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Which Battle, Which Victory?

Which Battle, Which Victory?

Which side, which battle? Your options are endless. Religion, or politics? Or, how about both? Influential elites, religious moralists, or militant radicals? In which should you trust? How can you save your nation? What cause matters most?  What allegiances?

You are in first century Judea – the world into which Jesus enters – and it’s a mixed bag of parties and causes and conflicts.

The Pharisees defended the morals of the community, were experts in the Law of Moses and the traditions of the elders, and were loyal to Israel. They were trusted teachers of the people and taught in the local synagogues.

The Sadducees were also experts in the Law of Moses, but rejected much of the rest of Scripture – and were the wealthy, ruling elites who ran the priesthood and the temple and had allegiances to Herod and the Romans.

The Essenes were a religious sect which sought purity and holiness, above and beyond the average synagogue-goer, cloistering themselves into communities similar to what we might call monasteries.

The Hellenists went along to get along. They were greek speaking Jews who, to some degree or another, adapted their lives to Greek culture and language.

On the other hand, the Zealots were loyal to their Hebrew nationality to the extreme. They were militants who engaged in violent revolutions, following various false-Messiah figures.

Conflict between Greek culture and Hebrew culture – conflict between Roman rule or Israelite rule – groups and groups within groups – the fight for righteousness – a lot at stake.

Many groups, many causes. Jesus, the Son of God born of Mary, came into this world and joined none of them. Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots – Jesus joined none of their causes and fought none of their fights.

Jesus came to fight a very different battle to win a very different victory.

Jesus’ victory was not the victory these many groups and causes were seeking, nor could they attain it by any of their methods. But it was the victory they needed and the true answer to their many concerns.

The many parties, conflicts, and causes in the world are generally either addressing the symptoms of, or are the symptoms of, the greater underlying disease —

— like a man who spends his life in and out of the hospital, with a vast team of doctors and specialists, all in conflict about what the real solution to his problems is.

But they’re all only treating the man’s symptoms. The one doctor who can cure the cancer causing them all is the doctor he really needs.

Our world’s many conflicts, causes, and factions are a whirlwind of symptoms. Jesus came, not to join the world’s many battles, but to conquer the underlying cancer. Jesus conquers the disease of sin.   

On the cross, Jesus took this underlying disease – all our sins against God, all our blasphemies, all our unrighteousness, and all our lack of goodness – upon Himself. He died for our disease as the cure. He conquered it. He made your cancer of sin His own and won the battle we couldn’t.

This is the victory God promised to the world from the beginning – victory over sin, death, and the devil for our salvation. Jesus is that promised offspring of the woman, the man whose heal was bruised as He crushed the serpent’s head – “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” [Genesis 3:15].

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, compares the devil to a strongman holding stolen goods in his house. Jesus is the Stronger Man who binds the devil and plunders his house, taking back those lost men and women who were in his grip.

That’s the real underlying conflict – that the devil has had men and women in his grip, but Jesus has delivered them back to God by forgiving the children of man “all sins… and whatever blasphemies they utter” [Mark 3:28]. When sin is forgiven, the devil no longer has anything to hold you by – he loses his grip.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes in first century Judea – and all the various groups, parties, conflicts, and causes in our world today – probably were all addressing, or attempting to address, some real symptoms of the brokenness of sin which they saw in their world.

But each group – and each group today – also has aspects in it that are contrary to God’s Word and actually end up perpetuating the brokenness of sin and its effects. Man’s efforts are man-focused and have their faith and trust in man.

This is the blasphemy and sin against the Holy Spirit. Man’s unbelief. And man’s faith and trust in himself and in the gods he creates. This is the sin that receives no forgiveness (as long as we keep committing it) because it’s a rejection of faith in the Savior, faith which the Holy Spirit carries into our hearts.

The world is full of causes, but rejection of the Savior is so pervasive in prideful mankind that in first century Judea – and in our world today – rejection of the Gospel of Jesus becomes a common characteristic of many otherwise conflicting groups.

The Sadducees and Pharisees, for example, were natural enemies – but they were united in their desire to destroy Jesus. Either group would have received Him if He had joined their cause, but instead – when He was of no use to them – they slandered Him. “By the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”

Maybe others tried to use His name for their own cause, as is done today. But the true Christ has made His own group with its true cause. Christ’s group is the Church, which has its own cause in the world – preaching God’s Word and bringing people to the knowledge of repentance and to their Redeemer for salvation.

Which side, which battle, which group? “Who are my mother and my brothers?”, Jesus said. “And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’ – Here’s my group in the world – “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”

Your group in this world is the family of Jesus. Jesus said it this way in Luke: “Those who hear the word of God and do it” [Luke 8:21].

You are His mothers, sisters, and brothers. Hear His word and then bring it out into this world by living according to it. This is your group and your cause. It will be effective. Because it’s God’s cause.

May God grant it to each of us to trust less and less in the battles of this world and to trust more and more in the battle and victory which Christ has won – the redemption of lost sinners. And may God use each one of us to bring knowledge of this victory to more and more of our neighbors who do need to know it. Amen.

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