More than Conquerors
A Synopsis of an Easter Sermon Delivered by Pastor Eric Chang on April 3, 1988 in a Hong Kong Easter Camp
Freedom and victory through Christ’s resurrection
Today is Easter day. What a wonderful thing Easter is. What has the resurrection done for us? The Lord Jesus rose from the dead and now we can live a new life. We can become free men. Free from the power of sin, of Satan and of the world. Only when we are set free can we talk about being more than conquerors. The Lord Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin he is the slave of sin.” (Jn. 8:34) He is not free. The Lord Jesus died and rose again to set us free. Are we free? Do you know what is the new life about? Our camp theme has to do with being conquerors and I hope that what we learn will not just be theory to us but rather something that we can go out of this camp and put into practice. I am going to be very practical in this message by asking the question: “How do we live victoriously?” Because either we live victoriously or we live in defeat.
War and battle: Some vivid memories
For many of you victory or defeat are just words that do not mean very much. Although I am quite a young man (as you can see), I am still just old enough to remember the Second World War. Of course I have to remind you that I was a very small boy. But precisely because I was a very small boy, the war left a deep impression on me. I remember, as a small boy living in Shanghai, that every few moments there was a screaming sound going over the city. Later I found out that it was artillery shells. The Japanese were firing artillery shells which made a very strange screaming noise. I used to listen to this noise all day long.
The Japanese had put their heavy gunboats in the Huang Pu River in Shanghai, and they were firing at the city, salvo after salvo. (Salvo means all the naval guns firing at the same time.) It was terrifying. And then after the artillery shells, what do you hear? The sound of heavy machine gun fire. And after the heavy machine guns, what do you hear? You hear rifle fire. That means the attacking army is coming closer and closer all the time. So when I talk about war, I speak as an eyewitness to these things having seen an army in action, the Japanese army. As a little boy I remember walking over the Huang Pu River Bridge in Shanghai. My amah was taking me by the hand and we were walking across the Huang Pu River to school, and there I saw a Japanese soldier. What a strange sight. I had never seen a soldier before in full battle gear. His Japanese helmet was quite funny; it looked like a cooking pot upside-down, and he was standing there with all his bullets and all kinds of other things stuffed all over him. He looked very fierce as he stood there with a bayonet on the end of his rifle. It was such a long bayonet that it seemed to me that if three people stood together it could go through them all at the same time. Nowadays you know they only use short bayonets but in those days very long ones. That’s how I remember him, standing at attention with his long bayonet, looking very fierce. So you see, I grew up with all these impressions in my mind.
After the war, I discovered some more strange and interesting things that I didn’t know about during the war. For example, there was a friend, a Professor of Chemistry, who was a regular visitor in our home during the war. Only after the war I realized that in fact he was a special Chinese agent, stationed in Shanghai to observe all Japanese movements, and to report information to Chinese headquarters. If that man had been caught, all of us would have been finished. My mother told me afterwards that on one occasion, a member of my family was out with him on the tram in Shanghai. Suddenly the Japanese soldiers stopped the tram and dragged everybody out, searching everyone. Our Professor of Chemistry friend was also in that tram with my relatives, and you know what happened? This Professor of Chemistry, the agent for China, was carrying a gun. He had strapped his gun to his ankle. Can you imagine what my relative felt like? The amazing thing is that the Japanese soldier searched all the way down along the legs and stopped just a fraction above his gun. Maybe his back was a little bit sore and he could not bend down further. Had he gone down just a little more he would have hit the gun that was tied to our friend’s ankle and that would have been the end of him and of our family as well.
When I say the end of our family I mean the end of me and my mother because my father was not in Shanghai. He was fighting against the Japanese in the resistance. All through the war, I didn’t know how to explain where my father was whenever I was questioned by the Japanese. One day a whole group of Japanese officers came to our home and my mother nearly fainted from fright because she thought that the identity of my father had been discovered, that he was fighting the Japanese on the Nationalist’s side. The Japanese officers seemed to have a special delight in slapping women. I am not quite sure what kind of psychology this is but fortunately they didn’t slap my mother. Instead they sat there in the living room, and when my mother came in, she asked them, ‘What are you here for? What is the problem?” Nobody said a word. That was another mentality of the Japanese soldiers that we couldn’t figure out. My mother had to ask many times, “Can you tell me what you are here for?’ But nobody answered. I wasn’t there at the time because I was at school. So mother decided that if they were not going to talk, she was not going to talk either and she sat down and they all played the staring game: you stare at me, I stare at you. It seemed that the Japanese officers got bored of this game and one of them stood up. He pointed at the radio. So my mother said, ‘Yes, what about the radio?” So finally he said, “Short wave. Not allowed. That is a criminal offense.” They used to throw people into prison for all kinds of things but maybe the jail was too full and they decided to leave my mother out this tin-le. Instead he told my mother to go pull down the antenna which went all the way to the roof. My mother said, “I don’t know how to pull it down. It is too high for me. You pull it down.” So he looked very angrily at her but finally he decided that he might as well pull it down. So he went up and pulled the thing down and after that they all marched out, looking very fierce as usual.
