January 25 2015

The Battle


READ Matthew 5:27-30. 


What is the greatest battle in history? There have been some very important battles that have been chronicled. There is Waterloo. The Allied victory over Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 brought an end to French domination of Europe and began a period of peace on the continent that lasted for nearly half a century. Waterloo forced Napoleon into exile, ended France's legacy of greatness, which it has never regained, etched its name on the list of history's best known battles, and added a phrase to the vernacular: "Waterloo" has come to mean decisive and complete defeat.


The Muslim Turks' unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529 marked the beginning of the long decline of their empire. It also stopped the advance of Islam into central and western Europe, and ensured that the Christian rather than the Muslim religion and culture would dominate the region. If this battle had not been won all of Europe and, possibly, the entire world would be under the false and deadly system of Islam today.

In 1520, Suleiman II had become the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which reached from the Persian frontier to West Africa and included much of the Balkans. Suleiman had inherited the largest, best-trained army in the world, containing superior elements of infantry, cavalry, engineering, and artillery. At the heart of his army were elite legions of Janissaries, mercenary slaves taken captive as children from Christians and raised as Muslim soldiers. From his capital of Constantinople, the Turkish sultan immediately began making plans to expand his empire even farther.

Suleiman had also inherited a strong navy, which he used with his army to besiege the island fortress of Rhodes, his first conquest. Granting safe passage to the defenders in exchange for their surrender, the Sultan took control of Rhodes and much of the Mediterranean in 1522. This victory demonstrated that Suleiman would honor peace agreements. In following battles where enemies did not surrender peacefully, however, he displayed his displeasure by leveling cities, massacring the adult males, and selling the women and children into slavery.

By 1528, Suleiman had overtaken Hungary and placed his own puppet on their throne. All that now stood between the Muslims and Western Europe was Austria and its Spanish and French allies. Taking advantage of discord between his enemies, Suleiman made a secret alliance with King Francis I of France. Pope Clement VII in Rome, while not allying directly with the Muslim Sultan, withdrew religious and political support from the Austrians.

As a result, by the spring of 1529, King Charles and his Austrians stood alone to repel the Ottoman invaders. On April 10, Suleiman and his army of more than 120,000, accompanied by as many as 200,000 support personnel and camp followers, departed Constantinople for the Austrian capital of Vienna. Along the way, the huge army captured towns and raided the countryside for supplies and slaves.


The entire Austrian garrison numbered only about 20,000 soldiers supported by 72 cannons. The only reinforcements who arrived in the city were a detachment of 700 musket-armed infantrymen from Spain. They were outnumbered by more than 15-to-1 yet they repulsed the invaders and Europe remained under the sphere of Christian influence.


Francisco Pizarro conquered the largest amount of territory ever taken in a single battle when he defeated the Incan Empire at Cajamarca in 1532. Pizarro's victory opened the way for Spain to claim most of South America and its tremendous riches, as well as imprint the continent with its language, culture, and religion.


Pizarro set sail for South America in January 1531 with 265 soldiers and 65 horses. Most of the soldiers carried spears or swords. At least three had primitive muskets  and twenty more carried crossbows.

Between wealth and glory stood an army of 30,000 Incas representing a century-old empire that extended 2,700 miles from modern Ecuador to Santiago, Chile. Pizzaro and his 265 men defeated an army of  3,000 in the first battle and took their king captive. Then he quickly took control of the entire kingdom. His victory is attributed to the fear the horses created, creatures the Incas had never seen before, and the the three muskets which loudly brought death.


For the next three centuries, Spain ruled most of the north and Pacific coast of South America. Its language, culture, and religion still dominate there today.


The most horrible battle in history is the siege of Jerusalem between 67 and 70 AD by the Roman general Titus. The Jewish historian Josephus records the horrors that happened within the walls of Jerusalem when food ran out. That battle put an end to Israel for nearly 1,900 years.


But none of those are the greatest battle. The greatest battle is the one that takes place in the hearts of men. No one is the way God originally created man nor the way we are intended to be. There is something wrong with all of us.


Some people will not admit that there is anything wrong with them. They go through life blaming other people for all the things that go wrong in their lives. Some, by God’s grace, are awakened to their own condition and call out to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from God’s judgment but also…from themselves. A great change takes. It is so great a change that the Lord Jesus called it being born again.


Then the battle begins for, although our spirits are regenerated, our minds, emotions, will, and bodies still possess the effects of the fall. Our passage this morning addresses this battle as does major portions of chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew.


