opposition

The Word At Work In You

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! – 1 Thessalonians 2:9-16 ESV

In these verses Paul seems to emphasize the theme of work. He reminds the Thessalonians that he and his fellow missionaries had originally come to them for the purpose of sharing the gospel. And he describes their efforts among them as “labor and toil” and points out that “we worked night and day” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV). But the kind of work to which Paul is referring includes far more than just the preaching of the gospel. That was their primary objective, but we know that Paul and his companions made a habit of operating a self-sustaining ministry “that we might not be a burden to any of you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV). Luke records that Paul used his talents as a tent maker in order to underwrite his ministry in Corinth.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. – Acts 18:1-4 ESV

Paul was reluctant to place any kind of financial burden on the new churches he helped to found, choosing instead to pay his own way, utilizing his skills as a tentmaker to underwrite his ministry. The result was that Paul put in long days, dividing his time between manual labor and his labor of love: The sharing of the gospel.

And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to recall that his hard work among them truly was a labor of love and a demonstration of selfless and blameless behavior. No one could point a finger at Paul, accusing him of dishonest or ungodly actions. Paul states that the Thessalonians had experienced firsthand how “we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:10 ESV). And if they refused to give witness to the truth of Paul’s integrity, God would.

And all of Paul’s hard work among them was directed toward one overarching objective: That the Thessalonians might “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV) – that their lives would reflect their newfound calling in Christ. When Paul speaks of “walking,” he uses the Greek word peripateō. It is a robust word that includes far more than mere movement from one place to another. It is an all-inclusive word that covers all of life. To “walk” meant to conduct your life – every area of your life – in a manner that brought glory to God. So, Paul is talking about the entirety of life, including home, leisure, recreation, and work. No area of life was to be left out. And this was a message Paul shared with virtually every church to which he ministered. He told the Colossian believers:

…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:10 ESV

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith… – Colossians 2:6 ESV

He told the believers in Philippi:

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. – Philippians 2:12-15 ESV

What makes this new way of living possible? The word of God. And Paul insists that it is at work among them. Not only was the gospel capable of saving them, it was the power behind their ongoing sanctification. The word of God saves and transforms. It redeems and recreates. It makes the believer right with God and makes right living possible. But that kind of living was not going to be easy. It requires effort on the part of the believer, but it’s not about self-effort. In fact, Paul makes it clear to the Philippian believers that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Paul had worked among the Thessalonians. And God had worked through Paul. Now, Paul was encouraging them to work out their faith in daily life. He was calling them to godliness, in every area of their lives, even in the face of difficulty. And he makes it clear that the persecution they faced was not unique to them.

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews. – 1 Thessalonians 2:14 ESV

Their efforts at living their lives in a manner worthy of God were going to be met with opposition. Their “walk” of faith was not going to be easy. Working out their salvation wasn’t going to be a cake walk. And Paul had firsthand experience with just how difficult following Christ could be. The word of God, which had transformed the lives of the Thessalonians, was not going to be met with open arms by their fellow citizens. Jesus, the living Word, was put to death by His own people. He suffered and died while accomplishing the work assigned to Him by His Father. And Paul had run into road blocks in his attempt to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He had faced opposition from Jews and Gentiles alike. But he kept working. He kept sharing. And he kept believing that God was far from done. His work among the Thessalonians was not yet finished.

And, as for those who worked hard at trying to derail the efforts of Paul and to discourage the faith of the Thessalonian believers, Paul knew God had judgment in store for them. They were standing in opposition to the gospel of God, and He would eventually judge them for their sin of resisting His work.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Opposition Mounts.

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. – Matthew 14:1-12 ESV

Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great and the successor to his throne as tetrarch of Judea. The period of his rule spanned from 4 B.C. until 39 A.D., and included the entire lifetime of Jesus. Yet, while Jesus was not to meet Herod until later in his life at His trial before him, their paths crossed on numerous occasions. Herod had evidently heard about Jesus. We know from Luke’s gospel that the wife of Herod’s household manager had become a follower of Jesus and, no doubt, had provided updates about Jesus to her husband and his co-workers.

1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. – Luke 8:1-3 ESV

Herod had evidently heard the rumors that were spreading about Jesus among the people.

