22 Apr 2006, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
To any practicing atheist or agnostic, the term Christian Warfare would not seem to make any sense. In their way of thinking, we all live in a meaningless, senseless world.
At 2.30 am on Monday, May 24, 1999, a passenger train, called the Twilight Shoreliner, en route from Boston, Massachusetts, to Newport News, Virginia, struck and killed five people. The dead were Julia Toledo, and her four sons. Carlos (11), Jose (10), Angel (6) and Pedro (3). While we know the mother shouldn't have been on the tracks with her children, it could only be surmised that they were lost or were there by accident. No one really knew. As such, there was no one to blame, no one to charge with a crime and no one to explain why it had to happen. To the unbeliever there is no point in looking for meaning, because there is none (Goldstein, 2002: 3)
How do we make sense of the world we are living in?
Why do tragedies occur involving the death and injury to our fellow human beings?
Why do men fight?
Why do we see so much strife, heartache and conflict between the nations of the world and even within the Christian church itself?
During this past week Australians have taken time to remember those who have fallen in battle. Those who have sought to preserve their freedoms against all forms of dictatorships and other restricting philosophical ideologies.
For those in the twentieth century who have lived through two world wars and the many conflicts that have taken place since that time, questions are often asked as to the reasons we were even there and what the conflict was all about. It stands to reason that when soldiers are in the midst of battle, with the dead and dying all around them, life would seem to be all so senseless.
This disorientation was once seen in a coded dispatch that was sent from London at the outbreak of the First World War. It was relayed to a British outpost found in one of the most inaccessible areas of Africa. The message read:
'War declared. Arrest all enemy aliens in your district'
The War Ministry received this prompt reply. 'Have arrested ten Germans, six Belgians, four Frenchman, two Italians, three Austrians, and an American. Please advise immediately who we are at war with.' Who is the enemy? (Tan, 1991: 1574).
The fact that the war of 1914-1918 ever happened was challenged by the results of a major computer research project. According to Jamie Portman of the Calgary Herald, this project initiated by the US Military, was studying the means of avoiding the outbreak of another major war.
According to the computer results, the First World War was seen as an impossibility. In responding to the data fed into it, the computer noted that the blunders and casualties of such a magnitude could only be the stuff of fictional conjecture, not of hard reality. However, historical records show that this war was to cost an estimated $10 billion to stage and was to kill an estimated 10 million human beings. The folly and carnage that it represented certainly took place (Ibid: 1571-2).
Each year we take time to remember the men and women of those wars. Anzac Day is an Australian Day of Remembrance. It is a day to pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by those thousands of Australian men and women who served Australia in wartime. Even if it was believed they died in a vain and futile war, achieving nothing more than bringing suffering to many of our fellow humans, we need to hold their memory as sacred. Anzac Day is not seen as a day to glorify war. It is understood that the greatest sacrifice that anyone can make is to die to protect someone else.
This morning I want you to listen as I read the Ode of Remembrance and then let's remain silent while the Bugler plays the Last Post.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
As Christians, and particularly as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, how do we make sense out of the drama and tragedy of the War and strife found in this old world?
As we read the Scriptures we learn that man was made in the very image of God and from this we understand that there is meaning to life. We also find in its pages that we are swept up in a great battle between good and evil, between Christ and Satan, a battle that originally took place in heaven.
Two great questions have dominated history and our existence. Why does evil exist, and what is the ultimate solution to its presence?
Within the unifying theme of the Great Controversy the Bible gives us some answers.
First, this particular theme provides a worldview that becomes unique to our understanding of life and its mysteries. The great controversy continually points to God's love and His sovereignty. We are told in Gen 1: 1 that ' in the beginning [was] God. Acts 17: 28 tells us that in Him, '…we live and move and have our [very] being.' John 1: 1-3 and 2 Timothy 1: 12 tells us that He creates, He redeems and He restores.
All these thoughts provide the basis of the Christian worldview.
Secondly, this all-encompassing theme shows us who is responsible for evil.
1 John 3: 8 makes it clear that 'the devil has sinned from the very beginning.'
Thirdly, the great controversy shows us that God's character is love. 1 John 4: 16 says '…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.' We are also told in John 3: 16 and Gal 4: 4-6 that it is His love that makes it possible for us to be redeemed from sin's power. Those who abide in His love are His children (John 1: 12; 15: 9, 10), and, as such, we have victory over Satan (1 John 3: 8).
