Pastor Miles DeBenedictis
When Kingdoms Collide
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“Then Jesus said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’
And they listened to him until this word,” Gentiles, “and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow, he is not fit to live!’ And then, as they cried out, they tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air, and the commander of the Romans ordered that Paul be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?’”
Lord, we pray that You would give us insight. Help us to make application here in this passage before us this morning. We thank You for the good things that You are doing in and through our lives here at Cross Connection. We pray, God, that You would prepare us for even greater things. Your Word says that You’ve prepared good works that we should walk in those things. So, Lord, as we’re gathered here today to go through Your Word, would You equip us more fully, by Your Word and by the work of Your Spirit, to do those things. We know that Your Word is living, that it is powerful, that it is sharper than any two-edged sword, and, Lord, through Your Word we are instructed in righteousness, so that we would be equipped for the good things that You’ve prepared. So, Lord, ready us, we pray. We ask this in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
We believe that it was during the winter between 57 and 58 AD that Paul was there in the city of Corinth, spending the winter in that region of Greece. And while he was there, he was writing a letter, a letter that would become, although he had no idea at the time that it would become, it would become one of the treasures of the New Testament, of the new covenant – the letter to the church at Rome, the letter that we call Romans. We’ve studied through it. In fact, we spent most of last year here at Cross Connection studying through it. And I’m certain that when Paul was speaking those words to a young scribe by the name of Tertius, who was writing them down on a parchment, I’m quite certain that Paul had no idea that when he was speaking those words, that they would become what they are. He had no inkling of an idea, when they were written, that 2,000 years later there would still be people who would be studying those things, and that those words would be translated into languages that he had no idea that even existed, as he was there in the city of Corinth. And yet now, 2,000 years later, still that work is considered by some to be the most important thing that Paul ever accomplished in his life. It’s considered by some to be the most important work of the New Testament. No doubt, it is one of the most important doctrinal books of the Bible.
And nestled right in the middle of the Book of Romans, almost the exact middle, in fact, is maybe the most memorable verse that even people who have never read the Book of Romans, and don’t really study the Bible, make a habit of that, they may have heard the verse: “And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, and to those that are the called according to His purpose.” How many of you know Romans 8:28? Most of you. You may know no other verse in the Book of Romans, but Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good.”
Well, Paul did not know, when those words came out of his mouth, and when Tertius wrote those things down on a piece of paper, was that the words that he was saying, the reality of that truth would be tested just a few months after he spoke it. He had no idea that he would be facing the things that he is facing here in this passage.
Now, over the last three weeks, we have been studying an event that really only took place in a matter of moments, a few days, seven days really, after Paul had come into the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, to bring an offering to Christians that were there, to bring financial support to them. Just about a week after he had come into the city now he has this event that takes place, and we’ve spent three weeks going through it. And it’s easy for us to forget, when we’re looking at something like this over the course of three weeks, that it happened in a very short period of time. A short period of time as Paul entered the temple in Jerusalem for his final visit to the temple. Not only was it his final visit to the temple, but it was the last time that Paul would experience freedom. Although there are some Bible teachers that believe that Paul had a short period of freedom, about eight years after this event. We do know that most of the rest of Paul’s life, the final ten years of his life, that begin at this point, would be spent as a prisoner of Rome. And so now he is coming into this event, the last part of his life spent in chains. And although he’ll spend the next couple of years there in that region of Judea, then he’ll be extradited to Rome, and spend the last remaining eight years of his life as a prisoner of Rome. “And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, and are the called according to His purpose.”
If you look at point Number 1 on your sermon guide this morning, it comes right out of that verse:
All Things Work Together For Good
All things work together for good. But when we hear those words, and many times those words are shared with us when we’re going through a “thing” that does not appear to be very good. Have any of you had someone share those verses, those words with you when you’re going through a “thing” that’s not very good? And you start to question. In fact, you know what they’re going to say, “And we know…”
And you go, “Yes, I know.”
