The Winds Of War
Matthew 24:6(Date: January 20, 1991)
What a week it’s been for all of us! This has been one of those rare moments when time, which had been rolling smoothly along, suddenly came to a total halt. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news?
It was late Wednesday afternoon and I was rushing home so I could eat supper and get back for prayer meeting. I pulled out of the parking lot, turned right on Lake Street, left on Kenilworth, right on Chicago and left on Oak Park. I was fiddling with the radio when I heard a voice say, “Something is definitely happening in Baghdad. It looks like the war has begun.”
Everything since then is more or less a blur. I don’t know how many hours of TV I’ve watched in the last four days but it seems like that’s all I’ve done. Get up, turn on CNN, get the latest news, come to work, go home, turn on CNN, flip through the channels, stay up late for the “Scud Watch” in Saudi Arabia and Israel, and finally go to bed when it’s daylight over there and about midnight over here. Then get up and do it all over again the next day.
It’s been the same for most of us, I think. Did you know that when President Bush made his speech on Wednesday night, he spoke to the largest TV audience in U.S. history? That’s right. His speech was the most-watched event in the history of American television.
Naturally, the war is on everyone’s mind. If someone calls you, you get your business out of the way and then you talk about the war; if you see a friend, you say hello and talk about the war.
More Than Just Another War
This isn’t like Vietnam or Korea. People realize that this is more than just a localized, regional conflict. Great events are taking place and behind the men and machinery, the world is being reshaped, for good or for evil. Coalitions are being formed that will last long after Saddam Hussein has been defeated.
In Vietnam or Korea, the war was always “over there.” Television has changed all of that. Now we can sit at home and watch the Scud missiles attacking Tel Aviv and Riyadh. We see it as it happens,and that’s never been possible before. Satellite technology gives us a ringside seat. No wonder we can hardly think of anything else.
But something deeper is at work here. For many years the Middle East has been a tinderbox, with its warring factions and desert sheikdoms armed to the teeth, waiting, hoping and praying for a chance to be rid of their ancestral enemies.
Civilization began in the Middle East. Perhaps that is where it will end. That thought, articulated in many different ways, underlies the fear and uncertainty we all feel. If Saddam Hussein uses nerve gas on Israel, if the coalition falls apart, if the Syrians double-cross us, if the Israelis massively retaliate … If … If … If. If any of those things happens, of if any of a hundred other bizarre and unplanned circumstances should come to pass, then what started out as a fairly simple war could spin out of control overnight. As the saying goes, it’s a lot easier to start a war than it is to stop one.
War is always frightening, but this war could become something much worse. It could lead us to Armageddon. And that could happen quicker and easier than we think. I Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is at hand.” That verse seems a lot more relevant today than it did just one week ago.
So now our nation is at war with Iraq. Young men have died; more will die before it is over. The worst is yet to come.
How should we feel about what we have seen and heard? What should our response be? Most importantly, what does the Christian faith have to say at a time like this? Is there anything in the Bible that will help us think clearly about the war in the Persian Gulf?
I would like to suggest that the Christian faith has a great deal to say to us. For generations, Christians have struggled to reconcile their faith with the terrible demands of war. What I have to say in this sermon is not a final answer to that struggle.
I would like to offer three perspectives that may help you in the days ahead. If they spark your thinking, or if they sound a bit contradictory, so much the better.
I. War Is Sometimes In The Will Of God
I realize that to say that war may sometimes be in the will of God is to jump into a firestorm of controversy. Such a view is not popular today. In fact, this week I ate lunch with several fellow pastors and heard one of them say emphatically that war is always a sin. Let me say that I think my pastoral friend (whom I respect greatly) is partly right and partly wrong. War is terrible in all its aspects and I would never want to be known as someone who is “for” war. I’m not even sure what a statement like that would mean. I don’t know any sane person who is “for” war.
I think my friend is right to this degree: Wars come about because of the sinfulness of men. Warfare comes from the fallen nature of man. Whenever two nations go to war, sin is always involved somewhere. There may be sins of pride and oppression or there may be sins of brutality and naked aggression, but sin is always part of the equation.
I would go a step further and say that there is rarely a war so “pure” or “clean” that one side is totally right and the other side is totally wrong. Even where such a case exists, there will almost always be some wrong motives on both sides.