Fourthly, this theme provides a meaning to history, despite its chaotic nature. The struggle between good and evil is fought in the human situation; but, in the end, because of what God accomplished through Christ on the cross two thousand years ago, history will conclude with the vindication of God and the destruction of evil (2 Peter 3: 10-13; Rev. 14: 6, 7).
While this great battle wages in the physical realm, the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6: 12 says that it is essentially a spiritual battle for the control of the minds and hearts of every human being. While the outcome may result in physical battles being fought as we find recorded throughout human history, it is first within the silence and quiet recesses of the human conscience that this conflict is being determined.
Let's read Ephesians 6: 12 NKJV
'We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.' In other words we are not dealing with an enemy we can see or get our hands on, but with spiritual beings who were once near the centre of power and are now trying to rule this world. The power of these supernatural beings, and the force they generate, are not to be taken lightly.' (Clear Word Paraphrase)
If we stop and listen to some of the powers of this dark world we will hear them say that God is dead, that there is no such thing as sin, only failure. That socially accepted principles are superior to God's standards and that death is a door to another life. We will hear that grace is not a godly characteristic that redeems us but a human potential enabling us to save ourselves.
The apostle Paul leaves no room for doubting the Devil's capabilities. He tells us that the enemy will do all he can to influence the political, judicial, economic, psychological, scientific, and supernatural principalities and powers to entice people away from God. He will use them all.
How do we win this battle?
Zechariah 4: 6 tells us, 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts' and in Jesus own words in John 15: 5 He says: 'Without me you can do nothing.'
We need to recognise that while Christ's death on the cross ensures victory over sin, it is important to note that this does not ensure that it will automatically make every person victorious.
While Jesus won the conflict we must still choose to share in that victory.
We must choose to accept what Jesus offers and receive Him as our personal Saviour. This choice is not always easy, because, as we have already suggested, the Devil's objective is to separate us from Him. If he can succeed in cutting us off from our source of strength it will give him the advantage. Luke 22: 31 gives some idea of what Satan desired to achieve through the life of one of Christ's disciples. It is here that Jesus says, Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 'Sifting' us daily is Satan's objective in maintaining this Christian warfare and it requires us to continually surrender to Jesus.
In the New Testament this spiritual struggle is well illustrated in the life of this man called Simon Peter.
What do the Scriptures tell us about him?
We know that Simon Peter was among the first to receive the truth that Jesus was God in human flesh.
We also know when Jesus revealed His mission which was to involve His death, Peter would not hear of it. It seemed that Peter's vision, at that particular time, was to involve a crown not a cross.
When Jesus revealed that He would soon die and His disciples would be scattered, Peter's self confidence was such that he boasted he would never deny his Lord. However, we find in Matt 26: 33-35 that Jesus knew better.
We are told in verse 40 that Peter could not even stay awake to pray with Jesus in Gethsemane.
Yet, verse 51 tells us he could quickly rise up and draw the sword against his enemies.
Going from this rash daring behaviour to a cowardly denial was to happen so quickly. However, it was the crowing of the rooster that brought him to his senses as he remembered Jesus' warning about being sifted as wheat. He also remembered the Lord who promised to pray on his behalf, asking that his faith would not fail (Luke 22: 31-32).
Regardless of Peter's defective character, with all its rough edges and selfishness, we know from Acts 2: 32 that he was later to be awarded the privilege of being among the first to see his risen Lord. Eventually he was to receive his commission as outlined in John 21: 15-17.
It was through self-sufficiency that Peter fell, but it was through repentance and humiliation that he again returned to God.
How did Peter's spiritual struggle contrast with that of the life of the man called Judas, surnamed Iscariot?
With the discovery of a long lost manuscript called the Gospel of Judas we need to know what the Scriptures are able to tell us, and this is what they have to say.
This disciple's life was to be a study of contradiction:
- Judas saw the sick, the lame and the blind flocking to Jesus from the towns and the cities.
- He saw the dying laid at His feet.
- He witnessed the Saviour's mighty works in healing the sick, casting out devils, and raising the dead.
- He felt the evidence of Christ's power.