But the question goes through your mind: Do they? Is it really true that all things work together for good? Well, the Scriptures do say, “For those that love God, and are the called according to His purpose,” yes. Although sometimes, in the moment, it is nearly impossible for us to see how good could come from the apparently not so good thing that is happening to us. We’ve all experienced that to some extent.
Do you think for a moment that those who were around Paul when this happened – Timothy was probably there, because of his traveling companions, Timothy was the only one who had Jewish heritage. So, it’s likely that Timothy was by his side in the temple. By the time Paul was taken out of the temple, and was being beaten up by a crowd of angry Jewish men, no doubt Luke probably saw it. Maybe some of Paul’s other traveling companions – Sopater and Tychicus and Trophimus – they saw these things happening. I think about James, one of the key leaders of the church there in Jerusalem, the one who told Paul, “We think you should go into the temple and do this thing, partake of this vow.” I think, “I wonder if he saw these happenings?” Some of the other elders of the church at Jerusalem, and they were wondering at that moment, “Oh no, we sent Paul into the lion’s den.”
Do you think, when they saw these things, they were thinking, “Well, this is good, this is exactly the outcome we were anticipating?” No, I don’t think so. But we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, and are the called according to His purpose. But we recognize that there are times in our lives where those words don’t seem to work. At least in the moment. Because we just can’t imagine that good could come from what is happening.
The words of every single Christian in the churches that Paul had visited on his way back to Jerusalem, when he sent the letter to the church of Rome, and he left Corinth, and he went to Philippi, and then to Troas, and as he continued his course through Cos and Rhodes and Chios and Samos, and all those different cities. And we know from Acts Chapter 20 that every single city that he went to, they shared with him, “Chains and tribulations await you at Jerusalem.” They told him, “Don’t go to Jerusalem.” When he came to Caesarea, there was that theatrical prophet, Agabus, who came in and took Paul’s belt, and he bound himself, hand and foot, and he said to Paul, “Thus will happen to the guy who owns this belt, who, when he goes to Jerusalem.” And now, those words are being confirmed, they are coming to pass. Paul is in the midst of that. And so you wonder is it really true that all things work together for good?
Now Paul, the captive, standing before an angry mob of his own countrymen down below him, behind him is the Roman barracks, there in Jerusalem. Behind him is his future. He will be there, in a place like that, for the rest of his life – in prison, in the barracks, facing trials, facing execution. And now before him is a group of angry countrymen. And he’s given an opportunity to address them, to share with them, by the Roman commander. He gave grace, if you will, an opportunity to share with his countrymen that are there. And there they stand, and they’re listening to the things that he has to say. And as he shares with them, he comes to the point of his story, because he’s sharing his testimony about his conversion. He comes to the point of his story where he was in that very same temple about 20 years prior to this event that’s happening here in Acts Chapter 22. And he says that “I was in the temple, and I had a vision, I saw the risen Lord, and the risen Lord told me to get out of this place,” Verse 21, Acts 22: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here, and I will send you to the Gentiles.’”
It’s still interesting to me that Paul, even though he’s sharing with this group of Jewish men about the risen Lord Jesus, that he’s sharing about Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified and then raised from the dead; they don’t get bothered by that. They’re only bothered when they hear him say that that Lord sent me to go to the Gentiles. It highlights for us the tension, the animosity that there was between Jews of Judea and the Romans of the rest of the Roman Empire of the world. There was such tension between them that they could not fathom that this former Pharisee would go and reach out to Romans, to Gentiles.
“And they listened to him,” Verse 22, “until he came to that word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, he is not fit to live!’” In their eyes, because he did this, he should be put to death.
And, not only did they cry out, but, Verse 23, “As they cried out, they tore their clothes, and they threw dust in the air.” Now, this is quite a reactive response. To you or I, sitting 2,000 years removed from something like this, we go, “That’s just strange.” But that was the symbol of severe disgust among the people of that day – to tear their clothes, and to throw dust in the air. There were some, on the night that Jesus was betrayed and tried, who, when He declared Himself to be the Son of God, did the very same thing in disgust – they tore their clothes, and they said, “This Man should die!”
