Summary: Pain in the soul is a gift that can lead you into ministry to hurting people.
Even though a year has passed since Hurricane Katrina, stories about people who experienced that disaster are still surfacing. A few weeks ago, a pastor told me the story of a church in Louisiana. The members of that church were forced to leave their homes and when they returned, they found their neighborhoods destroyed. There was no running water or power. All the plants had died.
Their church building was severely damaged. The flood waters had come churning in all the way up to the eaves of the building, Somehow a tractor had ended up on the roof. Everything was a mess.
When church disaster workers got there, they found the pastor near the church building, sitting in his car, weeping at the devastation in front of him. Everything looked like a total loss. The building was unusable and church members were scattered. The situation looked hopeless. And he was feeling the pain.
From our scripture passage today, we learn that it must have been something like that for Nehemiah.
To understand who Nehemiah was, we need to go back about 500 years before the time of Christ. Remember that God’s people had lived in Israel for several hundred years. God had told them: “If you obey me you will live in the land for a long time. If you disobey me you’ll be carried off into captivity.” Unfortunately, they disobeyed. The Babylonians came in and took many of them into captivity. This is what we call the Exile.
But now, after 70 years, their punishment was ending. We learned from the book of Ezra that these Jews were given permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city. They rebuilt the temple, but 10 or 12 years later, the city walls had not been rebuilt, mostly because of opposition. As a result very few people lived in the capital city. Jerusalem was still in ruins.
At this time, Nehemiah, one of those Jews, was living in Susa, the capital city of Pesrsia- or today’s Iran. He was a thousand miles away from his homeland.
At the end of Chapter 1 we learn something very important about Nehemiah. He was the king’s cupbearer. This was no small responsibility. His job was to taste the king’s wine and food at each meal to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. Maybe you wouldn’t want that job. But keep in mind that anyone in that position would be close to the king and could even have influence the king.
In the first part of the chapter, though, we learn something even more significant. As Nehemiah was performing his duties one day, he heard something painful about Judah. (Read vv. 2-3.)
And Nehemiah’s pain moved him to tears.
The report about Jerusalem was bad news. What was once a great city was still a pile of ruins. What was once a hopeful nation was depressed and hopeless. And it moved him to tears.
Listen to verse 4. “When I heard those words, I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
I don’t think it was just the crumbled walls and the broken bricks that reduced him to tears. It wasn’t just the rubble that got to him. It was the failed promises, the unfulfilled vision, the broken dreams that tore at his heart strings. He knew that his nation was to be a light to the world, but it didn’t happen. As he thought about what could have been, he had to reckon with what was. It broke his heart and the tears flowed as he wept about Jerusalem.