Our Secure Refuge in the Face of Evil

Our Secure Refuge from Evil from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

The French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in London on Friday.  He came to make a programme for the BBC. It was to mark the 70th anniversary of another BBC programme made for France by Charles de Gaulle on the 18th June 1940. The general had fled his country the day before as a new administration, headed by Philippe Petain, sought an armistice with Hitler. In the stirring radio appeal Gen de Gaulle declared himself leader of the “Free French”, spawning the French Resistance, which went on to play a crucial role in defeating the Germans. He told his nation that “the flame of the French resistance must not and will not be extinguished”.  Posters displaying his words were put up all over London in the days that followed the broadcast, to galvanise French exiles.

Although it may seem hard at times to believe it, we are at war.

We are part of the resistance against the evil powers at work in our world. That is one of the reasons we meet every Sunday – to train and prepare ourselves for battle. This morning Archbishop Edmund from Kebbi in Nigeria described the very real war going on there between the Christian south and Muslim north. It is a conflict being played out in a number of African countries. But we make a profound error of the first order if we equate this as a war between religions or peoples. In Toronto recently I gave a presentation on the Christian Jihad at a conference of evangelical and Muslim leaders. Jihad is translated in English as “Holy War”. It literally means “struggle”.  In the New Testament, the language of conflict and warfare is used to describe the struggle Christians face in living the holy life as God intends.  In the first instance, the ‘Holy War” or struggle faced is internal not external. It is personal and not political.  The apostle Paul’s two letters to a young disciple called Timothy provide a fascinating insight into Christian jihad as Paul employs the metaphor of the ‘soldier’ to describe the Christ follower. Here are the verses:

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs; rather, they try to please their commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4)

Toward the end of his life the apostle Paul couple look back confidently and say, past tense,

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8)

At a personal level then, it is a struggle against temptation and sin.

At a political level it is also a struggle against evil and demonic power.  What is significant, however, is that in the Christian Scriptures the ‘enemy’ is never identified as other people, but evil forces at work in the world. At worst, those who oppose us are tools or pawns of Satan. But however they treat us, we must remember they are people created in the image and likeness of God and for whom Christ died. The apostle Paul wrote,

““Finally, 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.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)

The evil powers are therefore spiritual in nature and heavenly in source, supernatural, evil and demonic.  It is vital that we know who our enemy is. The apostle Peter wrote,

“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
(1 Peter 5:8-9)

The Christian Jihad therefore is winnable. Satan can be resisted in the strength of God. The Christian jihad, however, is not primarily directed against other people, but against the one who abuses them. It is directed at our real enemy, the devil and his forces, who oppose Jesus and persecutes his Church.

In our gospel reading, Jesus explains what we should believe and how we should behave as soldiers of the resistance:

1. Remember: Remember the Ultimate Source of Evil

“Those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:29). Jesus speaks of the reality of evil.  Evil is real. Evil is pervasive. But evil is not caused by ignorance or misunderstanding. We cannot blame the presence of evil on our genes, or our upbringing. We cannot attribute evil to certain people. We cannot assign it particular nations. We cannot identify it with other religions. The source lies deep within – within us all. Within the human heart. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. Evil is pervasive because we are all infected. Isaiah writes “We all, like sheep, have turned away, each of us has turned to our own way.” (Isaiah 53:6). The Scriptures are less than complimentary about our condition before God. Isaiah goes on:

“Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads their case with integrity.” (Isaiah 59:1-4).

And if we are honest, and hey – why not, we would, I believe, admit that at times that is true of each one of us, if not in action, then certainly in thought. One translation of Isaiah 59:2 says “Your sins have cut you off from God”. That is why the Apostle Paul could write: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Indeed the Bible describes our present existence as a form of death – for we are naturally dead spiritually. This is how Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,  in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Sin separates us from God. Sin leads to death. In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus speaks to us of the reality of evil, about life and about death, about meaning and purpose.
And Jesus brings sober words of challenge and decision. Today we remember. We remember the ultimate source of evil.