Another time two Japanese soldiers stood on either side of me and offered me some sweets. Suddenly the Japanese became such nice people. They asked, “Where is your fathers What is your father’s name?” I dared not even mention his name because his name was known to the Japanese. They said, “Look at the sweets. By the way, where did your father go to? He went on a long journey?” They all smiled. So all through this, I had to tell them I didn’t know anything, and I didn’t know where he went to, and I didn’t know his name; I didn’t even know my father’s name! I could see my amah at the window. She was a very faithful person and loved me so much. She stood there so tense, waving her hands and I realized there must be something wrong with the sweets. Anyway, they didn’t discover anything from me.
These are the kind of situations in which I was brought up. Looking back, Although all this was quite funny, each one of these incidents I have mentioned to you could have meant the death of my mother and myself. And I wouldn’t be here preaching to you today. I have had many close encounters with death.
A defeated army and a victorious army - A striking contrast
After the Japanese were defeated it was a strange contrast looking at a victorious army and a defeated army. Have you ever seen what a defeated army looks like? Have you ever seen what a victorious army looks like? When the Chinese army finally came into Shanghai, they were conquerors. They marched with their heads high. It was a joy to behold. And what did the Japanese army look like? Pitiful. A defeated army. Those proud, arrogant soldiers were now walking with their heads down. Behind them this time were the Chinese soldiers with their bayonets fixed to their guns. They were marching the prisoners out. That was the picture, a very vivid one. So you can see that for me, when we talk about war and about victory, that perhaps I look at the subject differently from the way you look at it. I have seen armies in battle, not just marching.
After this, in 1949 when I was just a bit older, what did I see? I saw another war. Once more I saw what was a victorious army, and what was a defeated army. I watched the battle of Shanghai from my rooftop. Again I saw and heard the same thing; the screaming of artillery shells coming in. Again the heavy machine guns, and finally the submachine guns and rifles. I stood on the rooftop all night watching. It was one thing to see an army on the parade field marching and looking very good and quite another to see an army in fighting order. This time I saw the defeat of the Nationalist army. Have you ever seen a defeated army? Avery sad picture. They fought hard but there was no way they could win. That whole night, the last night before Shanghai fell, I did not sleep. I stood on the roof and watched all the fighting. I saw the Nationalist soldiers retreating. This line had been defeated and they were moving out. Their uniforms were hanging in a mess, their rifles hanging upside-down; but not for long because a little further on they threw their rifles away, and a few more blocks later, they threw their uniforms away too. They were walking in their underwear for fear of being caught by the Communist army. This is not to mention those who lay dead on the street. By morning the Communist army was coming in. They were very tired. They had been fighting all night. Those who had not died were all covered with mud. They were so tired that they could hardly stand on their feet. But they were victorious. And they were moving forward. And then a few hours later the fresh troops came in. All clean. You could see that their faces were fresh. They were taking over the next day of fighting. This was the difference between a victorious and a defeated army.
The Church is an army
Today our subject is the Church - the Church as an army, and if you are a Christian you are in that army. If you are not that army, you are not a Christian. This is the first point I want to drive home to you. Too many Christians today have been used to a teaching in which being saved, being a Christian, is just a matter of believing so that you can get to heaven. If you believe this kind of teaching, you have not been reading the Bible. Today some of you are going to be baptized and I want you to understand that becoming a Christian and getting baptized is not so that you can reserve a seat in the heavenly cinema. It is not so that you can have a nice show when you get to heaven. Or even better, that you can be in the orchestra in that heavenly show where you can play your guitar or your harp, or whatever it is. That was the kind of notion that I was given as a young Christian - I now have a ticket and this ticket reserves me a seat up there. Through this camp, you should understand a very important thing and that is that every Christian is called into God’s army. This is an army of liberation, an army of salvation. It is not just to get yourself saved. You are saved in order to save others, and this means there is a fierce battle that we are going to have to fight.
