God’s Rally Cry: “The Church is ‘tanky'” (September 13, 2020)

God’s Rally Cry: “The Church is ‘tanky'” (September 13, 2020)

September 16, 2020
Benjamin Ehlers

God’s Rally Cry: “The Church Cares”

Matthew 18:15-20

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We are continuing our sermon series on “God’s Rally Cry for the Church” today. And I want to underscore one of the reasons for such a militaristic series theme. We are in the Church militant. Our lives here on earth are going to be a struggle and a fight from the day we are born till the day we die. We fight against our own sinful nature. We fight against the temptations and deceptions of Satan. We fight against the evil of this world. These all try to tear us away from our victory in Christ. One day, we will be in the “Church triumphant” in heaven. But right now, we are in the Church militant. We continue to fight our daily battles. And, I know, at times it may feel like you are getting nowhere in the battle. It may feel like you are being pushed back, turned around, and fleeing. Some days it may just feel like you’ve lost completely and raised the flag of surrender. But do not despair. God has already won the victory. Although we still fight and struggle, the church is “tanky”. (That’s a term used by video game players to describe a character who can take a hit in a fight, whose not going to go down easily).

On the morning of May 15th, 1940, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud telephoned the new British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill and said, “We have been defeated. We are beaten; we have lost the battle.” Churchill, attempting to offer some comfort to Reynaud, reminded the Prime Minister of all the times the Germans had broken through the Allied lines in the First World War only to be stopped. In other words, the allied forces were “tanky”. Reynaud, however, was inconsolable.

Churchill flew to Paris on May 16th. He immediately recognized the gravity of the situation when he observed that the French government was already burning its archives and was preparing for an evacuation of the capital. In a somber meeting with the French commanders, Churchill asked General Gamelin, “Where is the strategic reserve?” that had saved Paris in the First World War. Gamelin replied: “There is none. Inferior numbers, inferior equipment, inferior methods.”

Do you ever feel like you have inferior numbers, inferior equipment, and inferior methods as you strive to be salt and light in the world? Are you are fired up to live your faith and talk about your faith, only to have a wet blanket thrown on that zeal again and again? Maybe you’ve even been convinced that you are the one troubling the world. If you would just keep quiet and keep your convictions to yourself, then the world would just be a more peaceful place. Why do I even try? Why continue to try when the world is unmoved, unchanged by what I have to say? I sometimes feel like I am caught between a rock and a hard place.

The monstrous impenitence of Judah and the unbending justice of God caught Jeremiah between them. He staggered under the burden. And although he fought ferociously against it, he could not overcome the cold despair which slowly numbed his faith. The people of Judah refused to listen, and instead saw the prophet as an enemy. As Ahab once pointed an accusing finger at Elijah, saying, “You are the one who troubles Israel,” so Jeremiah’s contemporaries lashed out at him. If it wasn’t for him and his incessant preaching of judgment, the land would be at peace. The Lord told him at the very beginning of his ministry that all would oppose him. Now the reality of that prophecy was bearing down on Jeremiah with all its force.

In an effort to fight off the damp darkness creeping into his soul, the prophet turned to the Word, to his certain knowledge of the Lord’s character. He confessed that the Lord knew the anguish of his heart and felt with him and for him. He knew the Lord would protect him. He had been faithful to his calling despite the bullets fired back at him, zinging past his ears, grazing his arms, and stinging his flesh. How many insults had stung him! How often he had been called the fool for his message! How many times the people of Judah had thrown the question in his face, “Where is the fulfillment of the Lord’s Word?” when he prophesied the destruction of Judah.

He had always found his strength in the Lord’s Word. God’s Word was his fortress, his support, his strength in life. What joy, what force of life came to him as he devoured it! How it lifted his soul and refreshed his spirit! Yet, this time, Jeremiah let the comfort of the Word slip from him. He fell back on his own strength, and soon the pain overwhelmed him. The blackness of despair drawing everything into itself, engulfed the prophet’s faith, hope, and very spirit. He was being overrun. He could not hold back his doubts any longer. They rushed upon him. They made the Lord’s Word seem only a distant whisper. They called God’s promise and person into question. “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails” (Jer 15:18). In the heat of battle does God give out on him? His aching bones and weary soul cry out, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?” (Jer 15:18). His inner pain blotted out hope, all the love he had known from the Lord, and every promise by which he had lived. Jeremiah hurts deeply. He describes this hurt as an incurable wound. The Hebrew text actually personifies it as a wound “refusing to be healed.”

Jeremiah turns to the Lord, this time, not for hope and strength, but in disappointed accusation. The insinuation is that the Lord is responsible. “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me… So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long… I hear many whispering, ‘Terror on every side! Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!’ All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him’” (Jer 20:7-10).

