Peace Amidst Mockery — Peace of Advent

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 4.1-3
4  When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” 

3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” 

John 18.36-37
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

Reflection: Peace Amidst Mockery — Peace of Advent
By John Tillman

Nehemiah and the builders were surrounded by mockery. Some of it surely stung. If Bible nerds were to list “sick burns” in the Bible, Tobiah’s comical comment about foxes knocking down the wall would probably rate a mention. Nehemiah, however, doesn’t respond.

Nehemiah had the force of government behind him. Soldiers, the king, and the law were all on his side. But he turned instead to prayer. Yes, he took practical steps to protect the lives of the workers, but his primary strategy was to turn over the mockers and their threats to God.

Building God’s kingdom will always seem impractical because, as Christians, we are building the kingdom Jesus described as being “from another place.” (John 18.36) Waiting on this kingdom and the peace it brings is one of the lessons of the season of Advent.

Building a literal, physical, or political kingdom is something people understand. Building this kind of kingdom may lead to power, praise, or wealth. Building the kind of kingdom Jesus describes leads to mockery. Pilate mocked this kingdom when Jesus mentioned it. His opponents mocked this kingdom at his trial and as he died. The soldiers mocked this kingdom as they beat him and as they hung him on the cross.

When we devote ourselves, primarily, to building Jesus’ intangible, immortal, and immanent kingdom we may be mocked. Called impractical. Called foolish. Sometimes this will come from enemies of the gospel and sometimes from those we would expect to join us. In either case, we do not need to reply in kind.

Like Hezekiah, who laid out the insults of Sennacherib before the Lord, (2 Kings 19.16) Nehemiah lays out Sanballat and Tobiah’s insults and threats. So let us turn Sanballat and Tobiah’s mockery into a prayer.

We praise you, God.
We wait and pray for the peace of your kingdom.
You, through Jesus, will make the feeble strong.
What looks so frail a fox’s feet could topple it will prevail against the forces of Hell.
You will restore what is broken beyond repair.
By offering the sacrifice on the cross, in one day, Jesus has finished the work of salvation.
In rolling away the stone from the tomb, God brings dead stone hearts back to beating life.
Like you, your kingdom is from another place.
Jesus, your kingdom is, was, and will be. (Revelation 1.8)
Bring that kingdom through us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me… — Psalm 101.6

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 4 (Listen 3:38)  
Revelation 13 (Listen 3:20)

Read more about Supporting Our Work
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Read more about Peace of Endurance
Chains shall He break
for the slave is our brother
And in His name
all oppression shall cease.

What Is Persecution? :: Throwback Thursday

John 18.23

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”

From John:
Richard Baxter knew a thing or two about persecution—especially persecution of Christians by other Christians. As a moderate during the English Civil war he found himself persecuted by both extremes, including being barred from preaching (he preached anyway) and being imprisoned in 1665 for 18 months.

As we have pointed out earlier, many of the tenets of religious liberty so cherished in Western Democracy came about from the great need for Christians to be protected from persecution by other Christians. Whenever we consider issues of persecution and religious liberty, we need to reflect that it is, in great part, the sins of the church that have made religious liberty so important.

“In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”  — Richard Baxter

Reflection: What Is Persecution? :: Throwback Thursday
By Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

Three things then go to make up persecution.

1. That it be the hurting of another, in his body, liberty, relations, estate, or reputation.

2. That it be done injuriously, to one undeserving.

3. That it be for the cause of religion or of righteousness, that is, for the truth of God which we hold or utter; or for the worship of God which we perform; or for obedience to the will of God revealed in his laws.

There are divers sorts of persecutions.

There is a persecution which is openly professed to be for the cause of religion, and there is a hypocritical persecution when the pretended cause is some odious crime, but the real cause is religion, or obedience to God. This is the common persecution, which nominal Christians exercise on serious Christians, or on one another.

It is a sign of great uncharitableness and cruelty, when men can find in their hearts to persecute others for little things; and it is a sign of a heart that is true to God, and very sincere, when we would rather suffer any thing from man, than renounce the smallest truth of God, or commit the smallest sin against him, or omit the smallest duty, when it is a duty.

