Day 186

Opposition Turned into Opportunity

Wisdom Psalm 80:3
New Testament Acts 23:12-35
Old Testament 2 Kings 9:6-22

Introduction

Stephen Lungu came to our home and told me his story. He was the oldest son of a teenage mother from a township in Zimbabwe. She was trapped in a difficult marriage to a man more than twenty years her senior. She dealt with her struggles by drinking heavily.

One day, when Stephen was three years old, his mother took him, his brother and baby sister into town. Saying she needed to go to the toilet, Stephen’s mother left him holding his sister in the busy town square, while his brother John played on the ground. Two hours later she had not returned. Their mother had run away, leaving the three children in the reluctant care of an aunt. By the age of eleven, Stephen too had run away – preferring to live on the streets.

Growing up, Stephen developed a strong bitterness against God. As a teenager he was recruited into one of the urban gangs, called the Black Shadows, which carried out violence, theft and destruction on the streets of Zimbabwe.

When a travelling evangelist came to town to speak to thousands of people about Jesus in a large tent, Stephen went to firebomb the event. He carried a bag full of bombs. He wanted to attack the event because he wanted to attack God. As Stephen awaited the moment for his attack, Shadrach Maloka, a South African evangelist, took to the stage and announced that the Holy Spirit had warned him that many in the audience may die soon without Christ. Astonished, the Black Shadows thought someone had figured out their plan. Stephen Lungu was captivated by the preacher.

In each of the passages for today we see attacks of various kinds and how God turns opposition into opportunity.

Wisdom

Psalm 80:3

3 Restore us, O God;
   make your face shine on us,
   that we may be saved.

Commentary

God’s presence

When you face difficulties in life – opposition and attacks – there is nothing more comforting than the sense of the presence of God; knowing that he is with you, his face smiling on you.

The psalmist faced abuse and mockery from neighbours and enemies (v.6). These attacks caused a lot of grief: ‘a diet of tears’ (v.5, MSG). God’s people had been fed with ‘the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful’ (v.5).

Whatever difficulties you are facing in your life, God can turn opposition into opportunity. Cry out to God using the prayer from this psalm:

Prayer

‘Restore me, O God;
   make your face shine upon me,
that I may be saved’ (adapted from vv.3,7)

New Testament

Acts 23:12-35

12 The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty men were involved in this plot.
16 But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.
17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.’ 18 So he took him to the commander. 19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, ‘What is it you want to tell me?’

20 He said: ‘Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21 Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.’

22 The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: ‘Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.’

23 Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.’

25 He wrote a letter as follows:

26 Claudius Lysias,
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
Greetings.

27 This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28 I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29 I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30 When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.
34 The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

Commentary

God’s protection

Gustave Flaubert once wrote, ‘You can calculate the worth of a man by the number of his enemies, and the importance of a work of art by the amount that it is attacked.’ The reason people in the Bible, and the church today, are so embattled is because the work you do is so important. Coming under attack is not a rare event in the Bible. Nor is it a rare event in the life of any Christian. Sometimes you go through periods of relative calm. But further attacks are almost inevitable.

Whatever attacks you face, God is in control. As we saw at the end of yesterday’s passage, the Lord appeared to Paul and said, ‘It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best. You’ve been a good witness for me here in Jerusalem. Now you’re going to be my witness in Rome!’ (v.11, MSG).

Paul was kept in custody despite there being no charge under Roman law that would deserve imprisonment. His enemies were determined to kill him and had a plan for his assassination (v.12) that relied, as so often occurs with violence, on lies and deception (v.15).

In fact, all the characters attacking Paul were devious. Commander Claudias Lysias himself was ‘economical with the truth’ (vv.26–30). He makes no mention in his letter to Felix that he himself had illegally bound Paul and was about to torture a Roman citizen who had not been convicted of any crime.

God, in his providence, protected Paul: ‘But’ is the powerful little word that now enters the story (v.16). ‘But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul’ (v.16). When Paul’s nephew tells him of the plot, Paul arranges for him to inform the commander who arranges protection for Paul’s journey. So God protects Paul.

God seems to have used a combination of Paul’s nephew, Paul’s own ingenuity and a Roman commander. God’s providence and protection sometimes come through those who are not necessarily Christians.