- He recognised the teaching of Christ as being superior to all that he had heard.
- He loved this great teacher and desired to be with Him.
- He felt a desire to be changed in character and in life and hoped to experience this through connecting himself with Jesus.
What was Jesus response to this very complex man?
- He did not push him away, but gave him a place among the twelve.
- He trusted him to do the work of an evangelist.
- He also endowed him with power to heal the sick and to cast out devils.
How did Judas respond to these wonderful opportunities?
- Sadly, he still would not come to the point of surrendering his life fully to Jesus.
- He would not give up his worldly ambition or his love of money.
- While accepting the position as a minister of Christ, he still did not bring himself under the divine influence.
- He felt that he could retain his own judgement and opinions and he cultivated a disposition to criticize and accuse (White, 1940: 716).
Of what was Judas guilty?
- Matt 26: 14,15 tells us of his greed
- John 12: 4-6 tells us of his hypocrisy
- John 12: 6 tells us of his dishonesty
However, the greatest sin above all the others was seen to be his self-indulgence.
We all need to learn some important lessons from this tragic story.
To Judas, his fellowship with Christ was only a means to achieve self-glory. He failed to accept the condition of discipleship given in the words of Jesus in Matt 16: 24 where He says 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.'
Judas chose to retain his defects of character. Evil desires, revengeful passions, dark and sullen thoughts were all cherished until Satan had full control of him.
Judas had now become a follower of the enemy of Jesus Christ.
He had lost the battle and it eventually claimed his life.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus he saw troublous times coming for both the individual and the Church and the contest looked very uneven.
Well, what makes the difference?
Dear Friends, it is our connection with Jesus Christ. We need to make this alliance, through faith, giving us access to the resources that God graciously provides. This is the Christian armour that Paul talks about in Ephesians 6, 10,11 so that we '…may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.'
In this warning Paul is telling us:
- That we are not necessarily tempted in the most obvious way.
- That we face a crafty and cunning foe who can appear as an 'angel of light'.
- That his ways are more subtle and may be seen in more higher and nobler motives.
- That He uses deceit, which is what the word 'wiles' means. It is much easier to deal with open hostility than to deal with deceit.
Hence, Paul is telling us all to get ready for the daily battle against an enemy who is well prepared.
- 2 Tim 4: 7 tells us that there is a fight to be carried on by the believer
- Rev 12: 17 tells us there is constant enmity against the Church
- 1 Pet 5: 8 tells us that the enemy stalks those who fear God
- 1 Pet 5: 9 tells us that we need to 'resist', and this should become the watchword for the believer.
In the south east of France we find one of the best-preserved medieval wall cities to be found anywhere in Europe. It was here in the huge Tower of Constance that a little 15-year old girl by the name of Marie Durand was to be confined in the year 1730. As a Huguenot she was imprisoned in this ancient fortress for her strong belief in the Word of God. Its walls were eighteen feet thick and the tower was surrounded and protected by a moat. The narrow slits serving as windows did not permit much light, but allowed the cold winds of winter to enter. She was confined in this women's prison from 1730 -1768, a period of 38 years. During that time she was encouraged every day to recant and go free, but she resisted all offers to purchase her liberty on the basis of compromise. Today you can see the word 'resistez' scratched into the masonry of her prison cell.
In a letter written while in prison, she says: 'I am in this awful prison 33 years…We must not be Judases by betraying our own consciences…Your humble servant Marie Durand.
As already noted in 1 Peter 5: 9 the word 'resist' must become the watchword for the believer.
As noted by author Ellen White in Test. Vol 5, p. 136 'To stand in defence of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few - this will be our test.'
The concept of Christian Warfare could not be better illustrated than in John Bunyan's book 'The Pilgrims Progress'. Today, this book is one of the most widely read books outside of the Scriptures and when the government of Communist China had it printed as an example of Western Cultural heritage, its initial printing of 200,000 copies was sold out in three days.
Bunyan's world was that of 17th century England and while a tinker by trade, he later became a preacher in the 'open communion Baptist Church in the little town of Bedford where he lived. His ministry coincided with the reign of the Stuart kings in 1660 and it was during that unstable period that unauthorized preaching outside of the State Church was to be a punishable offence. Because he refused to obey the authorities he was put in prison on a number of occasions and while he was there he had a dream that he wrote down and called 'The Pilgrims Progress' While his main character is called Christian it is nothing less than a portrait of himself and his own spiritual journey.
