Don Jones tells the story of a close friend who pastored in the Phoenix area but God had laid on his heart the desire to start new churches. He left to go plant a church in another state. The plans were laid for him to begin with the cooperation of two established churches. Funds and families were in place to further the kingdom of God. As soon as he arrived to start the new church, the associational mission director told him of opposition. One of his detractors in the Phoenix area had taken his vacation in the area where he was to start the work. The detractor met with each pastor of the cooperating church as well as its leadership. The man told all kinds of lies about him and eventually destroyed the beginning of a new church. Anytime there is a new initiative in the kingdom of God, resistance will arise. Where God is at work, the enemy is also at work. Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was certainly no exception to this. When people take kingdom priorities seriously, people resist the work of God. This is what Nehemiah learned. The last three weeks, we were introduced to the families, groups and individuals who were rebuilding the walls. We discovered that in kingdom work, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. And, because the people worked with all their heart, the construction was really zipping along. Things were going well, the people were excited, and the wall was going up. But then opposition started to arise against the rebuilding the walls.
There are three sources of resistance we usually have to contend with. The first is outsiders. Opposition usually arisse from people in the world. Warren Wiersbe writes, “God’s people sometimes have difficulty working together, but the people of the world have no problem uniting in opposition to the work of the Lord.” Nehemiah experiences this. There are 3 co-conspirators: Sanballat the Horonite, who is the governor to the north, Tobiah the Ammonite official, who is from the East and Geshem the Arab, who lives south and controls the trade going from Egypt north through Israel. This is the third time we have encountered Sanballat and every time we read about him, he’s fighting against the work of God and Nehemiah is trying. Why? Sanballat and Tobiah feared the potential of a strong Jerusalem emerging as a threat to their territory and power. Geshem feared that his import/export business would be threatened. By this time, it is obvious that the Jews are serious about the rebuilding the walls and that real progress is being made. Sanballat and Tobiah it’s time to do something about it before it goes too far.
We expect resistance to come from our enemies but it can also come from insiders, that is family and friends. What’s amazing is that opposition often comes from the sources we least expect: the people closest to us, those who are supposed to encourage and support us. It can even come from those within the body of Christ. Mark Mittelberg tells the story of a man named Jim who had a passion for God, a love for people, and a burden to share the message of God’s forgiveness with people who had not heard it. The big question for Jim was, “How can I get the unchurched who are so different from me to see how much God loves them?” Well, he decided to take some risks and really try. So, he went all out! First, he shaved his head right down to the skin- all except for one little patch of hair which he grew out long. He started wearing it in a pigtail and even dyed it a different color, trying to fit in with the customs of the crowd he was trying to reach. Jim changed the way he dressed, what he ate, and even the way he talked so he could communicate God’s love to this group. He read the books they read and did everything he could do to establish common ground with them. In fact, he even moved into the same neighborhood as them. Unfortunately, Jim faced outright rejection from the very people he cared so much about: his own church family. Instead of getting behind him and encouraging him, they actually started saying bad things about him. Only a few close friends stuck with him and supported his efforts. Yet James Hudson Taylor and his China Inland Mission persevered in spite of the opposition and as a result, 1000’s of Chinese people came to know Jesus. Resistance often comes from those closest to you. Jesus knew that. Jesus received the most resistance and criticism not from the religious leadership of the day but from his own brothers and sisters and friends in his home town who doubted his identity.
A third place resistance can come from is your own flesh. There are time we have to wrestle with what God wants us to do and what we want to do.
Now there are different strategies of opposition but the goal of opposition is to stop your progress. This is one reason the closer you get to accomplishing God’s goal, the greater the opposition. Sanballet and Tobiah used three types of opposition. The first was ridicule. (Vs 1-2) Opposition often comes in the form of insults of God’s servants. Goliath ridiculed David when the shepherd boy met the giant with only a sling in his hand. The soldiers mocked Jesus during his trial and the crowd taunted Him while he was hanging on the cross. And Sanballat ridiculed the workers even before the work started. Now here’s thing about ridicule: it always finds that vulnerable spot. It seeks to attack you at your weakest point or your greatest insecurity because that’s where you are most vulnerable. Ridicule is also often done in public because it then has more power and impact. The whole purpose of ridicule is to cause you to doubt who you are and thus what you are doing or are committed to.
