The Christian life isn’t like a battle, it is one. Christ Followers have an ever present enemy who will resist us, obstruct us and try to discourage us at any opportunity.
Most significant advances for God, whether those be personal in nature or corporate, will attract the attention and opposition of our enemy. In fact if there is no opposition it’s worth asking whether you’re attempting anything great for God in your life!
Nehemiah chapter 4 is an example of kingdom advance being opposed:
- In Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah called for the people to join together in rebuilding the wall
- In Nehemiah 3 we read about the rebuilding project having begun in earnest
- Yet as soon as that rebuilding project had begun opposition to it arose (Nehemiah 4:1-6)
Analysing the Opposition:
Anger/Rage (vs1) – the more you love God and serve God’s purposes the more you anger/frustrate and irritate the enemy. Advancing God’s kingdom through your life shrinks his kingdom’s influence. Don’t try to make people agnry, but anger in others isn’t always a sign that something is going wrong, but rather might well be that you’re doing something right as you serve God.
Jeering/Mocking (vs1-2) – opposition often takes the form of an attack on one’s identity, character, wisdom or ability. “What are these feeble Jews doing?” – said Sanballat. This is designed to humiliate, to influence the perception of others and to insert doubts into the mind and heart of the person being derided. We do well to remember that our enemies name is the “Accuser” of the followers of Christ and so ought not to be surprised when we face such opposition.
Doubt (vs2) – Another one of the enemies favourite tactics is to get into our minds and sow seeds of doubt. “Will they restore it for themselves?”, Sanballat questioned. Such questions can set off doubts that can cause the ones being opposed to back off, pull-back, to reconsider thereby capitulating to the opposition and being controlled by it.
Misrepresentation (vs2) – “Will they finish in a day?”, Sanballat said. At no point did Nehemiah or the Jewish people rebuilding the wall claim that they would be finished in any short-time frame. Opposition often takes the form of misrepresentation and distortion of what one has said or claimed they would do. Unjustified misrepresentation cuts deep as one often isn’t afforded the opportunity to correct misrepresented facts about oneself. Again the strategy here is to pull the rug out from underneath the person being opposed, distracting them from the task at hand and undermining their will to proceed.
Gossip/Slander (vs2-3) – Sanballat is making these comments and accusations in the company of his brothers, the army of Samaria and Tobiah. Opposition often takes the form of slander and gossip. When we face such things, we need to be careful not to get drawn into ourselves sinning too against those who slander against us.
Criticism & Exaggeration (vs3) – Tobiah joined the chorus claiming that the wall they were building was so weak that it would break down with even just a fox walking on it! We need to know who we are, we need to also know what we are doing to allow unfounded criticism to not disrupt our progress or sow seeds of doubt.
Responding to criticism
1. Take it to God! “Hear, O our God, for we are despised…” (vs4) Your Father is large and in charge of everything. You have free access into His presence because of Jesus and your faith in Him. You are the beloved child of the most high God. So take the opposition you face to Him, lay it out before Him because you can and because He loves you.
Their prayer at this point essentially was; ‘defend us God & vindicate us Lord’. When you take criticism and opposition to God in prayer it relieves you of the need to try to defend yourself or vindicate yourself. Letting go of your right to feel wronged helps one to keep focussed on what you have been called to do and to keep focussed on being like Christ in the midst of this opposition.
2. Get back to the job at hand. “So we built the wall” (vs6) After praying, they got back to the work at hand in spite of the opposition. Isn’t that the best response to opposition, to proceed with the course of action you know God told you to proceed with?
We will all face opposition to the mandates God gives us personally and corporately to advance His kingdom in our lives and through our church. May we never get drawn in by the tactics of our enemy, distracted from the task, tempted to sin, but may we take it to God in prayer and may we get back to the job at hand!
Let’s consider this account of Jesus and the demonised man from a number of perspectives.
Townspeople: Imagine the combination of feelings from the towns people… This man was wild, uncontrollable, strong, scary. They used to be able to keep him locked up with ropes, then when he kept breaking those they tried chains (vs4), but eventually even those failed to restrain him. So he roamed the outskirts of the town amongst the tombs, crying out, terrifying people.
The demonised man: What did he feel? Tormented from inside, not in total control of his outbursts, under the influence of not one but many demons (vs9). Although nothing physical could hold him, he was nonetheless gripped with fear and anger and shame, ostracised and unloved. Where were his parents? His family?
Jesus: Jesus has been busy. Healing, delivering crowds from their sickness and all forms of oppression, teaching parables about the kingdom challenging mindsets and preparing the ground for the gospel. So tired he fell asleep in the midst of the storm while on the lake (Mark 4:35-41). Arriving on the shore, Jesus is met by this man (who must have looked unkept at best, wild or even unclothed even maybe) who comes running and throws himself down before Jesus. Jesus is discerning, he knows what’s in play here this man is not free, this man is being traumatised, humiliated by demonic influence.
