Sun, 16 August 2020
Istrouma Baptist Church – Micah Cating, Youth Pastor
9:30 AM Sermon August 16, 2020
"Opposition is real"
Jeremiah 29:4-7, Jeremiah 29:10-14
Well, good morning. Hope you're doing well today. It really is great to see so many of you in the room as we begin to slowly regather back. And for those of you who are watching online, we're so grateful that you're doing that 2020, right? It's been a crazy year. I love mornings like today where we get to see people, baptize families dedicate their kids because not only is it a sense of normal, but it's just a great reminder that God is at work. Not everybody feels that way right now, though. People feel overwhelmed, stressed out, maybe opposed by different things. And I saw something the other day online. It just made me laugh. And you've probably seen it too. It's like, let's just put up the Christmas tree and call it a year. Right? Anybody seen that? I saw the other day, there's a dr. Pepper shortage. And I was like, Lord, what more do we have to give up? So it's just rough. I am experiencing virtual school in my house with our first grader, Luke, he'll be here next hour. And it's been crazy. We're so thankful his school has done a great job transitioning us to virtual school. But if any of you or anybody in that world, you've got virtual school happening at your house. Okay. We'll pray for you again later. It's crazy. Like even though it's, well-planned everything, it's just a different kind of wife and it's hard. And it reminds me that some seasons of life are just harder than others. And I read an overview of the life of a man that you'll actually know who he is when we're done with this, but he had experienced many hard times in his life. And so I just kind of took notes of some things that happened in his life. And I thought I'd share them with you. I'm not trying to depress you at the start of this.
I just think it's helpful getting where we're going. So this guy, when he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home and he had to go to work to help support them. So seven years old when he was nine, just two years later, his mother died fast forward a little bit. When he's 22, he's been working as a store clerk for years. He loses that job. He wanted to go to law school, but he didn't have the education because he'd been working all of his life. So at 23, he went into debt to become the partner of a local little small store in his town. At 26, his business partner died that left him a massive debt to have to figure out on his own. At 28. I love this when he started courting a girl for four years, so thinks things are going well. He asked her to marry him and she says, no. I'm like man at 37 on his third try, he finally gets elected to Congress. But two years later, he fails to get reelected. And 41, his four-year-old son dies and 45. He runs for Senate again and he loses 47. He runs for vice president and he loses 49. He ran for the Senate again and he loses. He thinks at this point he would just give up. But at 51, he was elected president and that man was Abraham Lincoln. You know, and I've heard stories of his life all my life. And I feel like we hear so many of the amazing things that happen in his life later in life, but to see where he came from and the hardship that he went through gives a greater appreciation for some of the things that he was able to accomplish.
The truth is life is rarely easy. I think many of us know that right now, but one of the things that I think is important to distinguish is that a live of following the Lord doesn't really end in years of just guaranteed easy days. And it doesn't really end in a chorus of people cheering our name and saying how great we are just because we love the Lord. Especially in today's setting. I find that most of the time in today's setting, if you out to go out to honor the Lord with your life, you'll probably face numerous setbacks. And some of these setbacks are just a result of living in a fallen world, right? We live in a broken world. That's full of sin. We sin ourselves and have consequences that we face as a result of our sin. But sometimes the challenges that we face are more than just the result of being in a fallen world. Sometimes those challenges are really the outworking of a spiritual battle that rages below the surface of everything. And so, one of the things that I wanted us to think about today as we continue our series on Ezra is, I want us to think about the idea that opposition, spiritual opposition in our lives is real.
