Sermon title:  MEMORIAL DAY AND OUR SPIRITUAL WARFARE

Luke 6:45; 13:24-25 & Matthew 7:13-23 

    Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, May 27, 2018

 

 

Back to ImmanuelBaptistNB.org

 

For many people, summer vacation time

begins with Memorial Day

and ends with Labor Day.

Memorial Day provides a long weekend off from work—

the first one of the season,

hopefully with nice weather for a cookout

or some other fun outdoor activity.

 

But Memorial Day holds a much deeper significance

for those who lost a loved one

who died defending this country—

and for those who appreciate

the ultimate sacrifice

that so many paid to preserve our freedom.

 

Veterans Day in November

honors all who served in the armed forces,

but Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives.

 

This holiday goes back to the years

immediately following the Civil War in the mid-1800’s.

It was celebrated at various different times

in different states,

until the federal government finally set a uniform date.

 

So, at Memorial Day,

we turn our hearts to the memory

of those who died defending our freedom.

 

And there is also reason to turn our hearts toward God.

 

Thinking about death

makes us think about the afterlife.

And thinking about the afterlife

makes us think about God

who holds our eternal destiny in his hands.

 

War brings soldiers and sailors and marines

face to face with death.

 

“There are no atheists in the trenches”

became a common saying during the First World War.

And during the Second World War, it was changed to say,

“There are no atheists in foxholes.”

 

Many have turned their hearts toward God

in the heat of battle—

some even vowing to serve God,

if he would only spare their lives.

 

Some have kept such vows,

that they made when their lives were in danger.

 

I think of young Martin Luther.

He wasn’t on the battlefield,

but was outdoors in an extremely severe thunderstorm,

and he was in fear of his life.

He vowed to serve God, if his life was spared,

and he kept that vow

after the storm had passed.

 

But it often happens that such vows are forgotten

once the frightened soldier or sailor

escapes the storm or the terrifying battle.

 

We return to everyday life,

and the need for God seems to fade away.

 

When we’re working our job,

or doing housework,

or taking care of the kids,

death seems very far away.

 

The afterlife seems like a distant figment of our imagination,

and the need for God may disappear.

 

But that’s only because the veteran returning from war

isn’t conscious of another war that is going on—

a war for human souls.

 

The enemy is the world, the flesh and the devil,

and the war is raging all around us—

and even within us.

 

At Romans 7:23, the Apostle Paul wrote,

 

“I see another law at work

in the members of my body,

waging war against the law of my mind

and making me a prisoner

of the law of sin at work within my members.”

 

We need to wage war against

the sinful urges within our own bodies.

 

Wouldn’t it be easier

if we just surrender to the world around us,

and just go along with the latest popular views,

rather than stand out as different

because of the Gospel of Christ?

 

The danger is just as real

as it is on the battlefield,

and it’s a life-or-death battle,

with eternal life at stake.

 

The spiritual warfare we’re all involved in is just as real

as World War Two, or Korea,

or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

And if we aren’t aware of it—

if we don’t realize that we’re at war spiritually—

then we’re in real danger of losing the war.

 

The Apostle Paul in his letters to Timothy[ OPEN ]

made sure that Timothy knew

that he was at war for the Gospel.

 

In 2nd Timothy, Chapter 6, Verse 12,

Paul urged Timothy to

“Fight the good fight of the faith.”

 

And in 2nd Timothy, Chapter 2,

he drew parallels to being a Christian soldier

and to helping to set free

those captured by the enemy

as prisoners of war.

 

In 2nd Timothy, Chapter 2, Verse 3, the Apostle Paul

encouraged Timothy to

 

“Endure hardship with us like

a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”

 

Yes, Christians are ‘soldiers’ of Christ Jesus.

 

Later in the same chapter,

at 2nd Timothy 2, beginning with Verse 24,

Paul told Timothy

how to set free

those who had been captured—

taken captive by the enemy, the devil.

At 2 Timothy 2:24 he wrote,

 

24 And the Lord's servant must not quarrel;

instead, he must be kind to everyone,

able to teach, not resentful.

 

25 Those who oppose him

he must gently instruct,

in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,

26 and that they will come to their senses

and escape from the trap of the devil,

who has taken them captive to do his will.

 

Those who were taken captive by the enemy

during the Second World War, or the Korean War,

or the Iraq wars—

they knew that they had been captured.

 

But those who are taken captive

by the devil to do his will—

they don’t know that they are in that pitiful situation.

 

So, it requires a different kind of warfare

for us to fight to set them free.

 

We can’t use guns and bombs

to set them free from captivity to the devil.

Guns and bombs won’t work.

Instead, we must use spiritual weapons

combined with gentle teaching

to help them come to repentance

and to a knowledge of the truth, as Paul said.

