vacation Bible School (VBS)”. But God’s grace was abundant in my weakness; unlike any other year around 40 children committed their lives to full-time ministry on the last day of VBS. It was at this point that another church member called, requesting me to pray for him. He suffered from the same problem I was struggling with– “Sleeplessness”. When I prayed for him, he was healed and I was delivered from my affliction also. I could finally sleep well that night. Two years later, after 21 days of fasting and prayer along with my wife, God confirmed our decision to leave Marthoma church, with a vision saying “Arise from the dead and go to heaven”. Praise the Lord!

The portion that I am encouraged by the Holy Spirit to share is based on the life of Nehemiah – a man with a burdened heart.

 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 1:8,9 (NKJV)

God uses the right person at the right time 

 He chose Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem at the right time. Nehemiah was not a priest nor a prophet, but he was placed in a highly influential secular position as cup-bearer of the Persian king Artaxerxes. God was using him for a greater purpose. God uses the right person at the right time. As a cup-bearer, he had a lot of privileges in the palace. He was a trustworthy person and the first to taste the wine, before giving it to the king. He was second in rank to the king. In addition, he was also one of the king’s advisers. God uses such a high-ranking official to comfort His people. He was true to his name Nehemiah, which means “God Comforts”.  You might be in a good secular job, but God can use you to comfort people who are distressed and in emotional turmoil. 

God is a promise fulfilling God 

At that time, God’s people were in exile in Babylon. King Cyrus was elected by God to deliver His people out of captivity. Moving back to Jerusalem was not an easy task. Jerusalem was in ruins. God had promised that after 70 years of captivity, they would return to Jerusalem. He is a promise-fulfilling God. God fulfilled His promise, after 70 years of captivity through a gentile king. They went into exile due to a gentile king called Nebuchadnezzar and they were brought back from exile through another gentile king named Cyrus. 

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.

Nehemiah 1:3 (NKJV)

The remnants

Out of 2 or 3 million people who were taken into captivity to Babylon, only about 50 thousand returned to Jerusalem. That is about 2% of the people. The rest were still in Babylon. and were still living in comfort and didn’t want to return to Jerusalem. So only a small remnant of captives returned to Jerusalem. Our God is a God who is concerned about the remnant. He raised the right leader at the right time to help the remnants. These remnants were suffering and having a difficult life in Jerusalem, due to the broken walls and burnt city gates, hence no protection from enemy attacks. They were living in great trouble and shame. The people in exile had two options: either return to Jerusalem or continue in exile. Where are we now? Do we want to stay in the attractive city in exile or the desolate city — Jerusalem? What God wants us to do is to return to Jerusalem, even if it means leaving our comforts and luxury and going into a life of struggle. 

We see in the book of Ruth; Elimelech and his family go from Bethlehem to Moab due to famine. Bethlehem means “house of bread”. They go from the ”city of bread” in search of bread to a Moab– a cursed place. They realise it only after a personal loss and decide to come back to Bethlehem.

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.

Nehemiah 1: 4 (NKJV)

Compassionate heart

When Nehemiah who was living a good life in the palace heard about the desolate conditions his people were living in, it made him cry. He was concerned and burdened about his nation. God uses a person who is burdened in his/her heart to help His people. Nehemiah had a compassionate heart. Compassion is not sympathy. Jesus was compassionate, when he saw the people suffering, hungry, and lost. Nehemiah was a man of compassion. In Hebrew, there is a word called “rekhem” meaning “womb of a woman”. A mother does not complain about the child in her womb. She accommodates the child. Compassion is not partial to any caste or religion, it accommodates everyone. Let’s pray “God, please give me a compassionate heart”. 

Prayer changes everything

Nehemiah does not hasten to consult the king, but he consults the “King of kings”. He was very aware of the history of Ezekiel when he tried to rebuild the walls, that it was intentionally foiled by the enemies.  He was very much aware that rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem is not possible through the influence of the king, but only through the Almighty God. If God opens the door, no one can close it.

We read in Nehemiah 1:1 & 2:1 that from the month of Chislev to the month of Nisan, that is 4 months, Nehemiah prayed and consulted God, waiting for permission to go to Israel to build the walls of Jerusalem. For those who wait in the presence of the Lord, He will instil the power to rebuild the broken walls.  

According to T L Osborn, the American televangelist, God asked him to pray 23 hours a day for a year. And after one year, evangelist Billy Graham invited him to a crusade meeting saying, “Here is a man who has spent 1 year in the presence of God”. When he was walking through the crowd, miracles happened and people were healed. 

Covenant Keeping God

And I 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 1: 5

Nehemiah’s understanding of God was very clear. Our God is awesome and great. Our God is a covenant-keeping God to those who keep His commandments. 

Thus says the LORD to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held— To subdue nations before him and loose the armour of kings, To open before him the double doors, So that the gates will not be shut: ‘I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.

Isaiah 45: 1,2 (NKJV)

Though the Babylonian empire was very strong, God used this gentile king Cyrus to break into this empire and bring His people out of captivity because he is a covenant-keeping God.

Message transcribed by Jebah Daniel