So, sin is always involved in warfare. That much seems clear.
But is going to war always and in every case sinful?
The “Just War” Theory
Over the centuries Christian scholars wrestling with this question have developed the “just war” theory. It basically states that there are times when war, considered from a Christian point of view, is morally justified.
Under what circumstances might a war be considered “just"? The theologians have developed numerous criteria but they boil down to this: War may be justified when there is naked, unprovoked aggression by hostile forces whose aggression cannot be checked by anything short of war itself. This particularly applies to cases where dictators and tyrants arise who have visions of world (or regional) domination. Sometimes such men may be stopped by diplomacy, embargoes, quarantines, sanctions, and so on. Sometimes the larger nations can use their political force to keep tyrants in check. Sometimes the passage of time will bring about the desired change as the international situation shifts from one alignment to another.
In understanding the “just war” theory it is crucial to note the two words “may be.” The theory does not baptize all armed conflicts with God’s blessing. Some wars (perhaps most wars) are started for selfish reasons. They are not “just” wars because nothing “just” is being accomplished.
But the theory does suggest that where there is naked aggression by nation against nation (or by a leader against some element of his own population) and where diplomacy has failed and where economic sanctions have not worked, and where the brutality threatens to spread to other nations, then there may be times when war is not only ethical, but is a positive moral necessity. In those cases, not to go to war may itself be a sinful capitulation to evil.
In this century, the war against Germany and Japan comes to mind as the clearest example of a “just” war. Few people would argue with the proposition that both countries displayed naked aggression in the most brutal fashion possible; most people would also agree that diplomacy and sanctions did nothing to stem the tide. In such a case, the nations of the world had little recourse but to go to war to defeat the aggressors.
In short, the “just war” theory suggests that, while war is never good, in certain well-defined situations, it is the only way to turn back aggression, to secure justice and to establish peace.
The God Of War
Leaving aside the theoretical for a moment, it is useful to remind ourselves that God often sent his people into war in the Old Testament. In a number of passages you have direct, explicit commands by God to his people to go to war against some neighboring nation and to destroy them completely. Deuteronomy 7:1 lists seven nations the Israelites were to destroy. Joshua 23:9-10 reports the results of those military campaigns in unambiguous terms:
The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day, no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised.David made the same point after he defeated Goliath and called on the Israelites to rise up and attack the Philistines—“The battle is the Lord’s.” (I Samuel 17:47)
William Buehler offers this helpful clarification on the purpose of Old Testament warfare:
The holy war is always a response to the threat of war by Israel’s foes … All war is viewed as an evil brought on by human sin which is then incorporated into the plan of God and used as a weapon in his hand, serving to bring his people into a state of rest . (Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics, pp. 495-496.)A glance at a good concordance will show how many times warfare is mentioned in the Old Testament. The people of God time and again had to fight to gain and keep that which God had promised to them. That fighting necessarily involved killing their enemies one by one. Violence was necessary if God’s people were to be secure.
Again, not everything Israel did was right and they didn’t win every battle they fought. Sometimes God allowed their enemies to defeat them to teach them spiritual lessons they couldn’t learn any other way. At one point, King David warned against over-reliance on military power: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7) Finally, we ought to note that the prophets looked forward to a day when the nations would live in peace and warfare would be a thing of the past.
But having said all of that, and as true as it all is, it still remains that God again and again sent his people into battle. When they went to war in those circumstances, they did so with his blessing. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that one of God’s names in the Old Testament is “The Lord of Hosts,” an explicitly military title.
Bearing The Sword
When we move into the New Testament, it is immediately apparent that the atmosphere has changed completely. Gone are all calls for holy war against the enemies of the people of God. In its place are calls for the followers of Jesus to be peacemakers in the world. Instead of the “Lord of Hosts” we now have the “God of all peace.” With no national homeland to defend, the followers of Jesus are sent to all the nations of the earth as ministers of reconciliation.
Why such a great change in perspective? There are several answers to that question, one of the most important being that the Old Testament is all about the people of God and their establishment as a particular nation at a particular point on the globe. Everything focuses on Israel. Not so in the New Testament. Everything begins in Israel but quickly spreads out across the Roman empire.