Do you feel like everyone is waiting for you to screw up, say a wrong thing, or give up on your faith? Do you feel the terror on every side closing in on you? Are you hurting? And even when you go to the Lord for strength and comfort, is his Word like a “deceptive brook”? Like a “spring that fails”?

I’ll admit, sometimes that’s how I feel when I face the disheartening times when someone walks away from the church for something other than matters of faith. Or someone is upset by a biblical teaching we hold to. Or someone just isn’t interested in hearing the Word of God from our church because some other church has better music, more programs, or whatever else should supplement, not take precedence over God’s Word. And then I go to Scripture looking for comfort and hope but it seems to be all lies! These promises of God are not coming true. Where is the one who rejoices with me and says, “Let us go to the house of the Lord”?! Where are your good promises Lord? Why do I only find promises of hardship and cross bearing, of few entering in and losing my life for your sake? Why do I have to be a living sacrifice? Why is it so hard to win? Why does it always feel like I’m losing the battle of life?

This is a very dangerous road to be walking down. By complaining against God and calling him unfaithful, we are compromising his unchanging and eternal message – calling it faulty and unreliable. And by compromising the message, we are only plunging ourselves deeper and deeper into the pits of despair. Only convincing ourselves more and more of our own unworthiness, and foolishly believing that God is not protecting his Church with his almighty arms. In fact, we are compromising the very certainty of our hope of salvation – both for ourselves and for others. Afterall, if we are always complaining that God is unfair and unfaithful in life, then why should anyone believe us when we tell them about the hope we have, or about the resurrection of Jesus and certainty of salvation? We ourselves become false prophets when we cast doubt upon God’s Word. By doubting his promises, we make God out to be a liar.

God’s reaction to Jeremiah, and to us, is calm and to the point. He doesn’t remove the cross of persecution. Rather, he commands his prophet to repent and turn to God for mercy. In the midst of such unbelief and despair, such smallness and narrowness of vision, God slapped the prophet to his senses with the word, “Repent.” Turn to me, listen to my voice. Grab hold of my promises and forget about your ineptitude. Forget about who or what is fighting against you and look to the one who fights for you.

Jeremiah had lost his sense. He had become like those to whom he was preaching; he had begun to turn to them; he had begun to yield the truth of God. The Lord called him back – not by changing his own ways, but by strengthening Jeremiah to change his ways and trust in his true source of strength and protection for his daily battles.

As the French were retreating, reserves depleted, Prime Minister Winston Churchill stated before the House of Commons: “We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime. That is our policy.”

It is our policy too, to wage war against the forces of evil in this dark world. To wage war with all the strength that God can give us against the monstrous tyranny of sin. It never ceases to amaze me how closely our good fight of faith parallels actual war with these quotes. Only, we are not fighting a battle of flesh and blood, but a battle for souls. The Lord maintains that the ministry of Jeremiah will be a fight, but because of the Lord’s grace and mercy, Jeremiah would be “tanky” in this fight. He will come out the victor. The promise is based on the Lord’s presence: “I am with you.” “I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze” – the strongest material at the time – “they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you” declares the Lord (Jer 15:20).

He’s fighting on your side. Though we fight our daily battles – winning some, losing some. He’s fighting the war. And, in fact, he’s already won the war. He fought for your souls with his own flesh and blood. He fought against sin. He fought against Satan. Even when his own turned against him, “Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22), he still prevailed, advancing all the way to the cross, where he sealed the victory over sin, Satan, even death itself. If you need proof that even in the moments of seeming defeat you will prevail through Christ, you need only look to him. Even as Jesus dies on the cross, seemingly defeated, yet he was in complete control – rescuing and saving as promised. Satan did not take his life from him. He laid it down willingly, and only when he himself deemed, “It was finished”.

So even though the ungodly will continually fight against you, God’s people – that shouldn’t surprise us. You have God’s promise that he will not only be fighting by your side, but he’s already won the war! There’s nothing for you to worry about. In every adversity, persecution, or trouble, turn to the Lord. He will rescue and save. He will make you a fortified wall of bronze – of titanium – and you will prevail! Though troubles assail you, you will not be shaken because God is with his Church. He makes the Church “tanky” with his faithful promises that cannot be breeched.

When you are struggling, when you are hurting. When you feel all alone, beat down, and defeated by the world around you. When you feel like giving up because what’s the point of even fighting against it any more… Do not turn to them. Sure, you may save your life in this world, but ultimately you will have lost it. Turn only to the Lord. It is in him you find the endurance needed to face this world. In him you find the certainty of salvation. Him who will bring you safely through this life and give you the crown of victory already won.