As we've been walking through this book, we've kind of come around three words, you've seen it at the end of our video. Maybe you've seen it on some of our social media posts, the three words of return rebuild and renew. And I think those are three great words to think about in our lives in the world that we're living in. And so, as we've looked in the book of Ezra and we continue to study this book, if you remember, we've, we've talked so far about how these people who are exiled from Jerusalem taken off in a Babel and how they've come back, they've returned. And today we're going to talk about how they're attempting to rebuild the temple. And then later they'll try and rebuild the city. But before we jump into the book of Ezra, I thought it'd be good for us to think back a little bit about where these people had been. And what they'd seen is it'll help us understand a little bit about how they face spiritual opposition. You see, it's been 70 years when we start our passage today, it'll have been 70 years since the Israelite exile had begun. If you remember it, King Nebuchadnezzar came into Jerusalem, right? He destroys the city destroys the temple. Like Rob's the temple of all of its like precious things. All these things that people would have held, dear, he would have taken like the best and the brightest from Israel and he have taken them off into exile. And what we know is that during this period of exile, there's some amazing stories that happened. The story of Daniel Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all happened while they're in exile. And for the particular part that we're looking at today, this portion of their history is right when the story of Esther happens in scripture. In fact, one of the Kings that we'll talk about today is the same King that Esther is married to. And thing his opposition was nothing new to these people. Not at all. Jerusalem was in shambles. The temple was in ruin and the people were spread all over the world. But every time opposition rose up for these people for God's people, God's provision was there as well. And so I want to read a portion of Jeremiah 29. You probably know one verse from Jeremiah 29, but I want to put some context around it, just to tell a little bit about a message that the people of Israel receive at the very beginning of exile. So if you remember the first week of this series, when King Cyrus is sending them back, right, that's sitting in the back, I'm talking about way before that, right after Jerusalem is destroyed and they're sent off into Babylon and they’re re land in Babylon. This is the letter that they receive. It says in Jeremiah 29, verse four, it says, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles who I'm sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce, take wives and have sons and daughters take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage that they may bear sons and daughters multiply there and do not decrease, but seek the welfare of the city where I've sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf for it's in your welfare, you will find your welfare for thus says the Lord when 70 years are completed for Babylon, and this is where we're going to be talking about today, seven years later, I will visit you and I'll fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place for, I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord plans for welfare, not for evil to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me. And I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart, and I'll be found by you declares the Lord. I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I've driven. You declares the Lord. And I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you in to exile. What an amazing thing. When I think about the people that this was written to, they had no question that opposition was real. They had seen it seen the temple of the Lord destroyed.
They had been separated and scattered, but in the midst of it all, they had hope. They had hope because of the promises of God. They had hoped that 70 years later, they would have a chance to return. And what I think is amazing about this is when we talk about the people of the pastors that we're studying today, they not only have hope that God might do something there. I have confidence that God might do it because they've seen it do it. They're sitting in Jerusalem; they're living there again. They're working to rebuild at this point, they have rebuilt the altar and they're actually worshiping at the site of where the temple had been. That would have been a dream for people 50 years before they've seen the goodness of God. And they're beginning to rebuild the temple. They're beginning to make efforts to do it. And they have great trust that God is at work. And that brings us through our main passes for today, which is Ezra four. And we're just going to kind of read this through in chunks as we go. And we're going to start in verse one, Ezra four verse one says this. Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin, which are two of the tribes of Israel, heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of the father's houses and said to them, let us build with you for, we worship your God. As you do pay attention to that for, we worship your God as you do. And we've been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon King of Assyria who brought us here, but as Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the father's houses in Israel said to them, you have nothing to do ,with us and building the house to our God. But we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel as King Cyrus, the King of Persia has commanded us to do first one really quickly establishes that the people who approach the people of God who were building the temple was people who approached her adversaries of God. And one of the things that we learned by looking at these peoples, we understand that opposition begins with compromise because what happens is these people come up and they say, Hey, we're with you. We worship the same God as you do. But the fact that verse one calls him adversaries really helps me process the response of the leaders of Israel. Cause they're pretty rude. They're like, they don't say, Hey, no, thank you. Maybe we'll call you. If it gets a little rougher, they're basically like getaway. You have nothing to do with us. You have no right to be here. You have no reason to be here, go away. God has called us to do it. Not you, which is not usually how our churches operate today, but I think we can learn something from it, but their response is harsh. And the reason it's harsh is because these people were trying to get the people of God to compromise what they're doing. Okay. You have to understand a little bit of the history of this time to understand what they're trying to do. These people, that approach are actually the forefathers of some people that you would know from the new Testament. They're the forefathers of the Samaritans because here's what happens when Israel is taken into exile, Jerusalem.
And a lot of that area is left. Mostly empty. People are left behind, but not a ton. And so there's a place to send people there. So the Assyrian King later sends basically immigrants into Israel and tells them to settle there. And they start marrying with the Jews that are left over in that place. And the Samaritan race is born. And one of the problems is when those people are there, there's a lot of hostilities they're trying to live there. And so the Assyrian King sends a priest out of exile back to Israel and says, Hey, teach these people the ways of God. And so he teaches them, the rituals, the routines, the sacrifices, all of the things that they would need to know. And so these people, without a temple, without an altar, which would have been blaspheme in the eyes of the Jewish people at that time, they continue to sacrifice, even though there's no temple and they attempt to worship the Lord, but there's a passage from second Kings 17, that kind of explains this history that lets us understand if those people are the same people who approach the builders of the temple. If those people actually are fully devoted to the Lord. And so second Kings 17:33 says this, these people fear the Lord, but they also serve their own gods after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.