Our passage is part of the great and wonderful Sermon on the Mount. Who is this sermon addressed to? In modern times sermons are addressed to certain audiences. Billy Graham, being an evangelist, addressed most of his sermons to the lost. If you attend chapel at a Christian college or a seminary the sermon will be clearly addressed to those who are already part of the household of faith. Things were no different 2,000 years ago. The messages of Jesus and the apostles were sometimes directed towards the lost and sometimes towards disciples.


The Sermon on the Mount is not for the lost. It is for disciples. It is for those already in a right relationship with the Lord. This is made evident for four reasons:


  1. In verses 1 and 2 of chapter 5 Matthew plainly states that Jesus is teaching his disciples.
  2. A comparison to Mark chapter 3 and Luke chapter 6 show that Jesus went up on the mount with his disciples alone in order to teach them.
  3. The terms and phrases used near the beginning of the famous sermon are reserved for those of the household of faith, not the lost. Terms such as “salt of the earth,” “light of the world,” and “brother.”
  4. In 5:26 Gehenna is portrayed as temporary. But the justice of God displayed towards the lost after this life is not temporary. It is permanent and eternal.


[I] Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’…” This a direct quote from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Jesus here, as throughout this whole section, explicates the law of God (which is still binding upon us in this age) and gives the deeper meaning. He also gives the intent. The law was not designed to transform us (at least not by itself), but to expose our hearts so that we will flee to God Himself for transformation.


In verse 28 he says something that must have been astounding to his disciples:        But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NASB)


It must have been astounding because the teachers of the law focused on outward acts but Jesus brings the reach of the law into the very heart of man.


I have noted in my teaching on the prior verses that the doctrine of hell is a great stumbling block to unbelievers. It is a stumbling block because it is such an unpleasant thought. The same is true of the idea that we must not only regulate our behavior (even that is objectionable to some people), but we must control our feelings and desires. Even something so common as our sexual drive.


[II] The reality of the sin of lust is a stumbling block for some.


I had a good friend a number of years ago. In fact, he was one of my best friends is not my best friend and he was not a follower of Christ. We had a quite a bit in common. We both worked for the federal government. We were both Star Trek fans. We enjoyed chess and he was a good player. (We split our games.) We both experienced a certain amount of bullying as young boys. I have many fond memories of watching recorded episodes of Star Trek at his house, sharing a meal, playing chess, and engaging in good conversation. He was a good friend.


One time when I asked him why he was not a Christian he told me that he was raised in the Catholic church and he was trying to be a good adolescent. As a teenager he was sitting in a Catechism class and the teacher taught that it was a sin for boys to lust after girls and vica versa. When he heard this he concluded that, in his words, “this was too much.” He decided right then and there that he was not going to be a Christian because he simply could not live that way.


This is the reaction of many unbelievers. But Bill, my friend, did not realize that no one can live that way, except by the power of the Holy Spirit.


It is not just unbelievers who chafe against this teaching. Disciples do, too. Some will say that because Jesus mentions adultery he is just talking about married people. He is not referring to single people. They think that it is either not a sin for a single person to think lustful thoughts or it is not a serious matter.


Maybe, just possibly, Jesus may have been referring to a married person in these words. But, we can know for certain that it applies to both the married and the single. A person’s heart has always been the concern of our God. In Proverbs 4:23 we read:      Keep your heart with all vigilance,

                        for from it flow the springs of life.

Our Lord’s teaching throughout most of this sermon is how God’s law is to be understood: not merely in an outward manner, but inwardly. From whence does he say that lust is wrong? Because of the commandment that forbids outward behavior: adultery. But there is another commandment that forbids fornication, that is, that which includes sex outside of marriage – sex between single persons (Deut. 22-20-29). Since Jesus applies God’s laws to the heart and not merely outward behavior, thoughts of fornication, lust, are just as applicable to single persons as to married persons.


In I Cor 7:9 the apostle Paul says that if single people have lust (that is in their heart) then they should marry. Clearly, if lust were not a sin or not serious then Paul would have no need to provide a remedy.


Others will say that it cannot be overcome. This is a lie. Next month will be Josie and my 20th anniversary. In these past 20 years I have never once lusted after another person. It is not because I am anything special. In fact, if you ask her I’m sure Josie could give you a long list of other things that I do wrong. Probably a very long list. But it is a lie that disciples of the Lord cannot control their thoughts and desires. If I can do it you can do it.


[III] Jesus just finished teaching about the sin of anger. These two things, temper and lust, often damage and trouble us. How easy it is to be irritated and offended. How easy it is to allow lustful thoughts to enter our mind. If we were stones or trees we would not have these problems, but we are people. There is something wrong with us and there is a battle to be fought.