 

In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians[  OPEN  ]

Paul described the weapons we need to use

in our spiritual warfare.

 

It’s in 2nd Corinthians, Chapter 10,

and Paul points out how powerful

our spiritual weapons are,

and what they can accomplish.

 

There in 2nd Corinthians 10, beginning with Verse 3, he says,

 

“For though we live in the world,

we do not wage war as the world does.

The weapons we fight with

are not the weapons of the world.

On the contrary, they have divine power

to demolish strongholds.

We demolish arguments and every pretension

that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,

and we take captive every thought

to make it obedient to Christ.”

 

So, Paul says we are waging war,

and that we fight with weapons that have divine power.

 

We use these weapons defend the Gospel

and to defeat the world, the flesh and the devil

in the public arena

and in our own personal lives.

 

And so, this spiritual warfare

is the setting that brings us to the passages in the Gospels

that we read in our Responsive Reading this morning.

 

We’re in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

where both Gospel writers

give us glimpses of the closing words

of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.

 

In Luke 13:23, someone asked Jesus,

 

"Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"

24 He said to them,

"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you,

will try to enter and will not be able to.

 

That’s the New International Version—the NIV—where Jesus says,

"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door’”

 

The New Living Translation says,

Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom.”

 

The International Standard Version says,

Keep on struggling to enter through the narrow door.”

 

But all the various translations go on to say

that many won’t be able to enter.

 

And that’s from Luke’s Gospel.

 

In Matthew Chapter 7

the Gospel of Matthew captures additional words

that Jesus spoke in his Sermon on the Mount.

 

Beginning in Matthew 7:13, Jesus said,

 

13 "Enter through the narrow gate.

For wide is the gate and broad is the road

that leads to destruction,

and many enter through it.

14 But small is the gate and narrow the road

that leads to life,

and only a few find it.

 

Why is it so hard to find the narrow gate

and the narrow road?

 

One reason is that

false prophets are working hard to push people

in the wrong direction.

 

That’s what we can gather from our Lord’s next words

at Matthew 7:15.

There Jesus says,

 

15 "Watch out for false prophets.

They come to you in sheep's clothing,

but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

 

When we hear the word “prophet”

we tend to think of someone God uses

to tell about future events—

like the prophets Isaiah and Daniel

who spoke centuries ahead of time

about the coming Messiah or Christ,

and who foretold many details

of what Christ would say and do.

But the word “prophet” also

has a more general meaning,

in the sense of one who speaks for God

on other matters—

someone who points people to God

and calls people to listen to God’s Word.

 

Speaking about the final years of this sinful world,

our Lord said at Matthew 24:24,

 

“For false Christs and false prophets

will appear and perform great signs and miracles

to deceive even the elect--if that were possible.”

 

False prophets deceive people.

 

They mislead people

by claiming to speak for God,

or claiming to teach the Word of God,

when actually pointing people away from God.

 

And so Jesus says here at Matthew 7:15,

 

 

15 "Watch out for false prophets.

They come to you in sheep's clothing,

but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

 

They look like the Lord’s sheep.

They look like fellow Christians,

fellow believers.

But they are really “ferocious wolves.”

Wolves attack sheep.

Wolves kill sheep.

And these false prophets are deadly.

They come “in sheep’s clothing”—disguised as sheep.

 

So, part of our spiritual warfare

involves defending ourselves,

and defending the flock of God,

from such wolves in sheep’s clothing.

 

We need to wage spiritual warfare against false prophets.

 

Some of them are easy to identify,

because they operate outside of our churches.

 

Examples would be Jehovah’s Witnesses

who made false prophecies

that the world would end in 1914, then 1925, the 1975.

 

Or the Mormons with their “prophet” Joseph Smith, Jr.

 

Or Islam—the Muslims—

with their “prophet” Mohammed

who taught that Jesus is NOT the Son of God.

 

But other false prophets operate inside Christian churches.

 

In Revelation Chapter 2 [  OPEN  ]

the Lord Jesus gives us an example

in his letter to the Christian Church in Thyatira.

 

Now, this is a few decades after Jesus’ death on the cross

and his resurrection

and ascension to heaven.

 

He is now the risen Christ,

and is speaking from heaven,

and dictating to the Apostle John

and having him write in Revelation, Chapter 2,

these words to that Christian church.

 

Beginning at Revelation 2:18, Jesus says,

 

18 "To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God,

whose eyes are like blazing fire

and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 I know your deeds, your love and faith,

your service and perseverance,

and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you:

You tolerate that woman Jezebel,

who calls herself a prophetess.

 

A prophetess, of course, is a female prophet.

And Jezebel is a false prophet—

a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

So, continuing in Verse 20, Jesus tells this church,

 

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you:

You tolerate that woman Jezebel,

who calls herself a prophetess.