So these people bring their history of worshiping other gods and they just meld it together with the worship of the God of Israel sound familiar. It should have, because it happened all throughout the old Testament. And I would say it even happens a lot in our world today. And so these helpers’ approach, the temple builders, and they said, Hey, we can help you. We worship your gun too, even though that wasn't really true. And if these people would have infiltrated the building of the temple, it really could have been disastrous because not only could they have watered down the faith of the people of Israel, if they would have helped build the temple, they would have had a place in the temple worship. They had been able to say, we're a part of this process. And as they would have gathered in the temple, they would have brought their other gods, their other beliefs into that moment. But here's what I think is interesting. God's people say no, and they say no harshly, but they say no. And I think it's interesting because they could have used the help building a simple is not easy. Their progress is slow. They could have used more bodies. They could have used a strong cultural and economic connection with the people who already live there. Remember they're new back in this place. Once you come back, they're really old. They were really young when they were there. And if they're kind of middle-aged, they probably were born in exile. Like they, they need connections, but they still say no. So when I think about that, and I think about the temptation for our faith to be watered down, I'm always reminded that matters of theology are not the place to compromise what we think about God matters. What we know about how we form a relationship with God. It matters the reason behind our service to other people. When we go out into the community, it's not just being kind, it matters. It's a bridge to the gospel. So don't compromise is what I hear. When I see this passage, don't compromise to be inclusive and don't compromise to get the job done More quickly. Another thing we see about the opposition from this passage is that opposition will use discouragement and fear to distract God's people. As where four, four says, this is interesting. All right, the people have offered to help. They've been told no rather harshly. And so it says the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build discouragement and fear. And they bribe the counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of King Cyrus of Persia, even until the reign of Darrius King of Persia.
To me, it's really amazing how quickly that turns, Hey, let's build together. We worship your same God, and now it becomes, Hey, we're not only trying to discourage you and make you afraid. We're kind of like paying lawyers to come against you and make your job even harder. And what that shows is that the true motives of the opposition are revealed. They weren't really motivated by let's worship the same God together. They were motivated by having influence and control. They were focused on themselves. And what's interesting is they were really pawns in a spiritual battle. And I don't know if they even knew it. But one good thing to remember is that the opposition we face in our lives often goes deeper than the people that we encounter. And Ephesians six reminds us of this. Ephesians six, 10 through 12, says this finally be strong in the Lord. And in the strength of his mind, put on the whole armor of God that you may be, be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. We don't wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers against the authorities against the cosmic powers over this present darkness against the spiritual forces and evil in the heavenly places. I think this happens a lot, but we can't lose sight of the fact that the enemy is at work in the world. You know, we say opposition is real. To be more clear. Satan is real. The work of evil in our world is real, but the good news is the Lord is at work in our world as well. But without a clear recognition of the spiritual battles that exist around us, we'll be tempted to overlook, maybe ignore and kind of minimize the way that we see the enemy working in our midst. So we just have to recognize that there's certain things in our life that lead us to discouragement and fear, and they might not be at the Lord. Here's what happens when praying plants, the compromise us fail. Like we see these people come into the temple when that fails discouragement and fear usually happen next. And so I wonder for you in life right now, if you're struggling at all with discouragement or fear, maybe life's been so busy and hectic and crazy that you haven't had a chance to stop and think about it, but maybe the enemy working in your life to discourage you and make you fearful.
