2 Chronicles 20:15
15 He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.
Dear Friends in Christ,
As I began to think about my sermon for this Confirmation Sunday, I naturally began to think about the 8 confirmands whom I have had the privilege of teaching the primary doctrines of the church over the past 2 years. And as I thought about them, there were different words and phrases that came to my mind that I believe very accurately describe them, words like fun-loving and talkative – in fact, so fun-loving and talkative that I knew from the very 1st class I had with them I would have to assign them seats and keep certain students separated from one another lest the temptation to talk get the best of them. Another words I would use to describe them would be procrastinators. This became pretty evident when I handed out their oral examination questions in early March. Every week I assigned 25 questions for them to study and then at the beginning of the next class we did a review of them. Some of them did fine, while others procrastinated. In fact, some were still procrastinating up until the practice oral exam we had last Sunday evening, which is not unusual, only to have them do very well on the actual oral examination this past Monday.
But of all the words and phrases that I think I could come up with to describe at least some of these 8 young people who are going to be confirmed here today, it would have to be the 2 words “fiercely competitive.” Their competitive nature could be seen each week in the pick-up basketball games they would play before class began. But it was really evident in a couple of one on one games that I played back in February with 2 of the boys. The first one was with Kristopher Harper who spent the weeks leading up to our much-anticipated contest trash talking me and telling me how he was going to dunk over me and run circles around me. I knew Kristopher was good. I knew he was quick. I knew he had a killer outside shot and I really wasn’t sure I would be able to keep up with him. But I thought, “Well, if I lose, all he can say is that he beat a 59 year old grandpa, but if I win, then he has to swallow the bitter pill that he got beat by a 59 year old grandpa.” And as things turned out, he had to swallow that bitter pill.
Then the following Sunday I faced my next challenge in the person of Lane Heinzmann. Like Kristopher, Lane is an excellent all-round player. He’s quick; he hustles on every play; he’s a great shooter and an outstanding defender. But the end result was the same. He too had to go home that night and try to figure out how he could be beaten by an old geezer who was more than 4 times his age.
Well, it was those 2 games in particular and the fiercely competitive nature that those boys displayed that gave me my sermon idea for today. For one thing I can guarantee them and all of us is that we need that fiercely competitive, never-give-up, never-say-die attitude as we seek to live out the Christian life in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile toward those who follow Christ. Everyday we face battles and struggles, trials and temptations, challenges and difficulties that are sent our way by none other than the prince of darkness, Satan himself, in the hopes that they will drive us away from the One who loved us enough to die for us, and that of course is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So let’s spend some time this morning talking about those battles and what we can do about them. For starters, many of you here today face physical battles. In fact some of you face them every day. And if you aren’t at this time, all I can say is don’t get too cozy or comfortable because those battles will invade your life sooner or later. On my personal prayer list that I keep in my office I have nearly 200 people right now who are dealing with physical problems of some variety or another. On this list you will find lots of cancer along with heart problems, problems with depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s, vision, fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, even one fellow whose wife was a member of my former congregation in Naples, FL and who is battling mesothelioma which is caused by exposure to asbestos. There are those who are awaiting surgery, those who have had surgery, those who are struggling to recover from surgery. There are elderly people on this list, middle aged, young adults, teenagers, young children, and even babies. All of which serves as a powerful reminder to us that no one is going to get out of this imperfect and sin-cursed world without experiencing physical battles sooner or later.
And then there are the emotional battles we face. The hectic and frantic pace at which most people, including even many children, live their lives these days causes stress and anxiety that many of our grandparents and great-grandparents never knew because they didn’t clutter their lives with an endless array of activities and pursuits like so many people do today. Sure, they worked hard, but at the end of the day they had dinner with their family and that dinnertime was peppered with lots of conversation about the day’s events. And then they spent the night relaxing in their home and getting a good night’s sleep so that they would awaken the next day refreshed and re-energized for whatever lay ahead of them.
But oh how times have changed as so many people today find themselves on this endless treadmill of activities and responsibilities that reminds me very much of the hamster that Marilyn and I had many years ago. That little critter would get in that wheel in its cage and run as fast as it could for extended periods of time, but it would get nowhere in the process. We do the same thing, don’t we? And all of this constant running that so many of us do today is bound to affect us sooner or later. For it can create stress fractures in marriages, temper outbursts in the home, feelings of depression and hopelessness, even ulcers and other physical problems.
