September 26, 2015

Unexpected attacks, unexpected support

Zechariah 8:1–9:17, Acts 23:23–24:27, Job 30:1–15

At times, people I expect to support my Christian faith attack me in some way. Yet on occasion, those I expect to attack me offer support that is unexpected. There are many examples of this throughout Scripture. Today, I notice that God is sometimes the one who surprises . . .

Zechariah tells the people what God says: “Let your hands be strong, you who . . . were present on the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid . . . . For before those days there was no wage for man or any wage for beast, neither was there any safety from the foe for him who went out or came in, for I set every man against his neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days . . . . For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations . . . so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong . . . . As I purposed to bring disaster to you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent . . . so again have I purposed in these days to bring good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not. These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate . . . .” (Zechariah 8:9–17)

God describes His wrath against their sin, and His grace to forgive it. The context and history of His people reveals that they didn’t expect either one. Yet notice, even though God is sovereign, He expects a response of obedience. His grace is freely given, but not taken for granted.

Job didn’t expect his ‘friends’ to attack him. He said, “But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock . . . . Among the bushes they bray; under the nettles they huddle together. A senseless, a nameless brood, they have been whipped out of the land. And now I have become their song; I am a byword to them. They abhor me; they keep aloof from me; they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me. Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me, they have cast off restraint in my presence.” (Job 30:1, 7–11)

Even though God was not attacking Job with wrath, those ‘friends’ took advantage of Job’s testing time to vent their accusations instead of supporting him as genuine friends should have done. Job was surprised and even deeply wounded by their lack of support.

However, Paul received unexpected support when he was persecuted by his Jewish countrymen. The Roman officials took him into custody when a mob of his own people wanted to kill him. A letter was written to the governor describing the situation,  “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.” (Acts 23:25–30)

When Felix read the letter, he promised a hearing and “commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.” (Acts 23:34–35) The Jews who came to the hearing falsely changed Paul, but he was allowed to “cheerfully make my defense.” (Acts 24:8–10) He spoke of the resurrection and his own “pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:15–16)

Felix had an accurate knowledge of the Christian faith so he dismissed the Jews by delaying his decision, and then giving orders to the centurion to keep Paul in custody but with some liberty so his friends could attend to his needs. (Acts 24:22–23) Paul was supported by Gentile unbelievers!

These narratives give me increased awareness of the power of God and to rely on Him, no matter what is happening. All the pressures of life are under His control and He can bring support from people that I would never expect to take my side. This makes it easier to relax my life into His loving care.

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