Second, Sanballat mocked them. He calls the workers “feeble” which in Hebrew literally means “withered and miserable.” He mocked them with 4 taunting questions: “Will they restore their wall?” How could a remnant of feeble Jews hope to build a wall strong enough to protect the city from a mighty army? “Will they offer sacrifices?” He challenges their faith. The only place you can be defeated is in your faith. If you begin to doubt the goodness of God, the purpose of God, the promises of God, the provision of God and the call of God, then you’re done. That was Satan’s strategy with Jesus. He would get religious people to say to Jesus, Quit calling God Father. He’s not your Father.” It didn’t stop even at his most vulnerable time. On the cross they yelled, Jesus, if God cared about you, he wouldn’t let this happen. If God loved you, he would send 10,000 legion of angels to set your free from this cross.” Jesus bought that lie for a moment. Remember? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Opponents will riase questions to cause you to doubt your faith and everything you believe, including doubting your God. Attacking your faith is the ultimate attack.
“Will they finish in a day?” suggests that the workers had no idea how difficult and prolonged the work of rebuilding was and that frustration and fatigue would soon set in and they would quit. “Can they bring these stones back to life?” The stone and mortar were so old and damaged, they couldn’t possibly be used to rebuild and fortify a wall.
When someone starts criticizing a person, others are apt to join in. Tobiah then says, “What they are building if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” That’s the way criticism goes. When one starts criticizing in a crowd, others jump right in. Yet archeological excavations on these walls revealed that they were nine foot thick and 12-15 feet tall. They would need more than a small fox to knock them down. Thus, the workers became the punch line of every joke, and everyone got a laugh at their expense. When get involved in the work of God, you will always face ridicule. Expect it and don’t stop working.
But the opposition didn’t stop there! Third, they threatened attack. The closer Nehemiah and the Jews get to fulfilling God’s purpose to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the greater the opposition and resistance is. In the second chapter, we read that the opposition was disturbed by the news that the walls of Jerusalem were going to be rebuilt. By the fourth chapter, they’re incensed. And by the end of this chapter, there is a threat of war looming. So the closer you get to fulfilling God’s purpose, the greater the opposition. It doesn’t get easier.
I think a lot of people are under the false impression that if they give their life to Jesus then their problems will be solved, their health issues will be healed and life itself will just go easier. But if you look at the life and experiences of Jesus or even that of Nehemiah, you will find that is anything but the case. When you join in mission, you can expect opposition. You can count on it, just like death and taxes. No one is exempt. Now if God has called you to his work, then why does He allow resistance and opposition to rise up? When you look at all that needs to be done: roads need to be rebuilt, schools need to be rehabbed and the educational system needs to be overhauled, politics need to be changed, neighborhoods need to be revitalized, homes still need to be gutted and restored, people need to be brought back, the sewer and water system needs to be overhauled, marriages need to be rebuilt and fortified and the list just goes on and on. The last thing we need is opposition and resistance from all sides.
But if anything is evident by the pace of the building and the almost insurmountable things which need to be done, it’s this: we’re going to need patience, strength and endurance. Strength and endurance are critical to rebuilding and restoring God’s purpose for the world. The main principle of resistance training or weight lifting is that resistance builds strength and endurance. The greater the resistance in your life, the stronger you become. James writes, “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Endurance. That’s why God allows opposition and resistance into our lives. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4
How do you overcome opposition when it rears its ugly head? First, request God’s help. In the jungles of Africa, a man was being pursued by a roaring, hungry lion. Feeling the beast’s hot breath on his neck, and knowing his time was short, he broke out into prayer as he ran like crazy, “Please make this lion a Christian. Please make him a Christian!” Within seconds, the frightened man noticed that the lion had stopped chasing him. When he looked behind him, he found the lion kneeling and moving his lips in obvious prayer. Greatly relieved he got close enough to hear the lion pray, “Bless, Oh Lord, this food which I am about to receive.”
