In our walk as Christians and in our work as a church…
1. We must stand against the persistence of our opposition (4:4-7)
2. We must stand against the pervasiveness of our opposition (4:8-10)
3. We must stand against the persuasiveness of our opposition (4:11-16)
4. We must stand against the impediments of our opposition (4:17-24)
It never ceases to amaze me how wonderfully God put together His creation. I don’t have as much time to do it as I would like, but I love to just go out in the woods and look on all that God made. Each one of His creatures is incredibly different. But each one is perfectly suited to the nature that surrounds it. It’s amazing to me how animals, birds, and fish are perfectly equipped to deal with the environment God has placed them in. There is all of this political talk about extinction and global warming and all of that. But the opposition we give to nature is nothing compared to the opposition it gives itself. Part of God’s original curse after the fall was that there would be opposition in nature. To me, one of the most dramatic pictures of opposition in nature is the life cycle of Pacific Salmon. The eggs of Pacific Salmon hatch in very fast moving streams and rivers. Once they hatch, they spend their very early life around the nest. Then as they start to grow, they begin to swim downstream. They head downstream to the fast-moving rivers and then head down-river all the way until they eventually get to the Pacific Ocean. Then when they’re adults, guess what they do? They turn around and come back. By this time, they’re up to 1,000 miles away from where they started. And now it’s time to head back. But this time, it’s all upstream. Things aren’t too bad in the Ocean. They just have to deal with some outgoing tides and currents. But then they get to the river. It’s a lot harder to swim upstream in the river than it was to go against the tide in the ocean. And the closer and closer they get to their stream, the harder it gets. Tons and tons of water are opposed to them. Everything else is heading the other direction. And here they are, still swimming upstream. Then they finally get to their stream. Now that they’re closer to home, things are going to get easier, right? Wrong. Now they’re almost impossible. Because the streams are smaller, the water moves a whole lot faster. And now there are rocks and logs and falls to deal with. We’ve all seen pictures of salmon as they jump up raging waterfalls. That happens when they get close to the end of their journey. After they’ve already come hundreds of miles. All of them upstream. Everything is against them. Everything is opposition. And the farther they go, the harder it seems to get. Have you ever felt like that’s the way your life is? Do you ever feel like that’s what your Christian walk has become? All uphill. Full of opposition? That is exactly what the remnant was feeling. The first time opposition came, they almost responded the right way. They responded with discernment. They recognized the opposition for what it was. They responded with determination. They purposed to stand in the face of the opposition and get the job done anyway. But even though they got all of that right, they still messed up. They messed up because they claimed the Babylonian King Cyrus as their authority instead of God. And because they did that, later on, they weren’t able to stand when the opposition came. In our passage tonight, the remnant is facing a barrage of continual opposition. They’re like that salmon in the home stretch of swimming upstream. They’re facing waterfall after waterfall after waterfall. And finally, they do what many of those salmon do. Finally, they just give up. See, only a portion of the salmon make it all the way back to lay their eggs in the place where they started. Many of them give up and die along the way. They give in to the opposition. That’s what the remnant did. As we’ll see later on, they gave up. They quit building and didn’t do anything for 16 years. In our Christian walk, we face opposition every day. As we move forward in the work of this church, we will face opposition in accomplishing God’s work. How are we going to face it? How will you face it in your personal walk with Jesus? How will we face it in this church’s work for Jesus? I want us to face it head on. I want us to face it with our eyes wide open. And I want us to face it with God the Father as our authority, God the Son as our victory, and God the Spirit as our power. But in order to do that, we need to know our enemy. We need to know the nature of the enemy who will oppose us. So in this passage, we’re going to see four characteristics of our opposition. First, we must stand against the persistence of our opposition.