Since the followers of Jesus are not a “nation” in the same sense that Israel was a nation, but are called to live as “salt and light” among all the nations, the old calls for a holy war simply do not apply. The church is not Israel, its calling and mission are not the same, and therefore some of the things that applied to Israel don’t apply to the church.
Does the new situation require us to conclude that while warfare might have been justified in the Old Testament, it is now superseded by some higher ethic in the New Testament? Some Christians have answered that question with a resounding Yes. They argue that an ethic based on (for instance) the Sermon on the Mount leaves no place for “just war.” While this is not the place to consider that viewpoint in detail, let me say that I believe such a conclusion is unnecessary.
In the first place, we find very little explicit discussion of warfare in the New Testament. Since the church was born within the womb of the Roman empire, the existence of war is taken for granted (Matthew 24:6). It is helpful to note that it is nowhere suggested that a soldier should seek to leave military service upon becoming a Christian. (Buehler, p. 496) In fact, Jesus seems to suggest the opposite in Luke 3:14.
Furthermore, Romans 13:3-4 appears to endorse the possibility of legitimate military activity in order to uphold righteousness or to restrain evil:
Rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but only for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.Who is the person Paul calls “God’s servant” ? He is the civil magistrate, the local political or military leader, the one entrusted with enforcing the laws of the land. Is he a Christian? No, probably not since Paul wrote these words to Christians living in thoroughly pagan Rome. The rulers of that empire were by and large godless, profane, promiscuous idolators. Whatever they worshiped, it had nothing to do with the God of the Bible. In fact, to make the point clearer we may recall that Paul in Romans 1 describes these very people as those who “worship the creature more than the creator” and who are therefore under the wrath of God. They (and their compatriots) have uncorked the sewer and let it spew out across society.
Yet clearly it is these people who are called “God’s servants.” How can that be? If it is not because of any inward piety, then how can such people serve God’s purpose? We don’t have to look far for the answer to that question. The “powers that be” (civil and military) have two major functions:
1) To reward and protect those who do good.
2) To restrain and punish those who do evil.
It is the job of government (even pagan, godless government) to do those things. When men and women in authority reward righteousness and punish evil, they are unconsciously serving God’s purpose and therefore have become God’s servants. This is true without regard to their personal godliness or lack of the same.
To “bear the sword” means to take swift action against wrongdoers. It certainly implies that the government has a right to go to war in order to protect the innocent or to restrain the spread of evil in the world.
(Again, this does not make every war “just” inasmuch as most wars are at least given a pretext of righteousness. The sorting out of motives is a very difficult thing and ultimately only God can do it with 100% accuracy. When a nation goes to war, there may be righteous purposes involved while at the same time others may support the war effort for reasons involving jealousy, hatred, revenge, or the hope of personal gain. In a fallen world, I do not see how we can avoid such situations. But the fact that some people profit from war or go to war for the wrong reasons does not invalidate the argument that even in such cases, there can be a righteous reason for that particular war underlying everything else.)
“Help, My House Is On Fire!”
One final point needs to be raised. It is sometimes suggested that the Christian ethic of loving your neighbor demolishes any concept of a “just” war. How can you love your neighbor while at the same time you are trying to kill him? Good question. The answer is, if you are trying to kill him, he’s not your neighbor, he’s your enemy.
Let us put the matter in another light. If my neighbor calls me in the middle of the night and says, “Help! My house is on fire. I’m trapped and I can’t get out”, what am I morally obligated to do? Legally, I am not required to do anything. I am free to go back to sleep or to get up, go to the refrigerator and have a midnight snack. But I am not morally free to do that. As a Christian, I have a sacred obligation to go and rescue my friend. If I ignore his calls for help, I can hardly call myself a Christian at all. That’s what the Golden Rule is all about. That’s why Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. That’s what James meant when he said that faith without works is dead. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8).
The essence of love is to give yourself on behalf of others. The bottom line of love is this: When the people you love really need you, you are there for them. And if that means enduring personal inconvenience or risking misunderstanding or getting up in the middle of the night or spending money out of your own pocket, that doesn’t matter. If you love someone, you go to their aid in their time of need.
