Sadness of the Heart

Read Nehemiah 2:1-8

Have you ever stood in front of someone who you felt was really important to you? There is nothing more that you would give than to be acknowledged, to be understood. For Nehemiah, being in the presence of Artaxerxes was an honour. Few managed to be in the respected position of cupbearer or in the inner circle of advisers to the king of Persia.

What Artaxerxes thought about him was vitally important Nehemiah.  Vitally would be an understatement, what an Ancient Near Easter king thought of you was a matter of life and death. We would not be remiss to point out that the King’s favor promoted or demoted you. It granted you standing or left you with no place to stand.

Nehemiah 2:2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.

Modern psychologist would call this codependency or an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a relationship. The king needed to be needed; the servant needed his master’s approval.

The Bible clearly defines this unhealthy attitude in Nehemiah as “the fear of man.” A simple comment such as, “I see you are sad” triggers in Nehemiah such a visceral reaction that he describes himself as “very much afraid.” This approval seeking on Nehemiah had a debilitating effect on him.

Dealing with Fear and Codependency

The only solution to his paralyzing fear of man was a change of perspective. Nehemiah began to realise that the most important thing in his life was not what Artaxerxes thought of him. Neither was it the great exploits of rebuilding Jerusalem–which at this point he may or not do. Both of these options still placed either another person’s approval or his own approval at the centre of his universe.

He needed a paradigm shift. He needed something greater than himself. A powerful leader would not suffice; a noble and greater cause than himself simply would not do. The shift in perspective that Nehemiah has needed was the only subject worthy of reverence and fearful delight, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name.” (Neh 1:11).

Human affirmation will no longer receive the place of honour and worship that God alone deserves. Placing what God the Father thought of him above anything was simultaneously freeing and strengthening. He could now have the resolve to accomplish his task. “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”(v8)

There is another Hero who resolutely fixed his face to the task at hand. Jesus did not consider what others thought of Him as shameful, as long as His Father was pleased. “Therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:7; cf. Luke 9:53). This Hero would not just risk the disapproval of the king. He would suffer the very shame that we deserved that we would only experience grace.

Sacrifices Pay Off

Ex. 22:20   “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction.

Read Exodus 22:16-23:9

This past month we have seen nations and teams in floods of joy and floods of tears as their hopes at winning the World Cup either seemed to materialize or vanish before their very eyes.

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil encapsulates what many other people felt as they watched the game, “My nightmares never got so bad.” Argentina’s Javier Mascherano, who kept his team’s hopes alive with a heroic, last-ditch tackle on Arjen Robben during the semifinal against the Netherlands, said that the pain of losing was “immense.”

Every team that lost a match during Brazil 2014 made great sacrifices just to qualify for the World Cup. This small vignette gives us a window into every human soul. We all have things we desperately want. We ask these things to grant us validation and appreciation.

We hope that the sacrifices we make will eventually pay off.

This law in Exodus 22 and 23 is sandwiched between a host of random laws. We find this law directly in the middle of these laws. It is the centre point on which all the laws hinge. Martin Luther, the 15th century German reformer, stated that all commandments hinged on only one: worshipping anything other than God. We all make sacrifices. We sacrifice our moral integrity, we sacrifice our character, we sacrifice anything and everything for a central goal in our life, a dream.

Exodus tells us that one day these things we sacrifice to will be unable to deliver the very thing they promise. Four years from now Germany will have to hand on the World Cup to another team. Their sacrifices for glory and fame will become impermanent. They will lead to a sense of loss, frustration and failure.

The Christian life is a life of sacrifice. It is a life marked by the very sacrifice of God Himself on the cross.  His sacrifice is what saves us from loss, frustration and failure. We find the only validation and glory that will never fade. We were worth the very life of God. We no longer sacrifice for redemption, we sacrifice because we have been redeemed.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Christy Nockels







Come Thou Long Expected Jesus performed by Christy Nockels.

In most Christian Calendars we have a season of five weeks known as Advent. These are the weeks leading up to Christmas in which we sing about our once and future king. Advent derives its name from the Latin “ad + venire” “to come.” This Advent Hymn’s words were penned by Charles Wesley.

One of the earliest Christian expressions was the word Marantha. Greeks, Romans, Jews, Scythians, and barbarians left this word untranslated. (see 1 Cor 16:22) Such was the early Christian expectation in 56AD. Jesus would return to fix His broken world. It encapsulates the hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations and longings of every human being. Christ’s first and second coming bring the wiping away of tears, no more sickness and no more war. Maranatha! Our Lord, Come!

Each advent song speaks of our exile from a perfectly running world, a longing for a True King, and a hope that all will be set right. The Christian doctrine of Advent offers this in one fell swoop. God, in Christ, came to redeem us from slavery of sin, become our True King as he was crowned with thorns, and deliver us from darkness into the kingdom of light.

These next weeks let us reflect on what it means to have a Once and Future King.

Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

Almighty God,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.