And now Paul says, “God sent me to go reach out to Gentiles.” And the people hearing him tear their clothes, and they say, “This man’s not fit to live,” as they throw dust up into the air.
But this reminds us, as God shared His heart with Paul there, “I want you to go to the Gentiles,” it reminds us, point Number 2:
That God’s Heart Is For Those Outside Of Our Little Circle
God’s heart is for those outside of our little circle. You see, the easiest thing for us to do is to stay huddled among our own friends, among our own family, among those in our closed little loop. The easiest thing for us to do is to separate from others who don’t look like us, talk like us, smell like us. If you’ve traveled to some other countries, you know what I mean by that. Americans place a very high priority on smelling clean. Other people in other parts of the world don’t necessarily do that. But it’s the easiest thing in the world for us to just gather with people who we can associate with, we can identify with, people who seem to be like us. And so we have to be careful never to allow ourselves to fall into an “us and them” sort of mindset. Which is something that, quite honestly, the church has been doing for a while in our nation. We have a tendency to look at people who are not a part of the church, people who don’t go to church on Sunday, and let’s recognize that there are a lot of them. In our own community here in North County, only about 1/3 of the population attend a church on a Sunday morning. And so there are a lot of people in our own community, in our neighborhoods, who, when you’re getting ready to go to church on a Sunday morning, maybe they’re out mowing their lawn, or washing their car, or getting ready to walk the dog. But they’re not interested in the things of God or go to church. And so it’s easy for us to fall into and “us and them” sort of thing, where we look at them and we go, “They’re the enemy.” [laughter] Or we try to avoid them like they’re some sort of strange alien or something. We don’t want to be anywhere near them. Now, the sad fact is that we start to do this within churches too. And we look at other churches that also believe in Jesus, people who go to other churches, and we say, “Oh, they’re the enemy.” I mean I said it jokingly, earlier, we won the competition for the Walk For Life, but there is a way in which we can look at other people in our community, and maybe you meet someone, and you see, “Oh, you’re carrying a Bible. Hey, what church do you go to?”
“Oh, I go to Emmanuel Faith.”
And you go, “Oh, really.” [scowling face] “You just stay there.” [laughter] “You’re one of those.”
And so we get into this “us and them” sort of thing. We don’t know who “them” is, but we stay away from “them.” And we have to be very careful not to fall into that mentality as it relates to those who are outside the church. People in our workplaces, our neighborhoods, who don’t attend church, are not the enemy, they’re not some sort of strange alien to be avoided.
The earliest faithful follower of God was a man by the name of Abraham. And God’s Word to Abraham was given in Genesis Chapter 12, Verse 1, where He said, “Abraham, get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” God’s missionary heart is seen in that, in his commissioning of the first missionary to go, to leave what was comfortable, to leave what was common, to leave what was his home – his country, his family, his father’s house, to go to a land that God would show him.
Now, God may never call you or me to leave our country of origin. He may never ask you to leave your family, to leave your town, to travel around the world to another land. That may never happen to you. But, we must see that God’s heart is for those who don’t yet know Him. We’ve got to recognize that God’s desire is for those who have not yet heard. He wants them to come to know the truth. And sometimes, the most simple way for us to make that a reality, to make that happen, is to simply invite others to come, and to welcome them when they do come, welcome them into the circle.
You probably remember this, because you can think back to the first time you stepped into a church as a non-believer, and you kind of felt a little concerned. “Will I be received? Will I be struck dead immediately when I sit down…because God knows how bad I’ve been?” Some of you remember what it was like to come in; and the problem is that we, in this little room, in this gathering, we speak a different language. We say things like, “Brother.” “I’m so blessed.” “Would you like to come over for some fellowship?”
And the person who’s never heard that goes, “What in the world is fellow…? What? Brother?”