The persistence of our opposition. Our passage tonight runs from verse 4 all the way through the end of the chapter. When Ezra wrote this book, he put this chapter in a parentheses. All the way up until now, he’s been going along in historical order. This event happened. That event happened. The next event happened. But now, he switches things up. Now, he puts in parentheses all of the opposition the remnant faced for the next century or so. In verses 4-7 that we just read, he gives a brief overview of how they faced opposition under four kings. Then he uses an event in the reign of the last king as an example of the opposition they had been facing all along. Verses 4-7 lists the names of four kings—Cyrus, Darius, Ahasuerus, and Artaxerxes. Remember that Cyrus was the Babylonian king who originally gave the remnant the letter commanding them to leave Babylon, go to Jerusalem and build the temple. All of the events that we have looked at so far have happened under the reign of Cyrus. And it was under his reign that the opposition began. And it continued under the next king—King Darius, the king mentioned in the book of Daniel. And it continued under the next king—King Ahasuerus, the king who would become Esther’s husband. And it continued under the next king—King Artaxerxes. Opposition to the remnant would last for well over one hundred years. That’s how persistent it was. And verse 5 says that it frustrated their purpose. That word can carry the meaning of making them ineffective. It can even suggest impotence. That’s what opposition can do, can’t it? Not so much temporary short term opposition. But the kind that goes on day after day after day after day. It can make you get to the point where all you want to do is give up. It can make you completely impotent—ineffective. And that’s exactly what the opposition wants. How does verse 6 say that the opposition attacked the remnant? Did they come at them with swords? Did they physically attack them? No, because most of the time, a physical attack strengthens the will. Their goal was to weaken the remnant’s will. So what did they do? They accused them before the king. They became a legal adversary and stood before the king throwing accusations against them. Does that sound familiar? It should. Because we have an adversary that stands before our King every day throwing accusations against us. His name comes from the same Hebrew word that is used in verse 6 for the accusations thrown against the remnant. Our accuser’s name is Satan. And just like the accusers in our passage, his goal is to make us ineffective. His goal is to render us impotent. And he is extremely persistent. He knows that once Jesus saves us, he can’t take our salvation. But he can take our witness. He can take our effectiveness. He can keep us from finishing the work God has called us to do. He desires nothing more than to leave us with nothing but a cracked and run-down slab with a deteriorating, unused altar in the middle of it. And he is persistent in his effort. Our opposition is persistent. We must stand against the persistence of our opposition. We must also stand against the pervasiveness of our opposition.
The pervasiveness of our opposition. Verses 8-10 marks the beginning of a letter. It’s a letter that a couple of the remnant’s accusers wrote to King Artaxerxes. This letter actually happened years later, during the time when the city was being rebuilt. But it is representative of all the opposing accusations they faced—even in the days of Cyrus, where we actually are in our timeline. But verse 8 is the to: from: line of the letter. Verse 9 is all the folks that signed on to the accusation. You might think of it as all those who endorsed Rehum and Shimshai’s letter. This was a list of the remnant’s opposition. It is a list of their accusers. Their adversaries. And look how pervasive the list is. The remnant’s opposition came from all sides. They were being buffeted about from all directions. Just like our poor salmon. If it wasn’t the water, it was the rocks. If it wasn’t the rocks, it was the falls. Everyone was coming at them from all directions. Each of those names in verse 9 represents a nationality that was in Jerusalem at the time. And they only had one thing in common. They had a common enemy—the Jews. Nothing unites like a common enemy. And they had it. Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel like everything’s stacked against you? Think about the godly woman who lives her testimony out before her lost husband every day of their marriage. He comes against her faith. Her kids come against her faith. Her life is filled with opposition. Think about the Christian young person. Every day in the hallways at school, their faith is laughed at and ridiculed by the “cool” kids. When they step into the classroom, their faith is questioned and undermined by a secular curriculum. When many of them get home, their faith is belittled and scorned by lost parents and siblings. And then when they get to church, they’re looked down on because they don’t act just the “right” way. Christians today are opposed on every side. We are opposed theologically, politically, educationally, and economically. We are opposed by rich people, poor people, and the so-called middle class. We are opposed by all political parties, by all races, by all ages, and by all classes. Our opposition is pervasive. But even so, we must stand. We must stand against the persistence of our opposition and we must stand against the pervasiveness of our opposition. We must also stand against the persuasiveness of our opposition.