Consider these words of the Apostle John:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (I John 3:16-18)How, then, does this personal ethic apply to relations between sovereign states? In the global village, we have many neighbors. Some are large and able to protect themselves; others are small and need our help. What is our moral obligation when one of our smaller neighbors is brutally attacked by the local bully? If we stand by and do nothing, are we not acquiescing to the bully’s brutality? If we just wring our hands and utter words of condemnation, will the bully cease and desist? If we threaten to take away his wheat, will that bring him to his knees? If we ask the neighborhood association to pass a resolution condemning him, will he be shamed into an apology? Must not the strong neighbors do whatever is necessary to protect the weaker neighbors from the bullies who terrorize them?
It is easier to ask such questions than to answer them. It is also easier to speak hypothetically than to apply such reasoning to Iraq and Kuwait. The truth is, the neighbors in the global village are indeed morally obligated to do something. They can’t just stand by and go “Tsk, tsk, tsk.” There are a whole range of measures the neighbors might try in order to stop the bully and rescue their weak neighbor. Sometimes measures short of war will rectify the situation. Other times we will take away his wheat, and the bully will learn to live on oats. At that point sterner measures must be considered.
In all of this, I am simply arguing that the Christian ethic of love, so far from forbidding war, may sometimes lead us into war as a last resort when everything else has failed.
A Theologian Speaks
Let me close this section with a rather extended quotation from Robert L. Dabney, a noted Presbyterian theologian of the 19th century. During the Civil War, he served as Chief of Staff to General T. J. “Stonewall” Jackson. After the war, he taught theology and political economics for many years. These are his words concerning the morality of war:
Unprovoked war is the most monstrous secular crime that can be committed: it is at once the greatest of evils, and includes the worst forms of robbery and murder. Wherever war is prompted by mere pique, or lust of aggrandizement, or ambition for fame and power, it deserves all that can be said of its mischiefs and criminality by the most zealous advocates of peace…I find nothing objectionable in those words. In fact, I think they well express both the evil of war and why wars must sometimes be fought.
Nothing can rescue a people waging war from their guilt, except the fact that their appeal to arms is necessary for the defense of vital and just rights. But while the scriptures teach this, they give no countenance to the weak fanaticism, which commands governments to practice a passive non-resistance in such a world as this. Nations are usually unjust and unscrupulous… A passive attitude would usually only provoke, instead of disarming attack. Hence its only effect would be to bring all the horrors and desolations of invasion upon the innocent people, while the guilty went free.
God has therefore both permitted and instructed rulers, when thus unjustly assailed, to retort those miseries upon the assailants who introduce them. The very fact that all war is so terrific a scourge, and that aggressive war is such an enormous crime, only makes it more clear that the injured parties are entitled to their redress, and are justified in inflicting on the injurers such chastisement as will compel their return to justice, even including the death and ruin which they were preparing against their inoffensive neighbors. (Systematic Theology, p. 403)
Many of you probably noticed that President Bush asked Dr. Billy Graham to spend Wednesday night in the White House and be with him when the war finally started. On Thursday, Dr. Graham led a service at Fort Myers, Virginia. USA Today (Friday, January 18, 1991, p. 8A) quoted the following excerpt from his message: “There come times when we have to fight for peace. Unfortunately, that’s been true of the whole history of the human race.” I think those words by Billy Graham sum up everything I’ve been trying to say in this section. Sometimes you have to fight for peace. That doesn’t make every war right, but it does mean that some wars are indeed justified in the eyes of God.
He Took Something That Didn’t Belong To Him
Let me summarize the basic thrust of this section:
1) Not all wars are in the will of God. Some are; some aren’t.How does that reasoning apply to the current war in the Persian Gulf? With the understanding that some will disagree with me, let me say that I believe that a reasonable case could be made that this is a “just” war. This morning (Saturday, January 26, 1991) I heard Peter Jennings interviewing some children and answering their questions about the war. When he asked one little boy what the war was all about, the child replied, “Saddam Hussein took something that didn’t belong to him. You can’t do that, so we had to do something about it.” I submit that there is more wisdom in that moral analysis than in most of the things we have heard from the so-called experts.
2) But sometimes war is clearly in the will of God. When it is, it is not sinful to go to war.
3) War is never good, but it is often inevitable and is sometimes the right thing to do.