And so we have a language that they don’t know. And so they come in already a little bit concerned. And they don’t know where to park, or where to sit. One of the ways we make people feel unwelcome, sometimes, is we walk in and we go… You know, it’s really kind of funny, because as I look out here every Sunday morning, I know where you will be. [laughter] Because you’re always where you are right now, within one or two seats. It’s YOUR seat, and you know it’s your seat, because it fits your seat so well. [laughter] Because your seat has been in that seat for so many times over so many years. And that’s not a Memory Foam seat. [laughter] But one of the ways we can make people feel unwelcome, is we walk in and we go, “Oh! They’re in MY seat. Who is that in my…? That person’s in MY seat. Didn’t they get the memo?! I turned the card in front the other way, so that they would see this is not welcome territory. That’s MY seat.” You laugh because we all know, to a certain extent… “That’s my seat, right there.” [laugther]
One of the ways that we can welcome people in is to simply invite them to: “Hey, have a seat.” “Hey, come sit down right here.”
You know, it’s pretty easy to identify someone who is not normally here; they kind of look lost, they don’t exactly know where to go. And so, one of the ways to welcome them, to invite them, is to give up our seat. Or, maybe, this may be hard for some, I recognize, but maybe park across the street, so that they have a place, and they come in, and they go, “Well, I don’t know where to go.”
“Well, this is the place to go.”
Or just to look out for someone who looks lost, and welcome them, and say, “Hi. I’m so-and-so. Welcome to Cross Connection.” Just simply to welcome them.
I would encourage you not to cry out, tear your clothes, and throw dust in the air. [laughter] “Oh no!! A newcomer!!” God’s heart is for those outside of our little circle. And where it is our nature to just surround ourselves with a small group of people, may we begin to grow with the same heart that God has, and to see that He wants them to know the love and grace of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well, “The commander,” Verse 24, Acts 22:24, “The commander ordered Paul to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted against him.”
Now remember, everything that Paul was saying, as he stood on the steps of the Antonia Fortress there, speaking to this gathered angry mob, that had been quieted by Paul; everything that he had said had been in the Hebrew language. But this commander speaks Greek. We know, the text makes that very, very clear. Paul spoke to him in Greek, asked, “Can I speak to them for a second?” As he turned to them, he speaks in Hebrew. So, this commander has no idea what Paul is saying. Maybe he knows a little bit of Hebrew, but he has no clue what it is that Paul is saying. All he know is that, at a certain point, when Paul was speaking, they all began to rip off their clothes, yell and scream, and throw dust in the air. And remember, the Romans are concerned about a riot and a revolt, and so what is it they imagine is about to happen? The commander’s thinking, “Oh no! I just gave this guy an opportunity to speak, and now he’s incited a riot.”
And so he says, “Get him into the barracks! We’re going to examine him under scourging,” which was the common Roman way of trying to figure out what happened. “We’ll take you in; we’ll strip you down; we’ll bind you with leather straps, around a wooden post; and we’ll whip you until we figure out what it is that you did wrong.” Sounds like a good plan to me.
I mentioned last week that Paul, in a letter that he wrote before this event, 2 Corinthians, Chapter 11, he says that prior to this event ever happening, he had already experienced a whipping, five different times he’d received 39 lashes. So that means that, prior to this, Paul had been whipped 195 times. He says also, in 2 Corinthians 11, that he had been beaten with rods three times; that he had been stoned with rocks once; that he had been shipwrecked three times, by this time, prior to all of this happening. And now, he’s facing another scourging, he’s facing another whipping.
And so, Verse 25, Acts 22:25 – “As they were binding him with thongs,” as they’re… They’ve already stripped his outer cloak, and, no doubt, when they took his out cloak off, and they saw his back, they went, “Oh man, this guy’s a… He’s a rabble-rouser, he’s obviously a malcontent. Something’s wrong. Look at all the scars on his back. Obviously, this is a bad dude. We got the guy.” And so they are binding him with leather straps around a wood post. “And Paul said to the centurion,” the overseer of those soldiers who are binding him, “said to the centurion who stood by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?’”
