The Lord's Day Morning
October 7, 2012
“Am I a Soldier of the Cross? A Message of Hope for Weary Warriors”
The Reverend Dr. Michael A. Milton
The Bible says in Psalm 84 that “my soul longs, yes faints, for the courts of the Lord.” My heart is so moved by sitting right there and hearing the beauty of this music. I feel like the wind has come into my sails. Thank you, Dr. Wymond.
I greet you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and I have come here, I'm going to get to preach, but I came here to say, “Thank you.” The inauguration, I told our board, could not be complete, as I am assuming the servant-hood role at Reformed Theological Seminary, unless I came from the northern kingdom down to Jerusalem (laughter) and said, “Thank you.” There would be — let me be as clear as I can — there would be no RTS without First Presbyterian Church. Period. Eleven thousand alumni, thousands upon thousands of souls saved, lives transformed, the kingdom of God impacted and expanded around the world. Ministry is going on today that includes everything from an African-American leadership initiative in Jackson, to training of chaplains and the training of reformed campus ministers, to outreach to Anglicans and to others, to a worldwide ministry where not only are we ministering to over two thousand students right now this semester in our campus, but millions of others where the teaching of your pastor is going into places that I won't even name since this broadcast, since this service is being broadcast. I will only say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is going forward and I needed to come here to say, “Thank you.”
In the inauguration, I told our group a couple of weeks ago at the service that it's not a coronation; it's a consecration. And to consecrate means that we remember and then we reaffirm. And for me to fulfill that remembering, I needed to thank those who had gone before me like Dr. and Mrs. Ric Cannada, my good friends, and Sam Patterson and Luter Whitlock, and professors and others, but it was incomplete unless I stood before you in the courts of the Lord before God to say, “Thank you, First Pres. Jackson.” Now let me go a little bit further. “Thank you, state of Mississippi.” I've been told it's not a state but a state of mind. So your state of mind has been toward the Gospel, and without your support, your giving, your prayers, your sending of your sons and daughters to the mission field, your sons to the pulpits of our nation and around the world, things just wouldn't be the way they are now — the good things that are going on. So thank you, First Presbyterian, thank you, Jackson, and thank you to the magnolia state. We exist today and we go forward because of your vision. That's the remembrance; the reaffirmation is simply what you founded — a seminary where pastor-scholars like Dr. Ligon Duncan, who is the model of that, will train up future pastor-scholars who will preach and teach the inerrant and the infallible Word of God, committed that the reformed faith is simply that doctrine taught in the Scriptures, and with a passion and a zeal for the Great Commission to go forward to the ends of the earth and with a vision, as Paul said from 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, “What is our hope for glory or joy? Our crown of rejoicing — is it now even you in the presence of Jesus when He comes again?” For you are our glory and our joy. So your glory and your joy will not only be seeing your family in the generations of First Presbyterian Church safe in the arms of Jesus, but a multitude of souls you don't even know but you impacted. And those stories will be told through eternity. So I've done my duty of love to say, “Thank you.” I hope I continue to do that.
I want to turn your attention now to what is often called, “The Soldier's Psalm.” This is a message that the Lord brought to me as I was praying about what to preach. And so a couple of weeks ago I was on chaplain duty. I am a reserved chaplain; I minister to not only the Army but Navy, Marine Corps chaplains, or actually Navy chaplains and also Air Force at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Coast Guard — part of the Navy. And I went back to the old “Armed Forces Hymnal and Service Book” which is from World War II. Yes, the DOD spends a lot of money but they haven't spent a lot of money on worship books, so I'm still using the worship book from WWII, which is fine with me — it was good! And I was reading the psalm that I have read before as troops were preparing to deploy, psalms which they would tuck into their hip pocket, as we would call it, and keep close to them. And it's this psalm that David wrote as he reflected on his own life as a warrior. But I'm here this morning to read this Scripture and seek to preach it for your heart because each and every one of us are involved in a spiritual warfare, as Paul says in Ephesians 6. And we know that we live in a day where it's more recognizable, discernable, than ever before in our lifetime. But there are spiritual battles going on in the lives of people seated right next to you that have to do with aging or aging parents, or sickness, or job loss, or doubt — doubt of your faith — or crying out, “Where are You, O Lord?” And it's my prayer that the reading and preaching of this part of God's Word will equip you to be a soldier of the cross and to bring hope, health, and healing, and encouragement to you if you’re a weary warrior along the way.
