Summary: As followers of Jesus, we should expect to face opposition, but we can trust that God has "cut the cords of the wicked."
Pastor Eugene Peterson tells a story from his childhood—a story about having to deal with enemies. For him it came in the form a school bully who beat him up every day after school. It seemed no matter how young Eugene tried to avoid him—in the forms of alternate routes and detours—this bully always stalked him and found him. When he found out Eugene was a Christian, he starting calling Eugene a “Jesus-sissy,” and poor Eugene kept trying to remember Jesus’ words, “Bless those who persecute you” and “turn the other cheek.” Then one day when this bully came at him, Eugene snapped. He grabbed this bully, threw him to the ground and began hitting him. And rather than telling this bully to say, “Uncle,” Eugene forced this defeated bully to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” And he did. He said it. As Peterson says of the bully, “Garrison Johns was my first Christian convert.”
Even very young Christians can have enemies. Now, I don’t know that any Christian, young or not, should handle enemies this way. And I don’t think Peterson would either. Jesus does tell us to love our enemies. But this story reminds us that we do have enemies—we as Christians are not without adversaries who will do their best to make our following Jesus as difficult and miserable as possible.
But there’s more than one kind of enemy. The passage that was read from Ephesians warns against the “wiles of the devil.” It spoke of how “our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” An enemy of the Christian is any thing that makes them want to stop walking in the way of Jesus, anything that persecutes them for walking in this way and tries to tempt us away from our first and greatest Love: the Lord God Himself.
We should expect opposition
The first point we can get from Psalm 129 is that we should expect opposition because of our relationship with God. Peterson came to expect that bully to be just around the corner. There are always going to be those who do attack, abuse, insult, and otherwise persecute those who are followers of God. We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens.
There are other psalms testify to the perennial threat of enemies. Psalm 3 says “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me. Many are saying to me, ‘There is no help for you in God.’” Psalm 7 says “O Lord, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me.” There are others, including the Psalm 56, which we heard today in our call to worship: “Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me . . . All day long they seek to injure my cause.” Our Psalm says in verses 1, 2: “Often they have attacked me from my youth.”
In this psalm the opposition is directed at God through people of Israel—“opposition to God’s people was also opposition to God.” Zion, or Israel, is God’s place, God’s city. How often do Christians and the church come under fire by people who are angry with God? How often are Christians treated in the basis of what someone thinks about God? We become the lightning rod for the world’s opposition to God’s ways. The church is Zion insofar as it is also now the target. While opposition is not something we tend to experience much in our part of the world, overseas and in other countries persecution of Christians is almost commonplace.
It’s interesting to think about how we often thank God for the freedom we have in our land to attend church, to read our Bibles, to come to youth group and Bible studies. When you look around the world, there are plenty of places around the world where Christians do not have this freedom. And in many of these places the church is growing. China is a great example of this. In places where there is no freedom—where opposition has actually made being a Christian a punishable offence—the church often grows and thrives. Beginning next week we’ll be talking about the persecuted church around the world in preparation for IDOP, but let me just say now that sometimes I wonder if the church in North America might not benefit from more open opposition.
You might say, though I don’t have any statistics to back me up, that God’s people are opposed and attacked in proportion to their faithfulness. God’s people will experience opposition in direct proportion to its faithfulness to God’s purposes. And the opposition is specific: it is directed at God through His people.