Now, Paul knows the answer to this question. It’s a rhetorical question. He knows that this Roman centurion will know the answer to this question. The answer is: No! No, it’s not. In fact, this is a huge violation of Roman code, Roman law. For a citizen of Rome had great privileges, great rights, and one of them was that he could never be bound, that he could never be beaten without due process. And so, here is Paul, although these guys don’t know it, he’s a Roman citizen. They have no idea. In their mind, he’s just another Jewish man from Jerusalem – looks like the rest of them. But he had his citizenship among the Romans.
And so he says, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who’s a Roman, who’s uncondemned?
Now, already, this Roman commander, this Roman centurion, they are already in violation of Roman law, because they bound him. Acts Chapter 21, Verse 33 says they bound him with two chains. So, just in binding him, they’re in violation of this. And, because of violating this, this Roman commander, who oversaw this centurion, he was now eligible for possible punishment for what he’s done, in binding a Roman citizen. He could be punished. He could lose his post. He could even be put to death, depending on how everything were to play out.
And so, “When the centurion heard this,” Verse 26, “he went and he told the commander, saying, ‘Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.’”
Ultimately, we are citizens of heaven. And, as such, Number 3 on your outline:
We Should Be As Wise As Serpents And As Gentle As what? …Doves
Oh, you know that one? We should be as wise as serpents and as harmless or gentle as doves. Turn in your Bibles, if you would, to the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew Chapter 10. Matthew Chapter 10. In Matthew 10, Jesus is preparing His disciples to go out and share the Gospel. He’s given them authority over unclean spirits, authority over sickness, and given them boldness to speak the truth of God. He tells them to go only to Jewish individuals, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And then He says this, Matthew Chapter 10, Verse 16, Matthew 10, Verse 16: “Behold, I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and” what? “…scourge you.” “They will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake,” not because you’ve done anything wrong, not because you’re a criminal, “but for My sake, as a testimony to them and to Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, don’t worry about what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that very hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speaks, but the Spirit of the Father who speaks in you.”
There, Jesus says, “Don’t worry, when you come to a situation like this, you can’t prepare for it, you can’t plan for it, you won’t know what to say. You don’t have to, because God will give you the words to say in that moment.” And He was foretelling, not just Paul’s circumstance and situation here in Acts Chapter 22, but many other Christians that have experienced this throughout the last 2,000 years of history. Jesus says, “They’ll deliver you up to councils, and they’ll scourge you, they’ll beat you. You’re going to come before governors and kings, and you’re going to go there, not because of yourself, but for My name’s sake, and you’ll be there to give testimony.”
And now Paul is standing in this very situation, facing scourging, and he says, “Is it lawful for you to do this to a Roman that’s uncondemned?”
And the centurion goes to the commander and says, “You gotta be careful what you do with this man.”
Verse 27, Acts 22: “And then the commander came to Paul and said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’” I imagine he said that with a little bit of doubt, “Are you really a Roman?”
“The commander answered,” Verse 28, “’With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.’
“And Paul said, ‘But I was born a citizen.’”
Now, there’s discussion among historians and Bible scholars about this exchange that’s going on here. Some historians say there was no way, in the Roman Empire, to be able to purchase your citizenship. They say the only way you could actually do that was with a bribe, that you’d bribe someone for your citizenship. But apparently, this individual, this commander, he was not born a citizen, he had obtained it through some other means. And he says, “It cost me a large sum.” And there’s a few commentators who point out that this commander here, in some way, is mocking Paul, as if to say, “Man, it cost me a lot. I guess things have gotten a little bit cheaper since I paid for it. Looking at you, with all these stripes on your back, and the situation that you’re in. Apparently it’s a lot easier to get your citizenship these days.”
And Paul says, “I was born a citizen.” Which is a very curious thing, because we know from the Book of Philippians that Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. That means his heritage is purely Jewish, purely Hebrew. We know from what he’ll say in the very next chapter, in Acts Chapter 23, that his father was a Pharisee, and he also was a Pharisee. So, he’s a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee of another Pharisee. And so it causes us to wonder how did his father or his grandfather obtain Roman citizenship being a foreigner? We know that Paul was born there in what is southern Turkey today, in the city of Tarsus of Cilicia, there in Asia Minor. But how it was that his family came to be in possession of such a great thing in that world, the Roman citizenship, we don’t know. But we do know that God had uniquely created this individual, Saul of Tarsus, who would become the Apostle Paul, to be a link in bringing the Gospel from the Hebrews to the Gentiles. In the same way that God had ordained Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations, I believe God had said, “I’m creating you uniquely. I’m gifting you with this position. I’m giving you this so that you will be able to do this for a purpose.”
