Fifth Sunday in Trinity: Ex. 20:1-3: First Word Pt. 2
When Moses preaches through the Ten Words in Deuteronomy, he spends a great deal of time on the First Commandment, and he says this means war.
The promise to Abraham was to give him the land of Canaan when the iniquity of the Amorites was complete (Gen. 15:12-21), and this promise is explicitly referenced by God when He comes to deliver Israel out of slavery in Egypt (Ex. 3:16-17, 6:6-8). Moses reminds the people of these promises when they are on the verge of entering the land. He says that obedience to the first commandment means conquest (Dt. 7:1ff). Having no other gods means conquering and destroying the pagan nations, making no covenants with them, showing them no mercy (Dt. 7:2). They are not to make marriages with them, giving daughters in marriage to them or allowing sons to date their daughters (Dt. 7:3). The reason for this absolute prohibition is clearly tied to the first commandment: they will turn your children away from following the Lord, to serve other gods (Dt. 7:4). And this tendency has not changed in three thousand years. There is no neutrality: Jesus said that whoever is not with Him is against Him (Mt. 12:30, Lk. 11:23). He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companions of fools will be destroyed (Prov. 13:20 cf. Dt. 4:26, Prov. 28:7, 29:3). As opposed to covenants and marriages, Israel is required to be at war with paganism: destroying altars, cutting down images, burning their carved images (Dt. 7:5). And the reason for this is God’s love for Israel and their unique status as a “special treasure” (Dt. 7:6-8). Obedience to God’s love will result in blessing while disobedience will result in destruction (Dt. 7:9-11). This blessing will be far reaching (Dt. 7:12-15), but they must destroy the nations in the land, take no pity on them, nor serve their gods (Dt. 7:16). They must not fear the nations because the God of the Exodus is with them (Dt. 7:18-21). He will drive out their enemies little by little (Dt. 7:22-24), as long as they remain steadfast in destroying all false gods and hating their abominations (Dt. 7:25-26).
New Covenant Holy War
While many pretend that holy war was merely an archaic, barbaric anomaly in the Old Testament, Jesus and the New Testament writers insist that it was God’s training for the real warfare of the New Covenant. Jesus Himself comes as the greater “Joshua” in a new conquest of Canaan. He is anointed with the Spirit like one of the judges and immediately goes into the wilderness to do battle with the devil (Mt. 3:13-4:11). It is in the power of the Spirit that Jesus casts out demons and performs healings throughout Galilee, particularly in the synagogues (Mk. 1:39). Jesus fulfills the Sabbath with his disciples and says that He is like David and his mighty men engaged in holy war, resisting the manhunt of Saul (i.e. the Pharisees and scribes) (Mk. 2:23-28). He says that He has come to bind Satan, the Strong Man, and plunder him like Egypt was plundered (Mk. 3:20-27). Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Mt. 10:34). Jesus ultimately came to destroy the devil and all his works, and He did this when He was lifted up on the cross (Jn. 12:31-32, 1 Jn. 3:8). This is when He triumphed over all principalities and powers, disarmed them, and made a public spectacle of them (Col. 2:13-15). Political powers were shown to be a sham, religious power was shown to be impotent, popular opinion was proven to be worthless. Money could not keep Jesus in the grave. Soldiers could not keep Jesus in the grave. The media couldn’t keep Jesus in the grave. And now Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, not relaxing until Kingdom come, but armed and waging war with a two-edged sword in His mouth until all of His enemies have been put beneath His feet (1 Cor. 15:25, Rev. 1:16, 2:12, 16, 19:15, 21).
How We Fight
Therefore, when Jesus ascended into heaven, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men (Eph. 4:8). When Jesus ascended into heaven, He plundered the Strong Man, rendered the powers of darkness completely impotent, and poured out the Spirit on all flesh. This is the same Spirit of holy war that was poured out on the judges, poured out on the kings, and poured out on Jesus. Jesus, our commander, our Joshua, has given us marching orders sending us not merely into Canaan, but now to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Specifically, Jesus says that the apostles and all who receive His Spirit will become “witnesses” in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. Literally, this word is “martyr.” Just as Jesus destroyed the devil and all his power in the cross, so too, all of the disciples of Jesus are called to take up their crosses in this holy war. Our weapons are not carnal, they are not the childish toys of guns and swords; we have weapons that are mighty in God for pulling down strongholds: casting down arguments, bringing every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-6). And of course Paul calls the Ephesians to war: Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil… (Eph. 6:10-18).