But did we wait long enough before going to war? I know of no way to answer that question with certainty—either politically or theologically. Clearly, if you don’t wait, but go to war immediately, you may be risking lives needlessly. Was there another way? Should we have waited another week, another month, another six months? These are political questions, not theological issues. The “just war” theory says that war must always be a last resort, a drastic step to be taken when all other avenues of resolution have been tried and have failed. How that principle applies in this case will be debated long after the war is over, as indeed it has been debated after almost every war in human history.
II. In A World At War, Christians Are Called To Be Peacemakers
Having said all of that, there is another side of the question. No matter what happens in the world, the followers of Jesus Christ are called to be peacemakers. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus made his position perfectly clear: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) In a world filled with war, the followers of Jesus are to be peacemakers. The word Jesus used is very strong. His followers are not just to be peacelovers; they are to be peacemakers. They are to do the hard things that make for peace.
It is no coincidence that the founder of our faith was called the “Prince of Peace.” He is the ultimate peace-maker and those who bear his name are to be as committed to peace as he was. When he came to the earth, his entire mission was summed up in the phrase “Peace on earth, to men of good will” (Luke 2:14 KJV) and the goal of his death was to bring reconciliation between God and man. Those who follow him are given the “the ministry of reconciliation” and “the message of reconciliation.”
We dare not downplay these truths or act as if they had little implication for the current situation. Let me put the matter as plainly as I can: Those who follow the Prince of Peace are to be people of peace.
That leads me to a new conclusion: War, though it is sometimes in the will of God, is never the ultimate will of God. Some things are allowed or permitted by God that do not reflect his ultimate will for the world. War falls into that category. It is in the world because of the fall of man. In the beginning, before the entrance of sin, there was no war. In the end, when sin is at last removed, war will be gone forever. War has meaning only in this “in-between” time.
Thank God, when we finally get to heaven, there will be no more Scud missiles, no more Tomahawk cruise missiles, no more F-4G Wild Weasels, no more B-52s raining 2,000-pound bombs on opposing troops. In heaven there will be no need for Patriot anti-missile batteries, there won’t be any air-raid sirens, for in heaven there are never any air raids. We won’t watch TV to get the latest casualty reports, for in heaven no one ever dies. In heaven we won’t have to see our POWs paraded on TV and we won’t have to watch Iraqi military installations being bombed into talcum powder. Best of all, when we finally get to heaven, we’ll never have to say goodbye to our sons and daughters because war will be banished forever.
That is God’s ultimate will. Unfortunately, we don’t live a world where God’s ultimate will is very often accomplished. In this fallen world, war is sometimes a tragic necessity. But even while we trudge off to the battlefield, we ought to pray for peace and do everything we can to see it come to pass.
“Ain’t Gonna Study War No More”
War is never the ultimate will of God. It always reflects a failure somewhere in the world. War is not good, and anybody who thinks otherwise is crazy. At the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war will speedily pass away.” Let us not be fooled by the antiseptic images we see on the ten o’clock news. Every bomb destroys something; every bullet hits something. War is about killing and once the killing starts, it’s hard to stop it. “Take my word for it. If you had seen but one day of war, you would pray to Almighty God, that you might never see such a day again.” (Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington)
The day of war is not yet past. Men still kill one another and the noise of faraway battles fills our ears. But a better day is coming:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream into it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2-4)Better days are coming. In the last days God’s kingdom will finally be established on the earth and all the nations will be at peace. The law of the Lord will go forth from Jerusalem and the Lord Jesus himself will settle the disputes that today end in war. So wise will be his rule that weapons of war will become obsolete. People will take their tanks and turn them into combines; their cruise missiles will become tractors; B-52s will be melted down and transformed into solar-powered water purifiers. Bullets will become obsolete. All the gas masks will be thrown away. They won’t be needed in the kingdom Jesus will establish.
Best of all, the nations will not take up swords against one another. The old Negro spiritual says it very well: “Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside. Ain’t gonna study war no more.”
That’s how God intended it to be. Between now and then, men will still go to war, but let us keep our eyes on the goal and let us work and pray for that day to come.