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” – Mark 6:14 ESV

And Luke tells us that Herod was at a loss as to how to explain the actions of this Jew from Nazareth. He even began to consider the truth behind the rumor that Jesus was actually John the Baptist come back to life.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead… – Luke 9:7 ESV

This news, if true, would have greatly concerned Herod because he had been the one to have John beheaded. John had initially been imprisoned by Herod for contronting the tetrarch about his adulterous affair with his brother’s wife. And while had wanted to kill John for his pertinence, he had feared angering the people, who believed John to be a prophet. But as the story goes, Herod and his guests had been entertained at his birthday party by the daughter of Herodias, his brother’s wife. When Herod had offered the young girl a reward for her dancing, she had asked for the head of John the Baptist. And Herod reluctantly delivered her request.

And it seems clear from Matthew’s account, that Herod was fearful that John had come back to life.

“This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” – Matthew 14:2 ESV

We can only imagine what was going through Herod’s mind. Perhaps he was afraid that the resurrected John the Baptist had come back to seek his revenge. If the stories were true and Jesus had supernatural powers, what would keep Him from using those powers to get even with Herod?

Herod had seen John as a threat to his rule and reign. John’s open disregard for Herod’s power and the unmitigated gall he displayed by confronting Herod’s morals, was unacceptable. And while Herod had regretted having to behead John, his reputation meant more to him than any potential outcry from the people. This story provides a foreshadowing of what was to come. Herod, as a puppet of the Roman government, represents the earthly political powers that stood against the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist had been the forerunner of Jesus, proclaiming the coming of that kingdom, and calling the people to repentance. In fact, he had told the religious leaders of Israel, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Their lives were to display outward proof of an inner change in the way they thought about everything from God and righteousness to sin and salvation. And John’s accusation against Herod had been a similar call to a change in behavior.

But Herod, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, had rejected John’s call. He was not going to repent. He had no intentions of giving up his elicit affair with his brother’s wife. And the animosity of the religious and political powers of Israel and Rome was going to increase over time. Their opposition to Jesus would intensify. And eventually, He would face the full wrath of the powers that be, just as John had. The King would suffer a fate similar to that of His forerunner.

As Matthew continues to present the growing opposition toward Jesus, he reveals the unlikely alliances being formed against Him. The Jews had no love affair for the Romans. The Pharisees despised them. And within the Jewish religious leadership, the Pharisees and Sadducees were sworn enemies. But over time, they would join forces in order to plot the defeat of Jesus. He had become their common enemy. And there was a Jewish political party that held close ties to Herod and the Roman government. In fact, they were known as the Herodians. While the Pharisees strongly supported Jewish independence, the Herodians encouraged cooperation with the Romans. They were willing to compromise for the sake of political expediency, and this infuriated the Pharisees. Yet, these two opposing forces joined together in their opposition to Jesus. Their mutual hatred for Him became greater than their perceived differences about Herod and Rome. Mark tells us:

The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. – Mark 3:6 ESV

Matthew tells us that, when Jesus heard the news of John’s death, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13 ESV). While likely not surprised by John’s gruesome execution Jesus was deeply impacted by the news. This was the man of whom Jesus had said:

11 “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” – Matthew 11:11-12 ESV

Jesus knew that John was the first of many who would die as a result of their faith. And He knew that He would be the next to suffer and die at the hands of the religious and political powers. The day was coming when Jesus would also appear before Herod. And in the room that day would be represented all the powers of Rome and the religious leadership of Israel. Their common interest would be their hatred for and rejection of the Messiah, the Son of God.

6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. – Luke 23:6-12 ESV

The Jews leveled false accusations against Him. The Romans treated Him with contempt, mocking His claims to kingship by dressing Him in royal robes. All the forces of earthly power aligned themselves against Him. And, like John, Jesus would face the full brunt of their wrath and hatred for Him.

Jesus knew what was coming. He was well aware that His own days were numbered and it was only a matter of time before He faced a similar fate as that of John. But He knew that it was all within the will of His heavenly Father. It was why He had come. 

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

And as the opposition to His ministry mounted, Jesus’ commitment to His mission would grow stronger. He would allow nothing and no one to keep Him from accomplishing what He had come to do. And as He would later tell Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Growing Opposition.

10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” – Acts 6:10-7:1 ESV

Stephen found himself in a dispute with some men from the synagogue of the Freedman. These were former Roman slaves who had converted to Judaism and would have been considered Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jews. Luke tells us they had at one time been citizens of such places as Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. And while they were Hellenists, like Stephen, they took exception to his teaching and preaching. Stephen was “full of grace and power” and “was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8 ESV), but these men were, for some reason, unimpressed. Luke does not reveal to us the content of Stephen’s message to them, but he simply records that “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10 ESV). Stephen was speaking in the power of the Spirit of God and was most likely sharing the good news concerning Jesus’ resurrection and His offer of eternal life to all who would accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. But when the Freedman found themselves unable to successfully refute the words of Stephen, they resorted to false accusations and liable. They encouraged others to come forward and accuse Stephen of blasphemy against Moses and God. And when Stephen was eventually hauled in front of the Sanhedrin, they had false witnesses ready to report that, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:13-14 ESV). Stephen was being falsely portrayed as a rebel and a radical. All of this should have an eerily familiar ring to it. The apostle Mark records a similar encounter between Jesus and the Sanhedrin.