Where We are Called to Fight
1. The first front of this great battle is in your own soul. You must be conquered by the Word of God. You must be cut by the sword of the Spirit, and burned in His fire. You must be covered in the blood of the Lamb that was slain. You must be buried with Christ in baptism and raised to newness of life (Rom. 6). You must be conquered by the love of Christ so that you can become more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37). Jesus said that He came to conquer the Strong Man and to conquer the world (Lk. 11:22, Jn. 16:33). In Him and in the power of His Spirit, you have been commissioned to take up this same battle. You are called to join the fray by putting to death your members on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passions, evil desires, and covetousness which is idolatry (Col. 3:5). You are called to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and tear down every idol and destroy every high place. You are not to be conquered by evil; you are to conquer evil by doing good (Rom. 12:21). You are to conquer by faith (1 Jn. 5:4), and you are to conquer by obeying (Rev. 2:26). This is the good fight of faith: flee greed and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness (1 Tim. 6:11-12).
2. Fight sin in your family: love your neighbor as yourself. How can you say you love God whom you have not seen if you do not love your brother whom you have seen? Husbands, love your wives by laying your lives down for them, serve them, listen to them, honor them, cherish them, bless them. This is not merely nice things to do; this is warfare. Wives, respect your husbands, love them, honor them, serve them. This is not merely a nice thing to do; this is warfare. Teach your children, love them, discipline them, serve them, and bless them. We are a church full of little ones, and this is because we confess and believe that our children are a central part of our warfare. Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants, God has ordained strength because of His enemies, that He might silence the enemy and the avenger (Ps. 8:2). Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children on your youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate (Ps. 127:4-5). But this is a daily battle; the home is a major front in this war. And we are called to wage this war in the power of the Spirit. Godly warfare in the home means constant confession of sin, constant forgiveness, and tons of grace and mercy and sacrifice poured over the top. Rush to serve, rush to give up your rights, run to your cross.
3. Worship God with joy: Jesus came to cleanse the temple, to destroy it and rebuild it in three days. And He did. And we are that new temple of the Holy Spirit. Old Covenant worship was all about bloodshed, it was warfare. The priests were dressed like warriors and their armor would have been regularly splattered with blood. But those sacrifices were pictures of the real warfare of worship. We come here week after week to offer up the sacrifices of praise: “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute on them the written judgment – this honor have all His saints” (Ps. 149:6-9). Remember the Battle of Passover, when Israel displayed the blood of the lamb and Yahweh executed the firstborn of Egypt. The Lord’s Supper is our new Passover, and it is our act of war.
4. Describing our warfare as spiritual doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Where are the powers of darkness flexing their muscles? Where is there injustice and oppression, where is there abuse, lies, and darkness? Do no fear any giant. Jesus’ warfare focused primarily on the casting out of demons and the healing of the sick. In the New Covenant, every member of the Body of Christ is anointed for holy war. We should be working for and praying for healings, reconciliations, and conversions. These may happen dramatically, they may happen in more ordinary ways. They may happen suddenly; they may happen over time. We fight through sacrifice: we wield the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) and seek to offer ourselves and everyone to God in love. Our sacrificial warfare begins here in worship and it extends throughout our lives every week as we fight sin, love our enemies, serve and protect the weak, and become peacemakers.
Putting no other gods before the face of our God means loving God with all that we are and fighting every arrogant thought, word, or deed that raises itself up against the grace of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Loving God means hating sin, hating all the remnants of the Fall in our lives and in the world, and refusing to make peace with any enemy. “You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it…” (Dt. 7:26). These enemies may frequently be “greater and mightier than you” (Dt. 7:1), but “you shall not be afraid of them, but you shall remember well what the Lord your God did…” (7:18). And as the apostle says, pray always “with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints…” (Eph. 6:18)