a fresh start - opposition in building God's church
A Fresh Start
Opposition in building God’s church
Doxology Hymn no 13: “Exalt the Lord, his praise proclaim”
Call to worship
Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness. (Psalm 29:1-2)
Grace to you from God our Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hymn No 238: “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name” (1)
Invocation and the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, let Your mighty outstretched arm, O Lord God, be our defence; Your mercy and loving kindness in Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, our salvation; Your true word our instruction; the grace of Your Holy Spirit our comfort and consolation, to the end and in the end, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn No 467: “O what can little hands do?”
Scripture Reading Galatians 1:6-10
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Gracious God, we worship you for your steadfast love and faithfulness to us, your redeemed people. We are so thankful that you have loved us from eternity past, before time began. We cannot begin to comprehend the length and breadth, the height and depth of the love you have for us that has been so wonderfully expressed in the Lord Jesus Christ, yet we have believed in and have come to know something of the love you have for us. Help us to remain in your love so that we may live in you and you in us. Help us to love you whom we have not seen by loving our brother or sister whom we have seen. Teach us to love as you first loved us.
Shed abroad your love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. May we never be reduced to the level of a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, and become as nothing, for lack of love. Grant to us the patience and kindness of love in all our dealings with others. Help us increasingly to reflect the likeness of him who gave his life in selfless love. Grant that we may faithfully bear the image of our Creator, who is the very essence of love, so to love you with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as our self.
Teach us today something more of your amazing love for us, unworthy as we are and increase our love for you through time and eternity.
Almighty and most merciful Father, look down on us, your unworthy servants through the mediation and merits of Jesus Christ, in whom alone you are well pleased. It is because of your mercy that we are not consumed. Your mercies endure forever and you compassions never fail. Continue the wonder of your mercy toward us and wash away all our sins with the precious blood that Jesus shed for us. Purify our hearts by your Holy Spirit and, as you add days to our lives, so Lord, add repentance to our days; that when we have passed through this mortal life, we may be partakers of your everlasting kingdom; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Declaration of pardoning
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25)
Hymn: “Psalm 38” (Tune 263, 5 verses)
Offering and Dedication
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)
Prayer for others
Almighty God, who has built your church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone: grant us to be so joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching that we may be made into a holy temple, acceptable to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us. Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all peoples of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be known to them also and that all hearts would turn unto you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Heavenly Father, we intercede for this poor sinful world in which we live. We are often shocked and horrified by it. We sometimes wish that we could rise on the wings of the dawn and make good our escape. We know we are not of this world, but we confess we sometimes find it hard to live in this world. We hear of oppression and exploitation, theft and murder, and the extent of man’s inhumanity to man seems to know no bounds. All we can do is turn to you, cry out for mercy, and pray: “Deliver us from evil.” We wonder what difference we can possibly make in the midst of such a large city, but then we remember that you call each one of your children simply to be faithful. So help us to do our best, wherever you have planted us. Prevent any of us from contributing to the spread of evil, either directly or indirectly, but may we contribute to the good that is in the world.
We feel we can pray for our city and our community, for we remember how your servant Abraham stood before you and prayed with earnest pleading for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We take heart that as you heard him, so you will hear us now. We now follow the example of the great father of all who believe and we pray for the people and nations of this earth. Let your kingdom come, and cause your will to be done. Send forth your light and your truth. May that day come quickly when the Son of Man shall rule the nations with a rod of iron, full of mercy, full of power, full of grace, yet irresistible. We long for the triumphal return of Jesus, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. But until then, strengthen us for the fight, and cause us to be among those who overcome through the blood of the Lamb and the Word of his testimony, in Jesus’ name.
Merciful Father, look with tender pity upon those who do not love you. Redeemer, look upon them with those eyes which are as flames of fire. Let them see how badly they treat you. Help them to realise the dire consequences of ingratitude, indifference and neglect of our Saviour’s blood. Bring those who are careless and godless to seek mercy, to seek the Lord while he may be found. Let all who are resisting or postponing a response to the claims of Christ see that it is both treason and foolishness to do so. Saviour, fire off your darts, to prick the consciences of many, that they may fall down before you and cry out for mercy.
We continue to be amazed by your grace in which the worst of sinners who were afar off have been brought in by your grace. But Lord do more of this amongst us. Let us see greater things than these. Where we have seen one saved, let us see one hundred, to the praise and glory of your name, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Scripture Reading Ezra 4:1-7
Sermon Opposition in building God’s church
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. We now understand from the Word of God according to the first few chapters of Ezra that God called the people He elected for the task to go back. God also provided in all their needs. God wanted his people, like in the case of the Israelites who left Egypt under the Pharaoh to worship Him. 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 amazing 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 about the business of God. Haggai the prophet proclaimed the Word of God to them and they recommenced the work on the temple.
