- 1 Timothy 1:12-17;
- Ezra 4:1-5, 5:9-17
With the return from captivity back to Judah, the Israelites had the task to rebuild not only the altar and the temple but also the city. God called the people He elected for the task to go back. God also provided in all their needs. He prescribed the worship, and upon their return they reformed their worship back to the ordinances of God, restoring the altar and the offerings.
Last week we heard about the astonishing waning of their commitment to the Lord to rebuild the temple. Instead, in forgetting their priorities, they were more concerned about their own business than the business of God.
If we piece the events together, we find a very interesting trend: the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin mentioned in verse 1 were descendants of colonists from other countries who had been planted in the land when Assyria took the northern kingdom into captivity. These colonists had intermarried with the Jews who remained in the land, and their offspring later became known as Samaritans. This was in the old northern kingdom
There were also foreign people who settled in Judah during the 70 years of Babylonian captivity. They worshipped other gods, but there was some inter-marrying happening between them and the Jews who were left behind. Ezra 9 records this corruption of the worship of God. Some of the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighbouring peoples.
They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness. (Ezra 9:2)
Everything went fairly peacefully up to the point when God’s people started rebuilding of the temple for worship of the true living God. After Haggai proclaimed the Word of God, and the people repented before God to restart the work with new dedication, then they faced opposition!
Should the church of the Lord Jesus Christ show allegiance to Him only, opposition happens. The reverse is also true: when the church waters down the message of the Scriptures the world welcomes it and peace descends like a deadly nuclear cloud upon it.
This brings us to the question: Who do you think you are?
Those who lead the opposition arrived on the building site with this question: Who authorised you? This is, of course, the same question the Pharisees asked Jesus when He cleared the temple. They demanded of Him to declare his authority.
The builders on the temple site gives a wonderful answer which perhaps deserves a whole sermon in itself.
- We are servants of the God who created the heavens and the earth. The God of the Scriptures is exclusively God; there is no other.
- God hates sin and handed our forefathers over to Babylon because of there sin. This was an admission of the builders that they are sinners who received grace to be restored to their land.
- God controls the kings of the world, just like He had Cyrus in the palm of his hand. Those who opposed the work on the temple reconstruction had to learn this fact the hard way. The very king they appealed to, made this decree: “Stay away from there.” And so by the way, you are going to give the Jews what they need to complete the work. He added: “May God, who has caused his Name to dwell there, overthrow every king or people who lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 6:6-12)
This was the testimony of the builders in Jerusalem. In our task of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the world demands of us to declare our identity and program we should not shy away of who we are.
We serve the only true God. All others are competitors, but should not to be confused with the God who created the heavens and the earth. We are sinners, saved by grace. Our mission is God’s mission: to declare his Name and worship Him only. God hates sin, but He also restores out of sin. We are confident in what we do because God is always in control.
Paul, when in Athens, basically confessed the same:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands… In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:24, 30–31, NIV)
What was the reaction of the crowd? Some sneered at him!
Who do you think you are? Are you clear about your identity and mission? Paul said:
“… I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16, NIV)
That was his identity, and it determined his mission.
Opposition Enemy Number One: we serve the same God
The enemies of God’s people heard of their work on rebuilding temple for the worship of the one and true God. They said:
Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him.” (Ezra 4:2, NIV)
This is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They pretended to assist in the rebuilding of the temple. To them, Jahweh was only one of many gods in their idolatrous system of religion. So their offer was refused by Israel’s leaders.
“You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”” (Ezra 4:3, NIV)
The Bible itself refers to these people as the enemies of Judah. Why? Discernment is not to distinguish between right and wrong, but to distinguish between what is right and almost right. The difference between rat poison and ordinary wheat flour only lies in the 4% strychnine added to it! When it comes to the Gospel, there is only One Way, one God, and one church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The catch cry of our day is ecumenism. The World Council of Churches is an ecumenical body. In councils like these, the premise is that we all worship the same God. Let’s hear what the WCC says about inter-religious ecumenical contact:
In partnership with other WCC programme teams, the team on inter-religious relations seeks to encourage reflection on religious plurality and its significance for Christian identity and witness… During the past years, the WCC has organised a number of Hindu-Christian, Christian-Muslim, Buddhist-Christian, and Jewish-Christian dialogues… In the midst of the many divisions, conflicts and violence there is hope that it is possible to create a human community that lives in justice and peace.