53 They took Jesus to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law had gathered..…55 Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find evidence against Jesus, so they could put him to death. But they couldn’t find any. 56 Many false witnesses spoke against him, but they contradicted each other. 57 Finally, some men stood up and gave this false testimony: 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, made without human hands.’” 59 But even then they didn’t get their stories straight! – Mark 14:53, 55-59 NLT

Stephen, like Jesus, was simply doing the will of God, but he too faced opposition and the animosity of men who would resort to lies and half-truths in order to shut down the truth of God. What was it that Stephen had been teaching and preaching? Luke does not tell us. But it is quite easy to assume that Stephen was simply teaching what he had been taught by the apostles. And they had been keeping the command of Jesus, giving to them as part of His great commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). 

Because of the nature of the accusations against Stephen, it is likely that he had been recounting many of the words of Jesus Himself. He could have been reiterating the content of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where He had refuted the interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees concerning the Mosaic Law. Jesus had raised the bar when it came to obedience to the law, demanding behavior that was far more than exterior in nature, but which flowed from the heart. And it was Jesus who had told the crowd that day on the hillside, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 ESV). It had been Jesus who had said, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6 ESV). Whatever it was that Stephen had been saying and teaching, there were those who twisted his words and contorted his meaning in order to set him up as a troublemaker. They accused him of blasphemy or speaking evil of Moses and of God. In essence, they were accusing Stephen of attacking everything they held dear: The great patriarch, Moses, and his law; the holy Temple of God, and Yahweh Himself.

What is interesting is that Luke prefaces all of this with the statement that Stephen was “full of grace and power.” He was not belligerent or abusive. He was gracious, kind and operating under the divine influence of the Spirit of God. His words were true. His intentions were pure. His motivation was godly and based on a desire to see others come to faith in Christ. But, like Jesus Himself, Stephen was misunderstood and falsely accused. He was portrayed as a dangerous menace to the Jewish way of life. But Luke portrays Stephen in a completely different light when he describes “his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15 ESV). Like Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, Stephen literally glowed with the glory of God. And the members of the Sanhedrin, Stephen’s accusers, and the men from the synagogue of the Freedman, all saw this phenomena. Luke describes them as being transfixed, their eyes locked on the glowing face of Stephen. And whether these men recognized it or not, this should remind us of a similar scene recorded in the Old Testament, involving Moses and the people of Israel.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. – Exodus 34:29-30 NLT

Moses had been with God. Stephen was filled with the Spirit of God. And it showed. But the reaction of the crowd surrounding Stephen would be quite different than that of Aaron and the people of Israel. Luke simply records that the high priest responded by asking Stephen a question: “Are these things so?” (Acts 7:1 ESV). Once again, there is a remarkable similarity between this event and that of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin on the night He had been betrayed by Judas. Mark records that, after having heard the false accusations against Jesus, the high priest turned to Him and asked, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” (Mark 14:60 ESV). And Mark states that Jesus remained silent.

But, as we shall see, Stephen will speak up. He will use the opportunity placed before him to answer each and every accusation against him. But not in an attempt to escape the hostility of the Sanhedrin, but to share the truth regarding Moses, the law, and Yahweh, the God of the Jewish people.  He will launch into one of the longest messages recorded in the New Testament. And he will speak under the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit, delivering a powerful message that is not gospel-centered, but an historically based retelling of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. He will take their accusations of blasphemy and soundly refute them, revealing his strong knowledge of Hebrew history, even though he was not a native-speaking Hebrew.

Stephen, full of grace and power, was facing the hostility of a crowd filled with hate and envy. These men could not understand what was going on. They saw Stephen and the other disciples of Jesus as nothing more than a threat to their way of life. He was a nuisance and his message regarding Jesus as the Messiah was a direct threat to their entire belief system. Or so they thought. But Stephen is about to expose their gross misunderstanding of all that they held dear. He is going to use their own heritage against them, revealing that Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the law, the tabernacle, David, and Solomon were all pointing to someone and something far greater: The Righteous One.

