Opposition Is Here

January 28, 2024 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: A Time to Rebuild

Topic: English Passage: Ezra 4:1-26

I’d like to start the message today by stating the main point upfront. And here it is: If you do the will of God, you will face opposition. One more time: If you do the will of God, you will face opposition.

The book of Ezra is a historical book. Because of this book, generations of Israelites living between the times of the Old and New Testaments would have been able to look back on their history and be reminded of some very important and foundational principles. They were reminded of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness and compassion as the people returned. But as we come to chapter 4, they would have also been reminded that doing the will of God means facing opposition.

When we finished chapter 3 last week, the people had rebuilt the altar and laid the foundation for a new temple. Things were moving in the right direction. But now, opposition comes.

Verse 1 says—Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, [2] they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers' houses

From the opening verse of this chapter, the author wants to make sure we know what kind of people we are dealing with. These are enemies. These are adversaries. These are people who will do whatever they can to stop progress or to slow it down.

Have you ever felt like that in your life? Have you ever felt like that with regard to honoring Christ? It would be nice if everything moved along smoothly and unhindered, but that’s not how things play out. We face opposition personally, as disciples of Christ, and we face opposition corporately as His church.

In our passage today, it is more of a corporate opposition, since it is the work of the nation that is being opposed, but that doesn’t mean there is not a personal component to it. Notice whom it is that these adversaries first go to. They go to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the households. They start by approaching the leaders. What that example does is place a stronger emphasis on today’s message for leaders. If you are in a position of leadership, or if you are planning or hoping to be in one, you better be prepared all the more to face opposition.

What is it that these enemies say to the leaders? They come with what, apart from the indicator in verse 1, might sound like a humble request. In verse 2, they say—Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.

These people who did not want the temple to be rebuilt were foreigners. They were not Israelites. They were placed in the land after the Assyrians conquered and scattered the northern kingdom of Israel.

What is the tactic here? It’s not overt opposition. It is friendly deception. “Let us build with you. We’re on the same side. We worship the same God.” This was an attempt at sabotage.

Not every opponent that comes your way, or our way, is going to come growling and snarling. A more dangerous approach is for them to say, “We are one of you.” Why is that more dangerous? Because overt attacks from outside can strengthen us and unite us. But if someone can infiltrate what we are doing, they can change who we are or what we’re doing from the inside.

One of the examples of those kinds of attacks are the false teachers that exist today around the world. They claim to be Christians, they claim to represent Christ, but really, they are on the side of Satan. They are adversaries that have infiltrated the church. I’m not talking about smaller theological disputes about the end times or other less significant issues. I’m not even talking about significant disputes that I believe make churches unhealthy. I’m talking about the kinds of disputes that run contrary to the gospel. These are teachers who, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, are leading people to hell.

Paul told the Galatians that if anyone preaches a different gospel, they are cursed of God. They are anathema. That is where I place the people fall who do not understand repentance, who do not call people to turn from sin, do not uphold the full deity of Jesus Christ, and who do not believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Those kinds of people have distorted the message of Jesus Christ.

This is the principle that Zerubbabel, as the leader of the Israelites, understood. So, look at what they say. Verse 3—But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers' houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a 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.”

At the end of that response, they lean back on the authorization they had received from Cyrus. But more important than that, they are relying on the word of God. They know these people are not truly on God’s side. “You have nothing to do with us in accomplishing the mission we’ve been given by God.”

This doesn’t mean that the Israelites couldn’t accept any help from the unbelieving. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have even accepted Cyrus’ authorization for them to return. The Temple was a distinct aspect of their work, and God has already given instructions that only Levites were to do the work. God had also given instructions for how He was to be worshipped. There was to be no other gods. These foreigners, however, worshiped Yahweh like they did all of the other pagan gods, therefore, they could not take part in this special work of rebuilding the Temple. That work was specifically for God’s people.

This is a principle we see even in the New Testament when Paul tells the Corinthians: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” We tend to focus on applying that to marriage, and that is true, but in 2 Corinthians 6, which is where Paul says that, he’s talking about more than marriage. He’s talking about spiritual work—the specific task God has given His people.

The idea of being unequally yoked comes from an Old Testament prohibition of having a donkey and an ox pull at the same time. The point is that they are two different kinds of animals. They don’t pull the same way. And the point is, if you are going to be doing the work of God, you can be partnered with people pulling in a different direction.

One application of that principle for us today is to be careful about how we view our political cooperation. Just because someone on the radio or on social media agrees with you on a moral issue or a political issue doesn’t mean they are on the same side as you when it comes to Jesus Christ. If we forget that, we start assuming that Christ came to help us change laws and reform the government.

I’m not saying that’s always a bad thing, but I’m saying that’s not specifically the mission we have been given by our Lord. We are here to preach the gospel and to help others deepen their faith. We are here to disciple and to teach the truth of God.

That is something that Zerubbabel understood. And that’s why he said to those people, “Get out of here. You have nothing to do with us.” That’s how he dealt with the Trojan horse of false friends.

Now, it would have been nice if the opposition disappeared, but that’s not what happened. Just like we see all through biblical history, the opposition to the will of God does not run away with its tail between its legs. It keeps coming. In this case, it grows into political pressure.