The Christian battle: A battle to save
There are some Christians who don’t even know what the battle is. If I ask you today to tell me what you understand about the battle, which was the first subject of this camp, I think most of you will tell me, ‘Yes, that is the inner spiritual battle that we have to fight.’ Is that your answer? I think I will not be mistaken that most of you will tell me: “Yes, the spiritual life is a great battle. I fight and struggle in myself everyday.” Let me tell you this is not the battle that we are talking about in the Bible. Maybe that is the story of your life, but that is not the story of the Bible. The battle that we are talking about in this camp is the battle that Scripture speaks about. It is not internal struggles and all those kind of things. It is the battle in which we are fighting for the salvation of others. But then you are going to say to me: Is it not true that we have troubles within ourselves? It is true. But that should be before you join the army. These internal struggles should be settled by the time you get to baptism. Please tell me what kind of a soldier is he going to be, who is fighting on the battlefield with his gun in his hand and yet saying, “I don’t know whether I should shoot or not. I am not sure whether I am on the right side. Should I go over to the other side and face my gun this way?” Or, “I am feeling miserable myself. I really don’t feel like fighting at all. Maybe I will just sit down in the trench. Maybe I will just lie down there, until I can sort out my problems.” I have met so many Christians who spend all their Christian life trying to figure out whether they are going to fight or not going to fight. They are all the time feeling, “I am in a state of depression. I am so depressed, how can I fight?”
A useful soldier is a fighting soldier
What kind of an army is it where there is a whole queue wanting to talk to the commanding officer of their unit? The enemy’s shells are coming and what are the soldiers doing? One soldier comes in to see the officer and says, “I feel very bad today.’ And another one is looking more miserable than the next one down the queue. And the officer looks down the line and half the army is standing there waiting for counseling. Can you imagine that an army like this can fight? And even more amazing, by the time the officer has finished counseling this one, the same one goes out and back to the end of the queue for the second round. So by the end of the day, the officer is worn out, and what has happened? The first one has come back for the second round of counseling. The commanding officer cannot get on with directing the war because he has got to sort out his soldiers first. All this may sound funny but I am not exaggerating. That is the situation that we have in most churches today.
Are you a soldier?
After I preached at one camp in Canada, about half the camp wanted counseling. All the camp counselors had a queue outside their door. Do you know the question they were being asked? “Am I truly a Christian? I am not sure whether I am a Christian or not.” It is like a soldier coming to an officer and saying, “I don’t know whether I am a soldier. Can you tell me whether I am a soldier?” How are we going to fight a spiritual war when these people don’t even know whether they are soldiers or not? Are you a soldier? Are you quite sure you are a soldier? I wonder if I ask you to raise your hand at this moment how many of you will, without hesitation, raise your hand and say, “I am a soldier of Christ.” Of course after three days in the camp maybe all of you will raise your hand. Good. You are all soldiers and we are going to march out to battle.
Every soldier goes to battle
You will say, ‘Wait a minute. I am not talking about battle. I am talking about being a soldier.” In England they used to put out an advertisement that I found so funny: “Join the army. You can travel to Germany. You can go to the Bahamas. There are so many benefits in joining the army. They will give you good training for a future career.” The funny thing is that nowhere was it mentioned that you have to go to war. When I looked at this advertisement, I was wondering: What kind of soldiers are they looking for? With free travel and free benefits, it seems to me that they should have advertised as a tourist organization, and not as an army. But I have the feeling that that is what has happened to the Church. We are tourists. Why we are tourists? Because the Church advertises in the same way as the army does. We tell people, “Come and become Christians, there are so many benefits.” One of the best benefits is that you can sit in the heavenly show and watch the orchestra. Have you ever been to a performance where the performers are angels? The show is incomparable. There is nothing on earth to match this kind of show, so book your ticket early or else you will sit too far back and not be able to see. There are some benefits on earth too. Maybe you will have a nice pastor so that if you have got too many problems, like the soldier, you can queue outside his door for counseling. Is this the kind of Church that the Bible is talking about?
Are you a self-seeking Christian?
The Lord Jesus looks out at His Church today, and I think He weeps at what He sees. The summer camp theme of our church in Canada is ‘Will Jesus find faith when He comes again?’. This is a rhetorical question, which means the answer is ‘no’. He is not going to find the kind of faith He is looking for. He cannot find faithfulness in His Church today. Why? Because everybody is looking out for their own interest. They are asking, “What are the benefits I get?” They are not interested in the question of freedom from sin. “Who is talking about freedom from sin?” they say. “’The question I want to ask is what kind of real benefits I get. Such as: when I become a Christian, will it help me to do better in my exams than the non-Christians? Will my business prosper more because of God’s blessing? Will my small business now become a big business? Will I be able to get a better wife?” Now we are talking about the real thing. Now we are getting right to the point instead of wasting our time with irrelevancies. Having a good wife is what life is all about, right? Look at those nice people in the church. Where can you find such lovely girls, who are kind and patient? Only in the church! If you want to become a Christian, you have the real motivation there! Good husbands and good wives; the Christian life is so practical. Who talks about army? In a war, you are not supposed to get married.