So you take your copy of God's Word. I'm going to do something — I normally use the ESV in my preaching, but the 1942 edition of the “Armed Forces Service Book” uses the King James. That's what I've read for so many years as I've sent young men, and increasingly young women, off to war. And I'm going to read from the King James Version, Psalm 27. And I remind you, this is the inerrant and the infallible Word of the living God:
“TheLordis my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? TheLordis the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
One thing have I desired of theLord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of theLord, and to enquire in his temple.
For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.
And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto theLord.
Hear, OLord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face,Lord, will I seek. Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.
Teach me thy way, OLord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.
I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of theLordin the land of the living. Wait on theLord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”
The grass withers and the flowers fade but the Word of God will stand forever. Let's pray.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us. Let me preach as if never to preach again, as a dying man to dying men, in Jesus' name, amen.
The Christian life is a life of unending joy; the Christian life is the life of unceasing trials. Living in the tension of those two realities is difficult and battles rage in the hearts of our people as we live in between the tension that God is good, God is faithful, it is a blessing and a joy to have the eternal security in Jesus Christ because of what He has done for us, living in that and living in the reality that there is an attack, there is a reality of the spiritual warfare that's talked about through the Scriptures.
I will never forget a pastor who came to me and he was a very faithful pastor. In fact, he was a number of years older and had ministered far longer than I had ministered and he was known for his tenderness toward his people, but he was also more or less the chaplain of the city. He was just doing good and preaching the Gospel, faithful, loved the Word of God. But he came to me and he said, “Mike, I'm nearing retirement and now I'm looking back over my ministry and I've lived most of my days in depression. Most of the days I just feel like crying.” I talked to him about his life, as respectfully as a younger minister can talk to an older minister, finally seeking to bear down to the question, “Is there anything in your life, that were brought to light, that would bring dishonor upon Christ, other than the normal issues of sanctification we all face?” “No.” A faithful family man, godly husband, godly father, and yet here he was and I reminded him of the psalm that I want to present to you this morning that we read. The truths of that psalm, that those who follow the Lord can expect adversaries, but that we must not be discouraged. Not simply we must now be stoic Christians and have a stiff upper lip and do our best; that's not it at all. What I told him is that your tears and your heartaches are a sign of your life. It's a sign of the genuine effectiveness of your ministry. “Blessed are those who mourn.” And long as he did to see peace and reconciliation. “No, my friend,” I said, “I respect you even more.” I was simply saying, “You’re in the middle of a battle.” And then in turned on him and I said, “Can I talk to you for a while now?” You see, we're all warriors in the battle as we're following the Lord Jesus Christ. And if you've never received Christ, I would be a liar if I said, “Welcome to the bed of roses! It's a life of absolute peace! No attacks and you’ll just float on a cloud into heaven from here on out!” That's a lie. The pattern and the life of our Lord says it's a lie. We’re His followers.
So what is this psalm going to say to us? Because it's a soldier's psalm, and that's what I refer to - and it's been referred to as a soldier's psalm by others — it is written by a soldier; a soldier who was fighting a real fight. As he looked back over his life, whether it was against King Saul or even the rebellion of his own son, we see in the writing of King David the writing of a real warrior. And so each and every line of these verses is dealing with battles and with how he's had to turn to the Lord. But these things are written for our benefit and for our spiritual benefit. And there's kind of a cadence that's going on — three movements that I see happening within this psalm — three cadence calls.
THE FIRST CADENCE: AFFIRMATION
Here is the first one. The cadence call beginning in verse 1 of affirmation. A resounding affirmation of the light of the Lord which leads to the salvation of the Lord; the light brings repentance and faith. That leads to the salvation where your sins are put on Christ and His life is imputed to your life and counted as righteousness for what He did in that great exchange and you’re saved. And then you go to live that life, and David says that that life is a life of strength. “The Lord is the strength of my life.” And so the overarching character of the life of a believer begins as we go into the battle with an affirmation. The affirmation is not about ourselves but it's about what God has done and who He is. It's the covenant name of the Lord here. And this is our Savior. He is my light. Christ is my light. Christ is my salvation. Whom shall I fear? And so this strengthens the warriors. If you've ever seen movies or read books about ancient warriors before they go into battle and they tighten their belt and they put their boots on and they strengthen themselves with their armor. This is what David is doing as he's facing the fears in his own life. Put on the whole armor of God, Paul says. And David is saying the same thing as he's writing a psalm to himself and to encourage his people. And the Holy Spirit has written it to encourage us today, this morning. Affirmation is the first cadence call in this beautiful, beautiful psalm.
