FACING OPPOSITION

EZRA 4

28 Apr 2013

 

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            Remember Eliza Doolittle singing "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" in My Fair Lady?     

 

            All I want is a room somewhere,

            Far away from the cold night air.

            With one enormous chair,

            Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

            Lots of choc'lates for me to eat,

            Lots of coal makin' lots of 'eat.

            Warm face, warm 'ands, warm feet,

            Oh, wouldn't it be loverly? 

 

            In that regard, wouldn't if be loverly if there were only downhills with no uphills.  Wouldn't it be loverly if there were only mountaintops with no valleys.  Wouldn't it be loverly if there were only roses and no thorns.  But thats not the way things work in this world.   We are always going to be faced with headwinds of opposition. 

            Im reminded of the story of the crusty old sea captain who was piloting his boat one night during a bad storm.  As he was trying to make port, it seemed to be making no headway.  There was a brand-new, very nervous sailor on his very first cruise on board. He nervously asked the Captain, Do you think well make it OK?  The Captain replied, Son, this is a leaky old boat.  Because its so leaky, the fact is, we may go down.  And the boilers are old and not in very good shape.  Because theyre in such bad shape, we just may blow up.  But in spite of all that, no matter if we go down or we blow up, it doesnt really matter because whatever happens, we are going to go on.

            That crusty, old captain had a way of facing opposition.  He faced it head on.  In our passage for this morning, the returned exiles are facing some opposition as well.  After celebrating the laying of the temple foundation, they turned their attention to the rest of the temple, but some people didn't like what they were doing.  In fact, they opposed what they were doing, and when it came to facing this opposition the remnant did exactly what they were supposed to do ... well, almost.  They stood strong in the face of opposition just like that old captain stood strong, but they still didnt get it completely right.  They just missed it.  They forgot something.

            How about us?  When facing opposition do we want to get it mostly right or completely right?  As we ponder that, let's turn our a passage for today and let's look at two things: first, the opposition and then, the remnant's almost perfect response to the opposition.

            First, the opposition.  Our text describes them as "the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin."  Who were these adversaries?  Well, you have heard their name before.  Remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan?  Well, these were Samaritans.  Who were Samaritans?  Well, look at verse two with me.

 

            They approached Zerubbabel and the heads of families and said to them, "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 King Esarhaddon of Assyria who brought us here.

 

            Note the origin of the Samaritans.  They originated with the King of Assyria.  Samaria was a city in the northern part of Israel, and when the Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom of Israel, they deported some Israelites and repopulated the area with people from Assyria and Babylon, and those folk intermarried with the Jews in and around the city of Samaria and the children from those mixed marriages were eventually referred to as Samaritans.  Those are the "adversaries." 

            Now, the Samaritans religion was very similar to their bloodlinevery mixed up.  They mixed the worship of the God of Israel with the worship of other gods. Listen to how the author of II Kings described it.  He said, "They worshiped The Lord, but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.  To this day they continue to practice their former customs.  You can read the entire story in II Kings 17, but suffice it to say that their synchronistic religious practices led the remnant to turn down their offer to help build.  They wanted to protect themselves from slipping into idolatry, as the Samaritans had slipped into idolatry.

            Of course, all this leaves us with a colossal, unsolved mystery.  The Masterpiece Mystery could do an entire episode on it.  Here's the mystery - why did these adversaries want to help?  What was their motive?  Was it pure?  Was it simply out of the goodness of their own hearts?  Was it because they were they suspicious and somewhat frightened of a southern kingdom returning to power, and they lived by that old adage, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?  Or was more sinister?  Were they sheep in wolves clothing, hoping to sabotage the building efforts from within?  We don't know.  A lot of scholars believe they were trying to deceive the remnant getting them to believe they were there to help, but their secret plan was to sabotage the building efforts.  Whatever their motivation, it's an unsolved mystery.   

            Well, that's the opposition.  Let's turn now to the remnant's almost perfect response. 

            First, they responded with discernment.  They discerned the danger associated with the offer, be it the danger of being influenced by people who had slipped into idolatry or the danger of sabotage, and they refused the help.  Of course, the practical thing would have been to let them help, but the practical thing isnt always the right thing.