The Disciples: They’ve been on a roller coaster ride of emotions from the highs of seeing multitudes set free from oppression and healed, hearing perplexing yet mysteriously uplifting parables, afraid for their lives because of a storm & then in reverential awe at Jesus the one who just spoke and waves and wind obeyed Him! Maybe this guy’s reputation had preceded him, maybe they fear again as this man comes running to them…
‘Legion’: Terrified! Trembling, this is going to be a bad day! The King of kings has landed on their shore and they know who He is, they are in no doubt of His ultimate authority. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (vs7)
The demonised man: Did he feel hope? Did he often fight his own body and what the demons made him do? This time, did he feel hope as he found himself running to Jesus? Had he heard about Jesus, was he crying out inside yet his voice silent to those watching him? Scripture doesn’t say, but when Jesus began to engage the demons controlling and robbing his life – I believe suddenly he must have felt hope for the first time in a long time! Can Jesus help me, is this going to be the best day of my life?
The Disciples: What’s going on here? Who’s talking to Jesus, begging him? Who is Legion? How do they know Jesus is God, we’re just starting to get that!
‘Legion’: In the presence of the Almighty one, this group of demons who had seemingly had so much control and power, had none at all. They are pleading with Jesus the King of kings; ‘send us to the pigs…’ (vs12)
The herdsmen/farmer & townspeople: That day, one man’s freedom was more important to Jesus than 2000 pigs owned by someone else. What a statement about the value to Jesus of the man who had been seen as having no value by the town he came from. Was this action of Jesus’ a judgment on the town for the way that they had treated the man? Strangely, they beg Jesus to leave them (vs17). Did he rebuke them?
The redeemed man: What an incredible instant transformation! From raving mad-man, scary and uncontrollable to ‘sitting there, clothed and in his right mind’ (vs15). He tries to join Jesus, stay longer with Him, Jesus days ‘no’ but rather commissions him to share the good news of his transformation through his encounter with the Messiah. And so he does, and he comes probably one of the greatest evangelists in the New Testament spreading the good news with the 10 cities in that region to the amazement of everyone (vs20). #grateful
The disciples: “Note to self…” at this point in Mark’s Gospel
- Jesus really has authority over sin & forgiveness (Mark 2)
- Jesus really has authority over sickness
- Jesus really has authority over the waves and wind
- Jesus really has authority over all demonic influence whether it’s mild (Mark 2) to massive (Mark 5)
- Jesus is really God!?
What’s happening in your life right now?
Have you considered not just yours but some of the other perspectives especially God’s? How could that change things?
How does knowing Jesus’ authority over all things impact your perspective?
In Genesis 3 we read of that fateful day when Eve was tempted and ended up sinning with Adam and the whole course of human history was altered. And in the Scripture’s account of that moment we can see the strategy of the devil, how he drew her off God’s good plan for her life and into his. He has no new tricks so considering the old ones will help us avoid the same mistakes. I see five strategies in Genesis 3:1-6 from our enemy, may considering them make us more alert to them and enable us to take counter measures.
1) The devil plants seeds of unbelief & doubt (vs1)
We know from verse 2-3 that Eve’s problem was not a lack of knowledge regarding what God had said, her problem was not a lack of understanding. Her problem started with the seeds of doubt, the questions that had been sown by the devil. He posed questions about what God had actually said and calling into question God and God’s integrity; “God told you that!”
2) The devil lies and contradicts God’s word to us (vs4)
The devil is the deceiver (Revelation 12:9) and one of his main weapons is lies, misinformation that contradicts God’s words to us. The devil deceived Eve by sowing thoughts contrary to what God had said.
3) The devil lies about God (vs5)
The devil is also known in Scripture as the accuser. So he lies and calls into question God’s motives and integrity (vs5). Is God really good and loving, are His commands for us good or restrictive and bad?
4) The devil makes false promises (vs5)
He makes false promises about being able to be like God or to know what God knows, to possess knowledge equal to God’s, even to usurp God and His rightful place in our lives (vs5).
5) He awakens ungodly desires (vs6)
The Genesis 2 picture depicts Adam and Eve as happy, content in the Garden of Eden, content in each other and in relationship with God – with God as loving and involved Creator and them as happy beings created by God. Yet in vs5 the devil proposes an idea, a desire that must have never previously existed; ‘you can be like God, you can throw off your dependence on God, and be self-determining’! That’s an ungodly desire, that’s the essence of sin, to replace God with ourselves, His desires with our desires.
In addition to that in vs6 we read that Eve desired the tree now in a way that she hadn’t desired it previously. The tree held an appeal to her ‘it was a delight to her eyes’ and now ‘the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit’.
Eve didn’t desire this tree or its fruit previously, she might have been curious about it or appreciative of its beauty but now she desired it for what it would give her…
May your consideration today of these very old tricks help guard you and keep you from the enemies deception which is designed to rob from you and destroy your faith and ultimately your life.
By Gareth Bowley