The persuasiveness of our opposition. Verses 11-16 move from the letter’s introduction to its main body. And the main body lays out the case of the accusers against the remnant. It lays out their case in four parts. Each one of them is a separate accusation and each one is a very persuasive lie. Verse 12 falsely states the remnant’s record. It accuses them of being rebellious and wicked. Verse 13 falsely states the remnant’s intent. It accuses them of intending on not paying taxes when they’re finished. That’s an accusation that will get the government’s attention. Verses 14-15 falsely state the remnant’s authority. It had been many years since the decree of Cyrus. The letter accuses the remnant of never having permission to build in the first place. Finally, verse 16 falsely states the remnant’s political impact. The letter actually accused the remnant of taking over everything. What a conspiracy theory! It may sound ridiculous, but it was persuasive. The sad thing is that lies can usually be persuasive. And our opposition isn’t afraid to lie on us. And why should that surprise us? Satan, our chief opposition stands before the throne accusing us before God day and night. And if he’s doing that behind the scenes, why are we surprised that his followers are doing it here? If he lies about us before God Himself—why should we act surprised when people lie about us here? And those lies are persuasive, aren’t they? “Well, those Christians are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.” “I live better than most of those church people do.” “All that church wants is your money.” How many times have you heard accusations like that? We all know that they’re lies. But the sad thing is how persuasive those lies have been. Our opposition is persuasive. It is persistent, pervasive and persuasive. But we still must stand. We must stand against our opposition. And we must stand against the impediments of our opposition.
The impediments of our opposition. Verses 17-24 are a new letter. Verse 16 finished the accusing letter of the opposition. These verses are the king’s response. He fell for the lies of the opposition. He fell for the revisionist history concerning the nature of the remnant. He fell for the revisionist history concerning the power of the remnant. And as a result, he gave a command. He commanded that all work in Jerusalem was to cease. This gave the opposition the authority they needed to force the remnant to stop construction. And they did. To the point that verse 23 says, they even resorted to the use of force and power. Isn’t it interesting how the king signed the letter that authorized that violence? Back in verse 17, he signed his letter, “Peace”. Throughout history, political peace has always come at the expense of the Jews. And as we move forward, future political peace will come at the expense of both the Jews and Christians. Our opposition sees us as an impediment to progress. So, because of that, our opposition will continue place impediments in the way of our faith. Roadblocks to public worship. Roadblocks to evangelism. Roadblocks to preaching and practicing our faith. Those kinds of impediments are increasing every day in our nation. But the impediments we face in our daily lives are usually much simpler than those. Our main impediment to public worship is desire. Our main impediment to evangelism is discomfort. Our main impediment to preaching and practicing our faith is laziness and complacency and comfort.
Facing opposition wasn’t something that only the remnant had to deal with. Opposition is something we all have to face. We have to face it as individuals in our daily walk with Jesus. And we have to face it as a corporate body in our work as a church. We must stand against the persistence of our opposition. We must stand against the pervasiveness of our opposition. We must stand against the persuasiveness of our opposition. And we must stand against the impediments of our opposition. That sounds well and good. But how do we do it? That’s a good battle cry, but how do we march forward without getting shot? Turn with me to Ephesians 6
How can you stand against the opposition that comes against your life? How can we stand against the opposition that will come against our church? We will stand by being strong in the Lord. We will stand by relying on the power of His might. That is the only way to stand against the wiles of our opposition, our adversary, the devil. The remnant failed to stand. The remnant stopped swimming in mid-stream. Verse 24 is a sad report on what happened.
They quit. They gave up. They threw up their hands and said, “God, I can’t handle it—I quit.” And the work on God’s temple stopped for 16 years. After all God had brought them through. After all of His faithfulness. After He had preserved them and provided for them over and over and over. They succumbed to the opposition and quit. You know what? They were right. They couldn’t handle it. They couldn’t handle the opposition. And neither can you. And neither can we as a church. The day that we think we can is the day we will surely be defeated. The day we think we can is the day we’ll swim off course into a nice calm little eddy and wait to die. You see, if we’re headed in the direction we’re supposed to, we’re going to face opposition. And the closer we get to where we’re supposed to be, the tougher the opposition’s going to be. Either we can turn away from the opposition and die in a calm, peaceful pool. Or we can face the opposition and strive to accomplish the work God has for us. But even if that’s what we choose to do, our determination isn’t what’s going to keep us standing. If we try, 16 years from now, we’ll be standing in the middle of a cracked slab and empty altar just like the remnant was. No, the only thing that will allow us to stand is if we stand in the strength of Jesus Christ. If we face our opposition in the power of His might. Are you ready to stand in the face of your opposition tonight? Then quit looking at it. Look to Jesus. Trust in Jesus. Lean on Jesus. Call on Jesus. He will give you the strength to stand tonight.