In this book we read about Christian's journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. While he has many discouragements and difficulties before he reaches the narrow gate, which eventually leads to the wall of Salvation and to the Cross where he drops his burden of sin, his troubles only start. From the cross, he climbs the Hill of Difficulty, passes through the Valley of Humiliation, fights with Apolyon, passes through the Valley of the Shadow of death, through the streets of Vanity Fair and onto a plain called ease. It was here that he finds a smooth path called bypath meadow leading to Doubting Castle.
Captured by Giant Despair, Christian and his companion called Hope are placed in a filthy dungeon where Christian loses all hope of continuing his journey. During this terrible time, he even thought of killing himself. However, on the third day at midnight both men remembered to pray and it was then that Christian recalled he had a key called Promise in his bosom that could open any lock in doubting castle. This is so much like all of us isn't it? We often lie in the stinking filthy dungeon of sin forgetting the power of prayer and that we have the key called promise which, when used, will set us free.
It is also interesting that Christian was to enter Doubting Castle towards the end of his life journey, when not too far away and in sight he sees the delectable mountains. This would suggest that sometimes our greatest doubts can come towards the end of our lives and in sight of the goal. When we should be at our strongest spiritually we sometimes can be at our weakest. (The life of Solomon is a good Scriptural example)
Passing through the delectable mountains, we all have to cross the River of Death before entering the Celestial City. It is here that ministering angels help while Satan does all he can to terrify those who cross. However, the pilgrims remember that Jesus has gone before them and prepared the way.
What do we learn from this story?
- We need to remember that when Jesus came to die on the cross it introduced a new dimension into the cosmic battle between Christ and Satan.
- We learn that while Christ's victory was to become the basis of our acceptance before God, we should know that our journey to the kingdom has just begun.
- We learn that from the cross we have many battles to fight, a cunning enemy to contend with, and a war to win against the wiles of the devil.
- We learn that the time of conversion is not an ending point, but the beginning of a struggle, not only against our own worst impulses but also against demonic agencies.
However, the Scriptures make clear that clad with the right armour we can have the victory over every enemy. In becoming Christians we have to take sides in the war between Christ and Satan. We need to remember that we are not only participants in this battle, but we are also the prizes to be claimed. Thank God this morning, Christ has already laid claim to us, and He will not give up as long as we cling to Him. We are told that Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people.
The story of Pilgrim's Progress is all about Christian warfare
Whether we like it or not, this war becomes our war and there is no way to escape it. It becomes the test of our allegiance and we have to choose which side we plan to be on. We need to decide upon whom we place our thoughts and affections? We need to decide whom we are to love and serve? And it is within the domain of every heart this battle is to be repeated.
The apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 saw trouble coming, not only for the individual, but also for the church. He recognised that there was a fight to be carried on by God's people and there was to be constant enmity against the Church at large. He knew the enemy would continue to stalk his prey and only those who are under the influence of heavenly beings will be able to discern the deceit and the wiles of these unseen powers of darkness. The word 'resist' is to be the watchword for those who believe in God and we need to be constantly on our guard.
In conclusion, we need to remember that our hope is not in man, but in the living God. With full assurance of faith we may expect God to unite with our efforts, for the glory of his name. We need to remember that prayer is the source of our strength and it is important to continually fortify our minds with God's word. With the armour of God we may gain the victory over every foe. The Lord has given you everything you need to stand against the enemy and it is with this wonderful assurance that we can meet the spiritual forces arrayed against us.
Finally, it is the Christian's understanding of the great controversy theme found in God's word that provides the final piece of the puzzle enabling us to give sense and meaning to the tragedies of life on planet earth
I would like to challenge you this morning to choose the winning side so that one day we can all be reunited with our Lord and Saviour who has done so much for us all.
Goldstein, C. (2002) The Cosmic Conflict between Christ and Satan. Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide Jan-March. Warburton: Signs Publishing Co.
Tan, P. (1991) Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations. Hong Kong: Nordica International, LTD
White, E. G. (1940) The Desire of Ages. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1950) The Great Controversy. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
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