Jesus had come and they had missed Him. Or, at least, they had refused to accept Him. Now, the Spirit had come, and they refused to acknowledge Him, and instead, attributed His word to drunkenness on the part of the disciples. Stephen, like the apostles, was “doing great wonders and signs among the people”, but there were those who rejected these outward manifestations of the Spirit’s power, and did all that they could do to discredit God’s messenger, to deny the Spirit’s power and to destroy the gospel of Jesus Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 200z

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Growing in Numbers and Reputation.

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. – Acts 5:12-18 ESV

After the surprising deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, Luke provides a brief description of the emotional state of the church: “Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:11 NLT). News of God’s judgment against Ananias and Sapphira had spread. And it seems that, because Peter had been the primary spokesperson during the interrogations of this unfortunate couple, their deaths became associated with him. He was the one who called them out and so, it must have been him who struck them down. At least, that’s how it appeared to all those who had witnessed the events first-hand. And as a result, the reputation of Peter and the other apostles grew in stature among the people. Their ability to perform “signs and wonders” was attracting crowds and the attention of the religious authorities. Just as in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the high priest and the Sanhedrin found themselves dealing with a growing movement that was threatening their status as religious leaders. The people were turning to the apostles, initially attracted by their miracles, but also intrigued by their message concerning Jesus’ resurrection and His offer of eternal life. Luke tells us, “more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women” (Acts 5:14 NLT). But there were others who, out of fear of the Jewish religious leaders, avoided any association with the apostles and their ever-expanding congregation. There was still a risk associated with this new and growing sect, and many wanted to steer clear.

Peter, John and the other apostles continued to meet in Solomon’s Portico, one of the few spaces large enough to hold the growing number of converts who flocked to hear their teaching. And anywhere the apostles went, large numbers of the infirm and suffering followed them. These people had everything to gain and nothing to lose. They had no reason to fear the Sanhedrin, because their lives were already filled with suffering because of their physical conditions. And Luke records that their desire for healing was so great and their belief in the apostles’ miraculous powers was so strong, that they thought even Peter’s shadow passing over them could provide healing. Luke does not tell us whether this actually happened or if it was simply a case of wishful thinking on the part of those who were sick and lame. But this kind of thing would not have been unheard, because Luke later records a similar scenario involving the apostle Paul.

11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. – Acts 19:11-12 NLT

All we know is that God was at work, moving among the people and utilizing the apostles as His instruments of healing and as His witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus. People were hearing of all that was happening within the city of Jerusalem and soon, there were others arriving in town from the outlying villages. Good news travels fast. Miracles attract crowds. Messages of hope tend to get peoples’ attention. News of what was happening in Jerusalem was getting out. The rumors that Jesus was alive had begun to spread. Reports were circulating that the very same kind of miracles, signs and wonders He had performed were taking place again. This time, at the hands of His disciples. The lame walked. The blind saw. The demon-possessed had their demons dispossessed. And thousands of Jews were placing their faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Savior. These were heady days for the disciples. It seems that all they did was blessed by God. Their preaching was powerful and impactful. They possessed the power to heal and the authority to cast out demons. They were respected and, due to the incident with Ananias and Sapphira, feared by the people. But they were also despised. Luke will use these verses as a transition to set up the battle the apostles were going to face due to their efforts on Jesus’ behalf. They had already been hauled before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Now, Luke tells us:

17 The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. – Acts 5:17-18 NLT

Suddenly, the apostles found themselves experiencing incarceration, rather than public adulation. They went from basking in accolades to confinement in the stockade. And it was all in fulfillment of Jesus’ words.

“Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.” – John 15:20-21 NLT

“You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers.” – Luke 21:12 NLT

It would have been easy for the disciples to have looked at what they had been able to do and see their efforts as fulfillment of Jesus’ promise.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12 ESV

But, their ability to do the works of Jesus would be accompanied with the requirement that they suffer like Jesus. They had most likely forgotten what Jesus had said regarding this matter.

“Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” – John 15:20 NLT

Jesus faced opposition, and so would they. He was forced to endure the hatred and animosity of the religious leaders, and so would they. Doing the works of Jesus will inevitably bring with it the suffering of Jesus. Obeying the will of the Father will always attract the wrath of the enemy. The disciples were quickly discovering that they were in a spiritual battle. There were forces gathered against them that were determined to oppose and annihilate them. Peter and his companions were learning the invaluable lesson that the apostle Paul so clearly pointed out:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Their good deeds would be met with evil intent. Their efforts on God’s behalf would be opposed by Satan and his minions. And the sooner they realized that this was a spiritual battle, the more seriously they would take their role and their total need for God’s assistance. The apostle Paul understood the nature of this spiritual battle and man’s complete dependency on God for survival and success.