            There is a moment in my ministry that still bothers me.  I settled for what was practical and not for what was right.  At a church I served one of our core values was anonymous giving.  We called it the "Faith Promise Pledge" system.  When stewardship time rolled around we had people fill out two pledge cards, not just one like we do here.  One card had the amount only on it, and the other card had a name only on it.  No one but God and yourself would know what you had pledged.  The treasurer wouldn't even know.  The treasurer would know that you made a pledge, because your name would be on the name only card, but the treasurer would not know the amount you pledged.  If you called the treasurer to ask him or her how much you pledged, you were out of luck because he or she wouldn't know.

            Well, we needed to build a new sanctuary and we hired a consultant, who happened to look like a television evangelist, wavy white hair, rolex watch, diamond ring about the size of a marble. and he insisted that we had to have names and amounts on the same card, that people had to be help accountable for what they gave, and if we didn't do that, if we used the Faith Promise Pledge system for the building program, he would not guarantee the results.  After all, he guaranteed if we did it his way, we would raise a minimum of three times our budget.  Well, I gave into the practical, and the sanctuary got built, and we raised over three times our operating budget for the project, but we paid a price when it came to the trust of the people.  Those of us in leadership compromised a core value to get that new sanctuary built.  I bet we would have gotten it built if we stuck with the faith promise pledge system, but I'll never know.  I'll never know.

            The remnant, however, did not waver.  They wisely discerned that practicality and pragmatism wasn't the goal.  So they said, No thanks, we dont need your help.  No thanks, we dont need your money.  As a matter of fact, were going to keep on building and we dont want you to have anything to do with us.  Was that harsh?  Probably, and the Samaritans went on to build their own temple up north.  It also led to the Samaritans becoming so angry with the returned remnant that they wrote a letter to the powers to be, spreading lies, and having the building project stopped.  In fact, so much animosity grew between the Samaritans and the Israelites over this rejection, that it eventually led to the punchline of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  But still, it was right thing to do.  It was too big a risk to accept the Samaritan's offer.

            Second, in addition to exercising discernment, they exhibited determination.  I can imagine Zerubbabel and Jeshua sitting in a planning meeting with the rest of the leaders.  I imagine them sitting there with a list of all the work that needed to be done to complete the temple.  I imagine all those tasks were in one column, and their labor force in another column.  Their eyes shifted back and forth like at a tennis match.  The list of tasks.  The list of laborers.  The list of tasks.  The list of laborers.  How in the world were they going to be able to get all that work done with the people they had?  Some in that meeting may have suggested going back to the Samaritans and saying, Im sorry, will you come help us now?   But they didnt.  Instead, they showed determination. They said, We'll work with what The Lord has given us.  To quote the great Nebraska theologian, Larry the Cable Guy, they were just going to, Get er done.  There was no complaining.  There were no excuses.  There was no question.  They were determined to do the work. They were going to do the work and they were going to do it the right way.  They knew it was going to be hard, in fact it was going to be nearly impossible, but God specializes in impossible.

            So they exhibited discernment and determination.  But then they messed up.  You see, they just fell short in the direction department.  In declining the Samaritans offer they claimed the wrong authority, the wrong command.  Look with me at verse three.

 

            But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of families in Israel said to them, "You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build it to The Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us.

 

            What?  What?  Was King Cyrus the reason they were rebuilding the temple?  Yes, they were dedicating the temple to the Lord, but according to whose command?  They were Gods people.  God was supposed to be their sole authority.  God was supposed to be their sole reason for existing.  They were supposed to be under God's command not Cyrus' command.  They were so close to responding to the opposition in the right way.  They only forgot the most important thing.  They forgot for whom they were ultimately working.  I hope this is not too personal, but why do we do what we do?  Do we do it out of obligation?  Do we do it out of habit?  Do we do it out of guilt?  Do we do it to impress others?  Do we do it to please someone?  Or do we do it because God tells us to do it?  Where do our marching orders originate?

            Discernment, determination and direction.  Wouldn't if be loverly if we would consistently exhibit all three?