And as if all those physical and emotional battles aren’t enough, we also find ourselves faced with spiritual battles. Like the Apostle Paul says in Eph. 6:12: “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.” Make no mistake about it, my friends. Every day that you wake up, your archenemy Satan has one and only one goal in mind for you and that is to drive a wedge between you and your God. And he has a multi-variety of tools and weapons in his arsenal to accomplish that goal, from friends who will try to lead you astray to images that will pop up on the Internet when you’re least expecting them to movies and television shows that make Christians look like the most stupid, idiotic, out-of-touch-with-reality human beings on the face of this earth to high school teachers and college professors that may challenge many of the deep, heartfelt beliefs and convictions you hold right now that are founded upon the Bible. The list just goes on and on. And the spiritual battles that we face each day just go on and on.
So the question is, how do we fight them? And most importantly, how do we win them? To answer those questions, I want to take you to a fascinating story found in the 20th chapter of the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles. This chapter begins by telling us that God’s people, the Jews, were about to be attacked. The Ammonites and Moabites, along with some of their allies, had risen up to make war against them. But it just so happened that the Jews had a godly king reigning over them at that time whose name was Jehoshaphat. And though he was alarmed and frightened by this massive army that was advancing against them, in verse 3 of 2 Chron. 20 we’re told: “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.” I love that! Rather than wring his hands in despair or worse yet, give up, he fell on his face before the Lord in a spirit of humility and encouraged his subjects to do the same. And that is exactly what they did for in the very next verse it says: “The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.”
So what’s the first thing we should do when we find ourselves fighting those physical, emotional, and spiritual battles we spoke of earlier? How about adopt a posture of prayer. We accept our Lord’s gracious invitation in Ps. 50:15 where he says: “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” But we don’t stop there. Rather, we also call together some fellow believers,some human reinforcements, who we know will come alongside of us and lift us up in prayer and encourage us as we fight our battles.
Then a third thing we should do is recognize that the One we are praying to, the One we are calling out to is greater than any problem we could ever face. This is what Jehoshaphat does in our text. Listen to how he begins his prayer as he leads his people in a time of worship at the temple in Jerusalem. He says: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.” And then a little later he adds: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” Wouldn’t it be great to have leaders like that over our nation, leaders who would be unashamed and unafraid to acknowledge who the real Leader is? You know, there was a time when our nation had leaders like that, until it became politically incorrect to do so. For example, when Abraham Lincoln was once asked if he believed God was on their side at the time of the Civil War, he replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Can you imagine a President saying that today? Though we’d be cheering him on, the politically correct crowd that seems to run so much of our country would probably call for his resignation for being insensitive to anyone who doesn’t believe in God.
But getting back to our story. After Jehoshaphat prays, the Spirit of God comes upon one of the priests named Jahaziel who says: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: `Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Let that last sentence sink into your brain, my friends. “The battle is not yours, but God’s.” That’s the fourth thing we need to do when the struggles of life come our way. We need to remember, as we sang in the hymn before the sermon, that the battle belongs to the Lord. We need to understand that though we may be weak, he is strong. Though we may be weary, he never tires. Though we may feel hopeless and helpless, he is the Hope of the hopeless and the help of the helpless.
And if you ever doubt that, my friends, there’s one place you need to go to have it confirmed to you. And that is to the cross. Like the Apostle Paul says in Rom. 8:31-32: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” But how can we be sure that God is for us, that he’s on our side? Paul goes on to say: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” There it is: the cross. There God gave up his own Son into death, thus taking care of our greatest problem in life, the problem of our sin. Now think about that. If God would do that for you, if he would make that kind of sacrifice for you, then surely you can trust him to fight your other battles with you and for you.
And by the way, that’s exactly what he did for his people in the story we’ve looked at today. But not before an interesting battle strategy that God gave to King Jehoshaphat. In vv.21-22 we’re told: “Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever.” As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” Now how cool is that! God says, “Don’t put your strongest soldiers on the front line. Rather, I want your strongest worshipers there.” And notice what they did. They acknowledged the greatness of God, they worshiped the splendor of his holiness, they thanked him for his goodness, and they trusted him for his power. You know what that sounds like? Sounds like a great recipe, a great strategy, for gaining victory over our enemies, don’t you think? And it’s just another reminder to us that the battles we fight, whether they’re physical, emotional, or spiritual, every one of those battles really does belong to the Lord and they couldn’t rest in any better hands than his.