Pray For Saddam Hussein
What does it mean to be a peacemaker when your own country has gone to war? More to the point, what does it mean to be a peacemaker when you believe that the war is a “just” one? On a national level, the “just war” theory offers helpful guidelines: There must be a declaration of war, enough force must be used to accomplish the desired objective as quickly as possible, all reasonable care should be taken to minimize injury to noncombatants, prisoners must be treated humanely. Many of these principles are embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
But those things don’t touch the personal question: What should I do and how should I react as a Christian when my country goes to war for a just cause? Do we set aside the command to be a peacemaker in such a case? Once again, the words of Jesus provide the answer: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
Being a peacemaker in the time of war means loving your enemy even while you go to war against him. No doubt that sounds ridiculous, but I think that is the exact application of the words of Jesus. Let me put it plainly:
—If we are glad that our nation has gone to war, we do not do well.
—If we rejoice that Iraqis are being killed, we do not do well.
—If we hate Saddam Hussein, we do not do well.
—If we cheer for our troops as if this war were a basketball game, we do not do well.
—If we believe that we are somehow superior to the people of Iraq, we do not do well.
—If we believe that an American life is worth more than an Iraqi life, we do not do well.
—If we applaud this war because we believe it fulfills Bible prophecy, we do not do well.
—If we support this war because we’re tired of seeing America kicked around, we do not do well.
In short, if we are anything other than heartbroken over what this world has come to, then we have missed entirely what Jesus was saying and we do not do well. It is not the will of our Lord that men should kill other men and if we are happy that the killing has begun, our hearts are far from the heart of Jesus.
It’s easy to feel bitter about Saddam Hussein and to hate him for drawing us into this war. But that will not help us nor will it shorten the war in any way. Bitterness corrodes the soul and eats away the joy of the Lord. Last Tuesday night I talked with a friend in the church parking lot. He said, “Pastor, I’ve really been struggling with my attitude. Yesterday I struggled with bitterness toward Saddam Hussein. It was all I could do not to pray that someone would kill him.” I think we all understand that.
But every moment spent hating Saddam Hussein is a wasted moment. It hurts us and makes no positive contribution whatsoever. Jesus had a better way. “Pray for your enemies.”
Let me offer six very particular prayer requests that we should offer in the days ahead:
1. Pray for Saddam Hussein. Ask God to work in his heart and cause him to make decisions that will lead to a lasting peace. Pray that somehow the gospel of Christ will break through to him.
2. Pray for the Iraqi people. Ask God to spare them from unnecessary suffering. Pray for the Christian believers in Iraq. Pray for the missionaries who work among the Iraqi people.
3. Pray for all the Arab nations. Ask God to open those nations to the gospel.
4. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Ask God to protect the Israeli people and ask him to use this war to open their hearts to Jesus Christ.
5. Pray for our troops in the Persian Gulf. Ask God to protect them and to bring them safely home.
6. Pray to be delivered from hatred. Ask God to free you from any personal feeling of bitterness.
III. In The Midst Of War, Remember That God Is In Control
It was late Thursday night and the news from Israel was not good. Tel Aviv had been bombed and the rumor spread that the Iraqis had used chemical weapons. Do you remember how you felt when you heard the news? It truly seemed as if we had come to the brink of Armageddon. At that moment, the phone rang. It was a friend calling, the fear sounding through her every word. “Pastor Ray, what do you think? What does it all mean?”
Surely we have all asked that question many times in the last few days. After all the technical arguments for and against war have been exhausted, we are left with this: War has started and many people are scared to death.
Behind our fear is a question, one we hardly know how to put in words, but it goes something like this: Does God know what he is doing? Is he still in control? Psalm 46:1-2 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” Think of that. “We will not fear.” How can a man say that when the earth gives way underneath him? How can he say that when the mountains fall into the sea? Moreover, how can we say that when the bombs are flying and buildings are crashing and our young men fly in darkness?
“We will not fear.” But we are afraid. Who wouldn’t be afraid in a time like this? I will tell you the answer to that question. You will not be afraid if God is your refuge and strength. Do you think God is up in heaven saying, “Oh no, they hit Tel Aviv.” No. He knew where those missiles were going to land before Saddam Hussein thought about firing them. He knew what Saddam Hussein was going to do before there was a Saddam Hussein. Nothing that has happened has surprised him.
Here is the key. David said in verse 2, “I will not be afraid even though my world collapses around me.” But verse 2 is true only if verse 1 is true. If God is your refuge and strength, you don’t have anything to worry about this morning. He will do his part and all you have to do is trust him.