This week we come across the reaction of the nations surrounding them as soon as they commenced the work according to the word of the prophet and the command of the Lord.
Enemy number one: we serve the same God
This the wolf in sheep’s clothing. In many case this enemy comes from within. It speaks the language of the church and it is very knowledgeable as far as Bible texts are concerned.
Just a bit of background as far as Ezra 4:1-2 is concerned: 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 became known as Samaritans. They came to Zerubbabel and pretended that they wanted to assist in the rebuilding of the temple. They, too, worshiped Jehovah, but He was only one of many gods in their idolatrous system of religion. So their offer was refused by Israel’s leaders. Look at the premise from which they worked:
Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here. (Ezra 4:2)
Now, we need to understand that the Bible itself refers to these people as the enemies of Judah. Why were they enemies if what they said is in some way true? The problem lied with the “in some way” true. When it comes to the Gospel, there is only One Way.
We have the same problem in our day. We call it ecumenism. The Word Council of Churches is an ecumenical body. What do we mean by it? In councils like these the premise is that we all basically 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 interreligious relations seeks to encourage reflection on religious plurality (not diversity – plurality means to accept that there is more than one faith) and its significance for Christian identity and witness. The primary methodology of the WCC's work on interreligious relations remains dialogue. During the past years, the WCC has organised a number of Hindu-Christian, Christian-Muslim, Buddhist-Christian, and Jewish-Christian dialogues at the international and regional levels.
In dialogue we affirm hope. 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. Dialogue is not an end in itself. It is a means of building bridges of respect and understanding. It is a joyful affirmation of life for all.
"All Christians should forget their differences and join forces to evangelize the world. We cannot reach this goal alone."
The AD 2000 Ecumenical Evangelism Program is receiving unprecedented favorable responses from those who fail to recognize the unscriptural principles upon which any such movement could possibly function. Thus, an ecumenical- evangelical steamroller is being created of unparalleled proportions. In the past, efforts by liberal ecumenical leaders to forge an unscriptural unity on the basis of "peace," "love," "social action," etc., have failed. However, it now appears that 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. Without equivocation God declares that anyone who preaches any other Gospel is under His curse. Why? Because 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 the apostle Paul were later to bring another gospel; or if an angel from Heaven should preach any other Gospel, Paul himself and/or any such angel would be under God's curse. Please carefully read Galatians 1:6-10.
The only Gospel which can save anyone is the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Eph.2:8, 9). This is the only Gospel which is, "...the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom.1:16). It is the Gospel proclaimed throughout the New Testament.
Admittedly, the need is great and urgent! However, this Scriptural desire to evangelize the world should never entice believers into employing unscriptural methods and 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 evangelize the world for Christ." Such a proposal has an understandable appeal to every Christian, until it is examined in the light of the Scriptures.
We must forget our differences – this is the enemy speaking. Listen to the Word of God:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:8-9)
Enemy no 2 – 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.
Discourage: lose courage, be discouraged, give up, formally, limp of hand, i.e., have a feeling or attitude of hopelessness and lacking courage to resist an opponent, as a figurative extension of having a hand or arm be in a very relaxed, limp, with no flexing of the muscle for action.
“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. Your losing the battle.”
The newspapers and media are after the church. Anyone else can make a mistake, but not a church leader. That is inexcusable. When a so-called scandal happened, the person might be referred to as someone who some time ago had connections with the church. It is completely irrelevant, but it makes good news.
This is not something new. It happened in the days of Ezra, and it still happens today. The question is, what do we when it happens? Put yourself in the position of those in Jerusalem at the time: there were droughts, heave inflation and a general shortage of goods. Now the enemy appears on the building site of the temple. “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.”
What do we do when this happens? Trust God! It is to the building site again. It is taking God on his Word. It is back to 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 now 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 no 3 – political pressure
Then the enemy used all their power to mobilize political action against the Jews. Letters were written to the political rulers of the day, with accusations against the builders of the temple. If they can’t build along to destroy the work right from the beginning, if they can’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 are under fire. Christian institutions are under fire. Parents who dare to raise their children the godly, Biblical way are told that they will be prosecuted by law if there is such a thing as discipline and punishment. Churches who dare say something about homosexuals are threatened with endorsing homophobia. Stand up for absolute standards in terms of marriage, truth and honesty and you are ridiculed. 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 or even 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 beheaded or die 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. It is a fact of life that we will experience opposition. It might come in the form of the wolf in sheep’s clothing: we after all worship the same God. Opposition might come in the form of psychological discouragement: why do it, it’s not going to work, yo 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.
Hymn No 294: “The church’s one foundation”
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1Timothy 1:17)
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)