Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Resistance to Revival (Part 1): The Tactic of Allegiance

Ezra was a Jewish scribe who was called by God to lead the return of the exiled Jews to the promised land. 70 years before Ezra, the brutal Babylonians under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar took the Southern Kingdom of Judah captive. The great king of the Medes and the Persians, Cyrus, was able to conquer the Babylonians. Under the reign of Cyrus, the Jews were not only allowed to go back to their land, they were given finances and political cover to do so. Accompanying the physical blessing God was granting, He was also sending the fire of spiritual revival to His people. Revival is God's special work of repentance and obedience in the hearts and lives of His people, not something we conjure in a tent meeting or by some other human effort. Revival happens when God wills its.

Still, even when God sends revival, we should expect opposition. I would like to note a few different tactics used to oppose God's special work of revival- the first by those who had been occupying the land the Jews were now coming back to re-occupy. Note the tactic I will label allegiance:

Ezra 4:2 they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

Interestingly, the first tactic the inhabitants of the land attempt is not offensive. They begin by trying to convince the Jews that their religion is the same. They say, “hey, that’s cool, your making a temple to your God, Yahweh...hey check this out: we sacrifice to him to!”. It all looks innocuous. It looks as though they are trying to ally themselves with the Jews. Notice they claim to have sacrificed to Yahweh for many years. In fact they say they have been sacrificing to the God of the Jews since Esarhaddon of Assyria. Esarhaddon lived around 670 BC, this was about 538 BC. So the inhabitants were claiming allegiance to Yahweh for over 130 years. What is interesting to note is that these people who were claiming this were probably telling the truth. They were undoubtedly descendants of the so-called lost tribes of Israel assimilated by the Assyrians almost 200 years before! It is possible that these people who confronted the Jews, labeled “adversaries” by the text, were actually related to the Jews! Do you see the power of this form of resistance? They come as "allies". They come as ones who claim allegiance to the same God.

One of the forms of resistance our own spiritual growth will encounter will be people or a culture claiming to be friendly to you. There will be people who tell you that you believe the same thing. 9/11 really brought this out. There was a needed sense of national unity in the wake of the attacks, but overall, I thought the mainstream attempt to pluralize or unify the various religions was telling. It was chilling to see leaders of all religions on the same podium a few days after 9/11 acting as though they were praying to the same God. A few of the clergy people said as much. All this in my beloved Yankee stadium. Talk about sacrilege. Praying to the same God?

They were not praying to the same God.

Muslims are certainly people who are created in the image of God, but Allah is not God. They do not worship the same God of the Bible. The same can be said for Budhaism, Hinduism- you name the religion, for all the respect and care we should have for each other as fellow human beings- we are not worshiping the same God! Here's one that might take some heat- modern Jews and Christians do not worship and pray to the same God. Christians worship the God of the bible- the Triune God, modern Jews do not.

A sign that we are giving in to resistance is when we assimilate with other faiths. Christianity, by definition, is an exclusive faith. Jesus claims to be THE way, THE truth, and THE life. All other claims to the contrary by all other leaders are false.

Notice how the Israelites react to this offer of the people to help them build the temple-

Ezra 4:3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

Score one for the Israelites, on this occasion anyway. Something the adversaries said gave them away- Since the time of David there was only one place that you could legitimately offer sacrifices. That place was Jerusalem at the Temple. These people might have been offering sacrifices, but it was in essence the practice of idolatry as it was not in the Temple of Yahweh. Furthermore, they clearly sacrificed to many other imagined gods, Yahweh might have been a name they gave one, but it was not the God of Israel to whom they sacrificed. Unlike so many other sad times in Israel’s history, this time they stood up to those who would assimilate their religion and said no. They refer to the political backing they had received from Persia through Cyrus and told the adversaries “no thanks” to the help. When the Jews say, “build a house to our God”, they are referring to the God of Israel who was the only God. Thus any sacrifice to him and other gods was an abomination. Any sacrifices conducted outside the Temple and Jerusalem was outright idolatry.

When the Church witnesses the hand of God upon us in a special way, we better be prepared for resistance, because it will come. It will come first to enlist us. It will come first to make us look the same. It will come to say- "hey, we’re not that different".

But we are different.


grj said...

As I often think of the cycles of denial and disobedience that the OT brings out, I am grateful of your pointing out a time when God's people did not deny Him...may God also give us the strength and desire to obey Him today and always...

rgmann said...

It will come first to enlist us. It will come first to make us look the same. It will come to say- "hey, we’re not that different".

ECT I and II, and the Lutheran/Catholic "Joint Declaration" have already taken a good shot at it, wouldn't you say?

Frontier Forest said...

I Praise the Lord because we must be different! “We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praise of Him who called you of darkness into His marvelous light.” I Peter 2:9

Pastor Tony, may I be the first to wish you a very happy birthday a day early! Tomorrow our mission team will sing happy birthday to you on our way to do His good work. And I promise you, the Redeemer congregation and the Lord, “We will be different” on our return.

AJF said...

RGM- Definitely. The ECT efforts were especially disappointing.

AJF said...


I stopped paying attention to birthdays at 30...although, if you would like to send a monetary gift, that would be fine...

May God bless the Moldova 2007 Mission team!