There you can see the problems. There you can see the way we think. If this is the way we think, how can we be soldiers of Christ? So you find that you have to try to convince God by praying: “Lord, I think I can be a much better soldier for You if I get a diploma. And now I am going to have to get this entrance exam, please help me to pass the exam.” Somehow God is so interested that you get a diploma! What kind of Christianity are we, talking about? I tell you I have made myself unpopular in the churches today, as you very well know, because I am sick of the preaching of the Gospel which turns the army of God into a band of tourists - a bunch of self-seeking people. No wonder the non-Christians look at the Christians and say, “What is the difference between you and I? You are just as selfish as I am. The only difference is that you want to claim God on your side.”
Every soldier must be prepared to die
I want to say to those of you who are going to get baptized today: please understand that your baptism is an initiation into the army of the Lord. And I want to say to you that nobody joins the army unless he is prepared to die. Every soldier who is going to stay in active duty understands that he may die, and the fiercer the battle, the greater the chance he will die. Don’t rush into baptism. As you know, in this church it is already hard to get baptized because we want you to fully understand what you are getting yourself into. I will say the same thing as I said last year in the camp: if you are not prepared to suffer and to die, don’t even think about baptism. Otherwise you are just going to be standing at my door asking for counseling with the rest of the queue, saying to me, “I didn’t know that in becoming a Christian I would have to suffer!” Well, I am sure if I tell you a soldier has to suffer, you wouldn’t be surprised. Why are you surprised when I say that being a Christian you have to suffer?! Always remember what the apostle Paul said to the Christians in Philippi: “You were called not just to believe, but also to suffer.” (See Phil. 1:29) And to the disciples that he and Bamabas had made he said that, “Only through much suffering and tribulation will we able to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Why does the Church refuse to preach that today? Why does the Church not say that we are soldiers? Why are we not reminded of Ephesians 6 which tells us to put on the whole armor of God, sword, helmet, everything, if we are not going to war? Are we just going to march around on the parade ground?
There is no victory without battle
Our camp theme is “More Than Conquerors” and we have talked in this camp about the battle, about the army and about the King, and we have seen the Scriptural teachings on all this. But let us bear in mind three points concerning victory since conquering has to do with victory. How many of you know what victory is? Do you experience victory? It is quite logical that before there can be victory there has to be war, there has to be battle. Most Christians don’t know what victory is because they have not even entered into the war. I stress again it has nothing to do with internal struggles. Internal struggles must be settled by the time you get to baptism. One thing the co-workers in our church have had to do is spend a great deal of time and effort counseling people who come to us from other churches. The reason is that these dear brothers and sisters from other churches are forever struggling with internal problem because they were never told that the question of commitment should have been settled at baptism. Do you know what is the result? They have lived in defeat. I see these dear brothers and sisters living in defeat all the time. They are the picture of a defeated army. They are so miserable. What is your experience? We want a church that lives victoriously where non-Christians looking at us Christians can say, “Oh! That is a real Christian. That is what a Christian is really all about.” But do you think that living a defeated Christian life you are going to be able to win anyone for Christ? Would it not raise in the mind of the non-Christian the question: What does it mean to be living in a defeated way all the time?
There is no victory without an army
The second point concerning victory is that of course there is no victory without an army. You can’t win a battle against an opposing army all on your own. I like Rambo but we need a lot of Rambos in the army because one Rambo is not going to win any wars for us. Maybe many Christians think: “We have got outstanding Christians in the church. They will win the battle for us and, as for us, we will always have to be content with defeat.”
There is no victory without the King
The third point is that there is no victory without the King. It is He who leads us in battle. It is He who plans the strategy. Anyone who knows a little about military science will know this: A good commander is absolutely vital for victory. You can have an army of five million men but if it is led by a bad general he will sacrifice all five million men. If you are interested in military history as I am, you will know that a good and capable general can lead an army to defeat one many times its size. And that is the case with the Church. Under the leadership of the Lord Jesus, the Supreme Commander, the size of the army is not important any more. We always remember the great battle fought by Gideon against the enemy of Israel. Israel had 23,000 men. The Lord said this was too many. Gideon cut it down to 10,000 men. The Lord said this was still too many. The enemy army was already many times its size but the Lord was cutting down the size of His own army. The Lord needed only 300 men. Three hundred dedicated men and all those multitudes of the enemy were totally defeated.
