"Warfare in a fallen world"
Sermon for Veteranís Day, Nov. 8, 1998
Texts: James 3:13-4:7
WHAT DID HE DIE FOR
He was twenty one in nineteen forty four
He was hope and he was courage on a lonely shore
Sent there by a mother with love beyond her tears
just a young American who chose to rise above his fears
And as I watch him struggle up that hill without a thought of turning back
I cannot help but wonder
What did he die for when he died for you and me?
He made the sacrifice so that we could all be free
I believe we will answer each to heaven
For the way we spend a priceless liberty
Look inside and ask the question
What did he die for, when he died for me?
To the darkest day in AD 33
came the mercy and compassion of eternity
Sent there by a Father with love beyond his tears
blameless one, the only son, to bear the guilt of all these years
And as I watch, etc.
ÖWhat did he die for?
He died for freedom, he died for love
And all the things we do to pay Him back could never be enough
What did He die forÖ.
"Warfare in a fallen world"
Sermon for Veteranís Day, Nov. 8, 1998
Texts: James 3:13-4:7
In the beginning, there was no warfare. Warfare did not have its origin in a creative act of God. God did not speak it forth into existence. What God did speak forth into creation, all that is, are the conditions into which warfare came as an intrusion, a distortion and a perversion. Warfare began in the heavenlies as an act of rebellion against God by an angelic being known as Satan, Lucifer and other titles. So the origin of warfare lies in spiritual rebellion in high places and the implication of that is this: that until the warfare between God and Satan is resolved we will continue to be afflicted with the scourge of warfare and violence. War is a condition of the fall and we know, by revelation of truth, that the day of final victory must come when Satan and all his allies will be fully put down and our warfare will be ended.
This cosmic perspective is important to keep in mind as we explore the topic of war. Why? Because there is a danger that we may, on the basis of a passage such as that from James tend to psychologize the matter. That is a 20th century filter, not a first century way of viewing reality. We can help ourselves greatly by maintaining the world view of a Christianówhich is reality. It was my Christian world view that enabled me to begin this sermon talking about the priority of heaven, and of events in heaven of Satanís rebellion and war against God. In the Christian world view, we have to cope with the condition of our fallenness in every aspect of our lives, including warfare. So, we read Isaiah 2:3-4:
Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall
beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall
not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Letís pay close attention to the words of Scripture for in what they declare they are both exact and rigorous. This passage catches up the hope of peace in the redemptive purposes of God. Now God has to act redemptively because we are in a fallen state. It is Godís plan to send forth the law, even the word of the Lord from Jerusalem into a fallen, or fundamentally disordered world situation. The law and the word here are actually both allusions to the Christ as Messiah. The Messiah is the One who enacts Godís plan of redemption, who personalizes that work (accomplishing in His own person what cannot be done otherwise) and realizes that work through the finished work of the cross. These allusions are synonyms and, as it were, titles for the Anointed One. And this passage solidly affirms that true peace is a matter of divine initiative. I say true peace here because much of what passes for true peace among human beings is at best a temporary and uneasy cease fire! There will be true peace when God establishes it and it will be established according to the dictates of His peace accord and not by human treaties and ambitious peace initiatives. Globalism and the World Court, The Middle East Peace Process and the international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, to name three such processes are doomed to failure because they are not grounded in reality, but in idealistic and socialistic aspirations. Wisdom dictates, on the basis of the truth about a fallen world, that military strength, including a secure and ready armed force, is advisable until the structure of reality is altered by the second coming of Christ! Because the matters involved are primarily spiritual, it will remain impossible for us on a merely human plane to effect a lasting, true peace. Furthermore, we should note two limitations: first, we have the fallen nature of those who would still exploit weakness on our part, or advance their cause through aggression and conquest. And, secondly, whatever peace we are able to institute will last only so long as it serves Godís purposes for God is sovereign over human history. Some trust in chariots, or missiles and bombs, but we are securing trusting in the Name of the Lord! It is foolishness in the first instance and a matter, in the second case, of both arrogance and a lack of humility in expecting human efforts to accomplish what only God can accomplish if and when He chooses to accomplish it.
Letís review briefly world history according to Scripture. First, we have the creation of the world which is followed by rebellion in heaven. That rebellion spread to the earth through the agency of Satan. Generations have come and gone in the fallen condition which began with the fall of mankind in Eden. Warfare is a condition of life in the natural and fallen world we inhabit. In that fallen world God, through His mercy, chose to initiate His plan of redemption for mankind and the whole cosmic order which has been subject to death, decay and disorder since the rebellion of mankind occurred. The first stage of Godís plan of salvation was the calling out of a people through Abraham. The Hebrews were Abrahamís descendants. They were to spread true worship, and to teach Godís ways to all mankind. When they formed themselves into a nation with a king, they came to be known as the Israelites. After the divided kingdom fell first to the Assyrians who conquered the Israelites, the Jehudites remained in Judah until they were carried off by the Babylonians. (This is probably where the name Jew came from.) The nation Israel and Godís Chosen People failed in their divine mission as priests to the nations, but, unseen and unnoticed perhaps, God was preparing the world for the coming of His Son. That Son, Jesus Christ, obeying His Father in heaven, where all our distresses originated through Satanís rebellion, died on the cross to reverse the slide of mankind into terrible, final and hopeless destruction. We live in an age of hope inaugurated by the victory of the cross which canceled the penalty of sin, and the reign of the fear of death for all who accept the free offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. As Christians we look forward to the triumphal, second coming of Christ, our confidence increased by all the previous fulfillments of prophecy, which will initiate a reign of Christ on earth. That reign will eventually culminate in the final battle of Armageddon between God and all the scoffers, unbelievers and rebels. All who oppose God will perish as fire falls from heaven and only believers, that is Christians, will remain to enjoy the peace that falls where war will be no more.
