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The Victorious Power of the Lord
Many of us struggle with temptation, sin and even addiction. We also struggle with the global evils of terrorism, AIDS, starvation, poverty, the destruction of the environment and corrupt governments, as well as countless other domestic, local and international issues. In all these things there is a battle to win the victory.
The Bible is realistic about this struggle. In the Old Testament, we read about physical battles against the forces of evil. In the New Testament, the struggle is more often described as a spiritual battle. As St Paul puts it, ‘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 6:12).
Today’s passages show us that the battle is won through the victorious power of the Lord.
1. Victory over bondage and slaveryPsalm 114:1-8
The psalmist recalls how Israel was set free from its bondage and slavery in Egypt. The victorious power of God led them out of Egypt and across the sea, which ‘looked and fled’ (v.3).
The ‘presence of the Lord’ with his people gave the Israelites the victory (v.7). It was his presence that ‘turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water’ (v.8).
Today’s psalm remembers how the character of God is revealed to his people in the Exodus, when God liberated his people from oppression through his victorious power and presence, making it clear that slavery is an evil from which God longs to set people free.
This helps us address one of the big questions from today’s New Testament reading, in which Paul gives instructions to slaves and masters in today’s New Testament passage (Ephesians 6:5–9). Why did Paul never attempt to abolish slavery altogether? We need to remember that in those days, Christians were a tiny persecuted minority and they were in no position to end what was a universal institution in the ancient world. In the Roman Empire alone, about 60 million people (a high percentage of the population) were slaves.
As F.F. Bruce writes, ‘To counsel the emancipation of slaves on a general scale would have been to confirm the suspicion of many people in authority that the gospel was aimed at the subversion of society. It was better to state the principles of the gospel clearly (“in Christ there is neither slave nor free”, Galatians 3:28) and leave them to have their own effect in due course on this iniquitous institution.’
God wants to set people free from both the literal bondage and oppression experienced by modern day slaves, as well as our slavery to sin and addictions. And in the future, when Jesus returns in victorious power, God will free everyone from every kind of slavery.
Lord, thank you for the freedom from slavery that comes from your victorious power. Thank you that you set us free through your presence with us, and that you turn the rock into a pool and the hard rock into springs of water through your Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
2. Victory over the devil’s schemesEphesians 6:1-24
Our battle is against ‘the triple alliance’, writes Raniero Cantalamessa. ‘The world, the flesh and the devil; the enemy around us, the enemy within us and the enemy above us.’
Relying on God’s victorious power does not mean that we are passive or inactive. Paul insists that, in order to win the battle, we need to take responsibility for our lives and ‘be strong in the Lord’ (v.10).
We need to take action. Paul uses phrases like ‘put on’ (v.13a), ‘stand your ground’ (v.13b) and ‘stand firm’ (v.14). We need to be active, replacing bad habits with good habits. Paul outlines seven good habits we should adopt:
- Focus on the truth of Jesus
‘With a belt of truth buckled around your waist’ (v.14a).
We need to focus on truth of heart. Transparency and authenticity are the opposite of hypocrisy. We also need to focus on the truth of doctrine as revealed in Scripture. Both are personified in Jesus who said, ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6).
- Keep short accounts
‘With the breastplate of righteousness in place’ (v.14b).
Jesus died so that we might have the righteousness of God. When we fall, we need to get up quickly. We need to keep in right relationship with God and with others.
- Get actively involved
‘With your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’ (v.15).
Here Paul may have had a verse from our Old Testament reading for today in mind: ‘Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace!’ (Nahum 1:15). The devil hates the gospel – because it is God’s power to change lives.
- Trust God in difficult times
‘In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one’ (v.16).
The arrows are such things as: false guilt, doubt, disobedience, lust, malice, and fear.
- Win the battle of the mind
‘Take the helmet of salvation’ (v.17a).
The battle is won or lost in our minds, so it is essential that we ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
- Soak yourself in the word of God
‘The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (v.17b).
We need to use the Bible when we are under attack, just as Jesus did when he was tempted in the desert (Matthew 4:1–11).
- Keep praying
‘Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests’ (v.18)
Mary Queen of Scots said, ‘I fear John Knox’s prayers more than an army of ten thousand men.’
Lord, thank you that you give us the armour of God to fight our battles. Thank you for the victorious power of the Lord. Thank you that we can pray in the Holy Spirit. Thank you that the whole Trinity is on our side. Help us individually, and as a community, in our struggle against the rulers, authorities, powers and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Thank you that although on our own we are powerless, with the armour of God, the strength of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can experience victory and change the world.
3. Victory over the forces of evilNahum 1:1-3:19
We all go through tough times. Jesus told us not to be surprised by trouble (John 16:33). But we are also promised that we will be more than conquerors through Christ who loves us (Romans 8:37).
The struggling community of the Christian church can take comfort from the promises that God made to his people then, which are still applicable to us now: ‘God is good, a hiding place in tough times. He recognises and welcomes anyone looking for help, no matter how desperate the trouble’ (Nahum 1:7, MSG).
Empires come and go. The British Empire once dominated the world. No longer. Likewise the Roman Empire, and every other Empire, has come and gone.
At the time Nahum wrote, the Assyrian Empire dominated the world and seemed invincible. Yet shortly after the book of Nahum was written, in 612 BC, Ninevah, the proud capital of the Assyrian Empire, fell to the Babylonians and Medes.
The message of Nahum is: ‘Don’t admire or be intimidated by this enemy. They are going to be judged by the very same standards applied to us’ (Eugene Peterson).
The evil of Ninevah is described in chapter three: ‘Doom to murder city – full of lies, bursting with loot, addicted to violence … luring nations to their ruin with your evil spells’ (3:1,4, MSG).
If the end of this earthly kingdom was ‘good news’ (1:15) bringing such relief and jubilation, how much more relief and jubilation should the victory of Jesus over the spiritual forces of evil bring us? We, as Christians, are still surrounded by enemies in the form of the world, the flesh and the devil, but with God on our side, we know that we will ultimately see his victorious power.
In the second chapter, we see that God is in command and no power on earth can stand against him. This was a huge comfort to the little principality of Judah, surrounded by the great empire of the Near Eastern world.
Lord, thank you that although we may seem to be surrounded by forces that are much more powerful than we are, you are more powerful than any spiritual force of evil. Thank you that you are a refuge in times of trouble and that you care for those who trust in you. Thank you that again and again throughout the history of the people of God we have seen your great and victorious power at work –supremely in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Thank you for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Help us today to trust in you and the victorious power of the Lord.
‘God ... turned ... the hard rock into springs of water.’
God can change the difficult situations into a place of fruitfulness.