Maybe it looks like questions like this thoughts like this, maybe thinking what you're doing won't make any difference in this world or any eternity. So why try, maybe you're a teacher, like we mentioned earlier, and you think, man, these kids, they don't appreciate my efforts. I'm looking at them through a screen. Why even bother, let me just float through and miss the opportunity you have to impact the next generation. Maybe you're watching online and you're like, man, I've gone this long without being a church in person. Do I really need those people? And you isolate yourself. What if you're worried about, I don't know if we have enough money to make this month's bills or what if someone, I love to get sick or maybe you're just thinking like so many, how much longer we have to live. Like this man was this over. We have to recognize that sometimes those thoughts are the enemy working in our lives to distract us from what God is doing. And we recognize that the most fearful and discouraging thoughts are often not from the Lord. We're really free then to start thinking about the things of God, because opposition uses fear, uses discouragement to distract us. The next thing is can be discouraging is that opposition doesn't disappear quickly. We've seen this in verse six and seven. Hang with me for a minute here on the history of this. I know we've dived into a little bit already, but those people opposing the building of the temple. They're so frustrated with the work that's being done, that they write a letter to King Ahasuerus. Now this is probably why they called him Xerxes. All right. He had another name and King Xerxes is the same King that we find in the book of Esther. And so they write him a letter, but the letter that's actually included in chapter four here is not the letter to Artaxerxes. You'll probably see it in your notes, in your Bible. It's a letter to Artaxerxes who reigns later on. And so the writer of this book, Ezra, who hasn't shown up in person yet at this point in Ezra, he's writing kind of the history what's happened for the people who were his contemporaries are in his life.
And he's trying to show his people that he's writing that even after the temple one day gets built. People are still opposing the work that they're trying to do to build the city of Jerusalem at the time that Ezra writes 80 years later. And he's trying to say, Hey, this isn't new these people from the beginning. And so the opposition doesn't go away easily or quickly and recording the opposition, how they consistently challenged God's people allowed as we're to set an example, say, Hey, here's how we can follow the Lord.
Well, and here's how we need to avoid struggling, but it is possible to be faithful. And so here's what you got to see. It's 80 years of opposition and Israel's people are mostly faithful to the Lord, but here's an important thing for us to know their faithfulness to God, didn't make the opposition go away, right? Their faithfulness, the Lord didn't stop it. So that's a reminder to us today, as we face opposition, to know that we have to dig in at times and we have to hold strong and do what is right, because opposition doesn't disappear quickly. And the other thing we see is that opposition will misrepresent God and his people. And we see this one begins to dig into, Hey, what did they write to the King? And what they do is they totally misrepresent the people of God. And they pull up the kind of the bad stuff from their history. And they write a very one-sided letter because we know, Oh, that opposition will say anything to stop the work of the Lord. Satan. It's not described as a truthful person. He's a liar, he's a deceiver. And so the letter that we see written here was written by really powerful and influential people that lived in Jerusalem that were Persian officers. It was the treasurer of King Cyrus. One of the Persian officials in Sumeria, these were men of renown and very famous in the government of Syria. And they used their position to stop the work of the Lord. Ezra four verses 14 through 16, gives us a little bit of what they wrote. Artaxerxes. It says this now because we eat the salt of the palace. That's them saying, Hey, we're faithful to you King, and it's not fitting for us to witness the King's dishonor. Therefore, we send and informed the King in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learned that this the city is a rebellious city, hurtful to Kings and provinces. That sedition was stirred up in it from old. That's why the city was laid to waste. We make known to the King that the city is rebuilt, and its walls are finished. You'll have no possession in this province beyond the river. So again, you see the opposition showing their true colors, who they're really faithful to. We're faithful to the King. We're not faithful to these people building and they're troublemakers. And they tell them all about the history of bad and how it's. But what we have to see is that it's not really the whole truth because reality is especially an exile. God's people had a history of living in a peaceful existence in Babylon, and it was under God's direction. Maybe you caught it in that very first passage we read from Jeremiah.
Jeremiah instructed the people living in Babylon. He didn't say, Hey, rebel and tear this whole thing down. He said, be peaceful. He said, build homes, plant gardens, like your kids married each other. Let them have kids. Let's let our numbers increase, but let's pray for the welfare of the city because in the city's welfare as well, you'll find where you find your own. And I wonder if that's how we would define ourselves as people who are praying for our country, for our nation, for our city. Are we people who pray that way? Who seek the good of it? I think we are. I'm always encouraged by, but what's amazing is how the opposition at this point leaves all that out and just says, hey man, they lead to rebellion. They're going to take all your power. And the truth is twisted. In this case to make the people who are pursuing the Lord seem like the enemy there's made to seem irresponsible, irresponsible, rebellious, and dishonest.