Verse 4—Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build [5] and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

In order for the lumber to make its way from the northern into Jerusalem, it needs to pass through ports and then travel on land. Along the way, that meant paying fares and getting past whatever customs looked like back then. Well, the enemies decide they are going to pay off the people guarding the roads and the gates. They are investing against the work of God.

Do we see that today at a national level? I think we do. We have groups today spending hundreds of millions of dollars pressuring and moving among lawmakers in order to stop the church from being obedient to the commands of Christ. That’s not just a political strategy, that is the work of Satan.

Remember, Satan is the prince of the power of the air. He is working to stop God’s people and God’s plan.

And did it work in this case? Yes, it did. The end of verse 5 says the plans of the Israelites were frustrated, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

The foundation of the temple was laid around 539 BC. After Cyrus’ rule came a king named Cambyses, and then, after Cambyses came Darius. Darius became king around 522 BC. That means the work stopped for over 15 years. Think about that. Work on the temple stopped for 15 years.

What does that tell you? It means that the opposition wasn’t just sneaky, and it wasn’t just strong; it was stubborn. It was persistent. It didn’t let up. That’s the kind of opposition we need to be aware of and ready to face. Sometimes it’s sneaky. Sometimes it’s strong. But it will also be stubborn. It’s not going away.

And as an example of how persistent this opposition was, the author of Ezra jumps forward in verse 6 to something that happened even in the reign of Ahasuerus, who is also known as Xerxes, who is the king we read about in the book of Esther. This is some time after the work had resumed

For the sake of time, I am not going to go into detail regarding what happened, but I encourage you to read it yourself and think about what happened. Basically, the new enemies sent a letter to the king accusing the Jews of rebellion. They were flattering the king and then making unfounded allegations. As a result, the king orders the work to stop. And these enemies come back, and, by force, make the work stop again. That’s the story in verses 6-23.

It’s basically a long parenthetical story that simply extends this idea that opposition kept coming. If you feel comfortable, you can even put some brackets or parentheses around verses 6-23. It jumps forward in history to give another example of the opposition the people faced.

We come back to the original story in verse 24, so go ahead and jump there with me. Here’s the closing verse. Here is what the enemies of God accomplished. Verse 24—Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

At the end of chapter 3, the people are cheering. A new altar had been built, and the foundation of the temple had been laid. The people are ready to keep moving forward. But by the end of chapter 4, the work stops for more than 15 years.

How do you think the people felt through this time? I’m sure they were angry at first, frustrated. Maybe they felt helpless, powerless. Some of the old men who had seen the first temple and seen the new foundation be installed might have felt hopeless. Maybe they are going to die before the temple is finished. Why did the work stop? Because enemies rose up and opposed them. Opposition was inevitable.

The author doesn’t blame the Israelites here. He simply wants us to know that the work stopped because forces outside the people’s control were working to stop them. If you do the will of God, you will face opposition. You will be frustrated because sometimes the work will have to stop.

We’ll continue the story next time, Lord willing. But as we close for today, I simply want to remind you about the application of this truth for you and for me, and for us today.

If you do the will of God, you will face opposition. Are you ready for that?

The Apostle Paul said—Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

He didn’t say it as a possibility. He said it as an eventuality.

Do you assume that you can be a faithful, God-honoring husband, or wife, or parent, or friend, without facing opposition? If you really want to honor God, life is not going to be easy. We are at war with our own sinful flesh, and we are at war with Satan who is working in this world to oppose us.

What would you think of a man who trained for months to fight in the UFC, and then on the day of his first fight, he asks for the fight to stop because he got punched in the face? What would you think? I’d be thinking, “What is wrong with you? This is what you signed up for! What did you expect?”

Well, today we get the same kind of reminder with regard to our Christian lives. Opposition is here, and more is coming.

What did Jesus say? He said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” That’s from John 16:33—In the world you will have tribulation.

But that’s not the end of the verse. Right after that, Jesus said—But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Yes, there is a relentless battle. That’s part of the game. There will be frustration. There will be obstacles. But in the end, Christ wins. And even in the pain, God’s sovereign plan is still moving forward.

You can’t have a life that conquers or that experiences victory if you don’t have any obstacles. But what you need is perseverance and perspective.

We might reject the prosperity gospel we hear on TV or radio or social media. We might recognize that it is a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when we find ourselves surprised at the pain and the difficulty and the opposition that comes when we honor Christ, it’s because we’ve already given in to the false message.

The Apostle Paul understood that more than any of us. He risked and gave his life to proclaim the message of salvation in Jesus’ name. At the end of his life, in 2 Timothy, he says—I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. Paul faced opposition. He wished he could have continued travelling and preching. But he can’t do that anymore. And so, what does he say? He says—I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!

What an encouragement! Yes, there are going to be things we wish moved more quickly for the glory of God. Yes, there are going to be seasons of pain and frustration. Yes, there are going to be temptations to hopelessness and despair. Yes, there will be times where it seems like God’s work is unnecessarily hampered. But in all of it, God is still in control. His word and His eternal plan can never be bound.

We are the church of Jesus Christ, and no matter what kind of opposition we face—whether

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