Life is often like a game of footy (it’s not really, but Hollywood type tropes are always popular!). Bare with this analogy because it has a happy ending.
Life is like a game of AFL: it’s tough, it’s exhausting and there are two sides battling it out against each other. One of my favourite football moments was the 1999 preliminary final win Essendon played Carlton. The bombers came into the match as raging hot favourites. The Navy blues won by a single point (happy ending)!
The story surrounding the new and now former Essendon football club CEO, Andrew Thorburn, has entered the fourth day. The saga continues to dominate the news with a collation of new articles and opinion pieces in the newspapers and with interviews on radio and TV.
Andrew Thorburn was forced to resign from Essendon after less than 24 hours, for no reason other than he holds a position of leadership in his local church. The Premier of Victoria and the mob went after him until the football club pressured him into resigning.
Essendon is adamant, the issue isn’t people’s religious beliefs while in the same breath they explain that it is precisely about people’s religious beliefs. The spin is oxymoronic and as clear as day but that doesn’t subdue the voices who cannot tolerate biblical Christianity. Indeed, Daniel Andrews doubled down yesterday, once again calling Christians ‘bigots’ and painting churches as the most awful of people, while suggesting society needs more “kindness”.
As all of this is going on, I’m reading through the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles. I was struck by some key moments in this Bible reading, including how ‘right now’ the story feels. Let me share with you 2 encouragements and a warning.
First, faithfulness to God sometimes leads to strong opposition
The reading was chapter 32. In the previous chapters, Judah’s new King, Hezekiah, restored God’s Temple and reinstated the right practice of sacrifices and worship.
In the opening sentence of ch.32, we read this,
“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself.”
Hezekiah had the difficult job of shaking up a nation that was behaving like a footy team on muck up day and it all going horribly wrong. He worked tirelessly to turn the nation around and restore life and community to how God intended it to be. Then we read, ‘after all Hezekiah had so faithfully done, their very life and worship is threatened.
The idea of faithfulness leading to opposition is a regular motif in the Bible. For example, in Acts ch. 8, the world’s first church (which was of course in Jerusalem), grew in number and maturity when all of a sudden persecution broke out. The opposition was so severe that Christians were forced to leave the city, abandoning their homes and jobs, and even the church.
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”
Christians can live and work with integrity and generosity and kindness, and go beyond for the good of the workplace, and still be called all manner of insults and untrue swipes made against them, and even be forced to resign. Niceness, and not even godliness, will protect churches and careers in our culture that is bent on everyone worshipping from the same high altar of sexular secularism.
Remember, trusting Jesus sometimes brings significant opposition into your life.
Second, when facing opposition for faithfulness take courage and confidence in God.
Hezekiah’s response to Sennacherib was to exhort people to look to God
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”
In this example, Sennacherib is humiliated and defeated much like that famous Preliminary final in 1999. It doesn’t always work out that way. So, in the Acts 8 story, the persecution in Jerusalem forced people to leave their homes and places of work. It pushed families and church communities apart. Nonetheless, this did not weaken Christian confidence in God and their conviction in the Gospel,
“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
God used the terrible situation of unjust and brutal discrimination for mission and spreading the gospel and starting new churches.
Third, be aware of the dangers of pride
Sennacherib spoke and acted with a determined arrogance and with such confidence that he was on the right side of history. He didn’t need to coat his rhetoric in the language of tolerance. Without equivocation, preached against those God worshippers.
“On what are you basing your confidence, that you remain in Jerusalem under siege? 11 When Hezekiah says, ‘The Lord our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,’ he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst…13 “Do you not know what I and my predecessors have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand? 14 Who of all the gods of these nations that my predecessors destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand? 15 Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my predecessors. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!”
I’ll admit, as I read about Sennacherib, I couldn’t help but think of a certain Victorian Premier. That’s not necessarily good hermeneutics; I’m just noting a striking parallel.
It ends in disaster for Sennacherib, as it always does for those who think outdoing God is a great strategy.
Here though lays the warning. Instead of turning to humble thankfulness, Hezekiah took a leaf out of Sennacherib’s playbook. He became proud.
“Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem”.
There is no space in the Christian life for self-righteousness or moral superiority or an us versus them mentality. Hezekiah learnt that lesson the hard way. Sometimes churches do slip into that behaviour and even when Christians face unfair criticism we can exude a certain hubris. We need to guard our hearts against this.
I’m grateful for how Andrew Thorburn expressed himself in his public statement, as I am thankful for the ways City on a Hill staff have responded.
Of course, the story of Hezekiah does not ultimately end with us or point to us. Rather, it is another historical reminder of how desperately our world needs the perfect King, who sees all things and understands all things and who acts justly and mercifully.
2,000 years after this promised King came into the world, He remains the litmus test for truth and goodness. This week’s events have again demonstrated that we can’t stop talking about Jesus. No matter how hard the sexual revolution pushes and no matter how loud authorities secularists are, and even when a State Premier denounces Christian employees in the workplace, we can’t escape Jesus of Nazareth.
No matter how events unfold in the State of Victoria, don’t enter that unbefitting space of hubris. We can speak confidently but never brashly. We can live with thankfulness but not with pride. After all, every Christian knows what it’s like to stand with the Sennacherib’s of this world. in his great mercy of God want us over. That is why when we experience fellow Victorians and even our Premier standing against, we respond with kindness and resolve, with grace and with confidence in Christ.
As Christians in Victoria wait to see job security crumble and the window for career advancement shrink, keep taking our example from Jesus, and more so, rest your hopes in him
Philippians chapter 2 says
“have the same mindset Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”