The below is from my friend, Elder Scott Brown. So good, I just had to post it!
I would like to point you to a sermon I preached recently on Ezra 4, “The Tricks of the Devil on Those Who are Rebuilding Their Lives According to Scripture.”
Here is a description of the high points:
Nothing causes more trouble in your life than when you are with people who are returning to God - especially for those who desire to return to the regulative principle of worship. Most people in the modern church have drifted into thinking that if you are godly then you will have no conflict, your best life is now and your deepest desires will be met as you get your designer life. Most have forgotten that there was the pain of the cross before the resurrection.
Ezra 4 speaks of the effect of the troubles from opposition that was sustained for 117 years against the Israelites returning from Babylon and beginning to rebuild. The discouragement that comes from trials can be crippling and debilitating. It can sap your energy, neutralize your vision, make you listless, apathetic, heartbroken, and sometimes bitter. The devil works through discouragement. In C.S. Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters,” Uncle Screwtape counsels the novice in the art of temptation saying, “Work hard… on the disappointment or anti-climax…”
Ezra 4 weaves the story of how the opposition started, who started it and what they did to perpetuate it. It speaks of how to deal with both religious and secular people who have not crowned God as King of kings and Lord of lords. It is not just paganism that resists the church. Christianity “lite” will always be trying to destroy the true worship of God as well. Why, because the worship of God in the true church is the most important thing happening in the world. There will always be two kingdoms in conflict - the kingdom of the light of the world, ruled by the prince of peace - Jesus the Son of God, and the kingdom of darkness ruled by the accuser of the brethren and the father of lies - the devil. This conflict is the subject of Ezra 4.
The church exists behind enemy lines. Opposition will always be a reality. At the beginning of Ezra 4, the devil raises up adversaries – the Samaritans. From this chapter forward, to the end of Nehemiah, all you encounter is the opposition to the efforts of rebuilding worship: slander, threats, manipulation, and half-truths.
Following is an outline of the tricks of the devil to frustrate the establishment of the worship of God in a community:
I. Temptation to compromise - Opposition from Cyrus to Darius (536bc), the work stops for 16 years, Ezra 4:1-5, 24.
II. Accusatory letters - Opposition from Ahasuerus to Artaxerxes (522bc), Ezra 4:6-7.
III. Slanderous misrepresentation - Rehum’s letter to Artaxerxes, an attempt to destroy using slanderous misrepresentation to apply pressure for public censure, Ezra 4:8-16.
IV. People of influence believe a lie - Artaxerxes responds to the letter, an example of self-serving and poor research, Ezra 4:17-23.
V. Intimidation and discouragement – Israel stops the work and focuses on themselves. The work ceased for 16 years, Ezra 4:24.
Here are some final applications:
1. Separation is necessary for great commission work. What was at stake was their distinctiveness as a people who worshipped God in the way He prescribed. Would they be a holy people or would they be like the nations? Would they have only a little bit of God or would they follow Him wholeheartedly.
2. God is concerned with His own impressiveness, not our success. The returnees refused to compromise but it did not mean that they would have an effortless, successful experience. Often we want to maintain our own impressiveness, but God wants the world to know about His impressiveness. God takes satanic attack and re-directs it for the advancement of His goodness and impressiveness.
3. Ezra is making it clear that building the temple is a multigenerational matter, one generation works and then the next takes over the work.
4. There may be long periods of difficulty where there is no revival.
5. There is no victory without pain. There is no peace without trouble. There is no resurrection without death. God wants you to have a better life than your “designer life.” He wants you to be deeper than you are, more real than you are, more mature, more steady, more patient, more loving, and stronger. Often He uses pain and trouble to get you there.
6. Be ye separate from the world - there is a time to stand up to the bullies. There is a time to stand your ground, refuse to compromise, and to reject the favor, money and the personnel of the world to help you.
7. Are you a success junkie? When the king shut down the work, it was the end of a dream. Their hopes were dashed. But, when mans dreams are ended; God’s visions take over.
8. Don’t pre-judge your disaster. Remember, in looking back it is often clearer. There are temporal setbacks, but they do not contradict that He is good; His love endures forever to Israel. God is taking history to its happy ending.
9. Do you trust the story line of the Bible? Do you believe that your story was designed to glorify the story of God? Have you fully embraced the idea that your life is not your own? Have you abandoned the idolatry of your perfect life? Have you considered the words of Jesus, “In the world you shall have tribulation, but I have overcome the world?” Has your loss of trust in the story line made you lose sight of the mission in the midst of the discouragement? Remember that your story is God’s story. The Bible is about the drama of the preservation of the people of God to the end.
10. Therefore…walk by faith, not by sight. Why do some flourish in trials and others dry up and blow away? Why do some find more hope in trouble and others find reason to let their hope blow away? It is their faith in God’s promises for His people.
11. The greatest battle and suffering ever is over: The suffering of the Son of God for sin. He was despised and rejected. He was spat upon. He was crucified. He destroyed the works of the devil – unraveling and disarming. Why? So that He would take the punishment that sinners deserved so that they could be set free. His suffering satisfied the wrath of God.