Wars And Rumors Of War
Jesus Christ had a word for times like these. It was the Wednesday before he was crucified and he met with his disciples to prepare them for what was to come. Under the shadow of the temple, he told them what the world would be like after he was gone. In that message, which we call the Olivet Discourse, he included these famous words: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.” (Matthew 24:6) J. B. Phillips translates it this way: “The time is coming when you will hear the noise of battle near at hand and the news of battles far away; see that you are not alarmed.” That certainly describes this week, doesn’t it? “The news of battles far away.”
These words of Jesus are both a command and a promise. In fact, in the Greek there are two commands— 1. See to it and 2. Be not alarmed. To be alarmed actually means to scream with terror, to be so overcome with fear that you lose your emotional balance. Jesus is saying that when we hear the frightening news from the battle front, we must take special care that we not lose our perspective. There will be wars and the headlines will scream of Scud missiles and of POWs being tortured. We will hear of demonstrations in distant cities and terrorist threats right here in America. We will go to the airport and think that we’ve entered a battle zone. We will take the El and wonder if that strange-looking fellow in front of us is carrying a bomb. Our children will come home frightened and we will have no answers for their questions. Our loved ones will go off to war and we will wonder if we will ever see them again.
All these things will happen. They are part of the course of this age. Wars and rumors of wars. It will only get worse in the days ahead.
But we have the word of Jesus—"See to it that you are not alarmed.” But who wouldn’t be alarmed? Only those who know that God is in control. It is exactly when the world seems to be self-destructing that our faith shows itself to be real.
The Guns Of August
In his book The Last and Future World (pp. 132-139), James Montgomery Boice tells a story about Donald Grey Barnhouse, a great Bible teacher of the last generation. It was the late summer of 1939 and Dr. Barnhouse was preaching in the British Isles. He had a week off between his meetings in Scotland and his next series of meetings in Belfast, Ireland. He decided to take those days to visit his family in Normandy, on the western coast of France.
When he got to London, he made his way to the airport to catch a plane for the short flight across the English Channel. As he passed through customs a man asked his travel plans. When Dr. Barnhouse told him he planned to be in Belfast that weekend, the man said, “Sir, if you plan to be in Belfast, I strongly urge you not to go to France today.” Dr. Barnhouse thanked him for his advice and boarded the plane anyway.
The week in Normandy passed quickly. Monday … Tuesday … Wednesday … Thursday. The talk was all of impending war with Germany. Diplomacy had failed to stop Hitler and it seemed as if war was not far away. On Thursday the word came that Dr. Barnhouse’s flight was canceled and that if he wished to return to England he must take a train to Paris, then take another train to the coast, board a steamer and cross the channel by night. Immediately, he decided to leave and so made his way to board the train for Paris.
As the train sped across the French countryside, the call for mobilization was sounded. Church bells began to ring. War was almost here. At every little village, the train stopped to pick up men going off to war. Dr. Barnhouse watched as wives and children said goodbye to their husbands and fathers, many of whom would never return home. It was a scene of heartbreaking sadness.
That night the Germans bombed Danzig and the Prime Minister announced that if Hitler did not withdraw his troops by 11 AM on Sunday, England would be at war with Germany.
“I Hope You Have A Good Sermon”
Friday, September 1, 1939, was a typically beautiful British day. Dr. Barnhouse had made it safely across the channel (on the last civilian steamer to make the trip for many years) and now came to London to transfer to a train heading for Scotland. Here he encountered more scenes of heartache. This time it was children being sent out of London by their parents. Hundreds of children milling around, parents weeping, a great sea of sadness as families were torn apart, many for years, some forever. The war had already claimed its first victims.
That night the train made it to Carlisle and they spent the night in the station hotel. The next day Dr. Barnhouse traveled all day to reach the coast of Scotland after dark. That night, when he was to have been in Belfast for a dinner which was to begin the meetings, he stood at the edge of the water and gazed at Ireland across the sea.
Many hours later, in the darkest part of the night, the captain of the boat set sail. The little steamer docked at Larne on the Irish coast and Dr. Barnhouse made his way by train to Belfast, finally arriving just after 3 a.m. A delegation was waiting for him, having assumed that he would make every effort to come if he could. The men greeted him, loaded his bags and took him to the hotel. It was now about 3:45 a.m. As they left him to get some rest, one of the men said, “I hope you will have a good sermon. It may well be the last that some of the men will hear.”