And so he said, “I was born a citizen.”
“And then immediately…” I love the, you know, kind of understatements of the Bible. “Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him.” It’s so nice and pleasant there – They just withdrew from him. But just think about the picture. Here are these guys who are soldiers, who’ve just stripped Paul, they’ve bound him, they’re about to whip him. They’re probably somewhat excited about this. “Hey, we’ve finally got some action here. Something to do.” And then all of a sudden they hear he’s a Roman citizen, and they know that as a result of him being a Roman citizen, what they’re about to do to this man could mean their very own punishment, and so they kind of, “Whoa, wait…!! Nothing to see here.” They withdrew from him.
“And the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, because he had bound him.”
Point Number 4 on your outline:
Use Every Resource Available to You
Use every resource available to you. As we, with God’s heart, reach out to those who are outside of our little circle, as we do so with wisdom, but also with meekness, as we are told to do by the Apostle Peter, “Sanctify the Lord Jesus in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is within you, with meekness and fear.” So, we are wise as serpents, but we’re gentle as doves; we’re harmless, we’re meek in our interactions with people. But we should use every resource, every right, every privilege that we have to be able to reach people for the kingdom of God.
You may or may not realize this, but your citizenship as an American, if you have it, and your ability to speak English fluently as your first language, is quite an awesome privilege and resource. In most nations of the world, you have rights that many other people don’t have, just because of the nation that is behind you, the privileges of being a citizen of the United States of America. Yes, there are some who are hostile towards us, and it’s not helpful, but in most of the places in the world, it’s an awesome open door. But even if you are never given the opportunity or the call to go into one of those places, God has given every single one of us, here today, resources, He’s given every single one of us open doors and opportunities, rights and privileges. And we should use those things, we should use those influences that we have to be able to reach out to those who are outside of our circle to share the goodness and the grace God with them.
There’s a very interesting teaching that Jesus gave, in fact, one of the more interesting things that Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke. You can turn there if you’d like – Luke Chapter 16, Luke Chapter 16. It’s caused more than a number of Bible teachers to scratch their heads at what Jesus says here. Luke 16, Verse 9 – Jesus speaking to His disciples, says, “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves.” How? “…by unrighteous mammon.” Wait! What? “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon.” Mammon is connected to money. “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.”
You go, “What in the world are You saying, Jesus? I’m not sure what this means.”
Another translation, the New International Version, says this: “I tell you, use your worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it,” the worldly wealth, “is gone,” or the world is gone, whichever way you read it, “you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
And people scratch their heads and go, “Wait!! What do You mean? ‘Use worldly wealth to gain friends?’ I’m not quite sure I follow You on this, Jesus.”
Essentially, what Jesus is saying, “Use the worldly resources that you have available to you for the good of the kingdom of God.” Use the opportunities, the privileges, the place that God has placed you, the influence that you have. In the company that you work for, in the community that you live in, use whatever resource that God has given to you as an ambassador of Christ, for His kingdom, for the good of His kingdom. You say, “Well, that just seems strange to me.”
Well, there’s a great illustration of this in the Old Testament, in the Book of Nehemiah. Turn in your Bibles to Nehemiah Chapter 2. As you’re turning there, let me kind of lay the groundwork for the timing of Nehemiah. In the year 586 BC, the nation of Babylon had laid siege to Judah, it had laid siege to the city of Jerusalem, and had taken it captive. And in August of 586 BC, they destroyed the city of Jerusalem, including the temple. And they led away captive, as prisoners of war, most of the people that lived in that region back to Babylon, including a young man by the name of Daniel, and three of his friends that were later named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And there the children of Israel lived as captives in Babylon for 70 years.