Paul is taken safely to trial with a letter of explanation from the commander. God did not step in to rescue Paul completely though, and he remained under arrest. God protected him and used him in the situation in which he found himself. God’s purpose was that Paul would go and testify in Jerusalem and Rome. That is exactly what happened. Opposition turned into opportunity.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you can raise up people in any situation for your purposes. As you used Paul to advance your kingdom, Lord I pray that you would use me today. May your kingdom come. May your will be done.

Old Testament

2 Kings 9:6-22

6 Jehu got up and went into the house. Then the prophet poured the oil on Jehu’s head and declared, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “I anoint you king over the Lord’s people Israel. 7 You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel.

14 So Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi, conspired against Joram. … 16 Then he got into his chariot and rode to Jezreel, because Joram was resting there and Ahaziah king of Judah had gone down to see him.

22 When Joram saw Jehu he asked, ‘Have you come in peace, Jehu?’
‘How can there be peace,’ Jehu replied, ‘as long as all the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother Jezebel abound?’

Commentary

God’s peace

Deep within every human heart is a longing for peace. We see this longing during a terrible period in the history of God’s people. Yet another king of Judah, Jehoram, was an ‘evil man living an evil life’ (8:18, MSG). He is followed by Ahaziah who continued ‘the same evil-in-God’s-sight line of sin’ (v.27, MSG).

For a moment there is a ray of hope. Elisha arranges for Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, to be anointed king (9:1–3). A young prophet pours oil on Jehu’s head and declares, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “I anoint you king over the Lord’s people Israel”’ (v.6). Interestingly, Jehu’s fellow officers regard the prophet as a ‘maniac’ (v.11). Later, Jehu himself is seen driving his chariot ‘like a maniac’ (v.20).

When Jehu begins to carry out his instruction, Joram sends messengers to ask three times, ‘Do you come in peace?’ (vv.17,19,22). Jehu replies, ‘How can there be peace… as long as all the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother Jezebel abound?’ (v.22). Jezebel herself asked the same question, ‘Have you come in peace?’ (v.31). The answer was ‘no’. Jezebel died a horrible death, the fulfilment of the prophecy that Elijah had given (1 Kings 21:23).

These were days of evil, death and division. Jehu’s declaration that there can be no peace while Jezebel’s wickedness continues in Israel reminds us that true peace can only be found in God. The turmoil of these passages is a stark reminder of the need for him to bring salvation and peace – of the need for Jesus.

Jesus said, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ (John 14:27). The early church preached ‘the good news of peace through Jesus Christ’ (Acts 10:36). St Paul wrote, ‘we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). ‘The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace’ (8:6). He begins many of his letters, ‘Grace and peace to you’ (1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3, and so on).

Returning to the story of Stephen Lungu, the speaker’s words convinced him about his sins and drew him into an encounter with Jesus. He experienced God’s presence. He heard about God’s grace and peace.

Stephen staggered forward to the stage, grabbed hold of the speaker’s feet and began to sob. That evening, he became a follower of Jesus Christ.

The next morning he presented himself at the local police station and confessed his crimes. The desk sergeant looked at the long charge sheet, listened to his story and released him. Boarding a bus with the morning commuters, Stephen felt so happy that he was compelled to tell others on the bus the good news. He didn’t stop there. Stephen went on to be a full-time evangelist and spent his life telling others about Jesus.

At an event a few years ago, an old lady came forward wanting to follow Jesus. That woman turned out to be his own mother who had abandoned him all those years ago!

God’s presence, protection and peace are a powerful combination. As Stephen said himself, ‘Because I look at myself as a miracle of God’s grace, so I believe that the power of Jesus Christ to save sinners still exists. If he can change me, he can change anyone.’

In the middle of attacks, whether from neighbours or enemies or authorities, you can have peace knowing that God is in control of events and history and turns opposition into opportunity.

Prayer

Lord, today I bring my requests to you with thanksgiving and I pray that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 4:6–7).

Pippa adds

2 Kings 9:1-37

In 2 Kings 9 we see Jehu frustrated with what was going on and longing for change. How do we know when it is right to lead? For Jehu: he had the gifts and he had the position. Then he prayed to God. He also talked to his friends and colleagues, who also thought it was a good idea (v.13). Then when he got up to lead, people followed.

Thought for the Day

God turns opposition into opportunity.

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References

Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet, 14 June 1853

Stephen Lungu, Out of the Black Shadows: The Amazing Transformation of Stephen Lungu (Monarch Books, 2006).

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

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