The Bible: A book of victory
The Bible is a book of victory. So if you are a member of Christ’s army, you need to learn to think in this way: I don’t know what defeat is. The apostle Paul didn’t understand the meaning of defeat. That is why he said in 2 Cor. 2:14, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us to triumph in Christ Jesus.” He didn’t say “sometimes”, he said “always”. Is that your experience? Do you always walk in triumph as the victorious soldier of a victorious King? When I saw the Nationalist soldiers in defeat, retreating from Shanghai, what kind of thought came to my mind? It meant of course that the commanding officer had failed. In the same way, what does the world think when they see you? What does the world think when they see these defeated Christians that are supposed to constitute the Church? Do they not come to the conclusion that Jesus has been defeated? Will you follow a defeated king? Do you think the population of Shanghai stood up and followed the Nationalist soldiers? These soldiers could not protect their own lives, so how could they protect others? Likewise, if you are not saved, how can you save others? How can God’s power work through you?
Four basic principles for living victoriously
Our subject in this message is the army and how this army is to be victorious. That is the specific theme of this camp. But what I have been doing up to now, as you can see, is to paint a picture in your mind - the contrast between a victorious army and a defeated army. It is very important for us to get this picture clear in order to understand our theme about the army. The next step is to ask the questions: Is the Church, as I know it, a victorious army or a defeated army? Am I a soldier in the army? Am I a victorious soldier or a defeated one? If I am a defeated soldier, I am a disgrace to the Commander-in-Chief. Let us now look quickly at four basic principles concerning the army of the Lord as taught in the Bible.
1. The Lord’s army is a people’s army
The first principle which we can see in both the Old Testament and the New, is that the Lord’s army is a people’s army. What does that mean? That means the Lord’s army is not a mercenary army. It is not an army that fights for pay. When you look at the Old Testament, you will discover that every one of the people of Israel was a member of the army. You will never find that there was a section of Israel that was specialized paid soldiers. Every able body, every Israelite who could fight, had to fight in the war. The idea of a people’s army of course is not new. It goes back all the way to Israel, to the time when they came out of Egypt. Do you remember Moses’ command to the Israelites before they left Egypt? He said in effect, “Let every man gird his sword upon his side. If you don’t have a sword, buy one. If necessary, sell your coat and get one. Every man will leave Egypt with a sword hanging at his side.’ That is why the Bible said when Israel left Egypt, every man was ready for battle (cf. Ex. 13:18). A people’s army. (see Ex. 6:26 “host” i.e. army; 7:4; 12:17; Num. 1:3,20,22, etc; Num. 2 passim). Everybody was involved. Women were involved too. They could make the belts for carrying the sword, and improvise pieces of armor to protect the men. They prepared everything to support the people’s army. This idea of a people’s army is still in existence today, for example in Switzerland, where every man between the ages of 20 and 50 is a member of the army. Military experts agree that the Swiss army is one of the most effective and most efficient in the world. Every male citizen of Switzerland gets a minimum of eleven months to one year of military training. What is also interesting is that they take their weapons home. In a Swiss home, you can find an M16 or its equivalent. Imagine 630,000 men keeping their helmets, uniforms, and other equipment at home All these men can be mobilized and battle-ready within forty-eight hours. The whole Swiss army, air force, and navy can be ready for war at less than forty-eight hours notice. All air force pilots will be at their battle stations. All artillery units will be at their positions. All armored units will be battle-ready with their gasoline tanks full. You see that they follow the Old Testament pattern. Do you know that in the Second World War, the whole might of the Nazi army did not dare to attack Switzerland, which is such a small country? They were not afraid to attack Britain, or France, but they would not touch Switzerland, because they would have lost so many men in the battle that they didn’t want to consider it. It is interesting that Israel today is still following the pattern of the Bible. Even Singapore has been copying Israel and Switzerland in the same way. The Church is the same. It is a people’s army. That is why I say again: if you are a Christian, you are a soldier. If you are not a soldier of Christ, please do Him the favor of not calling yourself a Christian. At least don’t disgrace the Commander-in-Chief. Let the Church be a glorious and victorious army - an army that will be able to win the battle that the Lord has given us to fight.
2. Personal spiritual excellence is important
Now for the second principle. Although all the Lord’s people constitute His army, that does not mean the individual just becomes a number in the crowd. It does not mean that individual excellence is no longer important. We see, in the Old Testament, examples of outstanding soldiers of the Lord. In the Old Testament you will have heard of someone such as Phinehas, and how the Lord was very pleased with this faithful servant of His. He single-handedly stopped the plague in Israel. He alone brought it to a stop because he destroyed a root of sin in Israel, but by that time 24,000 people had already died (Num. 25:6-13). Exodus 32 tells how the Levites responded to the call to stop the idolatry of the people of Israel. These are examples’ of the outstanding people in the army of the Lord. In the Church, too, there is place for people of outstanding spiritual excellence. Indeed the Lord is looking for such outstanding people because they set an example to the whole army of the Lord.
