The Divine Warrior

Show Them No Mercy
Tremper Longman III

The first voice we hear in the New Testament is that of John the Baptist, sounding remarkably like the Old Testament prophets of phase 3:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:7-10; see also vv. 11-12)

John expects that the one coming after him will fill the role of the violent warrior who will rid the land of its oppressors. Imagine his shock later when the one he does recognize through baptism preaches the good news, heals the sick, and exorcises demons. As a matter of fact, we have a record of his reaction in Matthew 11:1-19. John is now in prison and hears reports about Jesus’ ministry. His doubts lead him to send two of his disciples to Jesus to ask the skeptical question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (11:2).

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6)

Through his actions, Jesus informs John that he has in fact chosen the right person. However, Jesus is also subtly changing – indeed, enriching – John’s understanding of his mission. In a nutshell, Jesus is the divine warrior, but he has intensified and heightened the battle. No longer is the battle a physical battle against flesh-and-blood enemies, but rather it is directed toward the spiritual powers and authorities. Furthermore, this battle is fought with nonphysical weapons.

The exorcisms of the New Testament are a case in point. Here we see the violent nature of the conflict. Matthew 8:28-34 (see also Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) narrates the story of Jesus’ ordering the demons in two demon-possessed men to enter into pigs, which then throw themselves into a lake and are destroyed. The climax of phase 4 is violent but in an ironic way. Paul looks back on the crucifixion and pronounces it a military victory over the demonic realm:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15)

Jesus’ ascension into heaven is also described in military language, indeed by the citation of a holy-war hymn from the Old Testament, Psalm 68:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (Eph. 4:8)

Jesus defeated the powers and authorities, not by killing but by dying!

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He Chose

[28] After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [29] A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. [30] When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 

– John 19:28-30

Some things are not our choice.  They just happen to us.  I was born in southern California.  I am a boy.  I am short.  I did not choose these things.

The cross is not a tragedy that happened to Jesus.  It did not surprise Him.  It was not something unfortunate, outside of His control.

On Good Friday, the crowd was not in control.  The Pharisees and scribes were not in control. Pilate was not in control.  Not even Satan himself was in control.  Jesus and Jesus alone was in control.

What does this mean?  It means you are loved.

Things that just happen to us don’t say much about what we value or what’s in our hearts.  My core value is not manhood or shortness.  It’s the things we choose that reveal what we really love.  What we choose to do with our time, money, vacation days, etc. reveal what we love.

Jesus chose all that happened to Him.  He did not have to die on a cross.  Some may say He had to because He’s God and God is supposed to do that, but it’s not true.  He had the power and right to do otherwise.  He would have been equally just, righteous, and good if He left us in our sin.

But He chose.  He chose to be flogged, mocked, rejected, and crucified.  He chose to become sin and bear the wrath of God in our place because He loves us.

The cross tells us that sin deserves death.  It tells us our Lord suffered terrible.  And it tells us that we are loved by the God of all creation.  Jesus proved it by choosing the cross.

A Powerful Love

[9] In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. [10] In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

– 1 John 4:9-10

God sent His only Son to die on our behalf. He has shown us a costly love. In verse 10, we find the word ‘propitiation.’ It is an odd word and it means that Jesus has paid for our sins and made us right with God. So God has shown us not only a costly love, but a powerful love.

If you fell into the Ohio river and I jumped in to save you, it would be a costly love. But it makes a difference whether I actually do save you or whether you still drown. Jesus died on the cross and He did not die trying to save us. No on the cross He conquers sin and death and He actually saves sinners from hell.

What is love?

Luke 6:32-36

[32] “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. [33] And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. [34] And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. [35] But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. [36] Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

In popular culture, the pinnacle of love is seen in romance (think Titanic), family (think Frozen), or friendship (think The Sandlot). Jesus does describe His love for the church as the love between a bridegroom for his bride. When it comes to love, He also invokes the metaphors of family and friendship. But Jesus does not point to these pictures when He describes the greatest possible love. Rather, the greatest possible love is love for the ungrateful and the evil. It is not pretty (crucifixion was brutal). It is not romantic (sinners cause no one to swoon). It is not logical (enemies are to be hated, not loved). But there is no love in this world that is like this. There is no love that can compare.

A Day in History

[1] Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

– Luke 1:1-4

christopher-columbus-1492-boatTwo thousand years ago, Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead three days later. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Most people, whether Christian or not, do not seem to think that these are the same kinds of statements (i.e. statements of historical fact).

The statement regarding Jesus is often spoken of as a belief that will lead to a happier life or a means to cope with problems. If a Christian is asked, “why do you talk so much about this?”, a common answer might be, “because I love you and want the best for you.” Less often we might hear, “because it’s true.”

Luke did not intend to write an allegory, a myth, or an inspirational story but an accurate history. Christianity is unique in that it is an historical faith. It claims that an actual event happened in human history (the death and resurrection of the Son of God). The Christian Scriptures make clear that if this event did not happen, then Christian faith is completely useless (“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” 1 Corinthians 15:17).

There are plenty of other means (religious or otherwise) of obtaining psychological comfort.  To be perfectly honest, many of them are a lot less hassle than Christianity. But the Christian claim is that Jesus actually is the Son of God and He did die and rise from the dead, defeating sin and death. This is either true or it is not. If it’s not, it’s a cruel hoax on those who believe. If it is, then it’s the most important news in human history.