Prepare for Resistance
Following Jesus today requires brave, sacrificial hearts. There will be resistance but we can’t give up. Do you think people tried to talk Zerubbabel, or Ezra, or Nehemiah out of answering their call to restore the temple and the city? I imagine there were plenty of people who said, “You are crazy! Don’t do it?” Praise God that these men resisted and said, “No! The walls of the city are broken … the temple is gone … we must rebuild them so a fresh work of God can come!”
We may not be called to build a structure for God … but we are called to build his kingdom. Church, our society seems to be breaking down but it’s a time for Christians to build—to build the kingdom! It’s hard. There will be pushback. Where have you encountered resistance? It could come from anywhere: the lunch room at work, a mother’s gathering, the classroom at school. When certain topics come up—worldviews are exposed! If you start sharing the Gospel, if you start really standing up for what the Bible says, if you start attempting to make a difference in the culture outside the walls of the church … people won’t like it. Why? It is an issue of worship. People don’t want to worship and submit their lives to Jesus … they want to live for themselves. Consider some of the major cultural issues of our day. At the root of issues like sexuality, or materialism, or freedom and control—it’s all about wanting to live for ourselves. It’s all about us wanting to be our own God. If you threaten people’s self-sovereignty—there will be pushback.
The question for us, church, is how will we handle the resistance. Will we give up … or will we rise up?
Face the Adversary
Overcoming resistance requires that we face the adversary. Don’t run away. Let’s pick up the story in Ezra 4:1,
“Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel … (Ezra 4:1-2a).”
What do we learn right away? There is a confrontation between Zerubbabel, his people and their enemies. These adversaries were people from Samaria who did not truly worship God. They wanted to help build the temple. However, Zerubbabel and his people rejected their offer—because they wanted to protect the work of God. This let to decades of persecution.
Are you afraid to build God’s kingdom? What adversities are stopping you? Are they coming with force and power … attempting to silence your preaching of the Gospel? I would like to outline three forms these adversaries can take.
First, specific PEOPLE can be our adversaries. In Ezra 4:1, we read about specific people who came to Zerubbabel. Later there were specific people who were attempting to influence the King. Right now, you may be picturing people in your life who are keeping you from People can be adversaries. However, I want to offer an important caveat—there is an enemy behind those people. We did a whole series on spiritual warfare this summer, and if you read Ephesians 6 you know that Paul tells us our battle not against flesh and blood. Rather, we fight the spiritual forces of darkness who are influencing those people. How do you face them? You speak the truth in love … and leave the consequences to God. Who are the adversarial people in your life?
Second, IDEAS can be adversarial. Once Zerubbabel rejected the adversaries offer to help with the temple—he became an enemy. The mood in the room changed. The adversaries started to recruit people to their side by spreading ideas. Even in the letter to the King, they sold the idea that Jerusalem was a threat to this power. Ideas have consequences—in this case the temple was delayed. Let me just state, there are many bad ideas floating around our modern world. Just look at the advertisements, peruse the entertainment platforms, listen to the debates and you will quickly scratch your head. What is going on??? Ideas can be adversarial to the Gospel. How do you face this adversary? You speak the truth and influence people with better ideas. Show them the beauty of the Gospel. What are the adversarial ideas in your life?
Finally, CULTURAL SYSTEMS can be adversarial. At the end of the King’s letter in Ezra 4, the king made a policy that went against God’s kingdom agenda. Today, similarly, there will be bad policies that go against the Gospel and God’s Kingdom. Ideas create cultural narratives that eventually get embedded in institutions like schools and government. There may be policies you encounter that are adversarial to your faith. How do you face them? You speak truth and advocate for change. Why? Because everyone was made to worship God. And when God’s kingdom is built—everyone flourishes.
Seek Prophetic Insight
The word “Prophet” is used a number of ways in the Bible. When I say prophetic insight, what I mean is the ability to see “beyond the lies, bad ideas, and destructive narratives of this world. It is the ability to see God for who he is and follow him in faith.” When God provides prophets to his people in OT, this is what they do. The expose the lies we believe and call us to repentance. They speak a word from God with points the way forward. Or put another way, prophetic insights: (1) Expose our sin and (2) Confirm our calling.
In the midst of this destructive season of resistance in Ezra, God sends two prophets. Skip down to Ezra 5:1,
“Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them (Ezra 5:1, ESV).”