I teach chaplains at the chaplain school and one of my jobs is to equip them to equip the soldiers. And I ask them, “Do you have your rucksack filled with the things that you’re going to need to equip them?” And one of those things that I tell them, whatever their background or denomination — “You need to go forth and minister out of the center of a personal encounter and life with Jesus Christ.” Now why I'm saying that to you now is that the psalmist repeatedly refers to, “You are my light, my strength, my salvation; He will deal with my enemies.” It is a very personal psalm. You know the church swings to extremes. We've been to an extreme where we think about the church in a very privatized manner and then in evangelicalism we've hopefully recovered in our day some of the sense of the corporate nature of the church as we go about doing kingdom work. But the congregation, First Presbyterian Church's affirmation is absolutely clear, but the question this morning is your life. You see, David here is saying, “You are my light. You are my salvation.” And so there's a time where we must understand that although we are a part of the body of Christ and we do pray, “Our Father which art in heaven,” nevertheless He is our Father because of a genuine work of the Holy Spirit in our lives individually. Do you know Christ? Is that light in your life that would bring forth salvation and then bring forth strength for the battle? If you don't have that in your rucksack so to speak, in your backpack, you’re not ready to go into the field. And if you’re in the field without it, you’ll be defeated.
I’ll give you an invitation right now to receive that light. Anyone who cries out in the name of the Lord will be saved and His life will flood your life. The first thing you’re going to see is that you’re a sinner and need a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior. And then His light will become your light and then your salvation and then the stronghold of your life. Do you see all the connection? Now that's the first cadence call — an affirmation. So don't go out into the field without that. And today is a good day, as the Lord's Day always is, to reaffirm, to reaffirm the basics, to reaffirm that covenant between God and yourself through the Man Jesus Christ.
But that's going to lead us to something David is saying because after he makes the affirmation, a resounding affirmation, he moves into a realistic adversity. And that's the second cadence call of the soldier's psalm. There is real adversity out there. In fact, we know that David, in this psalm, will repeat the adversity that he is facing. In verse 2, evildoers are assailing him. They eat up his flesh. Adversaries and foes, he calls them. In verse 3, an entire army is encamped against him. In verse 5, he pleads that God will hide him in a shelter because he said, “I am in a day of trouble.” So just because you have the right affirmation doesn't mean you’re going to miss the foes and the adversaries. It's just the opposite; you’re prime meat. The devil goes about like a roaring lion and he likes nothing more than red meat - those who have affirmed faith in Jesus Christ. The day of trouble — enemies he calls his situation in verse 6.
THE SECOND CADENCE: ACKNOWLEDGING MINE ENEMIES
But then let's move to what I call the tenderloin of this second cadence. The real battle cry of the second cadence — and you can find that in verse 11. “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path.” Why? “Because of mine enemies.” Now someone may say this makes absolutely no sense. He's made his affirmation but now he wants to be advanced through his enemies. He actually wants to be taught of God, he wants to have a place of stability, he wants to capture a hill, if you will, and have a level place, a stable place. Why? “Because of my enemies.” And here he is getting at the very core and the heart of the Gospel of the covenant of grace, the scarlet thread tying together all sixty-six books of the Bible. What David is seeing is that the enemies that have been sent out against him — and whether those enemies are from the devil, the flesh, or the world, his God, our God, is able to transform every one of those enemies into tutors. Those who seek evil against us, our God takes and uses. As Martin Luther said, “Satan is God's devil. He could only go as far as the Lord will allow him.” And so here David says, “Teach me, O Lord. Put me on a level playing field. Let me grab the heel. Let me be victorious because of my enemies.”
