Today I want to look at another aspect of Spiritual warfare. It is one of the easiest & most effective of all weapons to use yet it is the most overlooked.
Psalm 22:3 says:
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel…
When we look at our armoury for spiritual warfare a large part of it involves our tongue. That is because …if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. [James 3:2] Proverbs 21:23 says: He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles.
Battle readiness includes all the things we have discussed previously: knowing our enemy; understanding that he is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour; that he fights to the death: no rules; no time limit; no morals. Battle readiness means preparing our battle shield of faith, building up our inner man by knowing the Word of God, speaking the Word of God, agreeing with the Word of God, praying the Word of God. Battle readiness requires that we abide in Christ; that we know the Holy Spirit & are able to use the Word of God as a double edged sword to fight the enemy.
All of this is both right & necessary if we are to have Christ’s victory in our lives but victory is a funny old thing. Victory can be hollow. It can be empty & meaningless. It can leave us feeling jaded & defeated because the cost can come at a very high price. So the first thing we must understand is what victory in Christ is.
Remember our key to everything is *In Christ*. To be *in Christ* is to draw our strength, our power, our authority from the relationship we have with Christ; For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' Acts 17:28
There are many aspects to being *in Christ* but foremost is this: For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Romans 8:29 The bible puts this concept in different ways but the overriding idea is that we become conformed to the image of Christ. We are designed to look & act just like Christ & it is the Holy Spirit that enables this transformation to take place.
When we look @ Christ & spiritual warfare we see Christ using the scriptures, rightly divined, to wage war against satan & defeat him in the gospels. We must *rightly divine* the word because satan knows his scriptures too & is not adverse to using them to his own advantage & deceiving people.
However we are meant to be more than merely victorious. We are meant to be overcomers. The usual image we have of the victorious Christ is of the resurrected Christ, victorious in his defeat of satan over death but is not of great help to us as we suffer trials & tribulations in this life, are persecuted & oppressed, slandered, mocked & maligned.
I have taught this before but I want to revisit it today because you later find this principle applied in Acts 16.
If you read the crucifixion account in all four gospels there is a record of the last words of Jesus known as the seven last words. They are:
· Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do Luke 23:34
· Today you will be with me in paradise Luke 23:43
· Behold your son: behold your mother John 19:26–27
· My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
· I thirst John 19:28
· It is finished John 19:30
· Father, into your hands I commit my spirit Luke 23:46
We know them. We have read them at different times but we do not connect them with what Paul says in Hebrews 12:2 Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.
It is on the cross that Jesus takes care of business. Firstly he ensures that he is carrying no bitterness of heart. He reassures the repentant thief. He makes sure his mother is taken care of as a good son should. Then we have that agonising cry: My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?
I want you to stop right there. I have heard some great sermons preached on this. Invariably they point out that this is the point at which the full weight of our sin came upon Jesus & our sin separated the son from the father. If that is so, & if that is all it is, then John & Mary & the other women gathered there at the foot of the cross, had a huge problem. They believed Jesus to be the messiah. The chosen one. The anointed of God. And now God had abandoned him. What were they to think? What in fact did they believe?
Jesus was an orthodox Israelite. So was John. So were the women. They would have recognised immediately that Jesus was quoting from psalm 22. In Israelite thought to quote one line of a psalm was to reference the entire psalm. That is important to remember because one aspect of crucifixion is suffocation. Jesus would not have had breath for much more than a short gasped quote. It is shorter in Aramaic than in English. [Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?]
So when you reference the whole of psalm 22 this is how it ends:
22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honour him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
That is a whole different mindset to the line quoted isn’t it! Jesus made a passionate declaration of the goodness of God. What’s more, unequivocally, He confesses He is not abandoned, scorned nor despised. Traditionally this psalm ends with those famous words: It is Finished. Complete. These are the words the High Priest utters as the last Passover Lamb is slaughtered. There is nothing more.
Psalm 31:21 is referenced:
they put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
And Psalm 31:5
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
Please note: Jesus might not have the breath to sing but the scriptures He quotes reveal His mindset. He is not holding a pity party. It is not, poor me, poor me; why has God abandoned me? Quite the opposite in fact. This is His example on the cross & if you come with me to Acts 16 you will find Paul & Silas following that example.
After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.
Now at first glance I grant you that this seems to have very little to do with what happened on the cross but in fact that is not true. Paul, in Philippians 3:5 describes himself like this: I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin~a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.
In other words Paul is saying he knows what the scriptures teach. Elsewhere he informs his readers that He was taught by Gamaliel himself; Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, the Jewish Dr of Rabbinical law. We have looked at how the Jews trained their scholars so we know that Paul knew these scriptures off by heart & the various ways that scholars interpreted them.
This is the background of the man who cast a demon out of a slave girl who was making her owners a pretty penny by fortune telling ~ & paid the price by being beaten & thrown into jail where we find him singing. At midnight.
Psalm119:62 says: for your righteous laws. Very possibly this is the psalm Paul & Silas sang & to this day it is the psalm of the Orthodox churches @ the midnight Office.
When we find ourselves in the midst of various trials & tribulations how do we respond? Do we reflect Jesus, Paul & Silas by declaring the goodness & mercy of God in the midst of our afflictions or do we moan & groan & bemoan our fate? If we want to see victory, if we want to be not just victorious, but overcomers, we need to make praise an integral part of our weaponry.
What’s more this is how God wants us to respond because there are promises for those who are overcomers.
· To him who overcomes, I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7.
· He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” Revelation 2:11.
· “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows except him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17.
· And he who overcomes and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’ – as I also have received from my Father; and I will give him the morning star.” Revelation 2:26-28.
· “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Revelation 3:5.
· “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” Revelation 3:12.
· “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Revelation 3:21.
There is something about praise that defeats our enemy in a way that nothing else can. Firstly it lifts our spirits by putting our focus on our deliverer & saviour instead of on ourselves & our problems. Secondly it is a witness to those around us. Thirdly it rebukes satan as the liar he is. Fourthly it is our victory cry.
All through the ages the saints have gone to their deaths praising God: Those thrown to the lions in Roman amphitheatres, burnt as torches to light Nero’s orgies; sacrificed to idols. We have seen it too in our own time: The Coptic Christians in the middle east; Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Bali; Jim Elliot & cohorts…It is a common response in the face of adversity. We need to make it a part of our first line of attack.