Nehemiah, as we might expect by now, begins his response to the opposition on his knees! He requested God’s help in chapter one for Jerusalem. In chapter two, he prayed an “instant message” prayer while he was in the presence of the king. Now, in chapter four, he in the face of opposition: “Hear us, O God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.” This was quite a prayer he wasn’t praying for his enemies to become believers but instead for God to judge them. One can understand his request. He knew the enemies were really fighting against God and so he asks God to deal with them. Now notice, Nehemiah didn’t give pep talks to the workers, he didn’t organize raiding parties against the enemies, or he didn’t create a propaganda campaign to put a different spin on things. Here’s the principle we can learn from Nehemiah: When people talk against you, don’t talk back talk to God.
Second, If you want to overcome opposition, remember who God is. From his prayer time with God, Nehemiah not only grew his trust in God but renewed his knowledge that God is faithful to bring to pass what he has promised. And Nehemiah rallied the people by calling them to remember the Lord, “who is great and awesome…” Nehemiah knew, even in the face of opposition, that the success of the wall was wholly dependent upon God who inspired its beginning. The people could not rebuild the wall on their own. They needed to remember God and what He had promised. We need to do the same. We need to remember God will always be there for us. We need to remember that He is great and awesome. So, when you’re facing opposition, turn to the One who is able to do something about it. God has been faithful to you in the past. He is faithful to you today. And He has promised to be faithful to you in the future. Remember the Lord. Remember His promises. Remember His goodness. Remember His power. Remember Him. He is our strength and our source of security. And that freed the people to be able to work with all their heart and minds.
At the time it was completed in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. During the first phase of the project, 23 men fell to their deaths in the icy water below. Things were going from bad to worse because there were very few safety devices or procedures in place. And so, when it was halfway completed, they decided to take another look and make some changes. They reorganized and built the largest net ever made, and attached it under the area where the men were working. Was it worth the cost and the time it took to do this? Ask the 10 men who fell into it without being injured! Not only did it save those ten lives, but the work was completed in 3/4 the time because the workers no longer lived in fear of falling. They knew they had a security net to fall into. And when we remember who God is and what His promises are, we have a security we can fall back into as well.
Third, resolve to stay focused on the work. Verse 6 “So we rebuilt the wall until all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” Don’t take a break from God’s work in the midst of opposition. Doubt comes when we step away from God and his rebuilding purpose. Verse 6 says, “the people had a mind to work”. Verse 15 says, “all of us returned to the wall.” Verse 21 says, “we carried on the work.” In fact, they redoubled their efforts working far past quitting time until the stars came out.” Theirs was a desire and an urgency to get the job done. Despite all of the opposition, they found in themselves a dogged persistence that enabled them to overcome everything. And what we’ll find is that his theme continues throughout the book—the people stuck with it. Calvin Coolidge once wrote, “Press on. Nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent will not….Genius will not…..Education will not…Persistence and determination alone are the overwhelming power!”
One stormy night a boat could make no headway, and while the captain was struggling to get into port, a nervous passenger said to him: "Do you think we will get in all right?" He replied: "This is a leaky old boat, and we may go down; and the boilers are not in very good condition, so we may go up. But, whatever happens, we are going on."
One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway, it just wasn’t worth the effort to retrieve the donkey. He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down. A few shovel loads later the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing! He would shake it off and take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off. There are a number of ways we can handle opposition. It is easy to get discouraged and give up, or get angry and blow up, but if we really believe that God is in control, then we will trust Him to help us get through it His way.
Missionary David Livingstone, prayed these words when he faced stiff opposition from his Scottish brethren. May it be our prayer today: Send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever me from any tie but the tie that binds me to Your service and to Your heart.