This is where the devil is defeated. When we come to see in our lives and when we have an active faith and pursue the truth, the cross becomes a crown and that a sealed tomb is gloriously emptied. The things that were used by the devil, unwitting agents and powers of the devil, whether political or whether religious, that those powers become the things in the hands of a sovereign God which yes, put Christ on the cross, but the cross, instead of becoming a sign of defeat becomes a symbol of salvation. Instead of a mark of shame becomes a mark of glory. And you, my beloved, like David, live your life under the ruling motif of the cross so that the thing that comes against you is the thing the Lord uses to advance you.
Paul wrote about this in the mighty eighth, the eighth chapter. He wrote about this in verse thirty-six where he says, “For as it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’” That's our situation — adversaries. And then he says in verse 37. “No, in all these things” — what things, Paul? The bad things — the times of slaughter, the persecution, the hardships, the trials. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I will never forget a call I got from an oncologist to join him on his call, making his call at a chemotherapy ward. He said, “Mike, I just want you to go with me. I see what you do every week; I want you to see what I do.” I said, “Okay.” And so he would tell me a little bit about his patients, not disclosing any medical secrets or anything of confidence of course, just talking about who there were, where they were from, so forth. And I'd greet them. And then we came to this one lady. And of course there is a veritable line of La-Z-Boys with people laid back in the La-Z-Boy with an IV in their arms receiving what they pray will be a cure and healing. And as he went down the line he came to this one and he said, “No pastor, this is my favorite one.” I said, “Okay.” So he said, “Mrs. So-and-So, I'd like to introduce you to my pastor.” And before I could reach out my hand and say, “How do you do?” she said, “Oh pastor!” with the most joyous look on her face. And I'm thinking, “You shouldn't be joyful right now. You look like you’re in a bad way. I was coming to give some real pastoral words to you.” And she said, “Oh pastor, it's so good to meet you!” And then she said something to me that blew me away and I’ll never forget. She said, “I thank God for my cancer.”
Sometimes I have an answer for everything; I didn't have an answer for that. I said, “So tell me about it.” She said, “If I hadn't have had this cancer”- and she was so enthusiastic; just like she had won the lottery. “If I hadn't have had this cancer, number one, I wouldn't have known the love of my husband the way I have known the love of my husband. Our marriage has been transformed! I never knew the depth of his love, the way he's cared for me. Number two, I would never have known the love of the body of Christ. I have been ministered to so much by the people in my little country church.” But she said, “The real prize was getting to know your parishioner, the greatest doctor in the world!” And he leans over and he says, “Now you know why she's my favorite!” (laughter) I said, “I can see why” because she had learned the truth. Yes, there are adversaries, but her affirmation, made before she went into battle, was strengthened and her adversaries became her tutors and teachers so that this very verse became alive in her life. “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” Now that can have us to perhaps look at the trials and tribulations of life in a different way — “because of my enemies.” Affirmation is needed because we live among adversaries in this world.
THE THIRD CADENCE: ASPIRATION
But then he moves to something that is absolutely beautiful. It's one of my favorite parts of the psalm as I'm talking to soldiers, although the first two movements of the psalm are necessary to arrive at the last movement. The last movement I would call the cadence call of aspiration. Whereas there is a resounding affirmation, a recurrence of adversaries, a reality of adversaries, there is also a resurrection aspiration in the life of this warrior, King David. For he says, “I believe,” in verse 13, “that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord” — where? “In the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong, let your heart take courage.” Now I know some of you thoughtful believers have read some commentaries and the commentary writer said something to this effect. “There is really no teaching of resurrection in the Old Testament. Ancient Israel simply did not have a theology of resurrection.” Well you need to tear that page out or throw that book away because this is resurrection! I’ll tell you one thing, that's not taught at RTS and it never will be; it never has been. This is the resurrection. And David believes that whatever is going to happen to him, even if it's death, one day he is going to be where he's moving and that is toward his aspiration to be in the land of the living.