3. The Lord Jesus is our Supreme Commander
The third principle, which makes this army of the Lord utterly unique, is that the Lord Himself is the Supreme Commander. This is the only army in the world where the army is on earth and the Commander-in-Chief is in heaven. Not even the Swiss army can boast of this possibility. Even Israel sometimes forgot that the Commander-in-Chief is in heaven. That is why in Joshua 5 a very remarkable thing happened. By this time Israel had already accomplished its objective of crossing into the Promised Land. Moses had already died leaving Joshua as the earthly commander of the Israelites and he was very busy getting the army ready for the attack, in order to conquer the rest of Canaan. In vs. 13-15 it says Joshua lifted up his eyes and what did he see? He saw a man standing in front of him with his sword in his hand, appearing quite threatening. Joshua asked him who he was. ‘Are you on our side or are you on the enemy’s side?’ Of course, looking at this formidable person, he very much hoped that he was on Israel’s side. The man with the sword in his hand replied, “No, I have come as the Commander-in-Chief of the Lord’s army.” Joshua understood immediately. This was to tell Joshua: you are not the Commander-in-Chief of the Lord’s army, I am. Immediately Joshua fell on his face before Him and said, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The Commander-in-Chief said, “Take your shoes off because you are on holy ground.’ Exactly the same thing that was said to Moses.
Every officer in the Lord’s army is to understand who the Commander-in-Chief is. So I say this to the Fourth Team who are prepared to go forth to battle, as well as to the Third Team and to all co-workers: remember, our Commander-in-Chief is Jesus, and as long as we stand in obedience before Him, we will win.
4. The army must trust in God alone
This takes me to the fourth and the last principle and this is connected to the previous point. In the Bible we see that the army of the Lord has to trust in God and in Him alone. In other words, the army of the Lord only wins through faith. That is what the Apostle John is saying in 1 Jn. 5:4: “This is the victory that overcomes the world, your faith.” It is through faith that we can be more than conquerors. That is why when you read in the Old Testament, you will see that unusual things happened. Again and again you find that the army of the Lord won battles without even having to fight. For example, when Israel came out of Egypt every man had his sword on his thigh but when they came to the Red Sea, they looked behind them, and saw big clouds coming up. One of the super powers of that day was coming after them. Did you know that the idea of a super power is not new? Just like today, there were two main super powers in those days. One was Assyria. The other was Egypt. You can imagine the fright of this bunch of Israelites when they saw the super power coming up behind them. They were so frightened because they knew they didn’t stand a chance against this army. They forgot, as so many Christians forget, who their Commander-in-Chief is. We see in Exodus 14:13 the words of the Commander-in-Chief to His army. In front was the Red Sea that they could not cross. Behind was the super power of Egypt coming after them in their chariots at full speed. No force could stop this Egyptian army. And what did the Commander-in-Chief say to His army? ‘Stand still and see the salvation of God. This super power army which you see now, you will never see again.’ And He said to Moses, ‘Raise up your staff. Raise it up over the sea.” And you know the amazing thing is that the waters parted to allow the Israelites to go through, and then closed behind them. They never saw that Egyptian army again. Just as the Lord had said. What a privilege it is to serve under Him.
However, don’t think that in the Bible the army of the Lord never had to fight. They had to fight many times and they lost a number of battles when they disobeyed the Lord. But because the Lord is the Commander-in-Chief, another element becomes important in this faith principle of the Lord’s army, and that is prayer. In Exodus 17, we see what was one of the most unusual battles in the world in that it was fought through prayer. It is a well-known story so I won’t go into the details but we have here the strange situation that when Moses lifted up his arms in prayer, the army of Israel was winning the battle. But as his arms got tired and began to come down, the army began to lose. You see it is connected to this principle of faith; only through faith and through prayer will the army of the Lord win. In the Old Testament, people prayed with their hands lifted up. If you don’t understand this, you cannot understand 1 Timothy 2:8, where the apostle Paul says, ‘Lift up holy hands.” You will ask, “What should I do with lifting up my hands?” Of course it is for prayer. Just as we see that whenever Moses’ arms got tired the battle was going against them, in the same way, when we cease praying the battle will go against us.
Faith and trusting means you also have to fight
This leaves us with a few subsidiary points concerning faith. First of all, although the Lord is Commander-in-Chief, we also have to fight. Sometimes He gives us the victory only after intense battle, and when you study the Old Testament, you can understand the reason for this. The same thing happens in the New Testament. Sometimes the Lord Jesus heals a blind man with just a touch or a word. The man doesn’t have to do anything except to have faith in Christ. But at other times Christ makes the person do something quite difficult to do. For example, there was another blind man whom He could have healed just like that but he didn’t heal him in this way. Instead He put clay on his eyes and said, “Now, go to the pool of Siloam and wash.” That was a long walk for a blind man, and then he still had to wash his face. You see, sometimes the Lord decides that there is something that He wants you to do. At other times, He decides that He will do it and you just need to trust Him.