Well, how does God purpose to accomplish peace? First, He will establish His presence. He will go forth from Zion, and He will judge among, or between the nations. Now because the Lord Jesus has come into the world, and has already judged the order of this world through the work of the cross, nations are already being dealt with according to the truth, according to reality itself. For example, nations that honor the truth of God enjoy blessing, moral living and prosperity along with a measure of peaceóthose which do not are subject to civil strife, violence, immorality and unrest. So it is true that our world is subject to wars and rumors of wars. On the other hand, individual nations can and do enjoy the fruits of righteousness which is why a departure from truth and justice has grave implications. Christ will reign and rule. He will rebuke many peoples, or as the NIV puts it "settle many disputes" between personsówhatís lost in that translation is key to settling some disputes will be a sharp rebuke for being quarrelsome, full of strife, envy and malice. In other words the very things that James highlights in 3:14ó16:
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and
lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly,
sensual and demonic.
(Now remember my caution about psychologizing this matter. There are such things as bitter envy and self-seeking on earth because of the rebellion which pre-existed in the heavenlies and these things on earth are part an parcel of a cosmic state of warfare against God. We read on.)
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
That is why we look forward, as Christians, to that future time, or occasion when with swift and terrible judgment God will eliminate all rebellion and all rebels from the face of the earthóeven those armed to the teeth and in blatant military aggression will be instantly eliminated. And afterwards, peace that every human being longs for will be everywhere established forever. Tragically, not everyone who longs for it will qualify to enjoy that peace because they chose to remain strangers to Jesus Christ.
To speak plainly, this divine judgment of destruction will take with it many well-intentioned folk, those "good" people whose dismissal of the need to rely solely on Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior is grounds for destruction. This century, textured as it is with human arrogance begain confidently enough with over-weaning optimismóblind faith in technology and applied science to rescue us from all our woes and biological limitations, to solve all problems through education, applied psychology and/or governmental regulation. This century, colored by practical godlessness, dissing true religion and spirituality as superstition, a crutch for the mentally and morally challenged, or as a private armchair for religiously inclined, brazenly proclaimed man come of age. It fought the war to end all wars. The major difficulty is that man never came of age, the wars never ceased. This century, destined soon for the cache basin of history and the decline of human memory, will, among other things, be known for its tyranny, cruelty and its humanistic folly that spawned genocide, death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps, and gulags in pursuit of some visionary final solution! Wars were fought to oppose these mass insanities and to depose the fanatics that devised them. This century will be known for its final, and hopefully not fatal realization that mankind, however well-intentioned, cannot ultimately help, or heal itself. We must return to God. Grieved by our pride and misadventures, we need to turn to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can bring us through all our futile schemes and social evasions into the kingdom of peace, truth, freedom, love and life. Freedom and love can never suffice on their own without truth because neither of them can be authentic apart from the truth. And we, as precious believers, can have peace, truth, freedom love and life if we entirely throw ourselves on the offer of divine mercy embodied in Godís Son. We can, surrendering all claims to self-righteousness, self-sufficiency and the pathways of progressive enlightenment, have assurance of a place in the coming kingdom of God, as well as standing in the eternal reign of peace which follows Christís coming reign on earth. There, all contenders for the faith in Jesus Christ, all the warriors for truth, will enter in glorious re-union the reward prepared for us before the worlds began to be: peace in the presence of God!
What I must establish in your minds this morning is as follows: there is a connection between spiritual and military warfare. The latter being occasioned by the former. But also in keeping with our fallen condition, we find that warfare is neither good, nor evil in itself. All military action is subject to the standards of Scripture to determine its fitness, or inappropriateness. Therefore I have sought to show that international conflict exists because spiritual warfare exists. The forces of good or of evil probably never line up precisely with our side, or our enemiesí side in any armed conflict but that doesnít mean that military virtues on both sides are thereby annulled and useless.
To illustrate this point, we should note that the cause of justice is paramount in civil conflict, especially in our age of guerrilla resistance and wars of liberation. So Robert Tabor in The War of the Flea argues that the only way to defeat the guerrilla armies is to be on the side of justice and to establish in the eyes of the people that the freedom fighters are really robbers, thieves, murderers and political opportunists. This principle is biblically solid for we read that, in his early military career, David managed his soldiers in the field in such a way that people viewed him as their friend and defenderóhis mighty men were not unjust, or impious. They carried themselves as honorable men and were in submission to their commander. David led them in a manner that was above reproach. Courage, magnanimity and discretion are still the marks of a fine soldier. On the other hand, when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he violated every tenet of proper military conduct for a commander. The results were deceit, murder, disorder and dishonor. When the commander-in-chief falls so badly, the morale among the troops is severely, if not irreparably damaged. The nation, not just the army, pays the price. This is a current and relevant lesson for a nation that apparently needs a heads up with regard to some contemporary leadership. Letís recall the astute observation of George Santayana in this regard: "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."
Conditions can arise when peace is the worst thing to pursue. . . where peace at any price is the counsel of the devil. At such times warfare serves the good and the true. It is no less unhappy, or costly perhaps, but it is the right thing to do. This is because warfare occurs within the context of fallenness. We know that this is true because in the age to come it will be taken completely away. People will then have no need to "study war any more."
I close with this reminder: only those who personally commit to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior have a chance to stand in the kingdom of eternal peace which is coming. Moral behavior, or good character is not enough. As Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. . . no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3: 3, 5 & 6) These and many other words of Jesus underscore the necessity of being born again. "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of Godí (1 John 5:1) "íThe word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,í that is the word of faith we are proclaiming. That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord,í and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with you mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ĎAnyone who puts his trust in Him will never be put to shame.í" (Romans 10:8ó11)