At the end of that time, in Babylon, the Medo-Persian Empire came and destroyed the Babylonians, and now they were ruling over the kingdom of Babylon. And when they came and ruled over that area, they gave opportunity for the Jews that had been prisoners of war to return back to their homeland, back to Jerusalem. Only a small segment of them actually did. And they went back, and they tried to rebuild Jerusalem, and rebuild the temple. The temple was the central focus of Jewish life. And so now they’re trying to rebuild it, but all of their enemies roundabout were making it very difficult.
And word came back to a man by the name of Nehemiah, from those that were in the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was a Jewish man who was given a place of privilege, a place of opportunity. He, we are told there in Nehemiah Chapter 1, was cupbearer to the king, King Artaxerxes of Persia. The cupbearer was not just the guy who stood there and held the cup, he was actually a trusted adviser. And one of his jobs was to taste the food of the king before he gave it to the king. Why? Well, because one of the ways that they would assassinate kings during that time was to poison them. And so the king trusted this individual. He had a very precarious job.
And there was Nehemiah. He receives word from those in Jerusalem trying to rebuild the temple, that the work is not going so well, and things are actually very difficult. Nehemiah Chapter 1 tells us that for an entire month, actually four months, he prayed. He fasted for quite a bit of the time for his people, and for Jerusalem.
And then we read this, in Nehemiah Chapter 2, Verse 1: “It came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now, I had never been sad in his presence before. Therefore the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, since you’re not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.’”
Now, if you’re the king, and the guy who tastes your food doesn’t look so good, you’re going to want to know what’s going on. So he says, “Nehemiah, what’s the problem? You’ve never looked sad in my presence before. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
And so Nehemiah says, “So I became dreadfully afraid, and I 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 in waste, and it’s gates are burned with fire?’
“And then the king said to me, ‘Well, what do you request? What do you want?’
“And so I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king,” on the earth, “‘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.
“And then the king said to me (the queen, sitting behind him) – many Bible teachers and scholars believe that that was Queen Esther, also a Jewish lady. “…(the queen, sitting behind him), ‘How long will your journey be? And when will you return?’ And so it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
“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 Jordan, or beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through it till I come to Judah, 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, as it 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.
“And then I went to the governors of the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. And now the king had sent captains and army horsemen with me also.”
This is a guy who used every available resource and opportunity for the kingdom of God, for the good of God’s name. He knew that he had a privileged spot. He didn’t take it for granted, nor did he overly take advantage of it. But, when given the opportunity, he recognized that this is a God-given moment. “The good hand of God upon me has placed me at this place at this time to do what God wants to get done.” We see another story just like this in the Book of Esther. For such a time as this, maybe God has placed you in this place for this very purpose.
God’s heart is for those outside of our little circle, and as we gain His heart, and seek to go out and reach them, we should be as wise as serpents, as meek, as harmless as doves. But we should use every available resource and opportunity that is available to us to reach them. Amen? So that on that day when I, when you, when we stand before Him, we might hear Him say, like we read in Matthew 25:21, “Well done, My good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.” I don’t know about you, but I hope to hear those words someday.
God’s heart is for those outside of our little circle here at 1675 Seven Oakes Road, or your little front door house wherever you live here in this community, your cubicle at work, whatever it may be, God’s heart is for those outside. May He grant us to have that same heart, that we would be wise in our dealings in this world, as meek and as gentle as doves, using every resource and opportunity. As Paul says in Ephesians Chapter 5, “Make the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil.”
Would you stand with me as we close in prayer.
Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for the exhortations of this passage. We pray that You would help us to make application from it. God, stir our hearts. It may be that there are some standing here in this room today that are going through a difficult trial, a tribulation, something that they have a hard time seeing the good in. Lord, remind us that You do have a good plan, even when there are things in our lives that don’t appear to be good things. And that You are working all things together for Your good, in our lives. So, God, work in us, transform us. Lord, help us to see and have Your heart for those that are outside, and to be wise in our dealings in this world, and to use the resources and the opportunities that You have given to us for Your namesake, and for Your kingdom. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.