Secondly we must be persistent.
Thirdly we must hold on even though the battle seems to go against us.
What is the secret of victory?
I want to close now with just one remarkable incident in the Bible, to learn what is the secret of victory. There is a remarkable account in the Bible that I have thought about again and again, and if you can learn the secret of it, you will be more than a conqueror. If you cannot learn the secret of it, I fear you will not know how to conquer, because you cannot win the battle against sin. In the book of Revelation, when the Lord gave a message to each of the seven churches, seven times He says that to those who conquer, to him who overcomes, I will do this or do that, or give this or give that. But before He can give you these promises, first you have to overcome, And in each case it has to do with overcoming sin. What is the secret of overcoming sin?
The example of the Syrophoenician woman
Let us then in the time remaining consider the account of the Syrophoenician woman which you can read in Mat. 15:21 onwards or in the parallel passage in Mk. 7:24ff.. Have you ever understood the message of this vital passage? It is truly amazing. All through the years of my Christian life, again and again I have thought about this, because this woman, this humble woman has the secret. She knew the secret of victory which every member of the Lord’s army has to learn.
Let us look at it very quickly. Everything was against her as far as her request was concerned. This woman had a daughter who was possessed by a demon. She was desperate that somehow her daughter could be saved. Notice that she was not thinking about her own salvation, or her own wellbeing. She wanted the salvation of the child. But everything was against her. She had none of the right qualifications. The first thing we are told in Mat. 15:22 is that she was a Canaanite. Do you know the significance of this? We just spoke about Israel conquering the land. What was the land? The land was the land of Canaan. The enemy of Israel was Canaan, and she was a Canaanite. She was a member of the old enemy of Israel. You might say it is somewhat a parallel to today’s situation. She might be considered a Palestinian today in relation to the Jews.
The second thing that counted against her was, as the Lord Jesus mentioned in Mat. 15:24, that His ministry at that time was limited only to the house of Israel. That means it was only to the Jews. So she was outside the perimeter, the scope of what the Lord could do for her.
The third thing is that the Lord Jesus, as this passage tells us, had withdrawn for this moment from public service. In fact in the parallel passage in Mk. 7:24 it tells us that He didn’t want anybody to know where He was. It was a time to be quiet. To put it in another way, it was not His office hours. She was outside office hours. So come next time when the office is open. But even then she was not qualified. She was not on the register. In other words, she did not qualify for the necessary help.
Rejected by the Lord Jesus: What was her reaction?
Now how would you feel if you were in her position? Upon her first request Jesus simply ignored her (v. 23). But qualified or not qualified, she was not going to let go, and the passage tells us that she persisted. She was not going to go away. The disciples said, “Don’t bother our teacher. He is not going to talk to you. You just go away.” But what did she do? She started shouting very loud, “Lord, please help me, please help me.” You see that in v.23: “she is shouting after us”. But the Lord rejected her request. The Lord said, “I was not sent to help the Gentiles at this time” (v. 24). If the Lord said that to you, what would you do? ‘Well, too bad. He is not going to help me. I am finished. I’ll sit down in the comer and cry.” Oh! not her! She was not finished yet. One rejection was not going to stop her. So she was shouting at the top of her voice and what did she get? She got a second rejection; rejection number two. The Lord Jesus said it is not right. “It is not right to take the bread of the children and throw it to the dogs” (v.26). You will say, “Look, please! I mean, if You don’t want to help me, You don’t have to be so rude to me, all right? I’ve got enough problems. My daughter is not well. And now You are implying that I am a dog? What kind of a man are You? You are supposed to be full of compassion. But now not only You have no compassion, You call me a dog too! I am through, and finished with this.” But not her!!
Three possible reactions: What would yours have been?
A Critical attitude. Think about it. There are at least three possible reactions to this. One reaction of course, that some of you and perhaps even myself could have, is a critical attitude. “Jesus is so famous. He is such a great teacher, always teaching about loving your enemies. I am a Canaanite and He cannot love me. In practice He fails to live up to His own teaching. Not only He has no compassion, but He is so rude, He calls me ‘dog’. What kind of a teacher is this? Forget it. I’m going.” Would you have reacted like that? I see many Christians reacting like this. They pray for this and that and then they say the Lord doesn’t answer. No compassion! “He talks about loving and dying for everybody, but He doesn’t love me. I mean, even though I have not been a very good Christian, and even if I am His enemy, He doesn’t have to treat me like this. He really treats me like a dog.” Is that not a critical attitude? How many so-called Christians, defeated Christians, have this kind of attitude. The danger of defeat is that you become critical against God. You want to blame it all on Him.
