On Monday 5 June 1944, almost every soldier aboard the British troop ship, Princess Ingrid, gathered for a church service. The next day was D-Day, the beginning of the liberation of Europe.
Every soldier was lost in his thoughts. They knew that for some this would be their last day alive, and that, if the D-Day landings were unsuccessful, millions of innocent people would be left under the domination of Nazism. The fate of Europe hung in the balance.
They earnestly wanted the blessing and help of almighty God. As a focal point, the padre had constructed a makeshift altar and placed a silver cross in the centre.
Just as he was about to begin the service, something sinister happened which terrified them beyond words. In front of them all at that moment, a gust of wind suddenly struck the cloth on the altar and threw the cross to the deck with such force that the cross was broken in two.
The padre and troops were deeply upset, and a naval telegrapher, Ronald Seaborne, who witnessed it, stated that for the first time in his life he understood what the ‘fear of God’ really meant.
Those who know their Bible will not be surprised by this strange and frightening event. Scripture warns that the human race is actually in the midst of a spiritual war, which often manifests itself in a variety of physical ways.
In Ephesians 6:12, Scripture explains, ‘We do not wrestle against mere flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age and against spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places’. Furthermore, ‘the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one’ (1 John 5:19).
The Bible clearly teaches that, until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, this will neither be a peaceful nor restful world, because evil is trying to destroy it.
Although this spiritual war often manifests itself in physical ways, the primary place of conflict is neither the battlefields of Europe, past or present, nor in the Middle East.
The sobering reality is that the primary place of conflict lies in our own hearts. Every time an individual has to decide between right and wrong, they are involved in that conflict.
Each time a person decides to be selfish or proud, jealous, envious, bitter or unforgiving; each time people neglect to obey the Ten Commandments, they side with the powers of darkness. ‘Let no one deceive you. The person who practises righteousness is righteous … but he who sins is of the devil’ (1 John 3:7).
Is it any wonder the world is in such a mess? The greatest need of mankind is the transformation of the human heart. Scripture teaches that we should take stock of our lives and ask ourselves where we personally stand in this spiritual conflict.
Whose side are we each on? Who really has our heart? Are we part of the solution to the mess, or part of the problem? Have we been taken captive by selfishness and greed, indifference and spiritual neglect? Or have we been set free from such vices by Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation?
If Christ were to return tomorrow, would he say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’? Or would he have to say, ‘Depart from me, for I never really knew you’?
The biblical test to answer these questions is very simple: ‘Jesus said, You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind … and you are to love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-38). In God’s sight, Christians are distinguished from non-Christians as those who have repented of their sins and who strive to obey Christ’s words.
Scripture declares that it is simply not enough for individuals to believe in God and regard themselves as being ‘good people’ just because they haven’t ‘robbed a bank or murdered someone’ (a phrase I often hear).
Instead, the sign of true salvation is active commitment to the Lord’s way, right down to the very deepest level of our being. St Paul reminds us that Christians ‘have been bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and your spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:20).
This ‘price’ was Jesus enduring the agonies of the cross on our behalf, for our sins. What was done by him for us was profound and deserves nothing less from us than full and complete commitment and devotion.
In Luke 14:15-24, Jesus told a parable about those who made excuses as to why they wouldn’t follow him. It is sobering teaching, relevant to our materialistic age, and a reminder that in this conflict ‘a careless attitude costs souls’.
He said: ‘A certain man gave a great supper and invited many … but they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said, I have bought a piece of land; I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused. Another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am going to try them. I ask that you have me excused.
‘Still another said, I have just got married, so I cannot come … When the servants reported these excuses to their master, he became angry… and said, None of those people who were invited shall taste of my supper’.
I am often staggered by the kind of excuses people give as to why they don’t fully and actively follow the Lord: ‘Oh, I am too tied up with my job to have time for spiritual matters’ (but they find time to go to the gym!); ‘Oh, I haven’t time to read the Lord’s Book’ (but they find time to read their daily newspaper!); ‘Oh, I have lots of family commitments’ (but they find time to go out for morning coffee and socialise with friends!).
I often wonder how they will react on that day when confronted with the reality of the cross and all that Jesus did there.
They are treating God’s ‘indescribable gift’ of himself (2 Corinthians 9:15) as though it were nothing, whereas it is absolutely everything, and beyond compare, as the following touching story shows.
Many years ago, a young Christian lady became terminally ill. As her illness progressed, she drew great comfort from the promise, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5).
One day a friend commented, ‘You are suffering a lot of pain at the moment’.
‘Yes,’ she answered. ‘But’, pointing to her hand, ‘there is no nail there. He had the nails; I have the peace’.
Laying her hand on her brow, ‘There are no thorns here. He had the thorns, but I have the peace’, and, touching her side, she added, ‘There is no spear there. He had the spear; I have the peace’.
Scripture teaches that a titanic spiritual battle is raging for the hearts and souls of men and women. Salvation and deliverance has been won by Christ, and this challenges each individual to decide which side of this conflict they are on.
The price paid was so great that there is no middle ground, and there can be no excuses. If people are not actively in the Lord’s camp, then they place themselves in the camp of the enemy. Jesus stated, ‘He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters abroad’ (Matthew 12:30).
Some time ago a man giving a lecture about the Bible concluded his talk by affirming that he wasn’t afraid of the devil.
A devout Christian in the audience responded by commenting, ‘That is hardly the point. The real question surely is this, “Is the devil frightened of you and your faithfulness to the Saviour?”’
What a challenging question! Are the powers of darkness frightened of our love and devotion to the Lord? Are they terrified by our gratitude to the Saviour, our prayer life and faithfulness in reading the Word of God? Are they fearful of our loyal attendance at God’s house, Sunday by Sunday, whatever the weather?
Or do they see us unmotivated, spiritually indifferent and full of excuses? Do they regard us as collaborators with evil and no threat at all to the spiritual darkness?
‘You must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ … that you may please the One who enlisted you as a soldier’ (2 Timothy 2:3-4). Let us regularly reaffirm our allegiance to the Saviour and firmly resolve to love and obey him in all our ways.
The author is Vicar of Christ Church, Brockham, Surrey (other articles at www.internetpulpit.co.uk).