3 We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4 We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5 We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT

Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles found themselves in jail. They were facing some serious opposition. The Sanhedrin was made up of powerful men who had tremendous influence and who could not only make the apostles’ lives miserable, but non-existent. Their hatred for the apostles was palpable. Their animosity toward the name of Jesus and anybody associated with it was unquestionable. And they were out to destroy any and all who spoke in His name. The growing number of followers and growing reputation of the apostles was being met with the increasing animosity of the enemy. The battle lines were being drawn. The tension was mounting. But the apostles would soon learn that what Jesus had said to Peter was true. When Peter had confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), Jesus had responded: “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:17-18 NLT). All the powers of hell will not conquer the church that Jesus was establishing on this earth. The efforts of the apostles would be opposed, but they would not be thwarted. The church would face persecution, but it would never face elimination. What the apostles were doing was the work of God, and as a result, they would face the worst the enemy had to offer. But they would prevail.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 200z

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Bound by the Spirit.

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:22-24 ESV

One of the primary functions of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is that of direction and guidance. He is to provide insight into how we are to live our lives in accordance with God's will. But His direction is useless if we choose to avoid it or ignore it. Each day, we face the choice of walking according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. We will obey one or the other. And the truth is, the Holy Spirit will oftentimes direct us to do things that seem difficult or distasteful – even dangerous at times. He may prompt us to act in ways that are contrary to our human nature and that appear to be counter-intuitive. After His baptism by John, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, where He went without food for 40 days and was subjected to the attacks of Satan himself. And while that may sound illogical to us, the entire episode of Jesus’ life was part of God's plan for Him. The apostle Paul would remind us, “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). The key, he says, is to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV).

And in this passage from the Book of Acts, we see Paul practicing exactly what he preached. Paul was on one of his missionary journeys and was attempting to return to Jerusalem. On his way, he stopped in Miletus and called for the elders of the church in Ephesus to come see him. When they arrived, he recounted to them his ministry to them, reminding them “how I lived among you … serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews” (Acts 20:18-19 ESV). And how he refused to “shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable” (Acts 20:20 ESV). Then he shared with them the news that he was on his way to Jerusalem, “constrained by the Spirit”. That is an interesting choice of words by Paul. Some translations use the word “compelled”, while others use the word “bound”. But the Greek word Paul used literally means, “to bind, to fasten with chains”. It was often used in a metaphorical sense to mean “to put under obligation” or “to be bound to one” as in a sense of duty. Paul seems to be saying that he was bound to the will of the Spirit for his life, even though that very same Spirit had not revealed to him what was going to happen to him when he arrived in Jerusalem. All Paul knew was that, the Spirit repeatedly warned him “that in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me”. What Paul was doing was counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. His message was not politically correct and would not prove to be popular among those who lived blindly, yet happily according to their sin natures.

Paul was obligated to do what the Spirit told him to do. He may not have completely understood what the Spirit was saying and he may not have particularly liked what the Spirit was demanding, but Paul “under obligation” to do what the Spirit said. For Paul, obedience to the Spirit was non-negotiable. He would rather die than disobey the Spirit's promptings. Even if obedience to the Spirit's direction brought with it suffering, he was on board. He was okay with that. Paul's focus in life was to do the will of God. Nothing else mattered. Which is why he told the elders from Ephesus, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NLT). Paul had a God-given, Christ-conferred, Spirit-empowered mission to accomplish. It was not going to be easy. It was not going to be comfortable or conflict-free. To do what Christ had commissioned him to do, Paul was going to have to suffer rejection, ridicule, and even physical harm. He was going to have to go places where his message and his presence were not welcome. It would have been easy for Paul to stay in those towns where he received a warm welcome. It would have made common sense that he avoid the more dangerous locales, because if he got arrested, his ministry would be dramatically curtailed.

But we know that Paul's determination to obey the Spirit at all costs DID eventually land him in jail. But it is from jail that Paul wrote the majority of his letters that we have contained in the canon of Scripture. Had he not listened to the Spirit's promptings, he would have never had the time to sit down and pen the words that have played such a significant role in the building up of the body of Christ over the centuries. For Paul, life was not worth living unless it was lived in obedience to the Spirit of God. Life lost all meaning if it was lived for anything other than God's will. Paul wanted to be faithful more than he wanted to be comfortable. Paul counted obedience as more profitable than his own convenience. He didn't buy into the philosophy, “it's better to be safe than sorry”. He was duty-bound and obligated to do the will of God as revealed through the leadership of the Spirit – for better or worse.

