TODAY’S READING: Ezra 4–6; Psalm 137
Reforms in post-exilic Israel ground to a halt, opposition halted the rebuilding, and Haggai and Zechariah were about to insert their prophetic oars (Ezra 6:14). In the meantime, letters were sent back and forth in great tattle-tale bureaucratic fashion, and the Lord proved Himself sovereign even in the paperwork. An officious Persian official in Palestine, Tattenai, took names and intimidated. But when that didn’t work, he wrote to the king, only to be surprised that his letter had the opposite effect he intended. Not only was he ordered to allow the work to go forward, but government taxes were to pay the bill!
Not much has changed in 2,500 years. Officials still watch, take names, and intimidate. Missionaries still push past their fears and external threats and put their hand to making disciples, breaking anti-gospel laws. God still intervenes at the highest levels through surprising advocates and unexpected resources. My wife and I landed in Saudi Arabia a few days ago, a little apprehensive due to the reputation of the kingdom’s intolerance for the gospel. My wife rightly noted: “It’s like the land of Oz! We’ve made it so much bigger in our minds than it actually is.” God’s missionary people must rise above the intimidating (human and demonic) spirits of our times and territories and in full faith believe that God is sovereign over all officials. We must believe that unlikely support from unlikely influencers is about to be granted. In this light, we should pray for the life of the king of Saudi Arabia and his sons (v. 10). In this light, truly central to our missionary work is to believe (John 6)! All over our world in the most unlikely places, from Somalia to Saudi to North Korea and beyond, the King of kings still sends His divine decrees to the halls of earthly power: “Let the work of this house of God alone… Let the cost be paid at the king’s expense” (6:7–8).
As a result of God’s intervention, His people celebrated the Passover with joy with the heart of the Assyrian king towards them (6:22). What a wonderful way to take communion! The next time you hold the bread and wine in your hand, look to the God of heaven with joy that He can (and will) turn the hearts of presidents, kings, and dictators toward the people of God to them, establish them, fund them, and protect them. Communion then is a missionary sacrament, reminding us that Jesus is King over all the earth, that He rules and overrules, that He is the grand Sovereign who gives orders from on high that every smaller potentate must enforce and pay for. Oh, how glad we can be when we partake of the broken body of Christ, knowing that He broke every chain and that He commands the obedience of every minor power.
No power should intimidate the missionary. As plenipotentiaries of the great King, let us stand tall, resist any anti-gospel edicts, and smile into the wind of intimidation and oppression, for we know Who is really in charge. What joy when our majestic God compels the very forces that resist gospel advance to assist the very ones they try to destroy. This is certainly something for us all to smile about.