Summary: We need to trust Christ’s "war plan", even when it seems the battle is going against us.
Over the past couple of weeks, since the war in Iraq began, we have been subjected to a barrage of television commentators expressing their views on the conduct of the war. Every channel has their own set of talking heads – retired generals arguing about whether we have enough troops and tanks on the ground; military analysts critiquing battle strategies; politicians assessing the war’s impact on international relations. And one of the most persistent topics for discussion has been whether the war planners correctly predicted how the Iraqis would respond. Did they anticipate the degree of resistance we faced in Basra? Did they expect that fanatical Saddam loyalists would fight to the death rather than surrender? Did they foresee that the Fedayeen fighters would disguise themselves in civilian clothing and use women and children as human shields? In other words, did we know in advance what we were getting into? Early on, there were many voices claiming that we didn’t; claiming that we were too optimistic, that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had foolishly ignored the advice of his generals. You may have heard the statement by one of the commanders in Iraq, Lt. General William Wallace, who was quoted in the New York Times as saying that, "The enemy we’re fighting is different than the one we war-gamed against." Those unfortunate words just reinforced the perception that we had rushed into war without adequate preparation and planning.
Now, in the last couple of days, things seem to have turned around quite dramatically. Events seem to be proving the critics and the doubters wrong. But at least they were right about one thing: when you are going into battle, it is essential that you know your enemy. It is essential that you understand where the risks and dangers lie, so that you can be prepared for them, and not taken by surprise. Because in wartime, your survival and victory depend on your ability to anticipate what is coming.
Why bring that up? Because you and I are also engaged in a war. The Christian life is a daily battle against the world, the flesh and the devil. And our spiritual survival, our victory over sin and Satan, depends on knowing what we are likely to face and being prepared for it. For example, Paul writes that,
". . . though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." – 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
This war is being waged, not with tanks and artillery, but with prayers and faith. And although the battlefield is in the spiritual realm, it is no less real and no less serious. Therefore, as Paul urges Timothy, we are to "fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Tim. 6:12), and conduct ourselves as "good soldier[s] of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:3). The apostle Peter give us these warnings,
"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." – 1 Peter 2:11
"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . . " – 1 Peter 5:8-9
What do all those passages tell us? That we are at war; that we are engaged in a life and death struggle – with our enemy the devil, with the ungodly influence of this world system, and with our own indwelling sin. The Bible tells us that we are soldiers for Christ; and as soldiers, we are called to fight, and resist, and stand firm in faith. As Paul writes in Ephesians chapter six,
". . . be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground . . . " – Ephesians 6:10-13
Well, if we are soldiers, and if we are at war, then who is our commander? Who is our chief military strategist? Jesus Christ. He is the one who developed the war plan. He is the one who directs the troops. And we need to trust that he knows what he is doing, even when battle seems to be going against us.
This morning, I want us to draw some insight from the final briefing our Lord gave his disciples before he was crucified. This passage in John 13-16 is known as the "Farewell Discourse". Christ knows that he will soon be taken from them in death, and so this address was intended to prepare his followers for what would lie ahead. You might consider the disciples to be his generals, his field commanders, whom he is about to send into battle. Now, I chose this passage for two reasons. First, because we will be commemorating the death and resurrection of Christ in just a couple of weeks. And as we prepare to observe Good Friday and Easter, it seems appropriate to reflect on how Christ prepared his disciples for those same events two thousand years ago. But even more important, I believe that the instructions Jesus gave his disciples then, to prepare them for the dark days ahead, are just as powerful and necessary for us hear today, as we ourselves experience trials and suffering.