Barnhouse stood alone in his room, weary from the long trip, wondering what he should say when he stood in the pulpit in just a few hours. Suddenly a thought came to his mind, he jotted down a few notes and then went to bed. A few hours later he arose and prepared to go to church.
When he got there, the minister seemed glad that he didn’t have to preach that day. He shook hands with Dr. Barnhouse and said, “The church will be full of lads who will never come back. I pray God will give you something for them.” As 11 a.m. approached, the thought occurred to Dr. Barnhouse that everyone would be home listening to the radio. But he was wrong. The church was full to overflowing. The service started and as it did an elder handed a note to the pastor who handed it to Dr. Barnhouse. There had been no reply from Hitler. England was at war with Germany.
When the time came for the sermon, Dr. Barnhouse began by telling them how he had outlined his sermon in the hotel room that morning. He then told the congregation that he had a text for them that was the most wonderful text in all the Bible for such a day. The text was Matthew 24:6, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.”
Then he recounted his long journey from Normandy to Belfast and all the things he had seen along the way. At each point he stopped and interjected the words of Jesus, “See that ye be not troubled.” You will hear the church bells pealing for war. “See that ye be not troubled.” You will see fathers and husbands going off to war. “See that ye be not troubled.” Thousands of children will be torn from their mothers. “See that ye be not troubled” The great cities will be blacked out. “See that ye be not troubled.” The air-raid sirens will sound. “See that ye be not troubled.” The world will be convulsed in the greatest war of history. “See that ye be not troubled.”
The tension mounted in the church as Dr. Barnhouse recited his litany of horrors. When he reached his climax, Dr. Barnhouse stopped and said, “These are either the words of a madman or they are the words of the Son of God. If Christ is not God, these are the most horrible words that could ever be spoken. If Christ is not God, then he is a madman or something worse. How could anyone say ‘Be not afraid’ in the face of the horrors of war?”
Then the answer came. But Christ is God and he is the Lord of history. Not only that, he is the God of detailed circumstance. Nothing has happened outside of God’s good plan. Nothing ever leaves him bewildered or astonished. Nothing ever catches him by surprise. Though men tear at each other like wild beasts, though the world seem set to destroy itself, those who know Jesus Christ have nothing to fear. If war comes, they know that the promises of God are still true. Nothing—not even death itself—can separate them from the love of God.
Though The Winds Blow
I wish I could tell you what is going to happen in the next few days and weeks. But I do not know any more about this war than you do. It may be short or it may last for many months. I am sure that many people will die before it is over.
But whatever happens, we need not be afraid. Romans 8:28 is still true. If Christ is truly God—and he is—then we have nothing to fear. He is the Lord of history. What is happening in the Persian Gulf is no surprise to him. He holds the leaders of the world in his hands. More importantly, he holds his people in his hands.
Last Tuesday Cliff Raad passed out a quotation at our staff meeting. It seems appropriate for this hour:
But He has most certainly permitted it.
Therefore though it were an attack of an enemy,
By the time it reaches me,
It has the Lord’s permission and therefore all is well.
He will make it work together with all life’s experiences
For my good and His glory.
With that confidence we may send our sons and daughters into military service. They may go to some far corner of the globe and may even go into combat. But we know that nothing can touch them that has not first passed through the Father’s hand. In the same way, we can send our best and brightest to serve Jesus Christ on the mission field, knowing that they may face many dangers and may be separated from us for many years. With that confidence we ourselves may face danger and difficulty free of fear and full of peace. With that confidence we may go calmly into the future. Even though the winds of war may blow hard against us, we know that Jesus Christ is with us, and no matter what happens tomorrow, we are safe in him.
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» SEE SERMONS IN THIS SERIES
Men and Women in Biblical Perspective Genesis 1-3
Breaking Down Walls: Racial Prejudice and The Christian Gospel Psalm 139:23-24; 2 Corinthians 5:17
Too Young To Die: Confronting the Tragedy of Suicide Genesis 1:26-27; Deuteronomy 30; John 10:10
The Winds Of War Matthew 24:6
Two Minutes Till Midnight 1 Peter 4:7-11Index for this sermon series