Self-pity. The second kind of reaction I see among Christians is self-pity. They don’t get resentful but they are so filled with pity. You see their very long faces, they are very miserable Christians. “God doesn’t care for me. He cares for the other guy. He heals the daughter of the other person. He heals the blind man. He even raises the dead. But He doesn’t even want to look at me!” - full of self pity and miserable.
Anger. Or we can have a stronger reaction than either of these two and that is to become very angry. I have seen angry Christians who are very fierce looking people, just like the Japanese soldiers. “God, You treat me like this!? He treats me with contempt! How can He do something to such an important person as me? I mean, does He not know who I am? I am a great man in this world. You know how much money I have? Those low-down people there, they all kowtow to me. And God doesn’t know His place.” So there is anger. God is unfair to such a person as me. He can treat other people like dogs, not me. You know what is the root behind this one? Pride.
The Lord Jesus looks past the surface into your heart
If you look at all these three reactions which we can have, all of them show that the root of the problem is the self, the selfishness and the pride. Until you understand this, you don’t understand why the Lord dealt with the woman in this way. He looks into your heart and He sees exactly what is in your heart. He sees whether you are a selfish, self-pitying person. A self-pitying person is very self-centered. God looks at you and sees that you are a very critical person. For outwardly you look very humble but you are a very proud person. And you know, one of these days, for your good, He is just going to call you ‘dog’, until you say, “Lord, yes, truly I am a dog.” You know the Psalmist had to learn that lesson. We read in the 22nd Psalm (v.6). “I am no man. I am just a worm, (or, I am just a dog).” And this is what the woman said, “Lord, You are right. I am a dog. But please remember one thing - have mercy on this dog. Because even the dog gets the crumbs that fall from the table to the floor. Give me a few crumbs of your mercy Lord.” All her pride was broken. And what did the Lord do? He said, “Oh! Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done to you as you desire. You will have what you desire. I will give you what you want.” But first she has to learn to be a dog.
Are you willing to be treated as a dog?
What does the army do? Do you know what they do? They virtually turn you into a dog. Before any soldier becomes a good fighting man, he is turned into a dog. He is made to crawl on the ground. He is made to march for long hours in dirt, and filth, and heat. He is taught to obey orders absolutely. He is literally treated as a dog so that he can become the finest soldier in the world. That is the cost. That is the secret of victory. If you are in the Lord’s army, learn to say with this woman, “Yes, Lord, I am a dog. And as a dog please give me a few crumbs from Your table.” Instead of getting a few crumbs, she got a feast and more than a feast, she had the secret of victory. I tell you, in the Kingdom of God, this woman will stand high up there. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up. That is what this woman learned. There is the secret of victory. Our time is gone and we must close.
The finest generals are men who are lowly in heart
In my time, in past years, I have known many soldiers, and even a few generals. Strangely enough I nearly became the son-in-law of a general. In my student days in London, a Chinese general came to the church. At first I did not know why he got so interested in me. Each time he phoned me and talked to me I could not figure out why he wanted to talk to me. One day I finally got the picture because he began to tell me that he had a very lovely daughter. And every time we got together, somewhere along the line he would mention his daughter. His daughter was in the United States. But you see this general was a defeated general - a defeated general of the Nationalist army. In China he had been in charge of an army unit and an artillery unit. He was a very intelligent man and a mathematician by training. In fact he studied in the same college in London where I studied. Of course, I was there long after his time. He was a very capable man but I think he had not learned the lesson of the Syrophoenician woman. He was extremely proud and his pride was very difficult to handle. He was a very arrogant man; not to me, but to everybody else, for some reason. I began to realize he could not make a good soldier. Ability is not enough. Intelligence is not enough. Training is not enough. One day a British general came to visit us at church. This general was called Major General Sir W. H. When I introduced General W. H. to General T., the arrogance of General T. was astonishing. I could not believe my eyes. You see, he was one rank higher than the English general. The English general was a major general and he himself was a lieutenant general. He treated this British general as though he was a dog. He talked to him in a very rude way but the English general had not done anything to him, he had just said “Hello”. So afterwards I said to General T., “Why did you talk to him like this?” He said, “I am a lieutenant general.” I thought to myself, “Now I know why you ended up as a defeated general.” The finest generals are men who are lowly in heart. But such men, as we all know, are seldom to be found. Consequently, the history of the world is full of military and political disasters.
Learn the secret of victory. If lowliness of heart is needed in the world, it is much more necessary in the Church. If you can remember nothing else in this camp, then remember this last question as a challenge - a challenge to you as well as to all co-workers in our churches, as well as to myself: Am I willing to be recognized as only a dog when I stand before the true King? Only then will He lift up you and me to be more than conquerors.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church