Persecution is a far more heinous sin in a professed Christian, than in a non-believer. For they do it according to the darkness of their education, and the interest of their party, and the principles of their own beliefs. But for a Christian to persecute Christianity, and one that professes to believe the gospel, to persecute the preachers and serious followers of the doctrine of the gospel; this is so near that sin which is commonly said to be the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost, that it is not easy to perceive a difference. If I did consent to that description of the unpardonable sin, I should have little hope of the conversion of any one of these. They make up such a mixture of hypocrisy, and impiety, and cruelty, as shows them to exceed all ordinary sinners, in malignity and misery.

Lastly, remember that Christ takes all that is done by persecutors against his servants for his cause, to be done as to himself, and will accordingly in judgment charge it on them. Remember, that it is Christ, whom they hate, deride, and persecute.

*Edited for length and language updated. A Sum of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience, Richard Baxter

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor.  — Psalm 147.12

Today’s Readings
Exodus 39 (Listen – 5:24)
John 18 (Listen – 5:16)

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Read more from Richard Baxter: Lament the Effects of Hard-Heartedness
Take notice of the doleful effects of hard-heartedness in the world. This fills the world with wickedness and confusion, with wars and bloodshed; and leaves it under that lamentable desertion and delusion, which we see in the majority of the earth.

Read more from Richard Baxter: Theology is Like a Watch
Baxter refers to theology as an intricate watch—meaningless unless all the parts are in proper order: “…you must see that every part is in its proper place, or else it will not go.”

Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer

John 18.23
“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”

Reflection: Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Making Jesus known will lead to suffering and rejection. As the world investigates Jesus in our lives, we can expect the same treatment that Jesus received. May we do so, knowing that he is with us in all our suffering.

A Prayer for the Truth

“Who is it you want?” — John 18.4

Jesus, you are the king, the gift, and the truth that the world does not want.

When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. — John 18.5

The simple revelation of who you are causes even your enemies to fall to the ground.

You refuse to be who politicians want to make you.
You refuse to be who the religious elite want to make you.
You refuse to be who even your closest disciples want to make you.

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” — John 18.11

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” — John 18.23

We must not expect, Lord, better treatment than our master. We will be struck for speaking your truth.

“The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. — John 18.37-38

The world’s powers reject even the existence of truth. Much less your truth, Lord.

“My kingdom is not of this world…my kingdom is from another place.” — John 18.36

Remind us, Lord, that we are not of this world.
Its systems are not ours to run.
Its wealth is not ours to spend.
Its power is not ours to grasp.
Its wisdom is not ours to claim.
Its kings are not our sovereigns.

We are sent into the world, Lord, as you were.
Not to join it. But to confront it.
Not to lead it. But to serve it.
Not to enslave it. But to liberate it.
To call out from it those who will come to your truth.

We need your protection, Lord…
So that we may do as you commanded Peter, and put away our swords.
We need your power, Lord…
So that we may overcome evil not with the evils of corrupt power, but with the goodness that comes of taking up our cross and following you.

Remind us, Lord, that this world is not our home to defend, but it is the world you died for and we can expect to do no differently.

*On December 28, Christians around the world remember with sorrow the slaughter of the male infants of Bethlehem. They were killed for the same reasons many children die today. They were killed that those in power could remain in power—for economic and political convenience. They were killed to prevent justice and truth from coming.

Justice came to Herod anyway. And justice will come to the powerful who remain callous to the deaths of the innocent, in no matter what age they live. As this weekend’s reading from Malachi testifies: “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.”

Prayer: A Reading
Herod was furious on realizing that he had been fooled by the wise men…a voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping betterly: it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are not more. — Matthew 2:16-18

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Malachi 1 (Listen – 2:47)
John 18 (Listen – 5:16)

This Weekend’s Readings
Malachi 2 (Listen – 3:12) John 19 (Listen – 6:23)
Malachi 3 (Listen – 3:13) John 20 (Listen – 4:17)

Additional Reading
Read More about What is Truth?
Christ’s kingdom does not depend, as earthly kingdoms too often do, upon craft, policy, and duplicity. The Master tells us that the main force and power of his kingdom lies in the truth. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Read More about The Trap of Being Offended
There’s no gunshot like conviction,
There’s no conscience bulletproof,
There’s no strength like our own weakness,
There’s no insult like the truth. — Charlie Peacock

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