An ecumenical-evangelical steamroller is being created of unparalleled proportions. This newest tactic of Satan to produce an unscriptural, ecumenical unity through the use of “Evangelism” has a great potential for success—unless God’s people wake up to what is really happening in the name of Evangelism. This dangerous program should be exposed and rejected by all who truly love Jesus Christ and desire to obey and please Him.
God’s Holy Word, the Bible, makes it very clear that there is only one Gospel to be preached and any other Gospel is a perversion of the one true Gospel. So strong is the command of God in this matter that the Holy Spirit makes it plain that if even an angel from heaven should preach any other Gospel, such angel would be under God’s curse. Please carefully read Galatians 1:6-10.
The only Gospel is about Jesus Christ alone and is, “…the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
The Scriptural injunction to evangelise the world should never entice believers to employ unscriptural methods and forge unbiblical alliances. Yet, that is exactly what is happening before our very eyes as leaders from Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are saying with one voice, “We must forget our differences and all join together to evangelise the world for Christ.” Such a proposal has an understandable appeal to every Christian until it is examined in the light of the Scriptures.
Enemy Number Two – Psychological warfare
There was a group of people in Judah at the time, the Cutheans, who was hired and bribed by the Samaritans to specifically interrupt the work of the Jews by discouraging them.
To discourage is to cause someone to give up, having a feeling or attitude of hopelessness and lacking the courage to resist an opponent.
“Well, it’s not working. You pray, and God does not answer. Look at your churches, there’s not a lot of people in it. You’re losing the battle.” The newspapers and media are after the church. Anyone else can make a mistake, but not a Christian. When a so-called scandal happened, it does not matter how long ago the person had some connection with the church, that fact will be reported. It is completely irrelevant, but it makes good news.
The question is, how do we react when this discouragement comes our way? We need to remind ourselves the God put us here; we are saved by his grace, we are doing his work, and He holds the world and circumstances in his hands.
The enemy appears on the building site. “What are you doing here?” We are building a temple for the living God. “What living God? Just look around you. He doesn’t care. Your first temple was destroyed to the ground, so will this be destroyed. You could just as well give up.”
Trust God! It is taking God on his Word. It’s back on our knees in prayer, but it is also shoulder to the wheel. It is picking up the shovels, loading the wheelbarrows, and holding on to the trowels.
Are you discouraged? Have you been praying for so long and nothing happens? Have you been working and it seems as if the church is still just losing ground? The last thing you should do is to listen to the choir of those who sing songs of discouragement. They are of the devil. Don’t give him any place in your life or in the life of this church.
Enemy Number Three – political pressure
Then, the enemy used all their power to mobilise political action against the Jews. Letters were written to the political rulers of the day, with accusations against the people of God. They were not allowed to build along and so compromise the work right from the beginning, and they couldn’t stop the work by terrorising and psychological discouragement, then the last option: make a law against it. Bring in accusations and declare the mob building the kingdom of God to be a rebellious, fundamentalist group, which would have a destabilising effect on society.
Christian schools and institutions are under fire. Parents who dare to raise their children along Biblical standards are told that they will be prosecuted by law for discipline and punishment. Churches who dare say something about same-sex relationships are labelled as homophobic. One law after the other is introduced to make it impossible for Christians to even allude to other religions as being false. It is labelled as intolerant vilification.
What do we do in times like these? Do we stop building the house of God? Do we give in to the demands of godless rulers and a godless society? No! Ezra and those in Jerusalem didn’t, the apostles of the early church didn’t; the faithful servants of Christ through the ages didn’t, even if they had to be beheaded for the sake of Christ. And we should not. We cannot, for we are bought by the blood of Jesus Christ. Peter and John said:
Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:19-20)
My dear brethren, we are called to work and pray. The Lord taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come”, and to that end, we must give ourselves for the task. We will experience opposition. It might come in the form of the wolf in sheep’s clothing: we, after all, worship the same God. The opposition might come in the form of psychological discouragement: “Why do it, it’s not going to work, you could just as well give up! Opposition might come in the form of political suppression: rumours and accusations against us might make what God commanded us to do against the law of the land. These things happen.
But never give up. Let’s heed the words of the writer of Hebrews:
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:12-13)
May God help us. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 26 January 2020