Week 1 – Nehemiah 1:1-11

It’s finally here! You’ve heard about it in the Vision Gatherings over the summer, through your one-on-one meetings, and at our two Vision Nights, but this week finally kicks off Abound, a two-year initiative that, Lord willing, will be the most pivotal two years in the life of our church.
You’ve already heard a bit about Abound, but if you or your community group members have further questions, be sure to check out the Abound FAQ or visit vintagenc.com/abound
Throughout the six weeks of our Abound series we’ll be turning to the book of Nehemiah to see how God led Nehemiah and his community to approach a situation of grave need. But anytime we learn about a person in the Bible we need to remember that Jesus is the only hero. So, quite frankly, Nehemiah wasn’t the hero of his own story, and neither are you. Each week we shouldn’t be asking, “How can I be more like Nehemiah?” That misses the point entirely.

Instead we want to ask, “How does God at work through Nehemiah help me understand God at work through me?” When we read of broken Jerusalem, how does that help us see our own city? When we read of God blessing Nehemiah’s efforts to rebuild a people, how does that help us lock arms with one another now? And when we see God deliver Nehemiah from opposition, how does that embolden us to hope in the same God and press on in the work he has given us today? Throughout these six weeks we want to make ourselves entirely available, in body, mind, heart, and soul, to the outworking of God’s plan of redemption, a plan that he was working through Nehemiah and is working through us right this very second.

This week we start with the problem. In chapter 1, Nehemiah hears about the sorry state of Jerusalem. The year is 445 BC and the timeline below should help you place what has happened up until this point. You’ll notice that several waves of exile preceded the climactic fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and at least one wave of return preceded Nehemiah’s undertaking. You can read about that in Ezra 1-4 because, fun fact, Ezra and Nehemiah are actually part I and part II of the same story. Also, while 141 years have passed between the fall of Jerusalem and Nehemiah 1:1 (for us that’s like the late 1800s), the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem was the most tragic event in Jewish history up to that point.

Nehemiah Timeline
Nehemiah likely grew up hearing the legend of Jerusalem’s demise from his grandparents, who had heard it from their grandparents. That, plus the two-month journey between Susa and Jerusalem, means Nehemiah had likely never even seen Jerusalem until his journey in chapter 2. And here’s perhaps my biggest point in this brief historical introduction: the first wave of returnees set out in 538 BC with Zerubbabel and Jeshua (Ezra 2:2), the Temple was rebuilt in 516 BC under Haggai and Zechariah (Ez. 7:6), and Ezra’s reform movement started 458 BC (Ez. 7:6). Given that timeline, Nehemiah’s tearful response (1:4) isn’t about the original fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. It’s about the multiple failed attempts to rebuild Jerusalem. That’s why in 1:2 he asks after the people in Jerusalem who had survived, or returned from, the exile.

So it’s not as if Nehemiah was the first person to open his eyes and say, “Look at poor Jerusalem!” or to come up with a plan to help, since Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra all beat him to both of those things. Instead, Nehemiah is, before anything else, simply heartbroken over the sad gap between God’s desire for his people and the current state of things. Hopefully that makes Nehemiah a little bit easier for us to relate to. He wasn’t some amazing hero with a unique idea. He was just personally moved by an enormous need, and out of that movement he set himself to leverage his unique life, and the unique position God had given him, to be a part of God’s plan. Again, it’s not about what Nehemiah wanted or was capable of. As we’ll see next week, King Artaxerxes could’ve shut him down in an instance, but he didn’t because God was at work here. Nehemiah’s story, and hopefully our story, is all about what God wants and what God is capable of.

Taking our cues from Nehemiah, we’d like to enter this Abound series prayerfully. Note his immediate response to the news: he weeps and prays. Rather than keep living his comfy life in Susa he ventured out to poor disheveled Jerusalem. Rather than being unmoved he allowed God to break his heart over what breaks God’s heart. He wept, and then he prayed, and, remarkably, in his prayer he doesn’t just plead with God to make it right or bless his plan. He confesses his sin and the sin of his fathers, linking these sins to the reason Israel was kicked out of the Promised Land in the first place. Instead of standing outside the problem he places himself square within the problem. But we have to keep remembering, Jesus is the real hero of the Bible, so anything praiseworthy we find in Nehemiah is ultimately perfected in Jesus, the Son of God who left a throne for a manger, who bore our grief and carried our sorrow (Isa. 53:4), who not only put himself within our problem but took our very sin upon himself. So let’s kick off our series reminding ourselves of who God is. As we see and perceive the 1,000,000+ lost people in the Triangle, we should let ourselves be heartbroken over that enormous need, knowing God’s desire for all people to come to him (2 Pet. 3:9). Let’s pray to “the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love” (Neh. 1:5) knowing that he’s powerful enough to do something about it. And let’s begin to make ourselves entirely available to God and to ask him, “How do you want to use my unique life, my unique position, to accomplish your plans?”
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Nehemiah 1:1-11 for us?

• Why do you think Nehemiah weeps over the state of Jerusalem? (verse 4)

• What stands out to you about Nehemiah’s prayer?

• Why do you think Nehemiah feels compelled to confess his own sin? (verse 6)

• How do you think God is going to respond to Nehemiah? What can that tell us about God’s desires?

• How can this passage help us think and feel about the needs in our own city, neighborhoods, and workplaces?

• When we look at needs around us, how do you think God feels about them?

• What do you want God to do in you through our Abound series?

More resources:   Abound FAQ    vintagenc.com/abound