Committed to God.

But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. – Jeremiah 20:11-12 ESV

Jeremiah 20:7-18

Jeremiah was facing some tough opposition. His own people refused to listen to his call to repentance and warning of coming destruction. He had face rejection, ridicule and even physical violence at the hands of those he was attempting to save. And yet, this shouldn't have been surprising to Jeremiah, because God had forewarned him. “‘will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you,’ declares the Lord.I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless’” (Jeremiah 15:20-21 ESV). And it was to this earlier promise from God that Jeremiah returned. God had said that He would be with Jeremiah to save and deliver him. God had promised to deliver him out of the hand of the ruthless. The Hebrew word for “ruthless” is the same word Jeremiah used to describe God. It can mean “terrible one, mighty, or strong”. The NET Bible translates it as “awe-inspiring warrior” when used of God. Jeremiah's opponents were terrible, violent and ruthless when it came to their treatment of him. But his God was going to put the, pardon the pun, dread of God in them. They would be greatly shamed and would not succeed. While Jeremiah was going through a temporary state of disgrace and dishonor, theirs would be everlasting.

In the midst of all his difficulties, Jeremiah was calling upon the Lord of hosts – literally, Yahweh of Armies. It is a shortened version of the title, Yahweh the God of Armies, which occurs five times in the book of Jeremiah. The abbreviated version occurs 77 times. This reference to God has to do with His sovereignty as King and creator. He not only leads the armies of heaven, but the army of Israel and the armies of the nations of the world, which He uses as He sees fit. It is to the Lord of hosts that Jeremiah appeals. He calls out to the one who rules over all and who knows all. Jeremiah recognizes that God knows his heart and the hearts of his opponents. God can see what is going on and can easily ascertain who is right and who is wrong. Jeremiah simply asks God to do the right thing and save him as He has promised to do.

In spite of all he was going through, Jeremiah has committed himself to God. The Hebrew word Jeremiah used was galah and it can mean “to make naked or lay bare”. Jeremiah had, in essence, exposed himself, making himself vulnerable on behalf of God. He had been so committed to God's call and cause that he had been willing to suffer abuse and rejection. He had put it all on the line for God. Now he was asking God to avenge him, to justify his suffering by validating his message. Jeremiah had been faithful to do what God had called him to do. He wanted God to be faithful and do what He had promised to do. “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless” (Jeremiah 15:21 ESV).

When we stand for the truth of God, we will face opposition, and not just from the world. Sometimes our own brothers and sisters in Christ will stand against us or misunderstand us. But it is always essential that we make sure the cause for which we stand is God's and not our own. We must never make the mistake of causing dissension and strife among the people of God based on our own opinion or agenda. Jeremiah was committed to God's cause, not his own. He was speaking the words of God, not men. The agenda he followed was God's. It can be so easy for us to replace God's words with our own. We can end up causing disruption in the body of Christ, not because we are speaking truth, but because we are sharing our opinion and promoting our own agenda. The apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit's words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT). His words were from God. We must always make sure that what we say is Spirit-inspired, biblically based and God-ordained. The cause to which we commit ourselves must be God's, not our own. Because when we speak God's word, we will always have God's backing. When we commit to His cause, He will commit Himself to our care.

Sovereign God.

Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” — for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. – Acts 4:24-30 ESV

Ever since the miracle of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus had been boldly sharing the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the city of Jerusalem – much to the consternation of the Scribes and Pharisees. On one particular day, as Peter and John were speaking to the people, “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:1-2 ESV). They had Peter and John arrested and held in custody until the next day. But amazingly, in spite of this episode, more than 5,000 people came to faith in Christ as the result of the preaching of these two men.

The next morning, Peter and John were brought before Annas the high priest and a gathering of Jewish religious leaders, where they were questioned. “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7 ESV). It seems that the real issue was the miraculous healing that had taken place the day before at the Beautiful Gate. A lame man, begging for alms, had gotten the attention of Peter and John. But rather than giving him money, Peter healed him, in the name of Jesus. This astounded the people and “they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (Acts 3:10 ESV). So Annas the high priest wanted to know how they had done it. What as their secret? Peter's Spirit-filled response was, “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well” (Acts 4:10 ESV). Peter went on to clarify that he was talking about the very same Jesus the Jewish leaders had helped crucify just days earlier. While they had rejected Him as their Messiah, Peter made it clear that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV). The religious leaders were at a loss as to what to say or do, so they simply warned Peter and John to speak no more in the name of Jesus. Of course, the disciples refused and were released. Which brings us to this prayer. It was prayed by the gathered disciples when Peter and John returned to them and shared the story of what had happened.