I'm so glad that we don't have a theology like the ancient Egyptians where, you know, you go into the land of the dead. And as my family and I saw when we were at the British museum this past summer, we literally saw mummies there with their trinkets, things from the lives, that they would carry with them into the land of the dead to keep them company. And I thought to myself, “How primitive the religion.” And then we made our way across the island over to the great country of Wales and I like Dylan Thomas, and so one of the things that I wanted to hear was Richard Burton reading, “Under Milk Wood,” which is a story about a little town from sunrise to sunset with all the beautiful language of Dylan Thomas read by Sir Richard Burton, the late Sir Richard Burton. And I did. I heard it; I listened to it. And I told my son, “You've got to hear this,” and told Mae, “You've got to hear this.” And then there was a little postscript to all of it and it said Richard Burton loved his friend Dylan Thomas so much and the poetry so much that when he was buried he was buried with a copy of Dylan Thomas’ poetry. And I told my son, “Dylan Thomas is hard enough to read when you’re alive must less six feet under!” He's no different than the ancient Egyptians we saw back in the British museum! Whether you’re buried with a Cadillac or a copy of Dylan Thomas or a little trinket from ancient Egypt, you must have a theology of the land of the dead.
This is a theology of the land of the living. This is a theology that its his hope set on what old Gerald believed in, in his darkest day where Gerald would say, as the dark clouds of accusation hovered over him and a bright golden beam of light set through, struck through those clouds, and Gerald proclaimed, “I know my redeemer liveth, that He shall stand!” And he said, “I'm going to see with my own eyes!” It's the same thing David is saying; it's the same thing Paul would say in 1 Corinthians 15. Is the truth that runs all through the Scriptures and again, if the thing, the last enemy, thinks it is going to gain victory, it will not. And that is what David is saying, with the last enemy being death. Even death will put him on a level ground, a smooth ground, in the land of the living.
You know what I would ask you to do this morning with this? What I did the other night with a cup of tea. I took a boiling cup of water and put a tea bag in it — and that's about the only thing I can put. You can ask Mae; I don't put much. But I had read — I like it strong, so I just let it seep up, just let it in there, and the tea will disperse, and then drink it and enjoy it. And what I would say to you is, let these truths now come into your life, your heart, your mind. Receive the Word of God. Confess and make his affirmation your affirmation. “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Recognize also that there are adversaries, but don't worry. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” And then recognize that nothing can truly stop you from being a conqueror through Jesus Christ. Again, we're not talking about stiff upper lip, buckle your belt, tie your shoe and go out there and do it, because now through Christ and your faith in Him, He will make you that conqueror and not even the enemy of death is going to keep you. I'd say let that just speak, just let it disperse into your life, so that as you deal with illness or relationship problems or a job loss or any of the other enemies, including death, you've got the full body cup of salvation to drink from.
Isaac Watts was a hymnist that we know, who have been in the church for any time. His hymns are known all over the world. They were first written in England; they’re now being sung in Korea, China. He had a hard life as a boy. His father was a non-conformist minister meaning that he wasn't a part of the established Church of England so his father went to prison on numerous occasions. And so of course that meant that it was difficult for his mother, beyond difficult for his mother and for Isaac Watts. They were in poverty, a poverty that some of us couldn't imagine, besides being shunned. Hard life. Later, Dr. Watts, Doctor of Divinity Watts in London, would reflect on this and these truths that we've been reflecting on. And he would write the soliloquy, a message to himself, to encourage himself in the Lord. He asked himself some questions that I would put to you:
“Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb, and shall I fear to own his cause, or blush to speak his name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?
Sure I must fight, if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord. I'll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by your word.”
And that's why I came here today and it's why I believe the Lord brought Psalm 27 to my heart, to my life, and then to be able to give to you that which I have received through the Lord. My prayer for you, church that has done so much and continues to be so influential in our nation and in our world, my prayer for you individually in the pew, and the person next to you, that that affirmation is yours. And as I know that you are facing the adversary in one way or another, you will recognize the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ that the very thing that comes against you to hurt you becomes the thing in the hands of your loving Savior that saves you and ultimately brings you to the land of the living. And so I would ask, are you a soldier of the cross?
May we pray.
Our heavenly Father, we would shed all of the supposed self-made armor that we have constructed and put on the armor of God, Your Gospel. We would shed all other affirmations but the affirmation that You are our light and that is the light we need to know salvation and that salvation is the gift we need to live a life of strength. We confess, Lord, we are honest before You now that we are facing adversaries in our lives but we also confess that You transform adversaries into unwitting agents of Your kingdom to bring about good. And we confess that we are all moving to that place that we heard read earlier in this service where we will see Your face and there will be no night there. In Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand as we sing our closing hymn, which is number 573, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross”?
Now may the love of God our heavenly Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of our Holy Spirit be with you and remain with you now and forevermore. Amen.
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