How many of us have read the books of Haggai and Zechariah? I don’t see a lot of memes on the internet from Haggai and Zechariah. Lots from the Psalms and Philippians … very little from the minor prophets. This week you should go read them because you know the background of when they were speaking. They come to God’s people at the end of this season of testing—and they revive God’s people for God’s mission.
Haggai is the plain speaker who “tells it like it is.” In the first movement I asked if you are afraid to build God’s kingdom. In this second movement, Haggai gives us prophetic insight. Maybe the reason we don’t build God’s kingdom, maybe the reason we don’t answer God’s call is because we are too comfortable. Material Comfort keeps us from answering the call. You are PLANTED and CALLED! Don’t just be a plant! Zechariah is the vision caster. Remember, God sends prophets to expose our sin and points us toward his will. In this midst of this encounter, Zechariah reassures Zerubbabel that God is with him—finish the mission! Look at Ezra 5:5,
“But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it (Ezra 5:5, ESV).”
The people of God, guided by prophetic insight, chose to trust God and obey his call. Notice that phrase, “The Eye of God.” The author is indicating that God is with them in their mission, just as Zechariah had confirmed. God gave them a calling and his watchful eye would see it through to completion. V. 5 points to an important applicational point for us all. When God plants us in a location, he calls us to a mission, then he offers providential protection. This is what Ezra 4-6 is all about.
Rest In The King’s Favor
In Ezra 6, we read that King Darius made a decree and enlisted all the smartest people in the city to go find the ancient documents that corroborate this. King Cyrus did tell them to build the temple and gave specific instructions. It’s all true and the work can resume. So … Darius begins his response to the governor like this:
“Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River […] keep away. Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site (Ezra 6:6-7, ESV).”
That is a definitive response. HANDS OFF! Keep away! Let them complete the work. Talk about God’s providence! Zerubbabel kept working without this word from the King … but God protected his people and their work. They rested in the favor of the King and they fulfilled their calling.
God has a specific, individual calling for each of us. He has planted you for a purpose. He has placed Millington Baptist Church on this corner for a mission. The question is will we answer the call to God’s mission? To do that, we have to trust him. Here are three questions to consider.
First, where are you seen God’s PROTECTION? Both personally and as a church. What trials has God brought you through? MBC has been here since 1851. That is a long time. God has protected his church for many years. He is still using us. And even if the cultural forces come … he wants us to be faithful to the call. The same thing is true in your personal life.
Second, how have you experienced God’s PROVISION? There are have been seasons of financial drought both personally and as a church. And yet, God always manages to provide. What he calls us to he will provide the resources, whether that is financial, leadership, encouragement.
Third, where can you trust him for PRESERVATION? Some of us right now may be getting ready to throw in the towel. The suffering is too great. We have been going through a very hard season. Do you trust that God is preserving you for a purpose?
The reason we don’t build God’s kingdom, often, is because we don’t believe God will protect, provide or preserve. We look back at our own abilities. But God wants us to lift our eyes up to him and realize that he is bigger than any trial or opposition. The way we overcome opposition is by fixing our eyes on the slaughtered Lamb of God who defeated sin, and hell, and Satan, and death on the cross. He is worthy of worship and trust.
After the temple is completed. Zerubbabel and his people have a worship service. They celebrate the Passover. They remembered who God is, and how he had saved them those many years ago.
“So they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles (Ezra 6:20, ESV).”
They slaughtered the Passover lamb for the returned exiles. Friends, it is here that this story points to something greater. The story of Ezra and Nehemiah is about God, by his grace, saving and restoring an exiled people. It is the story of the Exodus—God saves his people in exile. And don’t miss this—it is also the Christian story. Every one of us in this room, we were once an exile. We were once far from God. But then he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the true and better Passover Lamb. If you don’t know Jesus Christ, you are in exile. But the good news of the Gospel is you can come home and be adopted into the family of God … because of the blood of the Lamb. On the cross, Jesus paid our penalty, absorbed the wrath of God against sin, and secured our salvation. We didn’t deserve it … he did it by his mercy. He is the fulfillment of all the prophecies—and one day he will come back and the dwelling place of God will be with his people—the true temple will be here! In Revelation 5, John tells us everyone will be singing the same song:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12, ESV)
And all we can do is sing with joy, like God’s people did in Ezra 6.
Church, the true Passover lamb was slain for you—will your life sing with joy? Because of Jesus you are PROTECTED from wrath. Because of Jesus, all the riches of heaven has been PROVIDED to you. And if you know Jesus, he will PRESERVE you to the end. Now … live with joy, as you rise up and build his kingdom in the city where is has both planted and called you. Will you do that? I pray that you will.