By her teaching she misleads my servants

into sexual immorality

and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.

22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering,

and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely,

unless they repent of her ways.

23 I will strike her children dead.

Then all the churches will know

that I am he who searches hearts and minds,

and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

 

24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira,

to you who do not hold to her teaching

and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets

(I will not impose any other burden on you):

25 Only hold on to what you have until I come.

 

Those are tough wordsharsh words—from our Lord Jesus

for this church that tolerated

this false prophet in their midst.

 

This is real warfare.

Jezebel and her followers

were about to become casualties.

 

This is real warfare—spiritual warfare—

against false prophets in the churches.

And it’s still going on today, too.

 

And our Lord Jesus doesn’t mince words about it.

He doesn’t put up with churches that tolerate false prophets.

--------------------------------

 

But if false prophets look like sheep,

because they are wearing sheep’s clothing,

how do we identify them?

 

Jesus tells us, beginning in the next verse,

Matthew 7, Verse 16.     He says,

 

16 By their fruit you will recognize them.

Do people pick grapes from thornbushes,

or figs from thistles?

17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit,

but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,

and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit

is cut down and thrown into the fire.

20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

 

Luke Chapter 6 records the same sermon Jesus gave,

and Luke 6, Verse 45 notes that Jesus also said,

 

45 The good man brings good things

out of the good stored up in his heart,

and the evil man brings evil things

out of the evil stored up in his heart.

For out of the overflow of his heart

his mouth speaks.

 

 

So, we identify false prophets

by the things they say and the things they do.

 

They might look like the Lord’s sheep,

because they’re disguised in sheep’s clothing,

but their fruit—their speech and their conduct—

gives them away as false prophets.

 

False prophets may teach that God didn’t create the world:

It all came about by godless evolution—

a series of chemical accidents

that produced fish and birds and animals and humans.

 

False prophets may teach

that sexual immorality the Bible calls “sin”

isn’t really sin any more.

Like Jezebel, they make it seem OK

to practice sin,

especially if you were born

with an inclination in that direction,

and if the Supreme Court

now says that it is OK.

 

False prophets might even be famous “Christian” celebrities,

like Tony Campollo who’s authored many books

and spoken at many Christian conferences,

but who now embraces sexual immorality.

 

Or they might be like Philip Yancey,

whose books became Christian “best sellers,”

but who now says he likes “gay” churches

better than Bible-believing churches.

 

Going back to our Responsive Reading in Matthew, Chapter 7,

Jesus says he’s not impressed

by the accomplishments of such false prophets.

 

Beginning at Matthew 7:21, he says,

 

21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,'

will enter the kingdom of heaven,

but only he who does the will of my Father

who is in heaven.

22 Many will say to me on that day,

'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name,

and in your name drive out demons

and perform many miracles?'

23 Then I will tell them plainly,

'I never knew you.

Away from me, you evildoers!'

 

That’s why reading the Bible is so important.

 

The Bible tells us right from wrong,

and it doesn’t change,

even when the world around us

turns right and wrong upside down.

 

False prophets quote Scripture,

but misapply it,

just as the devil quoted Scripture

when he was tempting Jesus in the wilderness.

 

False prophets quote Jesus’ words,

and then twist his words to mean something else.

 

But, when we read the Bible itself,

we hear Jesus’ words just as he spoke them,

and as the Holy Spirit inspired the Gospel writers

to record them for us.

 

And continuing his Sermon on the Mount

in Luke, Chapter 6, beginning at Verse 47,

Jesus showed that we’re on solid ground,

if we put his words into practice.

 

There at Luke 6, beginning at Verse 47, Jesus said,

 

47 I will show you what he is like

who comes to me and hears my words

and puts them into practice.

48 He is like a man building a house,

who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came,

the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.

 

49 But the one who hears my words

and does not put them into practice

is like a man who built a house on the ground

without a foundation.

The moment the torrent struck that house,

it collapsed and its destruction was complete."

 

Let’s be sure that we build our spiritual house

on the rock-solid foundation

of Jesus Christ and his holy Word, the Bible.

 

If we do, we can be confident of winning

the spiritual warfare that we’re engaged in.

 

It is God who gives us the victory, in Christ.

 

No matter how big a majority stop going to church . . .

 

No matter how big a majority stop calling sin “sin” . . .

 

No matter how big a majority

view Bible-believing Christians as old-fashioned

and out-of-date . . .

 

We can have confidence in the promises of God.

 

At 2 Chronicles 20:15  God’s faithful people

faced a huge army that was about to attack them

but God promised them victory.

 

God told them,

“This is what the Lord says to you:

'Do not be afraid or discouraged

because of this vast army.

For the battle is not yours, but God's.’”