It is important to note that this prayer was prayed as a result of what Peter and John shared that “the chief priests and the elders had said to them” (Acts 4:23 ESV). In other words, when the disciples heard that the priestly authority had threatened them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, they took the matter to God. They had been threatened for doing exactly what Jesus had commanded them to do, so they knew nothing better than to share their circumstances with God. They address God as Sovereign Lord. The Greek word is despotēs and it refers to “an absolute ruler”. In their minds, God was the final authority in their lives, not the high priest, the Sadducees, Scribes or Pharisees. God was the creator of the universe. Everyone and everything was subject to His divine authority. Even David, under the inspiration of the Spirit, had prophesied concerning Jesus, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1 ESV). The Jews and the Romans had attempted to eliminate the impact of Jesus by taking His life. But their actions had all been part of God's sovereign plan. Their strategy to kill Jesus and thus destroy His influence over the people had backfired, because it was actually exactly what God had wanted to happen. It had been His will all along. As in the story of Joseph, it was as if Jesus was saying to the religious leaders, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). God's plan had included His Son's death. It had been predetermined and the ultimate expression of God's love for man. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

Post-resurrection, having seen the risen Savior and having experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples could see with perfect clarity the sovereign plan of God. Even their current circumstances were part of His plan. Jesus had warned them: “you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:18 ESV). It was all part of the plan. The threats of high priests and powerful people were nothing compared to the plans of the Absolute Ruler. On the day when Peter had confessed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), Jesus had said, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV). The church would be built on that confession of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God, and nothing would be able overcome it. The disciples were living out the reality of that promise. But they were going to have to remind themselves of it each and every day of their lives.

The Last Hour.

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. – 1 John 2;18 ESV

What a foreboding statement. At this point in his letter, John seems to take on a tone of seriousness and soberness. He addresses his audience as children, exposing his pastor's heart and his feelings of compassion and responsibility for them. He wanted them to know the reality of their circumstances and understand the seriousness of what they saw happening around them. What they were experiencing was NOT to be unexpected or surprising, because of the times in which they were living. It was the last hour. How does John know that? Because “many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18 ESV). As the gospel advanced, the opposition increased and it continues to this day. And it is not just an opposition to Christians. It is an anti-Christ sentiment. It isn't even an opposition to God. There are many who, like the individual referred to in chapter one, claim to have fellowship with God. They claim to know Him. But they deny Jesus as Christ. They are anti-Christ, and therefore opposed to the good news as preached by Jesus Himself and carried on by His disciples. Like the original recipients of John's letter, we are living in the last hour, the last days. This was a common designation for the days that followed Jesus incarnation and resurrection. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:2 ESV). Paul warned Timothy, “that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV). Peter tells us, “that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires” (2 Peter 3:3 ESV). But Peter also knew that the last days would also be accompanied by a great movement of God. He had seen it and experienced it. On the day of Pentecost, he had been part of the small band of disciples who had been dramatically and miraculously transformed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. And he knew that their experience had been promised by God many years earlier through the prophet Joel. “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17 ESV). Peter worked this Old Testament prophesy into the message that he gave to the crowd of people who had gathered as a result of the disciples speaking in languages they didn't know. It was the last days. God was at work. He had sent His Son. He had died, was raised again and now His disciples were spreading the good news regarding the salvation made available through Him. But there was going to be opposition. There was going to be an anti-Christ sentiment rise up and spread. The world would oppose their message. Satan would stand against the gospel and its offer of a restored relationship with God. We are living in a war zone. Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the eyes of the lost. He wants to keep them in the dark regarding the hope available to them through Jesus Christ. So he offers them alternatives and seemingly viable options. But they are all anti-Christ, other than Christ. They provide options that leave out Christ.

But like the believers to whom John was writing, we have hope and we have help. We have the Holy Spirit. John wrote, “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27 NLT). What we have to realize is that virtually everything around us is anti-Christ. The world and the things it offers us provide a constant temptation to turn from Christ to something else. Satan wants us to find our hope in the things of this world. He wants us to find our satisfaction from the things of this world. He wants us to seek our joy from the things of this world. He wants us to find our significance from the things of this world. But these things are all lies and illusions. They are poor imitations of the real thing. John reminds us, “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25 ESV). That should be our focus. Everything here is temporal, not eternal. It is fading away. But our hope is sure. Our salvation is secure. Our eternal future assured. And we know that the last days will have a last day. There is an ending to this story. There is a final chapter to God's story of redemption. Jesus Himself told us, “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven” (Matthew 24:30-31 NLT). These are difficult days, but we serve a great God. We have His Spirit within us and His promise of eternal life to motivate us. We can not only survive, we can thrive. We have already overcome the evil one because of what Christ has done for us.