And the world often twists the truth to make godly people look wicked, feel like I see that in the world today, where Christians are often labeled as bigoted and hateful and bullies. Right, I know you see that. And you sense that you see it and it comes the views on reproduction rights, sexual orientation, gender identity. I was like, man, they don't include anybody. Look how hateful they are. Look how bigoted, but the truth is opposition will misrepresent God and his people all the time. And the point is to make us the enemy. So, where does this leave us? Just a couple final thoughts? Really important thing to recognize is that opposition may slow the work of God's people, but it won't stop the work of God. Ezra four 24, it gives some sobering news. It says the work on the house of God, that's in Jerusalem stopped. And it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darrius King of Persia, work on the temple stop for more than 15 years, but it didn't stop forever and delays in God's work. It's not the same as God being defeated or God not being real or God not being there. And the truth is God has purpose and all, even things that when we see it, we go, man, I feel like the church has been defeated. I feel like God has been defeated. I feel like God may not have power to do anything, but the truth is we can be temporary print temporarily delayed, but we won't be permanently defeated. So don't lose sight of God in the waiting. Don't be tempted to compromise because things get hard or because you need the help. But here's what happens to God's people. When the work stops, they lose sight of what God had done. Like they knew that the prophecy from Jeremiah, they were the, like the living proof of it. They had returned back. And when the work stops, they just lose focus and they go settle into a new routine that loses sight on the Lord.
We'll talk more about this next week, but they basically take the supplies for the temple and go build houses and go, alright, well, here we are. But God was still at work. He was still in control. And so, we have to recognize that God's provision in the opposition, not to settle for good enough when spiritual opposition comes, which is what these people do. They go, man, we're back in Jerusalem. Good enough, I guess, right? The Temple's not here, but at least we came back. Maybe part of what God said is true with the most powerful King of the world, just shut us down. So I guess we're stuck here. So don't settle for good enough. And then also don't give too much credit to the opposition. I think sometimes we like credit the opposition and then instead we make it easy to justify our spiritual laziness. We say things like it must not be the Lord's will or his timing for something to happen, just because something gets hard. And in reality, God may be waiting for us to take some initiative. We say things like where God guides, he provides, which is true, but maybe our idea of provision is skewed.
Maybe God's providing us just what we need through the opposition that we face, because the reality is the opposition that faced the temple builders. It wasn't outside of God's knowledge, his plan or his control. And he was doing something in that opposition. But a lot of times we mistakenly assumed that if the Lord's in it, we won't have hassles, setbacks and frustrations. While we tried to get the work of the Lord done, but that's really inconsistent with scripture.
So let's remember something today that feels kind of weird. Opposition is a gift. It's a gift because it reminds us that, Hey, I'm not in control, but God's in control. Opposition is a gift because it reminds us not to be spiritual wimps and just give up. But to be reminded of second Corinthians four were afflicted in every way, not crushed, but not crushed perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken struck down, but not destroyed. Opposition reminds us, Hey, I'm human and frail, but God's not. And he's in control. And he's working even in the face of those who oppose him. I think back to last week, you remember Jeff Williams was teaching and he said, worship is not about us. It's about the Lord. I think that's a great thing to remember when it comes to opposition, it's not ultimately about us. It's about the work of the Lord that opposition will blow through us to try and attack the Lord, but he's sufficient and he's strong and opposition that can result in us having more dependence on him, or it can result in us, settling into complacency and building our own houses with things that were intended for the house of the Lord. So, our hope is that Istrouma would be a people that rejects compromising our faith. Then when we see people try to come into the church and change theology, or we see movements that don't embrace what the heart of the gospel is that we recognize it and we reject it, that we'd be people at Istrouma that discern where God is at work. And we want to join it, that we would endure through opposition. That comes our way. And in the end, we become people who were more like the Lord because there's a chance that opposition in our lives exist. So that we'll be more focused on the Lord and what he's doing in our lives and in the world, his opposition is real, but the good news is, so it was our God and he's in control. So let's take a minute and pray together and then you'll be dismissed.
Lord. We love you, God, we thank you for today. We thank you for the book of Ezra and what it teaches us God so much about your promises and your faithfulness. And Lord had even teaches us how to face opposition.
God, I pray for each one of us here, Lord that for whatever we're walking through today. And so many of us are walking through times that are hard and God, some of us are even walking through things that are real spiritual opposition in our lives. God, we pray that we would be focused on you, that our dependence on you would grow. And in the end, we would see your goodness at work in our lives and in the world around us. Lord, God, we love you, Lord. We thank you for today and we thank you for a chance to gather here in person and even online Lord.
have a great day.