2. Recognise: Recognise the Imminent Judgement of Evil

“And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice  29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:27-29)

There is something instinctive inside us that demands justice when we see injustice. The injustice of the Nazi Holocaust, the injustice of the Armenian Genocide, the war crimes of Kosovo, of Srebrenica, Rwanda, Darfur. We call them crimes against humanity. And we demand justice. But ultimately all evil, all sin, is a crime against God. And a Holy God demands justice.

Jesus would have us also recognise the coming judgement of evil. Jesus promises that evil will be judged. Judgement is coming. And it is Jesus who will judge. Indeed he will judge the entire world. He has the authority to judge because he is the Son of God. In much of our reading this morning, Jesus lays out his credentials. He points to those who have testified and corroborated his authority. Jesus will be our judge.

While people may escape justice in this life, while criminals may literally get away with murder, Jesus promises that judgement is coming. That judgement is certain. That judgement will be impartial. That judgement will be imminent – for we are but one breath away. This should surely make us sober for we will all die one day. And after death, we will all face judgement.
Now a superficial reading of Jesus words here could lead to complacency and false hopes.  When Jesus says “those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”
It would be easy to rationalize our behavior and think that we are good and others are bad.

It is easy to imagine that somehow my good will outweigh my bad. That is what I thought as a teenager. But that is not what Jesus is saying here. As we shall see in a moment, our actions – doing good or doing evil are not the basis upon which we will be judged. They merely demonstrate our heart attitude that will be judged. Knowing Jesus will judge. Knowing that judgement will be impartial. Knowing that judgement is certain, should cause us, not only to remember the ultimate source of evil but also recognise the imminent judgement of evil. But if evil is pervasive and judgement is certain how then can we be saved?

3. Repent: For you have an Almighty Saviour from Evil

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.  25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:24-27)

Eternal life is not the reward for good works. It is the gift of God to all who hear, believe, receive and follow Jesus.
They are literally born again to new life. Eternal life is a present possession for those who follow Jesus. They have literally crossed over from death to life.  We deserve to die for our sin and one day we are all going to die physically.

But here Jesus describes a second death. A spiritual death. Jesus died in our place so that we would not have to die eternally. Jesus will therefore justly judge us not on how good or bad we have been but on whether we have trusted in him as our Saviour. So let me ask you the obvious questions arising from this passage. Have your heard Jesus speaking to you? Deep into your conscience, calling you back from going your own way?  Have you consciously crossed over from death to life? Think of this podium as a bridge from death to life.
A bridge from this world to the next.  A bridge from selfish independence to selfless dependence. Have you consciously crossed over?

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

There are only two kinds of people in this world. And that is true of us here this evening too. Those on one side who are living to die. On the other side are those who are dying to live.
They are the ones who have crossed over. Which are you?
I do not want you to leave this church this evening without knowing where you are or what you must do. Jesus is speaking about sin and death and judgement. These words have either made you feel fearful and guilty and you can’t wait to leave, or they will have brought you hope and encouragement and you will long to stay. Which is it?

The story is told of a time when Albert Einstein was going on a train to an out-of-town engagement. The conductor stopped by to punch his ticket. The great scientist, preoccupied with his work, with great embarrassment, rummaged through his coat pockets and briefcase to no avail. He could not find his ticket.
The conductor said, “We all know who you are, Dr. Einstein. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it. Everything is OK.” The conductor walked on down the aisle punching other tickets. Before he moved to the next car, he looked back and saw Dr. Einstein down on his hands and knees looking under his seat trying to find his ticket. He came back and gently said, “Dr. Einstein, please don’t worry about it. I know who you are.”
Einstein looked up and said, “I too know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going!” Do you know where you are going? I know that many of you do know where you are going. Because you have trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Then you can know for sure that you have eternal life and will not be judged. Because Jesus took your judgement on himself. You have crossed over from death to life. But perhaps you who do not know where you are going but you want to. You want to cross over that bridge today. The good news is you can. You can – if you – Remember the ultimate source of evil – is within.
If you recognise the imminent judgement of evil – is coming.
If you repent for you have Almighty Saviour who will deliver you from evil. Lets pray.

And if it helps you to solidify the decision you made today or renew the decision you made last week, last year or decades ago, I invite you, after the service, to come and walk across the stage.