There is a battle to be fought and we must be engaged in this battle because:


[IV] Jesus, in stark contrast to many today, teaches that the sin of lust is a serious sin. Preaching is in a sad state of affairs in this age. Most of what you hear is prosperity, health, wealth, and one good thing: the gospel itself. Although even the presentation of the gospel is watered down. There is little or no preaching against sin. But Jesus and the apostles preached and taught about sin a great deal. If our preaching and teaching is divergent from that of Christ and the apostles who do you think is off the mark?


Week after week many are drugged by the teaching they are getting in even evangelical churches. These teachings neither warn the Christians nor tell them the whole truth. So many are not warned that they will experience much trouble and great disappointment by being angry or giving in to their lusts.


Jesus considers the sins of his own disciples, that would be you and me, so serious that if we cannot stop sinning with our eye it would be better to tear it out than to suffer the result: Gehenna. Jesus considers the sins of his own disciples so serious that if we continue to sin with our hand it is better to lose it than to suffer the result: Gehenna.


Here, just as in the previous passage about anger, He alludes to a judgment to come for his own disciples. The results of this judgment does not mean that we shall eternally perish if we belong to Him. No, a saved person will never perish, and no one who is lost at the time of death will ever appear before Christ at His judgment when He returns to the earth.


We have already seen that the judgment of believers at the judgment seat of Christ, a different judgment than the final judgment at the Great White Throne of God the Father, is illustrated by three kinds of judgment that His Jewish disciples were familiar with and which are mentioned in the OT: the local judgment, the Sanhedrin, and the judgment of fire or Gehenna.


These three kinds of judgment all represent the one judgment when Christ returns and are used by our Lord as illustrations to represent degrees of severity. This is not a judgment to determine eternal life, but it will be a judgment of our faithfulness with corresponding rewards or discipline. The rewards or discipline will take place in the next age after this one.


Jesus saying that it is better to tear out your eye or cut off your hand is not to be taken literally. Consider the entire tenure of Jesus’ teaching here. Jesus is showing that it is not enough to follow the law in merely an outward way but an inward reality must be reflected in our obedience. That being the case, we should not expect an outward act, one even as severe as plucking out one’s eye, to regulate our inward motivations. Experience has shown that those rare individuals who took this word literally found that it made no difference. There was a Christian man who had a problem with gambling. He found that he could not stop. He knew that, because he was obsessed with gambling, that he was sinning. He read this passage and took it literally. He cut off his hand. Eventually he discovered that, although his hand had been cut off, there was still within him an inner hand desiring to gamble. He learned that cutting off his physical hand did not work, for the problem was with the inner hand.


Origen, one of the “fathers” of the early church, had himself castrated based on the Lord’s word in another portion of Scripture and deeply regretted it.


The Lord’s word here is hyperbole, a figure of speech, meant to impress upon his hearers how serious we should take sin in our lives.


[V] Someone may say, “I’m convinced that the sins of anger and lust are serious, more serious than I thought, but I still can’t fulfill this word. It’s too hard.” It is good to say that we cannot make it, because then it is necessary for Christ to come into us. The very One who fully kept the law and who died in our stead has come into us in resurrection to be our life. The Lord’s warning in Matthew 5 must force us to stay with Christ. We must have a daily life full of fear and trembling. We need to say, “I must stay close to the resurrected Christ. I must be one with Him. I must trust Him and rely on Him. Because the standard of morality of the kingdom of the heavens is too high for me to fulfill, I must remain with the Lord.


We must be very clear about the fact that we are not keeping the law by any power that we have. Rather, we are walking according to the spirit. Romans 8:4 says that when we walk according to the spirit, we spontaneously fulfill all the righteous requirements of the law. We are not trying to keep the law in our strength, for the more we try to keep it, the more we break it. This is fully revealed and recorded in Romans 7.  Within the spirit, there is the King, Christ, who is our resurrection life. As we walk according to the spirit, we fulfill even the requirements of the highest law.


Yes, there is a battle to be fought. But we do not fight it in our own strength. Why are certain battles so memorable in the history of our world? Often, because valiant men overcame great odds and were victorious. But the odds against us are worse than 10-to-1 and 15-to-1. We have no hope of victory over our own sins lest the Spirit of Christ helps us. When he does victory is ours.


We only have to do two things. Take sins seriously and walk in the spirit. Jesus taught us how serious a matter sin is and we have just read this teaching. Now, brothers and sisters, walk in the spirit, depend upon the Living Christ, calling out to Him daily, as often as you need Him. He is there.