In today’s Old Testament lesson (Ezra 5:1-17), the people of Judah — who have recently returned from exile — are beginning to rebuild God’s temple, which had been destroyed when the Babylonian empire conquered the land. Not too surprisingly, this makes the leaders of the surrounding territories uneasy. Maybe they’re jealous; or perhaps they fear what might come of a revitalized Jerusalem. But in any case, they dispatch a letter to King Darius — the current ruler of the land — alerting him to this renewed activity in Jerusalem and encouraging him to put a stop to it.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time that this group of God’s people had to deal with opposition. In fact, if you back up just one chapter (to Ezra 4) you’ll find that something very similar happened during the reign of Darius’ predecessor. But the impact of these stories — at least for me today — is to invite this question: What are we to do when doing God’s work brings opposition?
Now, right out of the gate, this question forces us to ask another: Are we actually doing God’s work in a way that “deserves” some opposition? Jesus once said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19). If we’re not facing any opposition, therefore, it might be worth asking if we “belong to the world” in a way that makes it a little too easy for us to get along. Of course, if we are facing opposition, we need to make sure that it’s because we’re living the kingdom life that Jesus modeled — and not because we’re being jerks. But still, the question is a good one.
But assuming for the moment that we are doing God’s will, let’s return to that original question: What are we to do about opposition? And the answer — which, admittedly, is easy to say and far more difficult to do — is this: we persevere. This is a theme that runs through the Bible — and especially through the New Testament:
- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).
- “In all this (the inheritance that is laid up for you) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
- “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Naturally, part of me would like to pray that none of us will face opposition today — that God will “clear the way before us” so that we can coast through all of our activities with a light and joyful heart. But maybe a better prayer would be that we will truly do God’s work today, and that — even if opposition comes — we will “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).