Our Great Intercessor.

Nehemiah 3-4, Hebrews 7

Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  Hebrews 7:25 NLT

God has always provided a way out for His people. While they may have found themselves facing times of difficulty and despair, God was always nearby, ready to intercede on their behalf. As Nehemiah and the people began the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, they not only faced a formidable task, they encountered opposition. Any time the people of God attempt to do the work and the will of God, they will find themselves confronted by the enemies of God. As the people worked side by side repairing and restoring the walls, their enemies mocked, jeered and threatened them. The enemies of God will always attempt to undermine the efforts of His people. “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:2 NLT). God's enemies will always try to feed the doubts and fears lingering in the minds of God's people. Satan has an uncanny knack of getting us to question our own ability to carry out what God has called us to do. ““That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” (Nehemiah 8:3 NLT). But the remedy to the taunts and jeers of the enemy is prayer. We must always turn to the One who can provide a way out. Which is exactly what Nehemiah did.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Nehemiah took their need to the very One who could do something about it. He turned to God. He begged God to intervene and hold their enemies responsible for their constant threats and their unceasing efforts to undermine the work of God. Nehemiah knew that those who stood against him and the work on the wall were really standing against God. As long as the people of God were doing the work of God, they could count on His protection and provision. Nehemiah was able to encourage the people to trust in God, despite what they might hear or see. “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” (Nehemiah 4:14 NLT). But isn't it interesting that while Nehemiah reminds the people to remember God, he also tells them to be prepared to fight. God would do His part, but they must also be ready to do theirs. We see in this passage a timeless principle that mixes prayer with preparation. Right after Nehemiah's prayer recorded in chapter four, we read, “So we built the wall” (Nehemiah 4:6 ESV). Nehemiah knew that they had a job to do – a job given to them directly from God. He also knew that they must be prepared and vigilant. While the battle was ultimately the Lord's, that did not mean there would be no role for them to play. So they prayed AND took practical steps to prepare to defend their families, their nation and their work. “But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves” (Nehemiah 4:9 NLT).      

What does this passage reveal about man?

God has work for His people to do. Just as He had called the people of Israel and set them apart to be a holy nation, He has called believers to live lives that are distinctly different and wholly dedicated to His Kingdom. We exist for His glory, not our own. We are here to serve as His ambassadors, acting as salt and light in the world, and conduits of His grace to a lost and dying generation. And as we do His will, we will face opposition. His enemies will become our enemies. They will taunt, threaten, and even attack us. And when they do, we must turn to the One who always stands ready to provide protection and provision. We have a great High Priest in Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, and the writer of Hebrews tells us, “He lives forever to intercede with God” on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25 ESV). In Jesus, we have found an advocate and representative who ministers on our behalf. He stands ready to aid and assist us every step along the way as we attempt to faithfully do God's will in the face of ongoing opposition. The people of Judah should have been very grateful that they had someone like Nehemiah to stand in the gap for them and take their problems to God. But as believers in Jesus Christ, we don't have to rely on a fallible man, we have Jesus Christ, “who has been made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:28 ESV). “He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven” (Hebrews 7:26 NLT). And we can turn to Him at any time to help us with any need we may have.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

This life can at times be difficult. As the people of God we will always be surrounded by the enemies of God. When we attempt to do God's will and accomplish the work He has given us, we can count on facing opposition. We will even encounter our own sin natures along the way. We are told that we will face the world, the flesh and the enemy. All three will do their best to undermine our efforts and cause us to doubt and despair. But we must remember that we have an advocate with the Father. We have an intercessor who stands ready to step in and provide us with all we need to fight the good fight to the finish. As we do God's will, we must never forget that we have God's Son on our side. He has already won the battle. He has already conquered sin and death through His selfless sacrifice on the cross. His resurrection turned defeat into victory and should turn our despair into hope. I am reminded of the words of Paul recorded in Romans 8:31-39:

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Father, You never told us that this life would be easy or without struggle. But You did tell us that You would be here for us. You even sent Your Son to provide us with a way to have constant, unhindered access into Your presence. Now He sits at Your right hand, interceding on our behalf. We can face the condemnation and threats of the enemy because of what He has done. We can live victoriously in this life because He is with us. At the end of the day, we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved by You. And nothing can ever separate us from that love. Amen