Summary: The battle of Ai is an exampleof how God often uses what seems like defeat to bring ultimate victory

Introduction: Graphic Illustration of the Battle with people acting out the parts

The battle of Ai is a perfect example of a biblical theme that I call "Victory in Disguise." What looked like defeat, set the stage for a stunning triumph over the enemy--it was in fact the retreat that made the decisive victory possible.

You know I think in each of our lives God sends victory in disguise. Often God not only lets us overcome challenges but uses those very challenges to accomplish his greater purposes in our lives.

This evening though what I’d like to look at is the moment when it seems like defeat is inevitible, when the world is crashing down and there seems no possible soloution and you can’t imagine what good could possible come from it.

I’d like to look at the battle of Ai as an object lesson to help us see some things we need to remember when we’re facing victory in disguise. The first thing we need to remember in those dark days is

I. Remember that God has a Plan

When you’re facing seeming defeat it can be difficult to believe that God has a plan in all of this.

As I read the story here I have to wonder what the average soldier on the battle line is thinking. Now I’ve never been a private in the army of ancient Israel, but I’ve been a private in the US Army and I can tell you the general didn’t let me in on all of his plans. I suspect that not every soldier on that day facing Ai had been "read into" the plan.

What they did know was that a few days before they had faced Ai and been thoroughly defeated--36 had died. Now same formation different day and as soon as the battle is joined here we are in fast retreat again. My guess is that they had a hard time about then believing that there was a plan.

Fast forward to New Testament times and think with me about Mary and Martha. They sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was sick and Jesus waits around for a few days to come. When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus is long dead. Even as I read the story I can hear the disillusionment in the sisters voices as they sob, "Lord if you would have been here my brother would not have died." They had a hard timebelieving there was a plan. In fact martha sums it up when Jesus orders the stone removed from the tomb, the King James says "Lord by this time he stinketh!"

And what about the disciples of Jesus as the soldiers arrested Jesus in the garden, As they watched his precious body being whipped, as he was laid upon that rugged cross and spikes were driven through his hands and feet, as his life ebbed away. I’m sure they doubted that this was part of a plan.

What about you? How bad has it gotten in your life? Are there circumstances that seem beyond the reach of a divine plan? Would you chime in with Martha "Lord, by this time it stinketh?"

Tonight I want to encourage you, no matter how things look, God has a plan. Many of us know that precious verse in Jeremiah 29:11

11For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

What we sometimes forget is the context of that verse. God is promising a time of difficulty--70 years of exile. It is about that time of hardship that the Lord says "I know the plans I have for you. Verses 12 & 13 say:

12Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Which brings us to the next thing you need to remember when Victory is in disguise:

II. Remember that God has a Purpose

In the battle of Ai, the retreat wasn’t a mistake, it was the plan and it had a purpose, it drew the defenders out of the city where they could be totally confused and utterly defeated.

When Jesus waited two extra days to visit the dying Lazarus, He said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it." He wanted there to be no doubt that this was not just a healing but a ressurection.

When Jesus died on that cross, He hadn’t fallen into Satan’s trap, rather like the overconfident defenders of Ai, Satan had fallen into Jesus’ trap, because there on the cross the price for sin was paid so that the broken relationship between God and man could be mended. Death was defeated. Christ won decisively, because death did not hold Him inthe grave.

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